October 31, 2008

Race in the race

Race matters.

We'd be fools to think otherwise.

John McCain and Barrack Obama are - as are we all - sum totals of every aspect of who they are. Obama wouldn't be who he is if he weren't black, and John McCain wouldn't be the same if he weren't white.

Their races aren't helps any more than they are hinderances, and to think otherwise would be foolish.

NPR recently asked the people of York, PA - where their reporters have been visiting off and on throughout the summer - what their hopes and fears were for what happens after this coming election, and race came up very strongly.

Here are a few quotes, but I recommend reading the full story...
"I don't want to sound racist, and I'm not racist," Moreland says. "But I feel if we put Obama in the White House, there will be chaos. I feel a lot of black people are going to feel it's payback time. And I made the statement, I said, 'You know, at one time the black man had to step off the sidewalk when a white person came down the sidewalk.' And I feel it's going to be somewhat reversed. I really feel it's going to get somewhat nasty."


"I think there's more fear if you're really afraid of something bad happening. I hate to say this, but let [Obama] not win," Weary says.

And there is another set of fears for Weary: He says that he's "more afraid of the Joe Six-Packs looking for payback after Barack Obama wins the presidential election."

October 30, 2008

I'm a horrible person

There are all sorts of reasons that I'm a horrible person...

Today's opener is the fact that I know that the secret to comedy is a midget. My general standing argument is that everything is funnier with a midget.

Yes, it's an offensive thing to say, and for that I apologize. But it's kind of true.

For evidence, I offer you Under the Rainbow and Terror of Tiny Town.

I also recognize that the reality of life as a midget would be incredibly tough, trying to manage in a world designed for people built drastically differently than you. Because of this, I realize that midgets are not - in and of themselves - funny in any real-world way. Yet I continue to insist that midgets are the keys to comedy.

This was brought on by the recent Rock the List about the most sensational midgets ever. Which is wrong because they forgot Billy Barty.

There's this guy that The Girl used to work with who runs a scavenger hunt / Amazing Race kind of thing every spring and fall. He signs up a dozen teams of four and runs 'em around our county collecting receipts, taking photos, buying stuff (in the fall) and accomplishing various stupid tasks (in the spring).

He's helped out by a half dozen of his friends who judge the various events and help run things.

And I hate two of them.

Hate them.

They don't necessarily seem like horrible people, and I've heard that they do a lot of good work for the local school system and all. The lead guy seems to like them, and he seems to be a pretty good guy.

But I can't stand being anywhere around them. And it's mostly because of their voices.

They're twins - yes, Calen, you probably know the guys I'm talking about - and they drive me frickin' batty every time they open they mouths.

Their tone of voice is so grating and snotty and nasty that I have to leave their presence almost immediately upon hearing them speak. At the Amazing Race a couple of years ago, in the heat of one of the events (trying to throw gumballs into a series of buckets a la Bozo's Grand Prize Game) I'll admit that I called one of them a rather vulgar term when he wouldn't make the rules a little clearer to me - and continued to just chatter on unhelpfully about how I wasn't supposed to be doing things.

It isn't something that I was proud of, but it happened. The voice finally got to me.

I should be mature enough to realize that people can't help the voice that they've been given, but I'm not really able to.

And finally, I'm desperately inspired by the donut and bacon candidate, but I have totally ignored every call from MoveOn.org and the local democrats to help out with the campaign. I probably could find a couple of hours to help out, but, man, I'm just tired.

I spent this afternoon hanging on the couch, writing to you folks. Sure, I could've made a few phone calls for Mr. Frazier, but I didn't.

October 29, 2008

A Glimpse: Me

It'd been a while since I'd updated my photo album of myself on my chemistry webpage. I try to keep a bunch of decent and embarrassing photos of myself posted so that when my students complain that I'm posting horrible photos of them, I can point out tat I do the same of myself.

And it's about time for me to update that album. So here's a new album of your humble ChemGuy.

The initial pic up above, by the way, is courtesy of my new laptop's built in webcam and captures me in my typical fall/winter weekend glory.

October 28, 2008

New ones from across the pond

I know I promised I wouldn't check the celebriblogs anymore, but someone linked to WWTDD and said that they had posted YouTubes of two new Lily Allen songs, so I had to click through.

Check 'em...

October 27, 2008

I don't understand

Not in the least...not at all...not even one little bit...

But I'm not going to complain that yesterday I filled up my gas tank for $2.09 a gallon.

October 26, 2008

The Man in Black bring his friends together

A while back I checked out The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show on cd, and that got me hunting some of the clips on YouTube.

My interest was piqued, so you get to watch along.

Cash with Roger Miller doing "King of the Road"

Andy Kaufman doing Elvis

Doing "Blue Yodel No. 9" with Louis Armstrong

One of my top five favorite versions of any song I've ever heard...Cash with Dylan on "Girl from the North Country" - you can catch the rest from Cash's premiere episode here

Neil Young on "Needle and the Damage Done"

Joni Mitchell's prettiest tune "Both Sides Now"

Cash doing "Last Train to Clarksville" with the Monkees

Johnny takes center stage with his trademark "Hello, Bill Walker" and a number of solos from Norman Blake

CCR doing "Bad Moon Rising"

Duetting with Jose Feliciano

Dennis Hopper reading poetry

"Smoke, Smoke, Smoke" by Phil Harris - sort of singing

And a bonus - part one of three with Johnny Cash on The Muppet Show - with the very cool "Ghost Riders in the Sky"

October 25, 2008

The music of the day...

We're trying a new service here...Playist.com...fingers are crossed that it doesn't go the way of Muxtape...

Ten songs that I'm listening to of late...

October 24, 2008

In which our hero reads an adult book

I'm not sure I would have ever bet that in a million years I would have written the following phrase, but - after reading Angler: the Cheney vice presidency - I have a new-found respect for Dick Cheney.

