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Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday is a popular dude

Friday, dark and weatherless. That is to say, it was too dark to see what the skies held (or didn't) and no visible weather was happening as I drove in. Some will no doubt argue at no visible weather is still weather all the same, but for my purposes nothing was evident. Wet is the forecast, and the ground was certainly wet, so my hunch is that the rain clouds hovered, further delaying the coming of daylight with just that little bit of added veil.

If personalities could be assigned to the days of the week, knowing that individual days would bring their own variability to those general personalities, I would say that Fridays generally evidence the smug casual swagger of a very popular person. They always know they are welcome, they expect to be fawned over. The party never starts until they arrive, and they always time their arrival to be just late enough to create a growing sense of anticipation from the waiting crowd. Friday lends a self assured casual lope to the end of the week, even when the workload doesn't respect that gait change. If nothing else, we made it to Friday.

For me, it is another catch-up Friday. Nothing specific scheduled, so the whole day can be given over to getting things done that have accumulated like so many partially read and unresolved books. The very best kind of Friday, and one for which I am quite willing to fawn adoringly.

My Morning Jacket just feels like the right soundtrack for today, so I will spin the iPod over to artist mode and let it focus on just that group while I work.

The drive in soundtrack was, of course, more varied, and MMJ wasn't in evidence. A so-so grouping of tunes, though taking nothing from the individual tracks:

- Ardnaxela: El Sello
- The Guggenheim Grotto: The Girl With the Cards
- Melissa Etheridge: Map of the Stars
- Ray Price: Crazy
- Bruce Cockburn: Shipwrecked At The Stable Door

- Posted via iPad.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Russian mafia soundtrack

Thursday morning is dark, wet-ish, and cold-ish, again.  It's not really cold (though I wouldn't want to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt), just sort of cold.  It isn't raining so much as spitting.  Just enough to make the car's windshield wipers of debatable necessity.  Had four different cars, at four different parts of my short drive in to campus, jump out directly in front of me.  Despite the aggressive leaps to pull in front of me rather than wait for me to pass, not one of those four cars was even interested in doing the legal speed limit for their respective streets.  Not sure, then, why they had to make spectacular bolting maneuvers to cut me off (it's not like there was a long string of traffic behind me they were going to get stuck waiting for).  No, I took no retaliatory action, no horn, no blinking lights, no sign language.  What would it matter if I did; what, really, could I do about it anyway?  I'll trust to the great karma equalizer to sort them out.  My commute is short, so they had little impact on my trip other than having to remain defensively alert.  In a small car, that's de rigueur anyway.




Today's random playlist pulled out a soundtrack from the Russian mafia film брат 2 (yes, a sequel to the first film...wait for it... брат), released in 2000.  брат (pronounced brat, rather like the first half of the word bratwurst) is the Russian word for brother (and if you have a brother and speak English, you probably appreciate that linguistic coincidence).  The soundtrack is mostly Russian rock of the sort that would be classified as underground and/or alternative here.  I bought this CD in Vladivostok after I finally found a store that sold legitimate copies of the CD.  CDs, then and there, were largely used only by street-side music vendors to dub cassette copies of the album which they then sold (cassettes being much more popular than CDs in Russia at that time).  I have exactly four Russian CDs stored in my iPod, which makes them a very small minority of music. Consequently, they pop to my attention when they do come up.


When I travel abroad I like to bring back one or two examples of contemporary popular music, which is often more revealing than the traditional music from the country.  In the case of Russian rock, there was a consistent flavor to it (beyond the heavy dependance on electronica that was all the rage in European music at the time) that it took me a while to identify.  Like most of their traditional folk music, most Russian pop music was set in a minor key.  This creates an oddly and uniquely Russian rock sound.  If you're interested in sampling the CD, Amazon sells it through their marketplace vendors and has the tracks available for online sampling.  Looks like you can also buy the movie on DVD, if you are so inspired.  The track that popped up on my playlist this morning was the second track listed there (or third listed in my playlist, below).  (Click here if you want to see all the tracks listed in Russian.)  Most of the tracks on this CD are followed by a few sentences of dialog (in Russian, of course) taken from critical parts of the film, which further differentiates these tracks when they pop up.

Several songs later, as I typed this entry, another tune popped up from the брат 2 soundtrack: Zemfira (I also bought one of her CDs while in Russia) doing Iskala.  So it's a Russian soundtrack morning, I guess, sandwiched between two excellent jazz tracks and an interesting cut from a recent Great Northern recording.  Another really odd mix. While each tune, on its own, is very good, as a mix this set probably only works for me because I know the tunes.  As a radio station mix it would probably send folks spinning for a new station or firing up a different Pandora mix in short order:
  • The Jazz Networks: Beauty And The Beast
  • Great Northern: Houses
  • Masha I Medvedi: Zemlya
  • Tiger Okoshi: Yuki No Furu Machi O
PS: normally I italicize track and album titles, but I opted to bold the soundtrack title of брат 2 because when you italicize Russian, some of the characters change to their cursive forms, which is even more confusing when reading from an English-language perspective.  The Russian word брат is easy enough to make out, but the italicized version of the same word (брат) is harder to make out.  Looks rather like someone couldn't decide if the event took place at 6:00 AM or PM.  Now, here's hoping any of the Russian words survive the leap to the digital blog page!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My imaginary office fireplace

Wednesday, more dark, wet, and a mild coldness. My office needs a gas fireplace, that's the conclusion I have come to.  You have to admit––you really do––that it is a cool idea.  Can't you just picture blowing into the office on a cold wet fall day and instinctively reaching for the switch that lights the golden blue flames of the office gas fireplace (with mantle and hearth, of course!), even before you remove and hang up your rain coat and hat, or before you stoop to pick up the large red leaf you must have tracked onto your office floor with your adhesively wet shoes.  And some sort of pre-industrial pot-on-a-stick arrangement for making a steaming blow of porridge or Scottish oats that, because you set it up the night before, needs only to be pushed into place (my imaginary gas fireplace having already given way to a large stone traditional fireplace that, somehow, doesn't give off additional greenhouse gasses when it burns) to start heating up a warm bowl of slow-cooked grains. Yes, this is a very worthy idea, me thinks, as I settle for a breakfast bar and pot of yerba mate instead.

