Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How I Feel Today

The Owls are not what they seem

I'm getting a kick out of these hungover owls.

Deep Thought

Is it me, or has Pandora been playing more and more commercials lately?

At the dentist today, they were playing horrific "soft rock" throughout the entire office, and I was stuck how easily the commercials blended in with the music. however, when i'm listening to my electronia stations - i'm grooving to a station based on Ulrich Schnauss at the moment - the commercials are much more of a change and thus that much more disturbing to have to listen to. I don't care about George Clooney's new movie! I don't want to get my MBA (and I never will)!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Long Lethem

The Paris Review had an impressively long interview with Jonathan Lethem right when The Fortress of Solitude came out in 2003. Fascinating stuff, especially for his insights into how he views fiction (right in line with my thoughts) and how Philip K. Dick influenced him:
Pulp SF of the 1930s magazine type is folk art. Then Dick comes along and isolates those tropes that connect it to literature, surrealism, film, comic books, rock and roll. He’s George Herriman, he’s Buster Keaton, he’s Bob Dylan. Dick discards the uninteresting stuff, the pedantic explanations, and preserves precisely the dreamlike, surrealist, evocative, paranoiac reverberations that were all I ever cared for, when I found them scattered elsewhere. I couldn’t imagine that someone else would think Dick had thrown out the wrong stuff, which is exactly what many who exalt the genre think.

If they do this sort of thing on a regular basis, I may have to subscribe!

Where I've Been

Nowhere really, just taking care of both kids by myself, which hasn't been as difficult as I expected, just something that takes up a LOT of time. Quiet times and after the kids are asleep were spent relaxing, cleaning, or cooking - not a lot of time for reading or writing. C'est la vie.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Best and the Worst

If we already know that, at our worst, we are capable of radical evil, can't we dream that our best might muster some radical good?
- unknown

The Chinese Artist

The Chinese artist does not paint his subject while observing it; he may walk in the woods, looking at the trees and mountains, and then return to his studio to paint what his mind's eye remembers. He sees with his spirit or, as the Chinese say, his 'heart mind.'
- Alison Stilwell Cameron

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Clap Your Hands!

Trey is now eight months old (!), which means that he's becoming a lot more physically adept every day. One sign of this is that for the last two weeks or so he's been clapping his hands. It's a lot of fun because he now claps all the time: when he's waiting for dinner, when you start singing, or even when he's playing with toys (even they don't clap together very well).
At daycare, his teacher told me a funny story about this: He loves to clap his hands so much that the other day when he was at a loss about something, he was crying and trying to get the teachers attention by clapping his hands! He's a sharp one, that Trey.

Quote of the Day

It is so much simpler to bury reality then it is to dispose of dreams.
- Don DeLillo, Americana.

"I have done that," says my memory. "I cannot have done that" -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Orwell vs. Huxley

Check out an excellent cartoon called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs. Orwell. It's funny because it's true.

It's All Too Much

Daniel Indiviglio, writing for the Atlantic, points to a Fidelity study that reveals how much parents need to save in order to send their kids to college. The answer: Yikes!
Parents with a combined income of $55,000 would have to dedicate 9% of their pay to a 529 account. If their combined income is $100,000, then the payment is still 5.5%. If they have two kids, double that, and so on. Oh, and those percentages are of gross income. The families still need to pay their taxes, medical insurance, housing, food, and any other living expenses. They would also presumably want to be saving for retirement for those 21 years.
As he points out, these numbers are unsustainable. At some point, colleges are just going to have to start lowering their costs since there's only so much debt that students can take, especially nowadays when there's no guarantee of a job upon graduation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