It had been a good, long while since I'd read a solid book written for adults, the kind of book didn't have drawings on every page and that wasn't consumable in an hour or so. And when Terry Gross had an interview with Barton Gellman, his book Angler sounded like a good one to dive into. And I had forgotten how spectacular is the opportunity to get lost in a book, to sit down and have two hours pass before you notice the time slipping by, to want to read and read instead of accomplish anything else that you need to do, to spend ten or fifteen hours - broken up over a couple of weeks - to devour a book of real substance.

And Angler is certainly that. It's an amazingly thorough and even-handed exploration of how Dick Cheney used his position in the Bush White House to further his beliefs and do what he thought necessary to better our nation. His unique position - a president who trusted him implicitly, a president who concerned himself with the big picture while setting aside "the little things", absolutely no need to consider his own political future, his amazing knowledge of the system via his positions in previous administrations - allowed him to take massive advantage of the systems in place and keep his hands in nearly every pie that interested him.

Cheney put himself in position to influence hundreds of decisions and policies, guaranteed that nearly every position paper that left the White House came through his office and was proofed (and often drastically changed) by his staff members such as David Addington. He helped choose - and with Bush's willingness to focus on the "big issues" was largely choosing - numerous office holders below the top level positions. he wasn't as concerned with naming the Secretary of State because he knew that the half dozen people immediately beneath the Secretary were sympathetic with Cheney's world view. If a policy or position paper didn't jibe with Cheney's worldview, the policy simply never made its way to the Secretary's desk. If the policy was never presented to the Secretary, there was no need for the Secretary to be in 100% agreement with Cheney.

Gellman quotes a number of sources - the end notes section takes up a healthy chunk of the last hundred pages of the book - saying that Cheney was the ultimate staffer, knowledgeable of every back channel within the White House (having been a White House Chief of Staff), the Congress (having been a senator), and the Pentagon (as former Secretary of Defense). He insinuated his email into every mailing list on every issue on which he wanted to have influence. When a policy paper was sent to *Asia, for example, a blind copy was sent to Cheney's emailbox, often times without the knowledge of the paper's author.

Cheney's single largest concern and area of influence was in expanding the power of the executive branch. Cheney's belief was that the other two branches - legislative and judicial - were far too massive and slow-moving to be of any use at all in times of crisis, meaning that the executive branch should be given absolute and unchecked power in any issue that could be remotely connected to war or threat on our nation. To this end, Cheney pushed through - often originating, sometime writing, rarely simply supporting - the Bush administration's policies on military tribunals, secret domestic spying, the use of torture in interrogations, environmental deregulation, and so many issues.

I disagree with - I am very close to being able to say I hate - nearly every policy decision on which Dick Cheney used his influence. I abhor torture. I will always side of freedom over security. I feel that the environment should trump nearly every business concern. And I believe that the three-branch, checks and balances system of government should be designed - as Jefferson stated - to be manned by scoundrels because of those very checks and balances.

But I respect Dick Cheney's determination, knowledge, tireless devotion, and dedication to our nation. He believed he was saving our nation, and he ensured that he did every single thing within his power - power that none of his predecessors was given and that Cheney simply assumed - to keep us safe, and I respect that level of drive, that level of commitment.

From Angler: The Dick Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman...page 389...
Cheney served his country with devotion, at some cost to himself. The stresses of the job did not improve his health. After more than a decade without incident, Cheney suffered eight cardiac events in eight years. He relinquished millions of dollars in stock options and income forgone. The author found no evidence of self-dealing behavior in office, involving Haliburton or anything else. There were times when Cheney stretched the truth, times he may have snapped it clean in half, but he was fundamentally honest about his objectives. Cheney believed that the country was in mortal danger and that he knew better than others how to avert it.


Political reputations shift with time. That does not seem to be nearly so true of wars. When voters, generals, and the political class reach consensus on a strategic mistake, they do not tend to change their minds. Rehabilitation has not come for the southern war of secession or MacArthur's march toward the Yalu River which brought China into the Korean War. Nor has the nation's verdict wavered on Vietnam. The Bush-Cheney strategy after September 11, with its claims of White House supremacy and its sharp tilt from civil liberty to state command, enraged even proponents of a unitary executive and a strong national security state. The invasion of Iraq may have passed a point of no return when Dick Armey - the majority leader of the president's party, from the president's home state - said it was "very likely the biggest foreign policy blunder of modern times." Today cannot speak for tomorrow, and Cheney may turn out to be right that the pendulum will not swing back. Nothing is likelier to bring that about than Cheney's worst nightmare made flesh. If
Nexus comes, loosing a plague or igniting a mushroom cloud, posterity may decide we should have stayed the vice president's course. This made for a paradox as Cheney neared the end of his second term. His best hope for vindication appeared to lie in a future no one could want, a future in which his efforts failed.

October 23, 2008

Mostly for TL

Get your hankies ready, folks, and check out the video tributes from Jim Henson's funeral.

In today's stunning announcement...

It appears that Li'l Wayne's assistant told a court that he saw a handgun and marijuana on the tour bus.

Two things...remember, kids, snitches get stitches...and why is this news?

Will we be reporting soon that Americans are fat? that bacon is bad for you? that the sun came up today?

Back to the old school

I really want to see the new Bond movie...

And these don't look bad, either...

October 22, 2008

A glimpse: the DVDs

Because it's clearly something that you folks demand, our "A Glimpse" series continues with the DVDs that I own and that live on both sides of my stereo above the television...left side first...from left to right...

Sin City was a great time in the theater. Loved it. The movie hasn't held up on further viewings. It's neat and all, but it's not one I love seeing again and again. And the double disc version is amazingly tedious - except for Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Cooking School - which is brilliant and should be watched and to which I would link if it didn't end with a horrific vulgarity.

The Muppet Movie was a gift from Calen after I crabbed that it was stolen by some punks who broke into my house a few years ago. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, and the jokes get me smiling and laughing every time. Cameos out the wazoo - Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Edgar Bergan, Charlie McCarthy, Charles Durning, Richard Pryor, Dom DeLouise, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Bob Hope, Elliott Gould, Carol Kane, Madeline Kahn, Telly Savalas, Orson Wells - all brilliant. One of my all-time favorite movies.

