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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Soup to art

It's Wednesday already, heigh-ho. A short between-holidays week where the days are all playing charades, with their costumes blown about them on strong winds and lots of driving rain. There is no guessing which day is which, at least not by the normal clues we usually use. This Wednesday is still truly mid-week for me (with Monday being a holiday and me taking Friday off as well), but it is also role-playing both Tuesday's and Thursday's normal position in the work-week.

The campus is quiet. Not many souls working some or all of this week. Even email is strangely quiet. This makes it a perfect week to get a few projects caught up and to do some long-overdue organizing for the quarter/year to come.

The algorithmic DJ in my iPod was serving up a nicely blended selection of tunes on the drive in this morning. The Augustana tune reminded me, however, that a tune can be good even when the lyrics are not, particularly. Some lyrics are poetry, others only vocal filler. In this song (Sweet and Low), Augustana presents us with a nicely crafted and executed bit of rock anthem but then leaves us with lyrics like:

Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl
Hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home
Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl
Hold me down, and I'll carry you home

The rain is gonna fall, the sun is gonna shine,
The wind is gonna blow, the water's gonna rise
She said, when that day comes, look into my eyes
No one's giving up quite yet,
We've got too much to lose

Want a contrast point? Compare the above lyrics to these from the Bruce Cockburn tune Don't Feel Your Touch:

The last light of day crept away like a drunkard after gin
A hint of chanted prayer now whispers from the fresh night wind
To this shattered heart and soul held together by habit and skin
And this half-gnawed bone of apprehension
Buried in my brain
As I don't feel your touch, again

As Jane Wagner says in the brilliant The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe:  "Trudy, the play was soup...the"  In this case, the first lyric was soup, the second: art.

The longing for a lover's touch, as in the Cockburn lyric, and the wind and rain of this past weather-strewn night are themes combined in a beautiful poem by Robert Creeley, titled, simply, The Rain:
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.
What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it
that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me
something other than this,
something not so insistent—
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.
So, what have we learned here? The weather: soup. The poetry: art.  If you must be out and about in this wet weather, may you at least be wet with a decent happiness.
The full playlist:
 - Rocco Deluca: Colorful
 - Augustana: Sweet and Low
 - Queen Latifah: I Know Where I've Been
 - Winterpills: Benediction
 - Billy Bragg & Wilco: Secrets of the Sea

Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kevin's Holiday Bread - recipe included

With the approach of the holiday season, many folks like to have a special bread, cake, or other bread-based treat on hand for a quick and easy, yet special, breakfast before/after present unwrapping, religious services, or for when visiting friends/family stumble down from guest rooms first thing in the morning.  This is my favorite creation because it's easy to make in quantity, can be made in advance (and lasts well for several days), and is super easy to serve individually to each family member/guest as they want it. A loaf of this bread is just as good frozen and thawed for use later, too.

This is a hearty meal-in-a-slice bread, only lightly sweet and fruity, and is at its perfection when toasted and generously buttered.

While this bread recipe calls for water I often use brewed Yerba Mate in place of half of the water. I encourage even folks who are not fond of Yerba Mate to give it a try in bread. It adds a depth of flavor to bread that is hard to define but which is quickly missed once tasted. It also adds a nice caffeine pick-me-up to the morning toast.

My favorite mate to brew for baking is Guayaki's Traditional blend.  It brews up strong flavored and smooth, perfect for a recipe like this.

Happy holidays from my household to yours!

Kevin's Holiday Bread

Recipe By : Kevin McKay
Prep Time: 2 hrs 15 mins | Cook Time: 40 mins | Makes: 2 loaves | Difficulty: Easy

Pour into bottom of mixer bowl w/ dough hook attached:
2 Teaspoons Salt
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon

Dissolve together, let sit 5 minutes to proof the yeast, then add to mixer bowl:
2 Cups Water, warm (not hot)
4 Tablespoons Honey (or raw sugar)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast

Add dry ingredients in this order, w/motor running on medium-low:
1/3 Cup Zoom (see notes)
1/3 Cup 10-Grain Hot Cereal (or similar, see notes)
2 Tbsp Chia Seeds
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
2 Cups chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.)
3 Rounded Tbsp Vital Gluten Flour (optional)
5 1/3 Cups (+/-) Whole Wheat Flour (substitute up to 3 cups of unbleached white flour if you want a lighter loaf)

--- Preparation & Baking---
  • Add additional flour or water (very little at a time) to achieve a barely-tacky dough that forms a cohesive ball around the dough hook. 
  • Continue to knead with dough hook on low speed (check mixer instructions for bread kneading setting) for 10 minutes (I start a 10-minute timer as I begin to feed the dry ingredients into the mixer). 
  • Cover with towel, still in mixer, and let rise for 60 minutes. Dough should have doubled in size. 
  • Turn dough out on work surface and punch dough down by hand. 
  • Split dough in half, shape into loaves, and transfer to two greased loaf pans.
  • Let rise for 60 minutes in a warm location. 
  • Place the loaves in the oven and then turn it up to 350° and set a timer for 35 minutes baking time (interior loaf temperature should be 200° when done, if checked by thermometer). 
  • Transfer to racks to cool.

This recipe is designed* for a Kitchenaid Professional 600 series or Cuisinart SM-55/SM-70 (or similar capacity). The larger motor in this model will handle a two-loaf whole grain dough. For smaller models of mixers, including the Artisan or Classic series Kitchenaids, I strongly recommend halving this recipe and doing one loaf at a time to avoid burning out the motor.

This recipe makes two standard-size bread loaves. I use Lodge Cast Iron bread pans (10-1/4-Inch by 6-1/8-Inch by 2-7/8-Inch).

Gluten Flour is a helpful addition for a good whole grain loaf of bread. It's not cheap (as flour goes) but without it you get a dense low-rising loaf. You can buy it at stores, often in bulk bins, or bagged at any grocery store that has (for example) Bob's Red Mill line of flours and grains.

Trader Joe's makes an Orange Flavored Dried Cranberries and a Dried Pitted Tart Montmorency Cherries, which I often use for this recipe.

Zoom is a Krusteaz brand of wheat flake hot cereal I use to give added whole-grain texture to my bread. Anything similar can be substituted. A couple of biscuits (crushed) of Shredded Wheat makes a great alternative as do quick-cooking oats.

Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain hot cereal is the one I use to give added whole-grain texture to my bread. Anything similar can be substituted.

Despite what some sources say, making bread isn't rocket science. I scoop my cups of flour (I don't weigh) and I don't worry about precision. It's easy to add a little more flour or little more liquid if I think the dough looks a little dry or wet. The bottom line is that you should end up with a dough that is firm enough to work with (shaping into a loaf) but moist enough to be just barely tacky to the touch. Anything even close to that is likely going to work just fine.

*For a bread machine: cut this recipe in half and add the ingredients to the pan in the order specified by your bread machine guide (usually wet, then dry). No further adjustments to the recipe should be needed.

*To do entirely by hand: Add ingredients in the same order and mix by hand, then knead by hand on a floured board for the full seven to ten minutes. Just substitute elbow grease everywhere you see the word mixer. ;-)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ok, you're way too busy anyway, Kevin

Friday may be dark and wet this morning, but he's still everybody's favorite.  Any other day of the week coming in this drab and damp would be scolded for dripping all over our floors, but not Friday.  We'll gladly invite him in, wet and all. "Just toss your wet togs over there, here's a nice warm mug of coffee (or mate) for you.  Come on in, stay and tell us stories of the day."

The weather has also warmed, just enough to no longer be really cold.  Not that we know intense cold here in the mild climes of the Pacific Northwest, but we do know cold.  Any time temperatures hover around the freezing mark, it's cold. Some recent mornings I was put in mind of A. A. Milnes's poem Furry Bear, which begins:

If I were a bear,
   And a big bear too,
I shouldn’t much care
   If it froze or snew;
I shouldn’t much mind
   If it snowed or friz—
I’d be all fur-lined
   With a coat like his!