15 Facts About Net Neutrality

Online MBA Programs
Via: Online MBA Programs

Slow is Good

An interesting examination of the importance of being slow. Here's what Bruce Sterling had to say:
The science-fiction author Bruce Sterling says “pace layering”—the idea that different layers of a structure or a system move at different speeds—is an interesting notion when considering slowness, as it helps to explain the various rates of change associated with different sectors of society.
“The slow movement imagines itself to belong by rights to the cultural layer”—a slow-moving layer of society—“but it’s still in the layer of fashionable activism,” he says. “An earthquake is rapid and shocking, it seems, but the underlying forces are geologically slow. So it’s actually our perception of pacing that’s odd, not pacing itself.”
Much of our philosophizing about time is based on the human experience of it, despite the fact that the entire human experience of time to date is a tiny fraction of the actual duration of time. “Humans perceive things in embodied ways,” Sterling explains, “because our perception is an embodied phenomenon. We naturally tend to relate time to the experience of our own bodies. Every time we temporally stretch one of these abstractions—my grandparent’s generation, the American nation, Western civilization, modern Homo sapiens, the Devonian geological period—some apparent relevance drains out of it.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Choice Blindness

In a discussion of a fascinating study about how research has proven that people can't really tell the difference between different varieties of jam or tea, Jonah Lehrer writes:
The problem with our sensory world – this “blooming, buzzing confusion” of sights, sounds and smells – is that we put so much faith in it. We believe that the world we experience the world as it is, and that our sensations are an accurate summary of reality.
But that’s a convenient illusion. In fact, it is the one illusion that makes every other perceptual illusion possible. Although we’re convinced that we’re living in an Ingres canvas – full of exquisite detail and verisimilitude – we actually inhabit a post-impressionist painting, rife with empty spaces and abstraction. It’s a world so full of ambiguities that it requires constant interpretation.

Into the Eyes of Apes

An amazing look at 40 ape faces.

Friday, August 20, 2010

First Lines of Point Omega

The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we're alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware,'the submicroscopic moments. He said this more than once, Elster did, in more than one way. His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner.

- Don Delillo

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Power of a Canine

File under things I already knew:
Christopher Honts and his colleagues at Central Michigan University ... wondered ... if the mere presence of a canine in the office might make people collaborate more effectively. And ... they found that it could.
Mr Honts found that those who had had a dog to slobber and pounce on them ranked their teammates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who had not.

I'll Take "What Pirates Ate" for $200...

The answer is: "Tortoises." More:
Tortoise, and to a lesser extent turtle, were ideal foods for seafarers. Giant tortoises are found only in the Galapagos and, at that time, a few remote islands in the Indian Ocean. Galapagos tortoises possess the remarkable adaptive ability to survive for months without food or water, their bodies going into a state of almost suspended animation during the periodic droughts that afflict the islands. Sailors would corral tortoises on deck for a few days while they cleared their bowels, and then stack them on their backs below deck like so many barrels of food, slaughtering them as needed for months thereafter.

The Things Kids Say...

The other day, in the bath, Hunter was telling me a story that went something like this:
So, I have a kid, and his name is Cheezy Flight and he's at the beach waiting for me to canoe over and come get him. He's in Africa which is really far away.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Perception is reality in the absence of experience."
- Tom Martin, Brandmarken 2005

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Lines of Number9Dream

"We are both busy people, so let's cut the small talk. You already know my name, or ate least you knew it, once upon a time. Eiji Miyake. Yes, Ms. Kato, that Eiji Miyake...."
- David Mitchell

...and Knowing is Half the Battle

Spent over two hours late last night trying to get a speck of dirt out of my eye. Not fun. Let this be a lesson to you kids: don't forget to put on your safety goggles when working on household projects.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Deep Thought

Sinus headaches are extremely debilitating. Yuck.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

early morning dreams come true

where do these night images come from?
these intense encounters in airy apartments
illicit conversations in beach town alleyways
intense gray light shining through a skylight
windswept rain on your wedding day
a gaunt man’s white beard nodding cryptically...
awake, and the images start to lose their power
exorcised through hot coffee and corporate reality
the padding of little feet...
but, recently, some have stayed with me
through toddler disciplines, early morning running and chores chores chores
incessantly tapping me on the shoulder during every free moment
neutered outside of the dream realm
through a glass darkly
sad attendants to fallen gods
they mutely insist on something – but what?
are they just the random firing of neurons while the body rests?
the play of consciousness while the ego sleeps?
a brain working through the voluminous input of the day?
a portal to lands where archetypal beings play?
Quantum Theory sez that we make our reality by observing
but what if we’re not actively observing?
what creates the reality of a dream?
and what decides what dreamscapes remain and which go?
what a fickle confident is memory!
and throughout it all, "reality" beats on
each step bringing me closer to death
every moment closing off other paths to other realities
every moment an alluring lost opportunity
the dreamscapes dance in my mind and
not finding a partner, spin off into the fog of the crowd...
will I see them again?
in a drunken stupor?
in a quiet place?
on my deathbed, the eternal moment stretched out before me?
or are they gone for good

Is Anyone Suprised?

