Tuesday, December 29, 2009

During the Snow

Portland is having it's annual 'blizzard' today. I came home early and took maybe twice as long as usual to get home. Jean is still out there, and thankfully she has her cellphone so I can get frequent updates on her progress, which currently translates to 'slow'. Given that I'm currently sitting on my hands waiting anxiously, I'll use the time to mention the movies I've seen with her and separately lately. Since they just happen to all be Asian, I'm using the Asian Movies tag.

Summer Time Machine Blues.I first heard about this movie a few days ago when following a pointer from another web log (sorry, don't remember which) to this review. This website will be a bit of a jumpstart to my Asian movie viewing habits, I can tell. STMB is a silly, light comedy with many nods to other time travel movies and a lot of confused conversations over what constitutes a time travel paradox. Its best departure from standard fare is that the protagonists dream up a new use for time travel: recovering an air conditioner remote control from the past as their present one is now broken!

I watched this movie streaming, and Renee watched parts of it with me while playing Last Remnant on her Christmas Xbox360 (thus interleaving a Japanese RPG with a Japanese Sci Fi movie). I gotta say that this is a very fun movie. Jean did not watch this with us.

The movie that Jean and I did watch together recently was also a Japanese movie, Shall We Dance?. Given my spectator-only interest in dance (I'm hideously clumsy in the act, as Jean can attest after our efforts at a Cha Cha class), this was a very nice movie. The story was pleasant, with that other-culture aura that comes from hearing that ballroom dancing is considered something to be ashamed of by the average Japanese salaryman. Recommended.

The same guy who recommended Summer Time Machine Blues took pains to not recommend Protégé de la Rose Noire, as it is a rather weak 'madcap adventure' with next to no plot. But alas, it is a Twins movie, and I'm bound by a silent oath to watch every one of their movies before my death. Fortunately, I am neither diabetic nor particularly demanding, so I managed to breeze through the film with only a few cackles of "this is really bad!"


Jean got home after three hours of travel from Beaverton! The roads are truly sucky right now, but my sweety is safe at home with Renee and I once again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

A selection of photos from today are now up on my Flickr account. See the Christmas 2009 set.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Scottish, Irish and English Breakfast Teas

I've always been a green tea drinker, preferring them to most black teas. I never liked the scented, fruity Darjeelings or Oolongs. I make an exception for gunpowder or lapsang souchong, but until now that's about been it.

Recently, though, Jean introduced me to the world of breakfast teas, of which the principal varieties seem to be Scottish, Irish and English. They are rich, not perfumed, and taken with milk really do fit in well with breakfast. She started me off at a high standard, sharing her fave-of-the-moment, Taylors of Harrogate Scottish Breakfast. It was very good.

Last weekend I tried to find something equivalent at the local grocery store, but the best I could do was Stash's Super Irish Breakfast Tea, which was above average for a black tea, but much below the standard of TofH Scottish. Anyway, I've had a cup of breakfast tea most every morning at work this last week, and can see doing the same for awhile.

Vince Guaraldi

Most recent acquisition from eMusic: In Person, a live album of Vince Guaraldi, whom most people know through his work on the Charlie Brown animated specials. Perhaps it's because of growing up with these that I really like his piano work, even though I'm not generally partial to piano jazz (with some notable exceptions).


Recently on Netflix:

Julie and Julia. Jean and I agree that this was half a good movie. All the Julia was interesting, and all the Julie was annoying.

49 Up. I've never watched any of the earlier installments in this documentary series, but this one was very interesting.

On my own I've watched One Eyed Jacks, a sorta classic Marlon Brando western. The one I really wanna see is Missouri Breaks, which I saw many years ago and which was quite quirky.

I'm just about finished watching Stephen Chow's kid's movie, CJ7, which is corny, but has a bit of the strange cartoon sense of humor Chow is famous for.

And yes, I did see Avatar, in 3D, and yes, it was pretty good. For a retelling of Pocahantas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Your Ghost

I'm usually a little tickled whenever I recognize the music used to back a show on radio or tv. In fact, it seems I'm getting to be an old hand with PBS. They use a lot of Miles Davis, like Freddy Freeloader from Kind of Blue. And recently, I was quite pleased to hear some Amon Tobin on This American Life.

But I don't know what to think about the recent music on Dollhouse. I watched A Love Supreme (nice shout out to Coltrane, once again), and they were playing Your Ghost, originally found on Hips and Makers, perhaps my favorite Kristin Hersh solo album. However, it wasn't Kristin singing the song, it was some dude (sadly, not Michael Stipe, who did the backing vocals and harmonies in the original version). Okay, covers can be fine in many cases, but this is one of the best damn songs she ever performed! What gives?

I assume they couldn't clear the rights. I hope they didn't think the cover was somehow cooler.

So anyway, to make up in some small way for that bad karma, I'm going to recommend Hips and Makers to everyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recent Movies

Bulk update:


Jean and I watched the streaming version of Good Night, and Good Luck, which tells Edward R. Murrow's story of confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy in a rather compact narrative. It was good, and David Strathairn was great as Murrow.

Jean and I have sporadically followed the career of Jim Jarmusch over the years. It seems that after his initial spurt of creativity, he had trouble settling on a reliable voice for his stories. Night on Earth was somewhat pretentious and uneven, for instance. Save me from Roberto Benigni being boisterously Italian! So it was with mixed feelings that we queued Limits of Control, his current movie. Well, it was once again a bit of a pretentious muddle.

I offered two 'explanations' for this movie to Jean, neither of which jibe with his public statements regarding the movie, which involve a lot of name-dropping of European directors and citations of early surreal detective noir from the continent. No, my two explanations, either of which satisfy me better are:

  1. He had recently read a collection of Jerry Cornelius stories, which were about intrigue and far-flung locations, and always featured bizarre characters with obscure motives.

  2. Jarmusch had recently acquired a desire to visit Spain, and conceived of this movie as a low-effort knock-off that would allow him to write off the trip on his taxes.

There you go. Not very respectful, sorry. I still encourage everyone to watch Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law (which also features Roberto Benigni being RB).

On my own, I've gone to a few movies in various genres. I recently saw 2012 to fulfill my "go-boom" quota for the month. Then I decided that a stop-motion animated feature written and directed by Wes Anderson based on a Raould Dahl story sounded just weird enough, and attended The Fantastic Mr. Fox (which was actually pretty fun).

Finally, this weekend I went to see The Princess and the Frog, which was a very nice return to the classic forms of hand-animation for Disney. The music was pretty good too. They grabbed me right in the beginning with Dr. John setting the scene with New Orleans spirit! It almost felt like that singular elation that I had in the opening moments of The Little Mermaid!

It looks like Randy Newman (You've Got a Friend in Me) is the standard go-to guy at Disney now. He's very different from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, but still very good, and appropriate to the optimistic tone of Disney animated features.

The Search for a Quicken Successor

I own and use Macs at home and have for many years. I've used Quicken for most of those years as a way to keep track of my bank accounts. Recently, inexplicable errors have crept into my registers, and I've resolved to start fresh. So I'm re-evaluating my software choices. Seems like the new year is a great time to roll over my records to a new system.

Quicken for many years has been something of a second-class citizen on the Mac, and even though Intuit is planning on releasing a new version in February of 2010 (we'll see), some have observed that they seem to be removing features, rather than adding them, or at least reaching parity with the Windows flavor. Additionally, I'm trying to move to more integration with my bank (updating transactions online instead of hand-reconciling from the monthly statement), and Quicken has a nasty reputation for 'expiring' online features and requiring you to upgrade to a newer version. So I'm exploring alternatives.

Here's what I've found so far. Desirable features for switching include:

  • Register-like interface (similar to Quicken) is available

  • Transactions between accounts (transfers) are easy

  • Online interaction with bank works (no duplicate transaction problems during import) - it seems support for OFX helps here (supplies unique ids per transaction)

  • Export to CSV

  • Reports, especially with some sort of wizard to drive creation, some form of graphing

So here are the candidates. I'll try out as many of them as I can without shelling out money, then decide if I'm buying one of them, or another copy of Quicken...


Moneydance is the first possible Quicken replacement I've looked at. For the limited tasks I have in mind, it seems quite similar in layout to Quicken, and seems to accomplish the tasks no better or worse. I'll need to find something it is better at to justify changing ships.

I should really test how well it handles transfers between two accounts at the same bank.

