You haven't done well



We had us quite a sunset the other day, didn’t we?


Has it been a couple weeks since I’ve posted here? Ugh. I guess so. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, mostly good, some less so. It’s been a mostly-garbage day as my body seems to be purging a lot of bile from the last week or so, which means I feel well off my game right now. I’m listening to Mogwai’s Rock Action right now in case you were wondering what kind of a mood I’m in tonight.

The worst allergy season in our neck of the woods is officially underway. The cedars (which I understand aren’t properly “cedars” at all) are in full rut and it’s making everything feel as though I’m slogging through deep sand. My dreams have been lousy of late, including one where my late father appeared and passed me a note reading “You haven’t done well.” I wonder if allergies affect dreams. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.


My wife Nicole is a treasure for many reasons, but not the least being her willingness to throw herself into the silliest of projects and turn them into something lovely. This is a long way of saying that she made a video for my Pieology jingle.

It’s a better video than the song deserves, and it was created entirely on her iPad. I’m thrilled to shared it and hope y’all enjoy.


So, my friend Jim Kuenzer has published his first novel, and it’s currently available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ve read quite a bit of his work and I can vouch that you’d be a loony not to check him out. The book is titled Behold! We May Rock You! and I’ll write more about it when it ‘s out, but I’ll tell you this: I enjoyed the daylights out of it. It literally has no daylights left.


Well, you’ve stuck around this long, so the least I can do is share some of the Mogwai with you. This one’s called “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” and it builds into something huge and uncharacteristically beautiful for Mogwai and I love it very much. It’s also the wakeup music for my alarm.


Good night, and have a great week,

-RK

NYLO - The Starbucks of boutique hotels?

We staying up in Dallas for the New Year, attending a birthday party for an old friend of mine. I’ll likely write more about that later, but what I want to talk about before it slips my mind is the really unusual hotel we stayed: The NYLO hotel in Plano.

The NYLO is Hilton’s attempt to mass-produce the boutique hotel experience. I’d say that they did better than I expected, but there are still a few wrinkle that remind you that you’re staying in a big chain hotel and not a tiny one-off.

The name “NYLO” stands for “New York lofts”. That’s very much evident by the amount of concrete on display. The lobby is concrete. The meeting room is concrete. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the rooms are all concrete. Is there exposed plumbing? You bet! Uncovered lighting? Do you even have to ask?

But ya know, this isn’t a bad thing at all, even if it feels a little contrived. The big hotels have felt pretty much the same for as long as I can remember, which is a disturbingly long time. This is a very modern take on a hotel. The bed, which was comfy, is on a raised platform at the end of the room. There are curtains hanging from the concrete walls. And, hallelujah, there are electrical outlets everywhere. That one little feature makes more of a difference than I’d thought it would.

What didn’t work was the bathroom, which had a sliding door (fine) and a shower instead of a tub & shower (bummer, but not a big deal). The problem was that the walls of the bathroom didn’t reach the ceiling. This may well be “authentic”, but sometimes authenticity gets in the way of common sense. When there are two people (or more) in the room, you really, really want a bathroom area that is isolate. Also, weirdly enough, the toilet paper was awful. I’m sure it’s biodegradable or something, but it was super thin and very rough.

One thing I would strongly recommend they do, going forward, is to lose a little bit of their floor plan efficiency and break up the hallways a little so you don’t just have a bank of doors on either side of hall. If you’re trying to role-play as a boutique hotel, nothing breaks the illusion faster than those long, straight corridors.

The exterior has some of the same problems that the Rangers’ soon-to-be-replaced stadium does. It’s very retro and urban and, thus, completely out of place with its surroundings. It looks like it belongs downtown instead of in the middle of the Land of Corporate Headquarters in deep suburbia. It’s not a bad look; it just highlight’s the fact that this is a chain hotel in boutique drag.

The room was smaller than what you’re normally expect, but that was fine. We had a king-sized bed and enough room for our clothes and, unless you’re planning on entertaining, that’s more than enough. The price reflected the space savings: We paid under $100 for a king room on New Year’s Eve, so yay for that.

Would I stay there again? Absolutely. The price was right, the place was clean, the staff were good, and I appreciate the modernity, even it is to “boutique hotels” what Starbucks is to “neighborhood coffee shops”.

grumpy old man critiques list of top 100 "indie rock" albums of the 2000s

While I’m sitting here waiting for 2019 to emerge from the womb and trying to figure out if anyone actually liked the song I posted last night, I’ve decided to pore through a list that Google thought I would enjoy: Treble Zine’s Top 100 Indie Rock Albums of the 2000s. I love lists, and 2000s* indie rock is pretty much my bailiwick, so this should be fun, right?

The whole list is here, but rather than go through it album by album, I’m just going to comment on each section of ten (which is how they’re organized on the Treble site) and offer up some albums I think were mistakenly omitted at the end. Let’s do it real time, so I can be surprised by their #1.

91-100

Lesser albums by The Strokes (Room on Fire), Phoenix (It’s Never Been Like That), and LCD Soundsystem (self-titled) show up at the bottom of the list, leading me to suspect we’ll be seeing these bands later on. Don’t really see Room on Fire as a top 100; The Strokes didn’t really live up to the hype in my opinion. Low’s Drums and Guns is on the list which is…odd. Let me check. OK, this list came out in 2017, so Double Negative wasn’t out yet, so Drums and Guns makes sense. Nice to see Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) and Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit) get a nod, but since those are among their strongest works, I doubt we’ll be seeing them again.

81-90

Matador Records, represent! Cat Power’s You Are Free, Yo La Tengo’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and Interpol’s Antics show up here. Kudos for the Interpol record, as I think it was an improvement on their debut (although I’m probably in the minority). Crystal Castles’ debut is in this section, but thinking about them just makes me feel skeevy for what Alice Glass went through. Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake/It’s Morning is rated just about right. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s kind of hard to knock Conor Obert’s influence.

71-80

Some of the big ones from my concert going experiences finally arrive. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever To Tell and Ted Leo + Pharmacists’ The Tyranny of Distance are in about the right place. MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, on the other hand, is way too low. History will not look kindly on that rating, or it wouldn’t, if history cared about lists like this.

61-70

Hey! Neko Case’s Blacklisted made it here, so she got a couple on the list at least. A lot of “OK, I guess, maybe” records here: Beruit’s Gulag Orkestar, The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife, and Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances are tough to argue with, but I’m not really feeling it. I’m hoping that Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is somewhere a little higher on the list as I like both the music and the ambition better than their debut. Sonic Youth’s Murray Street, the second SY record on the list, feels way too high to me. Their best work was in the 90s in my opinion.

51-60

We’re getting into “no respectable list would leave these off” territory, which isn’t as much fun. Spoon’s Girls Can Tell isn’t my favorite of there, but it’s fine. Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands On The Bad One is right where it should be. TV on the Radio’s Dear Science might be a little lower than it ought to be, but let’s see the rest of the list before judging. Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 was going to be somewhere, just a matter of where, right?

