Tag Archive: Jeff

Clark Ashton Smith, The Crawling Chaos, Artistry

Artistry

Bow down, I am the emperor of dreams. - Clark Ashton Smith
my pre-ramble… :-)

Letter From Clark Ashton Smith About Crawling Chaos And Art - April 14th, 1937

Letter From Clark Ashton Smith About Crawling Chaos And Art

While doing some link rot checking using the Broken Link Checker plugin I came across this old post which is about an old edited letter from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) to August Derluth.

A screenshot is at left – click to enlarge or see the original here.  CAS tells about the creation of The Crawling Chaos by the two authors, showing a natural deference for his friend, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (HPL).

Some people may know that CAS also sculpted, from soapstone if my memory is correct.  The letter mentions some of this, but mainly describes a gripe that all artists have – now, quoting directly from CAS, emphasised & paragraphed for web clarity by me…

I am pleased to hear that the sculptures continue to attract so much favorable attention. I am writing to Sloane, and offering him a copy of The Double Shadow if he hasn’t seen it. . . . On second thought, I’ll mail him an inscribed one anyway.

As to a volume of my stuff, I suppose there is no harm in trying, It makes me pretty sick to remember that at least five publishers asked HPL to submit story-material for a possible book and then turned it down.

It is curious how ready people are to admit the worth of a writer after he is dead, and how goddamned cautious they are about it while he remains alive. Death seems to bring about a sort of crystallization, so to speak. . . .

As for me. I am pretty tough, and come of a hardy and long-lived ancestry. I’ll survive my present difficulties. What the future holds, I am not sure. But I have made up my mind to quit California at the earliest possible date.

Plugging Away

So CAS just kept plugging away.  He never had any money, yet mysteriously, I’ve read nearly all his stuff!!  The bulk of this was some time ago when Panther published stacks of compilations by HPL, CAS and many others.  But, just as CAS mused, he was dead by the time I read them…

The original issues had wonderfully mystical, sometimes horrible, artwork by Bruce Pennington….

Crawling Chaos

When the band (The Crawling Chaos) was formed, it was just Jeff Crowe, Keith Wear & myself.  We all read and devoured everything to do with The Cthulu Mythos – and more! [e.g for myself it led me to Lord Dunsany, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Philip K Dick, Daniel Keyes & the rest of SF]

Genius Loci cover

Genius Loci cover

In particular, since there’s only a few folks that now know this, Keith took it upon himself to copy the whole Bruce Pennington cover for the 1st Panther book version of CAS’s Genius Loci.

I scanned my book some time ago and cleaned away the title etc just leaving the work. That’s it, left.

Bedroom Wall

So…….Keith copied the key guts of the thing onto his bedroom wall in Ashington!  The whole wall…

You can see his copy as part of the cover for our first recorded output, Magnum Innoninandum (sic) here:

Crawling Chaos - Magnum Innoninandum (cassette cover)

Crawling Chaos – Magnum Innoninandum (cassette cover)

The original (nicked at Tynemouth) drumkit is there as well as the really noisy HH amp, Jeff’s record player, speakers & discs on the floorof his mum’s living room. Keith did the cover.

The Black Abbott of Puthuum

Genius Loci also includes one of my favourite CAS passages in the description of the Black Abbott.  (I think my favourite story has to be “The Coming of the White Worm“, but that’s for another time).  Anyway, here’s the bit about the black abbott blokey…

To add to their distress, the terrain grew rougher and steeper, and they climbed acclivitous hillsides and went down endlessly into drear valleys. Anon they came to a flat, open, pebbly space. There, all at once, it seemed that the pandemonium of evil noises drew back on every hand, receding and fading into faint, dubious whispers that died at a vast remove. Simultaneously, the circling night thinned out, and a few stars shone in the welkin, and the sharp-spined hills of the desert loomed starkly against a vermilion afterglow. The travelers paused and peered wonderingly at one another in a gloom that was no more than that of natural twilight.

“What new devilry is this?” asked Cushara, hardly daring to believe that the hellish leaguers had vanished.

“I know not,” said the archer, who was staring into the dusk.” “But here, mayhap, is one of the devils.”

The others now saw that a muffled figure was approaching them, bearing a lit lantern made of some kind of translucent horn. At some distance behind the figure, lights appeared suddenly in a square dark mass which none of the party had discerned before. This mass was evidently a large building with many windows.

