Happy belated birthday, Thomas Jefferson

On April 13, 1743, 263 years and one day ago, Thomas Jefferson was born. Rumor has it that it was several days later that a delegation from Fairfax County was the first to call the infant “Mr. Jefferson.”

I have made something of a semiannual practice of observing Mr. Jefferson’s birthday with an assortment of pithy quotes and other reflections (see 2005, 2003), but increasingly the part that strikes the most resonant chord for me is the Jefferson Muzzles awards, given annually on their namesake’s birthday to individuals or organizations who “who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech ‘cannot be limited without being lost.’” This year there is a podcast of the award ceremony, along with thirteen lucky recipients, including President Bush for the secret wiretaps, the DOJ for abridging the privacy of virtually every web user, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for proposing that the government take away our choice of viewing and listening material in the name of “decency,” and ten other deserving cases. It should be noted that the Muzzles are no merely liberal mouthpiece: students who heckled Ann Coulter’s speech slamming Cindy Sheehan at the University of Connecticut are awarded a Muzzle, as is a Florida school superintendant who apparently forced the resignation of a teacher for writing an anti-immigration letter to the newspaper.

There’s a Time and Place to Punctuate: the Mission of Burma Obliterati singles

Mission of Burma’s plan to do a slow leak to fans of the songs from their forthcoming The Obliterati—as one song a week for eight weeks, each song released on vinyl and CD—has been tripped up twice. First, the band was overwhelmed by demand and sold out of all 500 copies in two days. Second, production problems derailed the original plans to leak one song a week. Instead, the band shipped the CD portion of the limited edition, now called “There’s a Time and Place to Punctuate,” this week, with the vinyl version to follow. The CDs were waiting for me last night when I got home from the airport, so while I was stuck in traffic this morning I listened to them in the car.

The songs are tight as ever, maybe tighter; none of the eight clock in at more than five minutes, and only one breaks the four minute mark. The band continues to evolve their sound, too; while the wall of guitars, frantic tempos, earnest screaming vocals, and tape manipulation are all familiar from previous outings, they sound fresh here thanks in part to some strong melodic writing from Clint Conley and rhythmic and melodic experimentation from Roger Miller and Peter Prescott. The strongest track of the lot, Miller’s “Careening with Conviction,” rocks out like rocking out was just invented yesterday, and Conley’s set-closing “Nancy Reagan’s Head” pulses with dark wit and angular guitar work.

On top of all this, Mission of Burma have put up an official site for the forthcoming album (due next month) that features a front-and-center wiki for fans to post their own information about the band and the recording. It also features an on-by-default music player which will selectively release all eight songs from the set over the next few weeks, so you can get the full experience.

Flatland Boogie

When I got into town last night, I was thinking what a shame it was that I wasn’t here during SxSW and missed all the opportunities to rub elbows with the powerful and interesting. That was before Quentin Freakin’ Tarantino wandered into the taco joint on South Congress where we were having dinner (I had grilled quail with a shrimp enchilada, which needless to say was spectacular).

It was a fairly quiet night otherwise, wrapping up with a drink at the Intercontinental. But I definitely feel like I could come back here and have a good time. Preferably on a trip where I could get away and take in some live music….

Reasons it’s good to be a co-founder of Apple

Number one: free 65-watt power adapters. I think I speak for PowerBook owners everywhere when I say it’s too bad that this courtesy doesn’t extend to all PowerBook G3 and G4 owners; certainly my experience with the dreaded M7332 adapter suggests that many of us might have benefited, not just the Mighty Woz.

I don’t begrudge him his power adapters, though. Since every home computer that I’ve ever owned (//c, SE/30, 7200/90, Pismo, TiBook, MacBook Pro) and a few my friends had on which I learned computers (][e (and IIe platinum!), //gs, PowerBook 170) has benefited from his work (and in the case of my friend’s //gs, actually been signed by him!), he probably deserves free Apple hardware for life.

Baton Rouge, it’s Tuesday morning

No big travel events yesterday, fortunately. We flew to Baltimore, had a meeting in the Maryland suburbs, flew on to Memphis, caught a connection into Baton Rouge. All that took us until almost 9 am Central time. It’s amazing how what sounds like a relatively small amount of travel can really wear you down.

We did, however, arrive in time to check out Juban’s. Getting there was probably the most exciting travel of the day. I browsed to my blog on my phone to verify the name of the restaurant, then Googled it and found the phone number. As we were hopping on I-110, I called Juban’s, verified they were still open, and got directions. All was well and my colleagues were impressed—until we realized that I hadn’t got directions on which way to take I-10 when I-110 ended and we were winging our way across the Mississippi. We got turned around, found the restaurant (with some hesitation, as we drove down to the end of the strip mall that it sat in, and started to wonder if we had made a good choice), and stayed to close it down. I was pretty impressed—I had the Hallelujah Crab, which was pretty outstanding, and the smoked chicken, duck, and andouille gumbo, which was sublime.

