Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Autumn-Leaf Album Leaf

There's a tree outside my work window, or rather across the parking lot so I've got a good view of it. In the afternoon (since I'm looking north) the sunlight comes streaming at it and illuminates it perfectly. Today around 3 p.m. it was shining in that specific autumn-tree green-bronze color, with rippling yellow highlights in it: just transfixing. I wanted to go swimming in this tree. I had to go outside to get a better look at it. Watching it felt like the way listening to American chamber music feels. (Gleefully I realized I wasn't hearing a specific piece of music, but some unspecific bunch of sound- and texture-impressions that come with American chamber music — I'm thinking Copland, Barber, Ives here. But it felt just like it.) I watched this tree for something like ten minutes.

Now and then those little things in life that you always ignore muster up enough oomph to finally smack the back of your head and say "Pay Attention, Dammit!" And that's very nice. Very centering, like being on a bike.

Why this blessing today, of all days? I believe it was because I was unassailably bored out of my mind at work.

The Zen of Complete Indifference

Have you ever tried to think of something you're completely indifferent to? Not something that you have an equal strength of positive and negative associations with: I mean something where you think of it and absolutely no emotional connotations come to mind. It's surprisingly hard — even the most mundane objects are either vaguely sympathetic or ever so slightly irritating. Finding a pure indifferent entity is like isolating a noble gas.

I feel this way about Major League Soccer.

The Complete Mega Man Soundtrack

Tonight I acquired the complete original soundtracks of Mega Man 1-6 for NES. Although I only really ever played Mega Man 2 and 3 on an emulator, they are all a good listen. This might be my playlist for the next couple days.

You guys would probably enjoy this more than I, so I'll burn you each a copy if you'd like.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Everything Must Go

Tower Records has been sold off for liquidation, meaning all of its stores are about to be closed for good, and there's been a bit of commentary about how this hits particularly hard in the classical area. See: Anthony Tommasini, Mark Swed, Greg Sandow.

Tower kept by far the best classical department in New York, and in other places. It is a shame to see it go.

But as much as it sucks to have the top end lopped off of classical CD retail, I don't think it's extraordinarily dire. Most people aren't going to be any worse served by the kind of department you can find at a decent Borders or Barnes & Noble. There's the loss-of-knowledgeable-clerks thing too, of course, which maybe I underrate since I never asked a clerk for a recommendation, and I got by just fine. Outside of the major cities where Tower had its flagship classical departments, this has already been the state of affairs for a while anyway.

If we're losing anything, I think it's that people will stop seeing off-the-beaten-path classical composers' names presented alongside Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and get a limited sense of what's worth listening to. But then again, having all these different names arranged alphabetically without further description doesn't get you very far.

Not to go whistling past the graveyard, given all of classical music's problems, especially in the recording area. Yeah, it's a bit ominous.

In Philadelphia, Tower used to have an entire "Classical Annex" across the street from their South Street store. During my freshman year I went down to South Street with some friends and just fell into a daze when I saw this building for the first time: someone said "Uh, I think you need some time alone," and they met me back there 20 minutes later, after I'd had some time to pick up some Martinu and Hindemith I couldn't find at the college music libary. And then I borrowed some cash from someone since my debit card turned out to be empty, all of six weeks into the semester. Ah, freshman year.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Don't Be Cynical"

I don't know why, but recently I've felt like writing that in really big letters on any wall that's in front of me. I haven't followed through on that impulse, though; thus cynicism continues.

Elsewhere in the world of random thoughts: Via every political blog I keep up with (initially via Josh Marshall) I read this story in the Washington Post earlier in the week about an electronic voting machine glitch that's truncating candidate names in a couple of districts in VA near mine. Most prominently, in what's become a high-profile U.S. Senate race between the Republican incumbent, George Allen, and the Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, the good guy's name is chopped down on the screen to "James H. 'Jim'". This bothers me a lot more than I would have expected it to -- I think because it offends me in terms of both political process and software design methodology. (Problems always seem to make you madder when you can make some informed guesses about how you would have avoided them. Let's show some more rigor in the requirements-gathering phase of that balloting machine contract, people.) It bothers me that election officials across the country seem so frequently cavalier about using systems with severe stability or usability issues; for something as allegedly fundamental to our nation as our electoral process we should enforce higher quality standards instead of blithely assuming that it can't possibly have that much of an effect on our elections.

Anyway, I was talking about this over drinks with some friends last night and someone floated the idea that there ought to be a guy named James H. Jim somewhere in the state who may soon be able to make a reasonable legal claim that he should be Senator. In general we discussed ideas about how to get elected by being something other than what people think they're voting for. My theory is that I could handily win any Federal election if I legally changed my name to "Free iPod".

You Can't Spell "We're #1" Without "E1"

Oops, I forgot to give my World Series prediction. Take it to the bank: Tigers in six!

Aaaaaand this is why we don't bet on sports.

Here's hoping that Detroit's former-Pirate managerial consortium can take their ragtag bunch of millionaire athletes just a bit farther next year. In the meantime it's hard not to feel good for the Cardinals, who've been a solid team for a while & have something to show for it now.

