Saturday, February 27, 2010

from encyclopedia's to Google: thoughts on portals for information collection.

Once upon a time, information was power.  Those who controlled the information had the power to make, break, change and iterate their particular polemic.  The rest of us accepted that those who "knew", knew what was in our best interests.  Those who controlled information flow could control not only its dissemination but also its generation.  What was written, kept hidden, made public, exposed, created, imparted and expressed was in proportion to the benevolence or malevolence of the arbitrators of that information.

This state of affairs has changed markedly in the past 40 years or so - my lifetime so far.  Information - good information - is probably as valuable now as it ever was but with one significant difference - it's now accessible by much greater proportion of the population.  This means that information - even good enough information - is cheap, ubiquitous, ever-changing, endless, and it has the life-span of nano-seconds compared to the information available even as late as 30 or 40 years ago.

When I was a little girl, growing up on a farm kilometres from the closest town, with little access to television and little understanding of the pompous and esoteric murmurings of public radio - my only source of reliable information at the time was my father's beloved set of Encyclopedia Brittanica.  This was the place my father sent me when I wanted to know the meaning of something, the history of some event or the workings of the human body.  I was forced to learn how to use its indexing system - complicated enough as it was for an 9 year old - I would spend hours pouring over the 24 gargantuan tomes in their maroon bindings searching and cross-referencing to learn whatever I could about what it was itching in my brain.  Most of the time, I could barely comprehend the language, but learn it I did for there was no other way for me to access the information I wanted.  Effectively, I was controlled to know whatever it was that EB deemed it appropriate for me, my father and others blessed enough to own a set of Encyclopedia's!

Now, I Google! It's easy, it's fun, I can sift and sort information quickly, making pretty reasonable judgments as to its accuracy and intent - I hope!  In this day and age, Information is not deemed "of quality" until that fact has been intuited by the consumer of that information.  This makes the information available today quite a bit more subjective than it was many years ago I think and its perceived "quality" may be often questionable.   It's also a probably truth that what EB imparted as information back in the first half of the 20th Century was just as "questionable" to the biases of those in control of its dissemination - we may never really know. 

The web has distinguished itself as an inexhaustible vault of Information.  Qualitative and quantitative information may be harder to find but its there.  I already see a kind of frenzy happening around me - particularly in my work in community development -  in reining, boxing, corralling, sorting and sifting all this information in so that it becomes "easier to handle".

Government departments are attempting to make online "portals" to collect vast amounts of information into isolated repositories for different sections of the population - much like a kind of limited encyclopedia of knowledge about one subject at a time for one kind of group at a time.  It's all about control but in the guise of making this information easier for people to find.  A part of me fears this kind of approach.  To me it smacks of an inability to both accept the impossibility of being able to control information and the sheer effrontery to assume people want that information controlled in the first place.  

There's no question that the web can make hunting down scraps of information a bit like sifting for needles in haystacks but I'd rather people were given the options for how to make the search than having others dictate to certain groups via "portals" or "info exchanges" just what information they "need". 

People need to be skilled up and educated in how to search the web for what they want and need to know just like I was trained to hunt and understand the information I wanted from those precious books as a child.  Search engines need to be impartial and not geared to show the information of the highest bidders.  We simply cannot easily decide as  collective groups what is qualitative information anymore and the quantitative aspect of information control is most likely impossible anyway.  The skills for assessing and utilising quality information from across the web must taught - to individuals, so that they can decide for themselves what is useful to their needs.

We value freedom of speech.  Let's now also value and encourage the freedom of people to find and use good information for themselves rather than corralling it for them in the mistaken assumption that its control and manipulation is required.

Friday, February 26, 2010

the email test blog

I'm actually writing this from within my email account.   Bizarre but true!  If it actually works it may yet revolutionise the way I blog!  For the past four years, I've conscientiously gone directly inside in order to record my impressions, thoughts and creative ideas.  I'm always up for a trick if it makes life easier and in the past year, writing in blogger has succumbed to a malady mainly called "Can't be bothered!".

