Thursday, September 30, 2010

Groove Night

Quick hit: If you're a fan of electronic music, you have to listen to Thomas Fehlmann's Honigpumpe. Awful cover, incredible album.

Fehlmann specializes in a minimalist four-square kinda funk. (I hear elements of krautrock in it too, but that might just be me.) It's hard to describe, and seems like it might feel cold to people upon their first listen. But stick with it. There's a lot of subtleties in the Honigpumpe toons, including:
- The funky-German dub-march of "T.R.N.T.T.F."
- The cozy couch paranoia of a "Little Big Horn (Liegend)," which builds up about a thousand little rhythm tracks all tapping away at your subconscious, like nervous spider fingers tapping the blues on a magazine cover in a waiting room
- The giant walking on the moon of "Atlas"

As the above may tell you, I don't have the words to describe these sounds - although people try - but it engages my hips and my mind, and whatever does that can't be all that bad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly convinced that only the normal and the positive - in short, only prosperity - is to the advantage of man?
- Fydor Dostoevsky, in Notes from the Underground

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things That Make You Say "Ahhhh..."

Paid off the car today. No more car payments... for a few months at least.

State of the Bills

Money quote:
Even when they're logical, they're illogical. Ladies and gentlemen: the Buffalo Bills.
Adding: Also this. Chris Kelsay is an average OLB, at best, and constantly being beat by Tight Ends. And now he's one of the highest paid members of the team. Sigh.

Monday, September 27, 2010

File Under "Wrong"

This is just disturbing.

Adding: "Sassy" is apparently marketing-speak for sexy-but-we're-trying-to-sell-to-kids-so-can't-use-sexy.

So Much Failed Change

This article from AMA provides a staggering statistic: "...about 70% of changes in organizations fail." That's an incredible number!
The article details reasons why this might be, but is a bit vague in the "what can you do about it" area. I've been through a few company reorganizations and the following are a few things that seem to work to me:
- Leadership has a clear vision and transition plan for the change
- Employees are kept in the loop and every effort is made to ensure their buy-in. Often, this means involving them in the change process, or at least soliciting their feedback.
- Once the change is announced, detailed communications about everyone's new responsibilities are sent from above so that there's no ambiguity.
- Change management! How exactly will the transition occur so that nothing falls through the cracks as people move from one responsibility to the other.

A Birthday, Yesterday

I was too busy to mention this yesterday, but Hunter turned four years old on September 26th. He's turning into quite the little man, and I hope that he keeps me laughing and running round for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Changing the Color of Table Borders in PowerPoint

Don't know about you, but I spend a majority of my time at work using Microsoft PowerPoint 2007. This morning, I was attempting to change the color of the borders in a PowerPoint table - I wanted the borders for the border cells to have a different color then the table's main body (to match the different fill colors). Well, this task was incredibly difficult and unintuitive, and there was no information on how to perform this task in the PowerPoint help system.

Luckily, there’s the internet! I found this MSMVPs site that detailed how to change table borders. If you're one of the lucky few who might find this useful: enjoy!

Get Up! Get On Your Feet!

I ask you to think on the hours when one sleeps. Did you know what happens then? The body may lie still in bed, but what happens to the thoughts - the spirit? With what ancient demons does it spend its time? And in what deeds?
- Ardel Wray & Josef Mischel, from the Isle of the Dead.

Have you noticed how many movies recently have focused upon dreams or virtual reality? I can name three blockbusters right off the top of my head: the Matrix trilogy, Avatar and Inception. Now Art, and the movies in particular, have always had an element of the escapist in them; people go to the movies or watch TV in order to be entertained. And the movies I've mentioned above are all very entertaining (with the possible exception of the final Matrix movie). What I don't understand is why the stories are all about people that are essentially just laying there. Yes, their virtual life - their dreams, literally in Inception - are every entertaining, but why stories about these dreams? Why are we not seeing large stories about real life, or actions and adventures that literally happen?
I could wildly speculate, but I don’t have anything profound to add here. I just think the trend is interesting. What do you think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.

- James Baldwin

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love this Picture

Quote of the Day

"Solitaire", by Suzanne Vega
Black on the red and the red on the black.
It's a tic of a tired mind.
Come and sit down, won't you try your luck.
See if you unwind.