I suspect, however, that even were I to find some local (self support) source of funding for this project it would be frowned on.  Taxpayers assume every penny that gets spent by a public agency comes directly out of their pocket.  Even when you tell them that over 50% of your operating budget comes from other sources of revenue, if something gets done that they (individually) don't like, it was funded out of their (also individual) taxpayer dollars and that's all there is to it.  This adds to the personal store of righteous umbrage that appears to be the only worthy badge of electorate engagement these days.

Did anyone see David Horsey's painfully excellent illustration of the electorate the other day: Deconstructing the U.S. electorate.  I think it is a pretty accurate take on what will drive the results of the elections taking place in a couple of days (or already, for those of us voting via mail). That and, here in Washington state, the direct corporate path to purchasing laws or their repeal.

Hmmm.... how did I jump from my ideal office fireplace to my skepticism about the upcoming elections?  

Here's another gear change:  Last night when I got in my car to head home I sat down, strapped in, and went to turn the ignition switch: no go.   Literally, no movement; it wouldn't budge.  My car has an electronic keyless entry/ignition.  Meaning, I keep an electronic card on my presence and there are no keys.  As long as the card is in the car with me, I simply turn a rocker where a traditional key would be, and the car starts up.  No card, no budge.  Yet the card had worked when I hit the unlock button on the car door to get in.  Pauses to think, and realizes I still have my iPod in my right jacket pocket, which is now lying directly on top of the keyless digital card in my right pocket.  Remove the iPod and plug it in where it's supposed to go and now the car will start.  Digital interference from the iPod (or a cell phone) in such close proximity will keep the right signals from being received.  If push had come to shove, there is a physical key stored in the digital card, in case of battery or other electronic failure.  Is it any wonder my dream office gas fireplace morphed into a dream office pre-industrial stone fireplace?

Great iPod mix this morning.  None of these are songs I would intentionally string together and expect to work, but they did.  Probably just chaos theory showing up in a surprisingly small sample, but I'll take it:

Leonard Cohen: Democracy (Live)
David Benoit: Cat On A Windowsill
Frou Frou: Shh
Dr. Dog: My Friend

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blown to mate

Tuesday whipped in on strong winds and the threat of rain as I journeyed in to campus this morning. Stopped to refill the Miata, a roughly every-other-week-something I have to remember to do, which doesn't really extend the playlist much since the music goes off with the car.

These cold dark mornings I am glad my commute is short, and look forward to brewing up a hot strong pot of mate when I get to the office. I stumbled on Guayaki's yerba mate a number of years ago when I was looking for something to ease a caffeine withdrawal headache while getting off caffeine (there is some dispute about whether mate contains caffeine or a very similar stimulant chemical, though most agree it has a stimulant without some of the negative properties of other caffeinated beverages).

Mate is a popular South American drink made from the leaves of a small tree related to the holly bush, traditionally smoke-dried, and drunk via a communally shared gourd, steeping the crushed leaves in hot water. I liked it's earthy smokey flavor and have been drinking mate ever since. These days, I favor their Gaucho Fuerte blend of finely chopped mate made for brewing in a conventional coffee pot. It is easier to brew and comes out intensely strong. It makes a great start-up in the morning and a hot mug of mate warms the hands and the body, and that's what a body wants on these blustery mornings.

The iMood this morning was beautifully mixed up, with four decidedly different sounds filling the audio-space of my commute:

- The Dandy Warhols: And Then I Deamt of Yes
- Van Morrison: Fame
- Brad Mehldau Trio: Still Crazy After All These Years
- Mark Isham: Black Satin


- Posted via iPad.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Wet & Larghetto Monday

Monday has arrived.  Like the Bruce Cockburn tune, Wondering Where the Lions Are, "Sun's up, uh-huh, looks ok, world survives into another day."  Except the sun's not up (yet) and not likely to show itself if the windy, stormy forecast for the day is correct.  Otherwise, though, the world has apparently survived into another day.

This weekend's mini-vacation for M & I provided a nice respite from the usual routine and responsibilities and I can now say that I think the train is an excellent option for getting to and from Portland.  The Edmonds station is certainly easier to navigate than larger stations like Seattle or Portland (large, of course, being relative), and I heartily recommend splurging a few extra dollars on business class.  The seating is much better, boarding is much faster, and service is a tad better.  For less than the cost of a lunch, well worth it for any journey on which you'll be sitting for several hours. The conductors were amusing.

Lots of leaves on the sodden ground and roadways this morning.  This early fall storm seems to have shaken the clinging resolve of a lot of leaves a bit earlier in the season than I would have expected.  Then again, by Halloween we normally have most of our leaves dropped and we're only a few days in front of that holiday.  Not that you could tell this from the month-long Halloween advertising season, which makes the holiday seem like it's already been and gone as most of the decorations are now as thoroughly tired and spent as the leaves on the ground.  There can't me much surprise left for the neighborhood kids who come calling Halloween night if the decorations have been up as they walked to and from school all month. When did Halloween become a "season" instead of a holiday?

The playlist must have been operating on some hidden era-based setting again this morning; with only three tunes to pick, it kept strictly to tracks recorded between 1970 and 1974:
  • Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia: Someday Baby
  • Bruce Cockburn: Burn
  • George Harrison: Isn't It a Pity (Version Two)
PS to Gerry: a beautiful Mozart Larghetto popped up on my iPod this morning, just after I got into the office.  See, I really do have some of the older pop music rattling around in my playlist.  An appropriate tempo for a Monday morning, me thinks.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On the rails and away

Friday, and a different commute than usual for me today. M & I are on the Amtrak Cascade line from Edmonds down the coast to Portland. Station parking is significantly reduced, so my mom graciously offered to taxi us down for a 10:27 AM departure. The train was running about 45 minutes slow this morning, but once boarded, things were comfortable.

