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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Ruby day and no playlist.

Thursday morning, cold and icy. Current local temperature is 28° F (-4° C) and wherever the roads still had snow or water on them from yesterday's wet-fall are ice.  I needed to drive Ruby (our Focus hatchback) in this morning, since she has studded snow tires on, just to get up our hill.  After that it was pretty much dry clear roads the rest of the way.  We live on a steep shady hill that tends to stay very icy longer than the rest of the area, and on those days M and I have worked it out that I take Ruby with her little clicking nails and she has one of her much-loved "no-drive days."

Ruby is the opposite of the Miata in so many little ways that I have to think more about what I'm doing (that is, how the car operates) when I drive her.  The most obvious difference (besides the two-door-two-seat versus 5-door-five seat and luggage capacity!) is that Ruby is front wheel drive and the Miata is rear wheel drive, which has a big impact on handling characteristics.  Then it comes down to small things: Ruby's wipers are activated in steps up, the Miata in steps downward, one has window switches on the center console, the other on the door panel, gas doors are on opposite sides as well.  Light switches are in different places, tach and speedometers reversed, one has stereo controls on the steering wheel and one doesn't, and so on.  Nothing of earth-shaking significance in any of this, just subtle differences that make moving between the two cars noticeable.

You'd think, after nearly eight years of owning and driving Ruby (really, a few more years if you count the Focus we had before Ruby, with its identical interior) and nearly five of the Miata (hardly seems possible I've had it that long already!) that this dissonance would have faded.  There is, however, a number to factor into this equation, that helps explain why time alone isn't the full story.  Ruby has barely over 40k miles on her (at this rate, by the time she reaches her upcoming 8th birthday with us she will have seen an average of 5600 miles a year) and the Miata has about 35k after nearly five years (so a little over 7000 miles a year on average).  We don't spend a lot of time in our cars, even counting my short daily commute.

No music this morning, since the Focus doesn't have an iPod input.  I opted for NPR instead, so no playlist to share and discuss today.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The old routine, again

Wednesday, and the weather is flakey. Flakey in both the flakes of snow and flakey-as-in-crazy meanings of the word, but mostly the latter. My short drive West to the college this early morning saw driving hail, falling soft pellets (snail?), driving flakes, and rain. The wind was a switch-hitter this morning, swinging from one side of the plate one minute then from the other the next. With short powerful swings, it drove the snow and rain vertically across the beam of my headlights. Pretty stuff, really.

This is my first commuting early morning in a couple of weeks, or nearly. I thought it would be hard to get back into the swing (pun noted but not intended) of things, but the old routine slipped back into place comfortably. I beat the alarm clock by 20 minutes. I think the dogs were more disconcerted than I to be woken at this early hour. They stretched, yawned, and vocally grumbled about having to take their morning break in the dripping cold. They also didn't bother to see me off (mostly, they do), but instead ran straight back upstairs to curl up in their still-warm beds.

Light traffic, which is to be expected on this many-folks-take-it-off week between holidays. Of the few vehicles on the road I still managed to find a truck to ride my arse. May he be as persistently ridden all day today.

The iPod was heartily glad to be shuffling something other than Christmas music, or so I anthropomorphically assume. It was certainly in a blues/rock mood.

I hadn't really paid attention to the Weezer lyrics on El Scorcho before, and am glad I hadn't. I'm not a big Weezer fan (I really like some of their stuff, and really don't like other bits of their catalog), but this song...

" 'cause I can't even look in your eyes without shakin', and I ain't fakin', I'll bring home the turkey and you bring home the bacon."


Oy. That it was followed by Nada Surf, with their typically-sharp lyrics, made it stand out all the more.

Hayden and Jones brought the pace right down with a slow moving piano/cello duet as I was parking the car in the then-whirling snow. As I wrap up this post Jan Garbarek is, fittingly, piping out Iceburn from his etherial and haunting In Praise of Dreams album. Good stuff, and very appropriate to the morning.

The full playlist:

- Counting Crows: Have You Seen Me Lately
- Bobby "Blue" Band: If I Don't Get Involved
- Weezer: El Scorcho
- Nada Surf: Do It Again
- Charlie Hayden & Hank Jones: L'Amour de Moy

- Posted via iPad.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas morning

Saturday, Christmas morning, and so far the skies are retaining their ample wetness; saving the rain for later today? "Merry Christmas," they might be planning to say, "Here is our gift to you, a generous portion of the waters of life poured out for you to enjoy!" Reminds me of a poem I wrote many many years ago, which I titled, The Deliverance of Derby:

An inverted wind-blown hat
Lies like a catch-basin under a rain gutter,
Cocked by a passing sidewalk breeze,
Straining to free itself from underneath
Its liquid load.

Feet passing by in frenzied
Haste, some irresponsibly clad in last season's
Less-warm fashion, splash on through winter's
Rains. One, less agile than its counterparts,
Set free the hat.

In a shower of stale rain
A cascading derby danced over the lazy
Foot, drenching it in gratitude,
Then quickly catching upon another
Breeze, off it flew.

Now that our children are grown and flown, Christmas morning is a quiet and nearly lazy affair. We get up when we want to, and breakfast is our own time together. I made wholegrain buttermilk pancakes this morning (that and a loaf of bread being my only culinary contribution to this day of cooking and feasting).

Part of me misses the Christmas morning energy of children, the pent up excitement, and the bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm that children wrap this special day up in. The joy of being able to so-easily create magic for your children. The other part of me really enjoys the selfishly quiet low-key start to the day of our post-children phase of life. Another proof for the waterbed theory of life, which states (more or less) that, just like you can press down on any one spot of a waterbed and have some other spot of the bed rise correspondingly, if one aspect of life is easier/better/happier/etc. then the will be a corresponding part of life which isn't. Pros and cons through the passage of time.

Take, as a further example, the aforementioned magic. When our kids were young I used to have "daddy magic" with which I could do all sorts of seemingly impossible (in their eyes) things. As they grew, this magic waned and they saw more and more of the small man behind the curtain. This was eventually replaced by outright hands-on-hips exasperation or sad head shaking. In time, though, if I am lucky, all of this will slowly be replaced by the "wisdom of age." Dated, but still applicable and valuable, experience-based knowledge, ready for the asking. Someday, perhaps.

Fred and George live the kind of simplistic life that was all the fad among the must-have set a few years ago. They see only the usual weekend routine so far today (and they see only the moment they experience right now), since holidays don't register for dogs like they do for small children. People register to dogs: the sudden expansion of the pack by several additional members, some they know well and others they have not sniffed/met before. When small kids arrive with the new pack members then they really have things to keep track of, and dogs love a task to own and perform. Fred and George love people, so this will be their holiday reward.

After our brief lazy morning we will turn our attention to getting ready for a large Christmas dinner. We are blessed to be able to host family for the day. Melissa draws energy from the food preparations and I, whom she often accuses of having no repose, from the rest of the preparations. We will enjoy a full house today!

Later, perhaps much later, after the guests have departed and at least most of the clean up is completed, we will have a quiet Christmas evening in which to count our simple blessings of health and family.

To the few who read these finite musings: Merry Christmas from Melissa and I, and may you enjoy the happiest of holidays. May the new year bring you the dance and deliverance you seek or drench you with gratitude.

- Posted via iPad.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For auld lang syne and the gift of musical friendship

It had already been a good morning. A day off, a little bit of a sleep in, then up to fry a couple of eggs with a slice of home made bread. A couple of remaining errands to attend to brought an unexpected opportunity for a top-down drive around town. Finally, free time to put together a couple of loaves of whole grain, cinnamon, honey, and cherry/cranberry bread for the holidays. As I say, not a bad morning.

Then came a special, unexpected, early Christmas gift.

As I write this, the bread is in its second rising and I am bathed in recorded sounds of music, laughter, and friendship from many years ago.

In the late eighties to early nineties (someplace in that range of years, anyway) three friends regularly got together to play music. One played guitar, another keyboard (and sometimes really bad guitar), and the third played drums. They played cover renditions of old folk ballads and, mostly, original compositions. Since every band needs a name, they simply drew on their respective three last names, and styled themselves the BMW Band.

Now let's be honest, this wasn't a particularly good band. Off-key was the new on-key then, mistakes were as common as the laughter captured in these old recordings, and it was rare magic when all three musicians were really on the same page. Some of it is even embarrassing to listen to, if I try to take it at all seriously. But it was never designed to be a serious musical effort, this was about friends getting together to play music, exchange musical ideas, share a common faith expressed in some of the songs, solve the political problems of the day, and laugh.

As the recordings evidence, there was a lot of laughter, for all the earnestness that sometimes crept into the music. And there were some magic moments when the music really is damned good. A few of those original tunes would hold their own against almost anything professionally written and recorded, too.

Many evenings our assembled children would drift off to sleep listening to those music sessions, and they still reference those memories with fondness (and laughter, too). Quite often they can be heard playing in the background of some of the tracks (a special blessing captured on these old recordings).