Today: a few hours of work in the lobby of the hotel, an appointment downtown… then back on the plane to Austin.

Goin’ to Louisiana

I’ve got a business trip coming up this week, one of those three states in three days things. One of the days (and nights) will be spent in Baton Rouge, which I’m pretty excited about—both because I’ve never actually been to the Red Stick (though I did spend a few memorable days in New Orleans 14 years ago) and because I’m looking forward to contributing to the Louisiana economy while we’re there. I mean, with restaurants like Juban’s and Mike Anderson’s, I expect to be contributing rather a lot…

It’s a good thing that the next night is in San Antonio (where I haven’t been since the late ’90s) Austin or I would probably have a hard time tearing myself away.

Update: San Antonio? God only knows how that got stuck in my head but I’ve been saying it all day. Good thing I’m not flying the plane.

Friday Random 10: Why Can’t I Be Good edition

I’ll be out of town for the first three days of next week, and the work is piling up against that hulking wall in my schedule like sand on a seawall. Funny how most Fridays feel like that these days. The most frustrating thing about it is the feeling, in spite of GTD, that things are falling through the cracks, and that “to dos” are coming in faster than I can write them down—much less work the pile down.

Today’s Random 10:

  1. Violent Femmes, “Add It Up” (Add It Up (1981-1993))
  2. Lou Reed, “Why Can’t I Be Good” (Faraway So Close!)
  3. Sufjan Stevens, “Black Hawk War, or How To Demolish An Entire Civilization” (Illinoise)
  4. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, “I Wish I Was a Mole In The Ground” (Anthology of American Folk Music)
  5. Uncle Tupelo, “New Madrid” (Anodyne)
  6. Vladimir Ashkenazy, “La Mer, I. De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (Debussy: La Mer, Nocturnes)
  7. Gemma Hayes, “4:35 a.m.” (4:35 a.m. EP)
  8. Jody Reynolds, “Endless Sleep” (the Peel Box)
  9. Suzanne Vega, “World Before Columbus” (Nine Objects of Desire)
  10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Is This Love?” (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)

A long overdue hack: the CalTech cannon goes to MIT

brass rat on caltech cannon

Ever feel nostalgic for the good old days of MIT hacks, where devoted, slightly nutty students pulled off feats of engineering brilliance while evading the watchful eye of campus security? Well, mourn no more, Bunky, cause the MIT hackers are back with a vengeance. I think moving a Spanish-American War era cannon across the country through an inspired bit of social engineering qualifies as pretty impressive on its own, but adding the machined aluminum, gold plated Brass Rat (Brass Rat defined) to the cannon was absolutely inspired. Nice plaque too.

And as always the Slashdot commentary is helpful, for instance the note that the cannon belongs to a residential house at Caltech, not the university, and that “No one outside of Fleming House gives a rats ass about that cannon. (Actually, no one outside of Fleming House gives a rats ass about Fleming House),” is a masterpiece of humor, intracampus rivalry, and sour grapes all wrapped up in a brief comment.

And knowing that the cannon was previously stolen by CalTech neighbor Harvey Mudd, and that this theft occured on the 20th anniversary, and that the social engineering included a phony moving company called Howe & Ser (Howe Et Ser) Moving Company? Priceless.

Neko Case at the Roxy, April 5, 2006

What a great show. I’ve been on a Neko contact high all morning. It’s such a different experience to go to a small venue to see an artist who is genuine and unpretentious—plus has one of the biggest voices around.

Neko’s setlist was heavy on recent songs up front, with quite a few from her new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and was rounded out by a few tracks from Blacklisted (including a superb “Deep Red Bells” and a haunting “I’ll Be Around”) and a handful of well chosen covers, including her version of “Wayfaring Stranger” (which appears on her live recording The Tigers Have Spoken) and a Buffy Ste. Marie cover whose title I didn’t quite catch. In between songs she and the band traded quips about life on the road (Neko: “I caught a whiff of myself just there and missed a chord. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled as bad in my whole life! I smell like … a salmon!”) and generally yucked it up onstage.

Points of improvement? Well, her band was competent and genuinely sparked in a few places, such as the encore numbers, but they’re no Calexico (with whose members Neko has cut the last few albums). An exception was the divine Kelly Hogan, a formidable singer in her own right, who backed up Neko on vocals. Another issue with the earlier part of the set was the nature of the songs on the new album. On record they feel like a driving collection of compressed vignettes that hang together wonderfully. On stage the songs felt short and detached from each other. The band was tight, maybe too tight—a little more room to play around with the structure of the songs and grow them a little would probably be a good thing.

But these are minor quibbles in what was ultimately a great evening. The opening act, Martha Wainright, was good too—quite funny, very salty, and another wonderful voice. Vocally she reminded me a little of Hope Sandoval, only with a broader range of high notes and with better pitch.