We suffice with layers of clothing that can be donned or shed as the office HVAC system swings from too warm to too cold across its many-seasoned daily schedule, with special waterproof layers for stepping out between buildings on campus.

Speaking of campus, this is the last weekday before the campus closes up for the week of Christmas. This one-week rolling up of the sidewalks and rolling down of the shutters is becoming an annual tradition, a way to scavenge energy and operational savings to apply to the endlessly-on-rolling budget cuts. So next week will be a week off.

I had big plans for work-related things I would get caught up on with a whole week off (no meetings, no new issues to address!) but it has been a tough several months and I think I need a week unplugged to try and catch up/replenish some internal reserve.

I asked Siri (the voice-command system on my iPhone) to schedule a meeting for a particular time yesterday and she responded by pointing out this would conflict with five other meetings and asking if I really wanted her to go ahead and schedule it. When I said no she responded with:

Point taken. Next week will (mostly) be unplugged from campus-related stuff.

Today's commute music was complex. More complex than I would have called up for a Friday morning, but the iPod's shuffle algorithm had a different opinion about that, I guess.

The complete playlist:
  • Ablaye Cissko & Volker Goetze: Faro
  • Explosions In The Sky: Last Known Surroundings
  • Michael Torke Bank: Overnight Mail: Standard

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Facebook Finito.

I'm pulling out of Facebook.  If not completely, than at least all but.  This has nothing to do with the many friends, family, and colleagues I have linked virtual arms with there (good and worthy souls, one and all).  It has everything to do with Facebook itself and, to a lessor extent, with what I will call the Facebook effect.

I'll be direct: as a service, Facebook sucks. They have misused user data, repeatedly lied about their privacy policies and practices, changed their privacy settings so frequently that nobody could ever hope to keep up with them (including flipping default settings back and forth regularly), and finally been placed under audit for the next twenty years because of it. That should be bad enough for me or anyone else. 

I mean, I'm the first to admit that in our country there is no such thing as user privacy and I know full well that our personal data isn't owned by us by rather by any corporation that can collect it.  That is the state of privacy laws (or the lack thereof) here in the US. Facebook is merely one more such owner of our personal data. However, their track record is decidedly worse than most. They simply cannot be trusted to even correctly inform their users what they are or are not doing with user data. For me, that is finally unacceptable. They can keep (will keep, let's face it) such data as they already have from me, but no more will be coming their way.

Their user interface is also a complete mess. There is crap all over the place, most of it nothing I want or even care about. Does anybody really understand which posts show up in the news stream anymore, or how that algorithm works? If you do, that's just this week's algorithm, so don't get used to it.

SPAM, viruses, "games," and targeted ads (which seldom seem in any way -that I can fathom- related to me or my account activity) clutter every spare inch of the visual landscape. Blech. Whose account got hijacked this week? Don't follow any of their links!

The mobile apps written by Facebook for Facebook are even worse. Half the time links don't take you to the comments or photos associated with them, posts don't reliably work, notifications [I must have fat-fingered that word because my iPad just auto-corrected it to "orifice tons", which is rather prescient of it in this context] are flaky and inconsistent, and the whole app is likely to crash at any time. Also, there are lots of features that it doesn't support on mobile platforms. Some 3rd party mobile apps for Facebook are arguably better, but they seem to have regular trouble with shifting APIs and each one of them gets a different news stream view somehow, none of them complete.

Finally, there is the Facebook effect. The compulsion to over-share and to over-check. The growing sense of dependence on external validation, posting for the comments. Deny it if you dare, for it is a large part of why folks keep sharing away. I know users with many hundreds of "friends" who will never leave this sheltered circle of instant and constant validation. This is an effect.

I have played with this social network for roughly as many years as it has been around, and have found I am no more immune to this effect than the next person. I have seen it change the nature of what I post over time, and have decided that isn't me. It doesn't feel healthy. It feels like narcissism, in fact. [Merrium-Webster uses as an example under their definition of narcissism: "in his narcissism, he just assumed that everyone else wanted to hear the tiny details of his day."] So I am pulling out of the FB posting game for this reason, too.

That itch can also be scratched over at Google+ (if it ever achieves a critical mass of users), and without all the SPAM and visual distractions. More control over postings, better photo album tools and options, and a delightfully clean view of the content you came to see. Of course, Google also sells your user data in the aggregate to corporate marketing arms, but at least such privacy options as they provide don't switch around every few weeks.  I'll keep a toe in that pond to see if it matures and grows.  And in Twitter, too, which remains the best of the social network/information tools, so far.  You can follow me there (@kevmckonline), if you care to.

My Facebook association, though, will now languish.  I will check occasionally, but otherwise, in the words of the very quotable Douglas Adams, "So long, and thanks for all the fish."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A good rain

Tuesday, that hang-over of Monday weekdays, whipped in early this morning with a very definite presence of its own, all mighty winds and driven rain. There was water standing over the roadway in places where I have never seen it standing before, and the force of the rain hitting the canvas roof over my little car was palpable, even when standing still before an uncooperative traffic light. I suspect that walking to and from main campus later this morning, even with my rain jacket and silly looking wide-brimmed hat, I will get very wet.

And yet, if I can be allowed the liberty of starting a sentence with a conjunction (a bridge between related thoughts), I do love a good rain. Rain that comes down like this speaks of external forces larger than us, drives a primal disquiet (literally) before it that washes over me as surely as the literal rain drops, and pushes me toward small dry spaces. This kind of work/excursion-ending rain storm calls us to a chair, a small circle of light in a dry protected space, and our thoughts, or a good book, or... .  Or a desk in an office, with a small task lamp and the glow of an iPad's screen.

Great poets like Mother Goose have been inspired by a good rain:

It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man’s snoring.
He got into bed 
And bumped his head 
And couldn’t get up in the morning.

Or, there is always the ever-romantic Shelley:

The fitful alternations of the rain,
When the chill wind, languid as with pain
Of its own heavy moisture, here and there
Drives through the gray and beamless atmosphere.

Songwriter Bruce Cockburn, in one of his songs, uses a richly visual description of cloud cover that frequently comes to mind: "The clouds were squatting so close over us tonight you'd think they were trying to hatch us."

One poem about rain that really captures the nuanced layers of a good wetting storm, even though it comes from a summer, rather than fall-into-winter context, is Darkling Summer, Ominous Dusk, Rumorous Rain by Delmore Schwartz.  It begins:
A tattering of rain and then the reign
Of pour and pouring-down and down,
Where in the westward gathered the filming gown
Of grey and clouding weakness, and, in the mane
Of the light’s glory and the day’s splendor, gold and vain,
Vivid, more and more vivid, scarlet, lucid and more luminous,
Then came a splatter, a prattle, a blowing rain!
And soon the hour was musical and rumorous:
A softness of a dripping lipped the isolated houses,
A gaunt grey somber softness licked the glass of hours.

In the second stanza Schwartz turns the phrase, "Hardly an atom of silence amid the roar."  That was what it sounded like on today's drive in, with the rain slapping the canvas soft top like shot pellets, the non-stop slush of water forceably cleaved by tires, the wipers snicking back and forth, and the rattling grunt of a diesel truck's engine somewhere behind my rooster tail of sprayed water.

Music from a severely spare, grey, wet landscape seemed appropriate, so Sigur Rós, cranked up loud enough to be heard above the rain-induced roar of commuting noises, kept me company for the drive in. Specifically, tracks from their wonderful new live concert release, Inni

Good stuff.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We need to be challenged

Thursday, cold and damp. Maybe a light dusting of non-sticking snow over the low lands tonight, if the forecasters are correct. I suppose that also means an early wake up tomorrow morning, just in case conditions are worse than predicted and college open/delay/closure decisions need to be made.

Thursday's are good days for poetry. Poetry can serve as that little extra spark of creative energy necessary to push through the last of a very dense (in both schedule and intensity) week. So I reach for my copy of the Poetry Foundation, pulling it down off the bookmark shelf of my Web browser, to see what I can find.

