Monday, June 30, 2008

Music Monday: Great Anthems

In honor of this being Fourth of July week, I bring you a special patriotic Music Monday.

Jose Feliciano's singing of the National Anthem was groundbreaking. Listen to the audio here.

Jose Feliciano discussing the reaction:

After Feliciano's version, other artists interpreted the anthem in ways that showed real passion and artistic vision. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Marvin Gaye

Jimi Hendrix

Friday, June 27, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Dresden Codak

Dresden Codak is a series of online comics. I have lots and lots to read to catch up. I started at the beginning and am working my way up.

here is a nice highlight:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is Google Making Me Dumber?

The Atlantic's July issue has an article by Nick Carr entitled: Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr casts a wide net as he looks for people's thoughts on similar technological changes in the past (Lewis Mumford on clocks, Socrates on written language, Nietzsche on the typewriter, etc.) and makes some very interesting points about the nature of the human intellect and the nature of technology's connection to and influences on our intellectual abilities and ways of thinking.

I like that the Internet can be an extension of my knowledge base, but am fearful that it erodes my basic thinking ability. I feel like there are two types of problems the Internet causes for my brain:
  1. Easy answers: When I am trying to remember something, I can google it. Even when on the road, I can google from my blackberry. There is no reason to store much information in my mind because I always have answers nearby. Will this lack of effort cause my brain to atrophy? How bad is the atrophy it has already caused?
  2. An informational firehose: On the other side of things, I use Google Reader to provide a steady, massive flow of new information. This rich flow of information is incredible, but is probably oversaturating my brain. My mind is becoming a thin, wide crepe.
So, is Google making me dumber? Probably. Am I going to stop using it? No, but I continue to look for ways to manage the information and keep it from managing me.

Soundtrack: Yes (Fragile, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi: Iowa Floods

One of my favorite movies is Koyaanisqatsi. It's a film by Godfrey Reggio with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning life out of balance or a state of life that calls for another way of living. It seems to me that one of the basic themes of the movie is that Man has gotten out of balance with the world.

I thought about Koyaanisqatsi as I read Joel Achenbach's article Iowa Flooding Could Be An Act of Man just as I thought about it when hearing about other floods including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Let me be very clear about this: I am not blaming the individuals who are the victims of these floods. I feel great sympathy for them. I just think that groups of people (helped by governments) have made decisions about how to develop along the Mississippi that are out of balance with Nature.

Mankind in general and Americans in particular often get the idea that we can control anything by shear force of intellect and will. Sometimes when we go too far, Nature does its thing and our man-made plans go down the drain or up in flames. This happens with floods, fires, drought, and other natural disasters. Why do we build cities in flood plains? In Deserts? On landfills on top of tectonic faults?

When I was younger, I thought of levees as acts of violence against everyone downstream. Now, I also think of them as acts of hubris. Every time we build a levee, we are screwing with Nature's way and continuing to build societies that are out of balance.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Farewell George Carlin

George Carlin passed away Sunday night. I wanted to provide a retrospective in video, but the problem is that I try to keep this blog clean.

It took a while to find a couple really clean and funny ones. I could find plenty of clean ones and plenty of funny ones, but bits that were both were not easy to find. Here are a couple of his cleaner funny bits:


Baseball and Football:

George was an incredible commentator on our society. He was absolutely fabulous for years and years and years. He wasn't just funny; he was very insightful. I usually felt that when I listened to one of his routines, I ended up thinking even more than I laughed.

He was also really good at cursing. He didn't just throw curses out. He used them really effectively. His routines weren't about the bad words (except for his very famous one about the seven words you can't use on TV), but he used them as tools. In this way, he was very much like Lenny Bruce who also did lots of really on-point social commentary and really good cursing.

George did lots of cursing and lots of railing against conservative America, corporate America, and religion. As far as I could tell, his later years were all about these curse-laden diatribes as he became even more political than he was in his youth. Some of this stuff was funny and much of it was an important part of the discourse, but I prefer his earlier stuff. With George Carlin and Richard Pryor gone, we no longer have a really funny man from that era (the 60's and 70's) who can also enlighten us and get us to think. Chris Rock is great, but he is of a different time. I can only hope we can find others to continue the tradition that Lenny Bruce started.

Soundtrack: Etta James (At Last!), William Shatner (Has Been), Stan Kenton (Kenton on Hi-Fi)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Music Monday: Crash into the Car Wash

Mrs. Kid and I watched Crash last night and I realized that it is really a re-make.
  • A day in various intertwined lives in Los Angeles
  • Racial tensions between blacks, whites, and hispanics
  • Tensions amongst blacks, some of whom are more militant and some of whom are trying to get along and make it in the white-man's world
  • Socio-ecomonic conflict between "haves" and "have-nots"
  • Musicians being actors
  • Cars
Crash is just a slightly more serious version of Car Wash (in which the recently-deceased George Carlin acted.)