I'm also just a little bit wary that it is written in Java. Not bothered by the language choice, but rather by Apple's iffy on-again off-again commitment to supporting Java...

Monday, December 7, 2009

New eMusic Acquisition

Imidiwan by Tinariwen. This group of musicians from Mali have pushed out music for thirty years, but are currently enjoying a bit of buzz in America. I finally saw one too many positive reviews and grabbed this one off eMusic.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Our household has been plagued by printer problems for months. So much so that Jean and I have even considered purchasing a new printer, though without any assurance that this would help, so I've procrastinated on that approach.

Anyway, in case anyone is Googling for help with printer problems which are similar to ours, I'll describe the problems and the solution which worked for us. Your mileage may vary, local laws may apply, etc. etc...

The Problem(s)

Our setup consists of two Mac OS X computers, one a rather old PPC in the dining area with an Epson Stylus Photo R260 inkjet printer attached via USB (printer sharing enabled), the other a newer but still 'mature' Intel version in the den.

The first problem was that the den computer could not always see the printer, even when the dining area computer was awake with the printer turned on. Over the months, attempts to get the den computer to 'see' the printer had resulted in multiple listings of the same printer in various print dialogs. Selecting any one of these printers was a coin toss, and the job could either get printed, or disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again. The print queue tool might indicate that the job was printing, the printer unavailable, or busy.

The second problem was that even when the printer was visible, available and printing jobs from the den, they would invariably print out in a muddy sepia tone, i.e. a monochrome shade of brown. I should also mention that Jean says that even the dining computer, attached directly to the printer, had problems printing photos with any sort of faithful color.

The Solution (So Far)

This weekend I resolved to solve the problem or prove that we needed outside help (paging Apple Store Genius...). After a bit of Internet browsing and multiple forays into the Apple Help menus, I resolved to do the following:

  1. Delete all printers, print queues and configurations from both computers

  2. Download and install the latest drivers from Epson for this printer onto both computers

  3. Reestablish printer sharing from the dining room computer

  4. Re-add the printer to both computers' printer lists

  5. Test printing several color documents from both printers

After this full system teardown and rebuild (hence the title of this article), I found that indeed, for now, the printer is visible, active and available to the den computer. Any given document printed from both computers appears to be identical in color and layout.

So for now, problem solved. I'll be watching for degradation in performance over the next few weeks/months.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Fall (and music)

So as noted, Jean and I watched The Fall. I was intrigued by the trailers and the opening credits which are online, and folk like Roger Ebert recommended it highly, so I decided to inflict it on Jean.

Short summary: a stunt man breaks his back during a stunt and ends up in a hospital, where he meets a little girl. She asks him to tell her a story, which he does. It is a fantastical story of a quest for vengeance, and we are treated to the child's imagined images of the story.

It's pretty simplistic on the surface, and a bit juvenile, but I nevertheless found it very entertaining, and beautiful. No details, just that you should see it.

The opening credits are online. Here's one version. If that alone doesn't intrigue you, then maybe I should give up. But the music in that trailer is the next item I want to address. It is Symphony No. 7 in A Major: II. Allegretto, by Beethoven, and I for one think it makes for a beautiful flow with the images. I grabbed this version off of eMusic.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Free Chip Tunes

Picked up a number of free chip tunes from the artists known as 8bitweapon. It's fun.

More Free Jazz

Amazon is having an electronic 'Black Friday' sale on mp3s, with $3 off on any purchase, so I decided to try another of the recommendations from A Blog Supreme. I'm not ready to review it yet, just wanted to record it:

Black Stars - Jason Moran


Okay, several listens later, I'll say that many of the compositions on this album are pretty fun. The best one is Kinda Dukish, which is a cover/interpretation of this Duke Ellington piece. According to the linked article, my impression that it is two separate pieces joined together is correct. The second piece is 'the funeral march from Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy"'.

Also, just a quick note. I realized that my use of the phrase 'free jazz' might be interepreted as music available for free. But no, I'm referring to the genre/approach to jazz known by that label.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Free Jazz

By a series of links starting at Metafilter and ending at A Blog Supreme (nice Coltrane reference there, Whitebread), I found myself considering Jazz beyond Bebop and Hard Bop. Now granted, I've already dipped my toes into the cold, cold water, listening to the British composer/musician Graham Collier (and liking it), and Dutch artist Hank Bennink, not to mention Warne Marsh. But the vast majority of my collection is centered around various kinds of Bop.

So I read on Metafilter about an article to be found on A Blog Supreme called Jazz Now, recommending 'modern' jazz starter albums. I started grazing, listening to the sample compositions included in the articles, and ended up finding something I found interesting, which had the salutory trait of being available on eMusic.

So I picked up Nu Bop, by Matthew Shipp. I've been listening to it on and off for several days and am ready to give an overly broad opinion: I like it. The opening tune, Space Shipp somehow reminds me of Herbie Hancock, during his experimental breakout period, though it is unique to Shipp. The second tune, Nu-Bop, makes me think that Shipp was listening to a lot of Amon Tobin when he composed it. This is a good thing.

So in short, I like it, but am still learning the contours of the album. I'm not sure I will like everything on it, but it was a worthwhile experiment. I'll be digging into the other entries on A Blog Supreme in hopes of finding other stretching exercises which are available on eMusic (and hence not so painful an expense for pure experimentation -- though even eMusic has become more risky with the recent price hikes).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Mighty Boosh

Okay, after just finishing Nanageddon, I must observe that the best episodes of The Mighty Boosh are the supernatural ones*. I was cracking up continuously for this one. I was very amused to see the cameo by Richard Ayoade, who also plays Moss on The IT Crowd.

*: The other one that got me that way was Electro, from season one. Gimme more!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Men Who Stare At Goats

I just realized that I forgot to mention that Jean, Renee and I went to see this movie together yesterday. It was a hoot. As Jean pointed out, it too was about redemption, though not nearly as grim as The Machinist.

Oh, and big experiment coming up in the Netflix queue: The Fall. I'm interested primarily for the rich imagery, but hoping the story is good too.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Machinist

Jean and I just finished watching The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. This movie was recommended to Jean by one of her co-workers after Jean mentioned that we liked Memento a lot.

I don't think The Machinist is quite as involved or intriguing as Memento, but it was a good movie, if a bit heavy handed in retrospect. Jean and I both had it tagged as heavily inspired by a certain Russian novel before we were halfway through. Still, it was fun. I'll be reflecting on it for awhile.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Verizon DSL Outage

Second morning in a row. 6:20 am, no Internet. Recording this from work.

I at least hope it is back up in the evening when I get home, as it was last night, but this is pretty curious...

Update, 6pm

And we're back in service...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Verizon DSL Outage

This seems to happen frequently. I use the Internet at home happily right up until bedtime. Then I retire, get a good night's sleep, get up and get ready for work, tralala. Sometime during the morning I start up the computer, and lo, no Internet! Several power cycles and modem reboots later, still no Internet.

So to recap, Internet service good into the evening, next morning no Internet.

Given that I'm getting ready to go into work, I don't really have the time to spend navigating the Verizon voicemail maze and walking an all-too-familiar diagnostic tree with some underpaid tech, so I usually have to let it go. It's fifty-fifty whether the Internet service is up again by the time I get home in the evening.

So rather than go with my hazy memory and complain about service outages again, I'm going to start registering them on the weblog. Over time this will give me a better measure of actual reliability. So...

This morning, 11/09/09, the Internet connection was down when I checked it at 6:20am, and continued to be down until I left at 7:20am. Multiple power cycles of both the computer and router, multiple reboots of the router. I'm posting this from work, for the record.


After work, and we're mysteriously online again!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Pop Culture Refs

This first one is really only for my friends who knew and enjoyed Firefly. Nathon Fillion played Mal Reynolds in that ill-fated Sci-Fi western. He has landed on his feet and appeared in a number of popular roles. Currently, I'm watching him in a show called Castle, where he plays a mystery writer shadowing a female police detective to learn how it's really done. It's a pretty fun program.

So anyway, they have a Halloween episode this week. Castle is home trying on his costume for a party he's throwing, and it's Mal Reynolds! It's the exact duster, boots, gloves, etc. that make up the typical outfit that Mal wore in Firefly. Castle's daughter asks him, "what are you supposed to be?"

"Space cowboy!" he replies.

"Didn't you wear that like five years ago?" she asks. "Don't you think it's time you got over it?"

