The Police, reuniting for a buck the Grammys

The Grammy awards folks announced yesterday that they convinced convinced the Police to play a song together to open the show on February 11. Yes, I’ll be watching (or Tivoing) it. No, I’m not thrilled and overjoyed. Too much time has passed, and I know how old Sting looks now; I don’t want to see an old Andy Summers and an old Stewart Copeland rehashing material that was current almost thirty years ago.

What I want is for them to get together—in the studio, not on TV—and pull a Mission of Burma by creating an album that’s just as amazing and vital as their early work. But I’m afraid the odds are against it.

Friday non-random listening: The Beatles, Love

Confession: I’ve been on a Beatles kick for a month or more now, as a quick glance at my Past Listening pages will show. Ironically, I think it started the last time I was in Las Vegas, with all the ads for the Cirque du Soleil show Love, based on the Beatles catalog. I also finally got a chance to listen to some of the Beatles discs I had ripped as part of The Project.

Now, coming back to the Beatles might not seem to be such a Big Thing, but consider: I basically gave away my Beatles collection, consisting of all the albums from Rubber Soul through Abbey Road, when I was in college. I had been nuts about the music when I was in high school, but by that point I had started to see it as juvenile, somehow. I had become aware of the roots of rock in American blues and folk music, and I had become captivated by the irony and anger of the better 90s alternative music. The Beatles seemed too pat, too earnest, too pop. So I gave the discs to my sister and forgot about them.

Except I had to go back and buy a new copy of The White Album, later.

And then in grad school, I sang lead on an a cappella arrangement of “Got to Get You Into My Life” … and fell in love with that song’s brassy soul. It had always seemed a throwaway track to me, tucked as it was right before “Tomorrow Never Knows” on the totally brilliant Revolver, but now as I studied it it was revealing hidden depths.

I was also becoming aware of how difficult it was to write the sort of melodies and nail the sorts of harmonies that the Beatles pulled off album after album. And I think my investigation of the roots of rock and roll was starting to make me curious… after listening to Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and others I wondered: what happened when this music hopped the pond to stir up four lads from Liverpool?

So in the last month I started picking up the early Beatles albums on the cheap. I had always dismissed the albums before Rubber Soul, preferring the clever songwriting to the albums that made teenage girls scream. I mean, come on… most of the early albums had cover songs on them. But after hearing a lot of 1950s Sun Records, I got curious. And I’m glad I did. Hearing the Beatles’ version of Carl Perkins’ “Honey Don’t” is very very cool. Hearing some of the great originals on the earlier albums (“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” “Money”…

Fast forward to today. A coworker of mine lent me the George Martin mixtape Love, and I listened to a fair percentage of it today. And to my surprise it’s good. There are some really imaginative things in it: Ringo’s drum solo leading into “Get Back,” the merging of “Blackbird” and “Yesterday,” playing “Sun King” backward… It plays like a quiz recording, “spot the song.” It’s a lot of fun to listen to and very pleasant—not groundbreaking but fun.

Gettin’ nothing but static

Monday was a really crappy day: my Passat factory tape deck stopped auto-reversing and would only play side A. This was a Big Problem because I only listen to my iPod in the car and the tape adapter that I use only plays on side B. And of course the Passat factory radio doesn’t include an aux in.

Originally I had hoped to wire the iPod to the head unit directly, but I simply don’t have that kind of time right now. So, with some trepidation, I decided to see if I could find an FM transmitter that would work. I’ve had bad luck with these devices in the past. I bought one in 2001 for my first generation iPod, but after I almost ran off the road trying to tune the frequency to an unused station I stopped using it. The problem, too, was that the unit was underpowered—even when I found a relatively clear spot on the dial it would get swamped by static. I had the same trouble with a Griffin iTrip and my second iPod.

This time I bought a Monster iCarPlay Wireless Plus. This thing has no problem punching through static on empty channels, though there is still intermittent bleed through of noise. It’s also easier to tune. I noticed that the sound isn’t as clean as what I used to get through the cassette adapter, but that’s my only complaint. Nice product.

Coming back to campus

I’ll be making an infrequent return to the MIT campus this afternoon on a career panel, talking about non-traditional recruiting paths. Sloan alums will remember my vocal skepticism of the value of traditional MBA recruiting, which at most schools seems designed to funnel MBAs into consulting or banking while giving other options short shrift. So I have a lot of things to say about the topic; hopefully I can say them in a constructive way this afternoon…

The old ways are sometimes best

The ever durable A List Apart had a great article on Paper Prototyping today. I have to second the recommendation. I had a tremendously productive prototyping discussion with one of our engineers recently using nothing but sticky notes on a whiteboard. Software is great but sometimes the physicality of being able to move stuff around makes a big difference to your creativity.

The practice reminds me of Voice of the Customer, the marketing practice by which customer utterances are written on Post Its and grouped to identify customer pain areas and requirements. Very low tech but very effective.

