Write something now

Be careful what you ask for.



(Part Five and Finis of the trilogy).

Someone asked me a while back about newspaper sub-editing, and I resisted answering until I got pushed. Perhaps you understand a little now why I was reluctant to begin. But I have things to get busy with now, so I thought I would wrap this up tonight. They just put me on the machine for free, the price so far has been a hot chocolate (we've just passed the longest night of the year, it's freezing in Johannesburg right now ... and in the news, they are demolishing shacks on council property and leaving little children out in the open with nowhere to sleep) ... and a shot of Jack Daniels, which I am busy stretching into the night. I'm really trying to give up drinking, but tonight is not the night. Tonight's the night to Write Something Now.

I want to say something else. I think even crazier carlos is about to do another morph -- well, in the near future, let's say it's a definite maybe. Partly, to move away a little from the "crazy". Not that I'm not crazy, oh no. My private brain care specialist, the best shrink in the country, will never use words like "depressed" lightly in conversation, she's very very careful and ethical. But when she introduces me to people I've never met at dinner parties (she introduced me to the Spanish Ambassador like this, as I recall) -- she says "And this is Carlos. Don't worry about anything he says, he's completely crazy."

(She does sometimes add "the good kind of crazy" if her guests look too perturbed).

No, it's that there are other people involved here, and I don't want them to be painted with the same crazy brush. Very serious things are afoot here at the moment and no mistake.

So I was looking at the title of this essay, and realised it can be read two ways. And the other way is -- maybe YOU can use MY craziness to do work like this, without becoming too infected with the complete insanity that permeates the media. I would love it if there were a few really sane and together people out there on the desk, instead of the ego-driven and completely dysfunctional nut-cases I've encountered (and I hate to tell you this, but I'm far from the worst.)

That all being said. There are a couple of real Golden Rules of subbing, which I think make the game what it is, and are actually what elevates formal journalism over blogospheric banter. (I see there's been a debate about this elsewhere on the board). I routinely tell people not to read newspapers -- I say, it'll only depress you with information that you don't actually need and can do nothing about. But it's a pity, and I think more and more we need people who are able to see through the bullshit and put two and two together, write it well, get it printed, and make it relevant enough for people to read.

So here are two final thoughts, and tell me if they don't apply to life as a whole.


This is actually the key to subbing. It's one of the reasons I genuinely love the work. You can't fool around. If someone says -- Who's the President of Latvia? you must either KNOW THAT YOU KNOW or KNOW THAT YOU DON'T KNOW. You can't ever say, "I think it's ... isn't it that guy ...". No. You are always on deadline, there's no time to be pretending or guessing. As you read through a story, it will either be registering as looking OK, this is stuff you know about, the names look right, etc ... or, a bell rings in your head that says "You don't know this". And then you have to check it. Which is why they invented Google, which has very rapidly become a sub's best friend. (We used to have Google races at one place I worked, news24.com, fantastic online site until they moved it to Cape Town. We would ask a question and the person who got it quickest on Google would win. I always won. It's the judicious choice of key words, plus using inverted commas at just the right time. And typing "Define: xxxx" is also very handy).

You have to train your memory, and also keep and maintain a dictionary on your system with all the funny names. I personally find that vocalising helps tremendously (more below). For instance, we have a defence minister here called Mosiuoa Lekota. I've seen his first name spelled a dozen different ways. If you say "Mos - eee -- ooooh --- awww -- aahhh" a couple of times (sorry, this looks really stupid now, but you get the idea) then the spelling will stick in your head. And then you'll not only know, you'll know that you know. If you look up a name or a fact once, it's worth trying to save it somewhere or finding a way to recall it. It's going to come up again, next time probably on deadline. And then you can be a newsroom superhero.

This all sounds a bit like something our old friend Rummy Rumsfeld said once ... there are known threats and unknown threats, and threats that we know we don't know about ... something like that. But there's a certain reality to this. When you're subbing, you need to make sure that EVERY SINGLE TINY LITTLE THING is right. You are reading at so many levels at once, that the actual meanings of what you're looking at can sometimes quite escape you. So when you hit something you know-that-you-don't-know, you switch into another mode altogether.

And it's funny. I'll tell you a fact. When you start out in the job, your eye tends to skip over the stuff you don't know, you just kinda assume it's correct ... and then you get caught out, and realise, these journalists often don't know what they're talking about. When you're an experienced sub, nearly all the mistakes you let through, will be in the stuff that you "know". Your eye skips over the familiar. I watch my eye movements, and if I've skimmed over something as looking "obvious", it's always a sign that I've missed something, and I go back and read it really carefully.

(By the way, someone once said to me a journalist is someone who goes from knowing nothing about a subject to being the world expert in three days. I said a sub is someone who has to go from knowing nothing about the subject to knowing more than the journalist, in three minutes.)

Another sign of the professional: you generally start work in "galley view", where the stories appear line by numbered line, always in the same font (which you choose to be kind to your eyes). Beginners always work in "wizzywig" (WYSIWYG, or What You See Is What You Get), where it looks like the printed page, with all the pictures etc. Now there's a funny thing with working in Wysiwyg. It now looks like a real newspaper, which means apart from anything else that the screen has to redraw every time you move around on the page, which takes time and can cause all kinds of problems, especially working on Third World machines.

But there's a worse problem, and it's psychological. When it looks as though it's on the printed page, it somehow just "looks" right. The eye is very easily fooled. If you work in galley view, it lacks that "official"-looking presence, and I honestly think it's easier to spot mistakes and dicey text.

That being said, the very best way to spot mistakes is on paper -- especially in the paper the next morning, when the mistakes positively jump off the page and poke you in the eye.