I still yearn for my blog.  I still want to write in it and express myself within its hallowed virtual  halls.  It's just been too tedious a process to open a blank page and begin writing.  Yet, from my email account, where writing is almost as natural as breathing for me, I might perhaps find the wherewithal again to bare my soul and aMuse my "Genius" in the cosy glow of blogger's footlights.

Let's test this puppy out and see if the possibilities are there!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

a little pool of freedom

Hold me lightly
cupped like water
and do not clench
or grasp
or squeeze;
just lightly
soft -
carefully casual like,
precious even.
I shall rest there,
in your hand
so soft -
courageously gentle;
a warm resting place
for freedom
to lie still a moment.
A little pool
of freedom
inviting you to sip
but not hold.

Feb 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just because he's not famous...

Matt Stevens huh?

My little journal entry about my trip to see Porcupine Tree last week seems to have generated far more interest across the globe than I might have expected! Bizarre how the blogging world opens up microcosms of connections really... but that aside:

I had a rather strange email land in my inbox this morning - in the Junk Folder. I'm not inclined to trash junk just too willy nilly and probably just as well too or I'd never have had a listen to Matt's music.

Matt invited me to write "something" about his music here in my blog for him! hahahaha!! How CUTE is that I ask you? Blatant promotion aside, I confess to being just a little chuffed that he at least appeared to have read my blog! We hobby bloggists are so egomaniacal ain't we?

Okay... so I checked out Matt's site via the long trail method rather than accepting his blatant call for action - in my junk folder no less - as gospel variety truth.

Glad I did!

Sure! The guy apparently CAN play the guitar - and then some. His album is available to download at his site You can offer him anything you want for it it seems, which seems to be the way of new music now thanks to the innovation of "Radiohead" a few years ago.

Matt sounds like he's classically trained as there is lots of classical riffs and spanish influences on his "Echo" album. I gave it a good listen and quite enjoyed it but I still sorta think the man needs a full band to round out his compositions with more depth and layers than the acoustic guitar layers he's added. I yearned for driving bass fills and the tight patter of drums. As it stands some of this stuff begins to sound much like the other to the untrained ear - a bit like chewing on gum for too long, it gets all bit "meh" once the initial flavour is gone.

There is a lot to like here of course. He has this layered loop thing going on with other acoustic guitar work doing the part of what other band members might have done with other instruments. For purely acoustic instrumental sound - its definitely pretty cool. For the "right" context anyway. I imagine this is the sort of stuff you can play unobtrusively in the background over a dinner date with friends.

Some of it is clunky and uninteresting, other parts are warm and intimate; other parts again, are just plain weird like all good prog should be in places *wink*. I have listened to some tracks more than once already. There are catchy melodies here, repeated lines that capture the mood and encase it like sticky honey on a spoon. There are chords that grate on the teeth like metal against fillings and then - just to mix it all up a bit - there's lilting Spanish classical picking juxtaposed against rapper-like background staccato sounds. It might be too much of everything trying too hard to be all one thing but most of the time it kind of works, the occasional glitch aside. This isn't polished production - it is however, an ordinary blokes' music and just like I blog for fun - he writes music for fun. He no doubt does it as much for himself as for the world.

What does interest me is how he is marketing his stuff! Direct email to blogger's who write just for the fun of it is a new one on me! Does it smack of desperation? Yeah! Perhaps!

Does that matter?

Not in the least!

My own reaction was one of suspicion and distrust initially but there was also something inherently "natural" about his email in my junk folder as well, which piqued my need to go Google him up! I am duly impressed by this effort to market his sound to the world on a bootstrap. And this is effectively what this is.... bootstrapping! This is obviously, his real business - his music - aside from his day job if he has one! He is using what is already available and working at it, strategically, using just the tools at hand to generate public interest and in time more sales. It's risky, courageous and determined and not lacking in passion.

It is unlikely that any major music producer would conclude that Matt Stevens had "something" marketable to make lots of cash from. That's the point here though. More and more we are going to see talented, highly creative and determined young men and women taking charge of their own artistic destinies and risking a chance on fame and fortune through a niche of other ordinary creative people taking notice. The tools are within their grasp to do this now on a global scale. Matt may be the harbinger of a new kind of Minstrel plying his trade across the ether rather than on a road.