Someplace along the way we decided to start recording some of our sessions, using very cheap mics and recording equipment. The sound quality is muddy and atmospheric, some mics picked up better than other, and it is often hard to hear all the voices or instruments. Yet the recordings gave us the ability to hear ourselves with reasonable honesty, which only added to the sense that these were not (and never would be) serious music sessions. And each of us had one or two of the cassette tapes these recordings were captured to, gathering dust in a drawer. Much like memories do.

I remember an interview with Chuck Mangione from about at many years ago in which he attempted to describe a certain raw, real, unpolished quality in an album he had just created. He said, and I may not get the quote exactly right here, that if you listened close enough you could still smell the garlic on his breath. This is very much like that.

Today, though, I received in the mail a remastered CD of all of those old recordings, assembled by one of those three musicians and one of his daughters. I am still listening through all of those tracks. If the companion memories have been sitting dusty in some memory-drawer, they sure come back quickly and clearly to this soundtrack. I can tell you which living room each recording was laid down in, I can see where each of us sat, and I can almost predict when someone is about to crack a joke.

This is a very special gift, the sort you simply cannot buy for all the money on the planet. Like friendship. To the Wittmer family who made this gift possible, a very sincere thank you!

Karl, Robert: good friends are the hardest friends to find.



- photo from a later BMW Band reunion.

Friday, December 17, 2010

O frabjous day, this storm before the calm

It's Friday again. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy." More than that, it's the Friday before a week off (more or less, we shall see, etc.) and the holidays, so it has an extra shot of callooh and callay.  This is the extra-popular dude version of Friday. "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" will be the catch-phrases of the day as folks reinforce this communal sense of jeu de vie.

Of course, this also means that this Friday has to see all the remaining loose ends tied up or carefully mothballed for the coming week off, and that will make it a busy Friday.  The storm before the calm.

Traffic wasn't heavy, I don't think my trip in this morning took longer than usual, though I did stop for coffee and that line was a tad backed up.  All this to say I don't really know why this morning's playlist has so many more tracks than usual.  They must all be shortish in length.  A great selection today, too.

Here Comes Your Man (Pixies) is a very compelling bit of tune-smithing. I can't say I really understand the lyrics, but the words themselves seem to fit the tune.  A good bouncy start to the morning.  Peter Doherty's acoustic version of Lady Don't Fall Backwards is a jagged listen, with coffee-house-open-mike-raw guitar work and similarly raw (often off-key) vocals. It feels very personal, like swapping songs with a buddy in your living room.  David Gray is always fine, also in a raw but energetic fashion.  Capping it off with the very beautiful guitar work of a contemplative Pat Metheny put the cherry on top of this Friday sunday. Good stuff.

The full playlist:
  • Pixies: Here Comes Your Man
  • Logh: Saturday Nightmares
  • Robert Walter: Don't Hate, Congratulate
  • Peter Doherty: Lady Don't Fall Backwards (Acoustic)
  • The Weepies: Red Red Rose
  • David Gray: Debauchery
  • Path Metheny/Brad Meldau: Find Me In your Dreams

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now: quiet days, coming up: Nixon singing

Thursday morning, dark, lightly misting rain, and calm.  Top up, for the record. The commute seemed quieter than usual this morning, which may be a result of the approaching holidays.

This is also the period of the quiet campus.  While my meeting and project calendar has yet to reflect that (it will soon!), the campus is as close to sleeping as it ever gets, with most of the students and faculty gone, parking lots more empty than full, and even the rest of us starting to thin in ranks.  It is odd to make the half mile walk from North Campus to Main Campus and meet almost no one on the way.  I enjoy the relative quiet, but also miss the vibrancy and energy of the busy-in-full-swing campus.  Not that there aren't many folks on campus working to get things ready for the next quarter.  This is also that small window of opportunity for any construction, upgrade, deep cleaning, or reorganizing that needs done, a slice of time when work can happen without interrupting our central business of teaching and learning.

Next week the campus will be officially closed.  All activities except the bare minimum required are to be shuttered and buildings will not be heat or services provided.  This will be our third (I think) year of harvesting whatever utility savings we can squeeze out of a week of closure.  In this shuttered economy, every penny counts dearly. I will not be commuting next week, so after tomorrow's post, it may be a more sporadic week and won't be focused (to the extent these finite musings ever are) on the daily commute's shuffled playlist.

Today I get to look forward to a lunch break with my beloved of 29 years.  Despite the fact that we work less than six miles apart, it is rare that we get the opportunity to do this, so I color it a special treat.  

This morning's playlist was another odd one, not  seamlessly coordinated, but interesting.  The Roosevelt (High School) Jazz Band kicked off the commute with an Ellington selection, All Heart. I've noted before in this space that a colleague and friend's son played in the band the last four years (now off to college), and we still get together for the annual Ellington Nutcracker holiday concert the band puts on.  Consistently good stuff.

Life's Short Call Now (second to last tune from this morning's playlist), from the album of the same name, reminds me that Bruce Cockburn has a new album coming out in March (approaching 30 albums since 1970!), and it looks like it should be amazing.  What am I going on, when there are no pre-release tracks to go by?  The published playlist (song titles are usually a good indicator of content in a Cockburn album) and the list of musicians who will be working with Bruce on the album. Cockburn is often referred to as a musician's musician, and it becomes evident when you look at the musicians who have worked with him over the years.  On this coming album will be local (Bainbridge Island) guitar legend Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Jenny Scheinman, Annabelle Chvostek, and others.  The new album is titled Small Source of Comfort (title link will take you to a view of the album cover and playlist).

Cockburn is quoted, talking about the song (on the new album) titled, Call Me Rose, ""I woke up one morning with this song in my head almost complete. Richard Nixon is singing in person, having been reincarnated as a single black woman. The song was in my head and I had to write it down," he said.

In Cockburn's poetic hands, and with his history of passion for social justice of all sorts, this should be a treat.  I'm intrigued.

  • The Roosevelt Jazz Band: All Heart
  • John Michael Talbot: Rebuild My Temple
  • Landon Pigg: Speak to the Keys
  • Bruce Cockburn: Life Short Call Now
  • Stan Getz/Joao Gliberto: O Grande Amor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The little dripping cloud icon

Wednesday already, dark but dry today.  Forecast calls for cool (low 40's F, 2-6º C) temperatures with rain off and on.  The forecast also offers little hope of getting a top-down drive anytime in the foreseeable future, with the little dripping cloud icon displayed for as many days forward as the predictors are predicting.



This is, after all, that time of year when we get used to seeing that particular little weather icon on pretty much any digital or TV forecast display.  This is when the elements which make the Pacific Northwest so beautiful start to challenge the psyche of many.  Tall mountains to the east and west create definite boundaries to the horizon and a low-hanging, solid, grey ceiling creates a dull yet palpable claustrophobia.  Those of us who grew up with it don't seem to see it as much as those who transplanted here at some point after reaching whatever state passes for adulthood these confused days.  Those who know there is a different kind of winter weather, who know that there are achingly deep horizons just beyond those things which block their view here, are the ones who most resent the topographical and atmospheric walls of the PNW winter.  Me, even though I start to moan when the little dripping cloud icon becomes incessant, I generally find this weather a bit of a comfortable wrap.  I'd probably find a bright cold midwest winter somewhat agoraphobic.

An interesting blend of music and styles assembled itself for the drive in this morning.  This isn't a mix that necessarily flows seamlessly from track to track.  It was a mix that required some mental tracking to keep transitions from one tune to the next from being jarring. I mean, John Mayer may be good, but following a Vivaldi cello sonata?  John, if by some odd chance you ever read this blog post, take it from me: don't book a classical concerto as your warm up band. And Ralf Illenberger's rich electric guitar improvisation make, shall we say, an interesting counterpoint to a traditional cuban love song from the Buena Vista Social Club album.  Terence Blanchard, on the other hand, brought it all back down to earth with a track that could slide easily up against almost anything, up tempo to slow.
  • Buena Vista Social Club: Dos Gardenias
  • Ralf Illenberger: Blue Darkness
  • John Butler Trio: What you want
  • Pieter Wispelwey: Sonata nr. 8 a minor (Vivaldi)
  • John Mayer:  Vultures
  • Terence Blanchard: Fred Brown

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A sweet jazz commute

It's Tuesday, wet, wild, and wooly.  Another night of heavy rains and high winds, more flooding around the region, power outages, and fallen limbs.  I know at one point last night I woke to the sound of wind-driven rain slamming into the western wall of our bedroom.  

Miles Davis kicked of the morning commute shuffle with one of the most beautiful jazz and orchestral compostions of all time, from the highly regarded Sketches of Spain collaboration with Gil Evans.  It started on my drive home last night, so only about half of the 16 minute track was left to savor this morning. This remains one of my favorite of Davis' albums, tied with Kind of Blue.  The Concierto was a wonderful way to ease into the early morning hours of the day.

Then it was on to more great jazz and a seemingly genre-focused selection this morning.  All but one of the tunes were instrumental, and the one vocal was an instrumentally-heavy piece of solid blues (Midnight Radio).  Even the Belle and Sebastian track (Fiction Reprise) is a sweet instrumental piece from a film soundtrack the group wrote.

