Burning down the house

I never thought I would say this, but having the extra time to fix dinner every night is starting to get boring. Not that I don’t like cooking but I seem to get in a rut, and sometimes I just simply don’t have the energy.

So last night I was looking forward to revisiting a recipe I had made previously, a simple one: broiler chicken roasted in a cast iron pan with ramps and garlic. Sadly, it appears to still be too early for ramps here (if social distancing will permit them to be harvested at all), so I substituted some scallions.

I didn’t remember how incredibly smoky the house got as a result of the cooking method, which calls for preheating a cast iron skillet at 500° for 45 minutes, then cooking the chicken for 30 minutes before adding the ramps/scallions and some garlic. I ended up having to disconnect every smoke alarm in the house and open a few doors and windows to clear out the smoke.

But it was delicious, and it redoubled my resolve toward one goal: someday, when we renovate this kitchen, I’m getting a range hood that vents outside. Dreams…

You Are the Everything

Sometimes I feel like I can’t even sing
I’m very scared for this world, I’m very scared for me
Eviscerate your memory
Here’s a scene
You’re in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around
To the sound of the travel and the engine
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn’t end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen
And they’re there for you
For you alone, you are the everything

I think about this world a lot and I cry
And I’ve seen the films and the eyes
But I’m in this kitchen
Everything is beautiful
And she is so beautiful
She is so young and old
I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music
The voices talking somewhere in the house, late spring
And you’re drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth
You are here with me
You are here with me
You have been here and you are everything

Sometimes I feel like I can’t even sing
I’m very scared for this world, I’m very scared for me
Eviscerate your memory
Here’s a scene
You’re in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around
To the sound of the travel and the engine
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn’t end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The greatest thing you’ve ever seen
And they’re there for you
For you alone, you are the everything
For you alone you are the everything

New Mix: Exfiltration Radio 13, Positive Vibrations

Illustration credit: “Monty Stark/Stark Reality,” Espontaneo on Flickr.

As I wrote last month, our twice-a-year Hackathon would have started yesterday, if not for the Current Unpleasantness, and this mix would have been on the “air” (or our virtual radio station) at 10am this morning. Following in the steps of previous volumes “The Low End Theory” and “The Mighty Hammond,” this is a jazz mix that focuses on the contribution of one instrument, the vibraphone.

For me, the vibes are the instrument that makes midcentury jazz cool—not in the sense of Joe Cool but in the elegant, restrained tone they bring in the hands of a master like Milt Jackson. It was therefore a surprise a few years ago to find their avant-garde side, first in the hands of Bobby Hutcherson (who plays on four tracks in this set), then my more recent discovery, Walt Dickerson. I had to cut the set for time, but there are some pretty significant modern vibes players out there too who are well worth checking out, including Joel Ross.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed putting it together, and remember, stay positive.

  1. Delilah (Take 3)Milt Jackson And Wes Montgomery (Bags Meets Wes!)
  2. First Things FirstRed Norvo (Hi Five)
  3. Wait Til You See HerGeorge Shearing Quintet (I Hear Music)
  4. MarsGil Melle (New Faces – New Sounds)
  5. Serves Me Right (Take 5)Cannonball Adderley (Things Are Getting Better)
  6. Death and TaxesWalt Dickerson (Spiritual Jazz 10: Prestige)
  7. Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)Cal Tjader (Talkin’ Verve)
  8. LatonaBig John Patton (Let ’Em Roll)
  9. Jean De FleurGrant Green (Idle Moments)
  10. Searchin’ the TraneBobby Hutcherson (Spiritual Jazz Vol. 9 – Blue Notes, Part One)
  11. The Original Mr. Sonny Boy WilliamsonArchie Shepp (On This Night)
  12. VisionsSun Ra and Walt Dickerson (Visions)

Guide to the players:

  • Milt Jackson (tracks 1 and 5) — most famous as the longtime vibes player of the Modern Jazz Quartet, he appears to have played with everyone in the classic post-bop era.
  • Red Norvo (track 2) — 1950s bandleader, played with Frank Sinatra on a few tours
  • Marjorie Hyams (track 3) — American jazz vibraphonist who played with everyone from Woody Herman to Mary Lou Williams to George Shearing
  • Joe Manning (track 4) — not much is known. Recorded on Gil Mellé’s first Blue Note session.
  • Walt Dickerson (track 6, 12) — jazz post-bop and avant-garde player noted for his collaborations with Andrew Hill and Sun Ra
  • Cal Tjader (track 7) — probably the most famous non-Latino player of Latin jazz. Brought cool to soul jazz.
  • Bobby Hutcherson (tracks 8-11) — bandleader who guested on many 1960s Blue Note and some Impulse sessions, including these featuring Joe Henderson, Grant Green, and Archie Shepp

Eight UVa basketball players who sang

Basketball spot illustration, 1925 Corks and Curls, p. 274.

