The James Madison Papers

Library of Congress: The James Madison Papers. A welcome addition to the trove of primary documents from our founding fathers that are now available online. Searchable, of course, though since I can’t link directly to a search results page you’ll have to try it out for yourself. (I suggest the searching the keyphrase university of virginia.)

Also of interest: this essay on Madison’s use of code and cipher, which will resonate with readers of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Interestingly, some of his cryptographic correspondents included Edmund Randolph, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson (this detail is left out of most Jefferson biographies).

Sadly, the images of the papers don’t come with transcriptions. This is a frustrating flaw in an otherwise impressive collection.

One review to rule them all

Ars Technica turns in its usually comprehensive (if not deeply propellerheadish) review on the newest Mac OS X release. Featuring more information than you ever thought you would need on metadata, imaging technologies, kernel extensions, and a little bit about actual user features, it’s by far the most comprehensive review of the OS yet for those who care not just about what their computer does but how it does it—or might be made to.

Mark your calendars: the Boston Symphony y yo

It looks like my debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra will actually be a Pops concert, or concert series to be precise. I’ll be performing in the Pops’s “Red, White and Blue” program for three performances in June. (I’m intrigued by the listing of an oud soloist on the program; haven’t seen the music yet so anything could be happening with that!) Then in July I’ll be at Tanglewood for Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which it appears is the “opening night” program.

It’s a good thing my SAT classes are almost over. Rehearsals are about to consume a lot of my time.

Review silence lifts on Tiger

In a few days we’ll find out whether Tiger, aka Mac OS X 10.4, is really the greatest thing since sliced bread or not. I’ll probably find out a little later than everyone else, since I ordered my copy from Amazon (so that I could take advantage of the big discounts; $50 off the family pack price is too compelling to refuse). Just looking at the review headlines gives a flavor of some of the anticipation:

Doing the right thing: Rogers Cadenhead

Congrats to Rogers Cadenhead, briefly notorious for his successful domain name speculation exercise resulting in his acquisition of, for doing the right thing and pointing the domain to, a local charity. He could have made a bunch of profit from the domain, but this is clearly the net positive choice for everybody. I hope the television crews don’t stop calling. I think he should at least get a free trip to Vatican City and an audience, if not one of those hats.

Regarding Dave Winer’s suggestion: I think there will be a healthy amount of blogging about the Pope’s actions and that it should have some central location. But I don’t think anyone going to for faith reasons is going to be persuaded by a bunch of critical articles. Setting up or will accomplish the same thing.

Email productivity tips

Now that I’m back in the real world (that is, not blogging all day long), I am definitely feeling the need to revisit some of the recommendations for time management at 43 Folders. Fortunately Merlin posted a roundup of email and task management recommendations today, including the following (drawn from the three individual posts):

  • Shut off auto-check, or set it to something reasonable like every 20 minutes.
  • Pick off the easy mails—if you can reply to something with a 1-2 line response, do it.
  • Write less.
  • Be honest—delete or archive the mails you’ll never do anything about.
  • Process each piece of incoming email as: delete, archive, defer for later response, generate an action, or respond immediately. Then go back to the response and action items and do them in batches.
  • Outlook and Entourage allow you to categorize task items. Use categories to provide the context around task items. Merlin suggests using functional categories (“chores,” “errand,” “write,” “calls”), computer-related categories, and categories like “agenda” to prevent items from falling off the plate.

First editions

I have succumbed to that illness to which bibliophiles are most vulnerable: first-edition mania. I used to be perfectly happy to go into a bookstore and find a clean well-designed paperback. Now nothing will do but older editions, the closer to a first the better.

Pictured in the Current Reading spot is the latest manifestation of this illness: a 1943 hardback edition of Eliot’s Four Quartets complete with (slightly torn) dustjacket, found in Richmond during a time when Esta and I were supposed to be keeping each other from buying anything. (We were both unsuccessful at that, by the way.) In my defense, my existing copies of the poem were either (a) tattered (paperback edition) or (b) cramped (in the Collected Poems), so of course that excuses getting another copy.