Fight Club is one I can watch over and over again. I know the twist is coming, and the movie works even better for me because of it.

Hoosiers is the other favorite movie. I'll watch it three or four times every year and break into tears when the minister gives the David and Goliath speech every time. When I first got the DVD, I watched every game scene and skipped every other one...tears anyway. This edition is great because it has all the deleted scenes that make the plot holes close right up. Plus, bonus points because "I think Jimmy can get an academic scholarship to Wabash College."

Then the whole Kevin Smith oeuvre - cartoon, Clerks X, Mallrats 10th anniv, Chasing Amy (the best he's done yet and the one I enjoy watching the least...the movie spoke to me at the time, what can I say), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (the worst of them and the one I probably watch the most). Don't know why Degrassi is way out of order, but that a'ight.

North to Katahdin is a documentary about the Appalachian Trail that I bought for The Girl a while back and that we've watched once. It did give me some idea of what her 2100+ mile trip was like.

A Lion in the House is heartbreaking, and I've blogged about it twice before.

The next two are Wilco - one of the band and one of Tweedy alone. The first is a better movie by far, the second a simple concert DVD with extra content that I've never been able to get to work. Which sucks.

The Big Lebowski is the funniest movie I've ever seen. Love it.

The two two-flick DVDs were about $10 each at Target, and I've seen Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity enough to justify both purchases.

The Wimbledon up top is the last of these to have been in the player. It's the classic final from this past summer. Five full hours of fascinating BBC coverage of the match.

LA Story is the second movie that The Girl and I went to see - our second date. It's a magical and hilarious tale written by and starring Steve Martin.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension is an atrocious piece of 80's filmmaking. It's a product of its era as strongly as almost any I've ever seen. I love it - especially the end credits. The special effects and the make up are awful. AWFUL. I love it.

Family Guy pretty much isn't funny. I enjoyed it briefly, but I hate it now.

Spirited Away from Miyazaki is beautiful. It's an animated feature of stunning beauty. It's been a while since I've seen it because Calen's daughter hasn't been over in a while. She watches it nearly every time she visits.

Rozencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is the tale of "Hamlet" as told from a different point of view, focusing on his two bumbling friends and their struggles with trying to acknowledge that they have very little - if any - control over their own path in the play. Funny, witty stuff.

Field of Dreams has me in tears at the end every time.

Hero is the finest movie ever made. I stand by that statement. It's the only one that I've given a 100-rating to on criticker.

The Aristocrats is not the Disney movie that you're thinking of. It's the most vulgar movie I've ever seen, all about a single horrifically off-color joke. Do not see it if you're at all offended. By anything. Anything at all.

Kill Bill volume 1, only.

Time Bandits is one out of the childhood and another gift from Calen.

The Triplets of Belleville is an animated film almost entirely in French, probably not ten English words and not many words at all, honestly.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the other flick - with Lebowski - for funniest film I've seen.

The ones up top are all borrow films - Matrix from my neighbor at shcool, Signs and Saving Private Ryan from Coach Sullivan, The Secret as an absolute joke from the guy who lived in my basement last summer, and the 15-Minute Workout is The Girl's loaner.

I'm not sure there was a lick of anything revealing there at all.

Thanks for getting that far.

October 21, 2008

Where not to buy toys

When you're serious about science, United Nuclear - now of New Mexico but soon to be of Michigan - should be your supplier of choice.

Sure, the sell books and fun stuff, but they also sell some stuff that clearly isn't heading to the kids.

The scariest things that they offer are their - surprisingly - the supermagnets found about halfway down the linked page. The magnets are strong enough that these words are among their warnings:
If carrying one into another room, carefully plan the route you will be taking. Sensitive instruments like computers & monitors will be affected in an entire room. Loose metallic objects and other magnets may become airborne and fly at great speed to attach themselves to these magnets. If you get caught in between the two, you can be severely injured. These magnets will crush bones in the blink of an eye.
Two of these magnets close together can create an almost unbelievable magnetic field that can be incredibly dangerous.
Of all the unique items we offer for sale, we consider these items the most dangerous of all. Our normal packing & shipping personnel refuse to package these magnets - our engineers have to do it. This is no joke or exaggeration - and we cannot stress it strongly enough. You must be extremely careful - and know what you're doing with these magnets.
Two Supermagnets can very easily get out of control, crush fingers and instantly break ribs or even your arm if opposing poles fly at each other.

A small child recently lost his hand when his father left two # 31 supermagnets unattended. The child picked one up and when he approached the other magnet on a nearby table,
it became airborne and obliterated his small hand.
...these are not things that I want to be dealing with.

The DMSO and other chemicals that they sell, on the other hand...or the aerogel...or the tritium light sources...meteorites...glow-in-the-dark paints...

If you need radioisotopes, UN has 'em and a bunch of other radioactive stuff including big samples of uranium metal.

And, seriously, they'll sell this stuff to any schmuck, you or me.

A lot of what they sell is for the explosives, nuclear, and pyrotechnics industries, but that doesn't mean they won't sell to li'l ol' you and me.

And a lot of it is just cool.

October 20, 2008

Checkin' the flicks

There's been some viewing and some reading, but not a ton of either...

Batman: Gotham Knight - these six stories are designed to be a bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but I don't really see them working in that fashion. The six stories are of varying quality - one seeming like a rehash (primarily "Have I Got a Story for You"), one like a sketch ("Working Through Pain), one an interesting start that never really gets going ("Deadshot"), one too fantastical for the Nolan universe ("In Darkness Dwells"), and two actually right for the Nolan Batman world ("Field Test" and "Crossfire").

They certainly don't hold together with any theme as only two of the six tales have any connection other than Batman's presence, and I don't see any sort of information in these that would help viewers understand the second film. These come off more as continuations of Batman: The Animated Show but in shorter forms as each story only clocks in at about ten or fifteen minutes. They've even used Kevin Conroy who did Batman's voice on the 90's cartoon, as a further echo.