Second one is not so geeky, and I'm sure Renee might get a little smile off it as well. The show Numb3rs chose a light 'X-Files' vibe for their Halloween nod. Granger is walking through a hangar in 'Area 51' and asks, "why do I feel like I'm in a Scooby Doo episode?"

At the end of the episode, the quirky Pentagon 'auditor' played by John Michael Higgins says "and they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids."

Breakfast Experiment

I'm not much for elaborate breakfasts. I tend to eat raw oatmeal with walnuts and banana chunks half the time, protein bars and some sort of fruit the other half (and skip the odd day out). But Kottke really sold The world's best pancake recipe. It's a buttermilk pancake recipe, and sounded good. He does have a tendency to qualify the hell out of it ("real" buttermilk only, for instance), so any failures will surely be put down to my laziness in not hunting down 'authentic' ingredients.

Still, Renee and I gave it a try this morning. She had maybe one and one half pancakes, and I had two. Jean tried one bite. The consensus? "Eggy". Jean says "too sweet". Overall, it was quite a filling dish, something I could imagine getting served on a farmstead before the long day in the fields. But for a more or less sessile knowledge worker like myself, it was more than necessary.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shirts from Afar

A couple of weeks ago I got a package from Nami, my onetime penpal. I still hear from her, obviously, but I've moved on to email, and I've failed her as a penpal. She shames me occasionally with a package like this, yet I remain a bad person.

Anyway, as has been my experience, an XL tshirt from Japan is actually a large or medium in America, so I was unable to wear any of the three she sent. Renee, however, is the perfect build for the XL, and she models it in the latest banner. There's a second photo on my Flickr account.

Next time I go to Tom's, I plan to take the remaining two shirts to his place, and see if any of the petite members of his entourage want them.

By the way, Nami, thanks for the shirts. Even if I cannot wear them, it is neat to see shirts "made in Japan". Renee says thanks, also!

eMusic & Amazon MP3 Acquisitions

From eMusic, I picked up the 50th anniversary edition of Time Out by Dave Brubeck. I already have an album called Blue Rondo, and of course the classic Take Five, but this is a seminal album, and includes a number of live performances on the 'second disc', so I grabbed it, duplicates and all.

Amazon MP3 was offering a one-day only freebie, and for a change, it was for an artist I care about. The album was "The Orange Mountain Music Philip Glass Sampler Vol.I". Lots of surprisingly short works on this album. I guess not surprising for a sampler, but I think of Philip Glass as a composer of longer, minimalist works, so it's an interesting variation.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Newest Album

Monk's Dream - Thelonious Monk Quartet

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Night Watch

I woke up at 1:20 a.m. this morning and kept 'hearing' low-frequency sounds, sort of beat-harmonic, like distant, heavy equipment operation. It would manifest for a few minutes, then silence itself. A few minutes later, it would start up again. I began to wonder if I would get to sleep again, which would have been a problem, since I had unrelated problems sleeping the previous night.

Fortunately I drifted off again and got a full night's sleep. But I was really curious, and asked Jean if she had heard it anytime during the night. She says no, but will often sleep through things that wake me up, despite claims that she is a light sleeper.

So this morning I followed my hunches, and found this link, with the key phrase,

In general, work hours will be Monday through Friday nights, 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

There is also a section on "nighttime noise", as well as a notice that they're building a new stretch of "soundwall", starting around SW Ponca Ct., which is just South of Umatilla, where we live. Ironically, it may be preparations for this sound-deadening wall that I was hearing last night.

Supposedly this has been going on for months, and only gets suspended in the winter, so I don't know why I didn't hear it before. But I feel this is the source of my mystery sounds.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cutting the Final Tie

It's been years since I attended a meeting of NOVA, preferring instead to visit with the friends I made there at Tom's house when he has a gathering. But a sense of nostalgia kept me subscribed to the mailing list. Occasionally someone like Bob would post an interesting tidbit about the anime world, and it was sort of like revisiting the old haunts.

But I haven't really found any anime series that I want to watch over the last year, so tidbits are kinda out of context. And announcements of the next meeting venue and playlist are rather moot. So this evening, I unsubscribed from the mailing list. Goodbye, NOVA! You were a great experience, and I hope the remaining members get much pleasure for years to come.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

iPods 'Shuffle'

I usually try to wait longer than two years to recycle a gadget, and with rumors that the iPod Touch would eventually get a camera, I thought about waiting at least until next summer, but truth to tell, I've built up such a large music library between twenty-five years of CDs and however long I've been on eMusic, and there's not enough room on my original iPod Touch. So I broke down and got a 64GB one today.

Renee inherited the first one, which was a 16GB G1. She surrendered her nano (also inherited from me), so that I could get the 10% discount. That was my price for giving her my old unit.

One observation I'll make is that while the iPod Touch still doesn't do some of the things I used to use my PalmPilot for, it has come along far enough that I don't use the Palm at all any more. It sits in a drawer in the den.

The other observation I'll make is that I've always had a habit of naming my computers, including PDAs, after anime characters, usually female. I haven't watched an anime show regularly for several months now, so I'm out of options. Instead, I decided to name this one after my penpal Nami. Hi, Nami! We got the shirts you sent, and Renee is going to wear one of them. Surprise, even a Japanese XL is too small for me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

Jean and I watched Lars and the Real Girl this week, and like Kitchen Stories, it crept up on us. Once again, a winter story with much of the acting conveyed by expressive looks. The premise sounds sketchy, but it turned out to be very touching and kinda funny. I recommend it.

Nostalgia Music

Grabbed a best-of album for Electric Light Orchestra, Strange Magic. I've listened to the whole 29 tunes, and while I remember many of them fondly, I just re-listened to Mr. Blue Sky, and gotta say that that's very nearly my fave ELO song of all time. Play It Loud!

Then on a slightly more experimental note, I grabbed the well-known Celtic Punk band Flogging Molly. The album in question is called Swagger, and sounds pretty good so far. I didn't buy these guys in a vacuum, as I've heard some of their stuff in the past, and Renee has two of their songs.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


University of Nottingham hosts a site called Sixty Symbols. I've been meaning to begin viewing them, and will note them here. For your viewing pleasure, here's the one for a solar Eclipse.

P.S. - I should note that in fact this was not the first video I watched. While the solar eclipse video is basically a fun diary-of-an-eclipse, it doesn't have much beyond a couple of neat video shots of the eclipse to recommend it.

On the other hand, the video on the fine structure constant is all hard science and wonder, in one capsule interview with a real live physicist, who clearly digs the magic of physical constants.

Fable of Faubus

I think someone at This American Life got a blanket license on the music of Charles Mingus, or at least to the composition Fable of Faubus. It seems not a week goes by when they don't use a clip from 'Fable' as a bridge in one of their stories. Just googling, I'm unable to find any direct admission, but by gob it's there!

Other Albums I Forgot

  • Happenstance - Rachael Yamagata

  • David Gilmour - David Gilmour

And just recently acquired:

  • Down Another Road - Graham Collier Music

  • Abbey Is Blue - Abbey Lincoln


Oops, I did indeed mention the first two albums, and Jimmy Heath, in this entry. It's just that I forgot to tag that entry 'Music', so my metadata search missed it. Fixed!

Monday, September 28, 2009


Yesterday I picked up Renee's Xmas present, a new XBox 360 to replace the dead one, at Fry's. This one is a Jasper motherboard, so it should run cooler overall (the power supply is perhaps 70% the size of the original). Since this model has the smaller GPU too, I hope we won't experience another video failure.

I grabbed it now on the slim chance that the Microsoft rebate program which ends October 5th will actually be honored. Generally, I assume that the rebate is a scam, since that's been my experience in the past.

Anyway, we are giving the box a burn-in period during the return grace period from Fry's. Then it goes into a closet until Xmas!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Thumper

Just a quick note, since I'm at work. I am playing The Thumper, by Jimmy Heath, and I realized that I never recorded here when I got it. It's an eMusic acquisition, and is somewhat above average...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Verizon Sucks

I'm posting this from work because I can't post it from home. For the third morning in a row, I fired up the computer and no Internet access! If they follow the pattern, when I get home tonight, everything will be fine.

So what I'm observing is that when I get up at 6am, there is no Internet access, and no amount of rebooting or resetting of computers and/or routers makes any damned difference. Since I have maybe an hour on the mornings when I drive Renee to school, and I try to get in early on mornings when I don't, that eliminates the idea of calling tech support, which is usually at least an hour of frustration. Besides, what would be the point? There's nothing wrong on my end. The damn connection is back up all by itself in the evening.