The way Matt approached me to write about his music is to me, marketing by the incremental, rather than grand splash flashy advertising with sink or swim outcomes. This is the slow crawl towards making the music heard by as many as necessary even though the Matt Stevens of the world who are making this stuff, may remain relatively incognito throughout!

So good on yer Matt for having a crack. Your music is perfectly okay and yeah...just because you're not famous doesn't mean you don't deserve to be promoted or listened to. I have been happy to oblige by writing this post even as I listen to your new album on your site. I still think it's weird you think my blog will make a difference to your journey to fame and infamy though! *snort*

Oh what the hell! I reckon I might download "Echo" after all *grin*

Cheers :)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Porcupine Tree and mini-breaks for over 45's

I've had a wee holiday. A "mini-break", if you will.

It all started yesterday. Sunday 7th February 2010 (and yes... the fact that it was the anniversary of "Black Saturday" does not escape me as I shall never forget the 2009 version of this date for the rest of my days). I left for Melbourne on the bus + train combo we endure just because we live so far from the "suburbs" etc etc (dramatic eye-rolling of course).

The trip was uneventful and restful. I was pretty sleepy for most of it but did manage to get a listen of the new album by Porcupine Tree on the ipod. The music made me smile as always. Dramatic, theatrical, eminently moody and exacting - listening to PT is a surreal experience akin to a joy-soaked bath in healing but ominous looking black mud! I couldn't wait to see them live even though I little knew what to expect other than that their sound seems to thrill me ways I can barely describe.

It was really quite hot when I arrived at Southern Cross Station on the edge of Melbourne CBD. I generally like to walk the CBD, eschewing the fantastic public transport system for "Shanks Pony" because well 1) I need the exercise any chance I get and 2) its faster than waiting around for anything and 3) everything in Melbourne CBD is tucked within a very compact 2.5kms walk from anything else really...give or take a few metres. It only ever takes me approximately 20 minutes to walk to Bourke St. Mall and not much after that to get to where I generally stay on solo trips such as this one, the trust old Victoria Hotel in Lt. Collins St.

Mind you... that last 5 minute crawl up the hill to the doors of The Vic is torturous and will guarantee burning hamstrings and the feeling of blades turned upwards into the soles of ones feet on really warm days - particularly for the grossly unfit and overweight such as myself *sigh*.

The Vic's rooms are are arranged in an Escher'esque way - aka. in labyrinthine but sort of logical confusion. It took me nearly 15 mins from alighting from the first floor lift to find my room. I got hopelessly lost up in there you know! Then again, I'm the "Least-likely-to-know-which-way-is-East-even-if-the-sun-were-rising" kind of girl so that was probably to be expected.

I finally found room 119 tucked into a tiny cul-de-sac through doors, down stairs, up a ramp, down a corridor, around a corner. It was spacious with a double bed made from the off-casts of some cement factory; however, given as I am, to preferring firmer mattresses than overly-soft, it suited me fine. The room was really hot though, so I was grateful for the small air-conditioner set into the wall. The one small window above the air-con was darkened with a small slatted blind, the slats closed, making the room very dark. I rather liked it this way. My bathroom was barely the size of a postage stamp with the barest essentials required for ablutions. Quite frankly, having a door on the bathroom was superfluous and my feeling is that swinging saloon doors or a sliding door would be a far more agreeable option. The swing door took up most of the space and as I was on my own, the need to close it seemed a bit over kill really except for the fact I kept banging my hip against it as I washed my face or brushed my teeth.

When I had finished surveying the room, I dumped my bag on the bed and grabbed key and wallet and promptly wended my way back down the labyrinth of corridors and ramps to the lift well. I was on a mission now - food! One of my biggest weaknesses as a single 48 year old female is the obsession with both food AND girth all in the same breath and mindset. It's the most fundamentally annoying conundrum.