41-50

Top half of the list! Sigur Ros’ () is at #50, which is too low in my book, but I can see that one being wildly divisive. We get Of Montreal (Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?), The Shins (Chutes Too Narrow), and The Killers (Hot Fuss) back to back to back, which is a pretty strong set, even if I liked Wincing The Night Away better. Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans clocks in here and there really had to be some Death Cab, didn’t there? A little surprised to see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s Source Codes and Tags this high up the list, but I’ll take it.

31-40

Everything from here on up should be borderline-classic, and they do pretty will with this segment. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion absolutely belongs and Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight is exactly right for Spoon’s best record. You can’t have any indie cred at all if you don’t list Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, so that box is ticked. The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema is here, and it’s definitely top 40 material, but the problem with the NewPos is that damned near everything they did is just as worthy.

21-30

Twee is the order of the day in this segment. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and The Postal Service’s Give Up are like bookends for the era (Grizzly Bear, The National, and Fleet Foxes are in this section as well). TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a classic, so yes, it’s rated about right, but I’m unconvinced of the Arctic Monkey’s debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I know it was the hype record, but their recent stuff is miles better in my opinion.

11-20

Top 20 means pretty much album-of-the-year cred at this level….and I’m not on board with most of what’s here. Sure, Phoenix’ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix rules the airwaves, so that’s fine. But, Death Cab’s Transatlanticism and Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga aren’t their best work and I don’t see them as anywhere near top 20 material. The top 2 here are Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut and The Strokes’ Is This It and…nah man, I’ll pass. Maybe on the bottom half of the list, but they’re both essentially one-trick ponies who wore out their welcome pretty fast.

10-1

Ok, let’s start with the positives: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm , Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica, Sufjan Stevens’ Come On Feel The Illinoise, and The Arcade Fire’s Funeral are all solid, top ten choices. There are a couple of impressive, idiosyncratic choices here as well. Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods and Fugazi’s The Argument are albums I loved and didn’t expect to see here. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was inevitable, and I can’t argue with it. But this section is bookended by Franz Ferdinand at 10 and Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights at #1. Franz Ferdinand ‘s debut was a solid, if monochromatic, record that got big due to a ton of payola, and while I like the Interpol record, is it the best album of the first 18 years of the millennium? Not even close, in my opinion. It’s not even Interpol’s best record.

There are a ton of records that I could nominate as worthy of top 100 recognition, but I’m going to stick with what I think were particularly egregious omissions.

Old World Underground (Where Are You Now?) by Metric-This Montreal outfit is the best of the Broken Social Scene offshoots, and they’re a lot more fun than anything BSS ever made. The debut is the new wave revival you never knew you needed. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Hearts of Oak by Ted Leo + Pharmacists-I’m a biased Ted Leo fanboy, so I can’t be objective, but I feel like this is the One for Ted Leo fans. Should be in the 30-40 range.

Stellastarr* by Stellastar*-This should be a favorite of everyone who loved late-era talking heads. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s smart, and the songwriting is, um, stellar. Sorry about that. Should be in the 50-60 range.

Employment by The Kaiser Chiefs-It feels weird to have other buzz bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand on the list, but nothing by The Kaiser Chiefs. If you like big choruses, this is THE album for you. Great live show, too. Should be in the 70-80 range.

The Witching Hour by Ladytron-Synthwave before synthwave was popular. “Destroy Everything You Touch” was one of the best singles of the decade, not that anyone asked me. Should be in the 40-50 range.

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos! - The tweexcore Arcade Fire, with a gazillion times more energy. Gazing at your navel has never been more fun. Some folks prefer Come On Now, Youngster, and fair game to them, but this is my commentary. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Electric Version and Challengers by The New Pornographers - for reasons given above.

LP by Ambulance, LTD-An absolutely flawless compendium of guitar-based soft rock, power pop, neopsychedelia, and everything things a band can do with guitar based indie rock. Every song is great. My favorite album of the millennium so far. Should be in the 1-5 range.

That’s about it. Anything I’m missing?

-RK

* 2000s indie rock is way better than the music from my high school years, or, more accurately, I enjoy it more. I reckon this makes me a generational traitor or something, but the ears want what they want.

afterglow

I’ve been working on this, on and off, for almost a month so I thought I’d share my progress before I put it away for a while. It’s a cover of Genesis’ “Afterglow”, one of their more lush and romantic songs, pure Tony Banks. It builds up to this huge ending, so it was their closer for live shows for over a decade. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the original:

It’s sort of a go-to for me to play on piano since it’s both easy (a must for me) and, I think, quite beautiful. One night, I think Nicole was at work, I was just playing it very slowly, with one chord per bar and no movement beyond that. I thought “Huh. This would make a really nice, sparse, glitchy, electronic thing and I bet I could do that.”

So that’s what I’ve been doing.

The performance of the parts was actually pretty straightforward. I know the song pretty well, and I had a clear idea of what I wanted. All of the chords hitting on the first beat a piano, albeit piano being clobbered by weird delays and stuff. The parts that were originally guitar parts are very thin synths. I did add a couple of real guitar tracks (only one is recognizable, I think), the rest is all synths and effects.

Here’s what I have so far:

I’m putting it away for a while because I’ve been messing with it for so long that I’m not really hearing it anymore. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to rip a lot of it out because it’s busier than I really want it to be, but I’m not sure what to remove. It’s not quite as “minimalist” as I’d like, but it’s not too far off, I don’t think.

So, this is anywhere from 70-90% done, depending on what I decide to change when I come back in a couple of months. It’s…not quite what I imagined when I got started, but it’s a good deal closer than I thought I’d be able to get, if that makes any sense. If you’re in to this sort of thing, enjoy! If not, then….endure?

-RK

P.S. The mix is stereo, but I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of guesswork involved as I am functionally deaf in one ear. The meters say there’s some interesting separation, but I have to take their word for it.



How To Change Your Mind: The best book I've read this year (and why it pisses me off)

I finished reading Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind this evening, just in time for me to list it as the best book I read in 2018. It’s been a strange year from a reading standpoint. There of the standouts for me have been in the non-fiction category: How To Change Your Mind, Why We Sleep, and Other Minds. I don’t recall my favorites being quite so lopsided in this regard in the past, but there you have it. It was a good year for reading about brains, I suppose.

Back to Pollan’s book, because I really cannot recommend this one enough. Not only have I never used psychedelics, but I came to this book almost completely ignorant of their history and the research that’s been done to figure out how they work and if they can serve a therapeutic purpose. If you’re already pretty well versed in these things, then I don’t know that it will be as thrilling for you, but I wouldn’t rule it out. My therapist is reading it for the third time and I suspect she’s not unfamiliar with some of the contents.

The first section of the book discusses the history of these molecules, starting with Albert Hoffman and his accidental discovery. Within ten years or so, psilocybin was also introduced to the U.S. (at tremendous cost to the woman who let us in on the secret). At the time, psychedelics were not only legal but even somewhat respectable. A tremendous backlash, the blame for which Pollan lays squarely at the feet of one Dr. Leary, caused the cessation of psychedelic studies until the 1990s when they started to make a return to the “legitimate” medical community.

