Friday, September 28, 2007

Soundscapes: Zero 7

Some months ago, last winter I believe, a friend of mine introduced me to a band called Zero 7. These guys were perhaps the single most defining feature of my road trip this summer: for almost two months I listened to these melodies almost daily. With an alternative, synthetic, downtempo groove, lilting harmonies, and moving lyrics, Zero 7 creates an absolutely unique soundscape that tantalizes the senses. So why is this important? A sizeable selection of Zero 7 music videos have appeared on Youtube, so now is a good time to get a taste of an excellent band.

The video below is a live performance of "Somersault" from the album When It Falls. It should be noted that Zero 7 is made up of only two members - Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker - and that the band's vocals are done by stand-in artists. The singers in "Somersault" are Tina Dico (in black) and Sia Furler (in the polka dots).

Zero 7 - Live on the Jimmy Kimmel show

To Rule a Nation - Process

My most recent assignment was to write a Process essay: how to make a peanut butter sandwich, how to tie your shoes, what to do to get out of a speeding ticket - you know the stuff. I opted, as per the usual, for a more creative approach. I ask you, dear reader, to envision as you read an aging ex-vice president sitting fireside with you in a remote hovel in the mountains. Enjoy.


The principles which Machiavelli had so explicitly unveiled are still relevant today. They are the sound foundation upon which I had once striven to erect my own empire, to become my own prince. For a time I had ruled the world; I know now how to accomplish the feat as clearly as I knew then. Hindsight, however, is 20/20, and I understand now the mistakes that led to how I exist today, aged and decrepit. It is a simple matter, to rule a nation, and easily attainable by one so ambitious and inventive as yourself.

One must first bide their time in preparation for the critical moment to act, you will know the time when it comes. The proper groundwork is tantamount to the success of your endeavors, and will make all of the difference in your bid for power. As with any worthwhile endeavor, resources are crucial, and the time spent in wait should be invested in accumulating funds. Oil companies are desirable in today's market, as they were in my own time.

The road to power should not be traveled alone, and your efforts should also be directed towards gathering the henchmen who would assist you on your eventual rise to power. Your leadership should include a representative of the minorities within your population. This will not likely convince any minority of your benevolence, but will help smooth the insecurities of a skeptic majority. You should also enlist the aid of a talented spinster to divert the prying eyes of the masses in times of need. Most importantly, you must find a figurehead. As tempting as it may seem to take credit for your scheming, you must not allow yourself to be held responsible for your actions. You must seek out a marionette, a veritable everyman capable of shedding blame as if it were water. He must not be intelligent, nor may he be ambitious. Be wary that he is not too small-minded, however, for it was a simpleton that was instrumental in my own demise.

In comparison with your efforts thus far, gaining a foothold of power will seem elementary. Your election, provided that you act in a free nation, should be won, not bought. Calling in favors, mudslinging, and tampering with voting machines are all fair game. Do not hesitate to alienate potential voters if it ensures your victory here, as you will not likely have need for them by the time the next election rolls around. Once you have established yourself in office, the real work of building your empire begins.

Your time in office is likely intended to be temporary, and you should treat it as such. You will need to rally the people behind you, enabling you to more quickly and efficiently further your own goals. This is easily accomplished by starting a war. Then, when media attention has ceased and support has dwindled, start another war. I was fortunate enough to have lived in a country that was hated by the rest of the world, but simple excuses may not be enough to sway the populace; you should not neglect the effectiveness of poor diplomacy. In the likely event that the people grow tired of war, you may temporarily stave off dissent by making a victory speech. Accompany this with some subtle adjustment to your war strategy, the most obvious being an ideological shift from an assault to an aggressive occupation to buy yourself the time to instate the appropriate legislation to ensure your whim remains de facto. Be lenient, however, and do not fear to withdraw from battle if pressure becomes too intense. Were I so wise in my own time, I'd not be where I am today.

The final ace up your sleeve is intimidation. People tend to be a sensitive lot, and will not respond for long to displays of brutality. A much more emphatic response may be elicited through muttered threats and indefinite certainties. Were you to accidentally shoot your friend in the face, the message would not be misconstrued.

The matter of ruling is never a simple one, however, and no amount of foresight can prepare one for every eventuality. Because of my own failure to act, my time has long since come and passed. There can be no second chances for those such as ourselves, only a swift and decisive victory or a terrible, crushing defeat. You must act in complete confidence, but never fail to check your decisions and adapt to your mistakes. Bullheadedness, ultimately, can rend a potential leader asunder. You, my protégé, must not allow yourself the same mistakes that I have made. With that, I leave you to begin your work.