As we sat reading at the station, a WSDOT tweet popped up with an article link, talking about the growing ridership on the Cascade line and how the new ARRA funding was going to further expand the line to accommodate all the growing demand. Business Class wasn't full when we boarded at Edmonds, but was full as we pulled out of Seattle.

The Bistro car served up a perfectly acceptable turkey/havarti sandwich for lunch, which we ate at our seats as we watched the scenery roll by outside. After lunch I was plugged into a mix of Sigur Rós music while we read and watched, and dozed. If only the train's horn was in the same key as the music.

I think this was my first opportunity to use a train restroom since my last trip on the last 14-hour leg of the Tran Siberian railway. The Russian train's bathroom was about four times larger and featured a lovely view of the track speeding past underneath when you looked into the bowl of the toilet. This one, while smaller, did have a closed toilet bowl. It's always the small things, isn't it?

Really, a very comfortable way to get to Portland, though it takes a bit longer than driving. A very welcome 15 block walk from the station to our downtown hotel let us stretch tired-from-sitting muscles. Looking forward to this quiet get-away weekend!

I won't even try to list my playlist for today's commute, but it was all Sigur Rós and hours long.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nada Queda Ya pero Jueves y Portland

Thursday (my Friday), dark and inscrutable skies. A deep orange full (?) moon was hanging over the Olympic mountains when I first got up this morning, but I couldn't see it or any stars on my drive in and couldn't tell if the skies were clear or cloudy.  Small hints of fog were present here and there, but otherwise, no discernable weather.  Maybe if I had the top down I could have seen more of the dark pre-dawn sky and its visible forecast, but it wasn't so I didn't.

We can't complain about the last few days of glorious early-fall sun, though from this afternoon forward it looks like complaining weather is coming. A late afternoon high of 62º is predicted with increasing cloud cover through the afternoon and leading into rain by evening. Storm front rolling in should dominate the weekend.  The weather forecast icon (in the WeatherBug app) for the early days of next week is the ambiguous cloud with both a sun globe peeking over it and rain dripping out of it. Apart from snow, that one icon pretty well covers all possibilities.  It is like saying, "Next week we will have weather." Yep.

After yesterday's rant about the inefficiency of the desk phone I had a couple of cancelled morning appointments and managed to get caught back up.  Very little phone traffic yesterday.  Since almost nobody in the wide world reads this daily mind-spill, it didn't happen in deference to my complaint.  Must be karma, fate, divine intervention, or coincidence.  Or maybe an Ecclesiastian mix of all four ("If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies" 11:3). Either way, thanks.

Tomorrow M & I hop the train to Portland, OR for a weekend away.  A trip to Mecca (Powell's City of Books) is, of course, a major component of that get away.  Fun stuff.  And Fred & George get to look forward to a short live-in visit from one of their best friends (and ours, too!).  So everyone is happy.

Quick aside: shifting from iPad on-screen keyboard to laptop keyboard throughout the day is really starting to trip me up on both platforms.  The keyboard layouts are just enough different that I get in the habit of shifting to bring up the number keys or not, and find myself reaching for other keyboard options from one platform on the other.  I'm equally confused on both keyboards now.  Reminds me of when, in the early days of the Palm Pilot, after I had mastered the Graffiti handwriting alphabet and was quite good at it, I would frequently and unintentionally write out Graffiti characters on the whiteboard when teaching or doing a workshop.  When things are different but very similar, the mind is easily lulled into confusion.

This morning's playlist was a delightful mix.  Regular readers (all one of you) will correctly deduce from the length of the playlist that I swung through the local coffee kiosk on the way in this morning.  Obk (song: Nada Queda Ya, or Nothing Remains) is a contemporary Spanish singer/songwriter.  I picked up this CD several years ago at a grocery store in Motril, along the Costa del Sol.  He writes some very beautiful ballads, and I recently discovered that one or two of his CDs are now available through US channels like Amazon and iTunes.  A little pop-ish at times, and with the Euro-pop dependence on too much electronica (my opinion, mind), when that fades out and the guitar work comes through with vocals, the songs are memorable.
  • Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind
  • Obk: Nada Queda Ya
  • Perla Batalla: If It Be Your Will
  • Travis: Out In Space
  • Sigur Rós: Nyja Lagio
So now it's on to getting through Thursday and on to Portland.  In contemporary Social-Mediaeese:  woot!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They may now take my office phone away, please.

Wednesday, dark, a tad colder, but still clear.  A non-eventful drive in listening to some really good music (see below).  Harrison and Co. in particular were doing some very serious electric jamming.

As Joan would say, "Can we talk?"  Specifically, about the workplace technology of communication and getting anything done.  Even more specifically, about the phone versus almost everything else.  I'm really ready to get rid of the phone in my office and my workplace phone number, with the possible exception as a tool of convenience for external (to the campus) folk. 

The last couple of weeks have been a tyranny of phone calls, and have created a bow wave of calls I have to respond to that keep piling up faster than I am finding the necessary minutes for responding to them.  Most of the voicemail messages have not been urgent or even something worth the time and effort (of either party) to catch each other.  All of them could have been handled more efficiently via email.

I blame the technology, I really do. The phone requires the same immediacy of moment that a face to face meeting does, with the added poison of having a voicemail box at the other end.  Someone calls I can either allow myself to be interrupted, giving their whatever a higher priority than what I was working on (sight unseen, of course, since I don't know what the caller wants until they start talking), or let them leave a message.  A left message now becomes a ball dropped in my court.  Now it is suddenly my responsibility to try and catch them to find out what they wanted from me in the first place.  And since most folks don't give any indication of what they need in a left voicemail, most of the time I have no idea why I'm now trying to catch up with them.  So the phone call is either an interruption or a new to-do list item.

The workplace phone doesn't respect the triage of the day, the priority or urgency of any other tasks, or the attention/focus of the recipient.  When I call someone it is with the hope they will answer and I can get their time and attention for whatever I happen to be focused on, right then and there.  It doesn't have the courtesy of meeting time, scheduled to ensure a best time is identified by both parties; it just bursts in.