Not the best World Series ever, but hey, at least it was more Rust Belt than Subway.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fall Fishwear

For that Halloween party, I decided to go as an Aquarium. I will wear goggles & my flowery bathing suit, and a long-sleeved blue shirt with fish attached to it. So I spent some time yesterday producing some cartoon fish out of posterboard and paint. (Good old undergraduate acrylics: all that's left of my liberal-arts brush with studio art.)

I think they turned out pretty well! Maybe I can find another use for them. There are more than I've inexpertly photographed and posted here. (And they're not all surly-looking, by the way: some of them are quizzical or distractedly content.)

I still have a soft spot for crafts projects: that much hasn't changed since age five.

So last night got to be that inevitable evening when your roommate comes home — I think this happens to everybody at least once — and you're caught at the dining table listening to Bartok really loudly and painting cartoon fish on posterboard. He took it in stride.

In other news, I had a nice long lunch today with Grandpa & Fran, who were on their way through Connecticut, mid–New England trip. We spent a good couple of hours in a nice Italian restaurant that's just down the street from my place. It's been a good week for catching up with family.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Flow, Flow into the Duodenum

Weird Al Yankovic released a new album not long ago, which means that YouTube is even more awash in his videos than you'd expect under normal conditions. I don't think any of the kids will pick up on it, but from what I've heard so far Al's real coups on this album take off of musicians who've been performing even longer than his own two-plus decades.

"Bob", his Bob Dylan parody comprised entirely of sung palindromes, seems gimmicky on paper but sticks Dylan's early style, pushing it not too far across the border between cryptic and nonsensical. (Alex Ross gives some props to the similarly brilliant video.) "Pancreas" is a pretty stylistically spot-on take on Brian Wilson's long-delayed SMiLE, mimicking its Beach Boys-extracted vocals and its kitchen-sink concept album aesthetic. Even its nonsense lyrics, focused entirely if not with perfect medical accuracy on the pancreas, would fit in well enough with Wilson's own odd, damaged man-child material. (If you run the song to about the two minute mark you'll hear my favorite Weird Al moment in a long time, as he describes the gravitational attraction that a pancreas exerts on any other pancreas as though it is a mystical, pancreas-specific force; in the video you see two pancreata spiralling into a kind of yin-yang.) Musically, as in the Dylan takeoff, Weird Al is typically chameleonic. The biggest point against it is probably that it's nowhere near as batty as Brian Wilson's actual songs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Proto Photo

Here's a quick scan of a 5x7-ish test print I made at photo class this evening. Not much, but it's the first thing I've produced end-to-end that looks more or less correct. The shot faces roughly east towards the Polo Field on the National Mall.

At the next (and last) class I'll hopefully pull off one or two decent-looking 8x10 prints, if I can keep the negatives clean.

A Heater That Works

There are enough trees in New Haven for you to tell the leaves are turning, and it's pretty. It's also getting colder, and, as I've been anticipating since the summer, this will test my apartment's ability to keep the cold out.

It's a two-level apartment designed some decades back by an architect for his own bachelor living, so it's very cool — and there's that great deck on it — but it has all kinds of weird amenity issues, like a lack of electrical outlets in certain areas, and a surprising amount of useless storage space hidden away on one side of the upstairs level.

And early results about the heat/cold situation are not good. The windows are barely insulated at all, but okay, there are cheapskate shrink-wrap type products that can alleviate this. Harder to get around are the heat vents, which are just kooky. There's a giant one upstairs in the dining room space, and two in the small upstairs bathroom; but on the first level there's just a small one in my room and a small one in the bathroom.

One of my roommates doesn't have vents at all; I'm sure this isn't up to code. I'm encouraging her to get a space heater and dock the cost from rent. I should probably encourage her to get an expensive one, so it isn't noisy as hell and a fire hazard.

Anyway, when the heat comes on, the upstairs/downstairs temperature differential feels like about twenty degrees. And I don't want to know how much of that heat is immediately diffused out of the various skylights.

Might be buying some long underwear this year . . .

Balerina na korable

So when you search YouTube for "Alfred Schnittke," you turn up a late-60s vintage Soviet cartoon with a delightfully surreal soundtrack by the great composer. (I'm not sure what I was expecting to find, exactly. Unfortunately nothing turns up under "Sofia Guibaidulina." And no, this does not count as wasting time, since I'd just be watching the ballgame anyway.)

This clip turns out to be only half the cartoon. And it's still enjoyable, and that might be enough for some of you.

But, on the other hand, if anyone would be interested in splitting the cost of & then sharing a DVD compilation of Soviet animated shorts, you should let me know. Nate, I'm looking in your general direction here.

And yes, before you ask, you can also watch Worker and Parasite.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I Will Never Use You

There's lots to say about this past weekend, which I spent in New York with the immediate family (including the rest of this blog's contributors). Let's talk about the Wyndham Garden hotel next to LaGuardia Airport, though. I found our room there to be clean and well-appointed, certainly in line with my expectations given the location and relatively modest rate. The room's previous resident was not so impressed, however, or so I gather from the comment card reproduced (with some redactions) at right.