William Three-Name

Last week I read an interesting piece by American author William Carlos Williams. "Tract" was the subject of a rather mediocre paper that I wrote to meet an essay deadline, so I won't bother posting it here, but take a look at the poem if you get the chance.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Inconvenient Narrative - Narrative

A week late, here's a short narrative that pays homage to Al Gore's good friend, the polar bear.


It was mid-January, and a blistering New York sun beat down on the transparent shell of the New York Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Culture, or NYMOC as it had been affectionately dubbed, was but one of innumerable Bio Dome Districts that had sprouted up across the globe after the dissolution of the United States government. Nobody had questioned the president's decision to relinquish their sovereignty to the UWA, and after losing half of the Eastern Seaboard, how could they? Ceding control to the United Western Alliance had been relatively painless; and after nearly a decade of pressure from the super-government, the people could finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. Now the United States, all of North America and Europe for that matter, was but a fading memory in an aging populace, and the BDDs were the ultimate answer to the challenges of a changing world.

The domes themselves were perhaps mankind's greatest engineering achievement. Constructed of massive glass panels supported by a web of alloy support beams, the domes often had a diameter of several miles across, and rose nearly a mile high at their centers. In addition to the vertical supports which gave shape to the domes there was a series of circumferential structures that ran parallel to the ground, and which housed the immense cooling systems required to keep the internal temperature at a crisp 73° Fahrenheit. Inside the NYMOC dome, an elderly man sat hunched alone on a bench in the crowded Pod station. The man stared lazily at the wavering sun through the torrents of water that continually cascaded down the outside of the dome, the waste product of the cooling systems above. The waste water, he knew, would enter a reservoir at the base of the dome, where it would be treated and redistributed where it was needed.

The sudden, harsh sound of a hydraulic pod door woke the man from his reverie, and he gathered himself, giving a careful tilt to his hat, before standing up. The child who exited the pod walked with the painstakingly sullen gait of every pubescent child since the dawn of time. Upon noticing the elderly man watching him, however, he smiled, and trotted over to his side. The man patted the child on the shoulder, and they walked for some time in silence. After awhile, the child lost interest in the bustle within the dome, and instead looked to the man. "I've never been to the Natural History Exhibit before."

The man nodded and gestured towards the intersection ahead of them. "Now you will," he said, and they turned the corner in silence. It was a nice day.

Around the corner was the Natural History Exhibit of the West Atlantic. The elaborate, imposing building stood imperiously above the rest of the district. The Exhibit was one of a series of similar museums that had been constructed in every major region of UWA territory, but this one was different. Inside the ornate facade was a complete record of the world as it had existed before the temperatures began to rise. The pair marveled at the impressive structure as they approached the massive gilded doors, and they entered.

For hours they wandered the halls of the museum, a life-sized narrative of their ailing world chronicling the delicate balance in which the planet had existed, and the disruption of that balance which had thrown the world into chaos. They progressed through room after room of displays recounting the melting of great fields of natural ice that had existed in the north, the opening of the fabled Northwest Passages, and the subsequent and dramatic rise in the oceans' water levels that had destroyed coastal regions worldwide. They experienced, as if through their own eyes, the mass extinction of species as the planet heated and began to wither, the widespread drought and famine, and the frenzied destruction across the globe as the newly-formed UWA struggled to gain control of the panic-stricken population. The old man gazed achingly at each exhibit, as if reliving a distant memory that had too soon passed him by. The child stared in open wonder at each of the detailed displays.

Eventually they came to an enormous spherical chamber, immaculately polished and filled with reproductions of the thousands of creatures that had been extinguished in the climate shift. Immediately in front of the pair atop a large pedestal loomed a bulky, menacing form, the first casualty of the planet's warming. The child stepped closer, frowning suspiciously.
"This is stupid, that can't be real."

The elderly man looked down at the child in startled confusion.

"Look at this!" He waved his arms. "Grandpa, who's ever heard of a white bear?"


Monday, September 17, 2007

Summary - The Tell-Tale Heart

Less of a summary and more of a tragically underdeveloped treatise on the inherent power in the effective manipulation of rhetoric, this week I write about Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.