Given the insane price that tickets for musical shows run for these days, is it any surprise that awful ticket sellers like Live nation and Ticketmaster are recording record losses?

News flash: Offer cheaper seats and concessions and people might come back to your shows.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Proud Moment

Not only does my son request The Who in the car, he also asks me to "turn up that loud music, Daddy!"

Mission accomplished!

Deep Thought

Teething sucks for both the infants and their parents.

I say this because we've been up good chunks of the night comforting Trey as he struggles with the pain of breaking three teeth at once. (He doesn't know how to pace himself.)

This has gotten me thinking how unique it is that human babies are so helpless for so long. Can you imagine what would happen to a rabbit, or even a tiger, if they had extreme pain when their teeth came in? They'd get attacked and eaten before they knew what hit them. It's interesting how evolution works.

Update: Oops. Turns out what we thought were teething pains were actually symptoms of an ear infection. No wonder little buddha-baby's been so upset! Don't worry tho - he's on good meds now, so things should get back to normal shortly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yoga as Workout

As you probably know, I look forward to my Yoga workout once a week. (It's mainly Kripalu Yoga, if you're interested.) So I was curious to find out what the NYTimes book review had to say about some books on the history of Yoga.

Overall, it's very interesting, although I did take some umbrage to this mindset:
The image of incorrigibly individualist and materialist Americans rummaging through ancient cultures in search of eternal youth, beauty and self-gratification has long provoked scorn. “Yoga in Mayfair or Fifth Avenue,” Carl Jung sternly declared, “is a spiritual fake.” But such a fetish of the “authentic” assumes that people in the country of yoga’s origin have upheld a timeless and unchanging yoga rather than practicing what Wendy Doniger, the distinguished historian of Hinduism, calls the world’s greatest “have your rice cake and eat it” religion.

I've always been a bit puzzled by this "authentic" line of argument - the same arguement that tells they can't make any money from their music because to do so would be to "sell out" and jepordize their artistic integrity. In Yoga, what does it matter what a person's reasoning is for practicing? My intuition tells me that the mere fact that people are taking the time to be quiet, stretch their muscles and concentrate on their breathing will inevitably provide experience some spiritual benefits to that person regardless of their reasoning for practicing (typically for personal reasons - just getting into shape - or spiritual reasons - trying to open your third eye). Even if this is not the case, why the fuss?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Steve Kilbey's Unearthed

I’ve always been fascinated with noble failures then masterpieces. Perhaps it’s the dreaming of the possibilities that’s more alluring than the admiration of something that’s powerfully perfect. For instance, I’m mesmerized by the writings of Philip K. Dick despite his obvious failings as a writer, and I prefer The Who’s Quadrophenia over the more acclaimed Who’s Next.

Along these lines, I find artists’ home recordings fascinating. They’re interesting because they’re the pure vision of the artist, the dream before the band or orchestra brings the song to its full potential with the energy and skills of the whole group. To go back to Townshend for a moment, his Scoop series is a prime example of these (with the benefit that he includes Who songs, so you can compare Townshend’s version with what the Who did to them). Another good example is today’s subject: Steve Kilbey’s Unearthed. (Note that here I’m writing about the 2010 reissue included with the Monsters n Mirages box set.)

Released in 1986, the album consisted of a group of recordings SK made by himself. As SK relates at various points in the liner notes to Monsters n Mirages: “this was a bunch of recordings lying around at the time... I never intended these recordings to be released... I recorded a song a day. ” The raw creative energy of recordings that were never meant to be heard is alluring, and the absence of an overarching goal of making an album or a grand statement must have been freeing. As Robert Dean Lurie, the author SK’s biography, “No Certainty Attached”, sez, even a song called “My Birthday, The Moon Festival” does’t pretentious here; it’s a two minute song with a fantastic melody and dreamy atmospherics that has you humming it for days to come.

