Workplace Wonderings: USB is crashing my computer!

This one isn’t mine, exactly. It’s a coworkers. A comment on FB reminded me of this story.

I used to work for a company that has a Garmin GPS unit that they sell that runs custom firmware in order to use it for golfing. We did tech support on the units and software to load courses into the unit.

This guy calls in and says that everytime it loads, his computer crashed. He would start the process, walk away, come back to a windows dump screen.

The agent assisting him had him stay there for the whole load, and it crashed at about 50 percent the first time. rebooted the computer, tried again, crashed at 5 percent. At this point, I get called over. “Listen to this.”

He puts the earpiece on me. I hear the guy muttering, and i hear… a sound. a wet scraping sound. with an occasional.. electrical spark. “Was that sound going the whole time? the hell is he doing?”

“Oh good, you hear it too!”

He takes it back. “Sir, theres a weird sound that started right before the crash, can you tell me what it is? I think it might be the computer fan or something?”

Our headsets are loud, so I can hear the guy talking back. “Naw, naw, no way you’d hear that, my computer is on the floor and SCRUFFY GET AWAY FROM :CRACKLE: AH! SCRUFFY!”

Turns out the guy’s dog thought that something about the cable was delicious, and was licking it where it plugged in. The guy had a bank of usb ports on the front of his computer, so when the dog was licking it, it was shorting out the other usb ports and zapping itself, which it apparently didn’t mind. Ed had the guy keep the dog away, and lo and behold, it loaded just fine, no crashes. Apparently the USB ports shorting was crashing the computer.

Essay: Visibility

“Nice mask!”

The phrase is delivered in what seems to be a genuine spirit. Which is nice, as I’ve often in the last few weeks heard the phrase delivered in scathing sarcasm and derision. I look at the person saying it today. They’re wearing a mask as well, a Vader Face mask, and they’re wearing a shirt with Darth Maul on it.  I smile, crinkling the eyes hardcore to make sure it’s seen even with my lips blocked, and nod, figuring they’re a Star Wars fan commenting on the Star Wars print mask that my wife sewed up for me. 

“Thanks!”

I turn to walk away, and then freeze slightly, but keep moving.  The blaze of red seen at the bottom of my vision, pinned between my nose and my glasses, reminds me. I’m not WEARING my Star Wars mask.  I’m wearing the Pride Flag mask that I just got in the mail a couple of days ago.

the author showing his Pride.
Image : Showing my Pride.

Continue reading “Essay: Visibility”

Happy Birthday Pluto! : Song Pluto’s always a planet to me

So, it’s the 90th anniversary of the discovery of our 9th planet, Pluto.
Yes. It’s a planet. There are a LOT of reasons why the IAU decision is a steaming pile of manure. I put a couple of them into song! (To the tune of Billy Joel’s ‘She’s always a woman to me’.)

It can push and can pull, where another planet lies
Good Lowell had faith we would see it with eyes
In his tower in Flagstaff Clyde finally did see
They call it a dwarf now but Pluto’s always a planet to me.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday Pluto! : Song Pluto’s always a planet to me”

The man in the mirror…

Content warning : physical dysphoria

About two years ago, I grew a beard. My wife asked me too! And I’ll humor her just about anything she asks, at least once. I was expecting a short experiment. I had grown a beard about 15 years ago, or at least, tried. I tried to do a goatee, and by the time it got a few inches long, well… The hair grew in several different shades, fine and fuzzy, and every which way. It basically looked like I had reached into a vacuum cleaner bag, pulled out a large dust bunny, and SLAP, glued that sucker to my face.

Much to my astonishment, my beard hair grew in nicely. My mustache hair grew faster, it always had, so I ended up shaving it a few times until the beard was thick enough. My face with just a mustache looks just enough like my father to freak me out in the mirror. See, when I look in a mirror, it takes me a moment to parse that that’s me. And anything that makes me look like someone else, well, my brain goes there first. The one and only time I tried growing JUST a mustache, I woke up a few days in, looked at myself in the mirror, and had a panic attack. (I also can’t watch the live action Jungle Book with Cary Elwes for that reason. He has my father’s exact mustache. )

But the beard grew nicely. I noticed that I had two TINY spots of white on my cheeks, which left me quite chuffed. I had always said that I wouldn’t have minded starting to go bald at 17 if I had also gone silver, but nope. I kept it trimmed, and it became a look that I enjoyed. None of that bushy ass hipster lumberjack thing. I don’t need to keep a snack in there. It took me about a month with the beard to start instantly recognizing myself in the mirror with the beard, which seemed, at the time, normal. It was a very pleasing thing, the morning I looked in the mirror and went, yup, that’s me. In retrospect, it was VERY pleasing, although I didn’t understand why at the time.