The full playlist:
  • Miles Davis: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)
  • Charlie Hunter Quintet: Whoop-Ass
  • Terence Blanchard: Flow, Pt. 3
  • Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Midnight Radio
  • Belle and Sebastian: Fiction Reprise

Monday, December 13, 2010

The pineapple express has passed, the tree is up

Monday morning, dark and damp, but not raining.  Top up, of course.  I did manage a top-down drive home from a neighboring college Friday afternoon, coming back from a state meeting (said meeting is also the reason there was no Friday post).  It wasn't exactly blue skies, in fact it was threatening rain, but it worked.  Felt wonderful!  I don't need to tell anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest that it rained this weekend.  Torrential downpours, flooding rivers, flooding roads, and warmer temps: the infamous "pineapple express" has been here.

A social weekend: we had breakfast with our son, lunch with a good friend, and quiche-over-football (which would be irony except that I don't hold with conventional thinking regarding quiche and men) with a brother-in-law, all good stuff.  I also put up a christmas tree for the first time in a few years.

I'm not a holiday scrooge, but I do dislike shoving the furniture around to make way for a tree that only attracts unwelcome attention from the cat and the smallest of grandkids.  We finally got one of those fake trees that come pre-assembled (more or less) and pre-lit, so setting it up is supposed to be as simple as dropping piece one in the base, sticking piece two on top of piece one, and piece three on top of piece two. Then allow the branches to drop into place, connect the plugs together, and shape the having-recently-been-squashed branches into a more realistic condition.

Here's how it really works: The three pieces do fit together quite easily. By the way, fake trees also shed needles but they are easier to vacuum up later than real pine needles in carpet.  The branches do not, however, fall down readily or naturally.  They have to be manually pushed down into place.  Since they have been smashed together for storage, they are now tightly interlocking, much like velcro would be if you wadded a bunch of it up.  Also, the pre-strung lights have wires, which catch and weave through the smooshed branches and have to be unlooped here and there before you can drop all the branches. About this time, I'm realizing just how many branches there are on a seven foot fake tree.

Then it's time to un-smoosh the individual twigs on each branch and bend them into realistic shape.  If there are a lot of branches on a seven foot tree, there are a lot more twigs on all those branches.  The first tier was patiently and artistically arranged, with careful attention paid to providing each small twig with a natural upward curve.  The second tier was less patiently attended to, but still with some attention to details. By the third tier of branches I was trying to find a technique that would allow me to aggressively shove all the twigs outward in a single gesture.  By the time I got to the bottom layers I was happy if they didn't look like they had been slept on. Then the ornaments, then plugging it in to behold.  It is actually rather pretty, so long as the lighting is dim and the little lights distract from the less-than-artfully arranged branches.

Music this morning was an odd assortment.  Taking nothing from the musicians on this list, only the last two songs would make it onto my songs-I-like list. Proud Mary always makes me think of my buddy Karl, who currently drives long-haul, mostly across the Trans-Canada.  We have spent many hours together playing old tunes on guitars (which he is good at and I am not), and Proud Mary was a regular.  Fun stuff.
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Joe DiMaggio done it again
  • The Beatles: Lady Madonna
  • Five for Fighting: One More for Love
  • Sigur Rós: Fljótavik
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Proud Mary

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Use me while you can

Thursday's commute saw another damp and dark commute, top up, I might add. I haven't had the top down in several weeks now, and it is this period of the PNW (sometimes referred to as the Pacific North Wet) that thoughts of investing in a hard top shell for the Miata get entertained.  Then we get (and we will!) a few days here and there of blue skies and, cold or not, the top can be tossed back over my shoulder and I can once again be that dog with its nose out the car window - whee!  For now, though, the canvas top stays firmly latched but I live with the ready hope it won't always be up.

Yesterday, shortly after getting into the office and noting that the drive required only the occasional wiper swipe, the skies grew very suddenly darker than they should have been.  Harry Potter readers would immediately think: dementors! Bang-crash-flash – and the heavens opened up in a downpour worthy of a Southeast Asian monsoon.  For 30 minutes or so we were treated to a torrential rainstorm with wonderfully rich acoustics and lighting.  Then it settled into a more-typical heavy rain for the rest of the morning.

The iPod must know we are creeping toward the holidays because it continues to toss just one holiday selection into the morning playlist.  This morning's holiday tune is from a Placido Domingo, Diana Ross, and José Carrera holiday album (Christmas in Vienna) that includes some wonderful duets.  This particular medley, which also features Dionne Warwick is one of those album high points.

That it was followed by Supertramp was a tad jarring, though I'm not sure what a selection like that could be followed by that wouldn't be.  Supertramp, at least, is good stuff. Once the initial mental recalibration took place, all was quite good.

Bruce Cockburn's lyrics almost always trigger my pause-and-listen button.  Use Me While You Can is a good example of that, with a combination of both spoken and sung lyrics, the song conjures strong imagery. If you want to see the full lyric (and I do recommend), the song title in the previous sentence will take you to them on the Cockburn Project web site.  If you are content with a small sample:

Pearl held in black fingers
Is the moon behind dry trees
Pearl held in black fingers
Bird inside the rib cage is beating to be free
Use me while you can

I've had breakfast in New Orleans
Dinner in Timbuktu
I've lived as a stranger in my own house, too
Dark hand waves in lamplight
Cowrie shell patterns change
And nothing will be the same again

Cockburn, in the liner notes about this experience-based song set in the Sahara, says, "There were people living there when it was grassland. An ancient presence is there, and yet it can only be felt because there's no sign of it now, no living vestige of it, other than what's left of Timbuktu. Which relates to what our lives are all about. We're here, then we're gone. So if you're going to get anything out of me, get it now."

Today's full playlist:
  • Placido Domingo & Dionne Warwick: Medley
  • Supertramp: The Logical Song
  • Travis: Turn
  • Bruce Cockburn: Use Me While You Can

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The week begins to breath but I don't skip songs

The hallowed middle of the week, Wednesday, has arrived. My calendar suggests that this week is finally going to catch its breath and ease into a brisk walk, which will be welcome right about now. Just enough wet in the air (or being flung up by car tires) to need a very occasional pass of the wiper blades on the way in. The weather remains damply clement, for winter.

There are times, on this now-regular morning experiment in shuffled music blogging, when I want to skip a tune that pops up, but don't. It's a compulsion to hear the thing through as if I were playing to a set of imposed rules. I could easily skip songs I don't like (or those I would be embarrassed to admit have a place on my iPod at all), but somehow that feels like cheating. It's odd, really, since this is something I do entirely for myself. On the drive home, which I don't record, I certainly feel free to skip tracks, and it isn't unusual for me to skip several tracks on a drive home. Maybe I'm moodier and less tolerant by the end of the day.

That said, if I were to allow myself to skip tracks on the morning commute this morning would probably have had two skips, out of four tunes.

Eugene Maslov is a fantastic jazz pianist and definitely one of the tracks I would not have skipped. I could easily have repeated this track. Every time Maslov pops up in a playlist I look to see who is making this wonderful noise. I have two of his albums and really could stand to have a few more. Very good stuff.

Puedo Escribir would have been the first skipped track. Usually, Sixpence None The Richer does pleasing popish music of the slightly-more-interesting-than-usual type. This cut, especially when played in a small noisy car, presents irritatingly high nasal vocals, driving but boring guitar chords, and a grating melody. It was a small serving of brussel sprouts on my plate, overcooked, that I politely ate in order to not offend the host this morning.

Bruce rescued me from that by following it up with My Beat, a delicious tune with a wonderful beat and swing to it. Like the Maslov tune, this one could have warranted seconds. The song was written shortly after Cockburn moved to Montreal and is a pretty litteral, if poetic, description of riding his bike around his new town. A couple of the versus:

Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense
It's my beat
In my new town
Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must
It's my beat
In my new town
In a sense, some aspects of this daily blog are like that tune, in that I capture a bit of my daily beat, by car rather than bike.

The last tune is another from the Astral Weeks album (second day in a row). While the lyrics on this tune are wonderfully poetic, the song itself is best enjoyed in a quiet room or with headphones on so you can listen to those amazing lyrics as Van Morrison barks and wails them. Even though I would have like to skip this one out of frustration at not being able to enjoy it sufficiently, I highly recommend taking the time to sit and listen to this piece when you the chance. The lyric starts off like this:

Little jimmy's gone way out of the back streets
Out of the window, into the falling rain,
And he's right on time, right on time.
That's why broken arrow waved his finger
Down the road so dark and narrow
In the evening just before the sunday sixbells chime
And way out on the highway
All the dogs are barkin' way down below
And you wander away from your hillside retreated view
Went to wanderin' nordhbridge way out on the railroad
Together all the tipping trucks will unload
All the scrapbooks built together stuck with glue
And I'll stand beside you, beside you

Like the Cockburn tune today, this one has a certain amount of descriptive wandering-about-town to it.

Today's full playlist:
  • Eugene Maslov: Sweet Lana
  • Sixpence None The Richer: Puedo Escribir
  • Bruce Cockburn: My Beat
  • Van Morrison: Beside You

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arriving late, adjourning, and beautiful creatures going away

Tuesday has arrived, dripping, dark, and cold, though the forecast holds the promise of some patches of clear skies later today.  Monday sailed past me yesterday in a non-stop string of to-dos that started before I got into the office.  There was no time to post yesterday; these things happen.  Today I woke 15 minutes late, so to compensate I stopped for coffee on the way in.  In for a penny in for a pound, right? Besides, being "late" is relative when I set my own early-morning-arrival-at-the-office-so-I-can-get-stuff-done schedule.  