The figure, drawing near, was revealed by the dim yellowish lantern as a black man of immense girth and tallness, garbed in a voluminous robe of saffron such as was worn by certain monkish orders, and crowned with the two-horned purple hat of an abbot. He was indeed a singular and unlooked-for apparition: for if any monasteries existed amid the barren reaches of Izdrel, they were hidden and unknown to the world. Zobal, however, searching his memory, recalled a vague tradition he had once heard concerning a chapter of negro monks that had flourished in Yoros many centuries ago. The chapter had long been extinct, and the very site of its monastery was forgotten. Nowadays there were few blacks anywhere in the kingdom, other than those who did duty as eunuchs guarding the seraglios of nobles and rich merchants

The animals began to display a certain uneasiness at the stranger’s approach.

“Who art thou?” challenged Cushara, his fingers tightening on the haft of his weapon.

The black man grinned capaciously, showing rows of discolored teeth whose incisors were like those of a wild dog. His enormous unctuous jowls were creased by the grin into folds of amazing number and volume; and his eyes, deeply slanted and close together, seemed to wink perpetually in pouches that shook like ebon jellies. His nostrils flared prodigiously; his purple, rubbery lips drooled and quivered, and he licked them with a fat, red, salacious tongue before replying to Cushara’s question. [isn’t this bit amazing? – SP]

“I am Ujuk, abbot of the monastery of Puthuum,” he said, in a thick voice of such extraordinary volume that it appeared almost to issue from the earth under his feet. “Methinks the night has overtaken you far from the route of travelers. I bid you welcome to our hospitality.”

So, buy the book, or read the whole story here.

Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams?

(clue – “The Hashish Eater”)
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar….

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Akismet and Jetpack Issues, Stop Spammers and CloudFlare Save the Day

My Web Host Penalised Me Yet Helped Speed Up My Site

Introduction

shared web hosting

shared web hosting

This site used to be hosted on Site5, in Texas.  I had a shared web host account, about the cheapest there is on Site5 though by no means the cheapest around (I’ve had experience of really cheap hosts….).  It worked alright, site management was good.  Then, I got hit by spammers.  Twice.  Big time.

Each time, this slowed the site down, made life hell for other shared accounts, especially when I introduced WordPress plugins to counter this.

Naturally, Site5 advised me to stop the hits or they’d pull my account (they’d already temporarily disabled it).  They advised me to cut the plugins, using GoDaddy’s plugin testing tool, WordPress Plugin Performance Profiler (P3).  So I did this, and after some trial and error, got the running processes down.  Of course, I lost a bit of neat functionality.

Testing Times

Apart from internal WordPress testing, it pays to test your site as if you are someone else somewhere else.  Pingdom have a set of tools that does just this, testing from various global locations and I can recommend it.

Result!

I used an iterative approach, testing various combinations of plugins and systems to end up as being in the top 8% sites for speed in the world!  Not bad for free is all I can say!   You’ll see in the screenshot above, that 92% of websites are slower than mine….   So is it really free?  Here goes…..

Paid For:
  • Web Hosting.  Shared.
  • My domain registration.
Free:
  • WordPress and all the LAMP functionality
  • WordPress plugins
  • CloudFlare
Pingdom Says

Pingdom Says

Automattic Issues

WordPress (which this site uses) is built by the Automattic team and naturally have expanded over time.  I’ve used their plugins for many years, Akismet from the off, which is a comment spam blocking system.  Latterly, they came out with Jetpack, where they say,

Supercharge your WordPress site with powerful features previously only available to WordPress.com users.

Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.

P3 Selected Output

P3 Selected Output

This is all well and good, except when I tested it using the P3 plugin profiler, Jetpack was the biggest drag on everything!   The worst part of it, was that actually, I was only using a small part of its features and it was still the biggest suck on performance.

  • I didn’t use Carousel for photos since I had an old solution, NextGen Gallery, that I’m loathe to change.
  • The comments system mucked up all other comment plugins, grabbing all for itself (a bit like Microsoft here!)
  • I used the stats, and that was about all, yet they were very slow and not that informative, actually.
  • Nearly all the other stuff I looked at, tried and ditched for similar reasons.

So much for the awesome cloud power.  On top of this, you’re now supposed to pay for parts of Automattic’s offerings, like Akismet, the comment spam blocker while a major offering of theirs was actually slowing my site right up!

What Did I do?

Change host!

Well not initially, actually, though the heavy-handed Site5 approach got my ire a bit I must admit.  I did do loads of tests with a host of caching, anti-spam and page load improvement plugins first…

Vidahost

Vidahost

I now use Vidahost in the UK.  The site is faster to manage (along with my others) since the servers are in the UK with me, and it’s cheaper, providing almost the same functionality and tools as Site 5.  I took the opportunity to clean out a few dead files in the process, but essentially, all was moved, database and files.  The lot.  Just twiddled config.php and the .htaccess file a bit.

did worry that my American visitors, who are actually in the majority, would  suffer slower speed and thus I’d get hit in Google rankings, but hey, wait for later…!