What will it be? A seasonal poem, something topical, or just a serendipitous discovery not tethered to any taxonomic association I would pre-generate? The latter, as it turns out. An essay, not a poem, on race in America, today's featured offering on the Poetry Foundation Web site.

Writing Like a White Guy, by Jaswinder Bolina is a calmly powerful article on the challenges we face even acknowledging and talking about race, about what makes this challenge different in America in particular, and the many subtle ways being Other affects every aspect of daily life. Bolina eloquently address the fallacy of being "color blind" as well as the ways earnest intelligent people showcase their own biases in their conversations. If you read only one essay, article, paper, or book this year on the subject of race in America, I encourage you to make it this one. Let me tempt you with a short excerpt:

If the racial Other aspires to equal footing on the socioeconomic playing field, he is tasked with forcing his way out of the categorical cul-de-sac that his name and appearance otherwise squeeze him into. We call the process by which he does this “assimilation.” Though the Latin root here—shared with the other word “similar”—implies that the process is one of becoming absorbed or incorporated, it is a process that relies first on the negation of one identity in order to adopt another. In this sense, assimilation is a destructive rather than constructive process. It isn’t a come-as-you-are proposition, a simple matter of being integrated into the American milieu because there exists a standing invitation to do so.

Our cultural myth versus the realities of living in our cultural "melting pot." This stuff isn't easy, no matter how much everyone wishes it could be. Bruce Cockburn, in his song Maybe The Poet, observes:

Maybe the poet is gay
But he'll be heard anyway

Maybe the poet is drugged
But he won't stay under the rug

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Maybe he's a woman
Who can touch you where you're human

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

We do need the honest author, the challenging poet, the writers and speakers who can take us outside of our carefully crafted and earnestly guarded Usual, Normal, Comfortable, Self.

So here I am on a cold bleak Thursday morning, still working through a densely packed work week, seeking a little creative stimulation in the form of poetry and, instead, finding it in an essay. We live in a rich, if complicated, world these days. I hope you are taking full advantage of the wonderful resources at your finger tips.

As I finish up this post this morning Marco Benevento is playing (Chalaza) on the iPod. Almost everything on this album challenges me as a listener. The musicians seem to run all over the place, maybe in the spirit of Ornette Coleman in the late fifties, early sixties. It certainly isn't a tune, and it isn't in any way melodic or fathomably structured. It could be warm up exercises for a virtuoso xylophonist. And yet... it remains compelling. This music lives within a tension between what I appreciate musically and what I enjoy listening to.

Today's playlist pulled two tracks from my past, as disconnected from each other as two tracks could possibly be. The latter track was only half finished by the time I pulled into a parking spot on campus. In its original (vinyl) format, this track was the entirety of the second side of an LP (long play, for those who only know albums as historical objects) record.

- Heart: Crazy On You
- Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells, Side 2

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It would be easy to laugh, but don't...

Thursday is sitting in for Friday again this week, playing all the tunes from the repertoire of the Popular Dude. A four day week comes to a close and a three day weekend awaits.

Veteran's Day holiday is tomorrow, when much of the nation will pretend it gives a rip about our veterans while simultaneously begrudging them the support and medical care so many of our returning soldiers need. Stars and stripes will wave across a hundred retail sales flyers as Americans show their patriotic appreciation at the mall (lower case, as in shopping not National). Someday, I hope, we will honor our veterans, those who return and those who don't, with the things they need rather than one-day-of-the-year gratuitous flag waving.

Speaking of gratuitous flag waving, this week saw yet another episode of that most-painful reality/comedy show, the Republican Presidential Debates. Gail Collins has an insightful and witty piece in the NYT titled, Wait! Don't Tell Me, which pretty well sums up the current state of choice for Republican voters. It would be so easy to laugh at this comedic collection of candidates, to dismiss them all as non-starters, but don't. Because unless something really unexpected happens in the very near future, one of these folks will be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, and could very easily be our next President.

I remember a bus ride downtown one evening. A colleague and I were heading to an evening Russian language class down in Pioneer Square, Seattle, and he was worried about a particular Republican presidential candidate who clearly wasn't the brightest light on the stage but who seemed to be gaining in popularity. At the time, I dismissed those concerns. "Look, when it really comes time to vote, nobody is really going to elect someone who can't string an intelligent sentence together to be the leader of our nation." Needless to say, his concerns were well placed, I was dead wrong.

I hadn't yet come to terms with the politics of hatred. Unleashed and fanned by political operatives like Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and a few other Neocons, this was a brand of politics that stops at nothing to fan the flames of hatred and unrest. The goal isn't to build a party of supporters, but to create an un-party of anti-supporters. It plays on American voter apathy by recognizing that it doesn't take a majority of the electorate to throw an election. If you can stir enough folks up with lies and misinformation, get them good and unreasonably angry at the opposing candidate(s), they will turn out in force to vote for nearly anything that is against. Unless voter turnout is very high, this wave of hatred voting is often enough to swing elections.

The appalling beauty of this strategy is that it is so easy to pull off. It doesn't take critical thinking skills to understand simple one-phrase, emotional appeals. In fact, the more emotional the phrase the less important critical examination becomes to most. That candidate will tear apart your families with their pro-gay agenda, and that candidate wants to kill babies, and that one over there wants your every-last-penny to fund huge Socialist welfare programs for lazy un-working bums. Combined with the kind of effortless reach today's media and social media tools provide, you have a formula that would make Joseph Goebbels weep with envy.

Today's fanned hatred is mostly directed at our current President, and let's be totally honest here: it is racial at its core. We may like to think we have made significant progress in dealing with racism in this country in recent years, but the visceral power of hate-driven politics quickly strips that charade clear and exposes the raw broken skin underneath the costume. Listen to voters who have been fanned into voting against Obama and you will hear intense hatred, all too readily channeled because it was all too already-there. The depth of passion these voices emit is far in excess of any of the issues being debated. Obama is a black man, he is smart, articulate, wealthy, and attractive, and he holds the highest office in our country. For many, that is more than they can accept. They are seething for a reason to get him out of office, and any false-truth will do.

How do we know this? Because Obama's policies, the few he has been able to drive through an intentionally and strategically obstructionist Congress, have made some small positive difference (the scale of the economic disaster he inherited being so large to begin with) in lives of most of the same folks who hate him so passionately. There is a total disconnect between the contrived issues cited as reasons for wanting Obama out of office and the depth of hatred with which those flimsy excuses are spat out.

Let us also recognize that this hatred-driven politics is like unleashed fiendfyre, from the last of the Harry Potter stories (don't pull that face, you know you read it, too!). Terrifying, all-consuming, indiscriminate, and uncontrollable, it destroys everything it can reach. From the Potter story, "...the flames chased them as though they were alive, sentient, intent upon killing them. Now the fire was mutating, forming a gigantic pack of fiery beasts: Flaming serpents, chimaeras, and dragons rose and fell and rose again, and the detritus of centuries on which they were feeding was thrown up in the air into their fanged mouths, tossed high on clawed feet, before being consumed by the inferno." Ask them in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Ireland, Palestine, Israel, and much of Africa what the politics of hatred begets, and you may hear a response that sounds a lot like the above quote.

Ok, we haven't gotten to that point, yet, but we are playing with fire and we delude ourselves if we think we are in any way controlling it. Hatred is the low-hanging fruit of emotion. It is easy enough to use hated, channeled through carefully crafted propaganda, to drive enough voters to the polls to vote for anything-that-isn't-that-guy. The cherry on top of this toxic sunday is that this kind of divisive rhetoric disenfranchises larger blocks of other voters, who will then stay away from the polls and politics. That combination of hatred and apathy could easily result in one of the clowns currently participating in the Republican debates becoming our next President.

It would be easy to laugh at these so-called candidates on stage, forgetting their lines, misquoting history, and making statements that would get them laughed out of a high school classroom. One might even be willing to laugh off (with nagging discomfort) the fact that the largely self-selecting audience for these shows applauds when it should cringe and boos when it should applaud. We would do so, however, at our peril. One of these folks could very easily be our next president, and just look around at the sheer scale of the consequences from the last time that happened.

