Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Grudging Pirates Commentary, Trade Deadline Edition

If newly acquired Pirates pitcher Matt Morris really felt this way about being on the San Francisco Giants:
Morris had some harsh words for the Giants last week, accusing them of losing their "focus," and he reiterated similar criticisms in a conference call today, saying of the environment with last-place San Francisco, "It's been hard. You almost learn to accept losing. I hate to say that, but it's true." He also called it "laid back."
. . . then by the time the first Pirates road trip concludes, he's going to reek of off-brand whiskey and spend every night choking off sobs with his hotel pillow.

Morris was acquired from the Giants in exchange for Rajai Davis, Tike Redman, Chad Hermansen, Adam Hyzdu, Emil Brown, Jermaine Allensworth, and a box of slightly irregular Pokey Reese bobblehead dolls.

The Pirates celebrated by losing to the Cardinals, 6–4.

True Parking Lot Stories #5

I was kind of hoping to watch my car's odometer roll over to 100,000 miles this afternoon. But apparently my commute is closer to 16 miles long than to 12, because when I pulled into the parking lot at work this morning the total mileage on the vehicle stood at 100001. Boo.

In other parking lot news, the baby Canada geese are all grown up now, and can often be seen browsing through the grass, or just hanging out near the artificial lake. Apparently they live here all summer, at least this summer.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Local Lore

On a blocky concrete AT&T building on State Street here, there's a historical marker plaque saying something along the lines of "Several hundred yards from this spot, the world's first commercial telephone exchange was founded in 1878." This is true. According to the National Historic Landmarks program, the actual building where the exchange was housed was designated as a national historical landmark in 1965, but then it was demolished eight years later to make room for a parking garage.

But in any case, the District Telephone Company of New Haven did indeed commence operations in 1878, connecting 21 subscribers with a cobbled-together $40 switchboard that could only handle two simultaneous calls.

I also learned this week about native Connecticutter Anthony Comstock (born in New Canaan), who devoted his life (1844–1915) to harrassing and prosecuting peddlers of smut such as girlie magazines, anatomy textbooks, George Bernard Shaw plays, and birth control devices. I don't know if Shaw's word "comstockery" is still in widespread use, but it sounds useful. Comstock also had fabulous burnsides.

Dept. of Unexpected Blog Topics

New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross, on his frequently-cited-here blog, finds occasion to mention nerdcore hip-hop artists M.C. Frontalot and Baddd Spellah -- Names which I don't think I've seen or heard mentioned before by anybody not undergoing some kind of formal technical education.

More promising from an actual hip-hop perspective is the also-mentioned "Blue Flowers" by Kool Keith. I guess its use of Bartok's second violin concerto is due to Dan the Automator, who contributes his typically symphonic production to Keith's Dr. Octagon album. Recommending that album still comes with the caveat that you have to be able to excuse its violently scatological and misogynistic content on the grounds that Kool Keith is more or less insane.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not That I've Actually Read Rowling

Harold Bloom, titan of literary criticism and Yale professor, on the first Harry Potter book. He wrote this for the Wall Street Journal in 2000; worth reading for the snottiness value, if nothing else. Excerpt:
Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. Is there any redeeming educational use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality? . . . Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not.
I don't know if Bloom is taking it for granted that people shouldn't read for non-enriching entertainment, or if he wants to argue that they shouldn't by willfully ignoring the entire concept. Either way, the rest of this article makes no sense to me since he doesn't tackle the idea head-on.

His main complaint about the actual writing is that it's cliched and unimaginative.

Meanwhile, in Vanity Fair this month there's a big feature on the Simpsons (apparently since there's some kind of relevant motion picture being released?) which is a fun read, especially where it covers the show's early development. There's also an interview with Conan O'Brien about his time as a Simpsons writer, back in the show's glory days of '94 or thereabouts.

I like this bit:
Jay Kogen: We thought we were really writing these really funny, smart, special shows that were chock-full of jokes every few seconds. And then someone showed us this study Fox had done: the No. 1 reason why people liked The Simpsons was "all the pretty colors" and they liked it when Homer hit his head. We were writing the show for ourselves--we always made it funny for ourselves--but who knows why America likes it. Maybe they like the pretty colors and when Homer hits his head, but I hope it's for more.
There is, of course, something from The Simpsons that comments on this.

BMOP Addendum

I found some notes I'd written down about the non-Dreamhouse half of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert that Nate & I saw back in May. I meant to post these at some point but never did, so: forthwith.