I got it all working and as part of the whole “thinking” process since the very first warnings from Site 5, I’d been looking for better things.

Looking at Things Closely

  • I like Related Posts.   Related Posts plugins do just that.  I love the idea of pulling out meta-data relevant stuff from a website.  Site 5 had said, as have others on the web, that this sort of plugin makes big hits on a site.  Some of them really do!  I use  YARPP, with a limited subset of features enabled which cuts down processing.
  • I also like Andrew Ozz’s Shutter Reloaded which shows images nicely.   I also like his post editor, TinyMCE Advanced, it being the best of many I’ve tested over the years.
  • I like NextGEN Gallery having used it since before WordPress got all image fancy.  I haven’t got time to fiddle with thousands of photos now…
  • I’d like some statistics within WordPress.
  • I’m not that interested, any-more (though I was) in Social Networking sharing features.  Truth be told, if someone wants to share, they will.
  • I’ve read a lot on image improvements.  I’ve always shrunk images manually before uploading using the excellent IrfanView application.  But during this enforced research, other things like sprites and delayed image loading popped into the equation.

So I like certain plugins or functionality.  I try and use the one that works best for me.  Too many plugins make a big hit on the server and thus website loading.

Caching

A way round this is caching.  e.g. If a post is created and has related posts clagged on the bottom using YARPP, then the post is cached and YARRP is only running once.  How and where the caching is done is the crux of the issue…

Site 5 suggested W3 Total Cache as a better alternative to Wp Super Cache,  which I’ve used for years.    Naturally, I’ve tested this and my conclusion was that it could be fast, and it was fast for a while, but over time on each of my sites I got issues around lock-ups and the huge and complex caching system around files, databases and sprites.  This list is long.

I’ve also tested various database query caching plugins likewise over the years.  W3 Total Cache incorporates this method too, but ultimately, it made too much work for not a lot of difference IMHO, since I’m lazy.

However, it did point me to one thing!  CloudFlare.

CloudFlare

CloudFlare Admin1

CloudFlare Admin1

Ah.  The power of the cloud is back!

Not only that – it works!

CloudFlare Admin2

CloudFlare Admin2

You re-direct your DNS at your domain registrar (joker.com in my case) to CloudFlare’s DNS servers, set up the site malware protection level you want – then after a few hours your whole site is cached and protected.  Best of all, it’s free for a little site like this!

In fact, using CloudFlare speeded everything up even before I got caching going again…

Further Plugin Work

Now, I went back to Wp Super Cache from Doncha and it all works fine.  Site speed good.  I then ditched Jetpack after testing it again.  It really does interfere with all comment plugins, and I really like this comment one as do people who comment here:

  • U Extended Comment

It works great and does everything I want.  So Jetpack, it’s bye bye.  Take all your fancy commenting system, your stats, your social media and fancy image handling.

But What About Comment Spam?

Stop Spammer Results2

Stop Spammer Results2

Stop Spammer Results1

Stop Spammer Results1

I’ve found the best solution is a plugin called Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin.  It needed a bit of fine tuning and a re-activation of Akismet to whip out a few wisps of spammer, but it works and seems to trap and report more spammers than ever Akismet did alone.  Akismet, by itself, does the commenting bit in tandem with the plugin, rather well.

Registration Spam

SABRE Results

SABRE Results

Unfortunately, during testing, a few unwanted visitors managed to register on the website.  They can’t do real harm since I use the lowest role level at registration time.  So I re-enabled SABRE and since then, no more unwanted visitors.  I’ve tested SABRE as a visitor and the settings I’ve chosen are just about right – I’ve had issues with it previously when it blocked registration!  But reducing the feature set and re-uploading a clean plugin fixes that.

CloudFlare and the CDN Issue

I toyed around getting a CDN to host images.  But they (can) cost and anyway, I’ve gone off Amazon and others because of their anti-Wikileaks actions plus they don’t pay UK tax…

Delayed Image Loading

However, in the course of my reading, I found that images can be loaded just as the page comes into view, which speeds up page loading, and as a consequence the perceived nippiness of a site.  The plugin BJ Lazy Load does this for me and works brilliantly.  Check this last post about Australia which has a lot of medium sized images to see them pop into view!

Delayed Javascript Loading

I use two plugins that handle this end of the issue around JavaScript.