I suppose it could be something weird like a temperature drop causing a cable short, which is corrected as the day warms up, but I'm reaaaaaally skeptical. Maybe, if I have no Internet on Saturday morning, I'll postpone my crowded day to deal with some drone forcing me to walk the same old tired diagnostic menu and try to find out what's really going on. But for now, I just want to go on record: Verizon Sucks!

P.S.-If there were REAL competition, I'd have a choice other than Comcast, whom I am assured by all my friends sucks even more.

P.P.S.-In the end, it was Jean who donated an hour out of her hectic day to walk the telephone tree, and then the drone's diagnostic menu ("have you tried turning it of and on again?"). The final verdict: "there seems to be a bit of a problem with our server. I've reset it". So still magic, still sucktastic.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Death of a Console

According to my notes, I bought my Xbox360 on August 31, 2006.

In the intervening 3+ years, I've used it quite a bit, but tapered off gradually until my weekly usage was easily under an hour. In the meantime, conversely, Renee's usage has grown, especially over summers, such that some weeks she logs high double-digit game time.

I warned her about the red ring of death, and how extended play could shorten the lifespan of the console. Of course, it's all free to her, so she was oblivious, and would frequently leave the box on for hours while gabbing on her cellphone, or chatting away on the Internet.

So anyway, the last week she's been playing Fable 2 and complaining that the screen would begin to take on a staticky green hue after playing for an hour. Then after playing for half an hour. Then upon startup. Tonight, no video signal at all. Yes, she killed my Xbox. I've browsed the forums, this is a well known problem, and unlike the red ring, is not covered by any extended warranty. And since I'm just outside of three years with this box, I don't think it matters.

Renee wants an Xbox360 for Christmas. I'm told that I'll be allowed to play it when she is not using it, which hardly seems fair since she broke mine, but then, I realize that it's not any different than how it's been for the last couple of years.

So, Tom, anyone else from my gang... Feel like beating on a warped motherboard?

Oh, and P.S. - I just checked my notes, and I bought my PS2 over eight years ago! Of course, Renee is now hammering on it since she doesn't have an Xbox360 to kick around any more, so it'll probably go in the next month, but still!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Farmer's Market

It was a somewhat busy weekend, at least for Jean. Saturday, she helped set up and run an outreach table for the Portland Clinic at the Beaverton Farmer's Market. Sunday she ran in a 5K fundraiser for breast cancer. Add these to the usual weekend routine and it was fun...

Anyway, I drove and helped carry gear for the Farmer's Market adventure, and brought both my cameras along, intending to take a few photos of the setup, since Jean and I usually don't get to the market until it is well underway. As you can see from the photo set, we weren't the first folks there, but we were early enough to catch some people pitching their tents.

As it turned out, I took enough pictures to fill the memory card in my D70 (that 512MB card seemed big five years ago), something that I've never done before. I then spent most of the free hours of the weekend tweaking them and uploading them to Flickr. I know they're not that sharp, and neither are they that insightful. But I had fun taking them, so I figured I'd share anyway.

Sunday we were at Costco, and I picked up two 4GB cards for $25. So now I have eight times the space on top of my old card. Maybe I'll fill 'em up if we get to Europe...

P.S. - The pictures from the two cameras are not nicely interleaved in the order I took them because I accidentally set the clock on my D70 to PM instead of AM!

Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat

I'd already been contemplating picking up some edition of Guys and Dolls after seeing a 'cute' rendition of "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" in the premiere of Glee, but it was Renee who pushed for me to grab one. Go figure.

Now she and I both have copies on our iPods, and while I won't speak for her, I'm enjoying it immensely.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I've tried in the past to read some of Feynman's autobiographical books, and gave it up each time as too annoying. I acknowledge that he was brilliant, but he knew it, and it showed, if you know what I mean. Annoying.

So today Kottke pointed to an interview with Murray Gell-Mann, wherein he answers a question about his relationship with Feynman:

Feynman was pretty good, although not as good as he thought he was. He was too self-absorbed and spent a huge amount of energy generating anecdotes about himself.

Spot on, as far as I can tell.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Our Man In Amsterdam

Our Man In Amsterdam is my latest eMusic pick. One of the albums from Dexter Gordon's self-imposed European exile, it's not considered definitive (see Our Man In Paris for that), it is nonetheless a fun little album.

Nasty Little Crittersesssss!

A few weeks back, Jean was taking a nap in the bedroom. It was a quite weekend afternoon, and she kept hearing what she thought was the gentle dropping of pine needles on the roof. But there's no tree on that side of the house (now of course, no tree on any side, boo hoo!). So she went outside and had a look, and saw a steady stream of wasps flying up to a hole under the eaves, disappearing inside. Occasionally one would pop out again and fly on it's merry way.

We had The Bug Man! come out, and he put on his space suit, crawled up into the attic with a garbage bag and some poison, and came out minutes later with the nest. We got ninety days of active poison. Anything flies in, it dies. But they would most likely not want to.

So I look outside at the back yard the other day (already outside of my habit zone ) and what do I see, but a stinking huge wasp nest in the tree just outside the bedroom window. Bastards couldn't use our attic, so they decided to set up shop right outside! Damn them nasty little crittersesss!

Oh Bug Man!!!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Squeaky Wheels

I guess eMusic got worried about all the grousing people were doing over their price increases and clumsy 'album pricing'. They gave me an extra 50 credits for being a 'loyal customer'. So I used a bunch of them to grab these:

The Rachael Yamagata album contains Letter Read and Be Be Your Love, both of which I got when she gave them away free, so I decided to grab the album now that I could 'afford' to experiment. Most of the other songs are nice, but nothing to write home about. Still like her voice.

David Gilmour is an album I had in high school, just replacing it.

The Jimmy Heath album is just an experiment, based on browsing and seeing it labelled bebop. Seems pretty fun so far.

Recent Movies

In addition to finishing up Black Books (highly recommended), Jean and I recently watched Mr. Death, an Errol Morris documentary on Fred Leuchter, who made a living renovating and testing execution equipment, and stumbled pretty naively into the controversy of Holocaust denial. Jean was lukewarm on this movie, but I loved it. Fascinating character.

Today we finished watching Kitchen Stories, which I'd seen reviewed when it was in theatres and thought would be an interesting movie. Turns out it was damn good. Jean ranks it among the highest she's seen via Netflix.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Music, Music

Minor Hope - Gypsophilia. These guys are a contemporary band from Nova Scotia. They're a pretty versatile bunch, and from the eMusic previews, you can't really be certain from one album to the next whether you'll like them. But this album is charming, and sometimes reminds me of Django Reinhardt.

Ethiopiques Vol. 4 - featuring Mulatu Astatqe. I found this one just browsing the eMusic 'stacks' and following comment threads. The sub-caption for this album is "ethio jazz & musique instrumentale 1969-1974". The "ethio" is for Ethiopia, Astatqe's native land. Very nice music, both for background while programming, and for attentive listening.

Holst's The Planets - Royal Philharmonic Orchestra w/Andre Previn. I don't suppose that this needs any introduction. I just had a hankering for 'Mars' and got the whole 'Holst' of planets.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Italy's Answer(s) to the <A HREF="http://www.collphyphil.org/mutter.asp">Mütter Museum</a>

Thanks to Boing Boing, I have two new anatomy-related museums to visit, should I ever make it to Italy. Recall that practically a decade ago, Jean, Renee and I found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of the Moyer Family Reunions. As I like to strike out on my own and find something unique on these trips, I was quite pleased to find the Mütter Museum. Jean and I went and spent a few hours prowling around the building.

So I was surprised and happy to find that Italy has two museums with their own unique vision on the human medical condition. I'm noting them here for that eventual trek 'in Italia'.

Museo Storico Nazionale dell'Arte Sanitaria, the National Health Museum, located in Rome.

La Specola Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence

Monday, August 24, 2009

Miles Davis Express

If I'm not careful Miles Davis albums will represent a significant fraction of my music library. A few days ago I grabbed Steamin' off of eMusic. Some say it is one of his better albums. I can't rank it up there with Kind of Blue, but it is very nice background music while coding.

Speaking of Kind of Blue, one of my more quirky acquisitions arrived over the bit pipe last week: Kind of Bloop, about which it's creative driver said:

What would the pioneers of jazz sound like on a Nintendo Entertainment System? Coltrane on a C-64? Mingus on Amiga? For years, I've wondered what "chiptune jazz" would sound like, but there are only a tiny handful of jazz covers ever made.