Never use your threes and twos.
Follow superstition.
Otherwise you are going to lose.
Compulsion makes you listen.

Take what's wrong, and make it go right.
Weave it like a prayer.
Wonder if you you'll spend the night?
Playing solitaire?

Do it again, when you find you're all done.
Like an idiot savant.
Shuffle up your luck. You see, you almost won.
Now wrestle down what you want.

Jack on the Queen, and the ten on the Jack.
It's a happy repetition.
You and your fate in a kind of check-mate.
And you are your only competition.

Take what's wrong, and make it go right.
Weave it like a prayer.
Wonder if you you'll spend the night?
Playing solitaire?

Is Day Care a School?

With two children in day care, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering - and occasionally worrying – if day care is doing the right thing for their development. In the end, Kelly and I have been happy with our day care if only for the reason that the people that work there genuinely care about our kids. It's obvious in all of their interactions with our kids, and that goes a long way in my book. We do what we can at home to keep them engaged and learning about different things, and we look for our daycare to teach the kids basic knowledge but also to be properly socialized (learning how to share and interact with others).
I mention this because I recently read an article by Rebecca Ruiz that argues that we should be doing much more to not only train early child care providers but also ensure that they make a fair wage (did you know that “The average salary for the nation's 2.3 million child-care workers is $19,605”?). As she writes:
Despite their meager incomes, the women who provide daily care to the nation's children -- 95 percent of workers in the field are female -- are increasingly expected to provide their charges with quality learning experiences. Research has shown that early-childhood learning is a key indicator for future academic and personal success, and in recent years, policy-makers and advocates have embraced the idea that child-care workers are an essential yet neglected part of the equation. Gone are the days when child-care workers were seen as doing little more than handing out blocks and Barbies.
In theory, it's a welcome shift for providers, who have long known that they play an integral part in the intellectual and emotional development of the children they watch. But in practice, we are a long way from treating, training, or paying child-care workers as professionals. Some 1.1 million child-care workers are paid relatives, neighbors, or friends. They often lack the necessary resources to create engaging curriculum; only about half of them have any college education. Teachers employed by child-care centers are much more likely to have some college education, but they only make up a quarter of the nation's child-care workforce.
The federal government, however, could change that by making a commitment to train and pay child-care providers as early-childhood professionals. The government's basic tool is the federal subsidy program known as the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The voucher-based subsidy allows low-income parents to afford child care but doesn't ensure decent pay.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Just Saying...

Is it too early to start thinking about the number one pick in the 2011 NFL draft? 'cause the Bills will badly need it.
Update: And the panicking begins, right on que.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Powered by Poop!

Who said that dog poop was worthless?

David Mitchell's Number9Dream

As you may have determined by reading some of the quotes i've been posting recently, I recently finished David Mitchell's Number9Dream. When thinking about how to summarize my thoughts about it, I agreed with one of the quotes on the back cover (for probably the first time ever). Entertainment Weekly described it as "Delirious - a grand blur of overwhelming sensation" and it really is a good way of putting it.
Mitchell is such a fantastic writer that even the mundane things that his characters do - working in a 24-hour pizza joint, hanging out in a coffee shop, trying to catch a cockroach - are presented in such detail and with such humor and invention that every little moment really shines. The only problem with this is that while his sentences are consistently excellent, his plots skitter all over the map, jumping times, genres, and styles. When presented in books where the structure of the book is episodic - like Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas - it works brilliantly. Here, not so much. Don't get me wrong, this is an amazing book. But events are so scatter shot, the young protagonist so amorphous, and more then one crazy coincidence, that the randomness combined with the hyperreal prose really does make the book feel like an amazing dream. That's certainly how I read the book - as an entertaining, hallucinatory dream. There are scenes in this book that stand up to anything anyone has ever written, but the book doesn't stand up as a cohesive whole to me. So just look at it as a series of very entertaining set pieces and enjoy the ride.