On a delightfully different note, today's short commute soundtrack was very diverse and rich:

- Ludovico Einaudi: Divenire
- David Ford: Train
- Gary McFarland & G : Mizrab
- Sam Baker: Slots
- Ron Carter: Es Woll Uns Gott Genadig Sein

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday was late this morning

Monday arrived an hour late this morning, still making adjustments for the falling back of clocks. Oh, I woke at the usual (by the movement of the planet around the sun) hour, but since my various household clocks no longer reflect the same names for the hours of the day we had agreed upon for the last many months, my body got to rest-in (it can't be called sleeping-in if you're not really sleeping, can it?) for another hour. Frankly, it's nice to have the hours correctly labeled again. DST is a farce my body never really believes in, though it does adapt.

So this Monday follows the second scheduled national jet-lag date of the year, but looks all the kinder for letting me rest-in. This weekend saw some beautiful sunshine, some sad football (from the home teams' perspective), a belated birthday dinner, and a car show.

Of my own accord, I am decidedly not a crowds person. But when the opportunity popped up to take my oldest grandson to the Seattle Car Show along with my son and his partner, it was too good to pass up. Kelvin and I drove down to Tristan and Josh's place, and they drove us all to Pacific Place where we hopped the lite rail down to the ball stadiums. The short train ride was a first for the grandson, and having a ticket to take home as proof of his journey was a highlight of the day, I think. It was great of Tristan and Josh to allow us to tag along for the day, and a lot of fun. Many photos Face-booked/Google-plussed over the course of the day. The weather was so good that I was able to drop the top for the grandson on the return drive, at his request.

Speaking of drop-tops, I saw a few other two-seat convertibles at the car show, to compare against my own humble Miata. A couple of them cost more than a fleet of Miatas would cost. Of course, they also had insanely large engines and more leather detailing than mother nature usually spends on a heard of buffalo, so it was totally apples to dragon-fruit to even compare them.

This morning's commute, back in my own modest ride, was given over to Pink Martini's new release, 1969. The album is recorded with the legendary Japanese recording artist Saori Yuki on vocals, and pretty much all the lyrics are in Japanese (including a fun rendition of Puff The Magic Dragon). The album is amazingly beautiful, and is quickly becoming my favorite Pink Martini album, which is saying a lot.

The full playlist:
- Is That All There Is?
- Yoake No Scat (Melody for a New Dawn)
- Wasuretainoni ( I Want to Forget You, But...)
- LI Janaino Shiawase (It's Okay If I'm Happy)
- Kisetsu No Ashioto (Footstps of the Seasons)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Return from the armchair

Well, that was fun! After feeling somewhat off-camber-wobbly most of last week, whatever it was that was chasing me caught up with me this weekend. So I spent it flat on my sit-upon-icus doing little more strenuous than flicking the pages of a digital book or two or three. Same for yesterday, until I started to emerge from the fog of the virus late in the afternoon. I'm supposed to be at a regional transportation planning breakfast thingy this morning, but frankly feel pretty happy just to have made it into the office instead. I'm pretty certain that by this time I'm on the down-side of contagious, but I can use today's schedule to largely self-isolate myself while catching up.

Today is Tuesday, according to my smart phone, following a weekend I didn't really have, and Tuesday is going to pretend it is Monday. Tomorrow will be Wednesday, if the usual patterns hold true, and this week is going to feel like it is moving too quickly to keep pace with. However, a briskly paced week is much better than the ennui of sitting around all day for days on end!

Yesterday was also Halloween. Melissa had papers to grade and I wanted to watch football, so we fell back on a treat-distribution solution we used the first year we moved into this house (when we unexpectedly had to go out for the whole of Halloween evening but didn't want the new neighborhood to think we were Grinches): Lit a large (life size) wax pumpkin candle at the foot of the front stairs, stuck an enormous Tupperware bowl full of the usual bite-sized candy bars at the top of the stairs, with a large sign that read, "Happy Halloween, please help yourself!" As near as we could tell we had two, maybe three, visitors (all polite, very little candy was taken) all evening (unless the dog-bells weren't paying sufficient attention to monitoring the defensive perimeters). That's pretty much been the body count most Halloweens here, despite this being a stereotypical suburban culdesac-intense neighborhood, with lots of kids of various ages.

One silver lining of being chair-bound for several days is the forced opportunity to catch up on reading. I had three books in play. One was work-related (Switch, and excellent book on change management), one was for a year-long workshop I am taking through Leadership Snohomish County (Positive Leadership, Adam Seaman), and like much of the Western World, I'm reading the biography of Stephen P. Jobs. While all three are interesting, the latter was the most absorbing. The story and characters are compelling, though I can't say I am finding the writing all that great. Good enough to keep the story flowing, but in better hands (or maybe with more time?) I think it could be even more readable. The research is good, though, and the author uses it to weave a multifaceted portrait of what was clearly a very complicated personality.

Today's playlist was similarly complicated and contradictory, and ended with Mark Isham's very electric tribute to the electrified works of Miles Davis' latter years: Internet. It would make a good soundtrack to the Jobs biography, come to think of it.

On the subject of music, Pink Martini has just popped up on the iPod (Ninna nanna), which has reminded me that Pink Martini has two new albums scheduled for release in the US today. Why two new albums released at the same time, I have no idea. Still, what a treat!

The full playlist:
- Fountains Of Wayne: Amity Gardens
- Leonard Cohen: Democracy (Live)
- Lewis & Clark Soundtrack: Heart of the Heartland (The Death of Meriwether Lewis)
- Moby: Shot In the Back of the Head
- Mark Isham: Internet

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The orange and yellow season

Friday finds fall in full visual force. The tree leaves are still mostly clustered around, and tenuously clinging to, their branches. They simply couldn't be more colorful, as the ebbing chlorophyll gives way to the residual reds, oranges, and yellows. Afternoon sun rays limn these arboreal spectacles, a visual consolation for the rapidly shortening days and dropping temperatures.
Of course, none of this is visible during my morning commute in, when dark and cold predominate. Daylight doesn't arrive until well after I have arrived at the office and dug into work. But the afternoon drive home has been a top-down, (nippy) blue-sky, trees-on-fire delight most of this week.
Trees are not the only orange/yellow popping out at this time of season, of course. Carl Sandburg calls it SPOT on in his poem Theme In Yellow:
I SPOT the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
This morning's drive in had another one of those wonderful soundtrack mixes that I wouldn't have thought to combine, but which played so well together. There is something about Madeleine Payroux's Lady Day-esque vocalization that fits a cold October morning, and any playlist that features the Guggenheim Grotto (really, if you haven't yet discovered this group you really should!) is bound to be a good one.
The full playlist:
- Madeleine Payroux: To Love You All Over Again
- Bruce Cockburn: Different When It Comes to You
- The Guggenheim Grotto: Just Not Just
- Bob Dylan: Everything is Broken
- The Fray: Enough For Now

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I prefer tweeting, frankly

It's Wednesday, which seems to be posting day in my new less-frequent posting schedule. The seasonally usual dark and cold commute is now complete for the morning. The forecast calls for something-that-might-be-cloudy-to-sunny and uses the standard sun-with-clouds icon we see so often here in the PNW.

If you have followed these finite rumblings with even vague regularity you will know I loves me some technology. Whether waxing fondly reminiscent about an old sea-green Hermes typewriter or an iPad app, I admire technology that is both elegant and functionally precise, and especially technology that really does something for me or extends my capabilities. Three current examples of apps (two for the iPhone and one for the iPad) that fit this criteria:

- Twittelater Nue (a Twitter client for the iPhone so beautiful to use it makes me want to check in)
- Camera+ (produces stunning camera results from the iPhone camera)
- Zite (a brilliant customized magazine, almost magical)

However, applying this same enthusiasm to social media, the results are decidedly mixed for me. Twitter has become very useful and powerful for me, Google+ shows promise but is wait-and-see still, and Facebook has become something I increasingly dislike using.