I started writing this post six years ago, and for some reason never finished. It felt like a good time to pick it back up, since we were robbed of the chance to defend our NCAA championship title this year.

As I began writing this in 2014, UVa men’s basketball is in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. It’s pretty sweet, and it’s a good reminder that Virginia has its fair share of sports successes. The games have inspired me to dive into the archives, and I’ve found eight Virginia Glee Club alums who also played hoops for UVa. In chronological order:

George Harold Atkisson. From Quincy, Illinois, Atkisson (1887 – 1964) played center in 1906–1907 for Virginia.

Percy Rudolph AshbyA Hampton boy, Ashby (1888 – 1931) was an engineering student who was also at home on the court and on the track.

UVA Men's Basketball Team, in 1912 Corks and Curls
UVA Men’s Basketball Team, in 1912 Corks and Curls

Edward White Kearns. Born 1890 in Taunton, Massachusetts, Kearns wasn’t just a basketball player–playing at right forward, he was also captain of the team in 1911–1912, having played the previous year with Ashby. That year the team went 7 and 4, losing to Guilford, Georgetown (twice), and Washington & Lee (a blowout, 24 – 9).

Charles Cazeove Plummer. This engineering student from Mobile, Alabama (born 1899, died 1967) was also in the German Club, meaning that he was responsible for helping to plan and organize the germans, or formal cotillons, for the student body.

Carlysle Allen Bethel. Bethel (born 1904 in Richmond, Virginia, died 1996) appears to have been a well rounded athlete, as he played on both the football and basketball squad in 1923 – 1924.

Norman N. Adler. Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, Adler was a basketball player, ran track, and was in the Navy ROTC program during the war years, graduating in 1944. He went on to become a physician, practicing in New York until his death in 1988.

Roger Dana Fraley. Fraley likely played on the team alongside Adler. Born in 1923 in Cleveland, Virginia, he appears to have been highly active at Virginia, as he was also a member of Alpha Tau Omega, the Raven Society, the Honor Committee, Alpha Kappa Psi, the semi-secret T.I.L.K.A., and the political organization Skull and Keys. He died in 2011.

Robert B. Roberson. The last (so far) singing hoops player on the list, Roberson, graduating in 1964, played varsity basketball and baseball and was also the sports editor of the Cavalier Daily, which is a pretty neat trick if you ask me.

The vinyl inheritance: really, really finished

I’ve written before about the project to rip all my vinyl, and about the various donors to what is currently a towering stack of unshelved records. But today I finished making my way through the very first group of donated vinyl, a set of about 100 records from my in-laws.

The last album, which sat untouched for almost a year, was a ten-record set of classical “greatest hits,” presented (though not played) by the great Arthur Fiedler. It’s got a little of everything around the world, if by “the world” you mean Europe (including Russia) in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a Reader’s Digest compilation, which of course means it’s Pleasure Programmed® (though it didn’t come with one of the amazing “pleasure programmer” card inserts). In this case, it just means that the selections are organized geographically — not always by country of origin of the composer, given that the Hungarian record features works from Italian, German and Swiss composers, in addition to the inevitable Franz Liszt, but by “mood.”

But it’s a pretty good tour of the canon and adjacent islands anyway. My wife, who is not normally forthcoming with musical memories, noted that she used to spend many hours with this set. Guess I have something to do with my time now that we have many hours at home…

The Untitled Goose Game is the game we need right now

It’s a sign of how incredibly high our boredom levels are that we bought a Nintendo Switch this past week. It arrived yesterday and we hooked it up. Of course the games we ordered won’t come until later this week, but we checked out the online store and there it was.

“What’s the ‘Untitled Goose Game’?” Lisa asked.

I explained about how the mission of the goose is to be as obnoxious as possible to the people of the village.

“Get it,” she said.

After playing it for a while — and having The Boy play it — I ended up buying a copy for our Mac too. There’s something about being a butthead goose that is amazingly satisfying.