Unearthed was released in 1986, and it marks one of the first times that Kilbey really emphasized the atmospherics of his songs over all else. Most of these songs are lush, and cast a soft velvety spell over the listener, lulling them into contemplation. This dreamy quality has since become a SK trademark, and here we see its humble beginnings as he worked away at them from "a downstairs bedroom of a terraced house sandwiched between 2 other houses". (Of course, he also has an abrasive and pushing side, but it’s mainly missing from Unearthed; we’ll see that side of him come to the forefront in 1990’s Remindlessness).

Another differentiator for Unearthed – and a notable difference between his work with The Church – is the lack of guitar solos. The songs here are mainly just melodies and interesting sounds, augmented with consistently stellar bass playing. Indeed, the bass, as you might expect from a bass player, caries many of the tunes with the melody. For instance, the swooping bass line in “Arm Chair” that really lends the song its swing. It's always moving, each note covering several bars, except for the few moments before the drum fill when it pounds with the beat.

This isn’t to say that the album isn’t without its drawbacks. To me, the album’s big weakness: a drum machine that contributes a stiff feeling to many tracks. In one respect, it contributes an amateurish, do-it-all- yourself charm, but mainly it’s just frustrating in that you know how much better it could have sounded with live drumming (or a modern drum machine). Another issue is that there’s a fair amount of the blatant monotone that he used to mar SK’s early music (see “Someone calls you on for a blatant example”), which can be off-putting, but overall there's more than enough melody to make up for it.

My personal highlights include:
- “Out of this World”: A minor pop gem with a wonderfully catchy descending bassline augmented by a mirroring guitar lick.
- “Swampdrone”: Along with “Rising Son”, some interesting keyboard mood music reminiscent of the second Enoish part of Bowie’s Low. SK will do more of this, and more skillfully, in his next album Earthed.
- “Judgement Day”: Typical early-era Church-style song, with its chiming Byrds-y chiming guitars, lilting melody, and catchy chorus. Even the bridge sounds like something off of Heyday -- and that’s a good thing.
- “Tyrant”: A catchy earworm of a song. That “Oooooohhh, Tyrant” chorus sticks with you for a while. His melodic skill on display for what is basically a minor song (not sure what, if anything, the lyrics mean).
- “Design Error”. One of SK’s fun white-man-groove toons, replete with a sweet popping bass.
- “Nothing Inside”: A beautiful ballad. Excellent chiming guitars and a gently driving beat.
- “Heliopolis”: Wonderful droning background vocals here cast a nice spell of a lazy afternoon. Only qualm is that the toon is just a bit too long for what it is.
- “Famine”: Another fun instrumental with wonderfully soulful sounds coming from antiquated electronic instruments. The walking organic bassline contrasts wonderfully with the muted staccato drums. The fascinating background sound - like a razor running underwater - seems to me like a precursor to the bubbling keyboards in the background of so many songs in his career (like in Painkiller'sOutbound”)

Overall, Unearthed is an easy album to love. It’s fun and melodic and is comprised of a good mix of rock and pop and experimental qualities. It’s probably his most accessible solo album, and well worth checking out if you’re looking for an introduction to SK’s solo world.

Note: I’m planning on writing up my reaction to all of SK’s solo albums included in the Monsters n Mirages box set. Coming up next: 1987’s Earthed.

Dropping the Anchor

A really fun article on the "anchoring effect." To wit:
You depend on anchoring every day to predict the outcome of events, to estimate how much time something will take or how much money something will cost.
When you need to choose between options, or estimate a value, you need footing to stand on.
How much should you be paying for cable? How much should your electricity bill be each month? What is a good price for rent in this neighborhood?
You need an anchor from which to compare, and when someone is trying to sell you something they are more than happy to provide one. The problem is, even when you know this, you can’t ignore it.

Waiting on "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet"

As I mentioned the other day, I can't wait to get my hands on David Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet", a title that scares me a bit to be honest with you. I've got faith in Mitchell as a writer, for he even made a coming of age in Britain novel - Black Swan Green - absolutely riveting reading.