I don't allow myself to be sucked into meetings I don't need to attend, so why do I allow myself to be sucked into meetings via the phone whenever someone else has a question or need that relates to their project-at-hand?  Only because the alternative to answering is to have the ball happily dropped in my court.

There is also the whole inefficiency of the phone and voicemail-tag process.  Party A is currently focused on widget-issues and calls party B. B is doing something else, so A leaves a message.  B gets a chance to return the call, but now A is doing something else.  Repeat, at least a few times. Sooner or later either A or B will actually manage to catch the other at their desk, but chances are good at least one of the two won't really be in the prepared head-space for the widget-issues discussion. The same question sent via email would likely have been resolved much sooner and with more thought.  Catch me on the cuff and you get whatever I can salvage from memory.  Give me a chance to think and prepare and you will likely get a much more useful response.

My plea: save synchronous communication in the workplace for face to face meetings and those emergencies when tracking someone down by cell phone is really urgently justified.  And hallway pleasantries (not oh-while-I-have-you-in-my-sights meetings!) of the sort that make the world go 'round and the workplace a civil and enjoyable place to work.  Everything else should use an asynchronous form of communication technology.  Email is best, since inboxes really can serve as (wait for it.....) inboxes. Text messages are ok, but realize they are not in my primary working inbox, so may get less attention after my initial "yo dog!" reply.  Chat is just a second phone that requires typing instead of talking and which also allows long distracted pauses on the part of either/both parties, don't go there.

Thanks for listening, that feels better.  Except for the list of calls I still have to return this morning.  However, since my productive time is very early morning and most of the folks I need to call back are not in and working at this hour, I'll have to see what I can get back to between meetings throughout the day, and I know exactly how well that's going to work. <sigh>

Today's iPod shuffle mix (the real reason I do this silly daily blog) was strangely playlist-like.  Even the one classic ballad from an earlier era (than the other tunes) was done by a rocker of similar age:
  • Arlo Guthrie: City of New Orleans
  • Rod Stewart: These Foolish Things
  • George Harrison: I Remember Jeep
  • The Beatles: Glass Onion

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What constitutes breaking news?

I skipped posting here this Monday, since I had a minor speaking part at an early morning breakfast for local elected politicians and candidates, an opportunity to meet with them as a group, present information about the college (and the budget challenges) and have a round (square, really) table discussion with them about ideas and solutions.

So now it's Tuesday morning, dark, clear, and cool.  Two signs from this just-past weekend that show our steady progress deeper into fall: a heavy coat of frost on roof tops Sunday morning and the presence of wood smoke from neighbors starting to augment their home heat with the fireplace. So we do march further into fall-ness, but we are still close enough to the memory of summer to enjoy sunny weekends and weekdays (like we have been enjoying) as if they were warmer than they are. The trees are still fully leaved, and resplendent in bright fiery colors, so the bleaker aspect of late fall and winter is still to come. [OK, now why does the "e" in fire suddenly leap to the left side of the "r" when fire becomes fiery?]

This is the second morning the NY Times has woken me up at shortly after 4:00 AM with "breaking news" that was neither wanted nor of sufficient import to be worth waking early. Bank of America was part of the headline that beeped and lit up my nightstand, but I really didn't care as I fumbled for the off button.  There are two things wrong with this situation.  The first is that I have quite intentionally turned off the breaking news alert feature, but this iPad app clearly isn't listening.  The second is that the NY Times has decided that acceptable hours for breaking news are based on their local time zone, yet their app is installed on iPads all around the globe.  No option is provided to allow alerts only between certain user-defined local hours.  So, while I applaud the NY Times for finally making their entire content available via this app, I'm about to take it off my iPad so I can get a full night's sleep.

There is a third issue, I suppose, with the NY Times breaking news feature, but it is not specific to just this one app. With the passing of the passive printed newspaper and its casual serendipitous path to discovery through reading and page turning comes the more interactive path of electronic news. The interactive piece can be directive as well as user-based. So the NY Times decides what constitutes breaking news and is worthy of pushing in front of its readers with a digital noise and an on-screen pop up (much like getting a text message on a smart phone).  This is the digital equivalent of saying, "Drop whatever you are doing and look here, because this is momentous life-changing information you must see right now!"  Planes flying into buildings, declaration of war, a major geological catastrophe, those are things I can see pinging your readership with in the moment. Anything less and there should be some sort of list of categories from which readers can select the other news items they want to be interrupted for.  I don't like my news sources getting aggressive about pushing news at me.

On a lighter note, this morning's delicious mix of tunes concluded with Van Morrison's Carry on regardless. The song ends (and it did end just as I pulled in my parking place and set the parking break) with Van Morrison giving an odd spontaneous (or so it feels) yodel and then chuckling at himself in the background for several seconds as the instruments wrap the tune up. A reminder, perhaps, that we shouldn't take ourselves (or our news) too seriously?
  • Matthias Lupri Group: Saucey
  • Electric Owls: Magic Show
  • Sleepy Sun: The Chain (Live)
  • Van Morrison: Carry on regardless

Friday, October 15, 2010

Breathe

A well-earned Friday has rolled around.  Earned, I think, because this has been a week of leaning into the needs of the day and swimming against the tide.  At times, it has felt like the quintessential example of elder talk to youth: walking 10 miles to school in deep snow, uphill, both ways.  It has also been a very productive week, so that is satisfactory.  It culminated last night (and, yes, I am drawing a arbitrary line across the days of the week at a point slightly short of the traditional finish line) in a rousing display of the sort of civility-less and abusive public bullying that seems to have become inseparable from public discourse in these fractious times. In the absence of facts, we create our own reality based on our emotional preferences and then passionately call it truth.  On my whiteboard is a quote from Cullen Hightower: "Saying what we think gives us a wider conversational range than saying what we know."  Much is said these days, alas.

