No update. Bad blog.

I ended up on the road all day yesterday, so no update happened. It was a really surreal week in Mexico City, and I didn’t see that much of the city other than my hotel, our customer’s offices, and the roads in between. That’s pretty much a normal business trip, but because the hotel was in an office park, we didn’t really get any time at night to explore the local culture.

I have two lingering impressions of Mexico City. The first was walking down the street and mentioning to our host that the enormous double-deck elevated highway we were walking beneath surprised me, given Mexico City’s history of earthquakes. His wry response was, “Yes, that surprises us here too.” Mexico City has so many cars that there aren’t too many alternatives, apparently.

The other was watching the city recede beneath us as we took off—miles and miles of dense city and residential blocks of gray and brown concrete, livened with splashes of earth-tone colors, receding into the distance as far as the eye could see, lapping at the sides of the giant mountain peaks and hills that shrugged their way up from the plateau into the clouds. The contrast with Chicago, where our flight connected, could not have been more vivid—yes, miles and miles of residential blocks, but blocks that were tree-lined, with space between the buildings, green-lawned… all luxuries that were reserved for very few properties in Mexico City (at least from my vista near the airport).

The trip wasn’t a total loss, though. I ended up talking with my seatmates for the entire 90 minutes between Chicago and Boston. My companions were a Mexican girl who will be studying international relations for a year at the University of Maine, and John McBride, a managing partner McBride & Lucius who likes Father Ted and Janacek. It was definitely the most entertaining random conversation I’ve had in a while.

Listening queue

Currently waiting for my review at eMusic, once my subscription renews: two early Lucinda Williams recordings, Gillian Welch’s Hell Among the Yearlings, In Camera’s 13 (Lucky for Some), and Scott H. Biram’s The Dirty Old One Man Band.

Currently listening: the Sacred Steel compilation, Max Roach’s astonishing We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite, and the Replacements’s Hootenanny.

I don’t know, but every now and then I run across a pile of music that makes me very very happy. This is one of those times.

Culture jamming as patriotism

I don’t know that there’s anything more inspirational on the anniversary of the post-Katrina disaster as this prank by the Yes Men, who impersonated HUD officials to tell a crowd of contractors and media in New Orleans that HUD would be refocusing its efforts on getting people back into their homes, rather than knocking the homes down and letting new contracts for mixed-income flats. Read the article. It, combined with the constantly excellent reporting from the New Yorker on the disaster and reconstruction (much of which is missing from the archive link), ought to raise some questions.

Mexico City

The blessing and curse of business travel is that while one gets to visit exotic locations that one would never have visited otherwise, they all tend to look the same.

I’m sitting in a very nice hotel in Mexico City—the suburbs, technically, looking out the window and waiting for the sun to come up over the mountain to the east. This is the technology center; we passed signs for EDS, HP, IBM, and FedEx among others on our way in. So far, aside from brushing my teeth in bottled water as a precaution (though the hotel has its own water treatment plant), I could be anywhere in Europe or the big cities.

Except that, on the way from the airport last night, we passed a colonial Spanish building sandwiched in between the access road and the main highway. And we saw intimations of the enormous cathedral and the Zocalo—the second largest public square in the world, after Red Square in Moscow—from the air coming in.

It will be an interesting three days to say the least.

Friday Random 10: South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)

With the rules of the Random 10, the odds of any mariachi music coming into this list are probably pretty slim. But it should be there anyway: I have a three day business trip to Mexico City next week and will be experiencing that fair country for the first time. Should be a heck of a trip; I’m really looking forward to being there now that some of the post-election fallout has settled.

  1. MF Doom, “Who Do You Think I Am? (Feat. King Ceasar, Rodan, Megalon, Kamakiras, and Kong)” (Operation: Doomsday)
  2. Chris Bell, “Fight At The Table” (I Am The Cosmos)
  3. The Velvet Underground, “I Heard Her Call My Name” (White Light/White Heat)
  4. Bettye Lavette, “On the Surface” (I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise)
  5. Death Cab for Cutie, “We Looked Like Giants” (Transatlanticism)
  6. David Byrne, “Walk on the Water” (Look Into The Eyeball)
  7. Mazzy Star, “Mary of Silence” (So Tonight That I May See)
  8. Sting, “Shape of My Heart” (Ten Summoner’s Tales)
  9. The Cure, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” (Three Imaginary Boys)
  10. Bobby Bare, “Shine On Harvest Moon” (The Moon Was Blue)

Battery update (again)

So in the middle of a broad battery recall for older Powerbook and iBook batteries (my machines weren’t affected by this one), I thought I’d follow up about my own battery situation. As you’ll recall, Apple is also recalling some MacBook Pro batteries, not for explosive reasons but because they apparently “don’t meet the company’s performance standards” (more on what that means in a second). And you’ll also recall that when I sent in my notice, I got a pair of iPod earbuds instead of batteries.