Picture below by the very talented Keyhole Photography

The Scrivener – My persona in a local role play group

I’m going to back up a bit in my reminiscing here. I’ve always had a touch of body dysphoria. Specifically, there are times when my body feels too BIG. “Oh, that’s your brain’s way of telling you to lose some weight, fatty.” (Yes, I’ve had someone tell me this in response) No, fuck you, not like that. I mean… Watching Men In Black when it came out was the best thing I could reference. I feel sometimes like I’m piloting a meat suit. The “real” me is like, two foot tall, with spindly limbs, grasping nerves and tendons inside my body and pulling them to make me move. I have a bad sense of how much space I actually take in the universe, and bounce off walls, doorways, people. Because of that, I’ve always been extra careful and paying attention, and stay further away from things than I really need to.

The odd thing is, the times I feel the LEAST like that, are the times when I’m working out regularly. The bigger my body actually is, muscle wise, the more I feel like I “fit” in it. I’m just mentioning this to show that I have a minor understanding of this feeling of “This is not my beautiful body!? How did I get here!?”

ZOOM fast forward to today. My face has gotten ITCHY the last couple of months. I’ve got a bit of dandruff. I read that it is a good idea to give facial skin some time to air out now and then. Also, I’ve lost a LOT of weight since growing it. You can tell in pictures, even under the beard. I was kind of curious to see what my face looks like now. So today, my wife used the clippers and buzzed my face. (She insisted that if the beard was coming off, she was the one to do it!). She stopped halfway for a moment, and let me see it with just a goatee and mustache. Hilarious. I looked weird. But I still instantly recognized myself. She took the rest of it down. And I looked in the mirror. And… who the fuck is that? Oh, wait, it’s me. Hunh. It’ll probably take a month to start recognizing myself without the beard, but by then, it’ll have grown back, I though.

Move over Mr. Price! This man is eggs-actly the one to bring down The Bat.

And that’s when it hit me. And I realized why I was so happy that day I looked in the mirror and instantly knew who I was. I never had before. I see myself in photos, clean shaven, and I’m more likely to recognize myself from the back, than the front. In fact, I HAVE looked at photos of myself in a group, and asked, who’s that dude? And people stare at me. “Uhh, that’s you Alex.” No, really, who… oh shit it is.

I don’t recognize my own face, without the hair. I never have. I never really thought about it, but… My own brain doesn’t see me as me, without at least a thin ruff of hair on my face. It’s… an interesting feeling. The cold on my cheeks, splashing water on my face. That’s weird. Looking in the mirror? It’s downright disorienting. I can’t wait for this to grow back.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time! : Workplace memories

I was reminded today of one of the more interesting HR experiences I’ve had. At least, of the ones that I can actually talk about at work without getting sent to HR again…

I was working at a call center that had a decent kitchen in the breakroom. Actual fridges, several toasters, an electric kettle. I had settled into a decent filling breakfast routine of toasting an english muffin, and spreading peanut butter and jelly on the halfs while still warm. The peanut butter melts into the nooks and crannys, the jelly spreads smoothly in the heat. Yum.

Now, we didn’t have our own drawers. So the jelly was in the fridge, the peanut butter in a cabinet of the break room. Theft happened. Often. The levels of both containers would often be lower than I last left them. Ugh, but as long as they use silverware, and not fingers, I’m not going to complain TOO much. I did use masking tape and permanent marker to make sure my name was on both lids, and the body of each jar. To make it clear that this wasn’t company provided pb and j.

So, one morning, I’m making breakfast. I spread the pb, and dip my spoon in the jar. And another worker, one of the different departments, so not someone I knew by name or worked with, watches me, startled. “HEY! You shouldn’t do that!”

I’m very confused. I would expect this reaction if I say, stuck a metal fork in the toaster to pull out my muffin. Not use a plastic spoon to spread jelly. “Do what? I like peanut butter and jelly…?”

