Sometimes I surprise even myself…

Apologies if I’ve been less visible of late, but I’ve started writing again, and that tends to give me tunnel vision. The story I’m writing is the long delayed, next chapter of the Vokhtah saga.

The story of my psychopathic hermaphrodites languished for four years while I wrote Innerscape, but now they’re back, and I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with their world all over again. Part of that process was to do a backwards outline of the original story, and that’s where this post comes in. I’d actually forgotten that I wrote this preface to the Vokhtan to English dictionary:

Due to the radical differences between Vokh and human physiology, this sound guide is an approximation only. Where humans speak by forcing air past their vocal chords and then shape the resultant sound in the mouth, the Vokh and iVokh use their mouths for eating only. Their lungs are located in their wings, and they inhale and exhale through hundreds of small cilia on the leading edges of their wings, by-passing the mouth entirely. Thus the sounds they produce are akin to the multiple sounds produced by a pipe organ. Even pure sounds have a resonance human speakers cannot match.

Adding to the difficulty of accurately representing the Vokhtan language is the native speakers’ habit of deliberately distorting their speech with ‘chords’, in order to convey tone and inflection. Harmonious ‘chords’ – like the major 5th in human music – denote agreement, pleasure, delight etc. Discords, on the other hand, can imply a range of emotions from disbelief to contempt. Yet despite the musical quality of Vokhtan, neither the Vokh nor the iVokh have ever developed the concept of music.

Vokhtan for human speakers is further complicated by the fact that the spoken language also includes an array of scent cues produced in glands at the base of each cilia. These scent cues are aspirated with certain audible sounds to form a combined sound/scent amalgam. For example, in the word ‘Vokh’ the ‘h’ at the end represents both the sound of the aspiration, and the scent denoting respect or admiration, something humans are incapable of reproducing.

Please keep these difficulties in mind when attempting to speak Vokhtan.

lol – I really did spend a lot of time thinking about the Vokh and the iVokh. From 2004 to 2012 to be exact. There was so much to discover about them. I mean, they all have sharp claws, right, even the much smaller, less aggressive iVokh. But sharp, pointed claws tend to get in the way when you’re not killing something, so how were the iVokh supposed to craft anything?

The ladies reading this post will immediately recognize the problem of nails that stick out half an inch past the end of your fingers. So how did the iVokh manage? By doing what we do, of course. They squared off the tips of their claws. But wait…how would they have cut their claws? Clearly they would need tools of some kind. Not scissors, no, but something like a small nail file perhaps. Except that nail files don’t grow on bushes. The iVokh would need Smiths to make the nail files, and the Smiths would need metal of some sort…

And so it went. Every idea came with its own baggage of pre-requisites, and each day of writing revealed some new discovery. It was an exciting time, but that was then. Now, I have to relearn all these tiny, yet important details so I don’t make any horrible mistakes, like saying that one iVokh punched another.

The iVokh certainly fight, but not with a clenched fist. Why? Two physiological reasons:

  1. Even with their claws blunted, striking with a clenched fist would drive the claws into their own palms, and
  2. Both iVokh and Vokh hands are quite weak in comparison to the rest of their bodies. They do have opposable thumbs, but they only have two fingers, and those fingers are long and spindly. A punch would probably break the whole hand.

And these are the little things that I have to learn all over again. If anyone’s interested, I’ve been trying to do a graphic of the hand. Still very much a work-in-progress, but here it is:

cheers

Meeks

 


Barcarolle by Offenbach

The Offspring and I were talking last night, about some of the loveliest arias in opera, and neither of us could remember the name of this one, so I looked it up [thank god for Youtube].

This glorious version is sung by two, young sopranos with amazing voices…and tiny waistlines! The days of girth are gone. 🙂

As you listen to this video, please bear in mind that this is a rehearsal….

The mezzo with the warm, deep voice is Elina Garanca. The soprano with the soaring upper register is Anna Netrebko.

So happy to have found two new [to me] opera singers.

cheers

Meeks


New genetic modification techniques – Australia

The following is a quote from an email I received today regarding the approval of new GM tech in Australia:

Next week Dr Michael Antoniou, Reader in Molecular Genetics at King’s College London School of Life Sciences will be visiting Melbourne. He is here to discuss his concerns with a range of new genetic engineering techniques that the Federal Government is currently proposing not to regulate.
If the Government deregulates these techniques anyone from amateur biohackers – to industry – would be free to use them to genetically modify plants, animals and microbes. And they could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.

The key phrase is ‘proposing not to regulate‘, closely followed by ‘no safety testing‘ and ‘no labelling‘.

Genetic modification is here to stay and we have to accept that, but we do not have to accept a wild, wild west style free-for-all. Surely an ethical approach is not too much to ask from our government, even the Liberals?

The ‘GM 2.0: What the Government isn’t telling you’ forum is being held next Monday:
6.30 (for a 7pm start) – 9pm, Monday 20th March
William Angliss Institute: Rm. A337, Building A, 555 La Trobe St., Melbourne

Please email Louise Sales <louise.sale@foe.org.au> for a ticket if you can attend [they’re free].