The first problem with this comment card is that it is not in fact a comment card, but an application for Wyndham's frequent stayer program. (Since I'd signed up for the program beforehand they very pleasantly left some Heinekens and a small fruit plate next to the last guest's written compaints for me, plus a card saying "We have prepared cheese and crackers for you as you requested", which was true in spirit if not in fact.) Since the preprinted fields have more to do with preferred welcome snacks than with the quality of the stay, the comments are just kind of on there. From top to bottom they almost achieve haiku status:

Service Terrible
A heater that works
I will never use you!

Expressive enough, if not idiomatic. Also note the check mark in the Gender (M/F) space.

I was amused enough to find this angry little missive that, due to inattentive housekeeping, never made it into the hands of the hotel's management where it perhaps could have been acted upon rather than laughed at. Upon closer examination, though, I noticed that the "Company" field contained the name of my former employer. Based on that, I assume that the author is one of the legion of French Canadian employees of the company I quit about six months ago. I have half a mind to cajole one of my friends there into looking up his name in the corporate directory and giving me his email address, so I could send a spoofed response saying "If you ever badmouth one of our properties again, Monsieur ------, I will END YOU. I am not f---ing around here. Sincerely, Fredo Wyndham," or words to that effect. I'm thinking that wouldn't quite be ethical, though.

To M. ------'s credit, the heater in the room was disabled, no fun once it got cold at night. I asked the front desk about it and they said something about it technically still being summer for the purposes of booking the room. Not a satisfactory answer, but not one that makes it worth underlining "terrible" either.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Igor & Amadeus

Last Saturday night I ducked into New York for the Philharmonic — Gil Shaham and David Robertson teaming up for a concert of Stravinsky and Mozart. (Actually a dinner & symphony evening with a gal I met last time I was in NYC; though this isn't going to turn into anything else, even a second date, it was a fine & companionable evening.) Good music, that.

Shaham played Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and one of Mozart's: a concerto on either side of the intermission. You don't see many concerts with this plan, and it's appealing to get to go back for seconds. At the start came Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto, and after came Mozart's 36th Symphony, the "Linz."

Mozart's classicism and Stravinsky's neoclassicism don't actually throw off a lot of sparks together. Mozart's music is full, rich, and blended; Stravinsky’s is acidic and sharp around the edges — a throwback beyond classicism, back to crystalline baroque concertante pieces.

The Linz is your prototypical classical symphony: stately but sensitive, inventive but well-behaved. Lots of lush strings and firm cadences underscored with timpani. I didn’t know until I read the program notes that Mozart wrote this in under six days, at the ripe old age of 27. The concerto (Mozart’s second) hadn’t actually ever been performed by the NY Phil before, hinting at the bottomless reservoir of fully enjoyable Mozart out there for orchestras to draw from. I like Gil Shaham; he played with the assured, majestic classical violin sound you hear from the Great Soloists on definitive old LP recordings. It's fantastic, though it doesn't carry me away too much.

Shaham was great in the Stravinsky, and more fun to watch, just by virtue of all the quick cross-cuts in tempo & rhythm, plus the overall playful energy of the thing. He can pull of a rough but steel-sharp low register, crucial for this piece.

But in Stravinsky it’s the full orchestra I love: the attention to instrumentation that edges all those sharp angles with precise gleams and shades. The variety of sound that gave Petroushka and the Rite of Spring their flash and earthy power gets channeled instead into razor-sharp detail work. And you’ve got all those marvelous frilly melodies, constantly in motion, baroque in style but made unusual and brittle. Fascinating specimens, in a wealth of colors & textures: listening to neoclassical Stravinsky is like wandering through a natural history museum’s hall of minerals.

David Robertson is exactly who you want conducting this sort of thing.

The concert was actually kicked off by a slam-bang rendition of the Candide overture, performed without conductor to memorialize, of all things, the sixteenth anniversary of Bernstein’s death date. Came off a bit too loud but, gosh, that’s a fun piece of music every time. Definitely dessert first at this concert.

Disturbing Observation Roundup

The checkout line at the deli today had bags of ginger chews sitting out on display. Meet the most appalling candy mascot ever:

Note that the ginger man is eating a ginger chew. It's disturbing enough that he's got extra ginger growths that don't map to human appendages, but it's outright hideous that he can look so smug while dining on the flesh of his brethren.

Easily my second-least-favorite candy marketing gambit of the year. No ginger chews for me, thanks.

Meanwhile, in linguistics class today the professor mentioned the Dan Quayle "potatoe" incident in passing, and then noted to the class "But that's before your time."

And it is! I mean, to all the undergrads. I tell you, I'm not getting used to this whole "gradually becoming older" thing.



Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dept. of Good Rhetorical Ideas

Via Kevin Drum, a funny Jane Galt post about how to make the "full disclosure" notes in magazine-grade opinion writing into a force of good instead of evil.