* * * * *

Also on the program:
Evan Ziporyn's Hard Drive, which was often cheesily enjoyable (probably not the composer's intent) but which often overstayed its welcome a bit with its repeating musical fragments. Ziporyn's orchestration seemed off -- the woodwinds didn't do much, the strings got plowed under the brass.

Anthony DeRitis's -- it still makes me squirm to write this -- "concerto for DJ and orchestra," actually titled Devolution, featuring DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid. I actually liked this piece a lot: DeRitis had a great sense of sonority here, with clouds of sound drifting into each other or dissonantly darkening the surface activity of the muisc. Said surface activity usually involved a simple drum-kit beat, some to-do on the digital turntables (courtesy DJ Spooky), and some manner of grooving harmonic drama in the orchestra. The memorable core of the piece is a misjudged attachment of Beethoven's Seventh (the über-poignant Allegretto theme) to aforementioned drum kit; this just sounds lame. For a bit DeRitis overlays a snatch of classical music's other great ostinato, Bolero, which actually works surprisingly well.

It's impossible to describe this piece without making it sound appalling, but it was actually extremely enjoyable & seriously well composed. At least the orchestral parts; I liked DJ Spooky's input too, but I have no idea how much he may have been held back (or not) by the setup.

As a whole, the concert made me think about how far off the orchestral mainstream this stuff is; that's a bad thing, since these pieces were all flawed (not much isn't!) but really vibrant and outgoing in a way that even Adams and Adès aren't. (Adams and Adès being the "mainstream" modernists best known for agglomerating "popular" influences into their work.) Why not bring Gil Rose or someone to a big orchestra for a couple of concerts to play some of this stuff? It's interesting, and no one hears it.

Friday, July 27, 2007


So, I'm not in Miami yet, and have been in a holding pattern for the last week or so here at our parent's house in scenic Pennsylvania. In fact, Mike is within, oh, a-meter-and-a-half of me at this very moment. I have very little to do, aside from dodging a few more logistical things involved in my return to the wonderful world of graduate schooling. I did manage, yesterday, to notice something interesting:

I was sitting on the back porch here, in our delightfully wooded back yard, trying to read a book that Father asked me to read on his behalf, called The Mind Parasites. It wasn't going very well - I made the mistake of reading both the introduction by one of the book's enthusiasts, who apparently played bass in the band Blondie, back in the day, and also the preface by the author himself, which turned out to be generally pompous. Maybe the dude's smart though, apparently he taught at Brown at some point, I dunno.

The day was thoroughly overcast (it being summer in Pittsburgh), but the sky was quite bright. I found myself often looking away from the novel-itself's thoroughly boring expository first pages, and staring into the sky-through-branches-and-leaves. Now, in addition, I've currently, while riding an exercycle most mornings here, been reading Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works (a terrible title, and a book that isn't nearly as interesting as The Language Instinct). I'm currently slogging through the section of the book (which was written in the late '90s) dedicated to the then-quite-popular autostereograms (Magic Eye), and their implications for how the primate visual system is a crucial precursor for how our brains operate (and thusly, how the mind works).

Reading about autostereograms, and then reading a boring-ass fiction book about stupidly named parasites that have invaded people's consciousnesses is a perfect recipe for extraordinarily vacant back-porch staring. Also, both of my eyes are slightly misshaped (mild astigmatism), causing my vision to go a bit blurry in certain lighting conditions (I have to wear glasses to drive at night, 'cause of the oncoming headlights, things like that). Now, as I wasn't wearing my glasses yesterday afternoon, my eyes were prone to going strange in the right kind of lighting.

At any rate, I was staring into the heavens, or trying to, or staring at the branches and leaves above me, and realized that I could much more easily see the shimmering little points of sky through the leaves than I could see the leaves themselves. The diffuse-but-intense back-lighting of the leaf-ed branches made it quite hard to distinguish anything but a general green-ness. So, in something like a pretend autostereogram, the little shimmering sky-grid thing popped forward, and existed in front of the leaves.

It's probably mostly just a symptom of my brain being more than willing, at the time, to indulge my mind's phenomenological interests, but it looked really cool, and I'd never seen anything like it before. Way more interesting than The Mind Parasites, anyway.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happy Hump Day

I had one of those Wednesdays where I have a bad case of the Mondays. And yet the sticky-note doodle above is perhaps the only physical evidence left by that fact. Anyway, happy Midweek to all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hey Kids! I'm up on the Face Book!

If you have a Facebook account, let me know and I'll make sure I'm "friends" with you. Mike, I'm looking at you here.