But after you sub in galley view, you MUST read through in Wysiwig. In one paper I worked at, it was a fireable offence to put a story through in galley view. There are certain things you can only see on the page, laid out the way it will finally appear. In fact, nearly all the bugs I know in systems (Adobe and Quark for sure) occur between galley and Wysiwig, so you really have to be careful. And especially with headlines, you need to see what they will look like on the page.

One of my best headline was for a female impersonator, the Baroness Reefenhausen, who fooled a young black reporter into thinking he was really a she. (Back in the day, when I was playing sax, I shared a dressing room with the Baroness, aka Edwin van Wyk. It was the men's dressing room.) Anyway, the whole interview was about whether she was really a he. My headline:

So is she the she
she says she is?

-- it worked fabulously on the page, but you had to see it to make sure.

Two: It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

The only way to really get commas and other punctuation right, in my opinion, is to SAY it. I always imagine a radio show, where someone says -- "Here's an interesting item in the paper, listen to this..." and starts reading the story out loud. If you haven't punctuated it right, it can come out all very strange. So I vocalise anything I'm not sure about. Do not be embarrassed if your lips move when you're reading. You're just being a sub. That being said, the most annoying people I know on the desk are the ones who are always reading out loud what they see on the screen. So "sub-vocalise" might be a better term, in the interests of preventing violence in the newsroom.

Someone called Rudolf Hauschka (who later co-founded Weleda Pharmaceuticals) went around trying to find a philosopher who could answer the question "What is the meaning of life?". He went to Rudolf Steiner, who answered immediately, "The meaning of life lies in the rhythms". Or something like that. That convinced Haushka, anyway. I think this is totally true of all aspects of life. You need to create a rhythm to your work, and a rhythm within your work. You would be surprised how useful this principle becomes, even subbing an article in an agricultural periodical about phytosanitary regulations for the import of fresh produce to China. There, you really got to work to make the words swing... but imagine how bad it would be without a little ginga.

In Korean, the word for rhythm is something like dangchan (can't remember now) but it means "Long Short". And this is really the key. The Morse Code key. You have to alternate long and short with articles, paragraphs, sentences, words, to make a whole product that "swings". It's a real art. For a subject so full of rules, there are actually no rules. The only rule is that it works, and the only way you know it really works is if it "swings" on the page. They've never defined "swing" in jazz, and I can't define it here. But you'll feel it when it's right.

One last thought. Wittgenstein once said "A practice can never be based on something that only happens once." Wrong! Wrong! I mean, how many shots are you going to have at ***this*** life, for one. But a question of style may come up exactly and only once, and you create a style on the fly for that situation, and that style will be eternal. In fact, the best style is always something that happens only once. There is actually no tomorrow. Tomorrow is already "today" on the desk. Subbing is an incredibly creative and underrated job, an invisible job. But late at night, with the clock ticking and a headline box staring at you, you just do what you do, and it will soon be lining the parrot cage anyway. But you'll know. It's the one absolute perk of the job. You will know what was actually going on behind the scenes, because what was actually going on behind the scenes was you.

OK folks. It's late and it's tired. There's a helluva lot more I could say, but we'll save it for another day. We are putting together an enterprise where I will be doing things like teaching subbing ... so thank you for being my guinea pigs, anyone who has read this far. But I will be much more careful in future answering any requests along these lines, I promise you. I've had to think very hard about all this. The whole point is not to think.

But: if some of my psychosis and paranoia can help some of you make money in your spare time, it will all have been worthwhile.

Quote:" OK folks. It's late and it's tired. There's a helluva lot more I could say..."- even crazier carlos. I hope You say a helluva lot more carlos. If you write a book about subbing, or even a textbook, I'd buy it. Or an autobiography. (that does sound better than a textbook)
even crazier carlos, I really enjoyed being a guinea pig for that.

Originally posted by even crazier carlos:
You need to create a rhythm to your work, and a rhythm within your work.

I LIKE that.

Some more words to line the bottom of the virtual parrot cage with:
Part 2: (continuing on from here)

Space got up and brought back his laptop. "Maybe we can figure out who sent that email." He opened the email and viewed it's header. "Here it is - it was sent from this IP address. I wonder..." He opened up a web browser, entered the IP address as a URL, and a secure password protected web page opened. "Bingo..."
[User ID?] "Well, let's try the obvious, first." muttered Space. He entered "root".
[Password?] Space hit [Enter].
"Access denied". "Try 'pi' as a password" suggested Kimiko. Space tried it.

An old fashioned software interface appeared, with a menu across the top. "We're in! ooh, you're good!" Space smiled at Kimiko. She looked puzzled and skeptical. "That was too easy..."

He selected a menu item...
[Help][About]. The dialog box that opened announced "Ono-Sendai Robotic Programming Interface, v3.51."

"I recognize this - it's Mo! My old robot, from when I was a kid. I helped my Dad build him from a kit - he gave him to me for my 10th birthday. Let's see if I can remember how to use this...

[View][Status] Power State: offline. Fuel cell 95%. (310 days at current usage rate)

[View][Vision] A stereoscopic video image appeared, black screen amping up to show a noisy image of metal walls, a crack of light coming from above.

[Navigate][GPS Location][Show Map].
"It looks like he's down by the Portlands...near Cherry Beach" Kimiko nodded and snuggled closer. "So did Mo send the email?" she asked.

"Let's find out..."
[Action][History][Display Command Script]
"Yes. Look at this... sleep fourteen years, then connect to the wireless network and try to send that email once a week."
Kimiko nodded. "But who programmed it?"

"Hmmm, I wonder..."
[View][Recordings] A stereoscopic video of Space's mother started playing.
"Paul. I hope you're ok. If you're playing this it means something bad has happened. We dropped you off at my sister's this morning - I hope she's taken good care of you. We've packed up Mo and some of our spare equipment and are storing it in the UStore storage warehouse just in case. There's a receipt in the 'For Paul' folder on Mo's C drive that has the storage locker info. It's prepaid for 15 years. Be careful. [the sound of his father's voice in the background -'I've finished programming the command script - we have to go! hurry!'] Then silence.