Cabinet held a small going away party for our retiring president last night, graciously hosted by one of the party.  It was a very nice casual event, and a good way to close what, especially for some, has been a long-running team.  The research that brought us the notion that all effective teams need to form, storm, norm, and then perform was updated in more recent years to include the idea that teams, when they disband, also need to formally "adjourn."  Teams that have worked together for any serious length of time need a chance to come together to recap and acknowledge what has been done in order to bring closure to that project, period of time, or whatever circumstance the team operated under.  This was a good adjourning event.

Today's soundtrack was very enjoyable, with tunes I hadn't heard in a while artfully strung together.  Morrison's Madame George is one of my favorite cuts from his 1968 album Astral Weeks, frequently cited on best-albums-of-all-time lists, and certainly a landmark album from a prolific musician. The song runs nearly 10 minutes, and would have meant a very short playlist this morning except for that coffee stop which lengthened my commute a tad.

The Cockburn tune, Beautiful Creatures is unlike anything else he has ever recorded.  With an almost symphonic score, very minor key and sombre, and Bruce breaking into a clearly-difficult falsetto for the chorus, it is both hauntingly beautiful and jarring.  The lyrics are as poetic and powerful as anything he has written, which (in my opinion) is saying something.  A couple of verses, for example:

Like a dam on a river
My conscience is pressed
By the weight of hard feelings
Piled up in my breast
The callous and vicious things
Humans display
The beautiful creatures are going away 

Why? Why? 

From the stones of the fortress
To the shapes in the air
To the ache in the spirit
We label despair
We create what destroys,
Bind ourselves to betray
The beautiful creatures are going away 

I particularly love the phrase, "...the ache in the spirit we label despair."  That is how real despair feels, and Bruce's song captures that emotion very powerfully. 

I added back all my Christmas music to iTunes and, consequently, my iPod.  I have a DVD with all the Christmas music stored on it so I can pull it out of iTunes when out-of-season.  That way it doesn't creep into shuffle mixes when I really don't want to hear it.  Today, though, it was totally appropriate to get a beautiful harp rendition of a Christmas classic, especially on the heels of the previous darkly beautiful tune.

The full playlist:
  • Van Morrison: Madame George
  • Bruce Cockburn: Beautiful Creatures
  • Hilary Stagg: O Come Emmanuel
  • Vega4: Life Is Beautiful

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A hodge-podge of throw-away gestures

Saturday, cold and heavily frosted. At first glance, out the bedroom window early this morning, it looked like it had snowed. The outside thermostat read 32° F (0° C) when I ambled downstairs. Forecast calls for clear and cold today, but a PNW kind of cold, which is to say low forties.

I didn't post yesterday. My morning commute was to an early morning allergy test to see if the last three occasions when I got violently ill after eating meals which contained either clam, crab, or shrimp meant I had developed a shellfish allergy. The testing came back negative, so I will be able to pick a date (carefully) on which to test a nice bowl of clam chowder (or, to really give myself a test drive: cioppino!) and see what happens.

The testing consists primarily of two rows of little drops of various concentrated flavors running up both forearms, then pricking each bubble to introduce the flavor under the skin. The result looks like a cross between a heroin addict's arm and a box of chocolate, simultaneously attractive and alarming (which is which depends on your point of view, I suppose).

One of the clinic employees sat behind a counter with two or three signs which told patients to check in at the front desk then just be seated in this area because this area would be electronically notified you had checked in. In compliance with this process the employee behind this desk had that well-practiced art of seeing nobody and never allowing eye contact. The art of working at a desk in a fish bowl. The use of body position, downward angled head, brisk intentional pace to all actions, all designed to say, "I am very very busy here and am not just waiting here to answer questions; ignore me as I am ignoring you." I have worked in such conditions before, I recognize the actions, and it is an exhausting way to have to work. She had my sympathy for all but the frequent open-mouth cough she wasn't bothering to cover.

Finally, to my Facebook friends who are changing their FB pictures this weekend to a cartoon from your childhood and encouraging others to do the same in order to, "join the fight against child abuse": my picture is already a caricature of my own face. This is the same face (sans the facial hair and with more hair on top) that I had in my childhood, so I feel I am more or less in the spirit of this new fad. It could even be said I have lead.

However, maybe some of you could help me understand how changing my FB picture to a cartoon from my childhood (which is a fun idea in and of itself, by the way) allows me to also "join" (a term which distinctly implies I am not already on board) the fight against child abuse? This piece of this current FB social experiment is confusing me.

My current theory is that that bit has been stuck on just to create a false sense of social pressure to comply (do this or else be branded as in favor of child abuse!), much like all those email threads which get endlessly passed around because they have cute pictures combined with some tail-line like, "Pass this on to ten people you know in the next three days or you will suffer horrible bad luck and an orphanage will collapse on Christmas day."

So I am starting my own Facebook picture counter-challenge: refuse to change your Facebook picture this weekend to show you are willing to join the fight to end all truly awful human behaviors toward one another, other creatures, and our environment. Also, to not trivialize serious issues with throw-away gestures.

I'm saddened to think my failure to change my FB picture this weekend might now brand me, at least among my FB friends, a child abuser, though. It is a steep potential price to pay for being an intentional social activist.

I thought y'all knew me better. ;-)

No commute music on a Saturday morning, but last night we joined mom for her church's Christmas program. With a very professional production, full band and orchestra, and huge choir, it was a great program and very good music to boot. Tonight we get to enjoy the Roosevelt HS's annual Ellington Nutcracker concert with friends. Good stuff!

- Posted via iPad.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Perfect segues across genres

Thursday morning, and strangely not as dark on the way in.  Also not wet; no complaints.  The forecast calls for clear skies and moderately cold weather (highs in the low 40's F, 5-ish C), with no measurable precipitation.  Which is good, because the morning skies had that peculiar orangish horizon-lighting (light that seems to flow up from the horizon rather than appearing front or back-lit) that often signals approaching snow.  Not sure if that makes any sense to anyone but me, but that's how it looks from my eye sockets this morning.

Longish day ahead, with a special Board meeting in the early evening to announce and introduce our new president.  Looking forward to that, but it does extend the day noticeably when I also get in as early as I do.  That bit is mostly my fault, so no complaints there either.

Today's iPod scramble was another of those mixes where each tune seems to have been tailor-made to segue into the next.  Even across very different musical styles, the trailing notes of one tune were complimented, in each case, by the initial notes of the next.  Its one thing for songs to work well next to each other, but quite another when they also seem to blend with this kind of sounds-crafted flow.

The first track is from a collection titled, Tango Tomorrow, which is comprised of various artists doing modern interpretations of tango music.  Think of it as modern electronica meets Antonio Carlos Jobim (I know that's really Bossa Nova more than Tango, but the flavor is right for this comparison).  Strong base lines and almost-hip-hop cadence, usually in a minor key.  Very compelling.

The Augustana track was the first tune I ever heard from the band and the one that caused me to explore their music more.  A great group, usually categorized as 'alternative' (whatever that means any more!).  Then The Low Anthem came back for the second or third time this week, from the same Oh My God, Charlie Darwin album. I have noticed that the iPod's shuffle songs mode likes to toss up a couple of tracks from each album, usually not too far from each other. I often get a song on the drive home from the same album as one I heard on the way in.

Party, by Boston, would seem a jarring choice to follow To The Ghosts Who Write History Books, except that it has a soft and acoustic guitar intro that created a perfect transition between the two.  That Sinatra could follow Boston with equal elegance is something I don't even want to try and explain.  I'm just sayin' it worked well here; trust me.

 - L.A.Thomas: Obscure B.A.
 - Augustana: Stars and Boulevards
 - The Low Anthem: To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
 - Boston:Party
 - Frank Sinatra: Night And Day

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lightly misting to lilting music

It is now Wednesday morning. Another commute in the dark (no surprise) and it was very lightly misting rain. I know that in some parts of the country and world rain is simply rain. It can be light to heavy, but it is always generally the same sort of rain. Here, as in other wet-inclined northern climes, we have a whole range of falling wetness besides just "rain" fall. It can mist, sprinkle, shower, drizzle, and more.

Even the Beaufort Rain Scale is left wanting for enough distinct describers of rain. To be honest, I don't think this scale, copies of which can readily be found on the Internet, is really something Beaufort created. Some of the descriptors seem outside of his time. More likely it a rain-oriented tribute to Beaufort's very poetic wind scale. Whoever the creator of the rain scale, it is richly descriptive of at least some of the forms falling wetness can take:

- Scotch Mist: Presence of wet in the air, hovering rather than falling...
- Individual Drops: Individual drops of rain falling, but quite separate as if they are all freelance and not part of the same corporate effort.
- Visible Light Shower: Hair starts to congeal around the ears. First rainwear appears...
- Downpour: You can see rain bouncing on impact, like charter planes landing.
- Etc.

Lightly misting will do, however, for this morning.