Also, if anyone has a non-disheveled-looking digital picture of me, could you email it? Thanks.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Most Interesting Thing on the Internet Coming from Under My Apartment Roof

It turns out that my new roommate Charlie started an online literary magazine a few months ago. It's called Brink. I haven't really poked around it yet, but it looks slick; there's some photography and even audio a few really short excerpts of Schubert piano pieces there. Interesting!

* * * * *

If you want some really fascinatingly odd reading, though, here's a transcript of the House of Lords discussing Buckminsterfullerene. (via Tom.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

This is Boston, not L.A.

First blog post in a while, for me, so I'll open with a rare snippet of personal information: I have found and an apartment in North Miami, so the blog will be diversifying geographically once again here, shortly. Of course, once Mike goes to China, if he actually blogs, will trump my Miami card, but we take our small victories where we may.

In North Miami, I found myself using the phrase "This is Boston, not L.A." to encapsulate the utter difference between Miami and everywhere else that I've ever lived. That add thoughts like "I should have just stayed in Berlin." The phrase "This is Boston, not L.A." has existed in my repetoire since, believe it or not, the time that I lived in Boston. It has its origins in the hardcore punk scene in Boston, back in the '80s. It was introduced to me by a co-worker at the grocery store where I used to work, who was a punk, and from Boston.

Hardcore punk in America has its origins in Los Angelos, so the Boston scene was trying to establish its own unique sound, and differentiate themselves from West Coast punk. I don't know a whole lot about the punk rock music, but I don't think there was ever any animosity between the coasts, punk-wise, since there are so few punks to begin with, but its about local pride, or whatever, I guess.

Working at a grocery store that was founded and still operated out of Los Angelos, this phrase immediately became quite useful. For example:

Customer A: "The tortillas at the stores in California are much better than the tortillas here, and why don't you have the Jalapeno & Cilantro ones?"

Me: "This is Boston, not L.A."

Customer B: "The employees at my store on the West Coast seem to have more fun at their store."

Me: "This is Boston, not L.A."

The phrase then began to gain metaphorical meaning, and infiltrate my everyday, non-working vocabulary. Any time that Boston, or anything was noticably different from some norm, I would use the phrase to point out this difference.

Which is to say, North Miami is Boston, not L.A.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Twisty Little Suburbs

Today after work I went a little ways out of my way to go to Wegman's, as their selection of specialty grocery items is fairly impressive, if sometimes bafflingly organized. The closest store is near my old workplace, and on the drive there I was reminded of one of my favorite street names ever: "Random Hills Road".

Just an unimpressive little thoroughfare (at least at the location I'm familiar with), lined with modest commercial highrises and condominium housing. The terrain, sad to say, does seem to remain the same from visit to visit.

Anyway, I can now count pickled herring alongside panchromatic 35mm film as "stuff I have way more of than I need in my refrigerator".

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gilbert to Phil

Alan Gilbert will be the New York Philharmonic's principal conductor starting in fall 2009. It's good news for them to settle on someone younger (that is, fortyish) and American. The one concert I saw with Gilbert on the podium was a fine one.

I don't really know how the Phil's artistic leadership works; I'm curious to hear whether Gilbert has any Big Plans along the lines of outreach or staking a claim for classical music as a vibrant, necessary, and contemporary art -- which the NY Phil must be in a good position to push the envelope on, though they decisively haven't acted that way. You'd love to see them reach for something the way the LA Philharmonic has been doing. (Or the way the NY Phil used to do, back in the glory days, with Leonard Bernstein.)

In any case they'll be better off than with Lorin Maazel, who's plenty capable of a Rolls-Royce performance with an orchestra this good but who seems disinclined to stake any kind of greater artistic claim whatsoever.

* * * * *

[7/19] Critic/writer Terry Teachout states the questions at hand here really well. I'd amend it slightly -- the issue isn't getting people like Teachout to attend (that is, those who are classical-aware but bored) but rather the inquisitive or unaware or only casually aware.

Mmm . . . Sandwich

I decided it could be interesting and slightly profitable to volunteer as a subject for a couple of psychology studies on campus. Today I spent my lunch break rating on an arbitrary scale of my own devision the degree to which I liked and disliked imaginary sensations. (The smell of dirty laundry; the feeling of a warm bed in winter; the taste of your favorite chocolate; the feeling of rough sandpaper.) A grad student seated next to me read the list of possibilities and I typed my numeric responses into a slightly outdated computer.

I sure hope that this study is about the meta-level pattern of responses, since my subjective answers were objectively all over the map.

