Grab bag: A good day for politics

links for 2008-08-22

The ineffable and the effable

Tonight we’re singing Beethoven’s Mass in C, which is one of those undeservedly underperformed works — at least, compared to the rest of the Beethoven corpus. Compared to the average early English sacred work, it’s practically ubiquitous.

It’s an interesting setting of the work for an interesting time. Beethoven wrote the work in 1807, and it’s hard not to hear the work through the filter of the political and cultural upheavals of the epoch. What role did the mass text have, what resonance and relevance, after revolutions ripped apart the old fabric of monarchies? You can hear some if Beethoven’s response in the setting of the Credo, which opens on an agitato string accompaniment and a low murmured “credo” from the chorus; as our director has remarked, it’s more question than declamation.

And yet there are oceanic passages throughout that speak to a deep tradition–the sacred chant and response of the Benedictus are probably the clearest connection to the old traditions. It is a work that repays close study, and performance.

Getting attention

There’s a cute comic up at WPLover that highlights an interesting UI trend: the rise of the speech bubble. If you don’t have a WordPress blog, you may never have seen this UI, but it’s pretty much as the comic strip shows it. In the dashboard UI, there are a series of tabs for common tasks–comment management, etc.–and if something needs your attention on one of those tabs, a “speech bubble” pops up with the number of things you need to address.

What the comic points out is that this makes perfect sense for comments (a speech bubble with the number of comments is a congruent metaphor). But indicating the number of plugins needing updates is a little different–should your WordPress plugins really be talking to you?

I think the first treatment of this concept that I saw was Apple’s new mail count in, but they didn’t treat it as a speech bubble (there was no “tail” on the little red badge showing the count). This treatment is probably the more portable UI convention.

links for 2008-08-19

Vacation, in the car

Ever have one of those vacations where it seems like you spent most of the time in the car? It took us forever to get to New Jersey and Lisa’s folks on Friday night, thanks in part to a two hour backup on the Tappan Zee Bridge. I think every now and then about that Paul Simon song that goes, “I believe in the future I may live in my car.” Thank goodness for rising gas prices; they’re the only thing standing in the way of that particular future.

We spent time on Saturday at the Jersey Shore (at Island Beach State Park) and I was reminded of why I really like the beach. I love Crane Beach but for various logistical reasons I’ve been less than thrilled the last few times I’ve gone. Plus, the gentle surf, pristine sand, and clear waters are all nice, but they don’t spell beach to me. I grew up near Virginia Beach and that, jellyfish and all, is the beach I enjoy. Island Beach had a lot of that–the rough surf, the cool but not frigid water, the feeling of being buffeted about by something larger than you. All aces in my book.

Sunday was a marathon trip over to Lancaster County, where we arrived at Leacock Presbyterian Church with ten minutes for me to go over the music for the service. We’ve had a tradition for the last few years (spearheaded by my cousin Don Brackbill) that the men of the Brackbill clan get a men’s chorus going on the Sunday of the Brackbill picnic, and we had a pretty good turnout this year although a few voices were missed.

The picnic itself, over at the Brackbill farm, was gorgeous–not too humid but warm, and the usual crowd of aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins, first cousins once removed, and dogs. I missed my grandfather and my uncle Harold, and my aunt Marie. But my cousin Catherine was there with her family, and it was nice to see them–they haven’t been to a reunion for a while. I’ll post pictures when I get them off my computer and phone; in the meantime, I have a few from 2003, 2005 and 2006 online (though not 2007, when it rained like crazy).

WordPress 2.6.1 is out

After the difficulty I had with the WordPress 2.6 upgrade, I was both hopeful that 2.6.1 would fix some of the bugs, and a little hesitant about the upgrade. Apparently both my anticipations were incorrect. WordPress 2.6.1 was released yesterday, and while there’s no explicit mention of the admin cookie bug that I hit on the 2.6 upgrade, my own upgrade to 2.6.1 was pretty easy.