Space groaned, and put his head in his hands. "Man, I REALLY don't need this..."
There's a receipt ...

Famous last words.

Just like to record a tagline before it changes. Change is good. It says so. In the manual.

The book I'm writing now (well, it's written, am editing now) is about evolution. So by deleting this tag, I'm actually taking a step back from shameful self-promotion. Pat on back for that man. But I just want on record: crazy carlos and even even crazier carlos, stand by every word they said.

I just want to add. Because it's all going very erratica from here. No clue what happens next.

I had to laugh when I read WG writing about why he doesn't underline things, he used to do those typed roneo stencils, where if you type a solid line, the stencil tears. I was a maths teacher in rural Swaziland, drawing pictures of triangles on Gestetner roneo stencils. The triangle would tear off, leaving a big triangular splodge of ink on the page. You have to be careful. So that's why he uses capital letters, without underlining.

even crazier carlos was in lower case for other reasons. if you're a professional radio operator taking messages in morse code, you always write in lower case, it's much quicker. if you see someone in a movie PRINTING OUT THE TELEGRAM LIKE THIS, it's just for cinematic effect. pro's do it lower case.

I used to teach aspirant radio hams the Morse Code. Or "that danged new-fangled Morris Code," as the real old-timers call it. I taught the oldest ham in the country, ZS6BAC ... he liked his callsign, "Like ABC, easy for an old timer like me, just a bit mixed up." I used to send them Archie and Mehitabel poems, to teach them to write in lower case. You know, Archie was the cockroach, who typed by jumping up and down on the keyboard, banging it with his head? All lower case, until one day he hit the shift key, and wrote a poem called CAPITALS AT LAST.

Let's see if I can remember a poem I used to send in code. As I recall it went:

one day, as i was crawling
through the holes in a swiss cheese
it occurred to me to think
what a swiss cheese would think
if a swiss cheese could think
and i decided that if a swiss cheese could think
it would think that a swiss cheese is the most important thing in the world
just like anything that can think
does think about itself.

That must date from at least 25 years ago. Not bad for what we call in Morse Code, an OT (Old Timer).

Cheerios my dearios

even crazier carlos

The ecosystem is the ultimate unit of selection.
Be kind to your neighbours.
Mass extinction is the bottom line.
Originally posted by TwiliteMinotaur:
The more change, the more double cheeseburgers you can order.

[Imagines David Bowie singing "ChChChChange back, from your big mac. ChChChange"]

Continuing on from here...
Part 3:

Space looked up at Kimiko and sighed. "This can all wait. It's waited all this time, it can wait for a while longer. We both have busy
days tomorrow. Let's get some sleep." Kimiko's worried look softened as she smiled and nodded. They turned out the lights and held each other.

That night, Space had a nightmare he hadn't had since childhood, everything cloaked in black shadows and a feeling of claustrophobia closing in on him. In the dream a large square door opened, light poured in and a face, silhouetted against the light, looked in. The face was his.

The next morning was a warm clear day, blue skies and a gentle breeze. Living close to downtown allowed Space to walk to work, something he greatly enjoyed on days like this. He stopped to chat with one of his neighbours, an older man whose gentle, sunny personality never failed to lift Space's spirits. At one time Space had known his name, but he had somehow forgotten it over the years. Space thought of him as 'the gardener'.

"Beautiful morning, isn't it?" The gardener nodded and smiled, replying "I do love this time of year, leading up to the summer solstice. Everything's so full of life." Space noticed he was watering a patch of odd looking weeds with spiky little burrs near the fence. Curious, he said "You know, I've been meaning to ask you for a while now, why do you take such good care of that patch of weeds?" "If you have a few minutes, perhaps I can show you..." the gardener replied with a glint in his eye. Space shrugged, said "Sure", and they settled into one of their ongoing easy conversations.

After a while, the gardener held up a finger to his lips, and they both stopped talking. A small yellow and black bird, a goldfinch, flew down, clipped onto the side of the fence, ate three seeds from one of the weeds and flew off. The gardener smiled and whispered delightedly "Now you know! He and the girl have a nest over in that tree. This time of year, those are the best seeds around."

When Space got to work, there was a strange tension in the office. He checked his company email account. There was only one message: "All Staff Meeting - Attendance Mandatory". Space asked one of his co-workers what was up, but no one seemed to know. In a small company like this, that was very odd.
Sorry folks. I had to change again. But there are good reasons.

The heat is coming down. I've never known it quite like it is at present. You have to understand -- I've been through more "states of emergency" than most young political science students have had hot breakfasts. I was born in a state of emergency (the great SA Treason Trial) and my parents were both jailed without trial during the next big emergency, after the Sharpeville massacre. Then we fled to Swaziland illegally in a Cessna, under my first alias, which was Meyer (I was five years old). Swaziland was in a state of emergency at the time due to mineworkers' strikes, and the British Army was there to maintain order. The first regiment was the Gordon Highlanders, and I got given a Morse buzzer by one of the radio operators my dad met in a pub, so I started learning Morse code more or less as I was learning to read and write.

Then there were more states of emergency in Swaziland, and to this day there's basically an emergency there, with political parties and unions banned. Then back in SA there were all the states of emergency of the eighties, followed by the turmoil of the nineties. Now there's a huge strike on, people are dying in hospitals because all the nurses are out, and there's rioting in townships all over the country over poor service delivery.

