Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Em's Smashwords Interview

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?” asked the Smashwords Interview site, to which I replied with my own interpretation of inspiration: "I have to go to the bathroom.  And then the cats pounce on me."

My Smashwords Interview is live now, so you can follow the link and get the unadulterated truth as I answer questions about the Writer's Life, and how I have hopelessly mangled it. Find out what my writing desk looks like, and why it really belongs to a pint-sized thug named Jingle Monster. Thrill to tales of what Phoenix was like in the 1960s, and how cheap comic books used to be. Be astounded as I recount how easy it was to waste more than a year in a self-promotion campaign that pretty much didn't work. Visit my Smashwords Interview and be the first among your friends to say, “Well that's fifteen minutes I'm never getting back.”

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Big Business Is Doo-Doo (And Not In a Good, Fertilize-the-Crops Kinda Way)

I've heard it since the 1960s, and some of you may have heard it since the 1930s: Big Business is no friend to the worker. This is a Commie attitude, but it's also true – it can't be denied. The goal of any big business is to hire as few people as possible to do as much work as possible for as little money as possible. If the Big Business model is to be realized in its purest form, there should also be no benefits to go along with any job, other than the privilege of having it in the first place: no sick days, no insurance, no overtime, no paid holidays or vacation (in fact, no time off at all), no breaks, no limits to the hours worked daily, and no compensation for injuries received on the job. After all, if you work hard enough for your pittance, the quality of your character and your own native intelligence should shine forth and cause you to advance in the ranks until you become prosperous, right? After all nepotism, cronyism, and pure greed never factor into the equation at all.

But that's old news. All of that has been said before, and much better, by others. I've got my own argument for why Big Business is doo-doo. It comes from an experience I had at Borders, the big book chain that bit the bullet back in 2011. Prior to the sinking of that ship, we were engaged in rearranging the deck chairs, and at that point the doo-doo had become so thick, we were slipping and falling into it.

Things had become particularly nasty in 2008-2009. A new CEO had been hired, and though he resembled Mister Rodgers, he was actually the malignant doppleganger of that guy. He decided that we had to become relevant to our venders (the publishers who provided us with our product) by turning selected titles into bestsellers. (Personally, I think we would have become more relevant to them by paying them what we owed them, but that's just me.) The best way to do that, according to him, was to recommend these titles to absolutely everyone who came through the front door, regardless of what they were looking for.

So we all had to sit through training films on the computers in the back office to prove we could sell these select titles to people. In the films, a Borders employee would pose as a customer and ask the other Borders employee (posing as herself) for a book. Invariably, the sort of book they wanted was exactly the sort of thing we were promoting that month. We all electronically signed our initials at the end of these programs to indicate that were were enlightened as to the technique of selling books people didn't want and hadn't asked for.

One month, our selected title was in the Zombie Classics series. I don't recall the exact title, but for the sake of argument let's call it Jane Zombie. So, here I am at the information desk, answering phones and desperately trying to think up ways to insert the subject of zombies into the conversation without sounding like a nut case. A guy walks up and asks, “Do you carry the Chilton manuals for car repair?”

In the old days, I would have said Yes and walked him back to the car repair section, then helped him find the title he needed. Under the new regime I was obliged to say, “Yes sir, it's called Jane Zombie. It's the story of an undead governess who eats brains and repairs cars.”

Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I was sorely tempted.

That CEO eventually utilized his golden parachute and quit the company, moving on to another field where his techniques at mental torture might actually advance national security (or so I imagine). His methods for saving Borders from destruction did not work (because, as I mentioned earlier, they did not include the method of paying our bills). Borders went down, and a good many people drowned or died of hypothermia. Another Big Business success story (at least for the executives who managed to squeeze fat “retention bonuses” out of the dying carcass).

I'm not trying to say none of that crap goes on at the small/medium business level. There are plenty of self-made men and women out there who will bite your head off if you ask for any time off, who can't afford to offer insurance, or who may fire you because you're good-looking and that may threaten their marriage (or hire you for the same reason).

But the funny thing about good workers is that they really are hard to come by. Smaller businesses tend to have bosses who interact with the workers and who are involved in daily operations on the ground level. They notice who is competent, and reliable, and honest. Big businesses are managed from an extreme distance, they don't know or care who works for them unless the margin moves perceptibly, which it may do for any number of reasons. If there are hundreds of small businesses operating in a given town, you have choices where to work. If there's only one, and it's Walmart – god help you.

Here, let me recommend a book that may help you with your plight. It's about a zombie governess who eats brains and earns extra income through stock investments.

Once again, I have plundered Ernest Hogan's stock of wacky illustrations, which somehow always seem to fit the tone of these posts. I have probably used some of them before, but that's just a bunch of tough noogies. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mucho Mega Music from Michael

Michael Levy has some wonderful news about his re-re-release, and some fabulous links for you to follow. Check out every single one of them, and don't forget to write reviews!

Third Time Lucky!

I am pleased to announce the re-re-RE release of my second compilation album, "Musical Adventures in Time Travel"...phew!

Trying to compile a suitable selection of the best tracks from my lyre albums has proved to be a task which almost needed the invocation of Apollo to achieve. It all began earlier this year...