The middle section describes the author’s own experiences with psychedelics, which he hadn’t tried prior to his 60s. He details how he navigated the underground community and had the opportunity to try LSD, psilocybin, and 5-MeO DMT (“the toad”).He details his trips in about as engaging a fashion as one likely can, but nonetheless, they’re still descriptions of someone else’s drug experiences. I found this section the weakest of the book, but nonetheless you couldn’t write this book without this telling these stories.

The final section concerns current research and goes into detail describing studies using psychedelics to treat the terminally ill, the addicted and the depressed. The results of the tests are cause for cautious optimism. The terminally ill aren’t cured, but their quality of life over their remaining months can apparently be markedly improved by treatments including these drugs.

Of course, you can’t just give someone LSD and cure their smoking habit. That’s where it gets weird and it explains why scientific trials are so difficult. It’s not the drugs that help so much as the experience you have while on them. That means, for it work, you have a guide, and a setting, and you discuss intentions, and all kinds of quasi-shamanic stuff. It is really odd, and odd in a way that science struggles with.

For me, a person who’s never tried anything like this, I found the entire book fascinating. There’s so much history and science to go along with the drug talk that I felt like I was learning new things on every page. It helps that Pollan is both skeptical and grounded, so he doesn’t come across as someone advocating for people to go out and start shoving mushrooms down their gullets. He’s also a fine writer, which always helps when you’re writing a book.

The only thing that pisses me off, and it’s a big one, is this: These treatments would seem to be exactly what a couple of friends of mine, dear friends, could have used. It’s too late for them, and of course, I can’t know that treatment involving psychedelic drugs would have made any difference, but it might have, and that’s made it hard to sleep these last couple of nights.

Anyway, it’s a great book. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read and I would recommend to it pretty much anyone who has any curiosity about the mind and consciousness, or really any curiosity at all.

-RK

Holiday music, video, and a new tradition?

A few years back, I decided that I was giving up the fight on “begging the question.” I know the correct use of the term, but it’s almost never used that way. Usage changes, and at some point you go from being “correct” to being “a pedantic asshole”, and that’s the time to give it up. I may not use “begs the question” to mean “raises the question” but realistically, that’s what it means now and that fight is over.

This year, I’m giving up on the goatee. The word “goatee” is usually used to describe any beard without sideburns. In ye olden days, that’s not what it meant:

FWIW, I think he looks quite dashing with that Van Dyke.

FWIW, I think he looks quite dashing with that Van Dyke.

I decided to give this one up while reading a thread on Twitter discussing which celebrities should and should not wear goatees. Properly speaking, none of them had goatees, but who cares? Everyone knew what they meant. Usage changes. As P.J. Fry once said: “Time makes fools of us all.” Henceforth, they’re all goatees. It was a dumb thing to take a stand about, wasn’t it?

I should make this a new Christmas tradition: Give up being a pedantic dork about terms that don’t mean what they used to mean, or maybe they do, but no one uses them that way and who cares anyway? I like that. Let’s circle back on that next year.


The new Lil Jon song featuring the Kool Aid Man is all the rage this year, and with good reason; it’s one of the best Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. There’s probably no better hype man for Lil Jon than the Kool Aid Man, and the song just confirms to me that Lil Jon is one of the chillest dudes out there.

Searching for other songs to put on the mix this year, I came across this gem by Slade. You may know them as the band who did the original (and vastly superior) versions of every Quiet Riot single. They’re also the best-dressed band of the seventies, if you’re into glam-meets-hard-rock-by-way-of-English-thrift-shops (and honestly, who isn’t?). I know it’s probably too late to add it to your rotation this year, but keep it in mind. You’ll be the coolest holiday DJ, especially if you’re showing the videos as well:


Here’s a video my wife put together featuring some highlights from our 2018. She’s awfully good at putting these things together and I wanted to share it with all 16 of you who are likely to see it. Happy whichever holiday you chose to celebrate. I hope you get what you want out of this winter, and that you’re happy and safe.

-RK

(If the video doesn’t play, you’ll want to pop it out into another window. Something to do with third-party cookies and Google Drive.)

approaching holiday perihelion

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These sunny, 70-ish days seriously lack the sort of atmospherics that put one in a holiday mood, don’t they? Fortunately, the fact that I have a few days off more than makes up for that. The middle of March would feel like a holiday with enough time off, wouldn’t it? Maybe I’ll test that theory this year.

I’m in bed, watching a bunch of kids on those motorized scooters that have been irresponsibly dumped on our streets in the middle of the night before the city could get around to making a law that would prohibit that sort of thing. That’s the business model of the disruptive startup, isn’t it? Do something that could/should/would be against the law and try to make it ubiquitous before anyone can do anything about it. Not that it would make any difference if the city were to pass laws against the cursed things; the state is thoroughly in the pocket of Uber and their ilk and will not hesitate to overrule any local ordinances that might hurt their business.

Yay democracy.

My experiment with the social network Vero is being put on hold until they get a user base that’s more useful to me. It wouldn’t hurt if they were to get a little less text-phobic. I can’t say anything on their site without first uploading an image or linking a song or video or, almost-ironically enough, a book. I can do that, sure, and I guess it fits the site’s aesthetic better if people aren’t treating it like Twitter, but it just seems kind of obtuse to discourage what I consider a key feature of social networking. Oh, and they could maybe stop trying to get me to follow Zack Snyder every time I log in. That would be nice.

So, anyway, back to trying to find a place that fills void caused by what feels like an eventually-inevitable departure from Facebook. Does it even need a replacement? Mmmmmaybe? I don’t know, but I’m not quite sure what the shape of that thing would be. It’s not shaped like Vero, for what that’s worth. Maybe Twitter plus keeping a blog is enough. It feels a little light to me, but that’s not an entirely unappealing thought.

Much of the holiday rigmarole is in the rear view mirror. Gifts and cards were launched into the ether, I saw my mother and sister last weekend, so it’s mostly a countdown at this point. We’re hunkered down here in the apartment doing amazing things with crafts and music and…OK, we’re playing a lot of video games. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Job #2 is going well right now, thank you very much. I’m in a weekly rhythm with it that’s working well for me and I think I’m doing a better job at it each week. Sure, it would be nice if the pay amounted to anything, but it’s one of those (and I canNOT believe I’m saying this) resume-builders that’s also a lot of fun for me, so I intend to keep at it and see if it goes anywhere (which is probably will not).

My big goal for the holiday is to finish the song I’m working on, or at the very least get all of the tracks on the laptop so I finish it there. I’ve only recently discovered the concept of “parameter modulation” in the effects section, which puts things into a semi-modular kind of territory that is ….wait, are there words I’m using even real words? They are, and there’s a real chance I’m using them correctly, but let me just say that there are some new toys in Reaper that I’m super-eager to play with because I think they’ll give me something very close to what I was imagining when I started this project.