You know, I even did my teacher training in London during the famous "winter of discontent" that saw rubbish piling in the streets and the total chaos that brought Maggie Thatcher to power. Who can forget PM Jim Callaghan arriving suntanned from a Commonwealth meeting in the Caribbean, and saying on the tarmac of the airport when he was asked what he was going to do about the crisis -- "Crisis? What crisis?"

Life is one damn thing after another, said Mark Twain. My life is just one damn emergency after another.

But the heat is coming down around here, and no mistake. And in ways I've never experienced before. So crazy carlos really has to go a bit underground. I'm just doing this to protect people.

I actually thought I would go a bit more upfront, but that was a big fucking mistake, and no mistake.

I really am introduced at dinner parties as Crazy Karlos. But I realised last night, it's not actually like that. I have another nickname, an apelido as we say in capoeira, that stems from a lot of house-sitting and pet-minding (including a goldfish whose life I saved). And this name comes from a story I once told. So I'm going to tell it again now, and then shut the fuck up.

After we fled into exile in Swaziland, we were stateless for five years. The only place we could go was Mozambique, so we used to drive to Lourenço Marques for lunch, about four hours, mostly on a dirt road. LM in the colonial days was an absolute legend. It's in very strategic waters, and LM always crawled with spies and spooks (Graham Greene did his time as a spy in the bar of the Polana Hotel during the war).

LM was also legendary for LM Radio -- South Africa would not allow broadcasts of pop music, the Beatles were banned, and LM used to beam in all the latest stuff. It was compulsory listening for all SA teens. "Aqui Portugal Moçambique ..."

And as the colonial era wound up, my goodness, it was insane. There were these luxury restaurants which were so cheap if you had rands, you could live like a king, while the country spiralled downwards into guerrilla war.

So. I must have been about 12, and we were at this really, really fancy LM restaurant, you know, the Chateaubriand and filet mignon. It's not an accident I'm a vegetarian now, I ate far more than my share of dead cow. I was at a very exclusive private school at the time, and on my way to becoming a real first-class snob. And at this restaurant, I had an experience which really changed me.

The Portuguese were always quite formal -- jackets and ties in the middle of a sweltering tropical summer. And into the restaurant comes this tramp -- or so it seemed to me, really scruffy and unshaven. In those days, it was rare to see a real "poor white". And I remember quite clearly thinking to myself -- they're surely not going to let this guy in the restaurant?

To my amazement, the whole staff stopped what they were doing, the owners and family came out, everyone greeted this dishevelled old fellow, who was immediately seated at the family table in the heart of the restaurant, and a huge fuss was made of him. My father was very intrigued, and asked who this person was. The reply came back -- "He is 'Amigo da Casa', friend of the house."

And so I learned about this Portuguese tradition, where a member of the extended family who often goes walkabout, is an honoured guest the moment he arrives in the house. It taught me a real lesson in humility, I can tell you. Very shortly after this happened, I insisted that I leave the swanky private school and go down the hill to the government school, best move I ever made in my life. I mean it, that experience changed me.

So things turn full circle, and in recent years, I found myself being the tramp. And was still welcomed. And would keep myself busy in the kitchen when there were dinner parties. And I would be introduced as -- "Amigo da Casa", to the people who really counted.

You know, there's another very funny story. The late great SA musician James Phillips went to the same school as my friend and private brain care specialist who gave me all these names. One day she was having some friends over for dinner, and they said -- "There's someone at the gate who wants to see you." It turned out to be James, quite ashamed to be a hanger-on for dinner, because it becomes to be a habit for SA musicians. But he was also Amigo da Casa.

There were events where I was also routinely introduced as the Mad Doctor, by the way, but that's in the past now.

OK folks. That's the story. You know exactly who I am, and I will always be Crazy Carlos to you, but for the foreseeable future (which isn't too far, but quite far enough) this is me. I am, I hope, still a friend of this house. Not about to go walkabout, but before I disappear into a real black hole to do some editing, I absolutely had to make some kind of change here. I'm not kidding, the heat is coming down, and in the strangest of ways. I've never known anything quite like it in my whole life.

What does Kurt Vonnegut say -- no names have been changed to protect the innocent, because the innocent are always protected as a matter of heavenly routine. I'm talking about protecting the guilty here, much more important. This is a very real situation.

OK. Sorry again for all the long-winded explanations. Let's see what happens next.
Originally posted by Splitcoil:
Crazy or not, you ever need an evac, you let a brother know.

Ha. Really hope it doesn't come to that, but one of the reasons I got a fright lately was that one of the most sussed people I know around here (nickname of Pi) recently had a set of truly hideous experiences (involving his friends) that got him seriously making a Plan B, which rather involves a hasty exit. Another friend of mine had a similar Plan B, and when I met him at this cafe again a few nights ago, said he was now on Plan C. Another very sussed person. Interesting that these are two of the most unprejudiced people I know, & they had hit some really bad racial problems. There's something brewing here and no mistake.

I am OK, but this is a terribly terribly small town & I just have to watch my back very carefully & look after some friends as well. (In one Len Deighton novel, the protagonist is terrified of working with amateur spies ... they're the ones who keep their eye on the target, instead of looking over their shoulder the whole time).

I'm around, just have to do some serious work right now. Must write.

Seriously again, one from the heart, thanks for the support, it means more than you know.

Matter of interest though. I was thinking about those emergencies again. All my friends were busy being arrested in 1987, so I fled SA and landed up staying with a friend in Jerusalem, spent seven months playing saxophone on the streets (in fact on what became Ground Zero for all the suicide bombers, a big pedestrian drag called Ben Yehuda). I started getting the real creeps there, met a whole lot of Palestinians including a young theatre group who were getting really tired of being locked up. I warned the Israelis I knew that things were getting hot. I told them it reminded me of SA in 1976, I remember those rumblings. "Oh, you tourists all say that, we've got the Arabs under control", I was told more than once. I got out at the very end of November, went to London with a fake return air ticket (standard for an extra $10 at all better Israeli travel agencies -- but it worked). About six days after I left, the first intifada erupted, and caught the entire Israeli establishment by surprise. And exactly the same as 1976 here -- schoolkids throwing stones, and an army that was not trained to deal with such a threat. Quite innocent stuff compared to what came later.