The art of the narrative opens the door to limitless possibilities for style. The development of this style is absolutely imperative in creating the ideal environment in which the story will take place. Equally important, however, is perspective, for it is perspective that is responsible for the way in which the reader relates to the material. Horror writers in particular rely on the manipulation of perspective to evoke reader response. The tales of Edgar Allan Poe, the heralded master of macabre, are fine examples of the effectiveness of well-developed style and perspective, as the majority of his works place the reader inside the mind of the main character, or else as a sort of confidante. Poe's short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, is no exception to this rule.

The Tell-Tale Heart tells the story of a man's deadly obsession with a physical imperfection which drives him to murder. The tale is often told in short, exclamatory bursts, which become more frequent as the plot progresses. This fragmented style helps to give an already-bizarre story a surreal, disjointed edge. The story is presented from the first-person perspective of the culprit, who continually asserts his sanity to the reader. The narrator attempts to support his suspicious claims by recounting the increasingly bizarre measures that he took in the plotting and execution of the murder, his increasingly fervent and repetitious words confirming the extent of his madness as he finally cries out in an imagined agony a confession of guilt.

There is certainly more than rhetoric to be held accountable for the success of a tale, but it's important to note that the story would not have been as effective had it been written from a more detached point of view. Edgar Allan Poe weaves a careful tapestry of the bizarre and grotesque, mingled with the unsettling paranoia of a stark madman; these elements combine with frightening efficacy to make The Tell-Tale Heart a truly harrowing read.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cartographers, rejoice!

Here's an interesting, if not subtly disturbing story: the massive fields of ice that have for so long prevented maritime shipping along the Northwest Passage have receded to the lowest levels since satellite measurements began some 30 years ago. With the region navigable, thousands of miles could be cleft from current shipping routes which rely on the Panama Canal for passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, resulting in a drop in travel distance from nearly 13,000 nautical miles to less than 8,000. The previous low for Arctic ice levels was in 2005, when the ice had dropped to around 1.5 million square miles. What's particularly unsettling is the two-year, 500 thousand square mile drop that has brought the ice in the region to a paltry 1 million square miles.

Interestingly enough, sovereignty disagreements are beginning to stir regarding the seemingly-valuable region.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

One Foot Football

Every once in awhile I'll come across something by chance that just blows my mind away. Despite having spent much of my youth engaged in the game, soccer just isn't one of those things. At least that's what I thought, until I was made aware of the existance of the Sierra Leone amputee football team, an african soccer team composed entirely of one-legged amputees (many having lost their limbs in landmine accidents) based, not surprisingly, out of Sierra Leone.

The Amputees in Action

The Sierra Leonean squad, called the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club (SLASC), competed in the 2003 'Play4Hope' tour in England, generating a measure of positive feedback and leading to the formation of two additional amputee teams. The teams consist of 6 one-legged players and 1 one-armed goalie. Nic Bothma of the European Pressphoto Agency has been recognized for his photography of the sport, and Bob Jones has written an article on the growth of the SLASC. Read the article here, or you can watch more of them in action.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Summary - The Lament

Today I submit to you a paper summarizing a story by Anton Chekhov. The formula I used to write it is admittedly generic and a bit stuffy, but I feel that there is still some truth behind the words. Enjoy.


It goes without saying that the human condition - this collective experience, if you will - has long been the subject of deliberation by poets and pundits alike. It is this universal theme which has unified the minds of innumerable artists in a common pursuit, only to spawn equally as many unique perspectives, each obscured in their own singularity; and it is this of which countless volumes have been recorded. It is not wholly remarkable, then, that Russian writer and physician Anton Chekhov's The Lament endeavors to relate to us exactly that. Rather, what is truly surprising is the extent to which Chekhov succeeds in his depiction.

The Lament tells the story of Iona Potapov, a poor Russian cabdriver who is inundated with grief at the loss of his only son. The archetypal Potapov appears as silent, pale, and still as the heavy snow that wraps itself around his hunched shoulders and back. Numb from his overwhelming sadness, Iona perches on his carriage in deep thought, doubled over himself and rigid, waiting for a fare to temporarily deliver him from the agony of his solitude. The prison of his own mind is unbearable for Iona, his thoughts tormenting him with every moment of silence, and he welcomes the transient company of his fares, hoping for a friendly soul with whom to share his immeasurable grief, to properly recount his, Iona Potapov's, tragic tale in its entirety. The company momentarily relieves his anguish, but as the night progresses and fares come and go, Iona realizes that there is no one willing to share his burden. Iona's desperation eventually becomes too much for him, and he turns to his faithful horse, to whom he can finally, properly recount the grotesque reality of an ailing old man outliving his young, healthy son.