She steps up, getting indignant. “You shouldn’t use the same spoon for peanut butter and then stick it into the jelly! What about people with peanut allergies?”

I’m nonplussed for a moment. I’m fairly certain that I have found one of the people using my stock. I realize that she’s been waiting for me to finish at the counter, with two pieces of bread on a plate. The toaster is free, I’m not blocking it, and she’s got a plastic knife on the plate as well. But nothing visible with which one might expect a knife to be used ON. So…

“Yeah, but, it’s MY jelly.” I show her the lid with my name on it. “So no one else is going to be using it. Or at least.” I pause, narrow my eyes, and look at her bread, then look her in the eyes. “No one else SHOULD be using MY jelly. That would be stealing.”

She gets a bit nervous and steps back, but rallies. “Yeah, well, um, I mean, if someone BY ACCIDENT used it, you could cause an allergic reaction, you know? So, you shouldn’t mix them, just in case….”

I’ll admit, I was a bit ticked. What I did next was a touch childish. Justified, but childish. I showed her the labels on both sides of the jar as well. “Well, no one else has jelly in the fridge, both jars in there are mine, and labeled. So I’m not sure how someone could do so by ‘accident’. But just in case, you’re right! Lets make it clear. ”

I took a big spoonful of peanut butter, and mixed it into the jar of jelly. “There, like homemade Goobers!” I pulled out a spoonful of jelly, dark brown streaks through the glistening purple mass. I took a big sniff of the jar. “MMM MMM. Now it smells and looks like peanut butter, so anyone with an allergy would know better than to use it!”

I finished making breakfast, put my stuff away, wiped down the counter with a wet paper towel, as she stood there, getting redder and redder, spluttering on occasion.

And then two days later I get pulled off the phone to talk to HR.

“So, we understand that you were asked to not mix peanut butter into jelly that’s in the fridge, to avoid allergy issues?”

I blink, several times. “Seriously? That’s what you brought me in to talk about?”

“Do you recall this conversation”

“Yes, I ‘recall this conversation’. I pointed out to the person the same thing I’ll say here. It’s MY jelly, that I purchased. It has MY name on it in several places. Anyone other than me who would use it would be stealing. Did the person who made the complaint to you admit to stealing my jelly?”

HR director and subordinate, sitting next each other on the other side of the desk, glance at each other for a moment. The answer is obviously yes, and just as obviously, they can’t admit it. “Well, there’s a lot of possible room for misunderstanding, and we’d hate for an accident to happen, so we need you to take the jar that’s in the fridge home, and not mix allergens if you bring new jelly in the future. “

“So, is the company going to provide jelly?”

Another glance between them. “No, why would we do that?”

“Then no.”

A longer glance. They aren’t used to that word, I see. “I’m sorry, what?”

“No. Unless you demand that no employee brings a lunch in a sealed container that contains potential allergens, you have no right to demand that of me. Unless you intend to make the break room peanut free, tell people that they aren’t allowed to bring sandwiches that have peanut butter on them, you have no right to demand that I do so.”

Long sigh. “Alex, look, you have to understand, if there was an… accident… and someone had a reaction, then.”

I cut her off. “Then, per the signs that you put up a month ago after someone kept stealing lunches, the fact that they had a reaction would be proof that they stole food from the fridge, and you’d have no choice but to fire them instantly. And if you push further, and I make a complaint to the ethics committee via that number we all got an email and training about a few weeks ago, and they looked into the documentation, and there was any notation in the complaint that suggested that the complainer was knowingly stealing food from the fridge, well then…”

I paused for a moment, letting things work their way through her thoughts. “Then you would have a real fun time explaining to the ethics committee why that person wasn’t instantly fired, wouldn’t you?”

They looked at each other, at paperwork on the desk, at each other. “Are we done here? I should get back to the phones, we have a queue.”

They nodded, I got up and got back on the phones.

Princess bride being remade… I have thoughts

So, they’re talking about remaking Princess Bride. I have some thoughts. One, more rhyming Fezzig. Two, bring back the spider and the blue door.

Three….

The movie opens with a young girl, sick with a cold, laying on a couch, playing on her phone. Dad, played by Fred Savage, comes into living room holding a steaming bowl of chicken soup and a remote.

“How are you feeling, Buttercup?”

The girl smiles and takes the bowl, blowing on it. “Dad, stop. You haven’t called me that since I was a baby.”