One thing that living on the fourth floor, as opposed to the ground floor, offers us is the opportunity to leave the windows open at night. It is getting properly chilling in the deep parts of the night, which makes blankets feel that much better. It’s not like camping, but it does give the nights something of a “vacation bungalow” feeling sometimes. We both sleep better with the windows open, at least in the winter when the allergen-producing plants have the decency to keep it to themselves. There’s a full moon out there somewhere. I can’t see it, but I can see the shadows it’s casting. It’s a good night for sleeping, so I think I’ll do some of that now.

-RK

holiday road trip

‘Tis the season of social obligations, isn’t it? They’re not all wanted, not all unwanted, but they undoubtedly “are”. Five in four days is a bit much, but it represents the killing of many birds with as few stones as possible. I’m staying with my mother tonight at my aunt’s house deep in a suburban labyrinth. I have reliable navigation skills, but trying to find my way through these identical houses on identical streets surrounded by identical everything is more than I can manage after spending a good chunk of the day on the road. I’m here, but I can’t distinguish “here” from anywhere else nearby.

I’m currently putting off going to sleep, which will occur on a twin bed that’s almost as tall as it is long. It’s weird.

Anyway, I’m not dreading any of these events, but I’m looking forward to having them behind me, if you know what I mean. Driving up here, I got to wondering just how often I’d made this four hour-ish trek over my lifetime. Somewhere between 75-100 times, I’d guess. That’s an awful lot of time and distance on a stretch of road that is dull, subject to construction delays, and absolutely unavoidable as there are simple no other reasonable routes between points “A” and “B”. I did see a structure that looked sort of like the beginnings of a reconstruction of Wardenclyffe.. Actually….let me look it up real quick…

Holy smokes! That’s pretty much exactly what it is. Perhaps I’ve been a little too quick to judge this drive as being dull. There are/were numerous curious features. The late, lamented Starship Pegasus is no more, but the Monolithic Dome Institute remains. And, of course, there’s the semi-famous Waco Memorial Funeral Home:

home.jpg

Sure are a lot of round/dome-related things on that stretch of highway, huh? I’ve done this drive so many times it’s like I’m not seeing it anymore. I almost wish I could forget the whole trip and see it with fresh eyes so I could appreciate it’s special-ness. And on that note, off to bed. G’night all.

-RK

cold and dark and yesterday

I’m perhaps a quarter of the way through Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind. It’s been an engrossing read thus far, but one of the things that I’m finding most interesting is that it brings some of my favorite comics into a whole new context. Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles is pretty obviously referencing some of the same experiences Pollan writes about, but it’s not like Morrison was ever coy about his influences. I suppose I always knew that Warren Ellis’ Planetary issue #21 was covering this territory, but I hadn’t recognized just how specific it was.


On an unrelated note, I’m currently working on absolutely mangling one of my favorite old Genesis songs. I’m not putting that way to be self-deprecating; “mangling” is a literal description of what I’m doing to the poor, helpless tune. It’s a simple, lush, and sentimental song and I’m trying to make it cold, distant, and mechanical and…I think it’s working? I dunno. We’ll know more in a week or two.

This has been the most fun, and most challenging thing I’ve worked on from a production standpoint. I’m still a complete newb when it comes to recording music. I’m not at all familiar with the tools, and the learning curve is steep. It’s like trying to express ideas with an extremely limited vocabulary. It’s difficult, but the fact that it forces you to be creative is rewarding. Today’s fun? Recording the drum parts as separate parts when there’s only one audio output on the machine. It worked, but I bet there are better ways to do it.


My brain feels reasonably bright and well-functioning right now, which would normally be an unreservedly good thing. But…I’m not a winter person, and the time between Thanksgiving and New Year gets my anxiety cooking. In some ways, a dull mind would probably be preferable, huh? Anyway, it’s going to be a busy, busy next couple of weeks or so. I’m going to go to parties. Plural. More than one. I’ll be among friends, or at the very least pleasant acquaintances, so it won’t be bad, but Mr. Brain isn’t having it. I should probably stab it with a Q-Tip or something.


We moved out of our last apartment complex in no small part because of the constant construction and repairs. What is the point of having a view of a pond when there’s scaffolding over your windows for over a year? Not that we could see the scaffolding, since there was also a plastic sheet of unknown purpose over the window as well. I say “unknown purpose” since it didn’t prevent paint or stucco from getting on the glass, nor did it prevent rain from getting inside.

Because we like the neighborhood, we didn’t move far. In fact, we only moved across a small service road from the old place. Can you guess where this is going? I bet you can! The construction at our old complex has moved from the building where our old apartment was to the one that is directly outside of our windows. So now, we see nothing but scaffolding and we hear hammering and drilling and the unmistakable beep beep beep for trucks backing up all day long.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have considered moving more than 50 yards away? We do like the neighborhood, and the view is lovely when the scaffolding is down.


I am saddened to report that the Vero experiment is not going particularly well. Ello was positively lively in comparison. They have a nice interface, but if I wanted to simply post things for my own benefit without any expectation that anyone would ever see them, I might as well just have a blog, right?

-RK


The Third Policeman and other funny books

(unnecessary note: I wrote this last night, but I’m pushing it today because I want to try something and it’s easier to test during the day. I’m sure you needed to know that….)

I picked up a copy of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman knowing nothing more about the novel or novelist than that the book had been name-checked in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. One of the characters refers to it as “…one of the greatest books in the English language.” That’s a hell of a claim, even coming from a fictional character (and one of dubious character at that), so I figured it was worth a read.

It was, in fact, worth a read. It’s a comedy that I’ve seen described as “sardonic”, which is the sort of funny that doesn’t make you laugh, so that’s a pretty good description. It is genuinely funny; it’s just a little on the grim side in its humor. It’s a difficult book to describe without spoilers since there’s a big twist near the end. It’s the sort of twist that was a lot more novel back in it’s day (O’Brien wrote it in 1940) but might be a little more transparent to modern readers. Still, no need to spoil it, right?

The language is lovely, and the condemnation of aspects of modernity still hit home. It’s absurd in a (and I hate myself for using this term) Kafka-esque fashion, so if that’s up your alley, I strongly, strongly recommend The Third Policeman to you. It’s short, but fairly dense, so it’s not a breezy read. As someone who has read The Invisibles a couple of hundred times, this adds a little flavor to the overall experience…and I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. Read it for yourself.


While we’re on the subject of funny novels, I wanted to list some of the books that I’ve found particularly amusing. It seems like writing a “funny” novel is really, really hard since so few writers have the knack. So, on the off chance you’re looking for some written drollery, these might scratch that itch:

  • Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - This is at the top of the list for a reason. It’s the funniest novel I’ve ever read, combining the sensibilities of two of the titans of the field. Not all supergroups work, but this one produced a classic. Honestly, the entire Discworld series belongs on this list, too.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole - This was one of those classics I’d avoided because I didn’t really know anything about it other than that they made you read it in school. It’s genuinely laugh out loud funny and I’m ticked off that I took so long to get to it.