The most egregious name dropping in a full disclosure notice I've seen recently is in this Jim Lewis piece in Slate about a series of pornographic art movies (not overly safe for work):
I should make a fuller-than-usual disclosure. [Director Larry] Clark is an old and close friend of mine; in fact, I collaborated with him on the story for his first movie, Kids, and gave it its title.
I was half-expecting Lewis to go on to disclose that he also wrote and directed Kids, and furthermore that he is in fact Clark, but instead he settles for just namechecking two of the other directors under discussion and one of the film's producers. Color me still unimpressed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

McDuckin' It

A meandering draft post I tapped out over lunch this afternoon, emailed to myself, then edited somewhat and linked up by night, posted against some of my better judgment.


A shiny dime to anyone who can fit a plausible, Cole Porter-type melody to the following stanza:

Frock coat, top hat,
Pince-nez, cane, spats,
No shoes, no pants...
I'm hittin' the town like Scrooge McDuck!

At least a recognizable tune would be better than having the words drift in a sort of nonmusical singsong through my head.

I'm not sure why in general I'd ever think about Scrooge McDuck's attire (though it is one of the more peculiar entries in cartoondom's long list of pantsless character wardrobes). Mainly I know him from DuckTales, the centerpiece of the Disney Afternoon back in the early 90s and a fine enough kids' show, back when decent animation wasn't in vogue again yet. (Don Rosa's recent Life and Times volume is a solid, excessively rigorous exploration of Uncle Scrooge's backstory, which holds some interest for onetime fans of the show, though I'm not versed in the fairly massive literature of Duck comics that both the show and Rosa's work are derived from.)

Scrooge held some secondary interest for a couple of my friends and me in college, since he's basically Andrew Carnegie -- the Scottish heritage, the rags-to-riches life story. Granted, Carnegie made his fortune less through wacky adventures and more through vertically integrating the steel industry and ruthlessly opposing labor organization, but it was easy enough to think of Scrooge McDuck as a co-founder of our school. The lack of a money bin is a glaring inconsistency, but we generally agreed that Pitt's nearby Cathedral of Learning easily could have been adapted for that purpose. (That purpose being, if you're unfamiliar with the money bin concept, to store all of Carnegie's obscene wealth in the form of gold coins so that he could literally swim around in it. A loftier aim than founding a bunch of libraries and concert halls, if you ask me.)

Some semi-directional IMDBing can take you to a somewhat lower-wattage Disney Afternoon offering, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers. From there you can find that Peter Cullen, who provided the voice of that show's burly adventurer/ cheese addict/ mouse character, Monterey Jack, has also enjoyed steady work as the voice of Eeyore in recent Winnie the Pooh products, as well as the role of Optimus Prime in the original incarnation of the Transformers, which he's reprising in Michael Bay's upcoming film adaptation. I can't imagine that'll do Bay's movie much good, since the level of vocal hamming appropriate for a series of budget-level, half hour toy commercials probably exceeds even that of your average multimillion-dollar special effects showcase. I don't expect that movie to do much other than exist, though; in particular I doubt it will heal the scars left by the 1986 animated movie, as has been (sort of) discussed.

(As regards my comment on that post about The Tick, the first season of that is in fact on DVD now, finally. Omnipotus, Devourer of Worlds -- not in season one -- is not in fact a direct reference to the Transformers movie, however. But more about The Tick some other time.)
Career voice actors are always more interesting to me than other actors since theirs seems to be the most thankless work in Hollywood that involves actual characterization. There's an old AV Club interview of Billy West (who was both Ren and Stimpy, plus a slew of Futurama characters, among others) that bears this out.

I'll stop now while you all aren't completely embarrassed for me yet. While I'm burnishing my nerd credentials, I'll note that if anyone out there could instantaneously remind me what decent C code written against the Windows Sockets API is supposed to look like, it would make the after-lunch portion of my work day a little smoother.

Editorial-Type Slicings & Dicings

My work this week involves reading down a hand-edited manuscript and keying its editorial marks into the original word document, for the author to review. (The manuscript was copy edited offsite by a somewhat older longtime freelancer; most editing now is done directly to computer documents. Hand-penciled edits are pretty rare.) It's a chore but an instructive one for me: getting a feel for what sorts of things you need to look for and fix. A bit of a slog but a good training exercise.

The manuscript itself is a consumer guide to cosmetic surgery, so I'm learning a thing or two about that unfamiliar field, too. Did you know that a whole 15 percent of rhinoplasties are unsuccessful enough to require "redo" surgery?

My gut-level recommendation is just "Don't Get Cosmetic Surgery." This goes double for anyone considering a surgical vacation to Mexico or Poland: sure, the travel agency can arrange your lodging and entertainment, too, but you might turn out as the unhappy protagonist of a morbidly compelling anecdote.

But, if you've got your heart set on a new nose or eyebrows or whatever, I've got a 380-page redlined manuscript to recommend to you.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hello, Hello, This is Johnny Space Commander

I thought I'd pass along this happy fellow, who graces one of the plastic bags my computer came in, presumably just to say "do not put this bag over your head as I am doing or you will surely die".