Savage sits down next to her as she sits up a bit, then she snuggles into his side. He tousles her hair. “You’re still my baby. And I was thinking about it because…”

He looks at the remote, then up at the tv. Pan with his vision to a view of the tv, from the couch.

Next to the tv, large and black on the wall, is a shelf with DVDs. On the top of the shelf is a picture of Peter Falk, wearing the hat from the original movie. Among other dvds on the shelf, for the keen eyed, is the complete series of Columbo dvds, and a DVD labeled “Andre the Giant’s biggest hits.”

He sighs. “When I was your age, I had a really bad flu. My grandpa came and read me a book to make me feel better.”

Daughter looks up in concern at the hitch in Savage’s voice. “You… You don’t talk about greatgrandpa much.”

Savage smiles wryly. “I know. I should. I just… miss him so much.”

She nods

“But, Webfilms just released a movie based on the book a couple weeks back. I thought maybe we could watch it together?”

“I dunno. Is it one of those sports films, like that kid who played football?”

Savage smiles. “Yeah, it has sports. Fencing, wrestling, sailing, some parkour. Nature scenes, forests, swamps, oceans. Its got giants, miracles, torture, revenge, true love and magic.”

Daughter looks sideways. “Okay. I’ll give it a try….”

He hits a button, and the title sequence starts.

We then have several interruptions, whenever the movie departs from the original movie, or the book. We break to Savage and daughter, and he complains about some aspect, and then describes how it was in the book, while the daughter hushes him and tells him to unpause the movie.

In the opening farm boy sequence, before the “I love you” realization, we break to the daughter. “Finally, a heroine who knows how to handle dudes.”

Then, with the I love you reveal,

“Hold it, hold it! Are you trying to trick me? Is this a dumb romcom? Does the bad boy get redeemed through the power of her love?”

….

“She doesn’t get eaten by the eels.”
“What?”

“I just, you were grabbing my arm a little tight, you looked concerned.”

“DAAAD. It’s a movie. Of course the princess doesn’t get eaten by eels.”


At one point, we flip to them and Savage is on his feet yelling at the tv. Daughter is pulling his arm.

“Dad, dad! You know, I’m still really sick and you’re taking this movie very seriously. I think we better stop now.”

Savage freezes, looks down at her. “No, no, I’m okay. Sorry, let me sit down. I’m all right.”

“He can’t be dead. Dad, he’s not really dead, right? it’s a trick? ”

“You said no more spoilers.”

“Okay, but, who gets Humperdinck? Its not some lame Disney falling to his death thing, right”

“Nobody gets him. He lives at the end.”

“I swear dad, if he marries Buttercup and she redeems him through the power of her love, I’m going to scream. Why are you showing this to me!?” looks at photo of Falk, Greatgrandpa, why’d you read this to an impressionable little boy!?”

At the end, mom comes home with a sibling, calls daughter into kitchen to take her temp. Daughter looks back at Dad, “Thanks for staying with me today.”

“Anytime Buttercup. Think we should watch it with everyone tomorrow night?”

She smiles. “As you wish!” and walks out. We pan to Savage, standing in front of the TV. He puts two fingers on the base of the photo of Falk, and whispers. “As you wish.”

Webcomic review : Love Not Found

Webcomic review time!

Love not Found , https://lovenotfound.com/


I found this through an interesting advertisment on another comic I read last night, and suddenly two hours were gone and I was reading the most recent comic. PHEW!


First, since some people care about it, the art is consistent, wonderful, and COLORFUL! colors are used very symbolically and thematically, are bold, and pop. Every page is a treat for the eyes.


Story: So, you know Solaria? Asimov’s Solaria, in the Robots series, where people came to not touch / See people, only view them on screens? No human interaction after childhood, physical touch was a dirty thing? Okay, imagine Solaria as its starting that way. Lots of physical PRESENCE between people, but touch, especially intimate touch, is dirty/ disgusting. ( At one point, while on a phone call, our MC says, aww, if I were there, I’d give you a hug. The response is a dead serious, “A what?” the person doesn’t know what a hug is)


In this world of no touch, an accidental trip and fall into each other leaves two people obsessed with the feel and connection of having TOUCHED each other. They explore this, and the very nature of their society, we see relationships rise and fall, lots of family interaction, lots of discussion and musing on the nature of love, sex, intimacy, and connection. Its all.. just so much.