Facebook is starting to feel like an old skin, itching to be sloughed off. It is crowded with advertising, hoaxes, games, inane "surveys," and promotions. It's interface and privacy policies (an oxymoron if ever there was one) shift constantly, which makes navigating Facebook like watching a stop-motion origami-in-progress video. The new Facebook apps for iPad and iPhone are crowded, buggy, and seemingly capricious in the information they present. Both constantly suggest folks I don't know as people I should "friend," and both give this useless and intrusive behavior top billing on finite screen real estate.

But my itch to ditch Facebook is about more than all of this (sufficient as all this should be). You know how, in what is clearly becoming its sunset era, personal email is now more about SPAM and an endless stream of forwarded jokes, LOL-cats, contrived inspirational stories, pass-this-on-to-ten-friends-and-make-their-day, and ridiculous political fictions? Facebook feels like it is going much the same way. The quality of the posts are getting buried under the quantity of effortless shares and likes.

Oh, I love the photos of friends and family, and the posts that keep me connected with folks I don't get to see everyday. And I like the thought-provoking articles that occasionally get shared out, mostly by colleagues, and especially the resulting discussion thread that grows in the comments. Not as good as a good discussion over a cup of coffee (or gourd of mate!), but in a crowded and busy world, these online discussions often serve as a useful stand in.

To use an old expression, the signal-to-noise ratio is growing so poor that I frequently miss a post I would enjoy seeing for all the other crap Facebook tosses at me. Facebook allows us, too easily, (to quote Douglas Adams) to attack, "...everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it [is] often difficult to tell which [is] which."

I've been playing with Google+, and like how clean it is compared to Facebook. No ads, no games, no interface crowded with shifting shite. Of course, it is still largely bereft of friends and family at present, too. Hopefully that will change, because I do think it represents a cleaner space for staying connected than does Facebook. I also think it provides much better tools for sharing and managing photos, with it's link to Picassa (now called, simply, Google photos). Upstart potential, to be sure.

Of the big three social media tools, though, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to Twitter (and you can follow me there at kevmckonline). When I first experimented with Twitter I didn't really "get" it. You don't, really, until you start following a bunch of individuals and organizations. I follow the local Dept. of Transportation tweets and so I see traffic conditions and alerts for the area, I follow the local newspaper and news station tweets, so I get a lot of my news there, too. I also follow several micro-local twitter feeds, so I get the kind of community news that is so hard to find otherwise. I follow organizations I care about, bloggers I want to keep tabs on, and the friends and family I know who are on Twitter. Mark Bittman, James Lileks, Bloomberg News, Pink Martini, Sigure Rós, The Economist, TUAW, Stephen Fry, Lynnwood Today, Edmonds Patch, Advisory Bored, Guayaki, SoundersFC, Barack Obama, and many others, pass daily through my Twitter feed.

It all comes to me in an elegant stream that I can scan quickly, and click on specific tweets to read more or follow links to stories and articles. Photos are inline (in the better Twitter apps), unless someone is still using Flicker (in which case they require extra steps to view regardless of the social network the come through). Posts have to be kept to a tight 140 characters, which keeps status updates focused and to the point (you want to rant, set up a blog and link to it!).

So far, so good, but there is one more less-intuitive value to Twitter. Twitter doesn't support comments. You can direct message someone, you can publicly reply (which becomes its own tweet, separate in the timeline), and you can quote/retweet someone. If you post specifically to garner feedback or validation from others, though, Twitter will seem a bit lacking. That is a very good thing, in my opinion.

So, increasingly you will find me on Twitter, and I do hope more of my friends and family will find their way there as well. Because I check Facebook with less and less patience or frequency. I keep a hopeful eye on Google+, waiting for some critical participation mass to form, too. Twitter I follow regularly.

Speaking of following, this morning I followed very little traffic in, and the following tunes followed one after the other, in this particular order:
- Train: Give Myself To You
- The Guggenheim Grotto: Philosophia
- Pink Martini: Hang On Little Tomato
- Bruce Cockburn: If I Had a Rocket Launcher (Live)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday's homme brúlant

Wednesday, dark, low 50's, but the stars are out, so I left the top down for the drive in. There has been a very bright star in the Western sky the last several mornings, often sitting just to the left of the moon. I think it's Jupiter, if I'm reading my iPhone star-gazing app correctly. Whoever he is, he sits bright and fixed, a stellar landmark for the season, quite unlike the vacillating nature of Wednesday.

This Wednesday is a particularly true midpoint for my week. Last day camped out in my nearly-empty office (carpet is being replaced, having finally deteriorated to the point something had to be done, so only a couple of empty pieced of furniture are still in the office until the carpet remnant arrives tomorrow) before spending the last two days of the week at a state council meeting of business officers. So today brings the frantic get-stuff-wrapped-up-as-best-as-possible, the cram-three-days-worth-of-meetings-into-one, and the sense of walking away from the office/campus at the end of the day, a not-quite-weekend feeling. Not at all the certainty of the brightly burning planetary landmark that floats unblinkingly above me on my way in this morning.

The music this morning, only two long tracks which exactly covered my trip from driveway to campus parking spot, was spookily well-keyed to a drive that featured an unimpeded view of the stars. First came the group Explosions In The Sky, and then came Michael Occhipinti with a jazz rendition of the Bruce Cockburn tune Homme Brúlant (Burning Man). Either or both could describe Jupiter and his many bright companions this morning.

The iPod knows, man, the iPod knows.

The full playlist:
- Explosions In The Sky: First Breath After Coma
- Michael Occhipinti: Homme Brúlant

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Would you believe...

Wednesday morning shone bright and sparkly as I drove into the office, top down, chirping birds singing me along my route.

As the audience looks around at the dark, wet, defoliating and decaying reality of this morning, queue the voice of Don Adams as Agent 86, "Would you believe... there are three golden suns lurking just over those hills, waiting to spring out and snare you in their glare?" Silent disbelief. "Well, would you believe a single sun is going to rise any moment now?" More silent disbelief. "How about a single head light reflection from a car's rear-view mirror?" General nods of agreement. As Agent 86 was also want to say: "Missed it by that much!"

And so flows Wednesday, that Mr. Malleable of weekdays. Could have been great, could have been lousy, but missed both by just that much. Instead, it is a blank slate upon which something in-between can be made. Sure, we can really say the same about any day, with our self-made-man/woman ethos (and to the extent circumstances allow, nudge-wink) but I still maintain Wednesday's mid-week stance lends it an extra dose of at least perceived malleability.

The iPod, on both last night's trip home and this morning's trip in, was pulling out the stops in it's mastery of eclecticism, and all of it good stuff. From the first faintly classical violin notes of Sweet Talkin' Woman to the discordant ring of the telephone in All Hallow's Eve, it was a wonderful mix of tunes. John Denver had just fired up as I pulled in, so I packed him into the office with me to finish his song.

I have no idea how John Denver's music may be trending these days, I suspect not very much. I don't care, though, because Annie's Song has to be one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. Both the music and the lyric are perfect, and the imagery is sweeping. Love is a filling up of the senses. I know, as I count myself among the most fortunate of souls in this regard.
You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like a mountain in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Let lay down beside you
Let me always be with you
Come let me love you
Come love me again

Today's full playlist, make of it what you will:

- ELO: Sweet Talkin' Woman
- The Format: On your porch
- Bruce Cockburn: Burn
- Jeff Johnson: All Hallows' Eve
- John Denver: Annie's Song

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Music, October Poem

Monday came in this morning acting his stereotypical role in shades of melodrama: dark, wet, and cold. The home furnace, which isn't yet configured to keep the house particularly warm (me still not having fully accepted the change in seasons), has kicked in the last few mornings of it's own accord. This morning I was glad for it's company as I stumbled from bed to bathroom for my morning ablutions. I guess that means I should do all those getting-ready-for-winter things. Pull in hoses, check seals, last prunings, check the furnace, and reconfigure the thermostat for the new season.

Easing out of the driveway and into my morning commute I had the roads to myself for the first two or three miles. No doubt the Monday effect had kicked in and many folks were taking a bit longer than usual to shift from the warmth of bed into the cold of the morning routine.