  • Lamb, Christopher Moore

  • Any Jeeves book, P.G. Wodehouse

  • Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis

  • Redshirts, John Scalzi

  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams

That’s not a complete list, of course, but if you work your way through these books, you’ll probably been in a pretty good mood. The fact that I don’t list The Master and Margarita on here is more of a personal failing than an indictment of the book. It didn’t work for me, but it did for many, many people, so I’m just going to assume the problem is on this end.


nothing whatsoever about unfortunate skin conditions

I cheated a little bit and read some of my current “public transit” book while I was taking a bath tonight and I had a very “me” sort of epiphany: Not all books are best read when riding a train. The Third Policeman is narrowly regarded* as an absolute masterpiece and one of the funniest books ever published. As I’m still reading it, I can’t tell you if I agree with these assessments or not, but what I can tell you is this: It is considerably funnier when reading without any distractions.

I wonder if this effect contributes to my being less impressed with The Master and Margarita that I expected to be. Many people whose opinions I respect regard it as one of the greatest novels ever written, but it left me a little underwhelmed. I’m willing to admit that the problem is probably with me and not the book. Perhaps the issue was not with what I read, but how and where I read it.


TIL why producers really prefer their drum machines to have separate outs for each drum. Again, probably obvious to most people who’ve encountered the situation, but I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.


My experiment with Vero is not going particularly well. I like the interface well enough, but the fact that you cannot post just text. You have 8 options as to what you’d like to post:

2315485860370210957.png

You can add text to any of the above, but if you just want to saw something, you have to type it over the cover of a book or an image or something. That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a curious design decision.

The bigger problem is that none of the people who I am currently following have posted anything in the last 6 months (or longer). The site still has frequent issues with their servers being unable to handle the load of new users, but based on my experience, I’m pretty much just posting for my own benefit.



I guess that’s about it for now, seeing as it is getting unreasonably late. I’ll try to think of something good as I’m dropping off to sleep. It’s a little thing, but I’ve found it helps me sleep a little better. Anything to take the sting out of these strange, worrisome times.

-RK

* Things are often described as “widely regarded” so I assume that they can be “narrowly regarded” as well. I’m improvising here, but I take “narrowly regarded” to mean “adjudged as so by a small but extremely enthusiastic audience.” A minority opinion, but in this case, a minority comprised of people I respect.

skin in the game

Let’s start with something good tonight. Last night, we made some country-style ribs, which are not especially rib-y, but they’re cheap and super-flavorful when cooked patiently. There’s a lot of fat, and the meat isn’t especially tender, so country-style ribs are the poster children for “low and slow”. Unfortunately, the recipe we tried last night, while aces in the flavor department, was a little to low, leaving us with grey, fatty chunklets of meat that we had no desire to eat. So, we went to the pub instead.

But we did save the ribs. For lunch today, we went downstairs and finished them on a grill and…yes, this is how you want to do country-style ribs. Cooking them the previous night left them tender, or at least as tender as they get, and the grill did all kinds of good things with the fatty bits and the sauce.* Hell of a rescue of what looked like a lost cause.


Speaking of lost causes, there was some good news and some bad news regarding my ongoing skin thing. On the bad side, yet another infection had taken hold so I am back on antibiotics. Hooray, compromised immune system! This isn’t new, but it also isn’t a great deal of fun and it puts one in a foul mood when you see the first symptoms and you know that the next week or two are going to be pretty lousy.

However, the doctor thinks she may have come up with a good treatment. There’s a very, very new biological that is custom made for skin ailments but, unlike the others of its ilk, it doesn’t suppress the immune system. She has one other patient using this treatment and it completely cleared up their skin. There is some hope to be had there.

However, you can’t simply prescribe this. I had to fill out an application, as did my doctor, and we’ll have to wait and see what the drug company and my insurance company will allow. I assume that this drug is expensive, which means that my insurance company may say “no”. We’ll know when we know, I guess.


I remember when Google+ launched that the pitch was essentially “It’s like Facebook, but not Facebook.” At the time, that seemed like a reasonable thing to want from a social network. Years later, I’ve come to the conclusion that “like Facebook” isn’t what I want at all. I don’t want ads served up in a feed, or an opaque algorithm determining what it thinks I want to see. There are quite a few options out there with a variety of feature sets; surely one is a good fit.

That’s a long way of saying that I’m giving the new-ish social network Vero a shot. It’s an odd little thing, in that it runs only on mobile devices and there’s no posting just text. You post links, or images, or music, or things like that, although you can add text to the post. It’s pretty sparsely populated, at least by people I know or want to follow, which is both a feature and a bug in my reckoning. I like the idea of a non-pervasive network, which means that if they get to big, I’ll have to rethink it.

The fact that it’s mobile device-only seems weird at first, but I kind of like the fact that I won’t be obsessively checking it while I’m working on a proper computer. I feel like I’d be more in control of how I use it. So, we’ll see. It’s a pretty enough interface and they say the right things regarding privacy and data protection. I’m not not certain that this is the shape of a network that I want. I’ll keep you posted as events warrant.

-RK


* What kind of sauce should you use? Any kind you like! I have my favorites, but really, it’s about whatever flavor profile you prefer. I will say this, though: To take advantage of the high-heat grill, you really want something with a high enough sugar content to caramelize.

the news is that there is no news

It’s been nice to have a few extra days off. The idea was to recharge the batteries and to cut loose on a couple of projects that I’ve been putting off. It didn’t work out that way; I have had so many things that I wanted to do I worried about how much I had to do instead of actually doing it.

That’s not a productive approach. I doubt that this is one of the habits that the legendary Highly-Effective People indulge in. Of course, the specter of work was hanging over me the whole weekend* and that is a de-motivator if there ever was one. Still, at some point, I have to either stop using that as an excuse or just admit to myself that I’m not actually going to do these things and quit worrying over them.

I’m sure I must have had a reason for selecting this particular panel to insert here.

I’m sure I must have had a reason for selecting this particular panel to insert here.

We watched Fight Club again the other night. It’s a really odd document of it’s time, isn’t it? The anti-consumerist slogans still have some power, but not as much as they would I would have attributed to them when I was in college. The performances are spectacular and David Fincher really knows how to shoot a movie like this. It’s just that…well, I saw a tweet a while back saying that if a guy says that Fight Club is his favorite movie, get the hell away from him. That strikes me as a pretty solid take. Heck of a movie, but what it’s saying, or, more accurately, what some people will take away from it, is not something you want to be involved with.


My skin is starting to do it’s “thing” again, and none of the self-care regimens seem to be having any effect on its progress. Since the last time this happened, I wound up with MRSA, I’m having to treat each return with more respect than I have been. We’ve gone from “annoying but manageable” to “fucking scary and no permanent solution in sight”. My therapist has recommended that I meditate on it to try to discover the root cause and, while I am skeptical, it’s not like any other avenue has produced positive results.


