Thursday, May 31, 2012

Creating the Future

"The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination."
-  John Schaar

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Packing for a Trip

"In a manner familiar to anyone who had ever packed a car for a family trip, genial confusion gave way to impatience, then furious ultimatums, then ill-advised snap decisions. Finally the lines were untied, and the smaller vessel began to move away."
 – Neil Stephenson, p.147, Reamde

I meant to post this in time for Memorial Day, but better late then never!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At the Finish Line

Finish Line of the Vermont City Marathon
Happy to be done running!
I'll have more to write about this later, but for now here's me celebrating after the Vermont City Marathon with my lovely and incredibly supportive wife. A year ago, I wasn't even sure i'd be able to run a half-marathon, much less a full one, so just crossing the finish line was a major accomplishment. I was a bit disappointed because I hurt my knee half-way through the race and thus didn't run nearly as fast as I would have liked, but keeping things in perspective I now can say i've finished the Vermont City Marathon - something I always wanted to do! It's a nice feeling.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Birth of the Cool

Two great Miles Davis quotes from the Guardian:
Davis was a man of few words. When he did speak, his words often had a similar effect to a hand grenade being lobbed into the room. In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?"
He could be impossible – sometimes hilariously so. In the early 60s he was booked to play the Village Vanguard in New York. He turned up an hour late and walked on stage to rapturous applause. After counting in a blues tune he played just one note of it before walking off – to a standing ovation. "Why are they clapping if he only played one note?" one audience member asked the management. "You don't pay to see him play," came the reply, "you pay to see him think."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Inevitable Theories

"Even when on their guard, human beings inevitably theorize." - Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, p. 120

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer Began on Sunday

If you're at a carnival in 80 degree weather, it's summer time. I refuse to hear anything different. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Modern Bookstore

A good article about the Harvard Book Store and how it's thriving in the age of amazon. Money quote:
Imagine for a moment what it would feel like if people walked into your company and used the lobby to call your competitors and buy their products. That’s standard consumer behavior in a bookstore. People browse, find a book they like, pull out their smart phone, and order online.
Making an intuitive leap, Jeff wondered if the opposite could be true? Maybe access to the vast universe of digital content could also save the bookstore. Maybe the bookstore, while limited in inventory, could evolve in the digital world and become a destination where people had access to every digitized book ever published.
To truly compete, he would also have to solve consumer’s expectations for instant gratification and delivery. Jeff needed a complete production, distribution, and fulfillment model. He has likely shocked a lot of people by building one in his own backyard.
Essentially, Jeff installed a printing press to close the inventory gap with Amazon.
I haven't been there are regularly since i moved out to the suburbs of Boston, but highly recommend dropping by the store if you're in the area. Their used book department in particular is excellent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rock n' Roll 3G

Warning: the following post contains a lot of pretentious over-simplification. But it was a lot of fun to write!

Recently, I've been listening a lot to what I call the “third generation” of rock n’ rollers. In my mind, the first generation were the creators – Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, etc. The second generation consists of the “classic rawk” of the 60s bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, etc. All are great and deserve listening. But lately I've been listening to Tom Petty, John Cougar Mellencamp, Warren Zevon, and John Hiatt - rock n’ rollers that were roughly the same age as the 2G but came to maturity later, once the path was paved - but they ride on it oh so well.

Fom what I understand, Tom Petty was pretty much an instant classic rock n’ roller from his debut album, although I must admit I’m just not that big of a fan of his early work (his singing is too unrestrained and IMO doesn’t really do his limited vocal range any favors).  As his career progressed, however, he really came into his own, peaking for me with the Full Moon Fever era in the early 1990s. Like how including synths focused the Who's chaos in WHo's Next, Jeff Lynne's production cleans up Petty's energy in a pop sheen that brings out the best of the pop and rock in Petty. Plus, Petty's quality band - the Heartbreakers - are incredibly dynamic, in particular the amazing Mike Campbell. The guitar solo that rides out “Running Down a Dream” is a pure  rock n’ roll moment that you wish went on forever...

JCM certainly always had the rock n’ roll attitude down pat from the get go. The problem was that his lyrics range from “something to be desired” to “downright embarrassing.” Just listen to “Authority Song:” “Dying don’t sound to me like so much fun.” Not sure that dying sounds like much fun to anyone in their right mind there John. But his attitude and music pulls these songs past these awkward moments towards his strength: the choruses. God damn does the brother know how to write a chorus: “Authority Song," “Tumbling Down,” “Pink Houses,” the list goes on and on.