The first song the iPod eased into was a perfect match to the morning. Light, folky, authentic music, like it was being played in the room on a single guitar. Fionn Regan's lyric on Noah (Ghost In a Sheet) was just as beautiful and appropriate:
There's nobody out there, the rain is just starting to fall
You get some reset now you'll worry yourself thin
I hope that happiness finds it's way to your little house

While you were sleeping I, I played a ghost in a sheet
When our frames collide there's nothing left to be
The skeletal wings of birds I'll take the stairs
The ghosts of tiny animals with the tiniest of feet
The forecast is going down a storm
The third track from this morning's playlist is also an October memory piece for me, fitting for this October morning. It is an album of instrumental covers of songs written by women. I rarely buy covers albums of this sort, but this one had a chance to get to me, work on me, convince me. It was late October just after the 9/11 attacks, and a colleague (at that time, he held the position I now have) and I had just flown into Minneapolis for a conference. If you remember back to that time, travel was way down and the conference was pretty much a bust.

We gave our presentation to the handful of other participants who had made it, and then couldn't get an earlier flight back so ended up with two full days to kill in Minneapolis in late October. We'd ask folks what there was to do and everyone said, with a certain amount of pride, "Have you been to the Mall of America?" No, we aren't the shopping sort, thanks. After that, it was head scratching and off-beat second suggestions like ice fishing (though the couple that suggested that also noted it wasn't really the right time of year).

Finally, we gave in and took a bus over to the Mall of America where we shuffled from one Caribou Coffee shop to another (they had several around the mall), eventually able to give other visitors directions to most stores. We spent the better part of those two days there, for want of anything better to do.

In one shop of curiosities this album was playing. After several tracks I found myself wondering who the musician was and liking the renditions of the songs I knew. Of course, they sold the CD, so I bought a copy. Turns out my colleague had done the same, for much the same reason.

The whole playlist, really, is October music. In fact, the four song titles, arranged just as they came up and with very little punctuation editing, could be an October poem:
Noah (ghost in a sheet),
Quiet now.
Only heart.
The full (and now redundant) playlist:
- Fionn Regan: Noah (Ghost In a Sheet)
- Bob James Trio: Quiet Now
- Brian Withycombe: Why
- John Mayer: Only Heart

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Candy Man's Gone

It is Thursday, that trifler of weekday-weary emotions. Can't you just taste the weekend coming? Well, it's not here yet! Lure, hook, whack!

This blog started as a tracking of commute music playlists suggested by the random shuffle algorithm of an older 80GB iPod (the scroll-wheel sort that now is called an "iPod Classic"). The man behind the magic of that device passed away yesterday, and the Web is crowded with reaction. I first heard (read) the news via Twitter (Twittilator Pro app purchased through the iTunes App Store) on my iPhone 4. Like the address of the Company he founded, there is a certain infinite loop in that circumstance.

So, like many many others, a reflection on the impact one man has had on my life.

Back in a previous life, when I worked for a large commercial bank, Apple introduced the first Macintosh computer. The bank I worked for decided that it was time to put a desktop computer on every employee's desk and that the Macintosh would be that computer. I was tapped to become a paratrainer for the introduction of desktop computing at the bank. I was loaned one of the first Macintoshes, a large padded carrying case for it, and a cassette tape player with Apple's follow-along-on-the-screen tape introducing how to use a "mouse" (this is how you move it, click, drag, etc.), pull-down menus, windows, and fonts/styles you could actually see on screen before printing. If you weren't there, you probably cannot understand how eye-poppingly revolutionary it was to have a personal computer that displayed documents the same on-screen as they would look coming out of the printer.

I was hooked, and I was spoiled. I had tasted what design elegance and the ideal pairing of form and function could mean (not that every Apple product hit that sweet spot, to be sure), and would have little patience for the poorly implemented knock-off operating systems the soon followed.

Look at the technology landscape today and tell me who, other than Apple, could make a mouse whose surface works just as well as a multi-gesture touch pad? One that really does work as well as advertised?

Critics sometimes complain that Apple didn't invent the mouse, or the MP3 player, or even the desktop computer. They miss the point. Apple took those early innovations and channeled them into a complete user experience product and brought them to market in a way that consumers would gravitate to. The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player, but it was the most elegant to behold and use, and (most importantly) it came with the iTunes music store. Only then did digital music make sense to the average person.

My first iPod will always have a special significance for me. As anyone who has read this blog can likely guess, music has always held a significant place in my life, and here was the leap to digital music encapsulated in a device that was as satisfying to see and touch as it was to use. The year it came out we were not exactly cash flush, and as much as I wanted one, it just wasn't in the cards. My family, however, felt otherwise. For my birthday that year my wife and kids pooled their resources and saved up to buy me one of those first iPods.

I had already transitioned through vinyl albums, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs (in that order), but this shift didn't require as much loss of older media. Now I could easily "rip" my already-purchased CDs and begin to buy digital music moving forward. Suddenly, my entire music library could go with me. For a serious music junky, this was huge.

I think folks, now, easily forget (or, were simply born after) how groundbreaking a shift the first iMac was, how much it changed the way we think about using computers. The notions that the floppy drive was dead, that all home computers should be connected to the Internet, that USB should be standard, and that the computer was the conduit rather than the repository, were all (as so often is the case with Job's visionary products) ahead of the curve. The iMac anticipated the path of human need and interest and in so doing lead us where we were destined to go but hadn't yet realized. Too much credit, you say? Think back to the explosion of translucent plastic and bondi-blue colored gizmos that quickly followed, the seemingly cathartic release of some unrealized demand resulting in a near veneration of "i" everything and translucent plastic everything. Think back to the rapid growth of USB and the increased interest in home Internet access that followed.

Steve was foretelling and preaching the "cloud" with that first iMac. Now, pretty much all of my content is stored or backed up to one cloud or another. When my office computer died several months ago I lost nothing. Not because I had everything backed up, but because all of my files and resources were stored elsewhere. When the new computer came I had only to install the necessary applications and reconnect to my cloud-based files and resources. While I was without an office computer, while the replacement was shipping, I used my personal iPad for almost two weeks to connect to my cloud-based content and never missed a beat.

This makes sense now, but back then, when Steve first stuck a small letter "i" in front of Mac to signify Internet-focused, it was more than revolutionary, it really was visionary. Most pundits focused on the lack of a floppy drive and the lack of upgradability, but the real story was that small letter "i" and where it was taking us. Without the iMac, we may not have gotten to social networking, because ubiquitous home Internet use was not commonly envisioned outside of tech-geek circles.

And Steve has taken us, and the entire technology industry, on a journey into what could (he would no doubt argue, should) be. Apple, under Steve Job's guidance, has never advertised equipment specifications. If you want to shop smart phones based on processor, MHz, pixels, and refresh rates, there are plenty of alternatives out there that will cater to your inner geek. Probably the same demographic that argues passionately about which make/model of car is best based on an extra 10 ponies under the hood, the specific shape of the torque band under full throttle, or the weight of the flywheel. None of which does the average user any good at all in normal usage. Get over it.

Instead, Apple's advertising focuses on what you can do with their products, and how easily you can do them. Apple wrested computing devices from the technical smoke-screen jargon of "experts" and made them commodities any mortal could purchase without first finding a geek friend/family member for advice.

I have, over the years, been fortunate to use or own most of Apple's various products, from the first Mac to the iPad-2. I have a first generation Newton (for the record, the handwriting recognition worked very well for me after the first few days of conditioning). I have an older 80 GB "scroll-wheel" iPod that has driven much of this blog's purpose. I use an iPhone 4 and my iPad every day, and my only office computer is an 11" MacBook Air.

Last night I started jotting down much of what would frame this post. iTunes was shuffling through my music and playing it over a Mac Mini driven entertainment system running the Lion version of OS X. My wife sat working on the classes she teaches, using a two-year old MacBook Pro while I wrote on my iPad from another chair. Both of us sent and received texts from others off and on over the course of the evening, on iPhones. We retired to bed and listened to an audiobook from our iTunes library via a second-generation AppleTV.

