It’s time for the Muppet Wiki

Nice database of all things Henson related shaping up at the Muppet Wiki. There are already some pretty comprehensive Muppet sites out there, so it will be interesting to see if the wiki format adds anything new. But you have to be impressed with a format that includes a full biography of Mahna Mahna and a listing of every appearance of the Swedish Chef.

The NSA: another candidate for coals in the stocking

Boing Boing: NSA stops using web cookies on after privacy protests. This after news that also drops cookies, these from a third party tracking site. Both actions are in violation of federal directives banning the use of persistent cookies.

Especially juicy quote from security consultant Richard M. Smith of Cambridge, who reportedly “questioned whether persistent cookies would even be of much use to the security agency. They are great for news sites and others with repeat visitors, Mr. Smith said, but the agency’s site does not appear to have enough fresh content to warrant more than occasional visits.” Heh.

Interesting, btw, how many times Richard M. Smith drops a choice quote for stories like these (see his comments on the DMCA and on Sony BMG). He’s becoming the Larry Sabato of computer security stories.

New mix: “steal the crumbs”

My latest mix, Steal the crumbs, has been posted at Art of the Mix. I may post it to the iTunes Music Store but will need to spend time finding a bunch of the tracks, since only about half of them showed up when I posted it earlier.

The mix is a response to Fury’s food mix of several months ago, More Spice Than the Frugal Gourmet. Esta has indicated that she’ll be making a food mix as well. Maybe we should make a chain and see how many different CD-length food mixes we can make without repeating a song.

Duck a la hairdryer

It’s been a nice long holiday so far. We saw Lisa’s parents off this morning, mine came yesterday. We took Esta skiing and have generally been having a good time. It’s been nice getting away from everything, including the blog, for a while, just to think and be with family. I highly recommend it.

Oh, the title? Just a quick note: if you want to cook a duck with good flavor and a crispy skin without drowning in fat, pack your hairdryer and your Marcella Hazan. I wish I had thought to get pictures of my wife and my mother-in-law bending over our two ducks for Christmas dinner, fresh out of their boil in the pot, waving a hairdryer over them with intense concentration. It was worthwhile. The skin was thin and crispy, the meat flavorful without being greasy.

Congrats to Dan Gillmor

A year and change after announcing his departure from the San Jose Mercury News, Dan Gillmor announced the formation of the Center for Citizen Media yesterday, a nonprofit think tank with a focus on the “grassroots media sphere” and “citizen journalism.” The center starts out with two partnerships–one with Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and one with Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. That also makes Dan a double fellow–an I.F. Stone Teaching Fellow (Berkeley) and a Research Fellow (Berkman).

Institutional support from organizations like the Center for Citizen Media won’t singlehandedly make or break the case for citizens being taken seriously as part of the global flow of news, but it will raise the profile of citizen journalism and bring some much needed balancing perspectives to discussions of the rights of bloggers. This is very good news indeed.

Holiday music roundup

Two years ago, I put out a series of reviews of Christmas CDs, one a day for about a week, focusing on CDs that weren’t the usual Jingle Bells/White Christmas fare. While I’m not in a position time- or inclination-wise to repeat that feat this year, I thought I’d throw out a couple of pointers to some interesting holiday tunes I’ve found this year.

blind boys

First, thanks go to Hooblogger and friend Zalm, who has been doing some really intense Christmas music posts this year: a series of posts on songs of hope, peace, and joy, with love yet to come, and a pair of iTunes mixes for the season. Thanks to his posts, I was encouraged to go back and revisit the Christmas album that the Blind Boys of Alabama put out a few years ago, which has some extremely cool moments.

alligator records

Second, as I noted earlier, there is some humor in having a holiday that is protean enough to embrace the concepts of peace, redemption, hope… and “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.” Holiday collections that reflect the latter side of Christmas include the Alligator Records Christmas Collection, with some really great blues, Cajun, and R&B tracks; the killer Stax/Volt compilation It’s Christmas Time Again, with contributions from the Staple Singers, the Emotions, and the inimitable Isaac Hayes; and even Yule Be Miserable, a Verve compilation that features Ella Fitzgerald’s sassy “Santa Claus Got Stuck (In My Chimney).”

phil spector

For slightly classier Santa-flavored music, there’s the album that Phil Spector masterminded, A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector. Featuring the debut of the classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (later memorably covered by U2 on the first Very Special Christmas compilation), this is a spectacular slice of the 1960s sound in the service of the season, featuring the signature Phil Spector girl groups and Wall of Sound. Too bad about that trial, which compels me to note that the spoken word outro from Phil at the end over “Silent Night” now sounds far creepier than originally intended.

new york ensemble

And if, like me, your Christmas isn’t complete without a big slice of early music, you could do far worse than to seek out A Medieval Christmas, a slightly obscure but highly worthwhile album by the New York Ensemble for Early Music under the direction of Frederick Renz. A heady brew of chant, early polyphony, and instrumental tunes, the album brings some medieval boisterousness as well as meditative grace to the season.

