Working sound

A while ago I wrote about my shifting attitude to live music and how I’ve totally changed my live-music-going ways of late. It’s not that I didn’t used to like live music, but there was so much related crap that bugged me, that I very seldom ended up going to shows.

I missed one important thing in that post, though, and realised I should write more about it. So this is my post about how I figured out something about my brain, and stopped being a passive consumer of live music.

Pansy Division at the Eagle Tavern, Jan 27 2011

Patrick Goodwin and Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division at the Eagle Tavern, Jan 27 2011

I am crap at focusing on stuff if I don’t have anything to do. I can’t just sit down and watch TV or a movie, I have to have something else going on, which is why I always knit or have my laptop open. Music’s the same: I listen to it while I’m on the train, or walking somewhere, or at the gym, or working, or else I actually dive into iTunes and start obsessively categorising and rating and fooling around with metadata. It’s hard for me to just listen, though, without something else to do.

The same goes for live shows. If I don’t have something to do other than consume, I get twitchy. Dancing’s a good start, and throwing myself round in a moshpit is great, but some crowds are too cool for that kind of shit and just stand there with their hands in their pockets. You know how it is.

The Pillowfights @ Gilman St

The Pillowfights at Gilman St: definitely not a passive crowd

About four or five months ago I found a workaround for that problem. When I got twitchy, I’d go ask if I could hang out in the sound booth. It gave me something else to watch at the same time as the band, and I enjoyed the mental stimulation of trying to figure out how it all worked and (depending on the show) how I’d do things differently if I were in charge. And the guys I met working sound were generally reasonably friendly and would tell me a bit about what they were doing and how it all worked.

You know where this is going, right? Show me a pile of technology that’s connected to something creative and my fingers start itching. It was only a matter of time.

Setting up for the Frustrators' show at the Gilman

Setting up for the Frustrators' show at the Gilman

So it turns out there’s a volunteer-run punk music venue in Berkeley, 924 Gilman St. I’d been to a couple of shows there and had a great time, so I decided to see if they’d teach me how to do sound. A couple of weeks ago I managed to meet up with their head sound guy Rob, and since then I’ve been going out there a couple of times each weekend and working as a volunteer sound trainee/minion. I help with setting up sound gear on stage, sound check, mixing for the shows as they happen, and breaking everything down and putting it away afterwards.

924 Gilman St rules

924 Gilman St rules, posted inside the entrance

It’s been interesting. The technical aspects of running sound for punk bands are not all that complex (I mean, compared to, say, how the Internet works), but there are a number of new skills I’m having to pick up. Not just how to twiddle knobs on the board and how to position mics, but also how to listen critically to a band’s sound, how to react quickly to things happening on-stage (equipment failure! vocalists switch mics just to annoy you!), and how to navigate a field/industry that’s very different from my day job.

That said, I think I’m picking things up fairly quickly, and I’m having a great time with it. Last night I got to work sound for two bands famous enough to have legitimate Wikipedia entries: The Billy Bones and The Frustrators (Mike Dirnt from Green Day’s side project). I worked the mixing board for Billy Bones and was sidestage in case of on-stage crises for the Frustrators. There were no crises whatsoever, so I just hung out and took photos on my iPhone. Still, pretty awesome to be doing this for a couple of weeks and already have the opportunity to work with musicians that I suspect most people I know have heard of.

The Frustrators

The Frustrators (Mike Dirnt in foreground) at the Gilman last night

Oh, and the other thing that’s improved my live music experience considerably? Buying some decent earplugs. I got a couple of different types to try out but these Etymotic Research ER20s are the ones I like best. Great sound quality, much better than those cheap squishy foam ones. Highly recommended, though if I want to dive into the thick of the moshpit I fall back to the foamies which I won’t mind losing and which won’t hurt if someone whacks me in the ear.

(In passing… I’m also feeling pre-emptively nostalgic about looking back at all these phone camera pics I’ve been taking at shows. I think they will be the faded polaroids of our generation. I’m not even going to apologise for the shitty phonecam quality. There’s something about the grungey immediacy of a phonecam pic that appeals to me.)

Links of interest

Let’s close some of these browser tabs!

Youtube vs. transformative works

How I fought against a Youtube takedown and eventually won. The creator of a political remix vid criticising the under-representation of women in video games tells how her video was removed as “inappropriate content”, and how she fought back with the help of the New Media Rights group. (Via Laura Shapiro.)