Most of my tenure at the college saw a second-class status afforded to Apple products and those who used them. Oh, there were believers within IT, but they were few and official support was often hard to come by. Allowed, but not officially supported, was the policy. There were several attempts to "standardize" on a single platform (read: eliminate Macs), but the numbers behind the justifications never stood the test of scrutiny.

When I stepped into the IT Director's role I know one of the concerns some had was whether my Mac-centric background would mean I would start to push Apple products. I didn't, but then I didn't have to. By then, Apple's products (laptops, the iPod Touch and, later, iPhones) were already drawing users. They became what is known in IT support circles as "invasive" technology trends. A number of Windows users wanted Apple's laptops even though they planned to run the Windows OS on them.

Today, nearly every portable device I see in meetings and events around campus has an Apple logo on it. It is rare to see a different flavor of laptop, and iPads are rapidly spreading across campus (though Windows is still the dominant desktop computer OS on campus).

The rise of iOS is another watershed in computing history. When those of us who have been around since the start of the personal computing era talk about looking forward to the new version of an operating system, we are usually talking about those that run on desktop/laptop computers. When my daughter, in a text exchange last night, mentioned she was looking forward to the new OS, I knew she was talking about iOS. Oh, we use desktop/laptop computers, but mobile computing is where more and more of our digital lived are lived.

Only Steve Jobs had the vision to eat his own lunch and create a new platform and totally separate OS that would cannibalize sales of the company's other offerings. It was a genius move, and the results speak for themselves. Microsoft, by comparison, still cannot bring itself to create a new OS for mobile devices, only a new view of an old OS, still attempting to keep users tied to the old revenue stream metaphors while offering them the new eye-candy.

It was Steve Jobs' ability to understand how technology could be better, and specifically how it could be better for non-geeks users, combined with a perfectionistic drive to deliver that perfect balance between form and function, that made his efforts so successful and his impact on our lives so significant. No wonder the Web is crowded with remembrances and tributes.

For all of this, and though I never met you, I sincerely thank you Steve Jobs.

Today's soundtrack should be:
- Bruce Cockburn: The Candy Man's Gone

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From Peter Lorre to O Pato

Tuesday came simpering in, wet and grey, like Peter Lorre's character in Arsenic and Old Lace. "Oh, pleeeeeease, Johnny, do we haaaave to? Not agaaaaain!" Some days, I know that feeling (though without the knives).

I say wet and grey, but grey has to be taken on faith this early morning as it was dark when I got up, dark when I drove into the campus, and dark as I write this. However, here in the Pacific Northwet, wet means grey, so it is a safe assumption.

We are now rapidly heading into that portion of the year for which my rear-view mirror will stay permanently set on night mode. For now, there is still daylight on my trip home, if I get out soon enough, so that small plastic mirror toggle is getting at least a couple flips each day. For now.

There is an app on my iPad I like to use most evenings, Flickpad HD. It allows me to see and upload photos to and from most of my social networks. I don't really use it that way, though. It has a lessor feature I find fascinating. It pulls up roughly 100 photos from Flicker's "explored" pool each day. These are most-viewed, most-liked photos. I sit and relax looking over some great (or very interesting) pictures. There are themes that emerge, such a color for a particular day, or "Fence Friday" where folks take pictures that involve fences, and there are the natural seasons-driven patterns. Turning leaves are now starting to feature prominently, along with misty woodland snaps, and dew-dropped spider webs with bokeh backgrounds.

Today's soundtrack was fun. Starting out with the very whimsical O Pato, about a duck, a drake, a goose, and a swan doing the samba (English translation):
by the lagoon they're swaying
Watch them as they swoon
Underneath the moon
Happy as crows out in the corn

But then the duck let out a curse, he'd made her stumble
The goose thought it was just a game and took a tumble
I laughed as they all lost their cool and fell into the pool
And started shouting some more:
Quack, quack, quack... O Pato

If there is a moral in the lyric, on this early, wet, grey, "Oh, pleeeeeease, Johnny, do we haaaave to?" Tuesday morning, maybe it is that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously, or if we do, recognize that it's ok to get wet and laugh about it in the process.

Here is the full playlist:
- Karrin Allyson: O Pato
- Doves: Sky Starts Falling
- Joey DeAfrancesco: The Tackle
- Bob Florence: With All The Bells And Whistles

- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The long stern of the necessary

Wednesday morning, middle of the traditional work work, Mr. Malleable to me. There was just enough faint light seeping upward from beyond the horizon to see that the sky overhead was clear. Or maybe solid, monotone, unbroken, high level cloud cover, but it looked more like dark clear to me. So, the top stayed down for the drive in.

This is the top down season I think I look forward to the most. Cap required to keep my balding head from getting too cold, windbreaker on, heater up, and top and side windows down. I slice through the morning crispness and pass through a multitude of scent fogs. Wood smoke from a fireplace (yep, fall is certainly here now!), bacon-ish breakfast smells past those houses, composting leaves as I pass the remaining copses of trees (one smelled more of composting lawn clippings, so someone must be dumping their cuttings in there), a strong marijuana-like smell (always) just before I pass the copper domed church, and cigarette smoke from some of the cars I follow.

Returning to the office after another chunk of time away means cutting through the brambles of overgrown tasks and duties. No matter how well I position myself before leaving, I return to a pile of fresh undone things.

This Wednesday morning I strongly feel Jorie Graham's frustration and exhortation in the poem, The Guardian Angel of the Private Life when she says:
the heart—there at the core of the drafting leaves—wet and warm at the zero of
the bright mock-stairwaying-up of the posthumous leaves—the heart,
formulating its alleyways of discovery,
fussing about the integrity of the whole,
the heart trying to make time and place seem small,
sliding its slim tears into the deep wallet of each new event on the list
then checking it off—oh the satisfaction—each check a small kiss,
an echo of the previous one, off off it goes the dry high-ceilinged obligation,
checked-off by the fingertips, by the small gust called done that swipes
the unfinishable’s gold hem aside, revealing
what might have been, peeling away what should ...
There are flowerpots at their feet.
There is fortune-telling in the air they breathe.

And also:
Oh look at you.
What is it you hold back? What piece of time is it the list
won’t cover? You down there, in the theater of
operations—you, throat of the world—so diacritical—
(are we all waiting for the phone to ring?)—
(what will you say? are you home? are you expected soon?)—
oh wanderer back from break, all your attention focused
—as if the thinking were an oar, this ship the last of some
original fleet, the captains gone but some of us
who saw the plan drawn out
still here—who saw the thinking clot-up in the bodies of the greater men,
who saw them sit in silence while the voices in the other room
lit up with passion, itchings, dreams of landings,
while the solitary ones,
heads in their hands, so still,
the idea barely forming
at the base of that stillness,

Really, it is tempting to simply quote the entire poem here, because it speaks so strongly to this (my) Wednesday morning. If you have not discovered this poem before now, I encourage you to follow the linked title above and read it now. Read it before you check another thing off your to-do list for the day, or add this to your list, if you must. I do not think you will regret the time.

As for me, I look at my email inbox, my calendar, my list of projects, and roll around the as-yet-unrecorded tasks inside my memory, and.... "All this was written on the next day’s list. On which the busyness unfurled its cursive roots, pale but effective, and the long stern of the necessary, the sum of events, built-up its tiniest cathedral ...(Or is it the sum of what takes place?)" ....I start working.

- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In the heart of the dot on a Sunday morning

It has been a different, though far too familiar, commute the last couple of mornings. For one thing, it has been a weekend commute so far, though I am certain it will bleed into this next week, too. For another, it is to downtown Seattle instead of my local community college.

Mom has been back in the hospital with heart problems, and it looks like today will see a third attempt to get a working stint installed. She is currently in the cath lab, so I am sitting in a bed-less hospital room awaiting her return.

The weather has been fussy. It manages to rain or seriously threaten rain during the morning and evening drive, then goes all clear and sunny while I'm sitting looking out of the hospital room window. I'd stick my tongue back out at the weather, but anyone looking across from any of the many little windows in the surrounding buildings might take it personally.