The writing is wonderfully done as well. There are many webcomics that would honestly not stand up as a novel. This one… there are definitely visual elements that would be lost, but the plot is wonderfully paced. Each character has a unique voice. We move through viewpoints seamlessly, and dialogue is natural. The occasional info dumps are done well through classic, but wonderfully executed devices. (My personal favorite is the same as used for the opening of Zootopia, the classic young children performing a class play that simplifies something all adults already know, but that WE don’t as the reader)

This story is set on a backdrop of human colonization of different worlds, humanoforming, ie, genetic manipulation of people to live in environments they weren’t meant for, and more. It’s Hard sci fi, done right, with people and emotions as the central focus around the technology and science You should read it. Its on my list now.

The Decade Mark

Thump. Thump. Thump. Squeak. THUthump.

The large round balloon that I have tied off to the handle of my grocery cart keeps thumping me in the side of the head. I turn a corner and it bounces twice. Memory flows. Part of my brain is imagining a pink dinosaur puppet with a pan. “NOT THE MOMMA!” A bigger part remembers The Momma, Tara, making the same joke many years ago, as a baby Flint, perched on my shoulder, thumped his head sideways, repeatedly, against mine, refusing to sleep. A bundle of squealing flesh the size of a large cat, eating, pooping, and slowing learning about the world.

Ten years. Ten years ago right about now, I stood in a hospital room, holding my wife’s hand, as she screamed in pain and triumph and popped our son into this world. (Literally popped. The doctor turned to prep something, turned back around, and he had gone in seconds from crowning to arms waving, nipples out, cord barely visible, about to slide out and fall on the floor. ) A decade. Ten years.

It’s a birthday balloon, popping me in the face. Big round globe, Star Wars, Jedi on one side, Sith on the other. Different sides of the same globe. Hmm. Thought for another day. A stack of cupcakes sit in the cart, and a giant donut, for an early morning birthday cake. Still need to get candles. Sparkling candles. He’s TEN! Regular candles just won’t do. And I can’t stop GRINNING as this helium filled plastic bludgeon bounces off the side of my head. THUMP.

It seems unreal. Having a child, then two, was unreal. For someone who spent most of his life desperately afraid of sharing what stains may lie in my genetics, in my soul, this is not something I really ever thought I’d be saying. I have a ten year old child. Tara and I have spent 10 years, over a quarter of our lives, as parents. And I remember. Thump.

Late night fevers, sleeplessness for us both as I held him with a cool cloth on his back, trying to ease his pain and suffering. Bottles, warming cold milk, mixing formula. Trimming nails, rubbing goop on rashes. Spoons of colored paste purporting to be fruit and or meat. Cereal. Smiles and goos and gurgles and frowns and laughs. All the laughs.

A baby’s laugh of discovery, of joy, everything truly new. A laugh that tugs deep into your heart and soul, at something bright and primal that no darkness can cover. Healing laughs that make you smile, make you laughing, pulling humor out of your body like a magician pulling scarves from a pocket.

First steps. First falls. Bandaging cuts. Answering questions. Explaining why things are dangerous, and sometimes having to shut up and let Flint learn for himself what “hot, burny burny, don’t touch”, really meant. Showing him the hidden things that exist just out of sight, unless you know where to look. Bugs in corners. Shiny rocks in the grass. Birds in trees. The hidden world when you lift the flap of fabric hanging off a couch.

Reading him books. Listening to him read aloud, the joy of discovery and emotion in his voice. Leaving favorite books of mine on his shelves, and seeing him, months later, having found one, and being nose deep in it. Watching him watching me, always learning, always growing. Doing research to answer questions, because he came up with realizations I never had to this day myself. Just a few days ago, asking him a question from his math homework, rephrasing it since it seemed to be causing him confusion.

“Okay, so you divided by 100. You moved the decimal point two places down. How do you know how far to move it?”

His whispered voice, afraid of being wrong, afraid of not understanding the question. The question isn’t confusing him. It was simply wrong. That sure knowledge in his head that he was RIGHT, and the world wrong, I could see it in his face. I didn’t know what thoughts were swirling in that developing brain of his, but I knew that face. I’d seen that face in the mirror so often, defiance against something that was simply WRONG.

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t know how far? Then why did you move it?”