At 23 tracks, the first release was far too long to fit onto the physical CD of the album (manufactured on demand by Reverbnation) and I grew to hate the album artwork I somewhat too hastily came up with!

In the second release, I loved the album cover -  "Alcaeus of Mytilene playing a kithara while Sappho listens" by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1881".Tadema does through art, what I intend to do through my music! However, at 22 tracks, I still could not squeeze them all into CD format, and since its release, I had recorded my new extended length single, "Orpheus's Lyre: Lament For Solo Lyre in the Just Intonation of Antiquity" and my audio producer, Dominik Johnson also came up with an amazing new mix for my other extended length single, "Ancient Lyre Strings", both of which I wanted to include in the final compilation...ARGH!

Therefore, in the third and final release, I edited the compilation to my favourite18 tracks. These include the track "Realm of the Ancestors" -  for possibly the first time in 3000 years, a unique duet of lyre and harp, featuring the wonderfully delicate harp accompaniment to my spontaneous lyre improvisation, provided by the talented folk harpist, Rebecca Penkett

In my endless quest of seeking musical perfection, my final version of "Musical Adventures in Time Travel", now includes all my extended length singles, including a track which only exists by pure serene serendipity...

"The Battle of Thermopylae - Paean For Solo lyre", another of my recently released extended length singles, was originally nothing but a random rough recording I did whilst improvising in my experiments to try and imitate an electric guitar pitch-bending "whammy bar" on lyre - using my right hand wrist as the said "whammy bar" on the top string above the  bridge, during some wild strummed sections!

I uploaded the raw audio file to Mediafire for possible future use and then completely forgot about it - for 3 years!! It was only whilst I was providing Dominik Johnson with the Mediafire URLs of my raw audio files for mixing in compiling "Musical Adventures in Time Travel", that purely by chance, I happened to accidentally copy and paste the URL to my frenzied lyre whammy bar improvisation, instead of the track I actually intended to send Dominik to mix!

The result is a bit rough and hissy compared to the other tracks in the compilation, but it sure ROCKS!!! Here is a video I recently uploaded to my Youtube Channel, featuring a clip of this piece:

The Rocky Road To Musical Perfection!

My second compilation also demonstrates the ruthless, relentless refining process I have put myself though over the last few years! My arrangement for solo lyre, of Dr Richard Dumbrill's interpretation of the 3400 year old Hurrian Hymn Text H6, started out as a now virtually viral, lo-fi Youtube video (recorded back in 2008 with my then suitably "Bronze Age" webcam!):

I eventually recorded a better quality version of this arrangement, which I bravely attempted to mix myself on my chunky old desktop, which then featured in my early experimental album from 2009, "An Ancient Lyre" - the only album I have ever been bold enough to attempt to produce from scratch myself!

Later in 2009, thanks to the now sadly defunct Myspace, I became acquainted with the awesome music production skills of Dominik Johnson, who masterfully re-mixed the raw audio of the recording - this then featured as track 1 from my first compilation album of 2011, "Ancient Landscapes".

In my new version of the Hurrian Hymn, now forming track 1 of "Musical Adventures in Time Travel", this time, I recorded my arrangement on my new hand-made lyre, using strings made of wound silk (made by ancient string technology expert, Peter Pringle) for a unique, truly ancient timbre - these strings provide almost the nearest match in tone to the unpolished strings of either wound gut or natural fibre which were generally used on the actual lyres of antiquity.

In this new arrangement, I also tuned my lyre in the wonderfully pure-sounding just intonation of antiquity, and for the repeat of the theme in my new arrangement, I experimented in the ancient Mesopotamian percussive lyre playing technique (using a small wooden baton to hit the strings, rather like a hammered dulcimer).

In the production of this track, Dominik also somehow managed to create a haunting natural reverb, authentically sampled from an actual Iranian cave -the relentless quest of seeking musical perfection!

This final arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn is currently being used in support of the exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum - "Mesopotamia - Inventing Our World" (CDs of "Musical Adventures in Time Travel" are also available to purchase from the Royal Ontario Museum Shop). Below is a video featuring a clip from my new arrangement of the Hurrian Hymn:

The physical CDs of my compilation album "Musical Adventures in Time Travel" and indeed, of absolutely every other one of my many releases, are available to order, anywhere in the world, from my Reverbnation Store. This epic new compilation album is currently available from iTunesAmazonand lossless audio or 320kbps quality MP3s of the album are available to download from both CD Baby and Bandcamp.

NB! Any new reviews of either this new album or any other of my releases on either iTunes or Amazon would be utterly, amazingly appreciated - many thanks!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Maybe It Takes More Oomph

We have some interesting examples of continental rifts in the world, as well as spreading ridges in oceanic crust – and since these are both examples of diverging boundaries, geologists are justified in assuming that similar processes are involved in rifting. But that's a hypothesis. Observations of the process of rifting in the real world are revealing that continental rifts are more complicated.

