Random 10s: Stuck in JFK Edition

The plus side of being stuck in the JetBlue terminal at JFK on a layover between Buffalo and Boston is free wifi. The downside, of course, is being stuck in JFK.

With that, this week’s random 10:

  1. Pulp, “Like a Friend” (This is Hardcore)
  2. Prince, “Goodbye” (Crystal Ball)
  3. Eva Osinska, “Polonaise brilliante in C major, Op. 3: Introduction (Chopin: Trio, Polonaise)
  4. Dntel, “Why I’m So Unhappy” (Life is Full of Possibilities)
  5. Elliott Smith, “In the Lost and Found (Hanky Bach)” (Figure 8)
  6. M.I.A., “Sunshowers” (Arular)
  7. Beth Orton, “Conceived” (Comfort of Strangers)
  8. Radiohead, “Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky)” (Hail to the Thief)
  9. Drive-By Truckers, “Puttin’ People on the Moon” (The Dirty South)
  10. Sigur Rós, “Takk…” (Takk…)

My Life with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

my life in the bush of ghosts

Sez here that, following on the heels of the Talking Heads reissues (which have been spectacular, btw, at least the first four albums), another early ’80s David Byrne masterpiece is getting loving reissue treatment, with a twist. Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a significant milestone, if not an out and out first, for all sorts of practices that are in wide use today, including sampling, found vocals, and crosses between world music and guitar pop. But the album and the extra tracks (though no “Qu’ran”) are only part of the coolness: As part of the reissue, downloadable multitrack masters will be made available for two of the songs and licensed under Creative Commons for remixing purposes.

The remix site isn’t live yet, so it’s anyone’s guess for what will go up there. I’m hoping for “Help Me Somebody” and “Moonlight in Glory,” though I’d be very very happy to get a chance to remix “The Jezebel Spirit.” Hopefully they’ll have the remix site up before the 11th, when the album officially drops.

Via BoingBoing, who link to a bootleg of the missing track “Qu’ran” (which I downloaded in the good bad old days of Napster and which I would gladly pay money to get in a higher bitrate version).

(Oh: my life with this album? Got it a few months after graduating and got hooked. It made its way onto one of the best mix tapes I ever made, and I was so hooked on it that I was prone to quoting some of the found words while I was out with friends, who then of course looked at me like I was nuts. Which I was. I was in the Bush of Ghosts. I still haven’t found anything quite like it. Moby’s Play, while not without its good points, is a pale shadow by comparison.)

Bad Internet, good Internet

I’m on the road again, and ran into two Internet service concepts for travelers that I haven’t seen before. The first: JetBlue’s free WiFi at JFK. Now this is an airline that knows how to inspire loyalty. I only had 20 minutes before my connection boarded, and normally I would hate to buy WiFi just to start downloading my email and then get on the plane. Being able to do that for free? Brilliant.

Second, the wired high-speed service in my hotel room (a Hyatt). The service is paid (boo!) but they allow you to have a fixed IP address without NAT (yay!), which is pretty cool. The service is by GuestTek, whom I hadn’t heard of before but who certainly have the right message for their institutional customers: “Attract more guests and increase customer loyalty with high-speed Internet access.” Now, if they could just get across the part where it shouldn’t have to cost the customer $9.95 a night…

You’ve got a Funny Face

I wrote a few days ago about why I love our nearby big city—but our own little burb isn’t without its charms. For instance: how many towns can claim an Australian expat as a local celebrity—one who has been living on the streets for a month? The Arlington Advocate published a story today about Funny Face, an Australian “labradoodle” (lab-poodle cross) who escaped her new owners within two hours of arriving in the country and led the entire population of several neighborhoods, including mine, in a chase that took the better part of the month before her eventual capture.

The best part of it, other than the occasional white streak with a red sweater going down the street, was the commentary on the local email list. Quotations posted from the List in the article included a designation of Funny Face as “the canine equivalent of Moby Dick,” as well as daily updates of where the dog was in the neighborhood.

So add this to the values of online community: sometimes your neighbors can help you find lost friends—or at least help you laugh about them.

Mutton headed

NY Times: Much Ado About Mutton, but Not in These Parts – New York Times. It’s rare that I read about a meat that I’ve never either cooked or eaten, but this article on mutton in the Times made me want to go rent a cooler to hang some mutton in for a few weeks.