Props for Double Bag

Eric Asimov in the New York Times writes Quiet Cover for a Vital Brew, another in his series of beer tasting adventures. Reading these is almost as much fun as reading the great Michael Jackson’s beer writing; one gets the sense that if Asimov were not constrained for space by the newspaper, he would be fair competition for Jackson when writing about New World beers.

One of his Top 10 brown ales this week is the Double Bag Ale from Long Trail, a Vermont brewer whose stuff shows up in my local package store—interesting, since according to a 2001 interview with the president of the company they had pulled out of Massachusetts. Perhaps things turned around. I have enjoyed both the Double Bag (an appropriate name for a Vermont beer) and the Harvest Ale in the past; I think I’ll have to check out their other offerings…


…to my Sloan friend Charlie, who just ran the New York Road Runners Manhattan Half-Marathon on Sunday in a respectable 2:07:32. Considering that it was in 20° weather (14° with wind chill), that’s a pretty darned good start to life in the marathon lane. Onward!

Friday Random 10: Standing on the verge of getting it (the weekend) on edition

Lots of stuff happened this week, most of it between the hours of 10 pm and 3 am for various reasons. So today’s Random 10 will be brief. I will, though, point to one new site in my galaxy of affiliations: 43 People, which is now collecting my stories of meeting various famous and semi-famous people. Check out the leitmotif in the Willard Scott and Boyd Tinsley stories…

  1. Woody Allen, “Pets” (Standup Comic)
  2. Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Old Friends)
  3. Led Zeppelin, “The Rain Song” (Remasters)
  4. The Sundays, “Here’s Where the Story Ends” (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic)
  5. Joanna Newsom, “Swansea” (The Milk Eyed Mender)
  6. Charles Mingus, “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” (Three or Four Shades of Blue)
  7. Cat Power, “He War” (You Are Free)
  8. U2, “The Fly” (Achtung Baby)
  9. Ryan Adams, “I See Monsters” (Love Is Hell)
  10. Sting, “Little Wing” (…Nothing Like the Sun)

Hacking TiVo — not for the faint of heart

Every now and then I realize I’m at the far boundaries of my hacker cred. Such as when I read the directions for hacking a piece of popular hardware and turn pale. Today it looks like extending the TiVo with low level hack functionality like telnet, etc., requires rebuilding the kernel on the machine.

However, TiVo released an official SDK called the TiVo Home Media Engine (HME) last year, which allows developers to extend the platform with third party applications. I was pretty excited about this until I checked out the list of third party applications, which is pretty small even taking into account the additional list of downloadable apps. I’m frankly surprised that there aren’t more developers hopping onto the platform. What’s going on?

Might it be that the original hardware hackers who blazed the trails aren’t excited about playing with the official SDK precisely because it’s official?

Be careful what you wish for…

low of 7°

Why, it was just the other day that I was griping about the unnaturally warm weather we were experiencing this winter. “It’s a sign of the apocalypse,” I groaned. “Think of the poor ski resorts. Plus all the people getting colds.” That, of course, was before we woke up this morning to single-digit temperatures. And before I realized that the glass in my office is not well insulated—or insulated at all, apparently.

Ah well. If it weren’t cold, what would I have to complain about?

This is going to be a year without skiing for me, actually, for a number of reasons. So I guess the main reason I missed the cold was that I got acclimatized to it. Suddenly that’s not sounding like such a hot reason to want it to be cold.

Um. I can’t feel my fingers.

Anyway, now it’s cold and winter can officially roll on. Just a little late, but that’s ok. Geez, it’s hard to type when I’m shivering this hard. Maybe I ought just to lie down on the office floor for a minute. It looks warm and comfortable…

Brr. Ah, OK. The word is that there’s a damper stuck open in the heating system that is pulling cold air into the office. Perfect timing.

Overreaching at the Department of Symbols

You know, when Doonesbury had a character in the 70s become President Carter’s secretary of symbolism (cardigan, thermostat, etc.), I thought it was merely clever hyperbole. I see now I was wrong, though apparently the scope is only the USDA Forest Service’s symbols. Which include, heaven help us, the Junior Snow Rangers.

And Woodsy Owl. Who has been put on a shape-up or ship-out diet, apparently. I mean, seriously. Look at the owl on the left versus the owl on the right. Which one looks less threatening? Which one looks like a child predator? “Give a hoot,” indeed.

Alice Coltrane and Michael Brecker, RIP

I was surprised and saddened to learn of the death of two jazz luminaries this weekend. Michael Brecker was a pretty stellar saxophonist, Grammy winner and collaborator with pop luminaries ranging from Paul Simon (“Still Crazy After All These Years,” The Rhythm of the Saints) to Steely Dan (Gaucho, Gold) to Parliament (Trombipulation) to a host of jazz gigs under his own leadership, including multiple Grammys. I will always remember him for his superbly wry and understated guest spot on Dave Brubeck’s Young Lions and Old Tigers, the “Michael Brecker Waltz.” Leukemia took him too soon.