What is it that causes me to go out and do this? This isn’t even my first Eliot first edition; I have a clean Murder in the Cathedral that I found years ago in Georgetown. I think the attraction has to do with several things. First, the typography. There is usually no comparison between the work of a metal press from fifty or seventy-five years ago and modern offset printing. The physicalness of the slight indentations in the paper and the even color are generally far superior. Too, many paperbacks are reproduced in photo offset from the original hardcover settings but with tighter margins, making the page both less legible and more cramped.

And there is a sense of history that often speaks directly to the work. One thing I noticed in this 1943 edition was the color of the paper. Unlike some of my books from the 1920s and 1930s, the paper of this edition had browned like a paperback—because during World War II the only paper that was available had a high acid content (the necessary materials to produce better paper were needed elsewhere for the war effort). Knowing this and holding it in your hands lends an entirely new perspective to Eliot’s poems of loss, time, and redemption, particularly “Little Gidding,” which takes on a terrible concreteness when you situate it in wartime England in 1943:

Ash on and old man’s sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
    This is the death of air.

(Thanks to Tristan for an excellent online text and notes on the poems.)

For a better discussion of the semantic interplay between text and book, check out Jerome McGann’s Black Riders: The Visual Language of Modernism.

Review: The Cure, Faith (Deluxe Edition)

the cure faith deluxe edition

This weekend as I was driving around in the rain with Charlie, I was playing “The Drowning Man” from the Cure’s seminal 1981 release Faith on the car stereo. My friend asked, “Which band is this?” When I told him it was the Cure, he said, “Oh. There have been so many new bands coming out that sound like the Cure, I wasn’t sure whether it was one of them or the real thing.”

Which is to say, this new series of double-disc reissues of the Cure’s early albums, which started last fall with Three Imaginary Boys and continues tomorrow with Seventeen Seconds, Pornography, and Faith, could not come at a more auspicious time. Thanks to bands like Interpol and Bloc Party, which owe debts to Robert Smith’s moody musical style and eccentric vocals respectively, the time is ripe for a rediscovery of the Cure’s legacy. And this series of reissues is definitely the right way to do it.

The sound on this reissue is gorgeously clean. At this point in their history, the revolving Cure line-up was down to a core of three: Smith on vocals and lead, Simon Gallup on bass, and Laurence Tolhurst on drums, with keyboardist Matthieu Hartley abruptly leaving days before the recording session started. Slimmed down to the elemental basics, the band’s playing is honed tight, with Gallup’s big bass sound up front and Smith’s guitars washing over the mix. (For better or worse, this is also the release where, perhaps to fill in some of the gaps in the mix, Smith started reverbing the hell out of his vocals.)

And some of the songs on this disc are stone classics. The major lyrical inspirations for the songs are said to be the death of “several friends and relations” and the terminal illness of Tolhurst’s mother, and that combined with Smith’s meditations on faith and disbelief provide the thematic core for the album. There is a broad sonic range within the basic bleakness of the album: “Primary” and “Other Voices,” which both appear on the excellent Staring at the Sea compilation, are jittery, paranoid fun, as is “Doubt,” while “The Funeral Party,” “The Drowning Man,” and “Faith” are majestic, epic stretches of unremitting rainy darkness. This release is where the Cure found the heart of darkness that was only hinted in earlier songs. The band wouldn’t release another album that was so thoroughly and completely dark until Disintegration closed out their classic period at the end of the 1980s, but the darkness that flowered on Faith is what many still consider to be the Cure’s classic sound, and it would reappear lyrically or musically on almost every other Cure release.

The bonus material is excellent on this release, as with the others in the series. Rounding out Disc 1 is a 27-minute instrumental called “Carnage Visors,” a soundtrack to a 1981 tour film and previously available on the cassette version of Faith. Disc 2 consists of home demos and studio out-takes of the “Faith” material, three previously unreleased songs cut during the Faith sessions, and majestic live performances from the summer of 1981. Disc 2 closes with the Cure’s landmark 1981 single “Charlotte Sometimes,” previously available on the Staring at the Sea compilation, in which the dead ground covered by the Faith sessions yields a sinisterly beautiful flower, a perfect goth pop single.