I guess it's some kind of Scott McCloud-like testament to the expressive power of simple figures that a circle with as many recognizable human features as an electrical socket can so vividly capture the agonizing final moments of suffocation. Still, I don't like it. It's no more graphic than the stick man being engulfed by flames you see on some water heater warning labels, but that's antic enough that it at least makes me chuckle a little every time. This... this is just horrifying.

At least I had to cut this particular bag up in order to scan the graphic in. So I'm safe, for now.

Former Pirate Goings-On

Oliver Perez pitches his way into the record books: his start last night for the Mets made him the pitcher with the highest-ever ERA (6.55) to start a playoff game.

And he won, too! Despite giving up 5 runs off 9 hits (including 3 home runs) in under six innings. Yep, same old Oliver Perez.

If you want to know how bad the Mets' pitching situation has gotten, consider that for Game Three of the NLCS, they had to decide between starting Perez and fellow former Pirate Dave Williams. This is the kind of decision you want to have to make if it's March 2005 and you're trying to lose 95 games in the NL Central. Geez, just invite Mark Redman and Kip Wells and you can really get the party started.

Obviously the happier Pirates-related playoff rooting still involves the Tigers' coaching staff. I'm really pulling for them now.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Update: General State of Affairs

More or less using Pete's template for this.

Picture at right is the figure of victory that usually perches atop a World War I memorial at the top of East Rock Park, but that is currently on the New Haven central green for cleaning. It looks kind of out of place there.

Catch Phrase: I am disrespectful to dirt!

Listening to: Nick Drake's Bryter Layter, from 1970. Fragile, lyric, and melancholy folk-pop from the British singer/songwriter/guitarist, who I hadn't heard of till now. Unfortunately that melancholy was the tip of a depressive iceberg & he overdosed on antidepressants a few years later, when he was 26. Great autumn music nonetheless. This is a borrowed CD, along with OK Computer and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, also new to me, which is required listening.

Currently reading: mostly course readings for the linguistics class I'm auditing. This continues to be interesting, though I'm looking forward to the part of the syllabus that deals more with the psychology of language, as opposed to the analytical framework that linguists apply to (English) sentence and phrase structure.

Also reading: Kenneth T. Jackson's Crabgrass Frontier, a history of the suburbanization of the United States. This is a pretty straightforward history, not too flashy, which might be why I haven't been able to pick it up for a few weeks. Unfortunately it's too good to turn aside completely, and I'm already halfway through. I shouldn't give up before the twentieth-century part starts. And I call myself a nonfiction nerd . . .

About once a chapter in this book there's a blatant typo — in the preface, the city of Stockholm is misspelled as "Stockhom," for example, and later there's a passing mention of "Jane Austin" — and it's interesting to me that these haven't been fixed in the course of twenty printings. I'm still not sure what the industry standards are regarding corrections.

Currently drinking: Thomas Hooker Octoberfest Lager. Tastes pretty good to me! I'm just glad to have found something at the local beer store that unambiguously hasn't been sitting around for months and months.

Trying to come up with: Ideas for a Halloween costume. My work friend Kate is having a party. Non-humiliating suggestions welcome.

If You Need Me Again, Here's My Headshot

Despite the awe-inspiring, extremely time-wasting neatness of YouTube, I'm still surprised that Google is buying it for $1.6 billion. To my layman's mind it seems excessive; I'm not sure how the site will achieve any profitability, or avoid being mired in massive copyright infringement lawsuits, given that (home videos aside) a big chunk of its appeal seems to be stitching together awkward tribute videos from TV show clips, or just uploading a bunch of Family Guy jokes. Speculation at lunch the other day at work was that YouTube will eventually get declawed like Napster, and similarly lose its appeal once its users can't do any of the fun, illegal stuff anymore.

Anyway, it's fun now, especially with an up-to-date computer that can handle it. One piece of copyright-infringey goodness I was happy to find is the entire 22-minute pilot (and only) episode of Lookwell, an Adam West vehicle created by Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien in the early 90s that bombed spectacularly when it premiered. (O'Brien mentions it briefly and not by name in the unreasonably good commencement speech he gave at Harvard several years back.) In it, West plays a washed-up television actor who tries to solve real crimes because he used to play a detective on TV; mainly it's a showcase for the same hammy, borderline absurdist touches West brought to the old Batman series. The episode has an odd deadpan tone and hints, not entirely comfortably, at some depth to its main character, as West isn't entirely unaware of his embarrassments and failures. For the most part it's just goofy, though. If nothing else, find the scene where West tries to hash out a string of local car thefts while talking to a statue of William Shakespeare. Even though it only consists of one episode it's up there with my favorite TV shows; today, now that weird single-camera comedies without laugh tracks are fairly common, it probably could have lasted two or two and a half seasons before being unceremoniously axed.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

This morning I've been setting up a new laptop that I just bought -- so far it's pretty sweet. It's another middle of the line Dell Inspiron, still well-suited to my non-professional computing needs, but since it was manufactured in this millenium it's capable of a lot of stuff the old computer can't do anymore, such as playing video content or opening more than three web browser windows at the same time. Should be fun.