New mix: Exfiltration radio 12, Musical Piracy

Next week would have been Veracode’s Hackathon, during which we do a lot of crazy things, including run a volunteer company Internet radio station. I’ve made a bunch of one-hour-long mixes over the last few years for this effort, and was looking forward to playing along loosely with the Hackathon theme (pirates!) this time, starting with an unusual (for me) mix of covers.

Of course, the pandemic intervened. So it goes.

But I had already completed one of my two planned mixes (the next one is, as they say, Coming Soon), so I figured, why not post it anyway?

A few notes about the mix: it is a covers mix, because what is the act of taking someone else’s song and making it yours but musical piracy? And the covers are all reggae or reggae-adjacent (except for a bit near the end of reggae and ska originals of more famous cover versions by English and American bands), because (a) there’s a long tradition of reggae covers of popular songs that is a fun rabbit hole to go down, and (b) reggae is a music of the islands where the Caribbean pirates once sailed, and (c) one of the members of our pick-up band absolutely hates reggae. Also, (d) Dread Zeppelin. Enjoy!

  1. Black DogDread Zeppelin ( Un-Led-Ed )
  2. Sugar SugarBob Marley ( Randy’s Cover Versions )
  3. Mother & Child ReunionHorace Andy ( Mr. Bassie )
  4. The Song Remains the SameDread Zeppelin ( 5,000,000 )
  5. Don’t Let Me DownMarcia Griffiths ( Reggae Anthology: Melody Life )
  6. Here Comes the SunPeter Tosh ( 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Peter Tosh )
  7. Heartbreaker (At the End of Lonely Street)Dread Zeppelin ( Un-Led-Ed )
  8. Bridge over Trouble WatersJimmy London ( A Little Love )
  9. High and Dry (feat. Morgan Heritage)Easy Star All-Stars ( Radiodread (Special Edition) )
  10. Your Time Is Gonna ComeDread Zeppelin ( Un-Led-Ed )
  11. LithiumLittle Roy ( Battle for Seattle )
  12. The Tide Is HighThe Paragons ( On the Beach With the Paragons )
  13. Rudy, a Message to YouDandy Livingstone ( Copasetic! The Mod Ska Sound )
  14. Wrong’em BoyoThe Rulers ( Copasetic! The Mod Ska Sound )
  15. Immigrant SongDread Zeppelin ( Un-Led-Ed )
  16. Dub Will Tear Us ApartJah Division ( Rough Mix From Their TBA 12″ | www.thesocialregistry.com )

Plague diary, Day 14

As we end the second week since my company went all-virtual, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my favorite memes about the pandemic—the ones that point out that Generation X, we of latchkey kids, self-parenting, and quiet isolation, as well as songs about “when to stay in” and being “stupid and contagious,” are well poised to survive this crisis. There’s more than a nugget of truth in these, and even though I was never a latchkey kid (thanks, Mom), I was always pretty good at entertaining myself and staying inside.

But there’s a darker truth under these memes. Somewhere in the back of most GenX’s mind is another archetypal narrative about having to be self sufficient indoors for an indefinitely long period of time while civilization ends outside. I’m talking about The Day After.

You can watch the movie on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it, especially right now. Suffice to say that the morning after this movie, which depicts midwestern families sorting through the rubble after a nuclear exchange blankets the entire world with radioactive fallout, was the only time that my thirty-plus-minute school bus ride across town to middle school was ever quiet.

It’s impossible to describe now how our psychology was shaped by the Cold War. Constant headlines about troop movements in Europe on the cover of Newsweek; the Doomsday Clock; saber-rattling from a hawkish president… all of it was in the background. But this movie was somehow more immediate and impactful. We might have done duck-and-cover drills in elementary school, but this movie was the thing that brought it home, particularly its depiction of the young heroine Denise running out of the fallout shelter to a beautiful blue sky… overlooking fields covered with highly radioactive fallout.

Thankfully, our current situation is wildly different in most ways from the world of The Day After. Our world is not going to end; in fact, it’s currently enjoying a respite from the normal air pollution caused by our global economy. And with the Internet unaffected by electromagnetic pulses, we can work, speak to our families, host virtual cocktail parties, even make it seem like we’re at the beach. (Thanks, Zoom and Slack.)

(Side note: I realized yesterday that video chatting on Webex may be forever dead to me, at least for the duration of the crisis. It’s one thing to show up on Zoom for a work meeting; quite another to put your face on Webex, with no virtual background blocking out the environment around your not-very-temporary home office.)