The combination of Batman's stories with the Japanese animation might've been a bit more revolutionary a decade ago, but now it doesn't even seem novel with so much anime and faux anime on everything from Saturday morning 'toons to Cartoon Network.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - another in an outstanding if a bit small run of modern western tales...this would've been one to see in the theater as it's a gorgeous, deliberately-paced film telling the tale of Jesse James and the man who ended his life, Robert Ford.

Brad Pitt plays the titular James but feels more like a supporting character as Casey Affleck's Robert Ford is really the center of the story. Through the course of the film, we see Ford shift from boyish adulant, following James around like a devoted puppy to a man both envious and hating and admiring of James to, eventually, a man dealing with the consequences of killing one of the most revered outlaws in American history.

The cinematography is excellent and the film gorgeous and - at times - arduously paced, allowing us to see share in the intertwined lives of the two men, both of whom seem to be existing only as players waiting for fate to bring them together in the assassination. One man has lived his life heading to that point, and the other only seems to exist after the shot is fired and he becomes a part of American lore.

Strangers with Candy - This one'd been on the pull list for a while, and The Girl and finally got around to spending a Friday evening with the girl Sedaris child and her freakily, awkwardly hilarious Jerri Blank.

Blank's social reject opens the film by summarizing the backstory that got her into and subsequently out of jail - something that I can only assume would be known to fans who had followed the television series on which the movie is based. From there Blank shows up at home where her new step-mother, nearly grown step-brother, comatose father, and a mission to go back to high school and live her life again from the point where everything went wrong.

All of which would be standard after school special fare if it weren't for the fact that Blank is a former drug and sex addicted ex-convict in her mid forties who has some serious social issues.

Jerri's freakish behavior at the high school - vacillating between befriending and dumping the science dorks at the school, pursuing the popular crowd, coming on to the girl science geek - and the totally nutso staff of administrators and teachers at the school - anchored by Stephen Colbert, Matthew Broderick, Greg Holliman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Paul Dinello - turn what could have been a very special episode into a tale filled with very special people.

The science teacher is a radical religious right who teaches that evolution is the devil's work but has a clearly un-PC relationship with the male art teacher. The guidance counselor - Jessica Parker looking more attractive than she has in at least a decade - throws herself at every available male staffer and a few of the students. The principal is fighting tooth and nail to not lose his job and have to pay back all the discretionary funds that he has seemingly misappropriated, and one school board member (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) spend most of his screen time openly and vocally pursuing the other (Allison Janney) with no success at all.

The jokes are hit or miss, though I found them to mostly fall on the hit side of the ledger. The pauses and situations can be very uncomfortable, which not every critic enjoyed but which I found mostly hilarious.

It was laugh out loud funny and fine medicine for a Friday evening.

October 19, 2008

Get ready to rock safely along

It's the Kidz Bop kidz...rockin' your favorite hits like...

"Float On"


"Sweet Escape"

"The Great Escape"

"Chicken Noodle Soup"

"Since You Been Gone"



"Bad Day"

"First Time"

"Ice Cream and Guacamole"

the commercial for Kidz Bop 13

October 18, 2008

Not everyone here is like this

As always, I can't link to Lakes' - foul-mouthed friend that he is - but I can repost the video that he posted recently and that scares me to think that people think this way and, even more so, that they would openly speak this way...

Oh, and this is my first Aljazeera video.

Welcome, folks...

Nilsson Schmilsson

Another in the run of forgotten gems, Harry Nilsson...enjoy it, folks...

SeeqPod - Playable Search

October 17, 2008

Random pictures

Enjoy the last 250 images (Link has been removed after Calen looked and apparently had her eyes blead from the sheer porn. Please enjoy one of the many fine blog in my blog roll to the right.) uploaded to LiveJournal.

Be warned, however, that sometimes people upload images.

October 16, 2008

Rockin' the phone lines

This afternoon is the rally downtown - with The National and The Breeders.

This morning it's time to hit the phone lines and order my tickets for the Beasties in Dayton...if The Girl can get her principal to okay her ducking out of conferences an hour early that night, anyway.

She'd gut me like a fish if I went to the Beasties without her.

Sources for new music

Check 'em, folks...

The Smudge of Ashen Fluff - posts new music daily, typically a video and a downloadable mp3. They say that the mp3s only stay for a few days, but they seem to still be around for a lot longer than that for me.

Morning Becomes Eclectic is an LA radio show at KCRW that offers a ton of streaming in-studio video performances - most of them around half an hour long. Some highlight videos can be found here, and the full list of shows here. Let me especially recommend The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, Ryan Adams, Steve Earle, Band of Horses, Ben Harper, Tim Finn, Bright Eyes, Lily Allen, and lots, lots more.

And it looks like I may be moving over to Playlist.com instead of Seeqpod for a while. No problems with Seeqpod, but I'm going to try Playlist after this weekend's already created tribute to another singer songwriter.

October 15, 2008

A glimpse: the bookshelves

The whole shelving unit

Moving downstairs, we have the bookshelves. These are Metro shelves that we bought when we first moved into our first house - speaking of first houses, big congrats to my neighbor at school who just bought his first house - and needed somewhere to put all our books and cd's and television and kitchen implements. We've now got a dozen of the units (from more generic manufacturers than Metro) in our shed, our garage, our laundry room, and the downstairs family room. They're awesome, utilitarian shelves, but I'm starting to think that I'm at a point in life where I want some shelves that are more stylish, more solid, more wooden than these.

But that's for another day. For today, let's take a look in more detail at each part of the shelves.

Up top - only visible in the top photo - we have a dozen Kevin Smith Inaction Figures from Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Clerks. I gave up on the collection before Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back came out. I even have Walt, Steve Dave, and Dixie Cup Brodie 'cause I'm a completist like that. I did, however, pass on all the Kevin Smith figures.

...for which I'm a little sad from time to time...

And the cats are from World Market and were a gift to The Girl on her worst birthday with me yet. Good times that one - big fight, but that's for another day, too.

Now, moving downward to the top shelf, left to right...