To satisfy my curiosity — and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue" — I've asked five brilliant chiptune musicians to collaborate and reinvent the entire album in the 8-bit sound.

I have enjoyed Kind of Blue for close to two years now, and have once or twice dipped into the chiptune world (for example, diplodocus ds10). So I sprang for a copy of Kind of Bloop and have been playing it in the background ever since. It's also good music to pick up pine cones by!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Takeshi Terauchi versus The Royal Fingers

A few years ago, Boing Boing pointed me at a band called Takeshi Terauchi and The Bunnys. They based their sound around a classic 'American Invasion' of Japan by The Ventures, one of the primary surf guitar groups in the history of music (Hawaii 5-0 ring any bells?). Terauchi managed to take that sound and make it his own, lacing the surf guitar with liberal oriental notes and a self-deprecating humor. I've listened to the album This is Terauchi Bushi dozens of times in the ensuing years.

Well, Boing Boing tried to do it again, this time pointing me at The Royal Fingers, another Eleki band. The Royal Fingers had one album, Wild Eleki Deluxe, and I've listened to it now a few times. Maybe it's just that I've listened to Terauchi so many times, but I doubt it. Bunnies are just so much more distinct and fun than The Royal Fingers, who sound like a generic knock-off band of The Ventures. I gave it a chance, but it's going permanently off-rotation.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Goodbye Trees

Twice in the last year (the last time fairly recently), we've had our household drainage back up into the laundry room. In each case, it's been due to root incursions on the outlet line. This time, we went further than roto-rooting the roots. We had our favored company come and run a camera up the line. They found not just roots, but the pipe buckled by a larger root.

After consulting with our plumber, the city and a tree company we've used in the past, we concluded that the trees in our front yard had to be removed. Their roots will still grow for up to two years, but we hope that there will be no further damage of the line, and that we may get away without having to dig up the yard and sidewalk to replace it.

These trees have been in our front yard since before we moved in, and have moderated the temperature and sheltered our house for all that time. I'm very sad that they are gone.

Benny Golson

Another eMusic jazz selection, not any given seminal album, but a best of collection, The Best of Benny Golson.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jazz, Not Pornography

One of the nice things about eMusic is their 'curated' articles, introducing an artist, a label or a genre from the viewpoint of the curator's love affair with same. Towards the bottom of the front page is the 'fresh stuff' heading, Today's Buzz. It isn't refreshed daily, but frequently enough, and this evening, it was full of Criss Cross New Arrivals. Criss Cross is a Dutch label run nearly single-handedly by Gerry Teekens, and has promoted new jazz artists since 1980.

The Today's Buzz block included a link to The eMusic Dozen: Criss Cross, and after spending the last hour of my evening grazing through samples from this article, I settled on Consenting Adults, which despite the title, is not a pornographic film, but rather a nine-year old album by Mark Turner, Brad Mehldau and Peter Bernstein, channeling '60s jazz ala Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and McCoy Tyner.

I've only given it a brief listen, but I'm looking forward to putting it on repeat while I code tomorrow...

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Late July was the season for relatives. Jean flew home to meet her parents and her sister. On the other hand, my sister and her husband flew out from Michigan to pay me a visit. This is the first time I've seen them in 16 years. You can see the result in the banner photo or by visiting the small photo set on my Flickr account.

For so long as the banner photo is up, here's who's there. In the background is Ted, my sister's husband. Center frame is my sister, Brenda. To the right, in the foreground is of course Renee.

Black Books

I am certain I've raved here about The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan's paean to modern tech geeks. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. Some of the humor might be lost on you if you are not into computers, but mostly, it is the humor of the misfit, and should translate just fine.

Anyway, before this series, Graham Linehan wrote and directed another series, Black Books, and Jean and I watched it before she took her trip to Michigan last week. I only just now get to writing about it as I was myself wrapped up in life.

Black Books is about a misanthropic bookstore owner and his 'friend' Fran, who runs a new-age-y junk and trinket shop ("I do sell a lot of wank, don't I?") next door. Partway through the first episode I wasn't sure it was going to take off, but by the middle of that episode, I was laughing out loud. Find it, try it. It's quite fun.

Graham Collier

This album is actually three, Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/The Alternate Mosaics. It's not my usual cup of jazz, consisting not of Hard Bop, but more British Avante-garde jazz.

It's by turns introspective, intellectual, abstract and frenetic. It reminds me of an era of movies late in Frank Sinatra's film career. I'm really just grasping at straws here, but perhaps a specific movie or movies will come to me in time.

In any case, it is a welcome change of pace from my comfort zone.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Another Pedro Almodovar movie has passed through our house. This time, it was significantly better than the last one. Still given to a touch of "wha?" here and there, but when Almodovar sticks an irrational element into his plot, you should generally just go with it. Much fun.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two 'New' Albums

And I'm out of credits. Next cycle sees my reduced allotment, effectively limiting me to three albums, instead of four. Already feeling the pinch...

So what did I get this time?

Horses arrived with the Sony catalog, but I'll forgive them, as I've always enjoyed Patti Smith. One of my favorite albums is Radio Ethiopia, which I first owned on vinyl, and bought during a long break in my shift at WHDF, my first round in college, at Michigan Tech. RE was actually her second album, Horses being first. So now I finally own it.

The other album is found in slot 177 of the Top 200 Jazz CDs list. I was just looking to grab some jazz from eMusic by an artist that I have yet to hear. This fit that bill. It's not up there with The Sidewinder or Kind of Blue, but it's nice background music.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bitches Brew

One of the albums I used for my gripe-fest with eMusic and their new album 'cap' policy was Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Based on it's historical format as two CDs, and the long jazz tracks, eMusic wanted 24 credits, which for me works out to $9.60.

If you go to the Amazon MP3 entry for the same album, they want $16.99! So why not just pony up the $9.60 at eMusic and quit my belly-aching? Because Amazon will sell me every one of the tracks on Bitches Brew separately. At $0.99 apiece. Buying all seven tracks on the album this way costs me $6.93. It works, because that's what I did last night! So eMusic lost another sale! Will they lose a customer entirely? I still don't know.

I do know that there are currently quite a few albums available, including Sony catalog items, that do not apply the reverse-cap of 12 credits. I have my eye on Patti Smith's Horses and Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man, for instance.

Still, a lot of the jazz albums I had queued went up from two, four, five, etc. credits to 12. In many cases, they were not classics of the field, but rather interesting live albums by name artists, or even artists I'd not yet heard of. Experiments, mostly. Now they are not so attractive as experiments.

Whine, whine, whine... Anyway, I now have Bitches Brew, and the first listen was very fun!

Head Hunters

As I mentioned earlier, I queued Head Hunters, a classic album by Herbie Hancock, which I owned in my early college days. I picked it up last night. This is one of those jazz albums which has four tracks but due to their length ends up costing the 12 credit cap. I did the research, and even at that price, it's significantly cheaper (around 50%) than either Amazon MP3 or iTunes Music Store. So I went ahead and grabbed it.

I've listened to it several times already, and am listening to it again while I write this. What a great album!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Musical Backfill

In keeping with my promise to explore the back catalog of Sony items now available on eMusic, I downloaded two albums that I wore out on vinyl decades ago. Both are from that overbroad umbrella category, jazz fusion:

Birds of Fire was the second album by John McLaughlin's band, and the last with their original line-up, losing Billy Cobham, but gaining Jean-Luc Ponty for their next effort, Apocalypse. Birds of Fire came out in 1973, while I was still in high school ("Drink and drive, drink and drive, we're the class of '75!"), but to be honest, I probably didn't really find out about it until my freshman year in college. As I understand it, it was a watershed album, diminished in impact only by the fact that it followed their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame. However, my own experience is that the years of high school and college were filled with so many unique and rich bands that this just seemed appropriate. Listening to it now, I can say it is still a great favorite of mine.

Heavy Weather is probably the only Weather Report album I owned. My memory is vague. Looking over the album info now, I am amused to find that Wayne Shorter was in Weather Report. He was a great bebop jazz musician who both led bands of his own and appeared in many other important bands such as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis' second quintet. This is kind of like the revelation I got when I first found out that Herbie Hancock, whom I'd previously known from another favorite 1973 album, Head Hunters (in my queue at eMusic), had a prior life full of jazz appearances, including a stint with Miles Davis in his second quintet!. Urp! I think I just swallowed my tail!