“No, I didn’t MOVE IT!” More confident now that he’s finally said it. “I didn’t move the decimal. Everyone says the decimal moves, but THEY’RE WRONG!” I was stunned. I was lost in memory, watching him suddenly snap, demand that the world make sense in the face of people repeating a falsehood that doesn’t. “I didn’t move the decimal, the decimal stays in the same place! The numbers moved around it!”

And he was right. It makes perfect sense seen that way. The decimal place is the rock solid foundation of a number. It doesn’t move. Add, subtract, divide, multiply. The decimal point doesn’t move. The numbers move around it. “I… you’re right.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. That’s brilliant. Write it down.” I pointed at his paper. “Write that down, and if your teacher gives you a hard time, tell her to email me.”

You want to know what happiness is as a parent? The glow of delight when your kid is vindicated by you, when you say those magic words, “You’re right.” The victory they feel, and knowing that reaching that victory means they’ve moved past you, even in some tiny way. Thump.

Today is the decimal point. Today is always today. It never moves. Yesterday, tomorrow, they move. His birth, it’s moved. Today, it just moved from the tenths digit, to the hundredths digit. Tomorrow is in the ones digit, and the decimal point, it never moves. The numbers move around IT. The numbers of life move around Flint, my rock, the foundation of a world that I have been graced to be a major part of, but one that is not my world. One that I know I will slowly be less and less of.

I’m so proud. They say that the goal of the parent is to have a kid who’s better than you. And I do. He’s so far and above what I was at ten, and the sky’s the limit. I know that at a certain point, there will be less I can do for him, more and more he has to do for himself. And honestly? So many parents complain about how fast they grow up, how soon its out of their hands. Me? I’m looking forward to it. Watching as he becomes more and more self propelled. He’s going to get into trouble. So much trouble. With Tara and I as parents, there’s no helping that. But he’s going to get out of it as well. And get friends out of trouble. And learn things from the mistakes that no one else will ever learn, in quite the same way. He’s going to do some amazing things, and I can not wait to see what he chooses to become.

Ten years. Memories of that day, the whirl of activity around this crying babe. Testing, poking, prodding. Tara lying there, exhausted, stoned, beautiful, holding our child against her skin. Then finally sleeping, with a list of things for me to do. Thump.

His birth presaged a storm. The night she went into labor was the first time I was allowed to drive Tara’s Tracker. A new decimal point in a number that didn’t have one until that day. Heading home to get stuff for the next few days, clothes, supplies, I drove back through a blustery late August Monsoon that nearly threw me off the road. His tenth birthday seems calm. Hot, no clouds, no wind. Calm is deceiving. The next ten… its going to be something. But the decimal point won’t move. He’s going to make the numbers move around HIM.

Thump.

Okay, but first, I REALLY need to get a better weight for this balloon.

Music Review: Open Beta

“Hey brother, a friend’s band is playing on your side of town that I want you to see tonight. You in?”

 

This was the greeting I received after answering a call from one of my oldest friends, about two years ago.  Sadly, I was already booked with family stuff that night. This was the first, but far from the last, time that I would miss out on seeing Open Beta.  Open Beta

 

I missed them at Comic Con 17 by ten minutes, at Comic Fest 18 by an hour. I have had friends, strangers, and an author at a panel I attended tell me to go listen to them. The fates have conspired to prevent it, until Saturday.  I was kidnapped by the above mentioned friend, Michael Klopper. (Pausing for the chorus of, “Hey, I know that guy!” Of course you do…)  We went down to the old OCP (yeah, you know me.), O’Connor’s Pub at Dunlap and the 17.  I’ve never been there before, but me and that bar have become fast friends.  It’s that kind of place.  I kept looking around for a fat redheaded guy smoking a cigar.

 

We walk in as the trio are working their way through a, I’m going to stereotype from ignorance here, classic Irish Jig.  Heads are bouncing, drinks are rising.  The band pulls the eye, a mismatched yet balanced set.  To the left is the guitarist, pretty average looking guy, size wise. I later learn his name is Paul Schmidt. I try not to hold it against him. To the right is Brian Abernathy,  Mike McShane’s long lost brother, tall, wide, and tapping a stick on a large round hand held drum. He’s getting sounds out of the thing that would make Neil Peart look twice.  In the center dances a manic pixie on a violin that is just as modern and electric as Brian’s drums are archaic and unpowered.  Shorter and smaller than either of the guys, she nonetheless dominates the stage, the fiddle speeding up as she kicked and swung, the guy’s faces starting to contort as you could tell they fought to keep up.