Top left

The bobblehead is Frank Robinson, picked up a couple of years ago at Great American. A few books over is Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show which is a hell of a book and took a long route back to these shelves as I loaned it out to a student of mine at Mount Healthy. This past school year - about eight years later - Jason found himself as an observing teacher ed student at PHS and brought the book back to me. I never thought I'd get that book back, and I was okay with that. Book lent out should never be demanded back. Let them go, set them free. And when/if they come back, they're gifts.

Further across is another book that has had more of an effect on me - The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read that one as a sophomore at Wabash as part of a course that every sophomore took (and still takes) and as a text that every Wabash student had read and discussed. I learned more about how a man can change - and Malcolm X made amazing changes in his lives - in his life and absolutely refute what he had so readily believed beforehand. I remember wondering - ignorantly - how Wabash could have a multi-cultural center named after Malcolm X who was - as I said at the time - against our country and in favor of violent revolution. A junior in the room asked me what I really knew about Malcolm X, politely but pointedly questioning my dogmatism, and I had little to back up my statement. A year later, after I had read The Autobiography, I knew much more and have tried not to make such stupid, assumptive statements since. People are much more complex than simple soundbites and historical snapshots could and do ever show.

Most of the rest of those books aren't mine. I'm not in the paperback fiction world for the most part. The silver cup - generic metal with a clear plastic base - holds sea glass collected on the beaches of Scotland and foreign coins brought back from my year overseas. I haven't looked in the cup for a long time, but it reassures me to know that it's there.

The other two books up there that matter to me are Brave New World and Slaughterhouse Five. The Vonnegut is probably my favorite book of all time though the Huxley is in the running as well. I read Slaughterhouse every couple of years and enjoy it more every time.

On the second shelf down is the lone book that I've ever stolen from a library - not accidentally kept, not lost, absolutely and intentionally stolen, kept, and paid for: Electric Brae. During my summers between college years, I was reading a whole lot, browsing the public library sort of at random, and I picked up Electric Brae a month or so before I headed to my junior year in Scotland. I began the book and found myself deep into a fantastic love triangle in and around Aberdeen where I was flying in a few short weeks. I didn't know the setting before I started reading the book. The coincidence caught me and meant something to me at the time.

A year later, I checked the book out again and found a bookmark inside it, left there by a previous reader. On the front of that bookmark was a phone number and name of a friend of mine, and on the back was another of each. I mentioned this in passing to The Girl, and she mentioned that she'd checked the book out on my recommendation and must've left her bookmark in it. I believed - or assumed or hoped - that somehow only she and I had checked the book out in the year. I kept the book and sent a letter and a check to the library explaining my choice.

The Harry Potters are ones I've read maybe half of. The rest I've listened to, enjoying Jim Dale's voices.

The "Really Really Dangerous" toy is The Box which tested The Tick on the first episode of his cartoon series. The toys weren't popular, and I've got every one. Actually, The Girl has every one as I bought them as gifts to her - collecting them on her behalf.

The figures are The Bride from Kill Bill, the Golgothan from Dogma, and a Crazy 88 killer also form Kill Bill.

Top right

The ceramic stein celebrates my high school's lone basketball state title from 1973, two years before I was born, and it sat on my parents' shelves for a couple of decades before I took it to college with me. I have no idea whether my parents know where that stein ever went. Mom, if you're reading, I've got it. Thanks.

Next shelf down, behind the Crazy 88 killer, you can see "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead", a play by Tom Stoppard based on "Hamlet". It's a hilarious, brilliant play but one that shouldn't be read until after you've digested and understood "Hamlet". I'll also recommend the movie version with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfus.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by WP Kinsella - author of Shoeless Joe which became Field of Dreams. This one's a little more fantastical but no less marvelous. It tells the tale of a baseball fan and researcher who finds himself slipped back in time, playing in a game of a league that only he remembers existing, falling in love with a woman whose spirit echos that of his oft-absent wife. Around this tale weaves in and out the tale of a native American spirit who is using his every bit of magic to support the local team against the Chicago Cubs traveling team in a game that lasts forty days and nights while the clouds drop steady rain and the river rises, threatening to wipe away the ballfield. It's a magical ride and one I need to take again.

The far right - hanging up - is my Lambda Chi Alpha associate paddle (it's a pledge paddle but without the hazing). It was given to me by John Prince, the second Prince brother to go through my fraternity house. John and his brothers graduated from the same high school that I did, and John was a great mentor at Wabash and in the house. His elder brother, Steve, was the one who got me to first take a look at Wabash, and I owe him immensely for that.

Center left

the marbles came from my paternal grandparents' home, and I stupidly broke the first glass containers that I put them in. The big blue ball is LeRoy's favorite toy. He can't quite get his mouth all the way around it, so he can't pick it up and chew on it, but he loves to bat it around and scratch at it. It's annoying and hilarious.

Again, a bunch of books I don't care about and/or haven't read.

The wooden fish came from The Girl's grandmother's house. It's never held books in our house.

Flatland - behind the fish - is a dual book with Sphereland taking the story to another dimension. I first read Flatland as a seventh-grader in my English class with Sandra VanOsdol (sp?), a wonderful teacher whom I loved dearly.

Next shelf down...lots of my books here. City and Pyramid by David McCauley are brilliant books, telling historical tales of ancient societies through graphical means. They're not for tiny kids, but they're certainly for certain kids in the mid- and upper-elementary grades, and I first found them then. They're in our artsy section of the shelves and are next to three Eschers and a Matisse. The Escher's are mine; the Mattise The Girl's.

She also owns the next few music books - Rolling Stone's encyclopedia, the Beatles book in black and pink. They're from college classes that she took at Indiana University. There are very few instances when I am or have been envious of people attending any school other than Wabash, but The Girl's three classes on the History of Rock (parts I and II plus the Beatles) were certainly those.

American Songs and Ballads is a collection that I should know better and that was passed down from mom's shelves.

We are Still Married is a collection of Garrison Keillor, and I brought it back for The Girl from Scotland, my lone gift for her and something I picked up from a used book store there. We weren't romantically involved at the time, but I apparently thought the title meant something and remembered listening to Prairie Home Companion on Sunday nights in Bloomington together.