On April 26, the Cure release expanded editions of Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography. To hear some of the tracks from all three releases, check out The Cure Sampler Listening Party.

If you are going to buy more than one Cure CD and would like to save money, go to the Rhino website.

Review originally posted at BlogCritics.

House weekend

Lisa and I went with Charlie to see the This Old House Carlisle Project this weekend. As regular readers will recall, we infiltrated the area a few months ago to find trade trucks pulled up but otherwise nothing much in the way of visible activity. This trip was a little different. For one thing, we were paying to go—which was ok as the proceeds from the tickets support a good cause. For another, there were no trades in sight (though there was still some work to be done). This tour was really about the house and what the decorators had done with it.

I’m pleased to report that even the most questionable rooms (with one exception) looked much better in person than they did on TV. The “very red” entrance hall actually looked really good, for instance, as did the kids’ bedrooms. The topiary dragonfly over the breakfast table, however, looked not just out of place but scary. We asked a number of pointed questions about the sculpture, such as whether it needed to be watered and whether the family that bought the house was planning to keep it. (Oh yeah, spoiler warning, highlight text to read: someone bought the house for about $1.8 million.)

One comment from just about everyone on the tour was how much smaller the house felt than it looked on TV. I thought that was a tribute to the architect; it could easily have felt echoey and cavernous. Some spaces, including the library, were just about perfectly proportioned and executed. But I thought the barn was disappointingly unbarnlike after the decorators got done with it. The fireplace helped add ambience as did the barn timbers, but mostly it felt like a room with tall ceilings.

Lisa and I both decided it was much more satisfying watching the actual structural work happen than touring the house as a designer showcase. And we know how I feel about interior design showcases. (I should note, however, that it was a hell of a lot of fun to check out the mechanicals in the basement. The boiler and those plumbing manifolds look even more impressive in real life.)

Free music at Amazon

Via Boing Boing and Joi Ito, the free music download directory at Amazon. Don’t get too excited, though: except for a handful of exclusives (such as a soporific b-side from Moby’s latest album), many of the interesting tracks on the Amazon site are widely available elsewhere, including the artists’s own sites and Salon’s Daily Download (registration or daily pass required).

The interesting bit about Amazon’s service is that it links to everyone’s downloads, not just the interesting ones. So if you were looking for a jazz cover of “California Here I Come,” Amazon is the place. But don’t expect to find buzzworthy singles without a lot of searching. That, after all, is what MP3 blogs are for.

What is more interesting to me is the fact that so many sites like this exist to point people to what is essentially advertising. There is a real ecosystem around free MP3s, and you can see how they can build real buzz around an artist. Look at Bloc Party, for instance; pretty well unknown stateside prior to last fall, but with the help of a free MP3 for their Cure-meets-Thin-Lizzy “Banquet” they were a big favorite going into SXSW. Not surprising that savvy labels like Sub Pop are using free downloads intelligently and programmatically (check the Downloads RSS Feed) to build buzz.

Altering my RSS workflow with BlogLines

Since moving back to the East Coast, I had the luxury of managing a single-location infrastructure. All my mail, calendar, blog management, and most importantly my RSS subscriptions were in the same place: on my laptop. Now that I’ve started work, I’ve discovered some cool ways to manage the RSS part of the workflow from multiple locations.

The key is Bloglines, the online feedreading service that I knew about but had never used prior to this week. I populated Bloglines with a set of important work related feeds (a very short list, compared to my list of 200+ subscriptions). Then I used a new feature in NetNewsWire to add my BlogLines feeds to my reading list, deleting the equivalent versions from my regular subscriptions.

Now, if I read a news item in CNet from home via BlogLines, it’s not downloaded when I open NetNewsWire at home, or vice versa. This enables the best of both worlds: I get to read a subset of my feeds through a lightweight, low impact web interface, and don’t have to manage already-read content through my fuller-featured reader.