If not, please get people talking about this issue. Isn’t it time our opinions were heard? Corporations may stand to make a lot of money out of this, but you and I will be the bunnies who have to live with it.

cheers

Meeks


Alien 3 ending and music

I have always loved classical orchestral music – think Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc – so the soundtrack of Alien 3 was a real departure for me, and in many ways it paved the way for the music I love now.

My favourite piece in the whole soundtrack by Elliot Goldenthal is the Adagio. It’s the score for the final scene and it’s very powerful :

Part of the reason this piece had such a profound effect on me was definitely visual – the themes of The Cross and The Mother can’t help but resonate, even with an ex-Catholic.  But I believe those themes would not have been half as powerful without the music that gives them their emotional context.

And now for the reason I was reminded of this music in the first place. I’ve had the following track on repeat for over an hour. It’s by Max Legend, and it’s called Adagio for Strings:

The two tracks are nothing alike and yet…they are both beautiful and uplifting in a way I can’t describe.

Happy Sunday,

Meeks


Say hello to Max Legend!

In case there was any doubt, I’m in love with a new composer, and his name is Max Legend! Raw, driving, powerful yet lyric, ML’s music is not gentle. It doesn’t yearn, it stirs…no, it doesn’t just stir, it kicks arse. And that is the exact feel I’ve been looking for all summer.

Many writers use music to set the mood for their storytelling, but for me, music is not an optional extra, it’s a necessity. And not just any music. It has to be the right kind of music for the story I want to tell. Without it, I write words, but they’re not connected to my heart. Does that make any sense?

Yes? No? Maybe? This is why I dislike writing about the writing process. Every writer is different so something that makes sense to one person may make no sense at all to another. For me, music acts like a portal that carries me straight past the logic centres of my brain to the weird, messy, parts.

But the right music doesn’t just take me to my ‘creative side’. It also helps to translate all those messy, nebulous thoughts and feelings into a linear progression of words that end up telling a story.

No two people will ever experience a story the same way, and no two people will ever respond to a piece of music the same way. But sometimes, if I get it right, they may share a feeling, for a little while. To me, that’s what real communication is all about.

So…I’ve finally found my way into the next story. I won’t publish excerpts on the blog because I’ve learned not to make anything public until its well and truly done. But I will post the odd bit of music, and for the forseeable future it will all be from the brilliant mind of Max Legend. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

p.s. ML is another composer who writes for trailers, games and movies.

 


Extreme Weather: Storm Chaser Photography

Feast your eyes on some of the most beautiful, and terrifying, photos of storms I have ever seen. For my money, the one with the windmill is the most disturbing.

ALK3R

Jonas Piontek is a talented self-taught photographer, travel enthusiast, student and storm chaser from Grünberg, Hessen who currently based in Lich, Hesse, Germany.

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Manipulation of the ‘filter bubble’

In my previous post, ‘Is Facebook the Real Big Brother’, I talked about Facebook and manipulation. Here, now, is a TED talk from 2011 about the ‘personalisation’ of the internet, and how it locks us in rather than freeing us up.

I have to say I was shocked when I watched this TED talk, especially as Eli Pariser foresaw the problems we’re now facing…6 years ago. I was also shocked because I had no idea that even my searches were being ‘tailored’ for me by Google.

“From human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones.”

When I do a search, I want it to be relevant, yes, but I also want to see what’s out there. I want to choose what I see, because if I can’t see the things that I may not like, I may be manipulated into seeing things that are skewed for someone else’s benefit.

Cambridge Analytics already boasts that:

  • it knows us better than we know ourselves and
  • used that knowledge in both the Trump election and Brexit.

Truth or bullshit?

Given the company’s connection to billionaire software genius Robert Mercer*, and Mercer’s connection to Breitbart and Bannon, I can’t shrug it off as bullshit. But if Trump and Brexit are possible, then Eli Pariser’s filter bubble could turn out to be more like a noose.

My thanks to Honie Briggs for the link to the TED talk.

Meeks

*The Guardian expose is here and you can Google the details to check their validity:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage


Is Facebook the real Big Brother?

 

Image courtesy of orwelltoday.com

Image courtesy of orwelltoday.com

I read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in the mid-70’s, but even then it was pretty obvious that his prediction of a world ruled by ‘Big Brother’ just wasn’t going to happen.

For starters, the technology simply was not there, and then there was the disconnect with [Western] society itself. Rather than being downtrodden and submissive, individuals in the ’80’s had never had it so good. So I filed 1984 away as another example of science fiction getting it wrong.

Now, let’s jump to 2017 and the article I read in Quartz this morning:

Facebook says it can sway elections after all—for a price

Essentially, the story is that Facebook didn’t sway the 2016 election with ‘fake news’, but in the future, candidates might get themselves elected by buying into a paid campaign:

To the majority of its users, Facebook seems like a passive platform for sharing news and engaging with various communities. But the social network is also a sophisticated multibillion-dollar advertising giant that is, at its heart, in the business of persuasion.