Two more dog toys that we have to lift up and keep away from LeRoy for much of the time. He'd drive us bonkers and hurt himself if we didn't.

Center right

Past the fish now...all of my Hunter S Thompson books. The Great Shark Hunt is the best and most inconsistent of those. It has the best writing that Hunter ever put together and is one to read for anyone interested in checking out Hunter for the first time.

In the middle of the Thompson is Night by Elie Weisel, the hardest book that I've ever read. I read that the same year that I read Malcolm X, and I enjoyed Night far less. It moved me every bit as much, however, as it is a phenomenal account of a man's life.

There a bunch of cartoon books then. The Bloom County material has aged poorly, and I haven't read any of them in a long while. The Bus on the bother hand, is ageless, hilarious, and just weird.

Downward again...you get another book that came coincidentally to me. In my freshman year, we read Infinite in All Directions, a memoir by Freeman Dyson. It explored Dyson's thoughts on all sorts of aspects of science, and we looked at what he had to say on the morals of modern technology. I took the book with me to Aberdeen and began to re-read the tome on the airplane to Scotland. I noticed then that the book was built from a series of lectures given at the University of Aberdeen, where I was heading to spend a year. Another coincidence? Well, yeah, but it felt meaningful to me at the time.

Bottom left

Not much to look at here. There's a pile of books too big to fit upright on our shelves. There's In the Shadow of No Towers, a withering honesty, frighteningly personal reaction to the 9/11 attacks from Art Speigelman. It's not comics for children, and it's not even comics for most adults. It's worth a read, however.

There's another Escher at the bottom of that pile and a bunch of magazines between - Rolling Stones, National Geographic, Time, and others - including the two years of yearbooks from my junior high school years.

Bottom right

The two Sandman volumes have a matching first volume that's loaned out to TL right now. and they're the expensive, uber hardcover versions of Gaiman's masterwork series. They're expensive, and they're indulgent, but I love them.

The last books there - the furthest right - are the yearbooks from my first year at Mount Healthy and the my three years of high school yearbooks. At least I think they're mine. They could be The Girl's because we were in high school together.

Hmmm...rather anticlimactic. Sorry, folks...

Next week, my cd's...there are a bunch of them, so I don't know how much commentary I'll be offering.

October 14, 2008

An ode to muxtape

Look like Muxtape is no longer. In case Justin takes down his message explaining the situation, I'm posting the message he has here. It's an excellent glimpse into the issues that the music industry has at the moment as they try to open up their content to as many people as possible without freely opening up their content to as many people as possible.
I love music. I believe that for people who love music, the desire to share it is innate and crucial for music itself. When we find a song we love, we beckon our friends over to the turntable, we loan them the CD, we turn up the car stereo, we put it on a mixtape. We do this because music makes us feel and we want someone else to feel it, too.

The story of Muxtape began when I had a weekly show at my university’s radio station in Oregon. In addition to keeping the station’s regular log I compiled my playlists into a web page, with each show represented by a simple block that corresponded to a cassette recording for that week. At the time, mixtapes were already well into their twilight, but long after my show ended I couldn’t stop thinking about how the playlist page served a similar purpose, and in many ways served it better. Like a mixtape, each playlist was a curated group that was greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike a mixtape, it wasn’t constrained by any physical boundaries of dissemination, but… it also didn’t contain any actual music. Someone might come across the page and smile knowingly at the songs they knew, but shifting the burden of actually compiling the mix to its intended listener defeated the purpose entirely.

Five years later, internet technology had advanced significantly. I was working on experimental user interfaces for web sites when I started thinking about that playlist page again, and ultimately set out to bring it to life. My desire to share music (in the mixtape sense) hadn’t gone anywhere, but the channels to do so were becoming extinct. Popular blogging services allow you to post audio files in an ephemeral sort of way, but it wasn’t the context I was looking for. A physical cassette tape in your hands has such an insistent aesthetic; just holding one makes you want to find a tape player to fulfill its destiny. My goal with Muxtape’s design was to translate some of that tactility into the digital world, to build a context around the music that gave it a little extra spark of life and made the holder anxious to listen.

The first version was a one-page supplement to my tumblr, and was more or less identical to what it would become later. The feedback was great, and the number one question rapidly became “can you make one for me, too?” At first I started thinking about ways I could package the source code, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like massively wasted potential. Distributing the source would mean limiting access to the small niche of people who operate their own web server, whereas I wanted to make something that was accessible to anyone who loves music. The natural conclusion was a centralized service, which suddenly unfolded whole other dimensions of possibility for serendipitous music discovery. What seemed before like the hollow shell of a mixtape now seemed like its evolution. I knew I had to try building it. Three weeks of long nights later, I launched Muxtape.

It was successful very quickly. 8,685 users registered in the first 24 hours, 97,748 in the first month with 1.2 million unique visitors and a healthy growth rate. Lots of press. Rampant speculation. Tech rags either lauded it or declared it an instant failure. Everyone was excited. I was thrilled.

There was a popular misconception that Muxtape only survived because it was “flying under the radar,” and the moment the major labels found out about it it’d be shut down. In actuality, the labels and the RIAA read web sites like everyone else, and I heard from them both within a week or so. An RIAA notice arrived in triplicate, via email, registered mail, and FedEx overnight (with print and CD versions). They demanded that I take down six specific muxtapes they felt were infringing, so I did.

Around the same time I got a call from the VP of anti-piracy at one of the majors. After I picked up the phone his first words were, “Justin, I just have one question for you: where do I send the summons and complaint?” The conversation picked up from there. There was no summons, it was an intimidation tactic setting the tone for the business development meeting he was proposing, the true reason for the call. Around the same time another one of the big four’s business developers reached out to me, too.