The weather this morning was dark, foggy, with either latent or potential wetness (or maybe both).  It didn't actually rain on me on my drive, but the ground was wet and the clouds were someplace between laden and delivering.  The fog was quite thick in places, reducing visibility considerably.  There was also very little traffic, so I had most of the foggy back roads to myself.  Here and there an illuminated Halloween display (a car-sized inflatable pumpkin, inflatable death-size ghosts, lit window decorations, etc.) would loom out of the fog and dark, but mostly it was a wet shadow world with swirled snatches of trees, houses, shrubs, and sidewalks here and there.

If I were to put a playlist together specifically for a wet, dark, foggy morning drive, I doubt I could do any better than the iPod did this morning.  Somber but melodic, very atmospheric, predominantly instrumental, and a sting of tunes that transitioned one to another as if part of an intentionally produced theme album. In a random shuffle of thousands of tunes from a wide range of genres, this kind of capricious magic tickles me.  K. D. Lang's languid and soulful rendition of the song The Air That I Breathe wrapped up the set. Fitting, really.  This is (I hope!) one of those Fridays where I get a little space to breathe and catch up.

The full playlist:
  • Patrick Cassidy: Do not break this day, my heart
  • Mark Isham: In a Silent Way
  • Jake Shimabukuro: Ave Maria
  • K.D. Lang: The Air That I Breathe
Small technical note: I use the capitalization, as is, from each album, and different artists clearly have their own standards and preferences.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Used-to-be and supposed-to-be are not the same

Thursday, dark and clear.  I didn't see the moon this morning (curious) but did see stars on my drive in this morning.  I left the top down from yesterday afternoon, so really did get to keep an eye on the stars. It only takes a morning (or evening) drive top down to remind me why I like this so much.  No idea why I've been so hesitant to drop the top the last few clear and dry mornings, but it couldn't have been because of the dark since that's still my favorite top-down time.

I'm still listening through the new Belle & Sebastian album and still digging it.  One of the tracks (Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John) features a female voice that didn't sound like any of the usual band members to me.  In fact, it sounded very much like Norah Jones.  Hmmm.... need to check this out.  But the track title didn't mention any other artist (often, if there is a guest on a track the song title will have a "featuring...." appended to the track name).

And that brought me to pondering the loss of liner notes in this age of digital convenience.  As someone who really likes music, pulling the sleeve of the LP out of the jacket to read the liner notes and lyrics was simply de rigueur (do we still italicize non-English words and phrases?). Eight tracks didn't offer much by way of liner notes, but cassettes and CDs managed to fit them in, and sometimes included small booklets.  And digital albums sometimes include a PDF file with all the content of whatever is tucked into a physical CD.  That isn't a consistent thing, though, and there was no such digital addition to the B&C album I had downloaded via iTunes.  However, the iTunes store write up for the album, rather than liner notes, per se, provided the answer I was seeking.  Yes, it is a duet with Norah Jones (and it really is a gem).

If this had been the album era, I would have simply pulled the liner notes out and (knowing me) found what I wanted and then re-read the entirety of the notes just for the fun of it.  On the other hand, since the question came up for me on the drive into work, I would have had to wait until this evening and then remembered to check while I was home.  Instead, a quick online check via my iPhone answered my question in the immediacy of the moment.

So, is it really that we have lost liner notes, or that we have gained more immediate access to the same information?  Or, is it simply one of those changes that doesn't necessarily improve or diminish, but which simply comes about with the evolution of life? That's how we did things yesterday and it was good, this is how we do things today and it is also good. And those of us whose lives extend across both the then and the now are the carriers of the way it used to be.  We just have to be careful to not confuse the way it used to be with the way it's supposed to be.

No playlist this morning.  Having one album on shuffle, I wasn't able to trace back exactly which tracks I listened to on the way in, with the exception of Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John. Really, a great album; good stuff.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Belle & Sebastian - good stuff

Wednesday early morning, skies mostly clear and a bright curvaceous slice of moon hanging over the still-dark horizon. I could easily have dropped the top this morning, but something about the dark made me want the top up. This probably has something to do with the fact that a top-down morning drive now requires a little more thought about clothing, usually an extra layer.

Traffic seemed a bit light this morning, though many of the cars I did share the roads with were covered in heavy morning dew.  Most of those hadn't bothered to remove that heavy dew cover from their windows, so I know their visibility was highly compromised.  I left extra distance and watched their movements even more carefully than normal.  Folks, it takes about 2 minutes with a $5 squeegee to clear off all the windows on your car before you head out into traffic.  It sure beats the inevitable close calls or worse.  Can life really be that rushed?

Driving through the S-curve on the service road between main and north campus this morning I had a bicyclist coming from the opposite direction suddenly cut diagonally across my path as I came around the last corner.  Fortunately for for both of us I take that course very slowly.  He was in dark clothing and stocking cap, no helmet, no reflective anything, and no lights (in the dark), and riding with his hands in his pockets rather than on the handlebars.  He didn't alter anything when he zipped in front of me, not even bothering to take the handlebars in hand.  Maybe he doesn't know how many folks (and some of the service carts!) run the service road at nearly street speeds?

Music this morning was intentionally homogeneous.  Belle & Sebastian released a new album (Write About Love) this week, and it's been in my pre-order queue since it was first announced.  I love their bright blend of alternative mixed with rich sixties/seventies stylings, their clever lyrics, and stick-in-my-head melodies.  So I set the iPod dial (yes, this is one of the old style models with a round controller on the front) to play this album rather than shuffle the whole deck.  Based on the tracks sampled on the way in this morning (listed below), it's another winner. Looking forward to the remaining tracks! The album title link above goes to their Web site and has a great 30-minute tongue-in-cheek (in places) documentary interview, concert, Q/A, state of the music industry discussion – worth watching. 
  • I Want the World to Stop
  • I Can See Your Future
  • Come On Sister
  • Sunday's Pretty Icons
  • Read the Blessed Pages
  • Blue Eyes of a Millionaire

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Liner Notes, or songs don't come easy

It's Tuesday, but still overcast and dark for the drive in this morning. Should clear off and be another sunny day (the forecast was correct for yesterday, so I assume it will be again today). Highs forecast for the low-to-mid sixties. Top up on the way in, should be another top-down drive home; this is the perfect weather for that sort of thing. Some folks laugh when I say that the PNW is the perfect place to own a convertible, given our reputation for rain (actually, we get about the same annual rainfall as NY City) and clouds, but with most of the year mild, a convertible is a fine daily-driver and more days than not can be top down.