The Pops, Jesus, and Santa

Singing with the Boston Pops has been a mixed blessing this season. I’ve had to confront my lack of holiday spirit head on, but I’ve also been given plenty of exposure to the lighter side of the season–the side that is about excited children and Santa and cheery singalongs.

It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile all of the facets of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is traditionally among the most depressing times of the year; yes, it’s a solemn religious holiday that observes the birth of Jesus, the arrival of a baby who would die on the cross as a replacement sacrifice for our sins and be raised from the dead in the promise of our ultimate redemption. But it is also, and perhaps equally fundamentally, a season of hope and love. The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate destiny deepens that sense of hope and makes it more poignant, rather than diminishing it.

As for Santa Claus: Tony Pierce has had some very pointed things to say on the subject of the Big Guy with the Beard over the years. Certainly the focus on Santa to the exclusion of Christ is a mistake. But I think it’s also a mistake to exclude Santa, who provides a focus for the secular parts of the holiday in a context of love and acceptance. Yes, there is some greed that creeps in around the edges. But if you could stand on the stage at Symphony Hall in Boston and see the look on the kids’ faces when Santa Claus enters the hall, you’d see no greed. You’d see excitement, and joy. And happiness. And I’d rather see that by having a Santa–a proxy for hope and love–come into the hall than some actor dressed as Christ, or worse as Mary carrying a babydoll. If we must risk cheapening something with pageantry, let us cheapen the Victorian image of Santa rather than the cosmic mystery of the Redeemer.

Tis the season… for outages

I always remember Christmas as one of the most peaceful times in the blogosphere, and my stats back me up. So why does it seem that major blogging services are dropping like snowflakes right now? On the heels of the Six Apart outage comes a daylong outage at Kinja, the aggregator that powers the consolidated Hooblogs view (and, apparently, the Add to Kinja graphic in my sidebar. Ooops).

I think these folks could use some IT service management software. But that’s just my professional opinion.

(Disclaimer: I’m employed by iET Solutions as a product manager.)

WCRB on the block

Courtesy The Universal Hub, the news arrives that one of the radio stations in Boston that plays classical is entering negotiations to be sold to a local broadcasting corporation that likely only wants it for its spectrum and transmitters. Now, yes, those of you who aren’t in the Boston media market are right now sputtering, “One of the radio stations??? How dare you complain if your market has more than one station that you’re losing one of them?”

For one thing, WCRB is that rarity, a non-public-radio station that plays classical music 24 hours a day, rather than breaking it into chunks of NPR news and other musical ghettos underserved formats. For another, it plays concerts from Tanglewood (might as well get that bit of self-interest out of the way).

But the comments thread on the Universal Hub piece raises another problem: what if your classical station only plays Classical’s Greatest Hits? Eeka put it most succinctly: “They should replace it with actual classical music that classical music enthusiasts would like to listen to.” I rambled in response:

If you want to understand the devolution of classical radio in this country, look no further than the same programming malady that has swept the rest of the radio industry.

I can’t help but think that programming outside the 18th-19th century box—early music, Shostakovich, Ives, any living composer—during prime listening hours could only broaden the audience. Hell, look at the surprise classical bestsellers of the last decade or so: Chant, Górecki’s Third Symphony with Dawn Upshaw, Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum. All outside the mainstream (yes, of course, because they’re surprises they are outside the mainstream by definition. Work with me).

Great editorial on this topic, Drawing the Classical Line, that I can’t recommend highly enough.

I’m reminded of Peter Schickele’s fictitious WTWP (Wall-To-Wall Pachelbel), whose station slogan was “We play the music you don’t mind hearing”: “Nothing written after 1912,” “Nothing longer than eleven and a half minutes,” “All music must be in a major key until after 11 PM,” and “No vocal music during office hours.”

Tree trimming

We get a little closer to the holidays every day. Our Christmas cards are just about ready to drop in the mail—at least, once I finish addressing the envelopes and signing them, which will probably take another three days. (So if yours is late, apologies). We got the tree up last night with a minimum of loss of life and only two broken ornaments—considering the ornaments went from Kirkland to Arlington with minimal protection that’s not too bad. And our new front door supports our wreath hanger, so I’ll be picking up an evergreen wreath on the way home.