Especially love the quotation from that modest monarch Louis XVIII, who wrote, “Sacrifice, if you please, three mutton cutlets for every one required. Tie them together, with the choicest and tenderest one in the middle. Grill them, turning them over often so that the juice of the two outer cutlets pervades the one between. When the outer ones are more than cooked, take all three off the fire with infinite precaution and serve only the middle one.” Now that’s something you’ll never see on the Food Network.

Watch out for those pills

I had a great weekend in Pennsylvania with my parents and my grandfather. I’ve written a bit about his health from time to time on the blog: the stroke, his struggles with diabetes. When I saw him last summer he was withdrawn and uncommunicative, and had trouble moving, though he did respond when I talked with him a little, and I came away very worried about him.

The good news is that he has made tremendous improvements since then. He had a brief hospital stay earlier this winter after falling (fortunately, nothing was broken) and in the course of his rehabilitation went through a thorough evaluation of his medications. The doctors took him off all but one or two of what had been probably ten or twelve different prescriptions. The difference has been astonishing. He was much more mobile, told some stories, laughed a bit, had far fewer tremors…

The consensus about his improvement is that his previous doctors were prescribing medications to treat symptoms and never evaluating the cumulative effect of the medicine on him—and in some cases never taking a step back to see if the medications were still needed. It seems shocking that such a thing could happen, but I suspect it’s all too common.

Bush: I’ll obey the law if I feel like it

I wonder what it’s like to be in President Bush’s world, a world unconstrained by checks and balances or, apparently, reality. That’s where it seems our president spends his days, anyway, based on this Boston Globe analysis of the President’s “signing statement” for the Patriot Act renewal.

In the signing statement, Bush (or his staff) wrote that “The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information” (emphasis added). This point was made in response to a requirement in the law that the FBI notify Congress within a certain period of time if they have used the expanded powers under the act.

Of course, on the one hand, the president has to make a statement like this, or else risk compromising his position that he doesn’t have to tell anyone about secret wiretaps. But on the other hand, it makes you wonder what the president believes does constrain his activities, if anything.

Friday Random 10: Family Edition

I have a long drive ahead of me this afternoon, heading down for one of several annual Brackbill family gatherings; I’ve documented the summer picnics a few times over the years on this blog. It’s in Lancaster County, PA, where it smells strongly of cow—the Amish believe in natural fertilizer and the fields are full of it this time of year.

I refilled my iPod last night in preparation for the drive, so I hope there won’t be too many repeats from previous weeks. But you never know.

  1. Billy Bragg and Wilco, “Ingrid Bergman” (Mermaid Avenue)
  2. Mark Four, “I’m Leaving” (from the Peel Box)
  3. Sinéad O’Connor, “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart” (In the Name of the Father Soundtrack)
  4. Doves, “The Sulphur Man” (The Last Broadcast)
  5. Doves, “Pounding” (The Last Broadcast)
  6. Robert Johnson, “32-20 Blues” (The Complete Recordings)
  7. Shannon Worrell, “Shoot the Elephant” (The Moviegoer)
  8. Mogwai, “Auto Rock” (Mr. Beast)
  9. Dntel, “Last Songs” (Life is Full of Possibilities)
  10. Sigur Rós, “Takk…” (Takk…)

What’s that sound? It’s ajaxWrite knocking.

Serial (or parallel?) entrepreneur and Linspire founder Michael Robertson announced a new shot over Microsoft’s bow today: a general purpose Ajax application platform called ajaxLaunch.com, with its first application, ajaxWrite, a web based word processing application that can read and write Word files and do WYSIWIG formatting.

This is a pretty damned impressive application on first glance. I showed Lisa at breakfast and she said, “Hmm,” obviously not too excited. Then I told her that it was web based and she said “You’re kidding.”

It’s not perfect, particularly in reading Word docs. Complex Word docs, including documents built on Word’s default letters templates, or even straightforward multi-page documentation with tables and different formats, are readable but the formatting is messed up. Several docs I imported came in all centered.

But, of course, this is a web based application, and the thing about web applications is that you can ship upgrades any day, as opposed to every three years.

It’s still early days for this, but seeing ajaxWrite makes me think that maybe this Web 2.0 business is really real. The only question is: what’s the revenue model? Om Malik has the same question.

Vista slips, employee grumbles go public

In the software industry, it’s predictable that major releases slip. The more features that get added in, the more ambitious the release, the higher the testing burden, the greater the risk of incompatibility with other products, the more complicated the interaction matrix between features, the bigger the regression risk. More risk = more uncertain schedule.