Driving in late Friday night, with the city lit up against the blackness of the night (does anyone else marvel at how most windows in most buildings remain lit up all night long?), I was struck by the notion that Seattle is a city you can really feel you are driving into. More than most large cities, there is a clear demarcation, especially coming in from the north on I-5. You are approaching the downtown, approaching, approaching, and then — wham — you are at the vertical wall of the city and now you are in the city.

This illusion is helped by the fact that almost as soon as you hit that sense of the city's vertical wall of perimeter the freeway slides you underneath the Convention Center and you really are suddenly both in and under the city.

By morning light this illusion is still present, though the vertical demarcation lines are softer against the grey/blue skies. No doubt Seattle's relatively small size, distinct and compact downtown core, and the fact that most of the surrounding sprawl is suburban, combine to create this impression. Seattle is not a city you fly over for 30 minutes before landing, it can't spread beyond the Sound on one side and the lake on the other. Seattle is much more like it's representative round dot on a large map than many other major cities.

Sitting here in the heart of that dot, blue skies glinting off the towering windows around me, sirens frequently screaming self-importantly past in the streets nine floors below, I am glad Seattle is as embraceable and accessible as it is. Scale portends familiarity, and comfort is often found in the familiar.

Speaking of comfort, the last few days' soundtrack has been Sigur Rós. Familiar, soothing, evocative, and not in the least demanding (I couldn't sing along even if I wanted to).

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Emblem and sustenance

This Monday brings grey cloud cover after a gloriously hot and sun-filled weekend. Monday is already a sad fellow to run into after a weekend like this past one, did he also have to wear that depressingly monotone grey pullover? The weather seer tells us the sun will break through later today, but this week will see gradual cooling until the rain returns by the coming weekend.

Still, I kept the top down on the Miata. It's not cold out, just overcast. I waited, at one unmarked intersection, to allow a jogger to run across my path. He paused just long enough to say thanks, I wished him a good run. Dropping the top leaves me exposed to the people around me, accessible. I can hear, as I slowly roll by at 20 MPH, the kids talking as they wait for the bus, a dog barking as I pass, birds calling as they fly overhead. I like this.

Monday also brings a week of flying solo. My wife heads over the pass to visit her sister at their vineyard in Eastern Oregon for the week. The boys and I will have to make do on our own. No doubt Fred & George will take over the couch, with no one there to see (they're always amazed that I can tell they have been up there, but the rearranged and flattened pillows and shed dog hair are a dead giveaway) and Robie will curl up somewhere the dogs can't reach him, until he wants to play. We have our routine when "mom" is away, but it's really just counting down the days until she's back with us. Travel safely, my love, and have a great time! I will be with you in your heart.
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.

All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments—all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.

Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and sustenance.

- Walt Whitman, Song Of The Open Road

This Monday is also the start of "Kick Off Week" at the college. It used to be called "Return Week," because it signaled the return of faculty from the summer break, but that descriptor left out all of us who were here working during that period of time, so now we speak to the kicking-off of fall quarter. All that hasn't been paid attention to this summer will now be crammed urgently into these next few days, some will be upset to find decisions got made and life carried on while they we away, others will fold effortlessly back into the rhythms of the autumnal campus. This will be a week of such "emblem and sustenance" as Whitman ascribes to these critical but lessor activities of progress.

The iPod was dialed into a Sigur Rós EP this morning, Ny Battery. I left it there. It seemed to speak perfectly to Monday's grey skies.

Today's playlist:
- Bíum Bíum Bambaló
- RAmagniõ Búiõ
- Ny Battery

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The last Friday before the fall and frost

The popular dude is back in town, with his smug self-confident swagger, leaning against the office door frame or cubicle wall, "Hey, watcha gonna to do this weekend?" Always welcome is Friday, and he knows it.

It's been quite a while since I have had a Friday morning post. The college goes into a half-day Fridays schedule over the summer and I take Fridays off as vacation and pretend each three day weekend really was a vacation. Today marks the return to the normal weekly schedule. Thursday got a short run at being the popular dude, now is recast in his normal role of The Pretender.

This last week of summer break, while intensely busy with students registering, paying, advising, orienting, before the start of fall quarter is also, in many parts of campus, the quietest of times. Faculty return next week, then classes start the following week.

Like an agrarian community laying in a harvest before the first frosts of fall, getting ready for the winter coming, these are weeks of preparation and laying down direction for the coming year. Deer paths flattened through the tall dew-damp grass.

Technically, each academic year starts with summer quarter, but fall quarter is when the year starts in earnest, in our hearts and minds. Fall is the real communal coming together, articulation of vision statements, the kick-off of projects and goals. Summer quarter is a trial balloon, floated tentatively to test the winds.

But I digress. Friday mornings are also, more than most other mornings, at least for me, poetry mornings. Today's discovery is a poem by Tim Bowling, The Last Days Of Summer Before The First Frost. It starts:
Here at the wolf’s throat, at the egress of the howl,
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush—earth echo,
absence of the human voice—wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek,
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.

Today's playlist:
- Céu: Roda (Bombay Dub Orchestra's Grateful Dub Radio Mix)
- Doves Ambition
- Kurt Ellington: The Best things Happen While You're Dancing
- Mark Knopfler: The Car Was The One
- Nancy Griffith: Trouble in the Fields

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gulag meetings

Thursday, for those not already keeping track of such things, and more blue skies. So, what is the best way to spend a beautiful day of gloriously warm sunshine? Hmmm... how about...

A long day chock-a-block full of meetings, many of those being long meetings. First meeting kicks off at 8:00 AM and the last (Board meeting) is scheduled to wrap up at 7:00 PM. Taking notes during a meeting earlier this week, using my iPad, I fat-fingered the phrase "regular meetings" and the iPad corrected it for me into "gulag meetings." The iPad is apparently smarter than I am.

A short commute playlist of long tunes, with the first (by Eugene Maslov) clocking in at over eight minutes and the second (John Hassell) at over 13 minutes. Both jazz, the latter having that particularly ECM-ambient quality to it. I love the title of the John Hassell album: Last Night The Moon Came Dropping It's Clothes In The Street. Wonderful imagery for a powerfully evocative album.

The full (such as it is) playlist:
- Eugene Maslov: Dream Of Dreams
- John Hassell: Abu Gil (Live)

- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My iPod is winking at me

Wednesday, already mid-week and it still feels like we're only getting started. Top down, blue skies unbroken, should hit the mid-eighties today. Pretty definite stuff for a normally malleable mid-week day.

I have an event on my calendar today, or at least I think I do, that is behaving strangely. I can see it on the computer and on the iPad, but not on the iPhone (though both iOS devices are subscribed to my office calendar the same way). If a meeting exists only in some versions of the same calendar, does it really exist? What is the sound of one meeting being missed?

Today's playlist was very "easy listening," in one of those oddly thematic iPod random selection patterns. I do wonder if there isn't some element of the shuffle algorithm that attempts to place songs back to back based on some sort of compatibility factor. On the other hand, any device that can place Roger Miller and Akon back to back (which mine did when it selected Akon's Lonely as the next track after I got to my desk) isn't operating strictly on compatibility.

The fact that it tossed a version of the tune Somewhere at me today is another of those "could it really just be coincidence?" moments. It's not a tune that I have many covers of in the iPod, nor one I listen to or even think about very often. Yet just yesterday I mentioned the tune in a discussion with colleagues. So today my iPod just happens to pull up that tune. It's playing with me, isn't it?

The set ended with Roger Miller singing, Walkin' In The Sunshine as I pulled in, parked, and got ready to walk into the building in the morning sunshine. I could almost feel the iPod it winking at me.

The full playlist:
- Terence Blanchard: Footprints
- Squirrel Nut Zippers: Twilight
- Rod Stewart: The Nearness Af You
- Phil Keaggy: Allegria
- Barbara Streisand: Somewhere
- Roger Miller: Walkin' In The Sunshine

- Posted via Hermes.