Yesterday afternoon I spent something like an hour and 15 minutes on the phone to Apple support waiting for an answer. Finally they put me in touch directly with a guy in Dispatch, who said, “I have no idea how that happened,” and sent the new battery out. This time I have a tracking number, so I have a high level of confidence that I’ll actually get the battery.

But back to the real battery recall: it’s funny how different news outlets are handling the news. While most are saying that it’s bad news for Sony, good old Business Week managed to spin the recall as a “more bad news for Apple” story… By contrast, the analysis in Forbes, which points out the technological and manufacturing issues underlying the problem, is much deeper and more insightful.

Finally, an article on iPodNN appears to tie the mysterious “high standards for battery performance” that were at issue in the MacBook Pro recall to the infamous MacBook Pro whine, which is only audible when the device is on battery power. We’ll see when my new battery comes in, but maybe this will make the laptop as quiet as the old G4 was…

Link roundup

Catching my breath for the first time this week, and there are some interesting things going on out there:

  • Diebold’s voting machines failed miserably in the Alaskan preliminary and ballot measure election yesterday, forcing a hand recount. Surprised?
  • Navarro Vineyards Wine Grape Juices, which sound like a great alternative to wine on the table—good for pregnant women and diabetics, among others. Available in Gewürtztraminer and Pinot Noir (thanks, BoingBoing)
  • In New Jersey, insurance prices are falling substantially following some selective deregulation, for some drivers as much as 30-40%. Hear that, Massachusetts?
  • Cautions on the Long Tail from the WSJ. I think The Long Tail’s argument countering the winner-take-all madness with some real thinking about the shape of the overall distribution is worthwhile, particularly in the music business. But I’m also glad to see some skeptical analysis—at times I was gasping for air in the optimism of the book. One point to consider: arguing that it’s harder for new acts to get recognized is different than making a choice about putting back catalog material online where it can be more easily discovered and downloaded; indeed the latter is a far less costly proposition and could probably generate a lot of value. So why isn’t every Sting b-side, for instance, available online already?
  • At the Parkhaus, a wall comes down—more progress in their ongoing substantial house expansion.
  • Is it any wonder if homeowners are confused about lead paint removal in Massachusetts? The Boston Globe asked 12 area paint stores about stripping paint and got approximately 12 different answers.
  • Alas, poor Pluto. It was inevitable, really, with all the other minor planets being discovered. (And thanks, Tin Man, for getting the best soundbite in about this: “On the other hand, isn’t it wrong to allow an unelected body to redefine the word ‘planet’ for all of us? Shouldn’t we let the people decide?”)
  • And finally, it’s a good day for The Boy (must we now call him The Man?) as Dark Esther has her way with him in Scary Go Round. So the news isn’t all bad…

Jumping, saying hi

Finished reading The Discoveries last week. A recap of the major scientific discoveries of the 20th century, complete with the actual research papers, it plunged me back into my physics past.

It made me think about quantum physics and how it has really changed everyday life. Example: while for some medical imaging ultrasound is the way to go (including the echocardiogram and fetal imaging), to view the detailed inner workings of the organism you have to go CT—computed tomography. Three dimensional reconstructions of 2d x-ray slices.

And what’s an x-ray? High wavelength light being absorbed and reflected from different densities of materials, and a little fluorescence.

And what is fluorescence? A photon’s energy is transferred to an electron, kicking it into a higher energy state—usually followed by retransmission of the energy. It’s as if the electron is jumping, saying hi, then dropping back down.

I thought about this as I watched our dog Jefferson, an inveterate ladies’ dog, greet a crowd of teenage girls out for a walk tonight, as he stood on his hind legs, wagged his tail, barked once, and sat down again in the grass.

Word of the day: streber

One of my German colleagues is in town this week. As we sat through a design session this morning, he asked, “How do you say streber in English?”

I shrugged, and he said, “Go to” We looked in the English-German dictionary on the site, and we found the following translations: careerist, eager beaver, geek, grind, nerd, sap, striver.

So: streber. Sounds better than pencil-neck.

And no, I don’t remember why he asked me for the translation. It couldn’t have been something I did.

Making sense of Schoenberg

Last night’s rehearsal of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron was … interesting. I can’t add a lot to fanw’s characterization of the rehearsal except to note that it’s a little early in the process to be gathering more than first impressions of the work. None of the singers are secure enough yet in the melodic line to really tell what it sounds like.

In fact, the more I hear of it, the more I’m reminded of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry”:

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

Though reading the fuller text of the poem, where Moore rails against poets who are so abstract as to lose all that is genuine, one might think that she is in agreement with fanw.

But I can’t forget a moment toward the end of last night’s rehearsal, where the tenors and then the sopranos took turns singing a twelve-tone “melody” against a block chord in the other voices that was tonal (at least at first). It was strikingly beautiful, breathtaking in fact. And I’m going to hang in there to see if it gets better as we do, if in fact Schoenberg’s music is “not really modern, just badly played.”