I want to eat really great tasting food but on the condition that I add not one iota of a gram of fat to my already overburdened frame. In fact, I want to eat really good food such that my body says with grateful happiness "Oh Thank you so much! I am very well fed! I do not need to reserve all these extra calories you just devoured and store them in your thighs and arse, just in case I need them for later when I think I might, potentially, be starving; so I will release these calories into the ether and stay thin because I'm perfectly happy to do that for you!" etc etc.

Sadly, my metabolic rate is such that gaining weight is easier than breathing - no matter how "healthy" the food is or appears! These days, losing the kg's requires the disciplinary skills of a regimental instructor in an army boot camp and I actually rather despise following "rules" - even the ones I make for myself. So, there I sat in bakery eating great food and I am still purring at the memory of pastry crumbling over my lips in all its decadent, delicious, and malevolent beauty. Sluggish metabolic genetics and a predilection for sugar + butter is a cruel disease!

I digress:

I wondered if I should go "do something" while there in Melbourne on my own. No children to groan at me as I perused the Masters in the National Gallery: no friends to get tetchy with me as I wandered around the alley ways looking at cafe menu's "deciding" where I was going to eat later - having just had lunch: no schedules other than an 8pm appointment to see a band. Bliss.

I opted instead, for a "Nanna nap" in my cosy little hide-away hotel room. And just as well I might add. My day had started at 5am that morning and the thought of having to fire on through until well after midnight just made me cave. The nap was divine except for a surreal and rather realistic dream where I kept hearing noises from my minuscule bathroom and on rising from my bed (plank), noted that there was a coterie of American High School girls and an older female "Chaperone" who looked like she might have come straight from the set of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest"! Their room was apparently adjunct mine and we were forced to "share" the bathroom. This did NOT please me one bit. They literally invaded my space and as the room shifted and morphed into other rooms with doors that wouldn't close I was "forced" to stand my ground and demand that everyone fuck off immediately in the nicest possible assertive way I could. This was a blimmin' dream I might add and I was rather bristled by it but also sort of assured that my confidence is perhaps coming back. Despite that dream though, the nap was restful and I got up about 5pm to prep for the concert.

Now, given that I AM 48 years old, I decided not to get just too carried away with all things "primping". The chances of me needing to impress anyone were far too preposterous to give any credibility to. I just wanted to look presentable and as "normal" as I possibly could. I had had an inkling for days that women in my demographic are not normally associated with 'Difficult-to-categorise-progressive-hard-rock-bands', so I just preened enough to feel comfortable that I was not going to frighten children and left it at that.

I decided that I actually wasn't "that" hungry and eschewed a large meal for dinner. I walked up Bourke St to The Palace so that I could get a sense of the lay-of-the-land so to speak. I wasn't sure if I was going to actually hang outside the front doors or not at this point as it was a good two hours before they would open: I did however, want to be sure that I had the right place and that all was in order. I opted for a small take away meal that I actually didn't finish and knew it would be enough to tide me through. I had packed "light" opting only for the two pockets in my pants to carry bare essentials.

There was a queue already forming outside the doors of The Palace. In the end, I bought a bottle of water from the 7 Eleven just a bit further down and chose to go stand in that queue. There were perhaps 20 or so people already there. Most were youngish, slightly geeky looking and they appeared to be the sort of expected "type" who would probably choose to listen to the music of Porcupine Tree. A young woman was standing in front of me with her boyfriend chatting to some blokes in front of them. She looked at me and without batting an eyelid said aloud but quietly and quite politely
You do not look like someone who would normally be seen at a concert like this!
We ended up laughing and chatting, both of us amused and amazed at how the power of music has a way of drawing unlikely people together. Personally, I was awe at the lengths people actually went to, to get to this concert. The girl and her partner were from Perth, opting to visit Melbourne for the first time ever just to experience Porcupine Tree up close and live! Another guy just in front of them in the queue was effectively a bona fide groupie having been to heaps of PT concerts in Europe and who had apparently, travelled from "Goodness-knows-where" to see them in Australia too. I met another guy later on from New Zealand who had travelled over, specifically to catch these guys in concert! A band with that kind of geographical pulling power must be worthy of attention surely?

The two hours waiting in the queue for the doors to The Palace seemed to go by really fast! I didn't even get that nervous "need" to go find a tree so to speak! That in itself was amazing (or I was very dehydrated! One of those options!).