I was saddened about Alice Coltrane too, though reportedly she had been in poor health for a number of years. Fans of her husband John’s work generally are of two minds regarding Alice’s contributions to his later works, when she replaced McCoy Tyner on piano in his performing ensembles. Either they think of her as Yoko to his John (particularly those who don’t like the later, more experimental albums), or they recognize her work as a passionate collaborator and an important contribution to the sound and concept of such albums (Expressions, Stellar Regions). She was also an important contributor to the work of McCoy Tyner himself (Extensions). She will be missed.

Finishing the Project–with an AirPort Extreme

airport extreme base station

I have found the first product I’ll buy from Apple after this week’s keynote—and it wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote. At MacWorld, Apple quietly announced a next-generation AirPort Extreme base station that supports a draft of the 802.11n protocol, meaning that it’s up to five times as fast and up to twice the range of the existing 802.11g base station from Apple. This is frankly a secondary feature for me, though, compared to the news that it supports sharing a USB2 hard drive over the network.

This is a Big Deal. The original plan for The Project, the big effort to move my over 1,000 CDs to a hard drive, called for placing that drive on the network as network attached storage. I didn’t want the drive to be permanently anchored to my MacBook Pro—which would kind of defeat the purpose of having a laptop. But the only solutions I could find for sharing a network USB drive didn’t support Mac disk drive formats. That’s way the capability of the new AirPort Extreme to share a USB hard drive out of the box is so cool.

In fact, the only fly in the ointment is that the AirPort Extreme’s included 802.11n Enabler, which upgrades the AirPort cards of currently shipping Macs to 802.11n, does not extend to my first-generation MacBook Pro, since that model doesn’t include what Engadget called the “secret draft-N cards.” But I think it will still be worth it. I can 86 the old PowerBook that currently powers my music, move the RAID array into the stereo cabinet along with the base station, and free up a lot of space in our guest bedroom.

And…and this is the ironic part…I won’t have to buy a Mac mini to do it, which was my original plan.

Friday Random 10: Grr. Argh.

Well, an exhausting week draws to a close. Really, I’m not sure what else I can say. I’m ready for a three day weekend and that’s all.

Oh yeah, and we might get some snow on Monday. So suck it, Seattle. (Boy, am I pissed that the city of rain has gotten more snow than we have so far this year.)

  1. Tadd Dameron and John Coltrane, “Super Jet” (Mating Call)
  2. The Cure, “The Blood” (Head on the Door)
  3. Beastie Boys, “I Don’t Know” (Hello Nasty)
  4. Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, “O Ignis Spiritus” (Mnemosyne)
  5. Herbert von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic (Johannes Brahms, composer), “Ein Deutsches Requiem, 3. Solo: “Herr, Lehre Doch Mich” (Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem)
  6. Ayub Ogada, “Ondiek” (En Mana Kuoyo)
  7. Sonic Youth, “Brother James” (Screaming Fields of Sonic Love)
  8. Beck, “Nothing I Haven’t Seen” (Sea Change)
  9. The Reindeer Section, “Raindrop” (Y’All Get Scared Now, Ya Hear?)
  10. U2, “All Because of You” (How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

User’s guide to the iPhone

This may be my last iPhone post for a while, since the odds of my getting one are actually pretty small at its price point—but I couldn’t resist the iPhone User Guide on McSweeney’s:

Congratulations on your purchase of the 8-gigabyte iPhone from Apple Inc.! For the first time, you will be able to engage in all the varieties of human interaction through a single device. Please consult the table of contents below for an in-depth look at your iPhone experience.

VII. Using the iPhone to catalog your contacts

VIII. Using the iPhone to manage your calendar

IX. Using the iPhone to solve disputes between Moqtada al-Sadr and certain Sunni elements within Iraq without causing an escalation of hostilities, or the development of closer ties between Iran and Shiite militias

X. Using the iPhone to assist European antitrust authorities in understanding the difference between “tying arrangements” and “legitimate competition” in online music sales

XI. Using the iPhone to explain how the internal board committee of Apple Computer Inc. (before the name change) headed by Al Gore could exonerate Steve Jobs of any wrongdoing in the options-backdating scandal

XII. Using the iPhone to explain why Microsoft believed that introducing the Zune was either wise or appropriate, given the market for MP3 players in late 2006…

XVIII. Using the iPhone to learn whether superstring theory’s positing of 10 dimensions (or 11 in M-theory) is viable in light of recent discoveries relating to dark matter

XIX. Using the iPhone to learn whether Ehud Barak ever considered adopting Barack Obama and changing the Illinois junior senator’s name to Barack Barak