It took about three weeks, but I’m finally getting the holiday spirit. (Ironically, I think it was the cross country sales trip that did it. Being removed from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday makes it that much clearer which things are important.) Alas, I have another three days (at a minimum) in the office this week, so I probably won’t really get into the spirit until the day before.

Catch up: surviving snow in Boston

I didn’t post about this at the time because of time constraints, but December 9—the last time I was in the office prior to a week on the west coast—was one of the most incredibly miserable days I have ever spent in an automobile. I had a morning rehearsal at Symphony Hall to which I drove in light snow. By the time the rehearsal was over the snow had changed to mostly rain, and I figured I was off the hook for weather for the rest of the day.


I drove to my office in Framingham, and even driving cautiously it took me only about 40 minutes. I did a conference call and a couple hours of work; during the call, I realized that the snow was getting heavier. I made a judgment call that I needed to get out at 3 if I wanted to make it back to Symphony Hall for my 7 pm concert call.

As it turns out, I was only seven minutes off.

In the two and a half hours I had been at the office, I got something like a foot of snow on my car. It took me 40 minutes, with two people including my VP of Sales pushing, to get out of our office parking lot, thanks to no snowplow and a steep exit onto the street. It took another 45 minutes to get onto the Mass Pike, less than two miles from my office. The Pike was okay, but thanks to a jackknifed truck on Rt 128 North it took me until 10 past 6 to get to our house in Arlington. To sum up: 45 minutes from Boston to Framingham, three hours from Framingham to Arlington.

Fortunately after that it only took me 55 minutes to get back to Symphony Hall, where I missed my call time by about 7 minutes—fortunately to no lasting ill effect. But the lesson was learned: on days that it will be snowing and I have to be somewhere at the end of the day, just work from home. It is entirely possible to overwhelm the snow infrastructure of Massachusetts: it just takes a little more snow than it takes to perform a comparable feat in, say, Virginia.

Christmas with housebloggers

As I washed paint off my hands this afternoon, I reflected: You can always tell the housebloggers among us. They are the ones who have to finish priming and painting a wall before they can put up their Christmas tree in front of it.

To backtrack a bit: I wrote back in October about our finishing the framing for the radiator niches, and in November about getting some of the finished plaster sanded and painted. But I left out a detail—because of time constraints, we had to leave some of the work undone. We opted not to work on the two patches of walls that were obscured—one by a sofa, the other by a freestanding Ikea cabinet unit.

Unfortunately, we subsequently figured out that the only place to put the Christmas tree was next to the sofa, and that the new wall section would be exposed. So of course, now that we are all home from our respective business trips, that meant the wall had to be sanded and painted before the tree could go up.

So here I am having finished sanding and priming, gathering strength before going on to the finish coat (hopefully that’s singular). It’s not that there is so much work to be done; more that I have so little energy left, after a week spent with a prospective customer and back to back Pops concerts yesterday, with which to do the job.

Ah well. Perhaps some photos of the finished product, with a tree in front of it, later.

Google Music Search

Seen on Scripting News: Google Music Search (see also announcement on the Google Blog). Pretty slick way to organize information about music from around the web. Included: links to album art, organized list of songs, buy links, lyrics (though perhaps not for long). Probably never included: links to MP3 files or torrents.

I wonder what their source of data is, btw. Artists on independent sites like CDBaby aren’t picked up (no Suspicious Cheese Lords, Justin Rosolino’s first album is present but not his latest), but obscure long dead bands like Annabouboula are.

Dark mornings before Christmas

I awake this morning at 5:30 — not as much of a hardship on the left coast, where I’ve been for the past few days with a prospective customer — and think, It can’t really be Christmas in ten days.

This year it seems that time is going faster to Christmas than ever before, and, even though I’ve been attending church regularly, I haven’t felt that Christmas spirit. Partly it’s work–I have been working on getting ready for this client visit for what seems like months. Partly it’s everything else. Singing with the BSO and the Pops is magnificent, and there is something really nice about a group that puts so much individual responsibility on its members and only rehearses a few times prior to each concert. But each concert is sung at least three times–many more, in the case of the Pops Christmas concerts–and they all back up on each other.

I feel as though I have lost any reflective time that I ever had. As I get older, I find that’s more precious than I had ever realized, and find that I feel much less myself with no time to settle my head.

To that end, I have discovered something about business travel. There is no better use for those hours stuck in an airplane than reading, or re-reading, books of poetry. I hadn’t touched Seamus Heaney’s work in several years, and his Seeing Things hit me with a ton of bricks as I was reading it on Monday, flying between Chicago and Sacramento:

The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

I think I keep forgetting that time moving forward does not always mean an end, and that Christmas is here in its wide eyed astonishment whether I am the same person I was twenty years ago or not.