YouTube needs a process (a transparent one even) informing us if our videos have been removed, why they have been removed and how we can file a dispute. It is absurd that I had to find a lawyer who had to contact YouTube’s lawyers just to get my 1 min video, which was wrongfully removed in the first place, back on YouTube.

Wikipedia and women

Last week, the New York Times published an article about the gender gap in Wikipedia editors. Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, has a great link roundup of posts relating to the subject.

Related: My friend Shane has launched WikiProject Women’s History, to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of women in history.

Anyone can participate, but I’d particularly love to see more professional scholars get involved. I know that there’s significant opposition to Wikipedia in some academic quarters, but I think that the information there isn’t going to get better unless people who actually know this stuff start pitching in. I’d really like WikiProject Women’s History to deploy a good quality scale that helps our students evaluate whether the material in any given entry is trustworthy for their own research. And, as I’ve already said, I think that competent undergrads can be involved in this work very fruitfully as a learning project.

“Open stuff”

What is the Open Web and why is it important? Posted in 2008, this article touches on many of the underlying principles behind “open stuff” (which I posted about a week or so back).

Tim Bray posted a set of links to political articles that he’d recently appreciated. One of these, The Very Big Picture by Matthew Yglesias, is worth quoting at length:

In other words, people are step-by-step liberating themselves not from market capitalism as a means of obtaining consumer goods but from wage slavery in the worker-capitalist relationship.

And you can see that the basic architecture of this trend is fiercely and passionately contested. When I was in Finland, where they have quite a mild right-wing, the thing that the conservative politician I spoke to seemed really upset about was the idea that Finnish kids are spending too much time in university. Too many students in college! Too many of them getting master’s degrees! Sometimes people would even take time off from their studies to travel! Here in the United States a huge swathe of the pundit class seems to deem it outrageous that the Social Security retirement age hasn’t increased as rapidly as average life expectancy. Don’t people know that they were put on this planet to work! How dare we, as a society, take some of our increased productivity in the form of an increased measure of liberation from our employers rather than more material possessions? The public, sensibly, doesn’t see it that way. When life expectancy grows faster than the retirement age, humanity is making progress.

Meanwhile, it’s more possible than ever for people’s non-commercial labors to have a meaningful impact on the world. I think open source software is exciting. I think amateur mashups are exciting. I think digital distribution of albums recorded on the cheap by people playing music for fun while holding down day jobs is exciting. I think fan fiction is exciting. I think people who work at universities and other non-profits writing blogs to inform and entertain is exciting. I think people diligently recording the progress of their neighborhood and organizing for a better city is exciting. Wikipedia is, of course, indispensable these days and Wikileaks is doing a tremendous job.

I wonder where this will take us. At the moment the cohort of people with the most opportunity to engage in non-commercial activities—retirees—is the very same cohort that’s least inclined to avail itself of digital technology.

Fannish opinion

Eruthros posts about Xena: Warrior Princess with a decade or so’s perspective, recommending it while remaining critical of its problems:

Guys, I miss that show. I miss the strange and beautiful combination of camp and wtf and tragedy and drama. I miss the women who love each other that intensely. I miss women with emotional scars. I miss (my corner of) the fandom(s) where the most common pairings were Xena/Gabrielle and Xena/Callisto and Xena/Lao Ma. I miss the working-motherhood and the fighting and the joking and the parodies and the hugs. I miss Xena singing and dancing and leaping over people’s heads, and Gabrielle hitting everyone with sticks and writing it down later. I miss their despair and their tears and their hope and their joy. I miss the anachronisms, and the giant snakes, and the people in foam monster costumes, and the centaurs filmed only from the waist up, and the styrofoam monuments they borrowed from ST:TOS, and the fight scenes that completely ignore the laws of physics. I miss Xena and Gabrielle’s determination and their anger and their laughter.

I miss two ladies riding off into the sunset together after saving the day.

(Though on the other hand I do not miss the noncon-mystical-pregnancy and the sexual assault metaphors and the Orientalism and the weird Christian season and the way Gabrielle and Xena could say they loved each other but could never actually, canonically, be sleeping together.)