Anyway, that's when I temped in London to get a ticket home. Decided however crazy this place was, it wasn't nearly as nuts as the Middle East. And I just couldn't handle the UK any more, too grey. But things are really hectic here at present. Very strange situations arising all over the show, lots of quite hysterical behaviour, never a good sign. A few weeks ago, a white guy with a gun held up an entire newsroom in Pretoria for a day, saying he was protesting against crime, and begging for psychiatric treatment...
Open air

It's happening again. Heights are funny when you are not afraid of them.
He only realized that the moment that he fell. The rope was old , frayed and gray. He knew it wasn't supposed to look like that. He felt like an explorer. Not some idiot kid that was hanging from an aged and weathered rope.
His friend lowered him down slowly, making sure he didn't swing or shake. The sky was too blue he was afraid of the fall , but Ash was tied to the end anyhow because he was the lightest.
Knowledge comes at price is what he learned that day.
He looked at the side of the cliff browns and gray's veined in and out of another. Then he looked up because they stopped lowering him. The rope snapped, and Ash fell.
He didn't fall far, his vision failed and air was blown from his lungs. Sound disappeared, he was pretty sure that it wouldn't have mattered if he could hear. He couldn't remember if he screamed. It didn't matter as sight and sound came rushing back.
And he was looking up at cloudless day, with grasshoppers making rattling sound in the back ground.
He realized at that moment that falling wasn't as awful as he thought it would be.

That time never replayed until he was far above the ground. It was just the past filed away in his skull. He didn't ever tell the story with gusto, or like it was a spiritual experience. He hated it when people did that, every little aspect of life was a note from god. It annoyed him to no end.
What if what happened as just that, some thing that just happened.

He just happened to be on the top floor of this open floored hotel. Looking down at this fake, water fall, with fake plants, complete with bobcat and bears. Even from the ninth floor it didn't look real. He thought about the pull. He decided sometime ago that gravity pulls you. It can't help it, it's made that way. It natural to be close to the ground. The balcony type hall ways couldn't, be called ground. Or they wouldn't have man made barriers to keep you from drifting to the edge. It was work to ignore gravity. Ash knew you could get used to it. Perhaps become addicted to ignoring gravity. But, in the end you came back to earth one way or another.
He was feeling the pull and holding the barrier lightly, curious if anyone else felt it. Even more curious if she'd picked a highest floor on purpose.
Originally posted by Amigo da Casa:
All my friends were busy being arrested in 1987, so I fled SA and landed up staying with a friend in Jerusalem, spent seven months playing saxophone on the streets

Amigo/Dr.K/ECC/etc. - I'd love to hear some of your tales of playing sax on the streets... take care.

Originally posted by Noirjyre:
He hated it when people did that, every little aspect of life was a note from god.

Funny, I just got this NOTE today from, oh uh never mind...

Resuming my efforts at trying to work my way up to the level of 'talentless hack'...
The Seed Crystal - Part 4.

As the employees filed into the meeting room, an insectoid - a tiny insect-like robot - flew in unseen above them, landed on the ceiling, folded it's exquisitely light carbon composite framed wings and started recording. The wideangle photoreceptor eyes took in a 270 degree view, the high sensitivity piezeoelectric sensors in its feet used the ceiling as an acoustic sound board, providing superb audio reception. Inobtrusively, it took in the proceedings.

The head of Human Resources walked to the front of the room, looking tense. Five men in dark suits were seated off to one side.

"Good morning everyone. I'm sure you're all wondering why you've been asked here this morning. We have some significant announcements to make. Some good news and some bad news, as the saying goes. First the good news. Our company, NeuroInnovations Inc has been aquired in whole by Robiotics International Inc. for $21.50 a share. As many of you own shares in NeuroInnovations, I'm sure you will appreciate that this is well above market value. Now for the bad news. Robiotics International has decided to permanently close this lab, transferring all intellectual property to their development labs in California. I'm sorry to have to deliver this news to you - we've built a wonderful community here, and it will be sad to see it end, but we will be officially closing this lab as of today. An individualized information packet has been put together for each of you which describes the severance package you are entitled to as well as employment assistance services that will be available for you to use should you wish help in finding new employment. The gentlemen on my left are here to supervise the transfer of intellectual property to its new owner - please give them your full cooperation. Are there any questions?"

The insectoid took it all in, recording all of the questions and answers, all of the conversations between the employees as they exited, storing everything in its tiny terabyte memory. After everyone had left the room it took flight, making its way through the building, out the front door and back to the hive.

The hive. Imagine a busy spaceport, spacecraft coming and going in a highly coordinated ballet of frenzied activity. Now speed this up and shrink it down ten thousand fold, to a one meter cube buzzing with energy. The insectoid landed, walked over to a fibreoptic docking station, hooked up and transmited the information it had collected as a stream of light while recharging its internal batteries through its legs. When finished, it uploaded new instructions and then flew off on a new mission. The data it had downloaded was symbolically analyzed by the hive's local AI, using harmonic audio analysis and facial recognition algorithms to correlate comments extracted from the audio recording with the video of the person that spoke them. The summary was compressed, encrypted and streamed via optical fibre to the regional data hub. There, another AI prioritized the data and forwarded it off to the next level in the hiearchy. It finally made it up to the global nerve centre of the operation, the Robiotics International Center for Information Analysis in Nevada, epicenter of the world's espionage networks, so secret that even the governments that relied on its services did not know of its existence, let alone its location.