But the important difference with this crisis is the inversion in the danger profile. It’s not fatal for us to venture outside our houses—far from it, though I seem to be unable to make time for a brisk walk most days. But it might be really bad for us to meet another person. We cling to Zoom because it’s our lifeline, the only way for us to safely maintain human contact outside our immediate families.

Still, it’s important to remember, despite our GenX combination of resilience and post-traumatic stress*, that we are in a far, far better place. This pandemic will end. We will be able to greet one another again. And we can buy more toilet paper.

* It was a lot harder to write this than I thought it would be. The fear of nuclear annihilation is still in me all these years later. Scary as it is, I’ll take this future over that Cold War past.

Plague diary, Day 12

This was my impression of yesterday afternoon:

But it was. An early spring snowfall is far from unheard of in New England, but this felt more personal, somehow.

Massachusetts issued the order to stay home and to close the in-person operations of non-essential businesses yesterday. This is essentially where my company has been for the past week-plus, but it’s harder to shift businesses that aren’t already mostly digital to this mode of operation. I worry about the bankruptcies that are likely to follow.

We also got a remote learning plan, sort of, from the Town of Lexington. The main details are clear enough—it starts next Monday, grades will be pass-fail, instructional time will be shorter, and there will be a combination of online and offline activities. What is less clear is how we will keep the kids on track when both their parents are working full time from home.

Plague diary, day 11

Beginning Friday, March 13, we were asked to work from home as a one day trial. The day before, it was announced that Lexington Public Schools would close for two weeks starting Friday, March 13. (They’ve since added another week.) Our work-from-home was subsequently extended for the same two weeks. The only thing bearable about this coincidence is that the schools don’t yet have their act together with respect to distance learning. This means that, so far, I haven’t had to be a teacher at the same time that I’m trying to work from home.

Which is good, because this week my company’s engineers and product managers are trying to do “big room planning” for the next quarter. Traditionally this is done by putting everyone together in a big hotel ballroom and putting up plans on the wall so they can be inspected by walking around. Not gonna happen that way this quarter. We are going to a system of Zoom and hope for the best.

On a related note, Zoom now appears to have become critical national infrastructure, judging from the companies, churches, and virtual cocktail parties that have moved there.

Here in Lexington, physical distancing appears to have translated for most as “work from home,” but there have certainly been other effects. Restaurants are now takeout only. The town shut down all personal care services (haircuts, nail salons, massages, spas) on Friday. The Trader Joe’s in neighboring Arlington Heights was controlling how many people could be in the store at one time, and how close we could stand to each other in the checkout line. (Strips of painter’s tape six feet apart on the aisle near the checkout bore handwritten thanks for our patience and support of keeping everyone healthy.) A week ago the bike path was more crowded than was probably healthy, but at least people have been able to get some fresh air.

This is the second week in a row we’ve done virtual church. We have been broadcasting our services for years on public access TV, and propitiously began live streaming on YouTube two months ago. The combination of YouTube stream plus Apple TV make for a feeling of almost human contact on the 55″ screen in the living room, but it is very clearly not the same. Watching the service, it was clear our pastors missed being with us and seeing our faces as much as we missed them. But virtual communion (described in the service bulletin) helped alleviate some of the pain of separation.

Honestly, my personal worst part of it all so far has been another gout attack. But there are somber notes elsewhere, including the death of a Franciscan friar I knew at the monastery where the Suspicious Cheese Lords have sung so many masses over the years.

Diary of the Plague

It is now day four of my exile from my office, as we (and most of our fellow human beings) are working from home in the face of the novel coronavirus. One thing physical isolation has done for me is to take me on a journey of spiritual isolation, which, as Kathleen Norris will tell you (read Dakota: A Spiritual Journey sometime), is good for the soul. I don’t know if I’m becoming any closer to God, but I am at least motivated to post here for the first time in more than a month, and that’s something.

Last Wednesday we had a company town hall at work. Normally these are given in our crowded office kitchen/meeting room and are standing room only; Thursday the chairs were set six feet apart and we were instructed to join by Zoom if we didn’t get a chair. We quickly learned that we needed a bigger Zoom license to accommodate all the remote viewers, but that was ironed out within a few minutes. When our CEO announced that we would all trial working from home on Friday, someone suggested on our company Slack channel that we should wear our best pajamas. The mood was ebullient, a little like the days that you know a big blizzard is coming.

Now I think the reality is starting to set in. Crowds were horrific at every grocery store over the weekend as people stocked up. We’ve had four days of no school with no distance learning plans, leaving those of us working from home to improvised educational activities while acknowledging that our kids were going to get a lot more screen time than normal. Going outside feels like cheating and like a revelation from God.