 

Every table had at least a pair of people, most of them full up.  I stood at the door, watching and listening, and Klopper quickly and quietly made his rounds, hugging, hand shaking, responding to raised hands and quiet calls of his name.  I’m used to this. It doesn’t matter where I take him, this happens.  Everyone knows Klopper.  I’ve written about this before.  Eventually, the song ends, and Klopper motions to an open chair at a table with some friends of his.  I sit, as Erin leaps off stage and descends upon a large glass of coffee, whip cream piled high.  Brian swears loudly.  “More coffee?”  He looks out at the crowd. “We’re having a hard enough time keeping up, don’t give her MORE caffeine!”

 

The crowd roars, and Erin cackles with glee as she leaps back onstage.  This was repeated a few more times that night.  As well as a few shots done by all three together.  You know it’s a proper Irish band when the players are drinking more than the audience.  The band launches into a song with words, very folk feel, but not one I recognize. I think it might be one of theirs.

 

Klopper asks me what I’ll have, he’s buying the first round . I’m wanting something I can nurse for a while.  “Enh, a beer.”

 

“Cider.”

 

“What?”

 

He glares at me.  “It’s an Irish bar. You’ll have a cider.”  I agree, and he comes back with a couple of glasses and a basket of fried cheese curds as the band takes a break.  He leaves all three, goes to say hi to the band as they split off.  The cider half vanishes in one long pull, I need to find out what he got me, as it was delightful. The curds start vanishing as well. Speaking as a part Canadian who has had lots of experience with fried cheese curds, Wisconsin had better never find out O’Connor’s source of cheese, or they’ll send a crew to wreck the place in jealousy.

 

 

The band returns to the stage.  The next three hours go by in a whirl.  They have a pattern, Open Beta does.  One or two songs with words.  The guys take turns at lead vocal, though its mostly Paul.  Erin does a bit of backup for some songs, but not much.  Then we get an instrumental, just enough drum to keep a beat, a bit of guitar for tuned rhythm, and that violin.

 

There are not enough words to describe that violin.  Erin seems to flit back and forth between beating sounds out of it, cajoling a soft tune, and then just wrestling the strings into submission.  The music just channels through her, and guides her bandmates, and the audience.  Emotion pours out, wordless songs that are nevertheless sung, or a perfect counterpoint to words that are said, the emotions underneath highlighted by the soul of that bow pulling along the strings. I am not a dancing man, at least, not without a lot more than just a glass of cider in my belly, but several times that night, I glanced over to the pool table and wondered how easily I could move it out of the way to make a dance floor.

 

 

 

A little something about me and my tastes. I like building songs. You know, a song that starts with part of the melody, a bit of the instrument. Then on the repeat, adds some more.  Eventually, we have the full song played, every lick, every instrument, bright and loud. Open Beta appears to have a similar taste.  A lot of their songs, especially the ones that are covers of popular songs, build.  A light tap of drum.  A gentle long tone from the violin.  A basic repeating chord scheme from the guitar.  A bit of song.  Refrain and new stanza adds more drum, the guitar picks up some notes between the chords.  The long tones resolve into a touch of plucking and more notes. We come around the bend into the final verse, and the band drops it down into overdrive, guitar bouncing, drum throwing out a pounding that, if your eyes were closed, you would SWEAR was a full kit, not a single lonesome leather covered circle of wood (Bhodran, it’s called. I had to look it up. Bow Drawn. ) And that violin, and it’s player…  Bouncing and skipping across the stage, bow flying across the strings.  Several times that night, I thought to myself, they should do a cover of Devil went down to Georgia.  Because the fiddle part would give her a break, and let her relax her fingers in comparison to what she’s already playing.

 

 

 

They play sad songs, they play happy songs.  I find myself with wet eyes, not sure why, as I’m laughing at the same time.  And in between songs, or often during, the trio banter.  As Klopper says, deep into the third set, “See, you get a concert AND a show.”