A quarter mile underground and powered by geothermal energy, the center was totally secure from attack and had enough supplies to last 7 years. It was the home of the oft quoted but seldom seen CEO, COO and owner of Robiotics International, Donald Leterious II. He was 83 years old but his appetite for power was, nonetheless, insatiable.

Normally, the data that reached the center would have been adjusted as required and forwarded on to the government covert operations unit that had requested the surveilance, but in this case, the surveilance operation was initiated by Robiotics International for its own purposes, so it went only to Leterius himself.

The synopsis of the meeting that reached his eyes was simply "NeuroInnovations acquisition complete. Remaining threat level: insignificant. No staff termination targets identified".
Come now brothers. Let us not be ashamed of our creative souls. As artists, writers and musicians we go where the rest of the tribe cannot go. We go to the other side. We show them what is. We show them what could be. We show them what should be. Without us they would have no magic.
Tales from a surreal city ...

Just watching a kind of spiral happening here. It's a long way down, but we're definitely on the way. Yesterday, an ANC municipal councillor was hacked to death by a mob protesting against poor service delivery in the Free State:


This is a new level of protest, and this is exactly the way things are going.

On Sunday, a very lovely and brilliant young 14-year-old girl from Soweto we know, really one of the brightest and best, tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison. She survived, but it's another sign of the times. In the old days, black kids never ever ever committed suicide, now there are suicides every week in that community.

A warning in the newspaper: two gentlemen in our area are mugging people at knifepoint. They approach in a very friendly manner, and then when they get close, out come the knives. I have experienced this kind of thing before. I want to write a rulebook for tourists coming here, especially if we do in fact actuarially host the World Cup in 2010. Absolute Rule Number One: if anyone approaches you looking friendly, RUN LIKE HELL. I'm not kidding. I'm really not kidding. I mean literally, you start running. If you see someone looking injured at the side of the road, drive like hell -- it's a set-up. If there is an accident, or any kind of disturbance, then the distraction will be used to rob you. Any situation where you might expect some human kindness to be at play -- like an accident -- that is exactly where there will be some predators to rip you off.

Article in the paper today about a play by a woman who was in New Zealand for a while, returned to South Africa and was shocked by how people have been desensitised and "zombified" by crime here. I've been saying this for years, we don't know how we're being constantly traumatised by crime around us:

... and one story that's a little old, but was very telling nonetheless. I have a friend here, American journalist, who was hijacked, driven at high speed around a township and knocked about
in very nasty fashion before being turfed out of the car (which is the kind of thing we count as a "lucky escape"...) I organised trauma counselling for her with one of the best trauma therapists in town, I went to the house with her.

A little while ago, I read about a trauma counsellor who is counselling a family who were involved in a very brutal robbery. During the session, a gang of robbers breaks into the house where the counsellor works, and holds them all up at gunpoint. The counsellor gives them a huge piece of her mind -- "Do you know what you're doing to these people?" kind of thing. The robbers are quite abashed, but insist they're just doing what they do, take the money and cellphones and leave. The family says -- she was absolutely fantastic and cool, she handled them so well, they didn't know what to say to her. I see the counsellor's name & think oh, I know that house ...

For when you're on the run ...

Advice for busking in Jerusalem: in one word: BEATLES. They all ***love*** the Beatles. I used to play Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby, and it never failed.

Watch out for the orthodox Sephardim kids ... they come out after being locked indoors all day on the Sabbath in a very mean mood, and kick your saxophone case ...

My best score was 50 shekels from a guy who wanted "How much is that doggie in the window". He wanted me to go "woof woof" on the saxophone, it gave him such a kick. It was very welcome money, let me tell you.

Busking on the London Underground (I was at Bank Station, longest tunnels in the system, for much of 1988...) -- play the Teddy Bears' Picnic. I'll never forget a businessman in suit skipping up the corridor to that one. The Monty Python March is also a good one. I used to play "All the lonely people" as well, but that was just for the mood. But I still think 'Round Midnite is the best busking tune.

Watch out for the "bargers" on the underground. There are people who like barging into other people down there. You're a sitting duck if you're there playing. They always put their heads down, though, and have a kind of crab-like walk, you can see them coming. I swung out of the way of one. He was furious, went up the corridor and stood there for ten minutes, screaming at me.

But it is unbelievably grimy, dreary and depressing on the underground, ***especially*** the Northern Line.

I regularly used to busk in Johannesburg in the old days, Hillbrow, the city centre ... you just don't do it any more. There used to be a huge tradition of busking in this town. My pennywhistle mentor, the late great Big Voice Jack, was famous ... in the 1950s he used to march from one end of town to the other, with a huge crowd following him. His inspiration was a pennywhistle and drum group called the AmaSkottish, who wore kilts and marched through town in the 1940s ... Jack would pay admission of guilt fines for disturbing the peace as he went, and then just march on. His biggest fans were the white working-class "brekers" (toughs) who would chase the police away ...

Now: there is absolutely nothing. Just an official homeless guy called Mike who sometimes plays guitar on the pavement here. When I was sleeping on Jim Neversink's couch a while back, I would have to step over Mike sleeping on the pavement just outside the front door of the apartment block, lined up along with about 20 other guys. Then they all got moved on. That's what I mean by "official".

It's very tough here right now folks. And no mistake.
Originally posted by Amigo da Casa:
Advice for busking in Jerusalem

Thank you for that - beautiful vignettes. You have a really good way of bringing scenes to life vividly with just a sentence or two.
Hope things cool down there soon. Sounds quite tense. Take care.