Talk hard

I’m in a sketchy Travelodge (well, only as sketchy as the places I’ve stayed outside Tanglewood for our residencies, so not bad, just not the Ritz. Hey, there’s free Wifi.) in Lancaster, PA tonight. Just finished re-watching (for the first time in probably 15 years) Pump Up the Volume, the movie about the deep anxieties of teenage life as expressed through pirate radio that was so, so much better than it deserved to be. And of course in retrospect the parallels to blogging and podcasting are obvious. Got an issue? Seize the air. Talk hard. And your friends and fans will come out in droves to support you.

Well, maybe not so much that last part… In fact, the one thing in retrospect that was disappointing about that movie was that Mark “Hard Harry” Hunter, when he faced the crowd of high school students, FCC goons, and school administrators in that parking lot as he was being arrested, didn’t have to face his dad. Who, of course, was not the clueless wonder that Mark thought he was the whole time, but you never got to see that except in his slapdown of the principal. Mark never gets to reconcile. Or, more likely, never gets that look of anger fighting with disbelief from his dad. Of course, maybe it’s better that way, and you’re free to hope that, based on the evidence in the last scene, his family will understand him.

But this part, the connection to people you really know you, is probably the hardest part about blogging. I didn’t filter much when I started writing this site, and you can tell, particularly in the fall of 2002 when I hit a hard patch of depression. I put a lot out there. Was that because I felt free to do so while I was on the other side of the continent from my family? I don’t know. Lately though it seems to me that I filter too much on this site because I know so many people who are reading it, and they’re not so far away now. Not the concert reviews or the technical articles, or even the occasional political rant, but what I am thinking and doing at any given time. The site used to be about me. Now it’s about some of what I do. Not sure how I’m going to change that, but I’d like to. Fortunately I don’t have as many bad things going on, but it would be good to share some of the good things too.

I need to shake up my writing style a bit. It’s hard as my time to write becomes increasingly constricted, but I’ll start trying. After all, if Pump Up the Volume was powerful enough to encourage Amanda of the Dresden Dolls to write brilliant meditations about belonging and to try to get the attention of Conor Oberst at the same time, I can at least acknowledge the movie’s power by trying to write more honestly.

Well, speaking of honesty, I should probably acknowledge to myself that I need to sleep. There’s a family reunion tomorrow, along with an early morning church service that I need my voice for. So be it…

—Oh, and by the way. Anyone think the FCC has goons like the ones in the movie, who drive around in yellow vans that say FCC on them and triangulate radio signals and generally act like The Man? Don’t be silly. It’s the RIAA that does that; well, that and the Department of Homeland Security, who for some reason don’t contain the FCC as yet. Which is odd, since it seems to contain every other Federal agency in charge of infringing on the rights of American citizens in the name of the common good.

Sleep tight now.

Friday Random 10: Bring it!

Musical discovery of the week: Sufjan Stevens’ delicate masterpiece Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State takes on additional resonance as you’re driving through the industrial outskirts of Lansing. But it still doesn’t cleanse the chorus of “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” from your brain.

We are in town for a morning sales call and will be back on a plane, hopefully without snakes, this afternoon. I don’t think I’ll be seeing Snakes on a Plane tonight, but maybe this weekend—I’ll be in Lancaster County for the family reunion and might have an opportunity then.

  1. Peter Gabriel, “Powerhouse at the Foot of the Mountain” (Birdy)
  2. New Order, “Blue Monday” (International: The Best of New Order)
  3. Erasure, “Too Darn Hot” (Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter)
  4. Ted Leo/Pharmacists, “Heart Problems” (Shake the Sheets)
  5. Sleater-Kinney, “The Fox” (The Woods)
  6. Doves, “Caught by the River” (The Last Broadcast)
  7. Prince, “On the Couch” (Musicology)
  8. Neko Case, “Ghost Wiring” (Blacklisted)
  9. Inca Campers, “Vilcabamba” (Outside)
  10. R.E.M., “At My Most Beautiful” (Up)

Snakes on a Plane countdown 4: Cobra Starship

If you followed any links from Jeff Rowland’s copy Overcompensating that I pointed to yesterday, you may already have seen the music video for the Snakes on a Plane theme. Just in case, here it is:

You can also download “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” as an MP3, thanks to a bunch of MP3 bloggers, including the DIY Rockstar.

Now that this song is permanently embedded in your brain (and retinas!), what’s cool about this band is that, rather than being a b-movie version of the Black Eyed Peas as it might appear from the video, is that it’s essentially an indie supergroup. Featuring Gabe Saporta from Midtown, Travis McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, William Beckett from Academy Is…, and the incomparable Maja Ivarsson from The Sounds (plus a special appearance from Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy), the whole group comes together with a full on sonic assault that parodies big soaring movie themes while managing to be genuinely thrilling. Not what you’d expect from a bunch of ex-emo folks.

And as you may have noticed, Samuel L. Jackson is in the video, about two minutes in. And you might recognize his attire.