Quote of the Day

By 7:00 AM, I have already memorized the breakfast news roundup. Trade talks, summits, visiting dignitaries. This is how to control entire populations - don't suppress news, but make it so dumb and dull that nobody has any interest it it.
- David Mitchell, p. 347 Number9Dream
Personally, I call this awful style of broadcasting "robot news."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
- Paul Gauguin

Stand Up For Yourselves Already

Part of the reason i've been disconnecting from politics lately is the incredible distaste I have for the Democratic party. They finally get themselves in position to pass progressive legislation, finally do pass Health Care Reform (albeit in a watered-down format, and despite themselves), and then run scared from any principled stand on it. It's almost like they aren't progressives at all! < / wink>
As Andrew aptly puts it:
One thing that still staggers me about the Dems (which is why I still feel so much contempt for that party). Why do they expect people to support something when they never make the case for it? You can listen very hard and not hear anyone defending the biggest shift in social legislation in a decade. Are they not proud of it? Or just, as usual, paralyzed by fear and political incompetence?

The Democrats' failure to define or sell themselves are going to lead to historic losses in November, and will then cause them to be even more scared in the future. It's a sadly predictable cycle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

The creator of Goatwriter looks down at me. I cannot see her eyes but I can hear her voice. "I don't think you're being very fair to her." I scowl at her. "You know, we are all of us writers, busy writing our own fictions about how the world is, and how it came to be this way. We concoct plots and ascribe motives that may, or may not, coincide with the truth." I scowl at the envelope, wondering. "Take your mother. You write her part for her. Have you ever wondered how you write your part? Go on. Open it now. Spare us further agony." Just like Mrs. Sasaki, the author is sympathetic and stern in equal measures. I flick the envelope with my finger, moodily, over and over. "Ah," she sighs, and the drowsy sea in the background sighs too, "the young."
- David Mitchell, Number9Dream, page 233

Run It!

Ran in the Canal Diggers run thru beautiful downtown Worcester last Saturday. Despite staying off the road for the week beforehand due to a rich Achilles, I was able to pull off a 21:50 (it's a flat course). One of these years, i'd like to see what I can do when I'm not injured!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Every 9/11 I like to listen to Bowie’s “New Killer Star” off the Reality album. The song isn’t specifically about the events of that day in 2001, but they do make oblique reference to what happened. What I like about the tune is it’s optimism - not always an emotion associated with Bowie! So much thinking about 9/11 is so depressing, because it really sent us down a path that seems to me to inevitably leading to a culture war - Christian vs. Muslim! - that could ensnare not only multiple countries but potentially the entire world. Who knows what will actually happen, but the future doesn’t look bright. The sad thing is that humanity is actually better then what we’ve displayed recently... there are brilliant highs to go along with the horrible lows, and I have faith that human ingenuity might find a way out of this mess. Anyways, that’s what the chorus of “New Killer Star” makes me think of, when Bowie sings:
I'm thinking now
(I got a better way)
I discovered a star
(I got a better way)
Ready set go
(I got a better way)
A new killer star

Who knows what it really means? But what’s important is what I get out of it. And so there you are. I remember by hoping that as a species can transcend our baser emotions and come together as one before we do something that kills us all. So sue me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mason & Dixon Cliff Notes

This excellent blog has been doing 10 page synopses of Thomas Pynchon's fantastic novel Mason & Dixon for a while now. Making me want to read the book again. It's a suprisingly good novel if you can get into the faux-18th century prose - it's funny, moving, fantastical, and intelligent. I learned more about the founding of our country by reading this book then I have since grade school. I actually have an essay on this subject somewhere inside of me - I even have the notes to prove it - that I'll sit down and write... one of these days...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cynicism and Hope

The Daily Dish has been doing these posts called "About My Job." In a recent post about a Community College professor, this comment is telling:
When I hear friends and family offer specific illustrations of why they list in a more conservative direction, it often has to do with anecdotes revolving around the person they check out at the grocery store using food stamps to buy a jug of Carlo Rossi zinfandel or spending their welfare check on some other decidedly non-essential item. Or the stories they hear from mutual friends in law enforcement or social services who deal with the dregs of society on a daily basis. Who could possibly support any form of social safety net when a portion of that net will be devoted to such vermin?
Well, on an equally anecdotal and emotional level ... we here at a community college tend to see the better side of our fellow humans who are struggling on the low end of the economic ladder. We see them trying to better themselves, working hard in spite of their conditions to try and take a step up said ladder. Hell, some of them may even be spending public money on a pack of Winstons, but we don't see that. We see them in their best light, for the most part.
And that's what I want people to know about my job: I don't have empathy for poor people because I read Sinclair Lewis or Karl Marx; I have it because I work in an environment in which I see them at their best.