Anyway, just living off of fond memories, I can mine the Sony catalog for years, if I want to. They think they're soooo clever, only agreeing to put albums that are at least two years old onto eMusic! Is 1973 old enough for you, Sony! Thpppt!

eMusic on Probation

Today, eMusic launched their partnership with Sony music. A ton of albums owned by Sony got added to the roster, and coincidentally, the rates were raised. I say coincidentally because the eMusic honcho says they were planning on raising rates in response to their main indie labels' request, and viewed Sony's entry as the catalyzing event.

Here's how eMusic works. You subscribe, and you get a certain number of 'credits' per month. Credits do not roll over. Every song you download is worth one credit. Originally, the more credits per month you bought, the lower the 'price' of each credit. They've mostly eliminated that with this revision. Here is what I've been paying since I joined eMusic:

  • 50 credits / $14.99 ~= $0.30

At that price, experimentation is a no-brainer for me. iTunes wants $1.29 for a track of DRM-free music. Amazon MP3 wants $0.99 and up. So at around a third to a quarter of the going price, I often downloaded an album by a group I'd never heard of, just to listen at my leisure. I learned about groups I'd never listen to otherwise, and have even downloaded more albums by these no-names after the initial experiment.

Here's my new plan (non-standard, grandfathered):

  • 37 credits / $14.99 ~= $0.40

My price per track increased by a third. A newcomer supposedly will only get 35 credits, and pay $15.98. We'll see if I get the grandfather rate or not.

Now you may say that $0.40 is still significantly less than the majors. You may say that I should still be, what, two-thirds as enthusiastic for experimentation as I was before the hike. Unfortunately, I find my response is somewhat more non-linear.

With the original announcement of these coming changes, eMusic tried to take some of the sting out of the hike by adding that they were going to cap 'some' albums' prices at twelve credits. So if you like albums with dozens of short tracks, and they tag those albums with the cap, you come out ahead.

However, they've also implemented another policy, which they didn't announce. If a track is longer than ten minutes, the only way to download it is by purchasing the entire album it is on. Right up front, let me say that I object to being pushed to download an album to acquire a single tune. If I'm experimenting, I may willingly download an entire album of unknown songs. But if I'm trying to pick up an old favorite, I will be damned if I will pick up the eight or ten filler songs on the same album. Screw you, eMusic.

But that's not really the key problem with this issue. Consider Miles Davis' album "Bitches Brew". It has 7 tracks, but is a 'two cd' set (two long tracks on the first 'cd', five more on the second). The 'album price', therefore, is 24 credits (no option is given to buy the first or second 'cd' only). Six of the songs are over ten minutes apiece (jazz, remember?). Only one short track can be downloaded separately. To get any of the others, you have to download them all, and pay 24 credits!

Result: Bitches Brew costs (me) $9.60. Given that I can buy separate tracks at Amazon and thereby get the entire album for $7, eMusic has very little to offer here.

I buy a lot of jazz albums. Jazz albums often feature long tracks, but also frequently have fewer than twelve tracks. Between the 12-credit 'cap' per 'cd', and the rule forbidding downloading longer tracks without downloading the entire album, I end up getting the short end of the stick. Just to be balanced, the Sony back catalog has a lot of great albums. For the first few iterations (however long I last) I'll probably be dipping into that.

However, eMusic justified it's existence for me by offering a low-friction avenue to experiment. If I feel compelled to perform the kind of math juggling I've used above before each purchase, then the friction has just increased dramatically. I'll continue to subscribe for now, but I'm definitely feeling reduced value for my given tastes.

Genmai Cha

I actually had my first sampling of this tea a few days ago. What's more, I used to have a rather generous quantity of same in a lovely airtight canister, but I've long since exhausted that stash. Anyway...

This version, gotten from the same Perrenial Tea Room, is not a disappointment. I guess you could call genmai cha the vanilla of green teas. Actually, chocolate is probably closer to the mark. Genmai cha is made with green tea and roasted rice. One cup is like having a little snack. It's a bit like drinking one of those thick dark beers that substitute for a meal.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taiping Hou Kui

The last time we went to Seattle I brought home a bunch of teas from The Perennial Tea Room. Most of them made their way to my office, and I worked my way through them over the months. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me to record my experiences.

So this time, I'm going to talk about the two teas I bought during our trip for Renee's 14th birthday. I'll keep it short, as I'm at work, but I can always come back and add new notes later (yeah, right).

The first tea was recommended by a lean, grey-haired woman who obviously loved her product. I suspect that she was fully infused when I asked her about the Chinese green teas, as she charged in and opened about six different jars. I ended up purchasing her favorite, the Taiping Hou Kui. The envelope contains the additional caption: Great Green Monkey King - Anhui China Green. At $6.25/oz., it seems rather dear (try this one at $11/oz.!), but you can make a cup with a single teaspoon, so it should go a long way. The website says you can resteep leaves up to three times, but I only have the one steeper, and I like to alternate flavors, so I'll take the wasteful route and steep once.

The leaves themselves are long and thin, and have the expected green tea aroma, but with a flowery accent. The taste is very mild. Could I distinguish it from any other green tea? I think so. Would I buy it again? At the rate that I drink tea, and with all the varieties that are out there, I think I might get to it again when I hit 80. But it is definitely as good a green tea as any I've had.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Netflix Failure

Jean and I watched the first disc of Extras: Season One with great pleasure last week. This week we were all wiggly with anticipation when the second disc arrived. Unfortunately, midway into the first episode, the DVD player froze. No amount of skipping or fiddling worked. I'm going to try the recommended cleaning procedure tomorrow. If it doesn't work, we'll send it back, and have our first experience with Netflix's problem response system. Fingers crossed!


We sent back the bad disc, and got a replacement yesterday. Jean and I watched it last night, and had a much better viewing experience. The Patrick Stewart episode is hilarious (at least the part with Patrick Stewart). I'll be sending back this disc, and waiting to see how they handle the 'duplicate'.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Music

  • Heaven or Las Vegas - Cocteau Twins

  • American Don - Don Caballero

  • It's a Beautiful Day - It's a Beautiful Day

Now Exiting the Tweens

Renee turned 14 this weekend! To celebrate, we took our selves up to Seattle, sticking to our favorite stomping grounds, like Pike's Place Market and the International District. Pictured in the banner is the kitchen of one of Jean's favorite stores, Piroshky, Piroshky. A small sample of photos from the weekend can be viewed in this set.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Running Woman

Jean ran the Helvetia Half Marathon this weekend! Hurrah!

The banner image was taken after she had finished. It's one of only two that I snapped, so I will apologize for the foreshortening caused by the wide angle. Jean feels it makes her legs look short. But since she had just finished a half-marathon, they couldn't be that short!

Passel o' New Music

I'm getting lazier every month. Here's the list of recent eMusic:

  • Soundtrack for Amadeus

  • Abwoon - Lisa Gerrard

  • Blame It On My Youth - Art Farmer

  • Assassin Reverie - Terry Riley (The ARTE Quartett)

  • In C - Terry Riley (Bang On A Can)

  • Music in Fifths - Philip Glass (Bang On A Can)

  • The Greatest - Cat Power

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recent Netflix Movies

Jean and I watched Pi: Faith in Chaos, by Darren Aronofsky. It is a bit heavy-handed and overwrought, but fun in a soapy, art-house way.

More recently, we watched the Pedro Amodovar movie Live Flesh. We've really enjoyed a lot of his films over the years, and expect to catch up on a number of his works through Netflix. But this one was kinda dark and pessimistic, somewhat off the path from what we've come to expect from him. As a result, we rated it a little lower than others of his.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Three Failures

I kinda skipped over the last few movie experiments at Netflix, but it occurs to me that I should record the failures along with the successes, so here goes:

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - This Bollywood film was one of a batch I queued in response to Jean's curiosity regarding the field. I got it by scanning best-of lists and picking a few. Unfortunately, while the plot was familiar (arranged marriage, love on the way), it seemed dated and trite, so Jean was unable to overcome her resistance to musicals to plod through the movie. I didn't really want to see it without her, so fail.

Chop Shop - This was a streaming offering, another film by Ramin Bahrani, who did 'Man Push Cart', which was bleak, bleak. This one seemed to have a slightly more upbeat mode, but there were clouds on the horizon, and we couldn't bring ourselves to watch to the finish, given how MPS ended, abruptly and ugly.