I made a coffee stop this morning, and all the tunes that shuffled up to the top were pop format length, so I got a nice long playlist to mull over. Starting off with a little Mexican rap, and then pretty much everything else. Irish, jazz, folk, swing, alternative.

From the Chieftains, a fast-moving jig (Changing Your Demenour, or in the Gaelic: Mo Ghile Mear) on the merits of spending time in Ireland as a cure for what ails you:

Here we are we've come to call 
With pipes and flutes and fiddles and all
In case of death we've even brought a keener
So, if you're glum and feeling down
Just feel like us and act the clown
And soon there'll be a change in your demeanour

Now of all the places I have seen 
from China to the Caribbean, 
Are all across the goat compared to Ireland, 
From Bally Castle to Tralie the Corup to the Liffy 
There's no where else on earth but like this island.

I'm not sure I agree that our little part of the world is "all across the goat compared to Ireland," but I'd gladly swap a week or two there for here to do a little comparative research.

Cockburn rounded out the set this morning with one of his lessor-known songs, Free to Be:

Got no social graces 
Never know my place 
One thing I am sure of 
You can't judge a man by his race 
Birth don't come easy 
Freedom doesn't come cheap 
Rules and worlds get swept away 
While you waste your time in sleep
I love the later lyric, "Can it be so hard to love yourself without thinking someone else holds a lower card?" and, "You can only deal with what's before your face, and the life you're given's no use at all if you burn it up in hate." Very true, but sometimes hard to keep in perspective. Even Cockburn has to acknowledge that when he talks about the lyrics to his song If I Had a Rocket Launcher, which was written in anger after witnessing another military helicopter strike on a civillian village in Central America.

Finally, a couple words about the Sam Baker album, Pretty World. This is a very rough-hewn folk album that is unlike anything else in my collection. A survivor of an 1986 terrorist bomb on a Peruvian train, with a long list of resulting injuries, including Tinnitus and brain damage (affecting his language center), Baker weaves simple but compelling melodies with highly acclaimed narrative lyrics. The result is mesmerizing and also decidedly unpolished. The Web site (link above) details the way his injury affects the way he writes and sings, and how he has to "collect" and "gather" the words he uses.

Playlists like this, and the artists behind these songs, are the reason I do this silly little blog each morning. Mostly.
  • Los Hijos del Maiz: José el Azteca 
  • Travis: Writing to Reach You 
  • The Chieftains: Changing Your Demeanour 
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Votes Are Counted 
  • Sam Baker: Psychic 
  • Mark O'Connor & Jane Monheit: Fascinating Rhythm 
  • Bruce Cockburn: Free to Be 

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Cloudy, foggy, wet Monday morning jazz

    Monday, cloudy, foggy, and wet, but not actively wetting. It rained hard late last night, a real stop-and-would-you-listen-to-that-! kind of rain event.  Clearly, it continued to rain into the night, long after I had powered myself down, because all surfaces were still quite wet this morning.  WeatherBug says we have accumulated 0.11" of rain so far today (since midnight, presumably). Mostly cloudy becoming mostly sunny is forecast for today. Highs on the 50's-60's borderline.  Doesn't look like it will clear off to me, but then I don't get paid to predict this stuff.

    Traffic was light on the commute and the music was lengthy and intricate.  The iPod was clearly in an all-jazz mood, picking out three classics from three very different jazz styles: big band, masterful piano trio, and vocalist. I checked, when I got to campus, to make sure I was really in full shuffle rather than genre shuffle, and I was.  So the iPod gets full credit for the congruity of this playlist.

    Jessica Williams (second track in this morning's playlist) is one awesome pianist.  A Portland native and frequent local headliner in Seattle jazz clubs, with 74 CDs to her credit, 350 compositions, and still going strong. Williams is well respected in the jazz world, with peers like Dave Brubeck calling her, "One of the greatest pianists I have ever heard..."  Though she has played all the major venues, she welcomes private small bookings (her Web site indicates she even prefers those to large professional gigs).  I heard a concert/interview with her (Fresh Air, Terry Gross) many years ago and was amazed that she could literally play any style with immediate ease.  If you get the chance to catch one of her shows, especially smaller local venues, I highly recommend. 
    • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Timeless (8:05)
    • Jessica Williams: Solitude (6:20)
    • Frank Sinatra: Witchcraft (2:53)
    PS: the jazz theme continued in-office for five more tracks before the iPod switched to a Travis tune (Under the Moonlight), so it really had some jazz to get out of its system this cloudy, foggy, wet Monday morning.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Catching up versus Pacing The Cage

    Friday - at last!  Whew!  Don't get me wrong, I'm not one who hates my work week or who lives only for the weekends. Its just that this has been a crowded week with some important yet competing priorities and I am more than usually ready for a break.  Thankfully, today's calendar is mostly empty, so I can grab a shovel and start GTD'ing my way through my inboxes and project threads.

    It was another dark (they all will be now, so this probably goes without saying until early next spring) and cloudy drive in, but not yet raining. Top up.  Rain and wind are forecast for today and most of this weekend.  Typical long term forecast for us: wet weekend and sun comes out for Monday and most of the work week.


    As for this morning's playlist: after the always-compelling Annie Lennox, Bruce Cockburn came up with the acoustic version of Pacing the Cage from the 2009 live solo tour album Slice O Life.  This has to be one of his most poetic and beautiful songs (ranks right up there, for me, with All The Diamonds).