The only concern I have about the feature is following up on the items later to blog them. I don’t do very much blogging from work—at least not until I get my formal product management blog ramped up—and there’s no convenient way to keep track of items for later blogging that is preserved from BlogLines to NetNewsWire. My interim solution is to email URLs to myself; not elegant, but effective. (I can also mark memorable items as “keep new,” but since the new setting gets reset when I view the item through Bloglines that’s a less ambiguous way of keeping an item available than flagging it.)


CNET Patriot Act’s technology-related sections to be scrutinized. Declan McCullagh posts a brief summary to the three sections in question, all of which are subject to the “sunset” provisions mercifully contained in the original act. Section 209 concerns the rules for police access to voicemail stored on a provider’s system; 217 makes it easier for law enforcement to assist computer system owners in monitoring unauthorized intrusions; and 220 allows search warrants for locations anywhere in the country to be issued from the district where the crime occurs.

Declan points to a very cogent debate on 209 and 220 between Jim Dempsey and Orin Kerr, which boils down to: the need for some of the changes in these sections are clear to bring the law into the electronic world, but so is the need for extension of constitutional checks and balances on these new powers. Kerr suggests that including a suppression remedy (ensuring that improperly obtained evidence is suppressed in subsequent proceedings); extending civil action and administrative discipline guidelines to ensure that emergency exceptions are not abused; and finally some concern about how users should be notified if their electronic records are searched.


I may be able to add a celebrity blogger to my HooBlogs register of blogging University of Virginia alumni, now that it looks as though Katie Couric (along with NBC’s other anchors) might be starting a blog (thanks to MicroPersuasion for the link, original story at Yahoo).

Katie, if you need any support or advice about blogging in general or blogging from inside a corporation in particular, let me be the first to volunteer my assistance.

Big box stores

My new office is in Framingham, and it’s surrounded by big box stores. Coming in, I pass a financial services complex and a big box mall on my left, and a big box strip on my right. Just past my office is a big box grocery store (the “super” version of Stop and Shop). In a two mile radius can be found Office Max, Office Depot, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Target, Macy’s, Filene’s Basement, Best Buy, Tweeter, Comp USA, BJ’s wholesale club, and Old Navy, among many others, plus an assortment of supporting stores like Panera and Starbucks that seem to accompany the big boxes like birds picking insects out of a crocodile’s mouth.

Is it odd that I feel a sort of relief in the litany above? These are stores that can be found next to most white collar office parks. They were in Fairfax and in Redmond (or Bellevue), and tend to show up near most of the places I have traveled on business. Their purpose in life seems to be to place everything within reach that you might need to pick up on your lunch hour or on your way home from work. At this job they are very good. Big box stores are a little like APIs for office worker shopping; they make it easy and simple to accomplish known tasks and are present wherever you go.

Of course, that is their downside as well. There are no surprises with big box stores, only the same things you can buy everywhere else. And there is a terrible cost—in wasted space, in environmental impact (you need an SUV to take home all your big big purchases!), in health (have you ever eaten in the restaurants that cluster next to big boxes? They should all have standard defibrillators to go with the hubcap sized plates), in soul.

But oh, the convenience.

Friends with bands

The benefit of sitting on postable items is that sometimes they pile up into some neat connections, as is the case with these three friends-with-bands stories. First, here in the Boston environs, Chris Rigopulos’s band Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives has released its second album, Second and Eighteen. (Chris was the lead guitarist with the Jack Tang Orchestra back at Sloan.)

Second, Craig Fennell, who sang at our wedding and who was a dear friend for many years starting in the Glee Club days, takes time off from his landscape architecture job (and, apparently, weight training. My God, it’s full of muscles!) to play keys and sing in Wonderjack, a DC area band that’s starting to get some radio play. The band’s bassist is another former Virginia Gentleman and Glee Club member, Dan Roche—congrats on the nuptials, Dan. (Nice band pics by another Glee Club friend, Guido Peñaranda.)

Finally, Justin Rosolino has added a new credit to his resume: producer. Apparently he sat behind the boards (as well as behind the electric guitars) for Portrait of Another, which (completing the UVA connection) is the band of the housemate of Hooblogger Hunter Chorey.