Once inside I was surprised to see that this was in fact not so much a theatre as a club. The floor space dropped in graduated stages via short steps. The huge boarded space directly in front of the stage looked inviting and I "might" have stayed down there for the duration except my feet and legs were killing me and I needed to find that "tree" by then anyway! I went upstairs to the first level mezzanine and found what I was looking for. I also found a rather comfy armchair perched on steps. The whole place is effectively one giant bar with alcoves where one can be plied with alcohol or water in exchange for vast sums of money! I decided that since I had what I thought was a pretty prime piece of real estate - aka that big squishy and comfortable armchair - I wasn't going to go frolicking about looking ridiculous by ordering Lemon, Lime & Bitters and a bottle - small - of water. I parked my weary butt and waited.

The support act finally came out not much more than an hour later. Sleep Parade were cute, young and yet just seemed a bit desperate to me in some ways. It might be a common problem for supporting acts starting on their journey to fame and infamy. To me SP just seemed to be trying so very hard to be counted as serious prog musicians - which I suppose they are. To my naive and untrained ears they sounded tight but not really relaxed enough as a unit to lift their originals into the Memorable category. They definitely show promise though in the progressive rock market. So? That being said, they'll no doubt be on the lips of generations much younger than me in the years to come. Indeed they are probably to quote the lead singer:
...luckiest bands in Australia to be chosen to support Porcupine Tree. [unquote]

Watch this space. :)

At approximately 9:45pm, Porcupine Tree opened. I stood immediately, mainly because the two TALL guys just in front of me also stood. *sigh* Why is it that tall people don't naturally select the very back row as a matter of course? I will probably regret in the ensuing years not being pushy enough to scramble a spot on the railing right down at the front of the mezzanine overlooking the ground floor and with a perfect view of the stage! I could see okay though from where I was if I ducked and dived and generally stretched in and around the tall men in front of me. I could see the bare footed Steven Wilson ( and the amazing Gavin Harrison on the drums, Richard Barbieri on the keyboards and other eclectic sound morphing devices and Colin Edwin on the bass. They had a fifth member as a guest performer - an Aussie - but I missed his name and did not recognise him unfortunately. My apologies if he ever happens to read this (*smirk* - astonishing ego have I yes? *smirk*). Let's just say he fitted in perfectly well! :)

The band played most of the first seamless track from their new album "The Incident" which was released last year. I'd been listening to it for a few days prior so by the time they started playing it I was beside myself with joy and excitement. I just could not stop grinning like a fool! I had no children with me to embarrass and it highly unlikely I will ever meet anyone of the people at that event again, so I let my body "talk" with the music as it is always inclined to do so. I moved, jiggled, swayed and generally bounced along with sheer unadulterated pleasure! I had fun!!!! Amazing, awesome, wonderful, In-this-moment-I-am-happy fun!

The visual effects on the screen behind the band lent a surrealist landscape to the sound. And what sound! Effortless and inspired sound coming from depths of human suffering and yet morphing that suffering and pain into irrepressible cause for joy within my own soul. HOW can music be this Good? Guitar riffs morphing into psychedelic arpeggio's made of synth and keyboard then crashing over you suddenly, wave upon wave of heavy metal beat, interwoven with poetic, melancholic and ethereally beautiful melodies. I am awed at the musicianship quite frankly. Not one member of the band grand-standed; nor did they make a big show of anything - it was all about immersion in the sound; the music.

I of course - being very old and very practical - had brought along earplugs! I AM very grateful I did this because I snuck my right one out periodically to get a sense of how loud it was. Oh my giddy aunt! If I had have been down on the floor in the crowd - I am sure I'd be in the emergency dept by now screaming for my hearing to return and holding bloodied towels to the sides of my head. It was deafeningly loud. The earplugs actually made the experience MUCH better for me. I could clearly hear every note, every beat, every melody and every word! I went to bed later that night with no ringing in my ears and I can still use a phone without having to shout at people to "speak up"! :) A worthy addition to any concert attendance.