The morning soundtrack scramble was delightful again this morning. A real blend of musical styles not commonly sat down next to each other.

The album Sira by Cissoko and Goetze is different from anything else in my music collection. A collaboration between African kora player Ablaye Cissoko and jazz trumpeter Volker Goetze, it has a languid late-night beauty to it as the harp-like melodies from the kora weave in and out of the very-silky trumpet work from Goetze. Cissoko also provides the vocals. The word lilting applies perfectly to Cissoko's contributions to this album. The tunes are predominantly middle eastern in style, as are the vocals. The result is a surprisingly soothing and beautiful album and very worth the listen if you are not already familiar with it.

The set ended with Camera Obscura, a Scottish band whose lead singer sounds just a tad like she could be a modern incarnation of Skeeter Davis or Connie Francis, with strong vocals and energetic tunes.

All in all, very good stuff.

- My Morning Jacket: Hopefully (Acoustic Version)
- Christine Lavin: Bumblebees
- Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze: Sira
- Camera Obscura: Away With Murder


- Posted via iPad.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rain, singing along, and the hateful Seattle Times solicitations

Tuesday morning dropped into place, dark and steadily raining. Wipers at the normal full-on position, none of this interval swiping business about today's rain. Traffic was also steady this morning, full-on present, but not unusual in anyway. On mornings like this I am that-much-more-than-usually-glad I have such a short commute.

This morning's blog-aside stems from a call I received to my cell phone late last night. The Seattle Times wanted to know if I would like to subscribe to their newspaper. No, I still don't. Just like I told you last week, and twice the week before that, and on many, many occasions over the past couple of years.

So, what does it take to get the Seattle Times newspaper to stop calling with phone solicitations? We were never willing subscribers, having been unceremoniously and automatically switched to their paper when the other local paper (which we did elect to take) ceased publication. Even when they already had us as full-week subscribers, though, they continued to call us several times a week to sell us their paper.

They called our do-not-call registered land lines (back when we had that quaint accommodation), then our do-not-call registered cell lines. They called despite repeated attempts to get them to stop. We finally cancelled our subscription in protest of the constant calls (and politely told them why we were doing so), and yet the calls kept coming. We have officially reported them, and the calls keep coming. Sometimes they call and hang up when we answer. They never leave voicemail.

Time to revise the old witticism: the only unavoidable things in life are death, taxes, and regular sales calls from the Seattle Times. Maybe it's time to submit an op-ed piece to the NY Times on this issue? I'm taking suggestions, truly.

The playlist this morning kicked off with one of the most can't-help-but-sing-along tunes I have heard in recent years. To Ohio hails from the critically acclaimed Oh My God, Charlie Darwin album by The Low Anthem. Rhythmic, low-toned, and simple, it just pulls the listener into singing or humming along. Listen to it without singing or humming, I dare you!

Another track from today's list worth mentioning is the last one, by then-local area pianist Aaron Parks. This track is from his first album (he was all of 16 when this was released). A very talented jazz pianist who enrolled at the UW at the age of 14 as a double major in computer science and music, he has an intense and reflective style that reminds me of Brad Mehldau. I didn't know, until very recently, that he has worked with Terence Blanchard, including Blanchard's powerful recording A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina).

This morning's complete soundtrack:

- The Low Anthem: To Ohio
- Jake Shimabukuro: Blue Roses Falling
- Bruce Cockburn: Open
- Aaron Parks Trio Footprints

- Posted via iPad.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Football Sunday commercials and old coffee pots

Monday, damp and dark. There is a metaphor in that, I feel, which could be easily exploited if it weren't Monday and I weren't feeling it.  Hoorah for a now-percolating pot of yerba mate and the wakey-wakey energy it promises! I've taken to brewing my office mate in a venerable old Farberware electric percolator I received as a high school graduation gift. This same pot came with me to the big city of Seattle when I first shipped off to university, and there gave me an ulcer brewing pot after pot of strong Starbucks coffee to keep me awake while typing and retyping papers.  That was the era when Starbucks was still a single student-run store in the Pike Place Market and when retyping a paper really did mean retyping the whole blasted thing because there were no word processors (you had either a manual or electric typewriter and a bottle of White-Out).  This same percolator served many years of active duty in our household until we decided there were better, fancier, (and larger!) coffee makers to be had. It still works beautifully and there is something about the sound of perking coffee that says warm goodness approaching.

There seemed to be a higher-than-usual number of massive trucks hauling individual commuters to their destinations this morning. Maybe all that Sunday football advertising really does reach a large and susceptible audience?  If so, those folks probably also drink light beer over their pizzas made (surprisingly) with 100% real cheese, and their over-sized vehicles are insured by geckos.

It was the Acura commercials that struck me this Sunday. They always ran two adds in each commercial segment they bought time for.  The first would make fun of those who spent money on frivolous things and were prone to overspending, with the inference that going out and buying a new Acura would somehow make you one of the smarter "under-spenders." The second would highlight the same kind of conspicuous consumer set (this time as the right and proper upholders of the Great American Consumer Dream) and promoted the idea of giving an Acura to family members as a logical thing do.  The really sad bit in this paring of seemingly crossed messages is that it will represent the upshot of a great deal of market research.  It will be running exactly this way because there is a body of research that shows our society will be vulnerable to just these sets of messages.

I also noticed a BMW commercial that ran several times.  They were encouraging folks to not settle for anything less than the real thing, that other options were not "just as good as" driving a real BMW.  The add features a number of beautifully video-graphed cars being piloted on totally empty curvy roads by drivers looking like they had slipped into Nirvana-behind-the-wheel. Along the bottom of the screen, briefly, flashes the notice that none of the models shown in the commercial were US models. What you see on the screen in this US commercial is not available in the US.  Um... what do you think that tells us?  Here's hoping the US models are "just as good as" the ones on the screen. 

Generally, though, the European models of cars sold on both continents are better than the models offered here in the US.  Why? Mostly because we're all too easy (in the aggregate) to market to and don't require the care and attention to detail that less susceptible European shoppers do. Also, European models generally bring better mileage and emissions controls, which we still don't care about sufficiently. We're still into oversized vehicles, though we have gotten just smart enough that a new vehicle segment name had to be created to keep selling them to us.  Truck, then SUV, now crossover.  Now made with 100% real American cheese.

If I were a good writer and this were a well-thought out article instead of the very finite musings of an every-morning blog, I would deftly tie the old coffee pot and my observations of Sunday commercials together, here at the end of the post.  If I were really good, I'd even manage to have it all segue smoothly into this morning's random track selection.  However, this is just my morning post-commute thought grab bag and I am not a powerful enough weaver of words to make that happen.  Especially not on a Monday morning. 

This morning's playlist was very upbeat, until I got to campus and Jonsi & Alex shifted musical gears toward ambient and atmospheric:

 - Doves: Sky Starts Falling
 - Big Head Todd & The Monsters:  Midnight Radio
 - Jay Nash: Wayfarer
 - Jonsi & Alex: Daniell in the Sea

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

Today, here in the US anyway, it is Thanksgiving day. One of those holidays that is steeped in food-based tradition and which calls for family gathering. In my growing-up years Thanksgiving meant extended family over for a big turkey-and-all-the-trimmings dinner. The women worked non-stop in and around the kitchen and the guys mostly sat around watching football or playing a pick up game in the yard (depending on who all was there and the weather). Mostly, though, it was about extended family and food, and was all the richer because there were no distractions (presents, songs, church, etc.) from that focus on people and food.

Today we will host dinner for our daughter, son-in-law, grandkids, and my mom. Maybe an aunt and cousin, too. Our son and his friend will be with others this year. The fare will be totally traditional: slow roast free-range turkey, sausage dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes (in a silly nod to tradition over nutrition, skins off, alas), green bean casserole, relish tray, cranberries, freshly baked bread (my only culinary contribution to the effort), etc. Oh, and homemade pies, of course!

I'm thinking there will also be some football on the TV as well. Purely for tradition's sake. ;-)

Life is crowded, stressful, and often uncertain. There is no shortage of things we could (and quite frequently do) worry about. Yet it is also blessed and rich. We are truly thankful to have the family we do and this time to be together over the joint traditions of family and food.

The soundtrack for the car today will be the new Pink Martini holiday album. I will play it when I go out to pick up mom in the soon-to-be-melting-I-hope snow.

To the small handful of folks who read these finite musings, I hope you also are able to enjoy whatever family and food traditions are yours.

- Posted via iPad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More not-commuting and iPad life

Wednesday, hump-day, the day before Thanksgiving, and another non-commute day. Cold, too. I know it got down to 15° F (-9°C) before we trudged upstairs to bed last night, so probably colder before the night was over.

I fully expected this morning's call would be for a late start, but the college would be open. However, every other college or university in the area was essentially closed for business, it is the day before a major holiday (attendance really drops on this day), and we still have icy roads, limited bus service, and temperatures nobody wants to get stuck out in for long. So... we closed too.

Monday evening, when I got home from the college, I upgraded my iPad to the freshly minted iOS 4.2, and have been really pleased. It brings the much-improved version of the built-in email client (with support for message threading and Gmail archiving) and much wanted application multiple-tasking. Oh, and application folders, which I really needed to help organize my apps into working clusters. It has made working via the iPad that much more powerful, to the point that I haven't had to crack open my laptop during this entire work-at-home freeze.