For the record, it's not nearly as nice for its time as the desktop computer Dad bought me when I started college. (He bought that computer by giving me his credit card and going on vacation with the rest of the family during my first weekend of school, letting me make my own way to the Carnegie Mellon computer store rather than micromanaging the details of the purchase. That was a really nice computer.)

Also, since the new computer's compatible with up-to-date USB technology, I can use my scanner again, as well as the external hard drive that contains everything else I've scanned before. I'll try to keep the barrage of old doodles to a minimum; for starters I'll share something from the archives that Pete did a while back.

(Circa 1988, I think.) There's not much I can add to this, except maybe to say that while Pete's artistic style has matured somewhat I suspect the central message of the piece is still true enough. Fans of mocking Pete's penmanship should note that that's basically what his handwriting looks like now, except for the lower-case letters.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

And They Think I'm Slow, Eh?

Wednesday Lunch Lull Roundup of Cultural Trends. Okay, just one cultural trend.

In between pithy smackdowns of the Republicans' "Blame Clinton for North Korea" bullshit, Josh Marshall notes an interesting article about the decline of cursive handwriting, which kids are apparently learning less and less.

I have the feeling that this might be the first of the many inevitable subtle things that separate us from the Young once we get Old. Who would have thought that using cursive would mark you as one of the Old? I see a far-off premonition of grandkids saying "Grampa, I can't read your birthday card!" and me giving a crotchety impromptu lesson on how to write "r" and "s," and the grandkids not really understanding it and just being relieved when this all is cut short by dinnertime.

Actually, I've mostly trimmed "r" and "s" out of my handwriting, replacing them with slower but more satisfying printed letters that interrupt the cursive line. And I was never on board with the monstrosities that pass for capital letters — G, Q, S, etc. But still . . .

You know what else turns out to be weird? When I imagine having grandkids, however vaguely, I feel a lot of affection for them. But their imagined parents (i.e. my hypothetical grown children) look like the nondescript extras who portray extended family members in movies, and I'm pretty indifferent to them. Somewhat fascinating! . . .

this is funny

i saw this back in the day, finally bothered to look it up on youtube.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Tuesdays are long for me until the end of October, since I've been taking an introductory photography course through Arlington County's adult ed program. It's only eight weekly sessions and, being an enrichment course as opposed to a rigorous introduction, isn't too strenuous, but I find that actually doing things for a solid 15 hours a day works against my catlike sleeping reflexes. Still, it's oddly satisfying to go through the work of developing a roll of silver halide film and printing a couple of tests in the darkroom and seeing little images, by some invisible and barely understood chemistry, darken into view on paper in a bath of fluid. Even if you come home with just an underexposed contact sheet and dishpan hands it's hard not to be happy with yourself. Granted, after having developed exactly two rolls of film I'm content to be at a point where I can start worrying about the boring subjects and indifferent compositions of all my shots. Posted images forthcoming, hopefully, once I have a complete print or two and the technical means to get them into the computer.

I just bought a used copy of a Moog Cookbook CD of (mostly) mid-90s pop covers; Jack's friend in NY played us the opening track, a rendition of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", whose sensibility sits somewhere between "elevator music" and "early 90s Super Nintendo soundtrack". Most of the songs have a nascent sense of menace running through them too, which when I'm driving home at the end of a long day makes me think of what it must sound like if microscopic robot elves are tearing your neurons apart... Anyone needing background on the venerable Moog synthesizer can do their own Googling; just remember that's "Moog" like "Pogue", not "Moog" like "droog". My point here is, this is an album to file under "Music to go slowly insane by", a category that makes up about 75% of the programming for my morning commutes.

Because I Could Not Stop For Lunch He Kindly Stopped For Me

My standard eat-at-your-desk bag lunch, lovingly assembled this morning in a state somewhere between crankiness and unconsciousness:

* One-third bag of prewashed baby spinach
* One roma tomato, chopped
* Several crumbles of feta cheese
* A few slivered unsalted almonds
* Black pepper and celery seed to taste
* Two or three dribbles salad dressing

* About a cup of plain yogurt, nonfat or low-fat
* Three or four strawberries, chopped, if available and not moldy

* Banana

Orange Juice
* Free from office fridge; apple juice preferable but currently out of stock

Extra Caution Required
* Do not contract E. coli infection from bagged spinach
* Do not dip bathrobe sleeve into yogurt

...Most indications seem to be that the health risk, such as it was, from bagged spinach is over. The second item listed remains a far more likely form of contamination.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Things I Have Noticed in my Apartment Complex's Laundry Room Tonight

Only one, thing, actually: My bicycle, like most of the bicycles chained to the rack in there, no longer has a seat. When I amortize that over the three and a half years I've lived here, though, it will probably cost me less than the accumulated not-startings, inadequate dryings, and general fuckings-up of the laundry machines themselves.

This concludes our already spotty observance of the rental agency's "Do not store bicycles in the apartments" policy.