The full fixed bug list is on the WordPress Trac, so you may want to see if there’s any fixes you need. As another commenter pointed out, there are few security fixes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any–the thing about a plugin without headers not appearing on the plugins page raises concerns about hidden malware that might be worth upgrading to avoid. Just remember to clear your cookies before you try to log back into the admin console after the upgrade.

Family vacation time

I’m heading south this afternoon. We’ll stay a day or two with Lisa’s parents, then head to Lancaster on Sunday for the family reunion.

This will be the first Brackbill reunion since my grandfather and aunt passed away. It feels odd to be heading back to Lancaster, a little like one of my feet has come unglued from gravity and I might float away.

At least the weather is going to be nice. It poured last year, which was a little bit of a bummer. And being down on the family farm, where my grandfather grew up and where his grandnephew still lives, is going to be nice in the August heat. I miss that honest humidity of the mid-Atlantic from time to time. I tried to capture it in photos back in 2006, but I think I didn’t succeed in doing it justice.

Grab bag: McCain, solar, Julia, make, code

Grab bag: Cyberwar, MBTA are morons, free licenses upheld

The return of Shannon Worrell

Shannon Worrell, an artist whom I developed a serious musical crush on in Charlottesville in the early ’90s, is recording again after an eight year hiatus and has a new album, The Honey Guide, coming out later this year. This is big news; her last album, released after the breakup of her band September 67, came out in 2000 into a critical vacuum. I liked The Moviegoer but it was too polished for my taste, and her new song (“Driving in the Dark”) has an edge to it that brings back what I liked best about Shannon, the honeyed whiskey voice and sharp eye and lyrical left hook that combined for an unsettlingly brilliant listen.

I had a perpetual cold and perpetual insomnia during my third and fourth year, the spring and summer and fall of 1993, and so used to hang out in a long-forgotten Charlottesville restaurant called the Corner Grill Main Street Grill. It didn’t do nearly the sort of business it needed to pay the rent on its fairly large footprint, which included a spacious upstairs room with a small stage, and it folded in late 1993. But my insomnia loved the coffee there, and my cold was nourished by the grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken soup. And the joint drew the kind of musicians that Charlottesville seemed to create out of the mud: Greg Howard and Tim Reynolds (playing as Sticks and Stones), Boyd Tinsley one memorable night (I dragged my fellow physics interns in the REU program there; he was guesting with Sticks and Stones, and it was a wild improvised set. I ended up peeing next to him in the tiny bathroom, shrinking from his immense height), and Shannon.

The first time I ever saw her, she played a solo set, her and an acoustic, then called up Kristin Asbury to do harmonies. I knew of Kristin from her work in one of the UVA a cappella groups (she was a Sil’hooette, I think) and somehow I felt that I was on stage with them. It was a weird out of body sort of moment that was reinforced by the wonderful Southern gothic strangeness of the songs.

Zalm and I saw her later that summer in another mostly solo show (I think that both Fred Boyce and the cellist who played on Three Wishes were there). There were quite a few funny notes about the songs on the first album, including one about an elderly couple who misheard the lyrics to “Witness” and thanked her very solemnly for her willingness to share personal details. It was a pretty incredible show. The CD came out the next spring; I embedded its tracks in mix tapes and spent the summer singing along to it, stretching out my high range for the first time. (I think that’s a big part of the reason that Reilly Lewis of the Cathedral Choral Society thought I was a first tenor.)

I next ran across her in Tower Records in 1997, when I found the September 67 release. We were both going places: I was doing well professionally, and she had signed a deal with the Enclave and was on the Lilith Fair tour. I played the crap out of Lucky Shoe, again putting it in mixes and sending it to friends. But not all good things last, and September 67 was dropped when EMI/Virgin merger went down. Her last record, The Moviegoer, crossed my path when I was just starting business school and it didn’t make as deep an impression. Then… silence for eight years.

So I’m pretty excited, obviously, about the new record, which is due in October. Along the way I noticed that Shannon didn’t have a Wikipedia entry, so I wrote one.

Real artists: ship, rip 78s, slow-cook beans. Pick one.