One project I made a little progress on this week was to get the gear all on the same page and playing nicely together. This turned out to be easier than I expected. The modern Korg stuff (Volca Sample, Volca Beats, and Minilogue) sync nicely and all have their own sequencers, so there was no challenge there. I’m using a Beatstep Pro to set the clock and, it had to be leaned on a little to get it to talk to the Korgs, but in the end, that worked out ok. The Beatstep also sequenced the old Korg (DW8000) and the Radio Shack MG-1, so one controller was running or at least providing the beat for five other machines. I did a little goofing on the opening riff from Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung” and it came out well. I’d have been satisfied if it had just worked, but the fact that it sounded pretty good was a bonus.

For the thing I actually want to be working on, I needed some more “industrial” sounds and that took a little doing. Most of the sample packs for the Volca are aimed at trap and house music and that’s not the palette I was looking for. I wanted the sound of metal things hitting other metal things. I couldn’t find anything like that made for the Volca, but I did find this: The Warehouse by 99Sounds. Apparently, Richard Gould went to an old warehouse, smashed shit into other shit, and recorded it all.

The samples are free, but they’re 24bit and my little Korg won’t have anything to do with anything that refined. I had to convert them all to 16bit, crop them and convert them to mono before loading them (there’s only 4mb of sample space on the device, so “efficiency” is the word of the day). They are, in a word, glorious. They’re exactly what I’m looking for: LoFi, crunchy, glitchy fragments of the sounds of violent things happening to heavy objects. The Warehouse is free to download and, if this is your idea of fun, I strongly recommend it.


It has been called to my attention that our nation fired tear gas into another nation to discourage refugees from attempting to cross our borders. I can’t talk about it right now, and I don’t know that I have enough context to offer an informed view, but it sure as hell seems absolutely barbaric and just confirms that, as a people, we are no longer “the good guys” (if we ever were).


I’ve just finished reading Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings. It’s a strange little document, a list of over 100 mythical or at least made-up creatures. It’s not exactly what I was expecting in that it’s a largely straightforward, alphabetized cyclopedia. There’s no over-arching theme, let alone a story. This was my introduction to Borges and, while I enjoyed it and intend to use it as reference, I expect it isn’t really representative of his work.

Next up of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. I know absolutely nothing of O’Brien or this novel save that it was name-checked by Grant Morrison in The Invisibles. If the other works referenced by Morrison are anything to go by, I expect that this will be an unexceptional, by-the-book novel with no surprises, dark overtones, or sardonic wit.

G’night all,

-RK














* My sister’s theory on the sense of dread of returning to work is not absolute but relative. Instead of arriving the night before returning to work regardless of whether or not it’s a weekend or a week-long vacation, the dread arrives when a certain percentage of your time off remains. So, if it’s Sunday night of a regular weekend (approximately 75% of the way through one’s time off), then, if you have a week off (9 days assuming weekends on either side), the dread should arrive around the middle of Friday. There’s actually quite a bit more to the theory, but this is the most useful and easily-calculated part of it.

thanks

With the caveat that the myth behind the holiday is pure bullshit (which is true of more holidays than not), a day for thankfulness is a pretty solid theme for a holiday, is it not? I won’t try to list everything for which I consider myself fortunate as that might well use up all of the internet’s digital paper or however it stores all this stuff. My life is a good one so far, and while I consider myself bright, kind, and sporadically hard-working, even though these things have more to do with good fortune than any virtue on my part, so I have my parents, my family, my schools, and my friends to thank for much of what might appear innate at first glance.

It will probably come as no surprise that I am most thankful for Nicole. She is everything to me and brings new delight to me on a daily basis. I’m biased, of course, in that I am still struggling to digest the feast she prepared and am beginning to doubt that I’ll ever eat again. Hell of a last meal, though.

It was a very Thanksgiving-y day from start to finish. A little cleaning , a lot of cooking, as much eating as the three of us could possibly manage (Sophie joined us, which added significantly to the holiday atmosphere), a lot of recuperating, a very little cleaning, and then some more resting. Even the cats seem tuckered out after today.

The only down note is that I seem to have lost the ability to make a decent loaf of bread. Everything is coming out biscotti-shaped. Seeing as I was doing pretty well a week ago, I’m not quite sure how to correct this. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll be out of things I can do with the oven. Bother.

biscotti-med107845_vert.jpg

Pictured: A lousy shape for a loaf of bread.

So, I hope y’all have a nice day of giving thanks for the good stuff in your lives, and I hope you had more good stuff than you could remember to give thanks for.

-RK


the next big formerly obsolete thing

The question is: What will be the next obsolete technology to break out of the hopelessly niche category and go semi-mainstream again?

When vinyl became a “thing” again, I was surprised, but, if you look at it just right, I can see the appeal. Some people are convinced it sounds better, which I don’t get, but with records, you get beautiful album art, music that’s not mastered to be as loud as possible (at least for older recordings), and…that’s about it, I guess, but that’s something.

Polaroids popped back up out of nowhere and found a home in…Urban Outfitters? Ok, in modern terms it’s a camera that comes with a portable printer, which is pretty cool, and the glitchy-ness of the process gives some interesting results, so, yeah, Polaroids are pretty cool and I can see why they’d find a new market.

But some of the other stuff? Cassette tapes? No thank you. Even I can tell they sound pretty lousy and there’s just no romance to them. OK, you make a mix tape. Well done! Hardly anyone can play it back, so unless you’re carrying a jam box around, I don’t see much point. And VHS? Yes, VHS is seeing something of a resurgence for reasons that absolutely baffle me. Bad audio AND video in one difficult-to-play-back package.

I could go on: Flip phones and analog keyboards went from hot to not to, well, not hot, but at least back from the dead in an absurdly short span of time. Analog synthesizers used to be considered garbage; now we’ve not only gone back to analog, but modular synths are huge. I think analog wristwatches are “back”, but maybe those are just FitBits and smart watches.

The fact that some pretty crummy tech is on the comeback trail leads me to believe that we’re going to see more of the same in the not-to-distant-future. So, back to the question: What’s next? What tech that we thought was dead and buried is going to make a surprise comeback? I have a few guesses, but that’s really all they are:

  • CRT Monitors

  • Super 8 Film

  • Word Processors

  • 8 Track

  • Dot matrix printers

  • Printed zines

I’ll be honest here: I don’t really think any of these things are the right answer. It’s tough to think to things that were once popular but have been thoroughly superseded by objectively better tech that would be ripe to become popular again. It’s such an odd phenomenon, isn’t it? A little bit of nostalgia, some hip contrarianism, and maybe a little “finding a ‘thing’ to be really into because it’s arcane and needlessly complicated and interesting” and you wind up seeing records outselling digital music in 2018.


A side note about the oddity of the retail side of all this: Remember when the big retailers, the nationwide chains, put all of the local mom-and-pop retailers out of business or at least reduced their numbers significantly? Sound Warehouse, Blockbuster, Borders, and their ilk looked like they’d permanently change the landscape, but it didn’t turn out they way, did it? When the market receded, it could no longer support the giants chains. They’ve all been outlasted by the indie operators. Isn’t that interesting?