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

Last weekend Nate & I saw The Science of Sleep in New York, down at one of the two independent movie theaters on Houston Street that I can never manage to distinguish. (The IFC or the Angelika? Or is there another one? Nate will recall this as the reason we walked two blocks in the wrong direction after coming out of the subway.) This is a movie worth watching.

Caveat: I'm not in a position to give this an authoritative review since I haven't seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Michel Gondry, who wrote & directed Science, also directed Eternal Sunshine, and the two movies share a lot of subject matter. (I begin to think that perhaps I should really get around to seeing Eternal Sunshine.) Then again, I don't want to give an Authoritative Review so much as to say "I Liked It" and throw some adjectives at it, so, onwards.

Plot nutshell: youngish guy Stephane (Gael García Bernal, of Y tu mamá también fame) lives in Paris and moreover in a borderline dreamworld, unable to keep his conscious life from veering now and then into fantasy. He meets a gal, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whom he can seemingly share his individual little world with, but their growing relationship is frequently interrupted by Stephane's paranoia & general disconnectedness.

The most effective part of the plot is its resemblance to a typical movie template — Special Outsider Meets Love Interest, Is Made Less Lonely; She Transcends Her Everyday Life Through Him — that gradually breaks down. By the last half hour of the film, it's not at all clear whether Stephane's overwhelming imagination is going to turn out to be a gift or a prison. This all makes the ending (which I don't want to give away) a high-stakes affair thematically, even though the actual plot climax remains fairly low-key.

But the real reason to watch this movie is a series of dream sequences and scenes where Stephane is literally living inside his own head. A couple of the dreams in particular are uncanny recreations of what actual dreams feel like: airless rushes of halfway connected events, bizarre glosses on real people, disturbingly surreal backgrounds. (The backgrounds are really great: stop-animation cityscapes with cardboard buildings folding up & down like accordions.) In the mind-scenes, meanwhile, Stephane singlehandedly mans a TV studio-simulacrum crafted out of cardboard cameras and props; two large blinds to the outside world stand in for his eyes. He delivers a broadcast to his imagined audience, the movie's real audience.

I don't watch a whole lot of movies, all told, but I know it's rare to find one that can be both laugh-out-loud funny and achingly sad, coming by both honestly. Such a miraculously imaginative and painfully fragile sense of whimsy is even more rare. You'll want to see this.

Short version: "I Liked It! . . . Miraculously imaginative. . . . You'll want to see this!"

Feel Good Early Autumn Reading

this and then this.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Drag School

Gaaahh, hanging out with more than a few grad students at one time is bad news. Grad school conversation: about as interesting as sitting through shop class, except that shop class doesn't make you feel vaguely guilty about not getting your act together enough to be a shop teacher. Lovely dinner party, otherwise.

Much better is going apple picking with a couple of like-minded coworkers, the kind of people who aren't embarrassed to enjoy wandering through a corn maze for forty or fifty minutes. That was yesterday. It was beautiful outside, couldn't have been a nicer day.

Got my curtains up finally: duly noted.

Happy long weekend if you've got one,

Friday, October 06, 2006

Taste My Sad

I was hanging out on Tuesday evening with Stu at his apartment, and he kindly lent me some CDs to help me progress my non-classical music listening.

So I spent some time on Wednesday listening to Radiohead's OK Computer for the first time, and yeah, it's really good. I knew it was well known, but I didn't know it was so depressive. That's kind of a turnoff for me: the music's really rich, and creative, and sonically lush, but the emotional expression is all sealed off into this impregnable angst-bubble. And that's about the only emotional note they hit.

I think I could buy into it more if that depressiveness came along with a sense of vulnerability, or regret, or something. But it feels instead like an intentionally alienated kind of sad, maintaining a hip exterior.

But the music itself, yes, absolutely great.

Since I've run into a vein of fairly unthinky work at work, I was listening to Radiohead on headphones while doing a preliminary cleanup for a manuscript. If you listen to "Karma Police" while doing editorial work, it will sound to you instead like they're singing "Comma Police." Hey, that's kind of what I do! Haha. This is what you get when you mess with us: we fix your commas. And then it's fine. Really, it's okay, you can cheer up now.

That song is followed by a track where a synthesized robo-voice recites a corrosively ironic list of resolutions for better living. Weird, and even more depressive. Well, pardon me, I'm very sorry if Professor Sadface McSpeak-n-Read feels bad when I feel good. Nyaaaahh.

In other news related to Experiencing High Quality Pop Cultural Phenomena Well After the Fact, I'm having a great time going through the third season DVD of Arrested Development. Would be worth watching for the jet pack instructional video scene alone, but it's all deliriously good.

Taste my happy! It tastes kind of like sad.

Friday lunch lull update: Okay, listening to it again today while it's cloudy out: I take back what I said about the emotions being all depressive and one-note. Under more diffuse & overcast light it comes off as much more colorful and translucent. Now I get it.