Statistics

WP SlimStat1

WP SlimStat1

Well, Jetpack is gone.  I won’t be using it unless some serious improvements are made, it being the prime reason for the server load that brought me to this position in  the first place.  As soon as I disabled it (and simultaneously blocked all comments to the site, which isn’t the best thing, this being a blog after all), all server loads went away.

I now use SlimStat and it works very well.  I’ve tried many over time, including Google’s analysis tools, my webhost’s stats tools, Wassup and more, but for now, this is it.

Conclusion

My site works pretty fast and is pretty protected from the bad guys.  I actually still use more plugins than what is usually recommended – 50 is a huge lot according to web gurus and sages.  Currently there are 31 in active operation with 8 inactivated.  I love trying new ones, it’s like that, that’s just the way it is.

The delayed image loading is particularly apparent on a post with a lot of images, say this recent one.  The post loads fast and you see the first images load, and as you scroll down you’ll see other images appear with a slight delay.

All the other stuff is incremental improvement, with the biggest, by far, being the free CloudFlare service which I cannot recommend highly enough.  It’s a no-brainer, go and do it?

My Full List?

These are the plugins currently running that help my site work.  Many are for security, which demonstrates the state of play versus the bad internet guys full well.

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Zyklon Zombies B, Life and Death Work

Crawling Chaos: Zyklon B Zombies Work

Back along, Crawling Chaos were asked by Curly Jhon and Mackie to do some background music for a performance they intended to do under their moniker Zyklon B Zombies.  The performance was called Dionysian Heights, the name appearing as a band name on the Foetus Products’ compilation Blood Samples From The Pox Clinic.

I’ve just found a tape with most of the performance on it……    So I’m digitising it for release.  And pretty cool it is too.  Watch this space!

CJ with Dionysian Heights Props

CJ with Dionysian Heights Props

The tape is the actual performance tape, I think, with the first minute or two being either my old racing car noises, some set-up test tones for, and the final major bounce track (sans vocals) of “Sex Machine”.  This latter is actually very, very good, and shows the guitar overdubs done by Jeff (Doomage Khult) very clearly and wonderfully – I may release this as it is just so folks can hear the guitar work.

The Actual Performance

Curly Jhon (CJ) has recently found a photo of one of his props.  It’s a little white bull, prior to its coat of gold paint.  I mentioned it here last month on the Crawling Chaos website…    Curly John Pops Up with Dionysian Heights Props

Other stuff I recall is heaps of ivy and copious amounts of offal.   The guys were doing some sort of Dionysian re-enactment for folks’ entertainment.  The offal stunk under the hot lights.  Bacchus was in on it as well….

Description of the Music

The two pieces Jeff & I created are called “Life” and “Death” and the boys used them as they saw fit, synchronising it with their dialogue and actions.  CJ & Mackie directed us, in a general way, as to the feel of the sounds for a given amount of time.  Hence each section is fairly drawn and thus doesn’t particularly matter too much where it’s fed in or out as the performance demanded.

Q.    Why have I called this post “Zyklon Zombies B, Life and Death Work”?

A.    Because that’s what’s written on the tape!  Jeff’s handwriting.

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Zyklon Zombies B, Life and Death Work

Strangely post on February 10th, 2013
Posted in Art Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crawling Chaos: Zyklon B Zombies Work

Back along, Crawling Chaos were asked by Curly Jhon and Mackie to do some background music for a performance they intended to do under their moniker Zyklon B Zombies.

I’ve just found a tape with most of the performance on it……    So I’m digitising it for release.  And pretty cool it is too.

The tape is the performance tape, I think, with the first minute or two being either my old racing car noises or a final major bounce track (sans vocals) of “Sex Machine”.  This latter is actually very, very good, and shows the guitar overdubs done by Jeff (Doomage Khult) very clearly and wonderfully – I may release this as it is just so folks can hear

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Skaill 2012

Skaill by Crawling Chaos (reworked)

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Bay of Skaill

Bay of Skaill

I’ve been playing with a digital extraction of Skaill on Reaper.  Have a listen.  Guess what’s been done….

A video is to follow (slow encoding to get the quality I need) which is highly appropriate given my partly Orcadian roots and the track title.  Skaill is the final track from “C” – “The Big C”, by Crawling Chaos.  It is Jeff Crowe and myself jamming with some post recording tape twiddling.  Skara Brae which we both fascinated by is nearby and is why we chose the track title after getting the Ordnance Survey map out!  Thanks to Jeff Lynne on TV the other night for some inspiration to get this project started.

This is the video on the Crawling Chaos website, though the sound hasn’t encoded as well as I’d liked.  The link above has better sound with the forthcoming CD even better (natch).

Rees

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