The Cybergrrrls Are Dropping Like Flies

Street Tech pal Mark Frauenfelder emailed me with the sad news that another friend from the bad ol’ days of the SF cyberculture scene has died. Jessica Grace Wing, bOING bOING’s music editor (when it was a print zine), lost her battle with colon cancer on July 19. She was only 31 years old!

Jessica and I worked together on the Happy Mutant Handbook. We did the "Mutant Music Makers" reviews. She was a beautiful, captivating presence, one of those people who seemed to ooze cosmic mysteries and unbridled creativity. She was a writer, Web designer, dancer, musician, short-film director, sound designer (she worked on Todd Solondz’ film Happiness), and composer. She moved to the Big Applet in 1997 and became a successful Off-Broadway composer. Her first musical, entitled Lost, will premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival in August.

Playbill Online has a short obit. You can find out more about her work at her website Warmblooded.

Okay, could friends stop dying now? I feel old enough as it is! Thanks.

St. Jude Beautified

Jude Milhon, a.k.a. St. Jude, one of the founders of Mondo 2000 magazine has died of cancer. St. Jude was a legend in SF and the hacker community, a trailblazer in the chicks-with-modems world and in the world of cyberculture publishing. She was a chaotic attractor, whip-smart, talented, funny, and deeply weird.

A few random reminiscences:

* She came to visit me in DC (in 1991?) and walked into my home office and saw two non-color monitors. She freaked. “Ack!, what are you doing?! The world’s not in black and white, why would you want your computers to be?” She seemed genuinely disturbed that a Mondo editor would still be living in a B&W version of cyberspace.

* She came to DC to be on a panel I moderated for Filmfest DC on the influence of cyberpunk lit on film. She was having terrible stage fright. At one point, somebody in the audience asked the panel (Jude, Mark Dery, Mark Pauline, D.A. Therrien and me) if we were more comfortable in “the real world” or would we rather be in cyberspace? We all began to say “the real world,” except Jude who blurted out: “CYBERSPACE! I *really* want to be in cyberspace!” And you could tell she really meant it.

* I have this hysterical image in my mind of the party after the Filmfest talk of Patch Adams chasing Jude around trying to give her a hug. She was WAY not into it. She didn’t strike me as the touchy-feely type, and especially didn’t want a hug from a big, dirty hippie/doctor/clown. They ran out of the front door of the house, Jude yelling and flailing her arms, Patch with a big pucker on his lips, cackling maniacally. It was such a bizarre, Fellini-esque moment.

* My last thought is more an RU Sirius story, but involves Jude. I’d been sending and resending an article to both of them via email and they kept losing it. Finally I called RU to complain: “How can you guys be so f-ing spacey? I thought you all take smart drugs.” Without skipping a beat, he said: “Yeah, but you don’t know what we were like BEFORE we started on the smart drugs.”

Street Tech Webmaster Tim Tate wrote this morning to say: “If it weren’t for Mondo 2000, I’d never have heard of you.” So thanks Jude. You were always good at connecting the dots. You’ll definitely live on in the heavenly 1s and 0s.

Torrez’ Touching Tribute

What was your first experience with a computer?

Being the one who lobbied hardest for a computer, I felt the most responsible. So that summer I set out to show my mom that she had made the right decision. After all, I still needed to break the news to her that she had to buy a disk drive.
She’d be in the kitchen making dinner and I’d call her over. “Look mom! If I type ‘sys 64738’ it will reboot the machine!” Or she’d be paying bills and I’d coax her over to see this program I wrote that would turn the screen red, then black, then flash white, and then reboot. (which was tough to test because not having a disk drive meant I’d have to write the program all over again if it worked correctly.)

I remember those days. Good times.

Steven Berlin Johnson geeks out with his stereo.

Steven B. Johnson, author of Emergence and former Feed honcho, describes his six-channel sound system in loving detail, and basically invites every thug in New York to come rip off his new Plasma TV.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to track down true surround disks of music that I actually like — it seems like there are only about 100 SACD disks released thus far, and many of them only have two-channel mixes on them. But this past weekend I managed to get my hands on a six-channel SACD of Beck’s lovely Sea Change, which was already on heavy rotation in my house in its two-channel presentation. Apparently, the mix was done by surround legend Elliot Scheiner, and it’s certainly an aggressive approach. Some surround mixes keep most of the instruments and vocals up front, and just use the rear speakers for ambient noise and reverb, etc. Scheiner’s remix of Sea Change spreads the instruments around you: a clavinet behind your right ear, a bank of strings hovering in the middle of the room, a hammond organ swirling around the entire space. Hearing an album you’ve enjoyed for a while in stereo remixed this boldly is a revelation: you hear all the little details with an astonishing clarity.

Asimo: Can I Get a Woot-Woot?

Okay, so the story on the Honda / CarMax deal was an April Fool’s joke, but it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility, as shown recently in Japan, where little Asimo got a gig as a $5.25/hr wage earner in a Tokyo department store. According to Reuters, the Asimo started off last week as a store clerk apprentice for customer services, showing people to the elevator and helping promote products. Apparently even a machine worth at least $50,000 has to work hyr* way up to full store clerk.

* hyr is my new gender neutral 3rd-person possessive pronoun for animate objects. Other suggestions are welcome.

Killer Robot Treehouse!

And I thought our platform treehouse was cool when I was a kid! This enterprising geek dad turned two shipping crates (and a buttload of lumber from Lowes) into a BattleMech robot treehouse. Took him seven months. The truly geeky thing is that his kids don’t play MechWarrior, *he* does.

I can just hear the conversations with the wife: "I know I’ve been in the garage for seven months, honey, but it’s for the kids. Think of the kids." Yeah, right.

How to lose customers and alienate fans

Of special interest to our Cyborg in chief, Gareth, Games Workshop has announced that it will cease doing business with game shops that offer internet sales. Ostensibly, they’re offended by the use of pictures of their products, labelling them IP violations, to sell their products.
Of course, everybody suspects that they’re more offended by mail order retailers undercutting sales in their own stores.

Carmax and Honda Develop Super Salesman

Based on Honda’s Asimo robot, Carmax and Honda have developed a new version specifically for use in Carmax showrooms. The new version is much larger however – standing at roughly 44 feet tall. Because of its size, it is far less mobile but much more imposing. According to Thomas Folliard, V.P. of store operations; “We’re already seeing an effect from the new Asimo sales force — many potential shoppers are almost, to borrow a phrase, shocked and awed into buying a car. We’re also seeing a larger number of young fans of Japanimation who are coming in to see if they can buy it. The answer is no. Not yet. Maybe next year when we open “GundamMax.”

Vespa Gear

Spring is almost here, and for scooter afficiondados that means it’s time to ride — and just in time, Vespa has introduced a whole line of riding gear. Most of it’s pretty tacky retro junk, but the inclusion of the Vespa version of the Boblbee hard backpack means that someone at Vespa’s got some geek. Available in-store only for a whopping $215, you may need to think hard if you can justify spending the extra $45 or more just for the Vespa logo on your colormatched hardpack.