    The first verse reads:

    Sunset is an angel weeping
    Holding out a bloody sword
    No matter how I squint I cannot
    Make out what it's pointing toward
    Sometimes you feel like you live too long 
    Days drip slowly on the page
    You catch yourself
    Pacing the cage

    This hasn't exactly been one of those pacing the cage weeks for me, but I do know the feeling; don't we all at one time or another?

    Sometimes the best map will not guide you 
    You can't see what's round the bend
    Sometimes the road leads through dark places 
    Sometimes the darkness is your friend
    Today these eyes scan bleached-out land 
    For the coming of the outbound stage
    Pacing the cage 

    Great poetry with powerfully accessible imagery, and set to a truly beautiful acoustic guitar-lead melody.  If you haven't heard the tune before, may I heartily recommend tracking down a copy and giving it a listen?

    All in all, a great playlist today.  Yes, I stopped for coffee again this morning, thus the slightly longer playlist:
    • Annie Lennox: No More "I Love You's"
    • Bruce Cockburn: Pacing The Cage
    • Bobby Previte: Airstrip One
    • Kenny Werner: Hey Reggie
    • Rocco Deluca And The Burden: How Fast
    • Belle & Sebastian: Funny Little Frog

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    What I learned today about creative wrighting

    Thursday, and dark with stars this morning.  Hard to tell much about the weather under those conditions, but visible stars mean clear skies, so that bodes well for those of us eager to stretch the sun days out as long into fall as possible.  The forecast, always a distant second-best means of ascertaining the likely weather for the day in this mild but changeable part of the country, predicts a high of 64º with 0% chance of falling wetness. 

    Wednesday came and went in a blur of back to back meetings.  That cliche phrase rarely has a litteral application to my workdays because I have learned to make sure each day has at last some space carved out specifically to get something done.  Good meetings help move things along, bad meetings simply suck up time and energy, but no meeting is "doing" time.  To the contrary, meetings usually result in more things added to the to-do list, making those intentionally calendared I'm-doing-stuff-during-this-time periods even more important.  Best practices to the contrary, somehow my Wednesday calendar got booked with meetings running end to end from 9:00 to 4:00 yesterday, and today is nearly as bad.

    Today's soundtrack was varied and compelling.  The Brandan James song offered the chorus lines:

    They say we're made to live as one
    Let this need to fear each other
    Not be passed on to my son
    Let your beat go on forever,
    Let your fears down rivers run
    Let the silence be the music,
    When their words are said and done

    In these angry, noisy, and divisive times, there is a very relavent hope there.
    • Lee Ritenour & Dave Grusin: Lagrima
    • Brandan James: Let Your Beat Go On
    • Bruce Cockburn: Salt, Sun And Time
    • Valley: Boom Theory
    • Sigur Rós: Viõrar Vel Til Loftárasa
    Typing out that play list presented me with a small challenge this morning.  Can you, perhaps, spot it?  Apart from Sigur Rós song titles, I don't have much call for writing out Icelandic words.  I know where the most-common accent marks are hidden under my banal keyboard caps, but I don't think I've ever had a previous call to type a tilde over an o (and I assume it isn't called a tilde in this circumstance, either).  Had to pull up the "Special Character" pallet, which sounds like something a playwright grabs when they need to find a character type to spice up the work at hand.

    So, that last sentence raises another question for me: why is playwright spelled that way, instead of playwrite?  Apparently this is not a word I type out very often, because I hadn't thought about that spelling before.  I would assume that one who writes plays would be a play-write, short for play writer.  But the second half of the actual word stems from the older word wright, meaning one who builds or crafts.  So one who writes plays is a builder of plays, a playwright.  Like shipwright.

    I learned something new today and I didn't even have to stray very far from the task at hand. Which, in an over-crowded workday schedule, is a good way to get a little bit smarter.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Not the coldest night of the year

    I think I'm finally coming to terms with the changed season, the fact that mornings will now consistently be dark when I get up at 5:45 AM, and that the heat pump will be giving the house a short injection of warmth first thing in the morning.  The last couple days have been dry (and sunny, once late morning dropped by), and could easily have been top-down morning drives, but something in me has said "top up, please" the last few mornings.  So, snugly cocooned in my little cockpit, I made my morning commute more focused on the music than the sights and smells of the early morning.

    This morning kicked off with Cockburn's winter view of Yonge St., Toronto.  I really like this tune, and have to confess this morning was a repeat.  It popped up on my way home last night and I joyfully cranked it up and repeated it three times on the way home, and left it queued up to start this morning's drive in.  Yep, it's that good.  Thankfully, it's not the coldest night (or day) of the year here.

    A really good mix of tunes this morning, especially appreciated since I had less external stimulus to distract my attention.
    • Bruce Cockburn: The Coldest Night of the Year
    • Matthew Perryman: Sinking Wishes
    • Madeleine Payroux: Our Lady of Pigalle (Bonus French Version)
    • The Carpenters: Bless the Beasts and Children
    • Jan Garbarek, Marcin Wasilewski: February Sun

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Nine worthy minutes of music

    Tuesday: dark wet clouds swirling around the near tree tops, but clear skies overhead. Much colder today, with a forecast high of only 48º. A beautifully illuminated and very thin crescent moon, the type that really showcases a three-dimensional moon by the way it clearly slides up and around the edge of its sphere. Those swirling wet looking clouds are wispy, if quite dark, and very localized.  Neither the forecast nor the radar show any measurable precipitation coming today, though humidity is 98% right now.  Top up today for the drive in, probably down for the drive home.