Originally posted by Gromit:
We are born, we live and then, sadly, we must write.
Aye, sadly, we mustest....

the Seed Crystal, Part 5

Space walked back toward his desk, talking with the other members of the bio-soft R&D team he led. "Used to lead" he thought to himself in frustration. The team - Lars, Stace, Hing Fai and himself - had really started to gel in the last couple of months and had become friends in the process. His head was a silent cacophony of questions and ideas competing for attention, ideas of what to do next, what this all meant, why it had happened, what his friends were going to do... His cubicle's walls were dead - they'd shut down the network. "Probably trying to keep anyone from deleting anything" Space thought wryly. He read over his compensation package. "Some breathing room, at least" he thought to himself.

After a long cellphone conversation with Kimiko, Space cleaned up his desk and packed his personal belongings. He dropped by his teammates' desks and through discussion they agreed to have lunch at the Bohemian. On the way out, Space noticed NeuroInnovation's 43 year old chief technical lead slumped at his desk. His clothing was in its usual state of mismatched, slept in and unfashionable, but there was a look of bewildered disbelief and shock on his face.

"Matt, you look like you could use a drink. We're heading out to the Bohemian, wanna join us?"

Matt looked uncertain, so Space reassured him "Come on, first time for everything, right?"
Matt smiled weakly, said, "ah crap, why not", grabbed his things and joined them.

Outside, Space stopped momentarily and stood, blinking in the sunlight, looking up at the animated Robiotics bulletin board up the street.
"Robiotics - lending Nature a helping hand."

They walked the other way, down the street, into an unmarked alley and up a flight of stairs. There, the words Bohemian Nexus Cafe flickered in old neon. Space opened up the door, sending a shaft of sunlight into the darkened room, illuminating a dispersed collection of people, some talking together, others laughing at thin air, groups gathered together facing in the same direction, some seated, others standing. The rest of the team entered first, getting retina scanned by the entrance before making their way to a table on the patio, following a trail of colored light panels in the floor.

"Here, I'll get you registered..." Space touched a glass-topped black shiny table to the right of the entrance, summoning an image of a keyboard on the LCD table top. Typing, he entered in Matt's full name, then gestured for Matt to stand by the entrance. The entrance scanned Matt's retinas, registering his bio info, and then did a full 3D body scan, showing his image on the LCD table top.

Space pressed a 'button' on the table and a pair of glasses dropped into a slot under the table. They had clear plastic lenses and legs with thin adjustable black elastic straps connected to the legs. The message "please return glasses before leaving" glowed in italics on the table.

"Here you go - try these on" Space said, handing the glasses to Matt. The face on the 3D image of Matt on the LCD table top sprang to life as he donned the glasses, sensors in the glasses monitoring the neural messages sent by his cranial nerves. The arms and body of the image also came to life as he followed Space's directions and snugged up the straps at the back of the glasses.

Space pulled a pair of his own glasses from his backpack, put them on, and suddenly his view of the room was full of people that weren't there before - images shown in the glasses' light-weight clear organic semiconductor plastic lenses. Small earstud headphones in the legs of the glasses caused the sound level in the room to suddenly grow louder with many other conversations as well, many with European accents, some in foreign languages.

Matt lifted up the glasses, verified that his initial view was in fact real, then lowered them again. "Oh, I see - it's like a virtual reality overlay".

"Yeah" Space replied. "When VR glasses first came out, they bombed big time because of the vertigo they induced. What your eyes were telling your brain didn't match what your body was telling it. Even when you overlay stuff on top of reality, same thing. The Bohemian here was one of the first real nexus points where the online world was created to perfectly mirror the architecture, layout, furniture, everything of a real place. You're never far away from the Bohemian, even if you're half-way across the world. It's got quite an eclectic group of people that hang here. Odd in a good way, if you know what I mean. Good food, too."

Space and Matt followed the rest of the team to their table, ordered Heineken and Guinness from the bar menu displayed on the glassy LCD surface of their table. A small robot wheeled over with the group's drinks on a tray which each of them picked up, dropping coins in their place for tips. A virtual group of three across the room noticed Space had logged in and were suddenly right beside them. They 'touched' knuckles in greeting with Space and the rest of the dev team. Space introduced Matt to Roger, Liz and Bruce 'the Brucester'.

"Oh, we just heard about the takeover - s'all over the net. Robiotics keeps on sucking up all the bright labs in the world, dun it?" Roger said, his goatee pixelating ever so slightly as the bandwidth dropped momentarily.

"Man, what is it with Robiotics, anyways?" Brucester asked. "I googled them and there's not much on their CEO - Leterious. Weird how out of date it all is."

"It's like he stopped being visible 15 years ago." Liz added, nodding.

Space placed his pod on the table, hit the 'share' button on it's screen and pulled up the wiki entry on Leterious he'd found earlier that morning, displaying it on the LCD table top.
I was busking one day in Jerusalem when this girl came up to me and said, "However sad you play, you can't play as sad as I feel."

I said OK, and played 'Round Midnite, and meant it. She said -- "You know, that was pretty sad!" and bought me a beer. Lili was a Jewish girl living in a Palestinian village, and working with a Palestinian theatre group. I went to visit her in her village, met the family she was staying with, and some of the theatre group. It was quite an experience. I realised listening to them, just what a big problem there is in that place.

I'm staying where I do because there used to be a club here called the Bassline. I don't drive, so wanted to be walking distance from live music. Then a few years back, the Bassline shut. I was at the final night. It was really sad. There was a Jamaican guy, lived in Scandinavia as I recall, playing amazing steelpans -- incredibly subtle stuff. There were lots of other acts, but after he played "Round Midnite", I decided that was the time to leave. There hasn't really been live music in the village since.

The Bassline eventually relocated, but I can hardly ever get there now.