The Science of Sleep - This is a movie written/directed by Michel Gondry. He co-wrote 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' with Charlie Kaufman, and directed that film too. We loved ESotSM, but it seems that without a collaborator, Gondry is prone to wander all over the map. TSoS is a jumble, meant to capture the dream life of the main character, and how his fantasies bleed over into his reality. In fact, while I had little trouble determining when his mind was overwriting reality, it still seemed like a buncha 'just because'. And the ending was entirely too WTF for my tastes. We watched the whole thing on the strength of the previous movie, even while asking ourselves if it was worth continuing. I'd have to recommend against it.

On the bright side, I've been streaming Red Dwarf, which I watched on PBS in Ohio a couple decades ago. Very fun, silly British Sci Fi comedy.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

E'njoni Cafe

Jean, Renee and I went to E'njoni Cafe today to celebrate Jean's and my birthday. Her birthday trails mine by exactly three weeks (we're otherwise exactly the same age), so we have a celebration together.

The food was very good! Let me get that out of the way first thing. Renee ordered the Sega Tibs, I got the Alitcha Dorho and a yam and peanut soup (sooo good!) and Jean ordered a three vegetable combination. They were all served together family-style on a large, lovely ceramic platter. Or rather on a large sheet of injera, resting in turn on the platter. There were other nibbles, but all was very tasty.

This is a family owned business, and the husband came over and talked with us for several minutes. He's lived in America for (I think) 32 years now, and was very happy to talk to us about his business and his efforts to get wider recognition. So here you go, fella!

Seriously, from Tualatin, it's around 20-30 minutes to get there, but finding it was easy, and parking was not difficult to find. Still, I wish there was an Ethiopean/Eritrean restaurant closer to home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Flavor

Anyone know if there will be an importer carrying Pepsi Shiso here this summer? Maybe I should check at Uwajimaya...

Anyway, sad that it's slated to be Japan only. It sounds tasty!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recent Movies

I failed to note the last Netflix movie Jean and I watched. It was Young @ Heart, a documentary about a senior choral group which sings pop songs including punk rock. It was very good.

The other movie I should mention was not viewed with Jean. I was over at Tom's last night for the monthly gathering (more like quarterly for me), and he was gracious enough to screen his copy of Chandni Chowk to China, a Bollywood version of a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It was laugh out loud hilarious, replete with most every cliche from martial arts movies past. Thanks, Tom!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Trek

This morning I went to the IMAX showing of the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek at Bridgeport Village. I took the morning off as vacation time to give this to myself as a birthday present. How could I resist since the Friday opening hit on my birthday exactly? I don't usually do anything to celebrate on my actual birthday, preferring to combine my and Jean's celebrations on her birthday, since it is so close to mine.

In any case, this was a fun movie, no question. I'm not sure it is really Star Trek, but if you just think of it as a fun, busy, explodey scifi movie, then you'll be fine. I'll probably see it in a theater again (without the IMAX premium), but I'm already looking forward to where they take the franchise after this reboot.

The Visitor

The Visitor, another story of immigrants facing hard luck in America. This one was a Netflix streaming movie. I give it three stars.


I just finished Moonraker tonight. I've been taking it at an easy pace, a chapter a night or less, so about a month has passed since I bought it. I really enjoyed reading a chapter a night before coming to bed. And I will say that following the chronology, it is in fact the best book so far. I'm looking forward to the next one, Diamonds Are Forever.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Music

And a short album, The Blues Book by Booker Ervin.

Legion of Boom

Grabbed a copy of Legion of Boom (The Crystal Method) from eMusic after Brent let me sample it. These are the guys responsible for the theme to House.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eternal Sunshine

Jean and I used Netflix streaming to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Man was that a good movie. Rich characters, tough story, imaginative visuals, intricate interlocking puzzle pieces of life. I'm tempted to give it five stars, but I'm holding out now in case a night's sleep makes me change my mind. Very good movie directed Michel Gondry and co-written with Charlie Kaufman.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Run Lola Run

A decade ago Tom told me that this was a good movie. So with Netflix I finally got to watch it. Jean and I both liked it. Thanks Tom!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Duck Stab / Buster and Glen

I already had a best-of for The Residents, but I've nevertheless been curious about this album, which had two or three overlaps, so I grabbed Duck Stab/Buster and Glen this evening. More as I listen to it...

And to wind things up for this allotment of eMusic credits, I decided to get Celebrity Golf, a fifteen minute standup routine by Mike Birbiglia that I first heard on This American Life, mostly so I could inflict it on friends and family.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Moonraker has already piqued my interest. In the first few pages, we get a glimpse of the bureaucratic hierarchy in which James Bond operates. He has an office shared with two other '00's, 008 and 0011, and is the senior '00'. Here are some snippets that give a flavor of his routine between adventures.

He shrugged his shoulders and resolutely opened the top folder [of intelligence reports]...

It was the beginning of a typical routine day for Bond. It was only two or three times a year that an assignment came along requiring his particular abilities. For the rest of the year he had the duties of an easy-going senior civil servant...

He took no holidays, but was generally given a fortnight's leave at the end of each assignment--in addition to any sick-leave that might be necessary... He had a small but comfortable flat off the King's Road, an elderly Scottish housekeeper--a treasure called May--and a 1930 4 1/2-litre Bentley coupe, supercharged .. so that he could do a hundred when he wanted to.

...It was his ambition to have as little as possible in his banking account when he was killed, as, when he was depressed, he knew he would be, before the statutory age of forty-five.

Eight years to go before he was automatically taken off the 00 list and given a staff job at Headquarters. At least eight tough assignments. Probably sixteen. Perhaps twenty-four. Too many.

Those last two segments give us the tidbit that by the time of Moonraker, Bond is around 33 years old, and can look forward to having episodes of torture into his mid-forties.

The chapter closes out with a description of Bond's progress through a pile of memos, ticking them off, initialing them '007' and putting them into the out tray for the next bureaucrat. It really tickles me to see him outside the frame of action. It's like watching Superman relaxing in the Fortress of Solitude with a model kit, or working his taxes on a crummy too-old laptop.

Man Push Cart

Our latest Netflix experiment was Man Push Cart, about a Pakistani immigrant pushing a coffee cart around New York City for a living. It was unrelentingly bleak. Nasty enough that I'm reconsidering watching Chop Shop, which is his other movie, available for direct streaming.

Kung Pao Chicken

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated's recipe for Kung Pao Shrimp, this was a good one!

Clarence "Frogman" Henry

After hearing a mashup featuring Ain't Got No Home (thanks Jean), I had to get the source material, and fortunately eMusic had a best-of. So we're digging it now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And Another...

The decade-old solo album by my favorite female vocalist/composer of all time, Kristin Hersh, Sky Motel. God I love her voice!

New Music

Ninja Tour, a sampler of songs from the bands touring with NIN this year.

Blue Rondo, a very nice Dave Brubeck album.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Live and Let Die

I just finished Live and Let Die a few days ago. I've read quite a few Ian Fleming novels over the years, but at least a decade has passed since I last read one, so I've gotten the urge to read them all in chronological order. As already noted, I'd finished Casino Royale and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's been long enough, that with my memory, each book seems quite new.

I found a review on Amazon for Live and Let Die that contained the following snippet:

I would rank "Live and Let Die" in the second-tier of Bond novels, along with "From Russia, With Love" and "Moonraker." It doesn't quite reach the level of such absolute masterpieces as "Doctor No," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," or "You Only Live Twice," but it's certainly superior to such relatively weak entries as "Goldfinger," "Casino Royale," and the disastrous "The Man with the Golden Gun." All in all, a classic Bond thriller.

I have to agree with A. E. Kaiser that Live and Let Die is a better book than Casino Royale. CR is not a bad book, by any measure I'm willing to apply. It's just that by the second novel, Fleming's already begun to get a much more three-dimensional brush stroke for his character and the world in which he maneuvers.

Seeing as how the next book in the sequence is Moonraker, which A. E. Kaiser puts into the second tier, I'm quite anxious to get started! And given that I can apparently identify the movie version of Doctor No in three notes, I'm not sure I want to wait for that 'absolute masterpiece' to roll around in the chronological sequence. But of the two intervening novels (Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia, With Love), the second is also in the second tier, so I'll struggle to hang on.


Bosstopus Several weeks ago Renee and I were imagining a boss monster for an RPG, and came up with Bosstopus! I won't go into the details just yet. I was waiting for Renee to render a larger image, but she's not ready, so I'll just hook this one in to remind me to describe it's attacks later.