So the announcement that Longhorn Vista, which was at one time to have shipped last year, is slipping broad consumer availability into 2007 is unsurprising. (The discrepancy between the November delivery date for businesses and January availability for consumers has to do with delivery models. Businesses can get upgrade versions under Software Assurance; the assumption is that consumers will be waiting for new PCs to come pre-loaded with Vista through the channel, which involves a manufacturing delay. I assume that’s the difference, anyway, and not that there are actual code differences between the two versions.)

What is a little more interesting is the level of public griping that is coming from Microsoft bloggers like Mini-Microsoft, who is questioning the apparent lack of accountability in senior management (“Fire the leadership now!”). What is astounding is the level of bitterness and dissatisfaction expressed by various anonymous Microsoft employees in the comment thread. One says that accountability will be seen “this August when reviews are handed out to junior employees.” Another complains about problems on the Vista application compatibility test team: “Cut the number of testers (several times) from approx 50 to now much less than a dozen” and notes that application compatibility measures are hovering at “< 40 percent.”

This is the downside of blogging, for Microsoft the public agency: all the dirty laundry gets exposed, all the internal secrets get aired. Of course it is an upside, too. The anonymous comment thread is actually shedding some light on real management problems at Microsoft that otherwise would continue to be swept under the rug. They might still be swept under for all I know, but the possibility is there of having that discussion.

Of course I can’t resist a little schadenfreude over one gripe aired in the course of the thread: “What’s the difference between OS X and Vista? Microsoft employees are excited about OS X.” That’s a little unfair, of course, but it’s also funny, and as Apple pushes forward toward its fifth major OS release since Windows XP while Microsoft struggles for the first one (and alas, in this game, major efforts like SP2 don’t count as more than point releases), it sounds like the truth.

Disclosure: I am a former Microsoft employee who did not work on Windows, though I have friends who do. While I am a Mac user at home, it is in my professional interest that Microsoft keeps the IT ecosystem healthy by shipping Vista on time.

Poor Robert Parker

NYT: Decanting Robert Parker. The premise of the article is that Robert Parker, whose 100 point wine rating system and apparent love of big wines has revolutionized the industry, feels that he’s being made a scapegoat for everything that is wrong with the wine industry today.

Oh well. The price of fame.

Still, among the self pity, there are some interesting notes: that it would be a full time job for one wine reviewer to cover the wines of Italy (I think it would require at least two FTEs myself); that the variety available in the wine market today is greater than it has ever been in modern memory, and “we see evidence in southern Italy with the reclamation and resurrection of all these indigenous varietals that had long been sold off to co-ops”; that the apparent sameness of taste that many critics argue is a negative result of Parker’s influence is because “most wines are being tasted when they are too young”; that he wants to do a book on value wines, “Just a little pocket book. I think it would establish the fact that I’m not just a guy who is used by speculators to drive up prices.”

Sounds good. Let’s see it. I for one would welcome the reversal of one modern wine trend: that value wines nearly double in price within three years of their discovery (see southern Italy, Spain, and Chile for three recent examples).

Harmonia Mundi on eMusic, plus more Radiohead covers

Don’t know how I missed this one, but DRM-free download service eMusic has quietly added vast swatches of the Harmonia Mundi catalog, including Anonymous 4, Theatre of Voices (including their sublime Arvo Pärt collection De Profundis), the Baltic Voices compilations (including a Górecki composition I’ve never heard)…

Oh man. Good good stuff. If you have a jones for modern “classical” vocal music and you haven’t signed up for eMusic yet, it might be worth your while just for these recordings alone.

And for something completely different: Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads, the compilation containing the R&B reworking of “Just” that I pointed to earlier, has also dropped (and is also available at eMusic). And the tracks I’ve heard so far, including a supremely jazzy take on “High and Dry” which is now my favorite track from the comp so far and a somber “Blow Out,” are superb. Good music day all around, I think.

Happy Mac text geeking

Via MacOSXHints, a great article about Cocoa’s text bindings and the Amazingly Cool Things you can do with them—like, implement a standard keystroke to wrap a piece of text in some HTML formatting in every Cocoa text field in your whole system. Also a list of default bindings as shipped in Mac OS X, and a list of all the usable selectors that you can combine with keystrokes to get some really cool things to happen.