I spent the next month listening. I talked to a lot of very smart lawyers and other people whose opinions on the matter I respected, trying to gain a consensus for Muxtape’s legality. The only consensus seemed to be that there was no consensus. I had two dozen slightly different opinions that ran the gamut from “Muxtape is 100% legal and you’re on solid ground,” to “Muxtape is a cesspool of piracy and I hope you’re ready for a hundred million dollar lawsuit and a stint at Riker’s.”

In the end, Muxtape’s legality was moot. I didn’t have any money to defend against a lawsuit, just or not, so the major labels had an ax over my head either way. I always told myself I’d remove any artist or label that contacted me and objected, no questions asked. Not a single one ever did. On the contrary, every artist I heard from was a fan of the site and excited about its possibilities. I got calls from the marketing departments of big labels whose corporate parents were supposed to be outraged, wanting to know how they get could their latest acts on the home page. Smaller labels wanted to feature their content in other creative ways. It seemed obvious Muxtape had value for listeners and artists alike.

In May I had my first meeting with a major label, Universal Music Group. I went alone and prepared myself for the worst, having spent the last decade toeing the indie party line that the big labels were hopelessly obstinate luddites with no idea what was good for them. I’m here to tell you now that the labels understand their business a lot better than most people suspect, although they each have their own surprisingly distinct personality when it comes to how they approach the future. The gentlemen I met at Universal were incredibly receptive and tactful; I didn’t have to sell them on why Muxtape was good for them, they knew it was cool and just wanted to get paid. I sympathized with that. I told them I needed some time to get a proposal together and we left things in limbo.

A few weeks later I had a meeting with EMI, the character of which was much different. I walked into a conference room and shook eight or nine hands, sitting down at a conference table with a phonebook-thick file labeled “Muxtape” laying on it. The people I met formed a semi-circle around me like a split brain, legal on one side and business development on the other. The meeting alternated between an intense grilling from the legal side (“you are a willful infringer and we are mere hours from shutting you down”) and an awkward discussion with the business side (“assuming we don’t shut you down, how do you see us working together?”). I asked for two weeks to make a proposal, they gave me two days.

I had to make a decision. As I saw it I had three options. The first was to just shut everything down, which I never really considered. The second was to ban major label content entirely, which might have solved the immediate crisis, but had two strong points against it. The first, most visibly, was that it would prevent people from using the majority of available music in their mixes. The second was that it did nothing to address the deeper questions surrounding ownership and usage for everyone else who wasn’t a major label: mid-size labels and independent artists who have just as fundamental a right to address how their content is used as a large corporation, even if they don’t carry quite as big a stick.

The third option was to approach a fully licensed model, which I had been edging toward since I met with Universal. I knew other licensed services so far had met with mixed success, but I also knew Muxtape was different and that it was at least worth exploring. The question about whether or not the labels saw value in it had been answered, the new question was how much it was going to cost.

It was June. I approached a Fifth Ave law firm about representing me in licensing negotiations with the major labels, and they took me on. Two weeks later I met with all four, flanked by lawyers this time, and started the slow process of working out a deal. The first round of terms were stiff and complex, but not nearly as bad as I’d imagined, and I managed to convince them that allowing Muxtape to continue to operate was in everyone’s best interest. Things were going well. I spent the next two months talking with investors, designing the next phases of the site itself, and supervising the negotiations. A big concern was getting a deal that took into consideration the fact that Muxtape wasn’t a straightforward on-demand service, and should pay accordingly less than a service that was. Another reason I liked the licensing option from the outset was that it seemed like an uncommon win-win; I didn’t want the ability to search and stream any song at any given notice, and they were reluctant to offer it (for the price, anyway). Muxtape’s unusual limitations were its strength in more ways than one.

The first red flag came in August. Up until then all the discussion had been about numbers, but as we closed in on an agreement the talk shifted to things like guaranteed placement and “marketing opportunities.” I was denied the possibility of releasing a mobile version of Muxtape. My flexibility was being constricted. I had been worried about Muxtape getting a fair deal, but my biggest concern all along was maintaing the integrity and experience of the site (one of the reasons I wanted to license in the first place). Now it wasn’t so simple; I had agreed to a variety of encroachments into Muxtape’s financials because I wanted to play ball, but giving up any kind of editorial or creative control was something I had a much harder time swallowing.

I was wrestling with this when, on August 15th, I received notice from Amazon Web Services (the platform that hosts Muxtape’s servers and files) that they had received a complaint from the RIAA. Per Amazon’s terms, I had one business day to remove an incredibly long list of songs or face having my servers shut down and data deleted. This came as a big surprise to me, as I’d been thinking that I hadn’t heard from the RIAA in a long time because I had an understanding with the labels. I had a panicked exchange of emails with Amazon, trying to explain that I was in the middle of a licensing deal, that I suspected it was a clerical error, and that I was doing everything I could to get someone to vouch for me on a summer Friday afternoon. My one business day extended over the weekend, and on Monday when I wasn’t able to produce the documentation Amazon wanted (or even get someone from the RIAA on the phone), the servers were shut down and I was locked out of the account. I moved the domain name to a new server with a short message and the very real expectation that I could get it sorted out. I still thought it was all just a big mistake. I was wrong.

Over the next week I learned a little more, mainly that the RIAA moves quite autonomously from their label parents and that the understanding I had with them didn’t necessarily carry over. I also learned that none of the labels were especially interested in helping me out, and from their perspective it had no bearing on the negotiations. I disagreed. The deals were still weeks or months away (an eternity on the internet) meaning that at best, Muxtape was going to be down until the end of year. There was also still the matter of how to pay for it; getting investment is hard enough in this volatile space even with a wildly successful and growing web site, it became an entirely different proposition with no web site at all.

And so I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever faced: I walked away from the licensing deals. They had become too complex for a site founded on simplicity, too restrictive and hostile to continue to innovate the way I wanted to. They’d already taken so much attention away from development that I started to question my own motivations. I didn’t get into this to build a big company as fast as I could no matter what the cost, I got into this to make something simple and beautiful for people who love music, and I plan to continue doing that. As promised, the site is coming back, but not as you’ve known. I’m taking a feature that was in development in the early stages and making it the new central focus.