I'm not sure why some music can feel so weather-contingent to me, but there you go.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Now That I've Got Your Attention, Buy Some Produce

Miscellaneous notes of the day:

...Since I turn on NBC on Thursday evenings to watch The Office, I see a fair number of promos for E.R., which after something in the neighborhood of a decade looks like it's slid pretty far from its groundbreaking-medical-show peak into the valley of implausible melodrama and frequent gun battles. I was talking to Jack and his friends about this last weekend and he made the great suggestion that the show should go out with a beat-for-beat reproduction of the climactic hospital-soap scene in Tootsie. The camera would then cut away to Bill Murray saying, "Now that is one nutty hospital". So consider this an open letter to the network.

...This afternoon I was walking past the cafe in the office and had my attention grabbed by a couple of cardboard boxes of Topless brand premium green leaf lettuce. The logo under the writing was a cartoon of a spinning top, which is not at all like the image that sprang immediately to mind. Maybe there's some interesting background to the name but it seems like a pretty shameless way to brand your vegetables.

...Also shameless was a Geraldo segment I couldn't help but see with some coworkers yesterday, since it was blaring from the TV right over our table at the wings place where we were having lunch. It was a piece about the recent shooting at an Amish school near Lancaster; mostly I noticed that the title at the bottom of the screen was "Tragedy in Paradise". I think this was a coded Weird Al reference. I can't decide if that makes the segment better or worse.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tool Time

Near the Metro North between Milford and New Haven there's a stretch of light-industrial lots and small warehouses, and from the train you can see one of these small warehouses with large, hand-painted letters on the side reading TOOLCLIP.COM. This strikes me as an intriguingly direct form of e-marketing. Forget pop-up ads: paint it on a warehouse!

Toolclip.com turns out to be the website of the Arthur I. Platt Company, Inc., of Milford, Conn., manufacturer of the original Finger Grip® Adjustable Tool Clip. They also sell motorcycle trailers and offer welding and riveting services.

Unfortunately, I don't think I could personally use any of their products, though I guess if we switched to stainless steel binder clips in the office, documents in the basement storage room would be protected from rust staining in the event of severe flood. Maybe they'd be willing to produce some extra lubs on spec.

"Our tool holders offer a wide range of tool holding capacity" is a great piece of marketing copy, I think, but I can't quite explain why I think that.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Gras, auseinandergeschrieben

I've been reading poems by Paul Celan, relatively consistently, in various translations, for probably a year and a half now. Recently I was going through some of my files and found a note that I had written to myself back in early 2004 (towards the end of my Senior year of college) reminding myself that I should read more Celan. I cannot recall, however, the exact causal linkage between my initial interest in Celan (I assume sometime in '03-'04) and the continuation of that interest, a year or so later. My theory is that I liked his poems, forgot about him, and then started liking his poems again, later, completely seperately from the first cycle of poem liking. Anyway, if nothing else, the experience confirms for me that I like his poems. This site has some recordings of Celan reading several of his poems.

The readings of Todesfuge and Engfuhrung are particularly notable.
German texts of the poems can be seen here (it's weird that they're justified to the center like that, but that page is the only clearinghouse of Celan auf Deutsch that I've found thus far).

Although the Deathfugue is the more famous (easily Celan's most famous) of the two poems, I can't help but be more mesmerized by Engfuhrung - it seems to be more exact in its musicality. The musical notions of fugue and stretto are both translated into language with relative ease by Celan, but I would argue that the Stretto is more stretto than the Fugue a fugue. The way he reads Engfuhrung - the prayer-chant musicality of it, that maintains its course despite the fact that the words and images breakdown as the poem progresses, disintegrating into the poems end. Engfuhrung, upon a bit of cursory research, is something of a "sequel" to Todesfugue, apparently. That makes it even more profound, I suppose.

Oddz 'n' Endz

Just back from an NYC weekend with Nate, having enjoyed among other things the Octoberfest celebration at Astoria's Bohemian Hall. Nothing like polka music and pig off the spit! . . . Q: How many of Jack's friends know that Nate sings Mack the Knife to himself in German when he's washing up in the bathroom before bed? A: However many of those friends let us crash in their apartment for the weekend. Those walls aren't soundproof! I would describe the reaction as attentive, slightly weirded-out fascination . . . Three cheers for Freddy Sanchez: Pittsburgh has a batting champion once more, and meanwhile the Pirates finish a competitive eight games out of fourth place . . . If the Detroit Tigers manage to put down the Yankees I'll be a happy fella. Happy and surprised. I might hop on the Minnesota Twins bandwagon in a couple of days here . . . For as much as I like mild provolone cheese I'm surprised how much I dislike sharp provolone cheese. But now it's in the fridge, and you can't send it back! . . . Music by Sufjan Stevens has been recommended and/or played to me by four different people in the last three months, plus it's in the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack. Duly I pass along this bittersweet blip on my usually dark folk-pop radar screen . . . In general I've been in a mood to listen to much more non-classical music recently. This also makes me kind of want an iPod . . . Periodically I think about going bowling, and I realize I don't really feel like going bowling; but each time, I kind of want to go bowling just slightly more. I think if I go bowling around mid-November I'll be satiated for another several months.