Things that seemed sensible on Monday that I no longer feel blasé about: going to the grocery store for some things we were running low on; visiting the liquor store to stock up on wine; trying a new cocktail recipe every night over the weekend.

Now we’re all settling in for the long haul and finding other ways to liven our moods. Everyone at my company discovered the virtual backgrounds feature in Zoom yesterday—we’ve all been on Zoom for two years, having mostly kissed Webex goodbye as a bad memory, but I can only remember a handful of us using the feature. Now it’s everywhere. (I might have to try this one out today. More here.)

I’m not ready to post the relentlessly upbeat mixes that I created for our (postponed) Hackathon, though. The cheer seems inappropriate; plus I keep holding out hope that I’ll have an opportunity to spring them on my surprised audience soon.

Apple Music follow up – iPhone tips

Following last week’s post about plunging into Apple Music, I have to temper my initial mild exuberance with some reality checks about things that didn’t work so well, and how I got past them. The issues are almost all related to my iPhone, but there was also some playlist weirdness that I had to work through.

Learning number 1: You can’t copy music to your iPhone via sync when you choose to sync your whole library via iCloud. This seems kind of obvious when you write it out that way, but this was a major problem because lots of playlists were just not showing up for me when I flipped my phone to do a library sync with iCloud. These included my smart playlists that I listen to almost all the time (and which I’ll have to write up sometime soon).

Learning number 2: The new Finder-based iPhone sync doesn’t pick up newly created playlists until the Mac Music app is quit. I thought I was losing my mind, because in an effort to fix the missing playlists problem, I created new copies of the playlists with the same rules but different names. And none of them were showing up in the Finder iPhone Sync window. After I quit Music, the new playlists appeared, as did other changes that I made.

This reminds me of something I remembered about third party apps that read the iTunes library file a long time ago — certain changes had to wait for the app to quit because it would keep the file locked until then. Or maybe it was that there was an XML shadow copy of the library that was only updated on Quit? Anyway, I now could at least see the playlist.

Learning number 3: Sometimes you just have to burn it to the ground and start over. Even after I saw the playlist in the Finder, clicked the checkbox, and synced my iPhone, I still didn’t see the playlist when I opened the Music app in the iPhone. This morning I just decided to hell with it, turned off all music syncing, then turned it back on and copied the playlist over. Which worked.

I’m kind of glad I did this, because it gave me some evidence for some benefits in syncing in Catalina. I copied over about half my playlists — tens of GB of data — in less than 30 minutes. This gives me confidence that the underlying synchronization should be at least as fast, if not faster, than the iTunes based sync in Mojave and before.

Other observations:

Syncing your library sometimes duplicates playlists. I’m not sure where the issue was here, but I had something like two or three copies of some of my common playlists after turning on library syncing on my iPhone, iPad and work computer. I deleted the extras, crossing my fingers that I wasn’t causing any problems, but am not sure that this didn’t contribute to the issues I saw on my iPhone.

The way playlists show up in the Finder is a mess. The list of playlists is a garbage fire. Possibly related to the observation above, I saw not only playlists but folders duplicated in the Finder list—and the duplicate folders sometimes had different contents. Not only that, but the playlists in a folder weren’t in alphabetical order. This means that finding a playlist to include in a sync is a total mess.

Now that I’ve gotten through all the above, I am starting to wonder if all my initial problems were caused by a goofed-up iPhone Music library, and if turning on library syncing again might result in a fully working setup. I’m inclined to try the experiment, since syncing did solve one persistent problem for me by making regular-resolution copies of songs that were too high-resolution for the iPhone to handle available for mobile play. But I think I’ll wait until after the weekend.

The mystery of the giant Florentine skeleton, solved

When we traveled in Italy this summer, I was struck by a weird artifact in Apple Maps while we were planning a stroll around Florence one morning. It looked like a giant skeleton. I tweeted about it and then forgot about it:

Well, it turns out that it was, in fact, a Thing. And Apple was lucky enough to catch it in their 3D model.

The 2017 ‘Ytalia’ Art Exhibition at the Forte di Belvedere included a massive sculpture called “Calamita Cosmica” by the artist Gino di Dominicis. There were a couple of good contemporary writeups and other photos by bloggers including Aidan Doyle and Sue Jane.

Amazingly, it looks like the skeleton artwork is quite old; Dominicis passed away back in 1998, but his art is still touring the globe.