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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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Naked as the Hanged Man's secrets

Wednesday morning, cold-ish and clear with stars clearly popping out from the black ceiling.  One of those perfectly illuminated sliver-crescent moons sits just above the tree tops this morning, the kind that looks exactly like the globe it is, illuminated by a single source just to the lower left and back.  It is abundantly clear why there was never a flat-moon society.

Flat, though, is how I feel this morning.  Post-election hangover, as I try to find a constructive way to parse the way things appear to have shaken out.  The low hanging fruit is the despair, cynicism, and frustration at what appears to be the foregone outcome.  The corporations have won again.  The enormous amount of money that poured into our state specifically to protect discrete corporate interests have successfully manipulated sufficient numbers of voters to jump the way they were prodded to jump.  In the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s we have been scared into hamstringing government, reducing state revenue even further, and guaranteeing polarized legislative gridlock on a greater scale.  Fun stuff.

We kept doggedly to our regressive form of state taxation, which raises most of its funds from the lower to middle class citizens and places a grossly disproportionate burden on lower incomes, but the wealthy remain safely less-taxed and corporations can continue to pool their resources.  With a population that does not critically examine media messages, money can drive (essentially, buy) election results, and does.

What are the themes we can draw from this election?  Bruce Cockburn, in his song Justice, sings that, "...everybody loves to see justice done, on somebody else."  I see quite a bit of that in this election.  Folks feel like they are paying for the sins of others and want it to stop.  Problem is, the general population has been successfully convinced the problem is other citizens and/or the folks who are in office now.  So we take it out on one another and retreat back towards the people and policies that were largely to blame for the current mess.  Or, as Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times, we've been mugged by the debt moralizers.

As I say, this is the low-hanging fruit of parsing the election results; despair, cynicism, and frustration.  It is easy to go there, and with good reason.  So what do we do with the results now that we have them? How do you constructively plan for a now-guaranteed larger state budget deficit, further program and services cuts, greater unmet citizen needs, and further redistribution of resources from poorest to wealthiest?

Well, those of us who work for colleges or other pieces of our education system need to redouble our efforts to help as many citizens as possible learn to critically examine media messages so that fewer citizens are so easily manipulated with toxic emotional messages in the future.  It's our only hope.  And we're going to have to find new ways to fund our education system in the process, cuz funding for education sure as hell isn't coming from the state or federal government, regardless of the pro-education rhetoric we still cling to in the U.S..

Maybe P.J. O'Rourke was right: "Feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe.  When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there."  Or, as Bruce Cockburn says in the first song from this morning's random shuffle of music:

So we wait beside the desert
Nothing left to give away
Naked as the hanged Man's secrets
Praying for the break of day

That's probably closer to the truth.  We got what we, most of us as a citizenry, asked for.  Which is, for all it's warts and flaws, essentially how democracy works.  Democracy doesn't guarantee the best or even "right" results, only that the majority will get to call the shots. It may be corporate-sponsored democracy, and the media may manipulate the population, but we do still elect our own futures and live with the consequences of our choices.  In the first light of the morning after any election, we stand exposed as the society of our majority choices, naked as a hanged man's secrets for everyone to gaze at.

Bottom line: this is us.  If we don't like it, we're going to have to make different choices, one person at a time.

The full playlist:

 - Bruce Cockburn: You Don't Have to Play the Horses
 - John Mayer: Your body is a wonderland
 - Ralf Illenberger: Ballad
 - Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Autumnal
 - John Mayer: Back to you

 - Posted via iPad

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trust me, I'm a thief

Tuesday, dark and overcast, but momentarily dry. Election day, too. The days of mail voting are here and, while they bring a degree of convenience I really like, we do lose the traditional sense of event that community site-based voting created. Going to your polling place to cast your vote, getting your little sanctimonious "I voted" sticker (most valuable to those who voted in the morning, since there wasn't much satisfaction in wearing it home if you voted in the evening), and also seeing your neighbors participating in this same community act, are all things lost to the mail order ballot. One hopes the process of voting in the quiet of your own home, with all your voting information at hand, results in more thoughtful decisions, by way of compensation. The record doesn't indicate this is necessarily the case.

Another track from the Brat 2 Russian mafia movie soundtrack popped up this morning. An omen? The title (Vechno Molodoi) translates to Forever Young. Do I apply that as forever young, new energy, hope, and ideals, or forever immature and still at the repeating mistakes phase?

Fittingly, very fittingly, the last track on today's random playlist was Trust Me I'm a Thief, from The Ghuggenheim Grotto's latest album The Universe Is Laughing. A fantastic album, I might add, and one of the best tracks from that album. Juxtaposed over election day, the lyrics offer some timely warnings:

Careful what you wish for
Careful what you wish
Oh, the devil's in the details

Promises break, that's what they do
Scorpions sting, that's what they do
Hurricanes take, that's what they do
Just like I'm gonna steal a piece of you

Trust me I'm a thief



The album title is a fragment from a slightly longer sentence from one of the other songs, and that full sentence could also be applied to this day: "The universe is laughing at us." Well, we will soon see whose money was most influential in this election. I am very much afraid that nobody will be laughing.

- Joel Frahm & Brad Meldhau: Away From Home
- Dr. Dog: Jackie Wants a Black Eye
- Madeleine Peyroux: Damn the Circumstances
- Smuslovuie Galliutzinatzii: Vechno Molodoi
- The Guggenheim Grotto: Trust Me I'm a Thief

PS: This is too easy, this morning. Dylan is now singing Blowin' in the Wind as I wrap up this post. Indeed.

- Posted via iPad.