The interesting question was at the end, when the grad student asked me to identify the best and worst possible sensations I could imagine. These are difficult questions when you're put on the spot!

After some hedging and stalling, mostly to make sure I didn't think of anything sexual, I identified the Best Possible Sensation as lying on a warm beach in summer, surrounded by a symphony orchestra in performance. (I hope, additionally, that the grad student is controlling for her being a female grad student, since a male grad student would have heard a much less frou-frou answer.) I did not specify that the orchestra would be playing a work something like a Prokofiev ballet, except one that I'd somehow managed to compose myself, though I was thinking this.

The Worst Possible Sensation was easier to identify as being hit very badly by a bus, which I guess is a self-centered and obvious choice, but I really didn't want to think through all the terrifying possibilities of life right then and there.

With $20 in hand and walking back to the office, on a warm and sunny day, I wondered more about the orchestra performance on the beach, and whether I could actually make this happen someday, and whether this actually secretly meant something sexual anyway, and so on. And then, since it was lunchtime and I hadn't eaten yet, I started thinking about the roast beef sandwich waiting for me in the office fridge, and man! it was going to feel good to eat that sandwich. I was pretty hungry by then! I really started salivating over this sandwich.

And it occurred to me that immediately beforehand I'd tried to imagine the Best Possible Sensation ever, and it turned out to be not as exciting as imagining a Roast Beef Sandwich.

There's a moral to this story someplace, but I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader.

* * * * *

I can tell you another moral, though, after a week of solid gym attendance and increasingly healthy cooking: the key to good behavior is procrastinating from a separate and even more daunting task, such as unpacking your life's possessions from the boxes in the new apartment you just moved into.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Various Monday Workday Thoughts

Adapted from private email correspondence with various persons.

I. YouTubin'
It occurred to me this morning that I could search YouTube for the old "DTV" videos we used to watch as kids. Had this occurred to me when I was not on my way out the door to work I could have more thoroughly followed through on this impulse, but I still have something of a soft spot for this one, which is responsible for me always thinking of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her" as "the one where the hats fall in love". Of course the one for Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" has to remain something of a favorite, though at this point it mostly makes me ruminate on all those shorts about Goofy's misadventures in postwar middle-class life, as well as the horrifying fact that his family apparently owns a conventional dog.

II. Pirates of the Crapabbean
I paid refreshingly little attention this weekend as the Braves administered the ancient Japanese rite of ass-kicku to the Pirates. Next up is a three-game homestand against the Rockies. My prediction for the first game: Colorado manager Clint Hurdle will make the controversial decision to start Denver-area plumber Mitch Hobbeson, 56, whose prior pitching experience includes two relief appearances for Hurdle's slow-pitch softball team, and who will hold Pittsburgh to one run and five hits over seven innings with six strikeouts. The homestand will presumably go downhill from there.

Did you know?...
1. All species of starfish are radially symmetrical in five or six spatial dimensions?
2. Starfish comprise three out of only seven non-mammalian orders of animals that breathe nitrogen instead of oxygen?
3. Stable populations of starfish have been found living in the snows on Himalayan mountain peaks?
4. When collected, starfish grant the bearer invincibility for up to ten seconds?
5. King Henry VIII of England died while eating starfish pie?
6. Genomic analysis shows that the familiar starfish body plan evolved as a larval stage for a "lost" anthropoid adult form, which scientists can now induce in a laboratory setting via hormonal injections?
7. Starfish have souls?

Editor's Notes
Jack told me in abovementioned private correspondence that there's nothing to gain from thinking about the stuff in I and II. I didn't ask him about III.

Also, as of now my prediction about the Pirates hasn't come to pass. Which isn't to say they're winning.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dept. of Idle Retrospect

Easing back into the blog with non-value-added link lending: this 1982 article that lovingly details the new process of computer word processing is a treat. Green-on-green monitors, so easy on the eyes. Word to the wise: don't be cheap--you'll thank yourself later if you spring for the 8" floppy disk drive.

Today at work I was proofreading a newly typed proof of an article that had been published in the New Yorker back in 1966, so I was reading it against a photocopy of the original. And I've been completely distracted by the old New Yorker advertisements, most of which have a ton of detailed copy, for high-end knit shifts and Hawaiian vacations and such. I find these really mesmerizing for some reason. My favorite is an ad whose headline reads "There is a certain kind of woman who listens to Brahms while shelling peas." This kind of woman apparently shops for her knit shifts at a particular store in midtown Manhattan that, fittingly, no longer exists.

So, yeah, beginning to end the Cold War Era seems to have been quaint and vaguely amusing. Who knew, right?