-RK


* Next Sunday, AD

thinking aloud; questioning the premise

I have more electronic computing devices than I probably need: A couple of desktops*, several laptops, and really good phone and a janky one for backup. I don’t have any tablets, and there’s a reason for that. While I have a specific use for each of the other devices, I can’t see how a tablet fits any requirements I have. A tablet would sit between the phone and a laptop, but not improve on either one, or, at least, not enough so to justify adding one to my constellation.

I bring this up because I’m starting to think of social media in a similar way. Each platform should fill a specific need or want; otherwise, why am I wasting my time with it? What am I using the various platforms for, what am I getting from them, and what else is there that can answer the needs that aren’t being met. Here’s the current state of play:

Facebook: The only reason I’m on Facebook is that everyone is on Facebook, which means it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with, well, everyone. The fact that it is easily and routinely accessed by current and prospective employers limits the amount of candor one can (or at least should) indulge in. Similarly, the fact that everyone is there encourages you to keep the depth of interactions fair light for fear of the wrong thing reaching the wrong audience. Oh, and Facebook’s interface is painful**, it’s algorithms make it impossible to know what you’ll see when, and they are really, really fucking evil. Facebook is not a lot of fun.

Twitter: Twitter, on the other hand, is tremendously fun. Brevity works to Twitter’s advantages, and the pace of it makes its memory fairly short. The depth of interactions is limited by the character limit, but it makes up for it by providing a meaningful way to interact conversationally with people of all walks of life. But…they absolutely suck at providing decent tools to deal with harassment and don’t seem to recognize the problem. Nazis like Twitter and that’s not a good thing.

Instagram: Owned by Facebook, so they are just as evil according to the transitive property of evil companies. I’m a pretty light user of Instagram. I usually just post weird photos without explanation (visual vaguebooking?) and the level of interaction is minimal. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s not essential to me.

Those are the only ones I’m currently using. I’ve poked around Ello, Diaspora, Mastodon, and Snapchat, but…well, honestly, they might have worked out to some degree if my attention hadn’t been so thoroughly dominated by the others. I didn’t have any urge to add another social media platform and then replicate what I was doing on the others. There’s already a ton of duplicate content: If I follow the same people on more than one platform, I get the same posts over and over (he says knowing full well he’s going to post this on Twitter and Facebook when he’s done writing this piece).

Which is all a long way of getting to the question: What do I want from social media, and where can I get it? I love being able to keep in touch with geographically distant friends and family, but Facebook is a terrible way to do it; the signal to noise is just way too high. I wish I could just follow their posts via an RSS reader. I could probably cobble something together with Zapier or ITTT and it might be worth it. It’d be a lot easier to avoid checking FB constantly if I knew I was getting the feeds I really wanted over RSS.

In truth, I could probably force FB and/or Twitter to do what I want and interact more deeply with a pretty tight group of people. Both platforms discourage that kind of usage by making it a royal pain in the ass to set that up, but it’s doable. Of course, ideally, you wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to make it do what you want it to do, would you?

So…no answers tonight. I’m still just trying to figure out. If anyone has any suggestions for networks with really good privacy controls, good text handling (as opposed to being optimized for images/videos), and that isn’t a graveyard, I’m all ears. Even if it’s something I’ve looked at in the past, I’m willing to give platforms another shot…once I figure out what I want.

G’night,

-RK

* Laptops get a lot of grief for being misnamed, but when is the last time you saw a desktop computer sitting on a desk?

** Would it kill them to have a way to find what you were just looking at before you reload the page or it scrolls down or you click on a link and then try to use the back button, only to find yourself looking at completely different stories? The unpredictability of the interface’s behavior is inexcusable this late in the game.

because, honestly, who doesn't enjoy writing about themselves?

Warren Ellis posted today on his morning.computer blog about his search for some widget or combination of tools that would, and I am paraphrasing, give him the functionality of some of the old-school blogging sites. As a long-time LiveJournal user, I remember the charming status/mood boxes and the way the site acted more like an online diary than anything we see these days.

Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess herself, took time out to ask people to link their blogs as a show of support for this fading and/or resurgent form of expression. She was spurred to do this by an article discussing writers returning to blogging after having moved on to other things.

[In this space I wrote a plausible explanation for why blogs evolved into social media and how the growing ubiquity of having an online presence changed the nature of what people wrote online, but it wasn’t what I wanted to discuss today, so I’m saving it for later. You’re welcome.]

It’s something that’s been on my mind as well. The old LIveJournal blog model was more suited to personal expression than anything social media has to offer (and I understand that this was not an unmixed blessing). It was, at least for me, a way to share a lot with a limited audience which I could control (privacy tools were much, much better than anything Facebook offers) as opposed to sharing a facet of a persona that has to be somewhat curated in the event that a future employer stumbles across it.

I really do miss the silly quizzes, the proto-memes, the just sitting down and writing about what I’m doing and feeling right now. I feel like this is part of whatever it is that both Ellis and Lawson are describing. The “status page”, which in the wrong hands (say, mine) would be horribly self-indulgent but could also be a lot of fun.*

In fact, I’ve been messing with that a little. Over on Fill In The Blank, I made of list of “facts about me expressed as musical genres”, which ticks both the “self-indulgent” and “fun” boxes. At least, it was fun for me. I’m less convinced that it’s of any interest to a general audience but that is precisely the difference between old blogs and social media, isn’t it? It’s the audience, and the awareness thereof.

Anyway, this is more of a “Wow, there are things about the old way that were pretty cool” post than a prediction that blogging will be a big thing. Even if it were to become more popular, the lay of the land is so different now that I don’t think it would ever serve the same function. So it goes.

-RK

* Way back in the early days of email, the company I was with used an messaging platform called GroupWise that was dodgy as hell, but it had these marvelous template which could be customized to a dangerous degree. I built my own that had drop down lists for my current mood, what I was listening to, and other highly unprofessional things of that sort.

I remember teaching one of our newer employees how to build a template, but instead of creating her own, she changed the company default template and added some highly inappropriate features to it. I don’t remember how we weaseled out of that one, but I was with the company for another ten years, so the cover story must have been convincing.

a pause, a deep breath

Today’s been one of those days that doesn’t feel like it’s anything other than a placeholder between other days. I think I’m a little under the weather, or maybe I was just ridiculously dehydrated. Either way, my equilibrium isn’t functioning at 100% and that means I’ve done a whole fistful of nothing today.

I’m about to embark on two projects, so I’m pulling in my sails a little so I can fence off some time to work on them. I’ve cut back on participation in social media and even installed one of those hateful nagging apps that will block certain sites (in my case, Facebook and Twitter) if I’m spending more than ten minutes a day on them. I’ve uninstalled a couple of games from my phone as well since they’re most go-to time wasters when I’m facing something I’m not prepared to face.

To get myself in the mood, I’ve been re-reading Warren Ellis’ Planetary, which might as well be scripture to me. I’ve been listening to early Radiohead and George Harrison solo albums and trying to get my head in the space it needs to be.

I’m not trying to be cool and be provocatively vague about what I’m doing; I just don’t want to go into too much detail before I’ve even started because my record of finishing thing isn’t great and the things I do finish are often vastly different than what they were intended to be.