The one disappointment in the new iOS release has been the hobbled-at-the-last-minute AirPrint feature. Unless you have one of the new HP ePrint devices, it isn't ready to work. My work around was to purchase a copy of Printopia. Printopia is a < $10 Mac (not iOS!) application that works with the AirPrint feature of iOS 4.2, and allows you to print from any iOS device on the same wireless network as the Mac you install the software on. I can select either of our networked printers and (this feature is worth the price even if I never wanted to print), it allows me to print to PDF. Even more cool, I can print to PDF and save the resulting file in Dropbox, in one step. Worthy, me thinks, very worthy.

No commute playlist today, but I do offer up a hearty recommendation for the new Pink Martini holiday album, Joy To The World. It is broadly multicultural, wonderfully and beautifully musical, and truly one of the best holiday albums I have ever heard. Just about what I would expect from Pink Martini!

Happy Thanksgiving.

- Posted via iPad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The non-commute

It's Tuesday, very white, very icy, and very cold. Currently 18° F (-7° C) and not forecast to get much warmer today. I know that's nothing spectacular to some parts of the country/world, but it is for our neck of the woods. We have about 3" of snow on our hilltop, and it is that very light and dry snow that comes with clear cold weather.

The sun isn't up yet here, but should be soon. It should be a beautifully clear day, which goes with the cold forecast.

I was up at 4:00 again this morning to ascertain if the roads were passable, see what the DOT was doing and recommending, and trying to guess what conditions would be throughout the day. Making the call to close the campus, or not, isn't easy at that hour. It is easy to start second-guessing decisions, and wondering if the roads would be cleaned up and readily navigable by, say, 10:00 AM. In the end, the data supported a decision to close campus for the day.

The problem with opting first for a delayed start as a wait-and-see approach (a decision that could have been made the night before, frankly), is that many folks start in to campus pretty early (especially when road conditions are bad). So making a subsequent decision to stay closed beyond the delayed opening catches many employees and students already en route. To them, it feels like we reversed a decision instead of extended one. Then the hate mail starts to pour in.

Then there is personal ego issue with this kind of decision. Frankly, its hard to make a closure call without feeling like a wimp. I know I could make it to campus this morning, driving my wife's car with studded tires and assuming everyone else on the road was prepared for the conditions and not stuck spinning in the middle of my path, but it will look like I can't. What if other colleges stay open and we are the only one closed all day? Will folks think we closed just because some of us were afraid to drive in these conditions? Will the mid-west and Northeast transplants roll their eyes derisively at our pathetic overreaction to a little cold and ice? But drill down a bit and you can see that all of those concerns are all about personal ego, and not good reasons upon which to make a decision like this.

So we come back to this: it is dangerously icy on all roads, the temperature is not going to warm up to anything that will change driving conditions today, wind and cold create a dangerous temperature for folks to out and about in, many roads are still cluttered with cars stuck from last night's commute (some with drivers still in them!), the State Patrol and DOT are asking folks to stay home today if they can, and our region and citizens are really not adequately prepared for these conditions. We simply don't need to add college traffic to already bad road conditions today.

If my ego need assuaged for having decided to close the campus I can take comfort in knowing our college made that decision first. All of the other area colleges, initially calling for only a late start, have since followed our lead and closed for the day. So there! ;-)

No music playlist this morning other than various TV stations showing video loops of hapless cars sliding down hills and constant traffic camera footage.

- Posted via iPad.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The temperature is dropping

Monday. very cold and white today.  When I left the house this morning everything was dry and cold.  As I was approaching HWY 99 from the east I saw the first of the light snow flurries, and then ran into the first sign of sticking snow at the highway.  Within a few minutes of getting to campus the parking lot went from bare and dry to having a thin but solid coat of light snow. It looks like it is starting slow down now, which is consistent with the forecast. Accumulations of up to 1-2" are all we are supposed to receive.

I drew the short straw for morning weather watch among the VPs, the process that starts the decision-making for how weather might affect the campus being open or closed.  At 4:30 this morning there was nothing to show but the forecast possibility of light snow.  Even now, shortly after 7:00 AM, the roads around the college remain largely clear and very drivable (most folks are doing full speed as they pass my office window).  I'm not much concerned about conditions this morning or today, but as the temperatures drop further over the next day or so I am more worried about icy conditions.  We're told to expect lows around 20º F (-7º C) for much of this week.  More fun to come, no doubt.

Went to put the studs on my wife's car (so we can get up our long steep hill if it ices up) this Sunday only to find the new rims we had the winter tires mounted to this spring were sent home with the wrong mounting hardware. Grrr! Given that the snow is now falling and that everyone will be queued up to get tires swapped out, it's especially frustrating to have to join the queue to get a very stupid problem resolved.  Here's hoping my wife can get up the hill with just the all-weather tires on this morning.

Music on the ride in this morning:

 - Enya: Isobella
 - Van Morrison: Wonderful Remark
 - ELO: Last Train To London
 - The Guggenheim Grotto: Heaven Has a Heart of Stone
 - Wilco: Wishful thinking

Friday, November 19, 2010

A good dental soundtrack—no, really!

It's Friday again, wet and cold. Warmer so far this morning than it was yesterday afternoon, but still far from toasty. Depending on who you listen to, the forecast ranges from the first winter storm of the century (the TV stations trying to keep viewers attentive) to the slight possibility of light temporary snow in the lowlands Sunday through early next week. Everyone, though, is calling for cold. For us here in the temperate Pacific Northwest, that means highs in the 30's F (low single digits C).

No post yesterday. I had an early morning dental cleaning/exam and got to the office just in time for the first meeting of the day. I did listen to music that morning, both on the commute and in the dentist's chair. They usually play a loop of contemporary, earnest, emotive pop dreck. Yesterday they were dialed into seventies rock (interestingly, I heard only male vocalists the whole 90 minutes I was there). A steady stream of artists like Jackson Brown, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Chicago, and Steely Dan. I quite enjoyed the music, and my dental assistant was very much into the music as well, quicker to identify some of the tracks than I was.

This morning's commute soundtrack was very nearly a one-song list, with a lovely bit of Mozart lightly dancing me along my way. It was nicely capped with an almost-ragtime piano rendition of a classic swing tune. Well blended, iPod!

- Ingrid Haebler: Klavierkonzert Nr. 26 D-ur KV 537 1 Allegro (Mozart)
- Marco Benevento: Moonglow

Now it's time to settle into catching up on email, getting prepped for today's meetings, and wrapping up a few dangling deliverables—the usual Friday activities. The Mate is finished brewing, the iPod is playing (currently, If You Leave by Trane) so I'm ready to roll my way through to the weekend.

- Posted via iPad.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disclaimer: this is only me; you've been told

Wednesday has blown gently in, still wet and dark, as the middle of the work week has worked its way back around in the lineup.  Wednesday isn't generally as popular as Friday, though she has her fans I am sure.  Wednesday garners a friendly hallway greeting from me on my way to more important things (like Saturday and Sunday).

This is disclaimer Wednesday, as I officially state a few things the State of Washington would like me to make clear.  Why?  The Governor's office has issued a very common-sense (and quite good) set of guidelines and best-practices for the use of social media for state agencies and employees.  Among them is the recommendation that if employees who engage in private social media should ever indicate they are state employees or work for a state agency, they need to clearly state that the opinions and thoughts expressed in said media are theirs alone and not in any way a representation of their agency's.  Fair enough. So...

As I have, on occasion, referenced the fact that I work for a college and because one or two of my one or two regular readers know me and where I work, let me state, categorically and for the record, that any thoughts or observations recorded in this blog (or my tweets or Facebook postings, for that matter) are the product and seasoning of my own head and none other.  I don't intend to represent my Agency or the State in any of my finite musings or other ramblings.  In other words, this is my personal (though clearly not private) space and is not work related.  For the record, I do this on my time and using my own personal equipment. I confer with absolutely nobody (state or private) when I blog my morning commute music playlist and other thoughts.  If there are any concerns about the content of these posts, let the reader understand that they should confine those concerns to my own personal and individual reason and sanity.  Understood?  Good.  Now back to our regularly scheduled playlist...

This morning's playlist was one of those especially delightful ones, stinging together just a few tracks that I really like but haven't heard in a while.  The first tune (Obk), Muero Por Ti (I die for you) is one of my favorite tunes from this artist.  It is a beautiful ballad, even if the lyrics are a bit predictable.  Supertramp always takes me back to a different time and place.  It seems impossible that this year marks the 40th anniversary of their first release (though Breakfast in America is only a mere 31 years old).

The full playlist:

 - Obk: Muero Por Ti
 - Bruce Cockburn: Clocks Don't Bring Tomorrow - Knives Don't Bring Good News
 - My Morning Jacket: Off the Record
 - Supertramp: If Everyone Was Listening

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We all have an imp in us.