    A really good set of tunes on the commute today, though a short list with long-ish songs.  One tune (Hafsól) runs almost nine minutes:
    • Dr. Dog: From
    • Frou Frou: Psychobabble
    • Sigur Rós: Hafsól
    The playlist was perfectly timed, and the last few notes of Hafsól were fading away as I pulled into a parking spot and set the parking brake. I have made no secret of the fact I am a big Sigur Rós fan, and Hafsól is one of my favorite of their tunes, from the Hvaf - Heim album (what does one say in lieu of album these days? CD is no more accurate. Recording? Project? Digital musical offering?). There is a decidedly coo coo clock element to the percussion line throughout, an upbeat quality to the melody, and (as usual) a lot of great and richly varied instrumental work. There is also a strain of what I assume is traditional Icelandic folk music in what I hear, poking through even the most driving electric parts of the tune.  Listening carefully throughout is a worthy way to spend nearly nine minutes.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    The ignorance death-spiral

    Monday: dark, overcast, and colder. The weather won't be playing much of a range today, with a current temperature of 51° and a projected late afternoon high of only 59°. Still, that is mild weather to most of the world, and I am not complaining. It is the first fall weekday I have pulled a sweater on over my shirt. Probably won't want it all day, but I did this morning.

    The local football team had a 10:00 AM game this Sunday, so Melissa made the has-become-traditional cheddar, feta, jalapeño, and bacon quiche that serves as brunch for morning games. That means a small slice comes with me for breakfast today, too. Very worthy!

    Pizza Hut was advertising during the ball games yesterday, running an ad in which they promised to have simplified the menu, made it easier for people to follow, and eliminated "math problems" by, apparently, rounding all the prices to an even $10 bill.

    This is what a major U.S. Corporation now feels it has to promise to consumers during prime placement high cost advertising on national television. They might as well come out and say, "We know the average American consumer can't manage basic addition and subtraction (especially if they have to carry any digits from one column to another), so we have made a menu even an American can understand. All pictures and easy round numbers.

    Political attack ads, all dumbed down to the lowest common denominator (sorry - that's one of those nasty math-based metaphors!) and all deceptive and manipulative with the truth, made up a large chunk of game time advertising, displacing at least some of the obligatory truck and beer commercials. Again, trading on the perception that most Americans either can't be trusted with the truth or won't recognize the truth, the political ads were sensational, fear-mongering, garbage. They run because the pollsters know they make a difference, most Americans are influenced by this stuff.

    Reminds me of a story I heard on NPR the other day. An author was observing that until she had children of her own she was of the opinion that you should never lie to a child. She gave the example of her child pointing to a picture in a magazine of lynched people and asking what that was. She had, of course, lied and said they were puppets rather than try and tackle the painful truth with a very young child. So, apparently, agree the leaders of our corporatocracy. Children, can you say pup-pets? Very good!

    With midterm elections only a few weeks away, and with a string of initiatives on our state ballot aimed at further reducing state revenue and funded by large corporate interests, in the middle of an historic budget deficit, and given the clear inference of the pizza and political ads from yesterday, I am very concerned about what the next several years will bring.

    The iPod was also in somber mood is morning, though each tune grew progressively more upbeat until we were rocking to the driven electrified blues of Rocco Deluca as I pulled into a parking place someplace off the main campus of the college I work for. A college that has to be concerned about the midterm elections and their likely impact on state revenue, a college that is trying to offer enough pre-college instruction to bring record numbers of unemployed students up to entry-level math and English so they can pursue new dreams of employment, a college that has already lost nearly 25% of its state funding and has been told to brace for even deeper state budget cuts in the coming biennium.

    Does this spiral feel like it is going the wrong direction to anyone else? Dickens said it all those years ago. To paraphrase: fear Ignorance and Want, and fear Ignorance most of all, though the two seem to be inexorably linked wherever the interests of the few are set above those of the rest.

    Patrick Cassidy: The Violent Death of the Sons of Uisnech and Deirdre
    Jake Shimabukiro: Ave Maria
    Fountains of Wayne: Utopia Parkway
    Mark Knopfler: Remembrance Day
    Rocco Deluca & the Burden: Soul


    - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Root Beer Plastigoop in the air

    It's Friday! That means so much more now that weekends are (for the most part) my own again.  Still celebrating being out of school, and it's been since June already.  Should be another pleasant day, so I left the top down and drove in exposed to the dark pre-dawn.

    It must be nostalgia week.  Yesterday the Grundig and today it's the Mattel Thingmaker Creepy Crawler (I promise, this does tie up with this morning's drive in).  Anyone else remember this:



    Die cast molds into which you squirted a colored goop called (fittingly enough) Plastigoop.  Drop the mold into the Thingmaker heater and several minutes later you got a rubbery plastic bug or whatever.  Thing is, this being the 60's, they took the concept one step further and introduced "edible" flavored Plastigoop.  Now you could make rubbery plastic bugs and lizards you could eat. They had a taste and texture that is unlike anything else I can think of; no idea how to describe my memory of it.

    One flavor, in particular, stands out in my memory: root beer.  Root beer was one of the offered flavors, probably because the artificial version of root beer flavoring was already so close to petrochemical that they only had to keep enough of the original oil-based brown color to have a finished product.  I'm sure it was totally carcinogenic, especially after being heated in a die-cast mold, and those of us who share this singularly American 60's diet history are probably paying a physiological price for it even now.

    I also find, with a little searching this morning, that they are now making this thing again (though slightly different and sold by a different company: Jakks Creepy Crawlers Bugmaker. It still promises to convert "slime into bugs" and now twice as many as quickly as before.  No mention of edible goop these days. 

    But back to the root beer flavored "edible" Thingmaker Creepy-Crawlies. They have a spot firmly fixed in my memory, with taste, texture, picture, and time/location stamp (summer, backyard patio, Bellingham, laundry flapping on the line, small planes flying overhead to or from the nearby airport).  I know this because that memory got triggered on the drive in this morning, and now I can't get the taste out of my head.

    I got behind a short schoolbus whose diesel exhaust was just similar enough to the smell of root beer plastigoop cooking in a Thingmaker cooker that it all came flooding back to me, as unwanted a memory as slowly doopity-doopiting behind a diesel school bus was to my morning commute.

    Today's soundtrack was... well, different.  The last song, at least, hails from roughly the same era of artificiality as the Thingmaker:
    • Travis: She's So Strange
    • Leonard Cohen: Closing Time (Live)
    • Karrin Allyson: Plasir D' Amour
    • Engelbert Humperdink: After the Lovin'