So, this one’s probably more for me than for anyone else, and I’m not sure how much value it has in the light. As a Christmas icon once say: “They can’t all be winners, kid.”

-RK

These are a few of my favorite things

Howdy,

These remain difficult times, and are likely to for quite a while now. I simply don’t have enough in the tank to rage against all that is wrong with the current state of affairs, so I thought I’d share a few things that make me happy, or distract me, or are just interesting.

In case you were wondering, the image above has nothing to do with any of this. It just made me smile.

  1. The Crafsman

    If there is one thing on this list you check out, make it The Crafsman’s YouTube channel (linked above). The Crafsman, as you might imagine, makes videos about making crafts, but that description seriously undersells the appeal. He’s often compared to Bob Ross or Mr. Rogers because he’s got a wonderful, gentle voice and he’s relentlessly positive, but The Crafsman doesn’t really sound like either of them. His videos are genuinely informative and a delight to listen to. I cannot recommend him highly enough.

  2. Welcome to Night Vale

    WTNV has perhaps the easiest elevator pitch in the history of podcasts: H.P. Lovecraft meets NPR. If that description appeals to you, then go check it out right now. If it doesn’t? Then we’re just wired differently, I guess. WTNV at its best is gently weird and weirdly hilarious. The voice of WTNV is Cecil Baldwin, and I’m not sure it would work without him. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to.

  3. Q.I.

    Q.I. is a panel show hosted by Stephen Fry featuring four other comedians discussing trivia and general knowledge in the silliest way possible. It’s ostensibly a game show, although the scoring format is more about providing interesting answers (“Q.I.” stands for “quite interesting”) than obvious ones (which are almost always incorrect, anyway). No one skips from highbrow wordplay to vulgar puns as easily as Fry, but the guests make a game effort at keeping up.

  4. Keen shoes

    Comfortable and indestructible. They ain’t pretty. They’re not especially cheap. But if you want a shoe what will last you for a decade of hiking on rocks, or snow, or water, or whatever weird thing the universe throws at you, this is the only choice.

  5. Project Fi

    Ugh, Google, am I right? I’m not a big fan of the privacy-destroying monolith that seems to have its fingers in every aspect of my life. But, I will tell you this: Project Fi is the best cell phone service I’ve ever used. They have a “virtual SIM” thingie that allows them to use the best signal available from four different networks, so you will have signal in abundance. It’s cheap, too. My average bill is under $40 a month (it’s a pay-as-you-use-it plan, but with pretty generous terms). You do have to use one of only six phones, but there are some really good ones available.

  6. Korg Volcas

    (You have to scroll down a little to get to the Volca series.)

    These innocent little boxes, about the size of a Stylophone, are some serious kit for making music at very low prices. I have the Beats and the Sample and paid under $100 each for ‘em used. They’re not as powerful as some of the computer-based drum machines and synths, but there’s a tremendous satisfaction in twiddling with the knobs and getting crazy good sounds. I could talk for days about how fun they are and how they’re built to work together and with the Minilogue, but honestly? If you’re into making music, you really ought to get your hands on some of these. The value-to-fun ratio is off the charts.

  7. The Wicked + The Divine

    This comic, by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen, is the pop-art masterpiece of the decade. It’s not my favorite book by this team (that would be Phonogram), but it’s the best and the most ambitious by a wide margin. Every ninety years, twelve young people become gods, manifestations of one or another ancient deity. It’s a (mostly) different mix every time through. After two years, they die. No one really knows why. That’s the setup. It’s a high-wire act from start to finish and…no, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just enjoy the ride.

  8. The Battle of Polytopia

    This is a little 4x game for mobile devices. I downloaded it last February and immediately thought “Gee, this is way too simple to be interesting.” Danged if I’m not still playing it regularly. It doesn’t take terribly long to play, and the basics are super easy to pick up, but there are a ton of subtle wrinkles that give it an absurd amount of replay value. I love honing strategies to a fine edge, though, so your mileage may vary.

  9. Office Master Sit To Stand Work Stool

    Not the catchiest name, is it? After several decades of working in an office, my back was starting to feel the strain. I did a little testing and determined that I was most comfortable in a not-quite-standing position, with my butt on an angled stool and my legs still supporting some of the weight. I tried this with some conventional bar stools and, um, I broke a lot of conventional bar stools since the weight was all at the front of the saddle. I found this sucker online and it was exactly what I needed. People look at me funny now (I mean, they did anyway, but you get the idea), but I haven’t had any back pain from sitting in four years now.

  10. Yaupon

    This one’s a life-saver. I had to cut down on my coffee consumption, but I wasn’t going to completely give up on caffeine because, well, because I like caffeine. I didn’t even know what yaupon was before I tried it at the farmer’s market. I tasted a sample out of pity, but holy smokes, it’s good. It tastes like tea but without any of the bitterness, much the way cold brew tastes like drip coffee without the acid. It’s local, it’s sustainable, and it’s the only north American plant that has caffeine in it. You owe it to yourself to try it.

That’s it for now, because ten seems like a nice number to stop on. I just wanted to share some of the things that I like, that work for me, and make me happy. I hope one or two of them appeal to you, too. OK, I hope all of them do, but I don’t really expect that to be the case.

I’m babbling now, and it’s starting to get late in a post-daylight saving time sort of way. Good night, and sleep well.

-RK

Something small and good for big and bad times

This week has been terrible. The political scene is awful, there have been too many shootings (meaning “greater than none”), I have member of my family who are unwell and unlikely to get better, the owner of my favorite soccer team died in a helicopter crash…there just hasn’t been much to talk about that isn’t either sad or outrageous.

But…when we were cleaning out our storage room at the apartment, we decided to toss the old 10 gallon snail tank. It had been empty for about 6 months, but there were still bit of dirt and snail poop in it. When I was about to toss it into the chute, I found a tiny snail shell that had been lodged in a crevasse. It felt thin and dry and very worrying.

So, I took the shell back to our apartment, but the shell in a little ramekin, and added a little bit of water because you just never know with snails. They’re tougher than you’d think sometimes. And, wouldn’t you know it, the little gastropod came right out:

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I felt better about this one little fighter’s survival than I have about anything I’ve done at work in years. I don’t know what that means, but I’m just grinning ear to ear over this snail. Most of the lettuce leaf got monched and they’ve joined the other snails in the big tank for what we hope will be a long and happy life, inasmuch as the term “happy” applies to snails (and I like to think that it does).


In other snail-related news, we’re having a pets-in-costumes contest at the office this week. There aren’t many off-the-rack snail costumes out there, so my limited crafting abilities were put to the test. Plus, getting a snail to pose for a photo isn’t a sure thing, but fortunately, Baby Blink was up to the task:

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I’m reasonably sure we won’t win the contest, but a lot of people got to see our lovely Blink being a show off and I’m happy enough with that.

Snails are such good little critters. They don’t harm anyone, they get along with each other, and there’s something very peaceful about the slow pace at which they live. When people can’t be bothered to be decent to each other, and when horrible things are happening to people you care about, spending a little time with snails takes some of the edge off.

-RK