Here's how Dave Eggers wrote about it in the NYTimes. Money quote:
If the book sounds dense, that’s because it is. It’s a novel of ideas, of longing, of good and evil and those who fall somewhere in between. And are there even nods to the story of Persephone, also born of privilege, also found plucking exotic fruit, also abducted — whose removal from the world causes the world’s seasons? Maybe, maybe not. There are no easy answers or facile connections in “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.” In fact, it’s not an easy book, period. Its pacing can be challenging, and its idiosyncrasies are many. But it offers innumerable rewards for the patient reader and confirms Mitchell as one of the more fascinating and fearless­writers alive.

Laws, or When Not to Pass Them

So the MA legislature, in its perpetual gridlock, didn't pass two laws yesterday:
1. Approving Casino Gambling.
2. Expanded and Updated Bottle Redemption

To me, the bottle law was a no-brainer, as aptly described in the Boston Globe:
It would have given a makeover to the state’s bottle redemption law... The 1982 law was written before the explosion of the snake-oil industry more commonly known as the bottled water business. And so it applies only to carbonated drinks — not water, sports drinks, or teas. Those drinks account for at least 1 billion of the more than 3 billion drink containers sold in Massachusetts each year. Only a third of those excluded containers, at best, are recycled (compared with 80 percent of bottles that carry deposits)... [but] Critics called the deposits a tax. And legislative leaders would rather eat their own heads than pass anything that even remotely resembles that evil specter. Never mind that the five-cent deposit is fully refundable. Never mind that the bill would save cities and towns cleanup costs and fund water supply improvements. Never mind that the bill would offset the much bigger and more permanent cost of clogging landfills with plastic forever.

Contrast this obvious utility with the casino bill. Lost in all of the posturing about "lost jobs" and "economic benefits" (read: new tax revenue for the state) is the fact that gambling is incredibly damaging to a large percentage of the population. When I was living in New Mexico, I remember driving by the casinos early on Monday mornings and still seeing a full parking lot as people gambled away their paychecks. So why I sympathize with the construction and service workers who were hoping for expanded job opportunities, don't ask me to cry for the casinos. There will be other development projects that arise that don't involve the severe costs of gambling, both societal and environmental. (For a look at the environmental costs of building a casino, see this article about the potential effects of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians building a huge casino in Middleborough.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So... Hot...

It's already the hottest summer on record. The Boston area is in the midst of a severe drought. Now we find that it's so bad that Ashland has just banned all outdoor watering - gardens, lawns, pools, etc. - due to concerns with the level of the Hopkinton Reservoir (where we get our water).
I shudder to think what the summer weather will be like when Hunter and Trey are my age.

Nip Watch, August 2010!

It's been a while since i've been able to take a long walk with Bella, but I took advantage of working from home today (I was recording the audio for a number of training classes) to do the walk down Green Street where the damned kids throw away their garbage. Picked up 11 nips, all Smirnoff, along with two water bottles. Unsalvaged remained multiple beer bottles and cans along with lots of fast food detritus, 'cause I just can't carry it all (and don't really relish getting dirty).

How to Run a Half Marathon While Drunk

The Dish pointed me to this hysterical post from Exercising while Intoxicated: 13 Beers in 13 Miles

Lots of Big Brothers Out There...

Lest anyone is still confused that Obama is actually liberal rather then a centrist, the FBI under his watch is attempting to continue the Bush-era power grab of collecting personal information of citizens without a warrant. Money quote:
The Obama administration and the FBI's demand that Congress approve a huge expansion of their authority to obtain the sensitive Internet records of American citizens without a judge's approval is a brazen attack on civil liberties. ... We increasingly live online. We flirt, shop, read, speak out, and organize in a virtual space where nearly every action leaves a digital trace — and where those breadcrumb bits often track us through the physical world as well. If the Obama administration gets its way, an agency that has already proved itself utterly unable to respect the limits of its authority will have discretion to map our digital lives in potentially astonishing detail, with no judge looking over their shoulders. That the administration and the FBI would seek such power under the guise of a “technical clarification” is proof enough that they cannot be trusted with it.