Chekhov's character is at first glance a pitiful wretch, a shell of a man who has lost his touch with reality; yet the reader feels a sense of sorrow, of empathy for an aging man who, having lost his most beloved treasure, is wracked with grief as he struggles to reach out to his fellow man. It is this struggle that exemplifies the human condition. As Iona turns, so turns Humanity to seek solace in his fellow, to seek validation through shared sorrow, and to seek reprieve from his fear. Ultimately he must carry on, for grief, he will learn, can never be shared.


Archetypal: Word of the Day

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a big fan of dictionary.reference. Anyway, for whatever reason, I realized at one point today that "archetype" is a really excellent word. Not as excellent as "effervescence," perhaps, but still pretty good. Looking up the definition left me with this bit of knowledge that I had never even bothered to consider.

You learn something new every day.

ARCHETYPE (är'kĭ-tīp')
  1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: "'Frankenstein' . . . 'Dracula' . . . 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' . . . the archetypes that have influenced all subsequent horror stories" (New York Times).
  2. An ideal example of a type; quintessence: an archetype of the successful entrepreneur.
  3. In Jungian psychology, an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

And then a gem:

Usage Note: The ch in archetype, and in other English words of Greek origin such as architect and chorus, represents a transliteration of Greek X (chi), and is usually pronounced like (k). In a recent survey, 94 percent of the Usage Panel indicated that they pronounce archetype (är'kĭ-tīp'), with a (k) sound, while 6 percent preferred the pronunciation (är'chĭ-tīp'), with a (ch) sound. Of those who preferred the traditional (k) pronunciation, 10 percent noted that the (ch) pronunciation was also acceptable. Only the traditional pronunciation is widely accepted as standard, however.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Travisty

A new Writing and Technology blog has sprouted up. Go check out Travis, the blog is called The Travisty.

A Peach - Descriptive

Every Tuesday evening I attend an English Composition class at the local community college as a way of circumventing more conventional methods of... learning. Last Tuesday we were charged with the task of writing a one page description of a topic of our choice: I chose a peach. A peach, as we all know, is fairly unremarkable in itself. A mysterious, sensual encounter, on the other hand, tends to draw considerably more attention.


Your skin is of velvet cloth, with a blanket of hairs like uncountable cilia: fine and soft and uniform. It is firm, but supple, and conforms to the touch as the finest feathered downs, packed tightly as they are, conform all the same. Your sweat beads on your taut skin, so easily bruised, and glistens in the faintest light as pearlescent droplets of clean, cool water slide easily across the warm tones of yellow and red that so sensuously mottle your tender skin before dipping down into full, round cleavage, further stimulating the hunger.

Beyond this fetching complexion of voluptuous curves and healthy red and yellow hues lies flesh full and deceptively sinewy beneath the smooth surface of such amorous skin. The taste of your flesh to my lips is exquisite - bitter and tantalizingly sweet - and my fancy implores me to indulge but I resist, instead savoring with relish the fleeting taste of your sweet, sticky nectar. That I will soon yearn for the flesh of another is of no consequence to you. Our time together is the only relevancy, and it is this sublime truth that spurs me further to press my teeth to your yielding skin, aching with the hunger as your sweet flesh is engulfed by a greedy maw desperate to sate the most base of needs. A groan escapes from my throat in primal joy as your juices mingle with saliva and linger on the cusp of a lip before streaming down my chin, my tongue twisting to lap up the sweet, sticky rivulets.

As my taste buds alight with the sweetness of your juices, so are my senses arrested by the irresistible aroma that wafts from your delicate flesh, and I am held helpless in ecstasy. Though your shape is flawless, I will soon long for another. For now, my desire is singular and unwavering, and this is perfection. Though the next may never hold the same enchantment, I am eternally held captive by that which is rapture: promiscuous, perfect, peach.


I'm a Blog/You're a Blog

I've never been much of a blogger. The time taken to record musings generally outweighs the returns, so I get bored.

With that said, here's another blog to clog the tubes of the internet. I expect to write a great deal of papers this year, so you can expect to see a great deal of papers.


About Me

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Nick Woll grew up in the Florida Keys, and is furthering himself in the fields of writing, software development, and web design. You can contact him at nwoll27 at gmail dot com.