Tuesday morning, wet but not actually raining, dark-ish, and very much post-wind-blown.  We had strong winds and rain last night, lashing the house in what must have been the gale range. [Aside: if you want a fascinating book to add to your reading list, I heartily recommend, Defining the Wind: The Beaufort Scale, and How a 19th-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry by Scott Huler). The evidence was everywhere on the drive in, and most of the side streets were blanketed with finely mulched leaves, something like a damp and decomposed carpet.  It was a sudden, fierce, and short-lived whirlwind of disruption and noise.  An imp of wind, bursting in and tossing everything around with joyous disregard, then flying off on small quick feet. I dragged a couple of large fallen boughs out of the campus parking lot when I got here––tantrum clean-up.

This morning's music was certainly eclectic, and seemed to feature (mostly) less-favorite tracks from albums.  Nothing I dislike, but just stuff that wouldn't be my first choice from most of these albums.  Koan, from the ever-enjoyable Guggenheim Grotto, certainly lives up to its name with Zen-paradox lyrics like:

Who has more beauty, finch or black jackdaw? 
Who is more precious, fleece or red tiger claw? 
Does joy or sorrow lie closer to god? 
Do angels and devils deal from one deck of cards? 

Funny story behind I Never Will Marry and why it is in my collection:  I certainly grew up listening to Dolly and Linda, but probably wouldn't have sought them out for my own music collection, given all the other choices out there.  Early in the history of legal digital music, though, we had good friends over and went on a fishing expedition to see if we could find various old tunes from everyone's past.  You know the way it works: "Oh! What about......?"  This was one of those downloads.  A couple years later, when our daughter married and we used an iPod with a carefully crafted selection of music to drive the reception/dinner background soundtrack I slipped this tune into the mix just to see if anyone noticed.  Fortunately (and correctly), the music was absolutely background and not the center of focus. If anyone did catch the tune and wonder about it's unlikely position in this event's soundtrack, nobody said anything.  We all have an imp in us, I guess.

The full odd playlist for this morning:

 - Embrace: Spell It Out
 - Van Morrison: Evening in June
 - The Guggenheim Grotto: Koan
 - Mew: An Envoy to the Open Fields
 - Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton: I Never Will Marry
 - Matthias Lupri Group: Saucey

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who are these guys selling to, anyway?

Monday morning, raining and dark. Had the vineyard sister-in-law staying with us this weekend, which is always a treat. She heads home this morning, which isn't a treat, but we sure had a good weekend while she was with us. Maybe the vineyard brother-in-law can join us next time, too!

Another Sunday watching some football, which means muting or watching the same sorry commercials over and over again. If the voice-over is a deep slow-talkin' male voice with a folksy drawl and a Will Rogers attitude, it must be a truck commercial. A bunch of good looking sexually charged young folks enjoying the high life surrounded by all the trappings of successful consumerism: beer. The latter is also sold with Animal House-style all-that's-important-is-partying-and-keeping-the-beer-flowing hijinx. Yawn.

These guys would have me believe what I really need is a huge full-size pickup truck with a giant V8 diesel engine capable of dragging boulders around a gravel pit or hauling half a dozen horses up a steep mountain grade with enough spare power I could also pass a semi on a blind gooseneck bend while climbing up the pass. I wonder, though, what kind of MPG I'd get on my daily commute in exchange for those few times when I really might need to drag something so frigging heavy behind me. Also, accepting this commercial premise unquestioningly seems to include the subtle implication that I need that much power and tonnage just to haul my arse around town. I may still be working on loosing a few pounds, but I don't resemble that insinuendo (a wonderful blended word created by a friend of mine many years ago).

Then there is Microsoft with their two current marketing efforts, neither of which make any sense to me. They are trying to sell their OS by chanting, "to the cloud." Um, the point of the "cloud" is that it frees me from dependance on any OS or specific platform or device. Seems like maybe MS doesn't get it so much (not much new there) Then there is their new Windows 7 phones, which lack some of the features of other phones and offers nothing that is really new, so they are selling them by implying that a limited-feature phone will minimize the amount of time you spend on it and, as a result, the amount of "real life" passing you by. Funny commercial, but, to use their own happy phrase, "Really?"

And while I'm on the football game marketing rant here, what about the Braun electric shaver commercial? "Wear your face!" Interesting approach, but since I already do wear my face I don't feel even slightly compelled to run out and purchase their shaver. Any other reasons? I didn't think so. Who does this dreck actually sell to?

On a more useful note, this weekend I swapped the Miata's all-season tires out for the dedicated winter tires. At gives me a bit more grip and grab when the temperatures drop, and with the first snow showing up in the ten-day forecast, it seemed like a good time to make this swap. I like the wheels they are mounted on, so that's a plus, but the harder ride created by the extra rubber isn't.

A good playlist this morning, with two tracks from second Mermaid Avenue Billy Bragg/Wilco project albums. Both are a collaboration set in motion at the request of one of the daughters of the late Woody Guthrie. A voracious songwriter, he apparently left a ton of music lyrics behind with no music. She asked Bragg to set some of the songs to music, he recruited the other musicians and the Mermaid Avenue albums were born. Good stuff.

The full playlist:

- Billy Bragg & Wilco: Birds and ships
- Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Votes Are Counted
- Vega4: Life Is Beautiful
- Phil Keaggy: Morning Snow
- Billy Bragg & Wilco: Airline to heaven
- Bruce Cockburn: Slow Down Fast


- Posted via iPad.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Playing by heart

It's Friday; the dude returns. It's about time! Wednesday was a 13+ hour day (with a board meeting that ran later into the evening than scheduled), but Thursday was a day off (a sincere post-Veteran's Day hat tip to our men and women who are, or were, in uniform in the service of our great and flawed nation).  So now we get a working Friday that follows a Thursday off.  A second chance to wind down the week and, since many folks will take today off as a vacation day to gain access to a four-day weekend, a relatively quiet working day.  I have two scheduled meetings, a lot of catching up and prep-work to get through today, and a much-looked-forward-to lunch meeting with a few colleagues.  A sort of reunion from the early days of getting courses online and solving the problems of the world.  Should be fun. 

Today's playlist cast a wide net across a lot of hard-to-pigeon musical styles. From gospel-inspired ballads to novelty broadway (another Spamalot transition track of less than 30 seconds), through old folk-rock, and even some very mellow jazz.

A Place Inside Alive And Well is from the musical score to the 1998 movie Playing By Heart, which I have never seen.  It has an extensive all-star cast, great reviews, and a breathtakingly beautiful score from cinematic composer John Barry.  The movie also features the line, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture," which effectively puts me in my place, I suppose.  Usually, when I come across a soundtrack that is so beautiful, I find and watch the movie on the assumption that any movie that can encompass so much beautiful music simply has to be good.  The Milagro Beanfield War is the case that really proves that point for me.  Dave Grusin's delightful soundtrack drove me to the movie, which is still one of my all-time favorites.  

Yet, for some reason, I have never watched Playing By Heart. For a spell of time, M and I used this CD as our n'night music.  Soothing, instrumental, and dreamy, it made a great soundtrack to fall to sleep to, and one that we really never got tired of hearing.  The album gives title billing to the late trumpeter Chet Baker, and it does feature some of his music worked into the soundtrack.  It's really Chris Botti doing most of the trumpet work through.  I should also note that this album isn't the official movie soundtrack, which features a lot of other music and musicians, but the John Barry album of his score for the film.  I think I'll see if I can add this to my Netflix queue or (better) see if it is available as a watch-now offering.  Long overdue, me thinks.

The full playlist from this morning:

 - Thad Cockrell: Pride (Won't Get Us Where We're Going)
 - James Taylor & Carole King: Will You Love Me Tomorrow (Live)
 - Crosby, Stills & Nash: You are alive
 - Chet Baker, John Barry: A Place Inside Alive And Well
 - Spamalot: Tuning
 - Bruce Cockburn: Little Seahorse

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nobody Tells Me What To Do (really?)

Wednesday morning and the skies are clear, huzzah!  The lack of cloud cover upped the bright as well, finally showcasing the resetting of our clocks and making it almost light by the time I got to campus this morning.  I stopped to feed the Miata along the way in, so that tacked a fraction of an extra tune to the playlist timeline.

Today will have to be a catch-up day, since I was off campus most of yesterday.  It is probably only my impression, but it seems like the times when I am off campus see a corresponding steep spike in "I need from you..." calls and email messages (as I type this the Beetles are singing Help!, is life rich and round, or what?).  I can work at my desk for hours at time and never have the phone ring.  Wander off for a one-hour meeting and three voicemail messages will accumulate.  Don't get me started (he says to himself) on all the ways voicemail is a tedious and inefficient way to communicate.  Seriously, it is time we did away with it and started to treat the phone as a real-time communication tool only, just like a meeting.  Voicemail is to a phone conversation what leaving a post-it note on the conference table is to a meeting. Using synchronous communication tools for asynchronous discussion is a waste of everyone's time and probably indicates the subject isn't all that important.  Ugh - I got myself going again, didn't I?  The sister-in-law would say, with a wink and a smile, "Stop it––stop it at once!"