One reason may be that oceanic crust is denser, but thinner than continental crust. The difference between them is demonstrated when the two types of crust are driven together. Continental crust is fat and buoyant, so the immense pressure pushes the thinner, denser oceanic crust beneath the continental crust (subduction). Water vapor that subducts with the oceanic crust allows it to melt at lower temperatures than it normally would, and the partially melted stuff rises through the continental crust above the subducting slab. As it rises, the reduced pressure allows it to melt further, where it also melts some of the surrounding continental rocks. It may pool between sedimentary layers, forming plutons, sills, and dikes that cool underground, or it may extrude onto the surface and form volcanoes. That's what can happen at a converging zone. But at the other end of that zone is a rift.

Oceanic rifts are ongoing projects – upwelling convection currents in the mantle inflate and stretch the crust above, causing fractures. Magma squeezes through fractures, forcing the crust apart even further, and forming spreading ridges. You might think that the magma would cool and plug the holes – something that happens quite often when magma extrudes onto continents. But the plug is temporary. The centers of those new dikes are weak, and they fracture from the pressure of the uprising heat, allowing more low-silica magma to flow into the new fracture.

Silica is sticky stuff. Magma with a higher silica content is less runny. At oceanic rifts, the runny, lower-silica magma is a lot less likely to clog up the dikes and vents through which it is welling. That low-silica magma actually cools at higher temperatures, and water is present to speed that cooling. But when magma cools, it shrinks, and fresh hot stuff can well up around it, gradually forcing the rift zone apart. You can actually observe the whole, extrude-shrink-extrude-again process in the nifty pillow lavas that form around oceanic volcanoes as magma hits the water, instantly cooling to form a shell, which bursts at its weakest point and forms a new blob when more molten rock is forced into it. (If there was a cable channel just for watching pillow lavas form, I would sign up for it.)

Oceanic rift zones seem to last as long as the upwelling convection currents that drive them (a phenomenon called slab pull may also be involved, with the weight of the dense continental crust being subducted into the mantle possibly pulling the plate from the other end). But continental rift zones may require more oomph to keep them going.

This oomph could be a mantle plume (as is the case with the caldera below Yellowstone), or an upward convection current combined with a mantle plume (as is the case with the rift zone in Iceland.) But Yellowstone is considered a supervolcano rather than a rift zone, and Iceland is a comparatively small chunk of continental rock. There's a continental rift under way in Colorado and New Mexico, but it's pretty low key when compared with the poster child of continental rifts, The African Rift.

Theoretically, the African Rift is doing the same thing that the Arabian Gulf is doing, forming a basin as the crust spreads apart that will eventually open up to form a new sea. The Atlantic Ocean formed that way when Pangea broke apart. Since spreading ridges in oceans are faulted all the way down to the mantle, you could expect that a continental rift would also have faults that run that deep. Evidence for that can be found in low-silica volcanic rocks in the Southwest U.S. Arizona even has a shield volcano, the sort of volcano one would usually expect to find above a mantle plume forming an island chain (like Hawaii). Yet the volcanoes along the U.S. Rift are not all of this type. Likewise, the volcanoes that have formed along the sides of the rift zone in Africa are a grab bag of different types, anything from volcanic vents and relatively flat volcanoes, to giant composites like Kilimanjaro.

What this suggests is that sometimes low-silica magma is reaching the surface along these rifts (often creating extensive sills and dikes along the way), and sometimes it's mixing with the continental rocks it encounters on its upward journey and melting that stuff, introducing more silica into the mix and building composite cones at the surface, or cinder cones, or volcanic domes, or even creating plutons that cool underground.

Besides the silica ratio, another thing that determines the size, shape, and explosiveness of volcanic features is the amount of volatiles in the mix – gases. High silica/low gas mixes produce volcanic domes that extrude almost like toothpaste. Low silica/high gas mixes produce cinder cones. An intermediate mix can produce a composite volcano, like the one above Flagstaff, Arizona (far inland from where you would expect to find such a structure). The super-volcanoes of the Western U.S., Yellowstone and the Valles Caldera, are very high-silica caldera volcanoes that fractured the crust overlying them with expansion caused by heat, which allowed gases to escape through the cracks, widening them further and causing a collapse. The collapse of that surface material into the caldera produced titanic explosions. The rhyolitic tuff (fused ash) of Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico was created by an explosion from the Valles Caldera. Compare all that complicated stuff to good ol'oceanic rifting, and it just seems like such a straight-forward process in comparison.

Continental rifts seem like a lot more work. Maybe that's why continental rifts sometimes seem to just stop. The rifting had some oomph when it started out, but the upwelling current shifted, or the plume stopped, or the older part of the craton, where the crust is too thick to be rifted, moved over the whole bubbling mess. (The tectonic plates, including continents, move gradually but steadily over the upper mantle.)

One failed rift is the North American Mid-Continental Rift (extending from Lake Superior to Oklahoma), which seems to have pooped out about a billion years ago. At that time, we were part of the supercontinent Rodinia, which split up about 750 million years ago. Two other supercontinents formed and broke apart after that. Eventually, North America will collide with Asia, and the rifting will start somewhere else.

But regardless of what happens in the future, the African Rift is happening right now, in some ways that were predicted, and in some ways that were not. It will continue to be a fascinating example of what happens when continents are pulled apart.