Meanwhile, Thingswithwings takes on queer (in)visibility in Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, and Stargate: Atlantis:

Basically I’m astonished at the sheer efficacy of the Dumbledore strategy: acknowledge a queer character in an extra-textual space (the internet, interviews, webisodes, specials, outtakes) so that everyone thinks you’re super-progressive and cool and doesn’t notice that hey, you still haven’t represented any queers anywhere.

And seperis takes on that head-desk-ingly irritating Wired article about the death of geek culture in well, yeah, if by geek culture you mean men:

Let’s not romanticize the past in which we had to wait for years and go uphill both ways to get our manga, okay? That shit isn’t nostalgic; that sucked. It sucked.

[...]

You city geeks had it easy, baby; the nearest used bookstore was one almost-large room and I was buying third rate sci fi where the high point was finding Mercedes Lackey–say it with me, that was the high point–and Anne McCaffrey and God help me that shitty Thomas Covenant series that I read in desperation because it’s not like there was a lot of choice there.

[...]

Yes, yes, the icky mainstream are all making your geek all less than special; those of us who, let me say this again, were reduced to rapey incesty Thomas of white gold ringness and the Gor novels unironically shelved beside the sci-fi aisle saw the dawn of Amazon.com, hulu, and bittorrent like the second goddamn coming, okay? I waited half my life to fall madly, desperately in love with a million things and Geek!Seperis of the dark days before the internet and access to Amazon would like to say, are you kidding me?

Phew, my browser is back under control.

Mandala at Google

Random pic is random: Tibetan sand mandala in the lobby of Building 43, at Google's Mountain View campus

More on those ebook discussions

Over in the comments of the Dreamwidth mirror of my previous post, Elf asked whether I could redraw the graph of the ebooks discussions after removing her linkspam from the mix. Good idea!

In the end I removed several things:

  • Elf’s linkspam (elf1)
  • Kanata’s linkspam (kanata)
  • The entire tech-blog cluster (oreilly1, booksprung1, and those linked to them)
  • Any posts that linked to mitchell but weren’t otherwise connected to the graph
  • Any posts which, after all that was done, were orphaned, not linking to anything else

The results were interesting:

ebooks discussion (no linkspam version)

ebooks discussion (no linkspam version) - full size SVG, PNG

So, to reiterate, this is the “interesting bits” version of the LiveJournal/Dreamwidth discussion that took up most of the previous graph. I’ve also added something new to the visualisation: posts shown as ellipses happened on LJ/DW, and those in rectangles happened on non-LJ/DW blogs. This makes it easy to see which parts of the conversation were happening where. As I did last time, any post that was crossposted to at least one of LJ or DW counted as an LJ/DW post.

Points of interest:

  • In the lower left, there’s a cluster of mostly authors or others involved in the publishing industry, many of them posting on non-LJ/DW blogs.
  • The centre of the graph, especially those posts linking to troisroyaumes and colorblue1, are what I would characterise as members of the social justice/fandom community.
  • At the upper right, also linking to some posts shown in the lower right, you can see that there were a handful of men mostly linking to other men (jimhines et al.)

We already knew that the tech blogs were having their own discussion unconnected to the LJ/DW discussion, but now we can see that the authors/publishers were, for the most part, having a conversation disconnected from the fans. The crossover between the author and fan conversations mostly happened via Karen Healey, a young author whose first YA novel was published last year, and who moves in both circles.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the different conversations going on, and see how the actual content of them differed. Here are Wordle diagrams of the three main clusters:

Authors wordle

Authors wordle (based on: renesears1, mitchell, healey1, jimhines1, sjaejones, pauley1, seawasp)

Social justice/fandom wordle

Social justice/fandom wordle (based on: qian1, deepad, colorblue, starlady, marina1, marina2, wistfuljane)

Tech blog wordle

Tech blog wordle (based on: oreilly1, booksprung2, oleary, librarything, booki.sh, shatzkin2, wired)

It’s no real surprise to find that each of these groups was writing about different stuff, but I still find it interesting to see the words that pop out in each picture: “publishers” and “illegal” in the author wordle; “people”, “Western”, and “indigenous” in the social justice one; “piracy” and “DRM” among the tech bloggers.

Again, for reference, links to all the blog posts referenced can be found in this spreadsheet.