I hear this line of thinking from my conservative friends and family as well, and I like how this person addresses it. Or put another way: Cynicism is easy, while Hope is hard. The people this person describes have hope, and it's a catalyst for change, despite the very real problems that they face. And problems there are, no doubt.

Kill the Packaging!

I love this effort by Amazon to change how things are packaged. This move from packaging designed as a theft deterrent for on premise sales to more user-friendly packaging designed to improve the customer experience when actually trying to get products out of the box is bound to be environmentally friendly, as AllpakTrojan discovered:
the environmental benefit was significant: the square footage of material used was much smaller, and the cardboard was recycled and recyclable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everything's Future Trash

I learned this point in spades by reading Delillo's Underworld, but I still find the general point fascinating. This quote is from an interview with Robin Nagle, anthropologist-in-residence at New York City's Department of Sanitation (hat tip the Daily Dish).
It’s an avoidance of addressing mortality, ephemerality, the deeper cost of the way we live. We generate as much trash as we do in part because we move at a speed that requires it. I don’t have time to take care of the stuff that surrounds me every day that is disposable, like coffee cups and diapers and tea bags and things that if I slowed down and paid attention to and shepherded, husbanded, nurtured, would last a lot longer. I wouldn’t have to replace them as often as I do. But who has time for that? We keep it cognitively and physically on the edges as much as we possibly can, and when we look at it head-on, it betrays the illusion that everything is clean and fine and humming along without any kind of hidden cost. And that’s just not true.

When I Die...

I want my ashes to be pressed into a record. While I reserve the right to change my mind, as of right now I'd leaning towards Miles Davis' In a Silent Way.

Nerd Cars

I've had two license plate and bumper sticker experiences lately that has reminded me how much of a nerd I am.
1. A license plate in the car next to me at work today: "IMTHEDM." I kind of miss Dungeons & Dragons.
2. I laughed outloud at a bumper sticker that read: "My other car made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs." Can't wait until my son's old enough for Star Wars.
Bonus nerd note: I actually mispronounced "Kessel" when relating this story to my buddy Norb, who gently corrected me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nothing to See Here...

I haven’t written much about the Bills recently, and frankly that’s mainly because I find the state of the team extremely depressing. They haven’t been to the playoffs in over a decade, their last game being the ridiculously painful “music city miracle.” (the last game that the great Bruce Smith ever played in a Bills uniform.) The last few years have been a typical Buffalo study in modest expectations been a study in mediocrity and injuries. The highlight of the last few seasons (Byrd’s interceptions a notable exception) is Special Teams. Brian Moorman - the punter! - has been their MVP. The Patriots have beaten us 13 in a row. After sacking the GM and entire coaching staff, an entirely new crew’s running the show. The team is transitioning a fine defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 without the personnel to support it. Ralph Wilson, the owner, is 92 and rumors abound about his meddling and where the team will move upon his death. There’s not much to get excited about.

Having said this, there are minor signs of hope. Trent Edwards is playing solid, confident football, like he does every year before his porous line allows a few crushing hits on him and his football instincts take back seat to his survival. (Just like Bledsoe.) The defense is still bending and not breaking (too much, yet). CJ Spiller seems like an exciting running back. Points are being scored!

But the disappointments pile up. Last years first round pick, Aaron Maybin,
can’t break it open despite moving him to his supposedly “natural” position of OLB. Everyone keeps getting injured. The special teams and defense have been horrible in pre-season. Aaron Schoebel retired rather then put up with yet another rebuilding season. And the end result is that I just can't get excited to watch the Bills this season. Don't get me wrong - when the powers that be deem to put them on my TV set, i'll tune in, but I'm holding out hope for anything better then a 6-10 season. Wait 'till next year.

If I Could Walk on Water

I'd like to imagine that it would be as incredible an experience as these pictures of Water Striders look. Be sure to scroll down to the Locomotion section, where you'll see "dipolar vortices generated in the wake of the adult water strider."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day Quote

In Plain Text, that Brass Voice announc'd,-- "The Business of the World is Trade and Death, and you must engage with that unpleasantness, as the price of your not-at-all-assur'd Moment of Purity.-- Fool."
- Thomas Pynchon, writing in Mason & Dixon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence."
Alan Watts
A quote heard in the excellent Herzog Antarctica documentary Encounters at the End of the World.