After a short break, the band returned to sing some old favs from earlier albums such as "Fear of a Blank Planet" and "In Abstentia", both of which get a regular airing in my iTunes playlist and on the ipod too :) Bliss....pure bliss to know this music even though I hardly know what the titles of the songs are really. I realised this because a bloke kept turning in the quieter moments (rare and profound), to ask what song they'd just played. I never knew what to say other than I "knew" the song but couldn't remember what it was called! *blush* I know - I am hardly an expert on these things. He kept saying "Amazing band!" over and over with each new song having never heard of PT before in his life until that night when a mate had dragged him along. A new fan born I reckon :)

When I finally made it out not long after midnight, I was so pumped and excited, I felt as if I was 16 years old again and as light as air. I sent a few text messages to let the kids know I was okay and proceeded to walk the few blocks back to The Vic. I had been more than a little worried about being on my own at this hour walking back but it was fine really - lots of people about and very well lit, much safer than it all seems in theory I guess. I settled into my room after a lovely hot shower. I hadn't realised how sweaty and icky I'd become standing for hours in a darkened club but there you go - live and learn! :)

I lay in this morning and leisurely pottered about my room on waking, packing up and moving through some exercises to relieve the stiffness in my legs and ankles. I guess this stiffness came from having to teeter on the edges of steps in order to see over tall people the previous night. :) I had a divine breakfast/brunch at Gordon's in The Causeway of light rye toast with sausage, tomato and cheese and a long Earl Grey tea *mmmmmm*. Then I wandered, rather aimlessly, and very leisurely, back towards the station for my train/bus home.

Again, the journey was uneventful and as I read my book and listened yet again to PT on my ipod, I could not stop smiling and feeling utterly relaxed and content with the state of things in this moment.

A blissful couple of days and I'm still purring.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hope for Haiti Now Album

Apple cobbled together a few of its pals to make a music tribute and raise money for the victims of the recent Haiti Earthquake.

The album is definitive 2000's pop + 20th Century classics, some apparently re-worked by the artists especially for this album.

Most tracks have a slightly more down-tempo feel which I suppose is to demonstrate respect but also appeal to a much wider than usual audience. As a result, I find it a bit a heavy on occasion as if its too earnest, too forced. I imagine most rock and pop stars must absolutely dread a world disaster these days! Disasters must mean an expectation that their profession will automatically line up for the fund-raising effort. The charity burn-out factor must be becoming a bit of an issue. Surely? Making and selling a music CD IS an easy way to "raise money" but its getting a bit tired! Where are the big Hollywood movies being donated to "raise money" for example? I might just be naive perhaps.

This album features most of the male and female A-Lister's of modern pop including Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Wyclef Jean, Bono, Justin Timberlake and so on. I am listening intently but did they HAVE to include Beyoncé's vocal theatrics? *sigh*. Might be just me - but her version of Halo on this album grates and comes across as forced and overly theatrical "compassion". It's the most irritating track and I skip it on each listen now.

Stand-out tracks for me are Bruce Springsteen's version "We shall overcome", Taylor Swift's "Breathless" (beautiful pop!) and Dave Matthews and Neil Young's version of "Alone and Forsaken" (brilliant stuff!). Then there's "Lean on me" by Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock and Kieth Urban. The weirdest track is Wyclef Jean trying to do a out-of-sync coolness (not!) version of "River's of Babylon" which is just "meh!".

At AU$13.99 (via direct download from iTunes) its not too bad value though its hardly going to be a memorable album in years to come I reckon. Overall, the album is too chunky, too serious, and feels more like a brick - albeit plated gold - than a feel-good treat and a thank you for my donated funds!

The album is apparently doing well though in sales and has raised a modest amount for the Haiti Appeal. Yes! US$3m + to date is "modest" in this situation. The Haiti crisis is going to take years to mend. It will cost billions to fix and a few sales of a CD aren't going to make too big a dent in that required amount. Truth be told - the money raised doesn't always get to where it is meant to go either! Once the ordinary folk of the world realise this travesty of justice... who knows what will happen to "Charity" then?

The organisations that can clearly demonstrate an ethical distribution of donated funds will prevail. Let's hope so anyway!