‘Advertising giant’. Wow. Of course…

I’ve never enjoyed spending time on Facebook, so I’ve never really taken the Facebook phenomenon seriously, yet now I feel as if the wool has literally been torn from my eyes. Or perhaps it’s just that so many disparate pieces of information have finally coalesced into a new picture of the world. Think about this:

  • As at February, 2017 there were ‘ 1.86 billion monthly active Facebook users’ [https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/]
  • Facebook already possesses masses of information from and about its users,
  • This information is provided, free of charge and voluntarily, by the users themselves [every ‘Like’ is data],
  • The users provide this information because at some level they either trust Facebook or enjoy the experience enough to suspend doubt,
  • Facebook makes its revenue from advertisments,
  • Facebook advertisements are tailored to the likes and dislikes of its users,
  • Newspapers are going out of business because their advertising revenue is drying up,
  • News media online are finding it hard to attract subscribers – i.e. people who pay for news – because the internet is awash with the stuff, much of it on Facebook,
  • Every company with a product to sell is scrambling to find a way of attracting customers because the old ways are no longer effective.

So, what do all these ‘bits’ actually mean?

Close your eyes and imagine that Facebook is not a social media platform. Imagine instead that it is the biggest market research company in the world. Now, picture that market research company analysing all the data it receives from users and using the results to offer targeted ‘audiences’ to advertisers. For a price, those advertisers will get to place their advertisements in front of the people most likely to buy their products – the perfect, closed loop sales environment.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. “Facebook is merely doing what commercial TV has always done, just better, and it’s still the quality of the advertisment that ultimately sells the product. In that sense, it doesn’t matter whether the product is a brand of toothpaste or a politician up for election; boring adverts get tuned out.”

There is an element of truth in that objection, and if that were all that Facebook does, I’d simply shake my head and say ‘buyer beware’.

But Facebook doesn’t just use data to push advertising to users. Facebook also hides information from users.

The official story is that the Facebook algorithms ensure your timeline displays only the information you actually want to see. In truth, much of the information hidden from users is advertising ‘spam’ of the “Please buy my XXX” kind. Given how boring such spam is, most users see Facebook’s actions as no different to the spam filter of their email.

The trouble with this view of Facebook is that email spam filters do not make money by selling a different kind of spam back to the user. Another difference is that real spam filters require the user to tell them what’s junk and what’s not, and even then, they often get it wrong. I know mine does. So how can we be sure that Facebook’s algorithms are any better? The simple answer is that we can’t, because we never get to see the ‘spam’. Facebook’s algorithms could be wildly wrong, but because we are never given a choice, we never get to find out.

I’m sure that the bulk of Facebook users will see this as pure convenience, but I see it as manipulation. And as far as I’m concerned, when manipulation is teamed with propaganda [selling advertising campaigns to politicians], I see the potential for a very dangerous situation.

While Facebook remains unchallenged in its ability to provide targeted advertising, its ability to manipulate users will probably remain merely a potential danger. But what happens when/if some other social media platform comes along to challenge Facebook? What if revenues begin to fall. Will Facebook continue to do the ‘right’ thing and distinguish between paid advertising and ‘content’? Or will it try to cheat the system the way German car maker Volkswagen did?

For those who don’t follow the news, Volkswagen created software for some of their cars that would make it appear that the car was EPA compliant when it was not. Why? Because it was cheaper to create the software than to make the cars truly compliant. Read money and shareholders’ profits.

The problem with Facebook is that it has the capacity to do more than just cheat the system. It has the capacity to completely subvert the system, effectively selling votes by manipulating what users do and do not see. It’s not such a big step to go from not seeing spam to not seeing ANY information that competes with the world view of the politician with the deepest pockets.

That’s why I see Facebook as having the potential to become the Big Brother of our nightmares. And if the unthinkable does happen, it will have done so with our free and willing consent.

 

Meeks


Spotlight on #Indie, Chris James

Six months ago I published Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064, and those of you who know me well, also know what I saw when I looked at that word “Repulse” on the cover, and therefore why its modest success is just a mite ironic. Altogether, this little book has managed to get itself over 3,000 […]

via Repulse: Six months of #Gratitude — Chris James’s blog

Chris James is an Indies Unlimited buddy from way back, and he’s also a very good sci-fi writer, but that isn’t the reason I reblogged his post today. I did it to give the rest of us a good news story with a dash of hope.

Self-publishing can lead to success, Chris is proof of that, but it rarely happens ‘overnight’. Behind every ‘Repulse’, you will find years of patient effort during which the only thing that keeps you going is pig-headed obstinacy.

The moral of ‘Repulse’ is that success is possible, if you have the intestinable fortitude to keep slogging away at it. Please read Chris’ post and take heart.

much love,

Meeks


A hate crime, and Trump doesn’t care

Their names are Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani. Mr. Kuchibhotla is dead now, and Mr. Madasani is wounded. 51-year-old Adam W. Purinton, apparently did not like immigrants and believed it was his right, as a white male, to take their lives into his own hands. It started in a restaurant in Olathe, Kansas where Mr. […]

via The Pointless Death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla — Filosofa’s Word

 


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