Warren Zevon is, to me, is in a league of his own. His good songs are good on a whole ‘nother level – lyrically, musically, and emotionally. For someone that leaned so heavily on irony, he put a lot of himself in his songs – it’s hard to listen to the primal screams of "Detox Mansion" without feeling his rage and frustration at his addiction and frustration at the boring life he describes as a condition for the detox.  Its true that there are fewer moments of true musical catharsis in Zevon than there are in JCM or Petty, but to me he makes up for that with subtlety. The sublime guitar solo in "Looking for the Next Best Thing" that describes the yearning and giving up that’s the message of that song… The pounding backbeat emphasizing the pounding that the boxers take in “Boom Boom Mancini”, the kid piano that leads to the baby grand in the autobiographical “Piano Fighter.” I think that the only real thing holding WZ back from superstardom was his consistency – he never released an album that was classic from start to finish – and that the alcoholism that generated some really awful filler on his best selling albums caused some people to not take him so seriously (it killed him that many saw him as a one hit wonder).

John Hiatt peaked the mid-90s. My personal favorites of this period are all hardcore rock: “Something Wild”, “Paper Thin”, “Real Fine Love”. At these points, he sounded like Keef Richards with a good voice: a personification of rock. The big difference was the consistency – I haven’t heard everything he’s done and suspect there’s a reason for that – and the quality of the musicians around him. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re perfectly adequate. Jim Keltner syndrome. The one example that comes to mind is in the great suburban father anthem “Slow Turning” where he sings “the kids are in the back seat banging like Charlie Watts” and the drummer tries to do a fun little fill, but it’s just not very exciting. However, he makes up for this with his inventive word play; hardly a song of his goes by without a fun turn of phrase that makes you smile: “Maybe some paper doll with a pasted on smile/Would let you write her number down” from “Paper Thin”, “If they’d know what we was up to they wouldn’t let us in/ And now we landed in Memphis like original sin” from “Tennessee Plates." Also check out "Thank You Girl": “My fate was sealed before I met you darling, I was halfway down a shallow grave” and also the  fun southern culture celebration of “Memphis in the Meantime:” “And after we get good and greasy/ Baby we can come back home/ Put the cowhorns back on the Cadillac/ And change the message on the cord-a-phone”

Of course, this is simply my simplified notion of these folks, and if you’d like to argue the point, please do leave a comment! But there’s so much good music out there that people don’t always think about when they think of rock and roll that I hope this stuff doesn't get lost in the shuffle, embarrassing images of comeback albums, or buried under soda commercials.

Avengers Assemble!

I pulled in a few chips and stayed up too late, but my trip to the movies last night to see The Avengers was worth it. It's a fun movie that takes the original comics seriously but also includes a liberal dose of absurdest joy at the sheer spectacle of men in tights saving the world.

I'll hopefully have more later, but I will say that the biggest revelation to me was Mark Ruffalo's Hulk. He made the character interesting and relevant again in the same manner that Robert Downey Jr. did with Iron Man a few years back.

Update: Alyssa has a great post about the movie that's worth reading!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pursuit of Light

Brain Pickings introduced me to this gorgeous video of the fantastic images collected by NASA on both space and on earth. Awesome! and a good soundtrack by Moby that's light-years above the typical "angelic choir" music that usually accommodates these types of videos.

Electronic Book Covers

Book designer Carin Goldberg "declare[s] that the Kindle experience is like 'reading through a tub full of dirty dishwater.'" In a great blog post about the state of book covers, Betsy Morais notes that:
"Pressure comes from the shrunken images on Amazon, a need for covers to be more multifunctional, and, on the other hand, a renewed desire to reclaim the tactile qualities of textured, gorgeous print. The idea of a book cover as a singular form has vanished some time ago, and [Eric Himmel, the editor in chief of Abrams publishing] says, "I don't have a clear view of the future."
Then he saw how Goldberg's students incorporated the vocabulary of bookmaking into multimedia cover layouts. Rather than borrow techniques from documentary film, they used typography in more sophisticated ways that seemed to be digitally-native expressions of book design. Her students also used moving images, video, and audio."
The discussion of the business behind the selling of books and of designing book covers is fascinating. There's a lot of fun new ideas being bandied about, but Paul Buckley, the VP, Executive Creative Director at Penguin, is concerned about cost:
"Benefits have not yet caught up to the costs of this extra content. Because the viewer's not going to pay for it." Publishers' art departments haven't traditionally come equipped with highly tech-savvy illustrators and typographers. And even as more digitally-capable designers arrive, so too will their demand for new tools to support their talents.
The whole thing is worth a read.

Originally posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Images of Mystery and Imagination

From Brain Pickings, I found where 50 Watts, who scanned a series of absolutely stunning pictures by Harry Clarke (Ireland, 1889 - 1931) from a rare 1923 copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe. Check it out!