Opening scene including Richard Pryor and intra-racial tension

Closing scene with narrated credits

Friday, June 20, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Great Movie Trailers

It's been a long time since I saw all three of these movies. I just don't remember them being like this.

The Shining Recut: So uplifting.

Mary Poppins Recut: That's one scary movie!

Top Gun Recut: Pair this with Brokeback Mountain.

Now to update my Netflix queue.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Different Kind of Golfer

Tiger Woods won the US Open this past weekend and in the process, his legend grew. He had to make some great putts to force an 18-hole playoff, then birdied the 18th hole of the playoff to force a 19th playoff hole. Unlike his majors at which he has destroyed the field or when opponents have simply collapsed, Rocco Mediate hung with Tiger and turned this tournament into something really special. Throughout the tournament, Tiger winced in pain after many of his drives. He had knee surgery shortly after the Masters, so it was not surprising that he had some discomfort.

Before the announcement yesterday that Tiger would have season-ending surgery to repair his destroyed ACL and have to do rehab on his two stress fractures, Retief Goosen said several things implying that he didn't believe the injuries were serious including:
It just seemed that when he hit a bad shot his knee was in pain and on his good shots he wasn’t in pain.... I believe if he was really injured, he would not have played.
First of all, I saw many, many of Tiger's tee shots that were long and straight after which he buckled in pain or winced. Other times, he had no painful reaction when he chunked a shot into a bunker. There was no relationship between the quality of his shots and his pained reactions.

Second, Tiger is a different type of golfer. Retief would not have played if he had two stress fractures and a destroyed ACL. Tiger would. Retief can no more understand the different way of approaching his sport (and majors in particular) than he can compete with Tiger.

I hope Tiger is able to come back from these injuries. He's a great athlete who wins with his work ethic and his mental strength as much as he does it with his natural physical talent. He's not a thug or a jerk. He has a foundation that tries to do good. Watching him has been really fun, so I hope he returns next year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

TJ Graduation: Video, Reminiscence, Beach Balls, and Rickrolling

I attended Niece 2's graduation from The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (AKA TJ) this weekend. It was fun. Here are some thoughts on the ceremony.

Video: Niece 2 is being filmed for a documentary about college admissions, so through most of the ceremony, she had a film crew following her around. It was pretty funny. They filmed as she walked in. They filmed as she walked back to sing with the choir, then as she sang, and as she walked back to her normal seat with the graduates. They filmed her as she sat listening to the proceedings. The upside was that it made it easier to find her after the ceremony. We could just look for the boom mic and the video camera.

Reminiscence: I used to teach at TJ, so I know some of the teachers and enjoyed seeing them. One Math/Computer Science teacher in particular, who also taught me Geometry and Computer Science when I was in high school, was a tremendous teacher. He's retiring this year and I'm happy for him, but sad for TJ.

Beach Balls: Every once in a while, some kids would start knocking a beach ball around before some teacher or security person got a hold of it. I understand that the teachers don't want the kids to be rude to the speakers and to preserve some sense of decorum, but I also understand the kids who are barely holding in their elation. I feel like the beach balls should come out every once in a while, bounce around, then be put away.

The last student speaker had a short, funny speech that ended with him saying:
I'm never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you
I love that he rickrolled the entire Patriot Center.

The bottom line is that we are all so incredibly proud of Niece 2 and her ability to make it through high school while dealing with more serious issues than most of us can imagine. Actually, she didn't just "make it through," she excelled in the face of adversity and that's really remarkable. After this, I have little doubt that she will kick major butt when she heads to college.

Soundtrack: Gorillaz (Demon Days and their eponymous first album)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Music Monday: Worst Songs of All Time

Here are some nominees for worst song ever. These songs are horrible. One is emblematic of the end of a star's best years. One has just horrible lyrics ("Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don't think that I can take it/'Cause it took so long to bake it".) One is a horrendous version of an otherwise fine song.

Party All the Time

McArthur Park

Mr. Tambourine Man (as performed by William Shatner)

Honestly, just doing the research on this one was painful.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: BOFH and GINA

1930's Marital Scale is a funny quiz.

Simon Travaglia is a great writer. He is best known for stories called Bastard Operator From Hell (B.O.F.H.)
  • For geeks: B.O.F.H is Bastard Operator From Hell.
  • For guys: The Kiwi Blokes Pages are really hilarious. I don't understand all the words or get all the references, but I understand enough to have a really good laugh.
  • Other Stuff is quite varied. Lots of random stuff.
I haven't read all of Simon's stuff, but I think I have a source of reading material for a long time to come.