Just for the record ... because I think I will have to be a bit scarcer for the next few weeks ... the last few nights' postings have all been done for free here at the restaurant. They just log me on and let me sit. So this is real "amigo da casa" stuff, and it's been a real privilege, but I don't want to overdo it.
The Seed Crystal - Part 6

The wiki entry literally glowed with the many great contributions Leterious had made to humanity - how he was responsible for transitioning the oil industry to biodiesel to help fight global warming, how he orchestrated the take over of key companies in the Genetically Modified food industry that produced the corn seed used for biodiesel production and accelerated the development of the drought tolerant crops the world now relied on, and then how he saved the world from certain destruction by introducing robotic bees when the natural bees were mysteriously wiped out. The entry was locked so that no comments were allowed.

Space commented "Googling him turns up all of these legal notices of people retracting statements about Leterious. Must have some serious legal muscle behind him."

"Hey, Spaceman, Space cadets." A skinny bundle of energy dressed in black wearing a fedora and canvas running shoes breezed up to the table grinning.

"Dude, wusup?" Space asked, doing a fist knuckle handshake greeting with him.

"Watch who you calling space cadet, Gonzo boy" Roger laughed. Knuckle touches, virtual and real, all around.

Space realized that Matt was in need of introduction. "Hey, Matt, this is Gonz. He's the lead guitarist for the band Roger and I are in."

"And also the marketing department." Gonz replied dryly. "Are the threads good to go for tomorrow night? "

"Yeah, Kimiko and I got the new graphics finished last night - they sync up online now. Should turn some heads." Space replied. How's the buzz going?"

"Should be a good crowd - I've wallpaper spammed half the city with our posters, Google's caught our website updates, and we got mentioned in Jorjo's altmusic blog."

Space's eyebrows raised as he grinned. "Jorjo - priceless! How d'you pull that off?"

"Networked the network. Sang his praises to the right people. He noticed."

"Too much! Jolls able to work the sound for us tomorrow?"

Gonz shook his head. "Sound's the iffiest thing right now".

Matt perked up at this. "Hey, I used to do sound for a band when I was at U. of T. - if you need someone to man the desk, I'll give it
a shot if you like."

Gonz raised an eyebrow hopefully. Space nodded smiling and said "First good news I've had all week. That would be awesome. We've got a soundcheck for 6pm tomorrow - can you make it?"

Matt sighed and said "I've got all the time in the world right now. Sure thing. Where are you playing?"

Space nodded towards the stage at the far end of the Bohemian "Right here, virtually and physically. Two one hours sets - 10PM and

Gonz glanced down and scowled when he saw the wiki entry on the tabletop LCD. "THAT is one right bastard." he said, pointing at the entry.

"You know about Leterious?" Space asked.

"Oh yeah. I was at the demonstration protesting the New World Trade meeting on robotics 4 years ago. Leterious made the call for the robocop tankbots to fire fear gas to break up the demonstration. "A great demo of the future of crowd control" he called it afterwards. I'd already been knocked unconscious by one of the robocops when the gas hit." Gonz's hands were clenched as he leaned against the tabletop for support. "Seriously nasty stuff, that, especially when you CAN'T run away. Burned out the fear neuroreceptors in my amygdala, apparently. 'NoFear' the hard way. There were a bunch of us like that - 's how I met Jolls. We were lucky to get out of there. A lot of people got trampled. Took 'em a while to realize they were creating an army of demonstrators who were literally fearless. Now it's back to pepper spray, tasers, shields and batons, rrrrubber bullets. And Robiotics tankbots. So, what's with the wiki - you doing some research on Leterious?"

Space exhaled. "NeuroInnovations just got bought out and shut down by Robiotics. Just trying to learn about the guy behind it".

"My advice," Gonz replied, "you stay as far away from him as you can."
Rain slashed at Linda's face as she rode. She kicked the gear shift anyway, putting on another burst of speed. The scents were gone, drowned in the rain, and she headed for the north bridge, the one that nobody uses, or that only nobodies use.

The silver cylinder the Doctor had given her rattled in a messenger bag she had thrown over her shoulder. The done-for jacket had been replaced by a pullover hooded sweatshirt only slightly longer for this world itself, but still mostly intact. Her jeans were still blood stained and tattered. No time to change. The rain was leeching the red out of them, slowly. It was also sucking the warmth out of her hands and feet.

She wove the bike between ancient concrete barriers at the end of the bridge, there from the beginning of the riots, and never removed since. They were grown over with a tangle of dry grass and ivy, greedily drinking the rain, now. Past the last barrier, the bridge stretched out across the river. Here and there the black of the asphalt was spotted with the black of voids open to the steel bones of the thing, and the water below. The rain hid the moon and the stars, but the city glow gave a little light, enough for her eyes to pick out the holes before the bike fell in. She felt unfriendly eyes watch her cross, but she ignored them. If they tried to stop her, she'd deal with them then. Until then, they just weren't worth worrying about.

Near the far shore the condition of the bridge got steadily worse, until she was carefully moving the bike along a narrow strip of concrete chunks still barely held together by the steel bars threaded through them. On the right, a tangle of rust and girders, black water below. On the left, remains of a rail, and the same long drop to the river. The concrete shifted and bounced as she passed over from one block to the next, grinding together where the blocks met, dropping streams of concrete dust as she hastened the bridge's ending.

Minutes of this nerve-wracking business later, she passed over the metal teeth of the expansion joints, and onto solid land. She paused there, the engine of the bike sputtering unhealthily, and waited to see if the bridge's keepers would take advantage of this spot to try and make her pay for her trespass. She pushed back the hood, letting the rain batter her scalp. It was a kind of signal, maybe. Defiance. Here I am. I'm not sorry. Come and get me if you want.

Nobody came. The test was passed.

She gunned the engine and drove down the road away from the river bank, four lanes on each side, slowly being chewed up by the years.

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