First Lines of Reamde

"People who had job titles and business cards could say easily where they worked and what they did for a living, but those who worked for themselves, doing things of a complicated nature, learned over time that it was not worth the trouble of supplying an explanation if its only purpose was to make small talk. Better to just go directly to airline travel."
- Neil Stephenson, Reamde, p. 14

So not the first lines, but a good quote nontheless. I had forgotten what an entertaining writer Stephenson is, even when he's not distilling a complicated technology or arguement down to its essence. I was scared after abandoning Anathem - a book I found to be needlessly obscure - that Stephenson had lost his technically savvy voice that I came to love in Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. Based on the first 70 pages (of a 900+ page novel!), my fears were misguided, for I'm already hooked and can't wait for nighttime to come so I can dive back into this world again.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The MP3 in Vinyl

Check out this awesome video that uses vinyl records to simulate the building of the visuals of an MP3 track. It's mesmerizing.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Voyage of Discovery

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."

–Marcel Proust

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Worlds Greatest Mycologist

My father-in-law is quoted extensively in this article about Microcheck, the biology company he owns with my mother. The company is being profiled in "The World’s Greatest!..." TV show sometime in June, and i'm looking forward to watching it!

How to Listen to Music, and One Reason Why

Don't stop the beats! Why? Well, listening to music can boost your running performance by 15%. That's pretty significant, and part of the reason why I feel that i'll have to listen to at least some tunes when I run the Burlington Marathon later this month, despite their strong discouragement.
No word on if this will help you achieve this 15% productivity gain, but Elliott Schwartz presented seven essential skills for listening to music in his book Music: Ways of Listening, originally published in 1982. In it, he says that our ears have been “dulled by our built-in twentieth-century habit of tuning out” and thus need to be actively developed. It sounds a bit pretentious, but Brain Pickings gives us a quick synopsis that's worth a read. Essentially, the skills are:
  1. Develop your sensitivity to music. 
  2. Develop a sense of time as it passes
  3. Develop a musical memory. 
  4. Acquire a working musical vocabulary. 
  5. Develop musical concentration (especially when listening to lengthy pieces)
  6. Concentrate upon ‘what’s there,’ and not what you hope or wish would be there. 
  7. Bring experience and knowledge to the listening situation (e.g., info about its composer, history and social context)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stephen King Speaks

Two interesting Stephen King articles for you. One: an amusingly angry rant called "Tax Me for F@%&’s Sake!", and two: a Neil Gaiman profile that includes this great story:
"I never thought of myself as a horror writer. That’s what other people think. And I never said jack shit about it. Tabby came from nothing, I came from nothing, we were terrified that they would take this thing away from us. So if the people wanted to say “You're this”, as long as the books sold, that was fine. I thought, I am going to zip my lip and write what I wanted to write. The first time that anything like what you’re talking about happened, I did this book Different Seasons, they were stories that I had written like I write all of them, I get this idea, and I want to write this there was prison story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, and one based on my childhood called “The Body,” and there is a story of this kid who finds a Nazi, “Apt Pupil”. I sent them to Viking, who was my published my editor was John Williams – dead many long years - terrific editor – he always took the work dead level. He never wanted to pump it. I sent them Different Seasons ... And that was the first time that people thought, woah, this isn’t really a horror thing.
I was down here in the supermarket, and this old woman comes around the corner this old woman – obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain. She said, 'I know who you are, you are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.'
“And I said, 'I wrote that'. And she said, 'No you didn’t'. And she walked off and went on her way."

Saying No

"People think focus means saying 'yes' to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying 'no' to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things we have done." -  Steve Jobs

As a new father for the third time, I'm struggling with this concept all over again. As always, there's thousands of things that I'd like to do, but only limited time in which to do them. This means that I have to be ever more strict about the things that I do allow to take up my attention. Gone are the times when I allowed myself to absently draw or paint. No longer are the lazy afternoons on the sofa where I leaf through the newspaper and/or magazines. This doesn't mean that I'm going to cut out all creative playtime - open time you give to yourself to pursue your interests (Julia Cameron calls this time "filling the well") - but it does mean I'm trying to be more vigilant about how I spend my time. I'm trying to notice when i'm absent-mindedly browsing the internet or reading news I don't really care about. Rather, i'm trying to focus my free time on one or two things that I want to do well. At the moment, that's running (specifically, training for the Burlington Marathon), taking care of my kids, and finishing up a lot of the outstanding home improvement projects I have on my "honey do" list. When the marathon is run and the major projects are completed, i'm going to move on to other goals, but never more than two or three at a time so that those activities benefited from a sharp focus rather than a dilettante-like grazing interest.

What do you think? Anything in particular you're focusing on right now?