New Batch of Photos

A new batch of photos up at Flickr means a new banner photo! This time, the wife and two kitties stand in.


Our Netflix experimental film this weekend was Memento, a film by Christopher Nolan, who went on to reimagine Batman starring Christian Bale. Read the link for a spoiler-laden recap of the film, but suffice it to say that I'll be remembering this movie for some time. Very good.

Mexican Pulled Pork

Recipe was from a 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated, so of course it's not online. But it was definitely good. This makes two weekends in a row where I've cooked a recipe that required the use of the broiler!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Catching Up

This will be an omnibus post, as I just want to jot down some notes while I think of them.


Jean's been encouraging me to get back into cooking, and this weekend she selected a recipe for me to try. It was from an older copy of Cook's Illustrated, so I can't link to the online recipe (it's behind their paywall). Instead, I'll just include a generic link to Chicken Tikka Masala. We modified the recipe, substituting plain yogurt in the masala sauce for the cream in the recipe. Verdict: definitely very good.


Mid-last-week, I began an experiment with Netflix. I got the minimal subscription, with one DVD at a time. I really wanted to try out their instant streaming, as we are now using Hulu to watch a number of television programs, and I hoped that we might be able to do the same with some movies. I was skeptical, as most posts seemed to complain about quality at higher bandwidths than we get. It turns out that some movies are watchable, but not all.

I tried watching Banlieue 13, a French action movie with a lot of stunts based on parkour. The stream paused and even skipped, every few seconds. This turns out to be a bad thing for a movie filled with physical stunts.

On the other hand, we watched a movie recommended by one of Jean's co-workers, Monsoon Wedding, and it was not too jerky. The movie itself was great.

Finally, our first actual DVD from Netflix arrived this weekend, and we watched it today. It is called Bride & Prejudice and is a Bollywood-style musical based on Jane Austen's novel. It was produced by Indian, British and American companies and was mostly in English. I love musicals, and have a weakness for Bollywood musical romances and comedies, so this was a real treat. Jean seemed to enjoy it too.

Coming up in our queue next will be Memento.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Klaus Nomi

I was browsing the web tonight when I ran across this link about Jobriath Boone on BoingBoing. I'd never heard of him before, but Metzger found a handful of videos, and gave a capsule career overview comparing him to early David Bowie and Lou Reed, at least in terms of sexual ambiguity. I watched the primary clip, and musically I can see a bit of a resemblance to Bowie, but his costume had me thinking of Klaus Nomi (Metzger actually mentions Klaus in passing while documenting Jobriath).

I'd like to describe Nomi, but I think it's better if you follow the Wikipedia link, and maybe watch a video or two, to get an idea of what he was like. I like "Lightning Strikes" for the surreal costume, but Renee seemed to prefer "Just a Man".

Thank you, Klaus Nomi!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I was talking with Renee the other day about homemade bread, and a recipe that I used to make nearly every week when Jean and I were 'poor'. It was a hybrid of a recipe I got out of Laurel's Bread Book. Counting rise times, kneading, baking and cooling, it was an all-day affair, but resulted in two loaves of whole-wheat bread that had a coarse crumb and terrific taste. Two slices with a bit of tomato made a meal.

Turning on that subject, I mentioned that some of the heavier hand-crafted beers of today resembled colonial beers which were rich enough in calories that a pint might as well be a meal (don't know how many vitamins you can count on from a dark beer, though). Then of course I mentioned the salutory effect of alcohol on limiting water-borne diseases. I mentioned how the classical Greeks mixed water with wine, which might have reduced the antibacterial properties somewhat, but at least led to a less inebriated populace.

So how does this feed into the quote of the day? Whilst laid up with a bad back, I took advantage of Amazon's introduction of Kindle for iPod to download a couple of books for my iPod Touch. One of them was The Ghost Map, which I'd partially read from the library when it came out, but never finished. So I'm reading it now, and what should I see, but:

The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol. In a community lacking pure-water supplies, the closest thing to "pure" fluid was alcohol. Whatever health risks were posed by beer (and later wine) in the early days of agrarian settlements were more than offset by alcohol's antibacterial properties.

And the money quote:

Dying of cirrhosis of the liver in your forties was better than dying of dysentery in your twenties.

He goes on to discuss the theory that selection pressures actually favored descendents who could "hold their liquor", or beer, actually, as those who could not, either died of alcohol poisoning or dysentery before bearing children. The majority of the human race, therefore, now has genes which produce enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases, allowing the ingestion of 'large' quantities of alcohol.


I now have an indictment of some aspect of the Kindle toolchain, I don't know where. In reading the book, I remember that Johnson earlier spoke about how the adoption of tea drinking in England also contributed to the health of Londoners:

Brewed tea possesses several antibacterial properties that help ward off waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process kills off those bacteria that haven't already perished during the boiling of the water. The explosion of tea drinking during the late 1700s was, from the bacteria's point of view, a microbial holocaust. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentery and child mortality during the period.

However, in trying to locate this passage, I ran into a roadblock (I eventually used Amazon's own "Search Inside This Book" facility). On the iPod Touch, at least, while the index for the book is included, and there is an entry, bacteria, tea and, the index entry does not link back to the relevant text! Really??? I don't know if this is a limitation of the Kindle conversion of this book, a limitation of the Kindle conversion for iPods, or what, but it renders the index a cruel joke. Now if I wanted to drop big bucks on the actual Kindle e-book reader, I could use search:

Kindle makes it easy to search across your library. To use the Search feature, simply type in a word or phrase you're looking for, and Kindle will find every instance across your Kindle library.

But I don't intend to drop that kind of money, and I actually like reading on the much more portable iPod. The upcoming summer release of iPhone OS 3.0 holds out some promise:

Search capabilities will be expanded, allowing customers to search within Mail, iPod and Notes or search across all key apps by typing a key word or phrase into the new Spotlight search, conveniently accessed from the Home screen.

The only question here is, what are "key apps"? I sure hope I'll be able to use Spotlight to search my Kindle books, but I'm skeptical that that will happen...

And of Course, Illustrations...

Don't get a book if the illustrations are critical to understanding the text. They might be large enough on a Kindle, but not on the compact screen of an iPod Touch. Fortunately, though both the books I bought have a small set of illustrations, they are not critical to the understanding of the books.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Feeling Normal Again

Such as it is.

Several weeks ago contracted a short-lived but vigorous cold. After much sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing, I managed to pull a muscle in my lower back. I took anti-inflammatories, restricted my exercise routines to walking and waited. Eventually I decided to see my doctor, and of course began to feel better shortly before my appointment. He said I'd done all the right things, and turned me loose.

That Saturday morning, I was reaching up for something in a kitchen cabinet and had a short, sharp electrical shock at the base of my back. I was left holding onto the counter, breathing shallowly and unable to support my own weight. After awhile, it settled down to a nagging stab, and I was able to struggle through the day. By Monday I was feeling mobile enough to go to work. I eased myself out of my chair frequently (usually quite a production) and walked about. Walking felt better than sitting. By the time I got home, I thought the kinks were more or less worked out.

That evening, I was reaching down, and had a revisitation of the electric shock. I crawled upstairs and lay down. I knew I wasn't going anywhere, and the following morning I managed to shuffle to the phone long enough to call in sick. Days passed without much improvement, and I'm not even sure anymore who scheduled my next doctor visit, but I think it was that Tuesday night that I had such a spasm that I was yelling out loud for a couple of minutes trying to shift into a position that wasn't torturing me.

Jean called the all-night line, braved the night to pick up some muscle relaxants for me, and I took them and slept fitfully. When we saw Dr. Selby, he said I was too knotted up to work on, so they shot me full of Demerol and sent me home with a bunch of prescriptions: muscle relaxants, pain pills, anti-inflammatories; and instructions to rest for two days. That Friday I went in, able to walk without the aid of a cane, but still uncomfortable. Dr. Selby, an osteopath, did an adjustment on me, and told me to spend the weekend resting.

This past week, I've been going to work, with some pain, but most of my mobility back. I saw him again on Thursday for another adjustment, and now I am mostly mobile again. I'm crossing my fingers that I don't have one of those electric shocks again. That really sucked.

The positive part of the story is that I got caught up on my Battlestar Galactica backlog on Hulu using my laptop, and I bought two Amazon eBooks and used them with their new Kindle for iPod software. It works great. So, silver lining and all that...