An odd collection of tunes popped up during the drive in today.  The Spamalot offering was a mere 23-second transition track, totally lost of context in a shuffle like this.  The Weepies newest album started the drive off (great group, great album!) and The Bad Plus wrapped things up with their cacophonous cover of the old Blondie song Heart of Glass. The latter is an interesting instrumental band, mostly jazz and totally unique.  They are highly percussive and infinitely creative. and a whole lot of fun if you can catch them live.  They do mostly new material with the occasional cover.  I love their cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit which, just like their cover of Heart of Glass, is a fun re-take on the tune.  Also got a little David Ford, doing his anthem of defiance, Nobody Tells Me What To Do.  It's a tune that's easy to sing very much out loud (don't we all wish it were true!); good thing I had the top up this morning.

The full morning soundtrack:

 - The Weekpies: Lighting Candles
 - Spamalot (Broadway Soundtrack): The Intermission
 - Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: Waltz For Ruth
 - Pete Yorn: Last Summer
 - David Ford: Nobody Tells Me What To Do
 - The Bad Plus: Heart of Glass

As The Killers are currently reminding with their song I Can't Stay, I need to wrap this post up and dig into my pile of voicemail and email messages.  All of which, in their own way, do tell me what to do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

May you be surrounded by people just like you

Tuesday has arrived, dark and damp.  The cloud cover has kept the temperature up (it is currently 5º C, 41º F), but that is still not exactly shirt-sleeve weather.  Today's forecast calls for rain all day.

Another round of automotive bullying behavior this morning, alas.  It happens frequently when you drive a small car.  Folks with issues (had a fight with their lover, pissed at something another driver did, late for work, listening to AM talk radio, who knows?), usually driving much larger vehicles (which, to a Miata, is almost anything else) seem to feel they can safely take out their personal frustrations on smaller cars.  Whenever someone feels less in control they seek out someone or something they think they can control, and on the road that often comes down to car size.

Today's example came flying up behind me in a mid-sized truck on an otherwise deserted side street.  Came right up to within mere inches (less than a foot, certainly) of my bumper and sat there as we drove the few blocks to the next intersection.  Initially, I thought they were going to hit me.  When it became clear they were settling in to ride my bumper, it became clear this was intentional, aggressive, bullying behavior.  So I kept my pace and made no adjustments, as if I didn't see them.  If they were going to hit me, they would, but not because of anything I did.

At the next intersection we had to wait through a red light.  Once we got there, with other cars around, they backed off and stopped at an almost-reasonable distance behind me.  Plus and minus: on the plus side I didn't respond and they didn't escalate their behavior to the point of contact, and they got no apparent response to their actions.  On the minus, as so often seems to be the case with bullying, there were no consequences for their behavior.  They will do it again and someone else may not be as lucky.  It is tempting, at times like that, to will karma to our own ends. To wish them a day filled with encounters with drivers exactly like them––a day filled will themselves, or to wish them a sudden and catastrophic engine failure that takes them off the road and away from other drivers altogether, or worse.  Of those options the one most likely to occur is that they will be surrounded by drivers just like them.  That kind of behavior almost always triggers more of same, so they stand a good chance of spawning rebounding aggressive behavior.  They will also leave a swath of the kind of anger that bullying leaves in its wake, all along their commute to wherever.

A three-tune sound track this morning, owing to the length of the second track (11:45). The last track, coming up just as I pulled onto campus, may have been karma's way of saying to me, "Let it go, let bygones be." And so it is.

 - Fountains of Wayne: New Routine
 - Sigur Rós: Track 8
 - Robert Walter's 20th Congress: Bygones Be

Monday, November 8, 2010

More-or-less permanently in the "night" position now

Monday morning, unexpectedly dry (forecast calls for rain), and it wasn't totally dark when I drove in this morning. Now that we have communally elected to realign our passage-of-time keeping devices back to real time, I wake and travel in to the office an hour later than I did last week.  So, for a brief and shrinking window of time, mornings will be a tad lighter and the drive home will be darker.  In a few short weeks it will be dark driving in and dark driving home, and the rear-view mirror on my car will now stay more-or-less permanently in the "night" position.

Heavy rain and moderate winds this weekend have denuded most of the early-changing trees.  Trees are now divided into three camps: conifers, denuded deciduous, and fire-colored deciduous. One of the nice thing about the Pacific Northwest is the solid mix of conifers and deciduous trees we have. Come winter, after the latter have shed their leaves and donned their depressingly cold, empty winter look, the conifers keep up the green.  They fight back against the creeping brown and gray of fall and winter.  Nobody makes a Christmas tree out of a small alder or maple.

Speaking of Christmas, I have started to see the beginnings of the holiday sales and marketing machine winding up.  Ugh.  Nothing saps the joy out of a season more thoroughly than tapping into it two months early.  By the time Christmas actually gets here it will have long overstayed its welcome.  The inescapable holiday music sound track, blaring from every store or television commercial for two months, will have worn the traditional songs out long before it is time to stand around together and earnestly sing them.  Bah humbug, say I, to the early holiday marketing machinery.

On a lighter note, a good music mix this morning, with a playlist that could easily have been intentionally assembled with the exception of the Duke.  As usual, though, what at first glance might look jarring (Wilco followed by Duke Ellington) flowed together with surprising grace. The full playlist:

 - Counting Crows: Sullivan Street
 - Van Morrison: See Me Through
 - Wilco: Heavy Metal Drummer
 - Duke Ellington: In the Hall of the Mountain King
 - Brendan James: Early April Morning

Friday, November 5, 2010

An absence reveals a presence

Friday has rolled around again, which, even for someone who enjoys their job, has a good feeling to it. It's the return of the popular dude. In celebration of that dude's return, or maybe in response to his influence, I went topless this morning. It felt great!

I could tell there was cloud cover up above me, though, which aligns with the forecast of increasing clouds and the return of falling wetness. It was still too dark on the drive in to actually see the cloud cover, but it's presence was manifest in the absence of stars or other celestial lights. An absence reveals a presence, which I think speaks volumes about the human mind and our seemingly mindless ability to make order out of information and observation. Deduction is more than tax avoidance.

Another example of order from random events is this morning's shuffle-selected playlist. Once again, a string of tunes randomly selected by whatever algorithm drives the shuffle-songs setting of my iPod has resulted in an unusual mix of tunes that work surpassingly well together:

- George Harrison: Wah-Wah
- Sigur Rós: Straumnes
- The Fray: Enough for Now
- Counting Crows: Children in Bloom
- Phil Keaggy: Allegria

- Posted via iPad.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good music is good stuff

Thursday appears clear and dark this morning, with stars clearly visible all across the visible expanse of sky. The forecast calls for a sunny day in the mid 60's (17-18 C).  Yesterday's mid and upper 70's broke records for this time of year, some of those records going back 40 years.  No complaints here, these late fall bursts of summer are a delightful event.  Top-down afternoons, to be sure!

Having spent most of two posts this week on pre- and post- election ramblings, and having missed Monday altogether, it's time to revert back to the drive-in music and thoughts this blog was really started to capture, and this morning's random shuffle-generated playlist is a worthy one to draw my attention back to.

The music this morning was wonderfully varied, ranging from classical to jazz, country to hip-hop, Kentucky to Spain and France.  Terence Blanchard kicked things off with The source, a track from his powerful lament for post-Katrina New Orleans, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina), (and the soundtrack for Spike Lee's documentary of the disaster). This is a great headphones-in-a-contemplative-space album.

Later in the mix, Skeeter Davis pipped in with Bus Fare to Kentucky. An addictively hummable tune with cheesy cautionary moral-tale lyrics, even by late sixties/early seventies standards.  Apparently an autobiographical song, it places the vocalist as a young naive country girl who hops a bus to the Big City and finds everything there is a violation of what she was raised to hold sacred. She then can't afford to come home ("I didn't have the bus fare to Kentucky, and that old gray dog won't let me ride for free."), shacks up with a Kentucky boy who loves her and leaves her, and she ends up the song with her thumb out, suitcase at her side, wondering, "won't anybody give this poor country girl a ride?"  Worst ever don't-take-advantage-of-me line in a song.  For a song that sets up the moral superiority of the simple country over the big evil city, the author doesn't explain why she went in the first place, what she did to allow the money to run out, what she did after the money ran out, or why nobody back home was willing to help her get back home.  But the tune, like everything Skeeter recorded, is fun to sing along with, so I'll stop over-analyzing the lyrics of this short catchy and kitschy pop tune.

Macaco, a Barcelona band, riffs Mama Tierra. The linked YouTube video of the song is worth a few minutes to listen through.  The vocal work is amazing and the instrumental work is tight.

The playlist wrapped up my commute with a beautiful selection from pianist Jacques Loussier's Impressions of Chopin recording.  Every track is a take on one of Chopin's compositions, with a nicely blended classical and jazz improvisation flavor.

 - Terrence Blanchard: The source
 - Bruce Cockburn: Child of the Wind (Live)
 - B-Negão & Macaco: Mama Tierra
 - Skeeter Davis: Bus Fare to Kentucky
 - Jacques Loussier: Nocturne No. 18 in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2

As I wrap up this post, Gerry Garcia and band give his take on Positively 4th Street, one of the best things he ever recorded (my opinion, mind you), especially the live  jam version he recorded with Merl Saunders.  Good music is good stuff.