The BMW Gina is a cloth-covered concept car. Nice video.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Scouting Conundrum

A recent article at Computer World (about the Boy Scouts asking for help developing software) spawned a spirited discussion over at Slashdot. I knew it would be interesting when the automated tags associated with the discussion included "bigotry" and "homophobia." As a group, Slashdotters are pretty libertarian and thus not inclined to play nice with BSA.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court's ruling in BSA v. Dale (in which the court said that the BSA was a private group that could discriminate), Margaret Downey wrote in the Fall 2000 issue of Free Inquiry:
The BSA will lose the respect of people who hold dear the moral tenet of nondiscrimination. It is a terrible loss of an opportunity to teach values such as tolerance, brotherhood, and reverence to the religious as well as the nonreligious.
Note that I don't think every organization should be forced to be open-minded, but I think that any group that accepts public money (and BSA accepts lots) should not discriminate. On a separate note, just as any private group is free to discriminate, I am free to register my opinion of that discrimination by writing about it, speaking about it, and not joining the group.

Mrs. Kid and I have had some discussions about scouting and have more in our future. I have fond memories of camp outs and tying knots and rope bridges and social connections. There are great things to be said for scouting, but it comes at a price. I don't want to support the organization that has policies with which I disagree so strongly.

The problem is that BSA is a bigoted organization that discriminates based on sexual orientation and on religious belief. Maybe it's just that litigation has increased, but it seems to me that this bigotry has gotten worse in the past few years. I have no interest in supporting such an organization, but I want Boy Kid to have the experiences that made scouting a positive experience for me (note that Girl Kid can join GSA without creating any similar ill feelings since GSA are more open-minded.)

Maybe our local troop is really cool. Maybe we can find ways for scouting to be a learning experience on many levels. Maybe BSA will change their ways in the next few years. Maybe I'm just dreaming that Mrs. Kid and I can avoid some tough decisions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

D&D Still Lives: Who Knew?

D&D 4th Edition is coming out. I had no idea D&D still existed. [edit: More accurately, I knew people still played it, but for me, D&D is still represented by the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide circa 1979. The idea that the game would have evolved after I last played it in 1984 never occurred to me.]

When I was in college, Dungeons and Dragons (AKA D&D) and Traveller (a similar game set in outer space) were really fun, creative outlets for us. The man who ran our D&D world and the one who ran the Traveller universe were incredibly creative. They created experiences that were akin to participating in creating a series of stories with a bunch of good friends.

Because I was in school with a bunch of people who knew science better than the average person, our D&D world and Traveller universe had rules that were different from the official versions. Our spaceships accelerated, decelerated, and maneuvered in ways that were at least somewhat consistent with the laws of physics. People took damage (had injuries) in ways that made biological sense. Technology progressed over time so that if you had technology that could help you hide from or find your enemies, it wouldn't be effective forever. In our Traveller universe, there was a rich technological and political environment.

Any time I hear about D&D, I think about "Flow" (Kevin Oliveau who ran the Traveller Universe and then founded a cohousing community) and "Noqui" (the late, great Karl Horita who ran the D&D world.) I haven't played anything like D&D or Traveller for 24 years, but I still have fond memories of the stories they let me participate in.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Music Monday: Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley passed away last week. He was an amazing artist with a great list of musicians he influenced. Josh Freedom du Lac (what a name!) wrote a nice piece for The Post called Bo Diddley, Rock's Pulse. Bo was incredibly influential. Once you hear and identify the distinctive Bo Diddley beat, you hear it all sorts of places.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: The Lost Thing and Some Illusions

The Lost Thing is Shaun Tan's graphic novel about a boy trying to find out where a strange creature belongs. A friend showed me Tan's book The Arrival and it was really interesting. The fun part about this online excerpt from The Lost Thing is the way you turn the page. Frankly, when I get to a page, I have fun just rolling my mouse cursor over the lower-right corner and the right edge of the page. Watching it flip up and down is most excellent.

The Neuroscience of Illusion is an image gallery that accompanies a Scientific American article about how the brain processes images. Each illusion is accompanied by text explaining something about the illusion.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Playoff Hockey

I like sports. I used to participate in lots of sports, but now am mostly just a fan. I'm not a rabid fan of any particular team, but I like sports in general. I like pro and college football, March Madness (college basketball), just about every Olympic sport, golf, baseball, lacrosse, and even poker (at times.) With many of these sports, I am much more interested at playoff time. The games matter more and the quality of play is highest then. There is something about the passion of playoffs and special events (like the Olympics or major golf tournaments) that is really compelling.