Muxtape is relaunching as a service exclusively for bands, offering an extremely powerful platform with unheard-of simplicity for artists to thrive on the internet. Musicians in 2008 without access to a full time web developer have few options when it comes to establishing themselves online, but their needs often revolve around a common set of problems. The new Muxtape will allow bands to upload their own music and offer an embeddable player that works anywhere on the web, in addition to the original muxtape format. Bands will be able to assemble an attractive profile with simple modules that enable optional functionality such as a calendar, photos, comments, downloads and sales, or anything else they need. The system has been built from the ground up to be extended infinitely and is wrapped in a template system that will be open to CSS designers. There will be more details soon. The beta is still private at the moment, but that will change in the coming weeks.

I realize this is a somewhat radical shift in functionality, but Muxtape’s core goals haven’t changed. I still want to challenge the way we experience music online, and I still want to work to enable what I think is the most interesting aspect of interconnected music: discovering new stuff.

Thank to you everyone who made Muxtape the incredible place it was in its first phase, it couldn’t have happened without your mixes. The industry will catch up some day, it pretty much has to.

Justin Ouellette
25 September 2008
I wish Justin well and will miss his service even though I didn't take advantage of it nearly often enough.

Perhaps I spoke too soon

So, Jean Schmidt is the US Rep from the 2nd Congressional district, and she was tagged in a hit-and-run over the weekend. She was out running in the foggy morning twilight, and the hit-and-runner whomped her into a ditch before driving onward.

Seems her independent opponent, David Kirkorian, had some doubts about the veracity of Representative Schmidt's story:
"Um, I’m going to say, we are – how do I put this – elements of the representative’s story do not add up," Krikorian said. "There is no way that at 6 a.m. in the morning, or 5:45 in the morning, she claims that a car was approaching her and it didn’t slow down. I’m assuming that it had its headlights on before it hit her, she turns her back. Two things that don’t make sense to me – One, she said she thought it was a gray car and a man was driving it. And I don’t see how you could make that assertion when it’s pitch black, foggy, and the headlights are facing her. You can’t tell what color the car is, and you certainly can’t tell who’s driving the car, especially if you turn your back.

“Secondly, she claims the car must have damage to it, based on it hitting her, yet apparently she was undamaged. All I can say is, you don’t get hit by a vehicle and walk away from it, and the vehicle has damage to it. I don’t see how she can make that assertion. I’ve talked to a lot of people who think the story’s phony. I’m not saying the story’s phony, but a lot of people out there think it is. And we’re looking into it.”

Then, after being informed of today's news, that Schmidt has two broken vertebra and two broken ribs:

“Well, that would certainly be new information that would then corroborate her story. But Jean Schmidt has a history of issues with the truth, and you know, I certainly don’t want to make an assertion where there’s none to be made, and the way it was initially reported in the paper doesn’t make a whole lot of sense."

"Now it makes sense. I had not heard that before. Now it seems like maybe she was hit. You can’t get hit by a car and not suffer injuries. Now we’re hearing reports that she did in fact suffer injuries, and if that’s the case, I wish her a speedy recovery.”
My favorite part there is how nasty and spiteful he was before "being informed of today's news, that Schmidt has two broken vertebra and two broken ribs."

Commence backpeddle...

Classy, man, very classy...

October 13, 2008

A kilometer tall

I stand by my statement and add Saudi Arabia to the attribution:
The people of Dubai (and Saudi Arabia) have more money than sense.
Seriously, a building more than a kilometer high? Insane...and kinda cool.

Oh, McGee...

No, I'm not making a Fibber McGee & Molly reference. For that, you'll have to tune in to WVXU.

Instead, I'm pointing out that the coolest cooking science guy out there has a blog. Harold McGee's The Curious Cook often is nothing more than pointing out that he has a new column in the New York Times, but that's cool enough in and of itself.

If you're not aware, McGee is an author who wrote the cooking science book On Food and Cooking, a resource that anyone interesting in how science effects cooking should absolutely commit to memory. It's a brilliant book.

And the blog idea is so cool. They even have a link to email McGee directly, which seems almost sacrilegious, almost like emailing Babe Ruth or Glen Seaborg or Abraham Lincoln directly.

A quick update

Yes, Jay Horrey does look kind of entertaining in that picture. And, yes, he did go to the same high school and college as I did. And, yes, The Pater Familias did coach him in high school.

And, yes, the Wabash football team's scores so far do look a lot like Mt Union's. I know that doesn't make them equals, but the Little Giants are ranked #7 and rolling.

October 12, 2008

Let's be childish

'Cause we should all thank the Children's Television Workshop more often...

How crayons are made...

Teeny Little Super Guy...

Block Civilization...


Russian dolls...

3 balls...

rolling ball...

three balls...

Phillip Glass animated...


And maybe my all-time favorite...Finding his way home...not embedable, sadly...

October 11, 2008

A field trip destination

I'm not a big booze hound, but I'm certainly going to help celebrate the passing of a new Ohio law allowing a very few microdistilleries to sell their product from their own business rather than having to go through a state store.

Looks like I'll be heading down to Evanston to Woodstone Creek.

Congrats, folks..

One-time only

One hit wonders...thanks to Yelp.com...OneHitWonderCentral.com...Glide Magazine...BlogCritics.org...Wikipedia...Amazon.com...

And I'm thinking that next week I'll start shortening up the lists...I'm guessing they're just too long for most folks to listen to, so we'll go with lists of ten songs or less next time...sound good to everybody?

SeeqPod - Playable Search

October 10, 2008

Just trying to get a reaction

Blogger in Draft has thrown up another new feature that I'm going to at list give a try. It's called reactions and allows readers to throw down a one-word comment about each blog post. I can customize which words show up, and for now at least, I have funny, interesting, meh, and too long so you can give me some feedback that's far quicker than posting an actual comment.

I don't think you have to be logged in to provide the reaction, either, so that may help our lurkers to provide a little feedback without actually creating an account.

If you folks use it, I'll keep it. If, after a while, nobody's using it, it'll go the way of the dodo.