And that Neko contact high? I got to meet her after the show. As she signed my copy of her available-only-at-gigs Canadian Amp EP, I told her how much “Deep Red Bells” and Blacklisted in general had meant to me, and walked away happy as … a salmon, I suppose. She’s smaller in person than she looks on stage, but friendly and genuine even after playing a two hour set… and teching her own guitars on stage prior to the start of the show.

Other crap: snow snow snow, Neko, and thanks Tony

I was going to do a follow up to my 2003 post, “I’m a reasonable man, MacArthur, so I know this isn’t snow,” but was beaten to it by another Boston blogger. It’s been snowing here for about six hours already and the stuff was coming down in big postage-stamp-sized flakes at lunchtime. Guess it’s my fault: I put the snowblower away on Sunday.

Oh, and thanks to Tony Pierce for the link over on the BusBlog (check the left column, where I’m one of “tony’s specials” today).

Finally, I hope the snow lets up in time for the Neko Case show tonight. I’m not wearing boots to that show.

Anchors aweigh: a Wahoo first

It was announced today that Katie Couric would become the first Wahoo, and the first Lawnie, to anchor a major network evening newscast, moving to become the anchor on CBS Nightly News after 15 years on the Today show. Ms. Couric (College of Arts and Sciences ‘79) would also be the first woman (and the first Yorktown High School cheerleader and TriDelt) to be the solo anchor of a major network evening newscast.

All Virginia-centric spin aside, congrats to Katie, who, if she wasn’t already a Seven, must certainly now be on the list for induction.

(Aside to Aven Tsai, Paul Stancil, Jim Heaney, Scott Norris, and Tyler Magill: if one of you is reading this and have that photo from Monticello with Ms. Couric in the VMHLB cap in 1993, now would be a good time to scan it and send me a copy.)

Hell freezes over, again: Windows on Macs, with Apple’s help

NY Times: Apple Allows Windows On Its Machines. Apparently Apple pays attention to its user community. Following the hack contest to get Windows running on the new Intel Macs that ended with a $13,000 prize and a successful hack, Apple has announced beta availability of Boot Camp, a free download that enables installing Windows XP on Mac OS X and switch-booting.

Looking at the Boot Camp page, it’s a little bit fiddlier than the average grandmother would want to mess with, but still really straightforward for a utility of this kind. The utility helps you to partition the hard disk (which is required for this kind of switch boot) and burns a CD with Windows drivers for the appropriate Mac hardware. Interesting note, though, that the Windows XP install might not find the right partition and could accidentally delete your Mac partition… After that, the switch-boot mechanism appears to be exactly the same one that enabled booting into OS X or OS 9 back in the early days of Mac OS X Public Beta and 10.0: hold down the option key at start time and choose the appropriate partition.

And I think it will perform the same function for new Mac OS X users: it will provide them with a safety net so they can gradually transition off Windows and onto their new machines. The question is, will it be good for Microsoft, good for Apple, or good for both? For Microsoft, it probably means that Virtual PC will never be ported to Intel Macs—though running multiple virtual machines is a very different usage scenario from switch booting, it may not be a common enough scenario to justify the investment. But Microsoft may get a lift in Windows XP license sales. And Apple should see a few more Windows users buying their hardware, lured by the prospect of totally cool, totally compatible hardware.

Ding, dong, DeLay

New York Times: DeLay Decides to End Career in Congress. That’s one of those “fair and balanced” headlines. The reality is probably closer to the spin in the email today from Howard Dean to the Democratic faithful: “This comes after Friday’s news that a key former DeLay aide pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation of DeLay’s money-for-influence machine.”

Someday someone will write the story of Tom DeLay’s fall from power, from the money laundering indictments and the insane steps that the House Republicans took to keep him in power then (including the passage of the DeLay Rule, which allowed indicted Congressional leaders to continue to hold their posts), and concluding with the Jack Abramoff saga. And they won’t be able to write about it without using the word blog more times than in any political biography ever written—with the possible exception of Trent Lott’s.

My favorite quotation from the article: “‘Our party will continue to succeed, because we are the party of ideas,’ Mr. Bush said” (emphasis added). No comment.

Who wants another DVD format anyway?

That’s the question I asked when the PSP came out, with movie capabilities — provided you bought the movies in the new, incompatible UMD format. A post at the end of last week on Wired indicated one of the business challenges such a format switch provides: getting the retailers to stock the disks. If Wal-Mart doesn’t see the value in carrying your product, it’s a pretty clear indication that you might want to head back to the drawing board.

The comments thread on the story suggests additional problems, such as lack of any UMD burners or home UMD players on the market. The last time we had multiple content formats coexisting on the market, each had a clear place—records lived at home, cassettes went with you in the car or a Walkman—and more importantly you could copy from one to the other. Ever since then, every new technology that was marketed as an “alongside” format, rather than an out-and-out replacement, has gone by the wayside (see: MiniDisc and DAT, which only survive as recording media rather than content sales).