Ebook discussions flying under the radar

A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing a pile of blog discussion about ebook piracy. It all started on January 12th, when Australian fan lucyham tweeted to author Sarah Rees Brennan:

Apologies. Have just torrented The Demon’s Lexicon. Will buy when laggardly, pickpocketing, luddite publishers in Aus get around to allowing Australians to buy books off Amazon. So sick of “Aussies can’t purchase this book” message.

A twitter storm ensued, which quickly made it to various blogs. Author Saundra Mitchell posted on her blog and also on her LiveJournal, saying:

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month. But I’m never going to earn out. And my book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying.

Things took off quickly; there were almost 20 posts that day, mostly in response to Mitchell. In the next two weeks, or a little more, almost a hundred posts on the subject sprang up, more than two-thirds of which were on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth (a LiveJournal-like site, based on the same code; many people crosspost between the two.)

Reading these posts as they flowed past, I noticed several interesting things about them. Firstly, many of them were addressing the issues of ebook piracy from an angle I had never seen before, criticising the capitalist structures of book distribution and intellectual property from a social justice perspective. Secondly, most of the posts seemed to be by women. Thirdly, nobody outside the circles of LJ/DW fandom and social justice circles seemed to be noticing. It seemed a pity. I’m a regular reader or visitor to many tech blogs, including O’Reilly Radar, TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, and pop-culture-meets-tech blogs like Boing Boing, any of which might have picked up this story and run with it, if they’d been in the loop.

I wondered, though, whether I was missing something. I know that we tend to follow people most like ourselves online, and read things that reinforce our own views and opinions. If men disproportionately follow other men, maybe I’m disproportionately reading posts by women, and there were a whole bunch of posts by men that I’d missed. It’s happened before, after all.

Tonight I decided to investigate. Using Google Blog Search and following links from any posts I found, I put together a spreadsheet of posts, 112 in all, on the subjects of ebook piracy and international distribution, between Jan 10th and Jan 27th. (Why Jan 10th rather than 12th? Turns out that O’Reilly Radar had posted an article about ebook piracy and DRM on the 10th, which was referenced by other bloggers over the next few days, so it seemed worth including. More notes on my methods and choices made are at the bottom of this post.)

I then took the spreadsheet and ran it through a few lines of Perl to generate the following GraphViz graph:

ebooks discussion (600px)

Visualisation of the ebooks discussion. Version 1.0, 2011-02-01. Full image: SVG, PNG

Key:

  • A <- B means that post B linked to post A
  • Gender of poster is shown by colour of the nodes (pink for female, blue for male, grey for unknown/other)

Here’s what’s going on.

  • The giant tangled blob taking up most of the image is the discussion sparked by lucyham’s illegal download of Sarah Rees Brennan’s book, and Saundra Mitchell’s subsequent blog post. As you can see, there are the best part of 100 posts, mostly by women. This discussion ran from at least the 12th to the 27th of January (and the post you’re reading right now extends it into February).
  • At the top of the chart are some small clusters showing conversations not connected to the main LJ/DW conversation. The first is small cluster mostly around posts by Chris Walker of booksprung.com, criticising publishers who don’t make their books available to Australian consumers. This discussion ran from at least Jan 11th to 25th, but never crossed over with the discussion sparked by lucyham (also Australian).
  • Just below that is a set of posts about ebook piracy and DRM circumvention, mostly centred around O’Reilly Radar’s interview with Brian O’Leary, who says that DRM doesn’t prevent piracy. O’Reilly run the Tools of Change for Publishing conference, and that blog post was part of the lead-up to that event. This discussion played out from the 10th to the 18th of January, without linking to any of the other discussions in progress. (Nor, to be fair, being linked from them; the community discussing ebooks in January was as unaware of O’Reilly as O’Reilly were of them.)
  • At the extreme top right, a single post by Mike Shatzkin, on the globalisation of ebook publishing, was posted on Jan 21st but doesn’t link to any of the aforementioned conversations. It’s included purely because of its topicality, even though it wasn’t connected to anything else.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from this, other than that my gut feeling was correct: there was a really fascinating, complicated, crunchy conversation going on, mostly among women, mostly on LJ/DW, that the tech blogs and other parts of the web don’t seem to have noticed. Make of that what you will.

If you missed the discussion and would like to catch up on some of the highlights, I would recommend:

Links to all ~100 posts are in the spreadsheet o’ doom.

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