 

 

 

Paul and Brian take turns playing straight man funny man, but much like the music, Erin brings the soul.  With a word here, a quip there, and lots of facial expressions aimed at the bawdy antics of the boys, they set the jokes up, and she knocks the crowd down.  One liners that would get a chuckle on their own cause the crowd to explode into laughter as she drops her gaze to the ground, wrist to forehead, bow sticking into the air, and sighs the sigh of the much oppressed and put upon.  Another mug of Irish coffee appears on the table in front of them, and she leaps upon it in glee, the others again exclaiming in dismay.  “Keep this up, and we’ll end up having to do kamikazes every time one of you buys her coffee.”

 

 

 

Minutes later, a pair of shots are handed to them by the barkeep. The revelry continues. The classic folk songs, mixed with their own music, and covers, many geeky.  A low mournful song is played and sung. I listen to the lyrics. I know this song. I know it well, yet they’re playing it in a way I can’t identify, and the lyrics are… ah.   The melody flows into the one I know well, the original song that now serves as chorus, as the entire bar sings together. The words burst out of my own lungs, an anthem of the geeky and proud for the last decade and a half.  “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand.”  They roll through the song, building, as I mentioned before, and on the final chorus, the rafters are ringing from the audience singing along.  (For those curious, the full song they played is called “Mal’s Song”.  Its an expansion of the Ballad, written by Michelle Dockrey.  Look it up, it’s fantastic. )

 

 

Paul announces that they are about to play a song written by an ex member of their original band, who happens to also be the bartender serving us. It’s a relationship, in eleven minutes, he says.  Klopper smiles and taps me on the chest.  “This is the first song of theirs I ever heard, you’ll love it.”  The story he relates to me is that after a particularly bad breakup, one I remember helping pick up the pieces after, a mutual dear friend of ours dragged him to see the band that would become Open Beta, Talk a Little Treason, and this was the song they played as he walked in. He was ready to walk out, upset by the song, when it reached the final verse. That’s all he would say, and let me experience the song.

 

 

 

It opens with a plaintive request to spend some time together.  A impassioned description of a night spent in each other’s arms. And of course, waking up alone.  The song moves into doubt, wondering, are we or aren’t we a thing?  It strikes a chord, no pun intended.  In fact, it makes me think quite a bit about the mutual friend who introduced Klopper to this song and band.  And we’re well past wet eyes.  There are tears on my face, and I am dumbstruck by this song, and the power it has over me. And just when I’m about to excuse myself, and leave the room, the final verse starts.  And I’m joining the rest of the room is laughter, great, cathartic, side splitting laughter. I may be one of the few people in the room who doesn’t identify with the close of the song, but I still find it funny.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself. I won’t ruin it.

 

 

We’re nearing the end of the last set.  The band has already admitted to the crowd that they have a set list, but they don’t use it, completely. “They’re more like GUIDELINES”, Paul informs us.  The band is in close to each other, whispering, but from my vantage, I hear every word.  “We could.  Or what about Solsbury Hill?”

 

“Yes.” I whisper to myself. “Play Solsbury Hill!”

 

“What?”  Klopper, not having heard them, is looking at me.

 

“Oh, just whispering to myself, no worries.”

 

The song starts. Gentle drum. Just a touch of guitar.  Klopper recognizes their version instantly, and knows my tastes.  “Ooo! You’ll like this one.”  I nod, and listen.  True to form, first verse, vocals, a couple chords, long sweet sounds from the violin.  Brian takes the lead on singing this one, and he’s holding the mic like a lover, the drum aside for the moment.  Into the second verse, the music builds, and as the final verse starts, he’s belting the song out, Erin is dancing like a maniac, bow flying across the strings, Paul bouncing with the guitar, music pouring out of the stage.

 

They finally end, a few minutes past midnight.  I am wrung out. My head is full, my heart is lighter than when I came in.  I laughed, I cried, my hands still sting from clapping and my feet ache from tapping and pounding the floor.  I purchased an album, gave them my compliments.  Listening to the album the next day…  It’s good, but lacks some of the magic.  This is a band best experienced in person.  Go. See them.   http://www.openbetamusic.com/

The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.

So, I’ve just received the second piece of art to be put permanently on my skin.

Uncle Josh with Lost Dutchman Tattoo put it there.  Wonderful artist, great guy, a delight to work with. Go buy his art, both on your skin, and on paper.

Behold, Wesley Crusher.  Let me explain

(also, its 12 hours old.  and a bad angle on my shoulder.  I’ll update the pic in a week or so) (okay, so i never updated it. I need to get some touchups done first)

Continue reading “The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.”