Of all the sports I like to watch, the most exciting is playoff hockey. When a playoff hockey game is tied or within a goal, the third period is absolutely great. Earlier this week, there was a playoff game that went to three overtimes. The energy was so absolutely incredible and the action so riveting that there were times that I couldn't take my eyes off the action long enough to look at the game clock that was on the screen. The Penguins tied the game with about 30 seconds left in regulation and then it took two and a half more periods to break the tie. Every shift was tense. Every pass crucial. Every save critical.

The series ended a couple days later with another thriller that came down to a fluke goal and a desperate shot sending the puck sliding across the goal mouth as time expired. I'll miss the thrills.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Driving Toward Disaster

Howard Kunstler wrote a piece for the Washington Post about our energy dependence: Wake Up, America. We're Driving Toward Disaster. He makes several good points in the piece.

We need to stop depending on internal combustion engines. Note that I started to say "relying on oil," but ethanol is not part of the long-term solution I am hoping for. We need to figure out how to change our culture and the nature of the energy that makes it run. Commuting in cars from exurbs is just crazy on several levels. But it's not just about cars. We also need to figure out how to use less energy overall and how to power our homes and our businesses with renewable energy. Putting gas in your tank is the obvious way to see how you consume energy, but every time you buy a loaf of bread or a bunch of grapes or a bottle of water, you are also consuming oil in the form of the energy it took to get those items to the store. Buying a Prius probably feels like a pretty green thing to do, but when you use it to commute 30 miles each way, then stop off at Safeway to buy Chilean grapes and Californian peaches, maybe your carbon footprint could still use some work.

Let me admit: I am a hypocrite who is not part of the solution. I don't walk to work. I buy food that gets to me on big trucks from far away places. I have a shameful carbon footprint. All I can say in my defense is that I have a very short commute (which would be bike-able if my office had a shower) and I try to buy local food. I am not better than anyone, but I recognize the ways I am being bad.

My point is that as a society, we need to figure out how to live locally in the near term and chart a longer term path to renewable energy sources that scale. Maybe the silver lining for the high gas prices will be to put real effort toward significant conservation strategies and finding ways to make renewable energy work. When gas is $10/gallon and those costs are rippling through everything we buy, it could be a real wakeup call.

I first drafted this post a week ago. This evening, a friend sent me a link to an article from Newsweek by Rana Foroohar entitled The Coming Energy Wars. I don't want to re-hash the entire article, but the subtitle is pretty telling: Oil prices could hit $200 a barrel in the next few months. How the spike changes everything.

Living locally isn't easy or cheap, but with rising fuel prices, the economics could shift enough that change will happen. When businesses and consumers see that it makes financial sense to go local, we could see some incremental change to our country's way of life.

Soundtrack: Dave Brubeck (Time Out), Miles Davis (Milestones), John Coltrane (A Love Supreme)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Democrats Still Eating Their Own

I couldn't take my eyes and ears off the Democratic National Committee's Rules & Bylaws Committee special meetings on Saturday when they were discussing the delegates from Michigan and Florida. It was amazing to watch the party powerful going at each other with such vigor.

The DNC screwed up by writing rules and issuing statements that are contradictory. They are really not very good at this sort of thing. Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small summarized the meeting pretty well in the article No End for the Dems' Disunity, but to really appreciate it, you need to have seen the proceedings yourself.

On the other hand, who convinced Obama that it was a good idea to take his name off the ballot in Michigan? That was a totally bone-headed move. You can disarm, but not until you know for sure your opponent is disarming as well.

If the Dems are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this year, there could be big changes in the party. With the war and the economy, this should be a slam dunk for them.

A friend of mine suggests that this election could be the event that produces a viable third party, but I am pessimistic. The problem I see is the same problem the current two parties have: both the democrats and the GOP are made up of unholy alliances. Any third party would either be a niche player or would be trying to unify diverse groups who are dissatisfied with the current two parties for wildly different reasons. It's a pure numbers game to me. Two parties are hard enough to keep together. A third would be even tougher with out system. If we had a parliamentary system where coalitions were crucial, then smaller parties could be viable, but I don't know that we can get there any time soon.

Soundtrack: Marvin Gaye (What's Going On)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Music Monday: When TV Themes Were Great

Back in the day, TV theme songs were really good. Composers wrote songs that really were memorable and really could swing. If you listen to these old theme songs and then listen to just about any modern theme song, you will hear what I mean. The list is long and illustrious and worthy of several volumes.

Peter Gunn: The Art of Noise had some fun with this back in the '80's, but the original is fabulous.

Jetsons: It's just a silly cartoon, but the theme had some kickin' horns.

Hawaii Five-O: My sister was a cheerleader for Herndon High School and I remember them playing two songs: This one and the Budweiser song (a volume on memorable commercial songs has to follow). Listening to this will always remind me of watching Herndon Hornet games with her.