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Sunday, January 31, 2010


I took the Megabus back from New York this afternoon. It was crowded, but I got a seat on the upper level, which I prefer.

On the way out of Manhattan, I noticed a woman up near the front who I had met at the community association meeting last month. I've talked before about coincidences , and how they often aren't as unlikely as they appear. Megabus is a natural place for such coincidences to occur, because its demographic is fairly narrow -- mostly young, traveling between NYC and DC.

Still, the extent that my world overlapped with the other people on the bus started to creep me out a little. I didn't see anybody else I knew, but the bus seemed to be a physical manifestation of the virtual element of this phenomenon. I was periodically checking the Facebook app on my phone to see if anyone had posted anything interesting, and the people seated next to me and in front of me both always seemed to be checking the app on their phones, too. A guy a few rows up called back to his friend to ask which celebrity looks like their friend Seth. "Doppelganger week," I thought to myself, remembering the meme that has been bouncing around for the past few days. A woman in the seat in front of me was reading all the same NYT most-emailed articles that I've been reading. (I know it sounds like I spent all my time peeking at other people's business, but I didn't have anything to read, and while listening to music and looking straight ahead it was impossible to not see.) Two people a couple rows up were talking about a link several of my friends have also posted.

These new media tools connect us to people who tend to be like ourselves, and any given trend or idea that hits the right buttons can ricochet through social sub-groups almost instantly. Now your peers act as the primary filter, instead of editors in the media. Hopefully we won't get to the point where most of the information you know is most of the same information that your peers know -- one can envision that helping people work together more easily, but impairing the creativity that comes from combining different sets of knowledge and experience.

Anyway, not a new observation to say that developments in social media have implications, but it was surreal to see it playing out in front of me on the bus.

(BTW, I had a good weekend in the city, I'll post tomorrow about a couple interesting things.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

List of complaints

1. Water main break in the neighborhood -- no flushing, showering, etc. Hope it's fixed in the morning.

2. Fellow bicyclist: Saying "I gotcha, bro" is not sufficient redress for the fact that you are barreling toward me going the wrong way in the bike lane.

3. ThespacebaronmyMacBookappearstobefading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Parents Were Awesome

Perhaps you've heard of My Parents Were Awesome. I believe this photo, which I found while looking through some stuff over Thanksgiving, is a candidate for submission. Those are my parents on the right (and my mom's roommate and date on the left).

(You can click the photo for a larger version.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mark Romanek

I like music videos -- I think they provide a great platform for film experimentation (in part because they don't need to be narrative), and they're always bite-sized, so you can still sit through something that's interesting even if you don't exactly like it. Plus, there's just something attractive about video synced with music.

I have a number of compilations of music videos, and one that has risen in my esteem in recent months is the collection of work by the director Mark Romanek. I got it in a box set with collections from three other directors a few years ago, and had only watched about half the videos. After watching it more thoroughly, I'm really liking his work. He's a very mainstream director -- Coldplay, Jay-Z, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, etc. -- but he always brings something interesting to the videos. There's not a consistent style to his videos (like, say, Michel Gondry), but making a bunch of very different cool videos is actually harder, in a way.

Since I'm always trying to get people to sit and watch videos with me, allow me to attempt that virtually -- here are a few Mark Romanek videos that are good for different reasons:

Macy Gray - I Try
Nothing fancy, but this video is well-shot and well put together. (And I had forgotten what a good song this is.)

Mick Jagger - God Gave Me Everything
This video has a unique look...as I learned from the commentary track on the DVD, it was created with rigs they made that attach to each person's hips, so that they move with them. Works well with Mick Jagger's Mick Jagger-ness.

Jay Z - 99 Problems
This one's interesting because it portrays the inner city in an un-glamorized way, unlike many rap videos. (Note: The particular still frame that represents the video here happens to be a bit more risque than the video as a whole.)

Johnny Cash - Hurt
Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" is pretty affecting on its own, but it's even more powerful combined with this video woven from historical footage and a performance shot shortly before Cash's death. (Try to ignore the annoying first 10 seconds, which advertise the show that posted it to YouTube.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Yesterday I purchased my third and fourth vinyl records. (The new Spoon album, Transference, which is sounding very good after my first few listens, and an EP by Battles with that song I posted the other day. I already owned an EP by Lymbyc Systym and an album by Crooked Fingers; I also have some used records from a friend of my dad's.)

It's a little surprising, including to me, that I'm buying new vinyl in 2010. Records are sort of hip these days, but I'd hate for you to think that I'm just being trendy, so allow me to lay out the pros and cons.

Vinyl disadvantages (versus CDs):
- A bit more expensive.
- Harder to use. CDs require a bit less fussing to take out, play, and put away. More importantly, I have a 5 CD changer that will serve up several albums in a row (while I'm cooking, or when people are over for dinner), but the records have to be put on individually and flipped halfway through.
- Less portable.

Vinyl advantages:
+ Greater attention to the music. When you have to pick up a record and put it on the turntable, as well as turn it over halfway through, the music is less likely to be background noise, and you're more likely to pay attention. It also pushes you to listen to an album as a whole work, rather than skipping past some tracks.
+ Physical connection. There's something about seeing the record spin, and putting the needle down and watching it travel the grooves that makes the music more tangible. You can even stick your ear next to the turntable to hear the tinny sound of the unamplified vibrations of the needle.
+ Richer, warmer sound. There's certainly a placebo effect here to some extent, but the sound does seem a bit richer than on CD.
+ Cover art. Have to admit I'm a sucker for the large-format cover art. (The cover of the new Spoon album, which uses a William Eggleston photo, looks really good on my new LP.*)
+ Better local selection. This is unexpected, but given the new popularity of vinyl and the waning relevance of CDs, my local record store actually has a better selection of records than CDs.
+ MP3s, maybe. A lot of new releases include a code to download a free digital copy of the album, which goes a long way toward making it more practical -- listen to the LP in the living room, and the mp3s everywhere else.
+ Hip. It's official...the liner notes for my new Spoon LP proclaim "Buying records at record stores is cool."

So while my reasons for liking vinyl records may not necessarily be practical, turning back the clock to 1960 music technology is not as weird as it might first appear. I'm not switching to buying vinyl exclusively, but I will probably be splitting my purchases between CDs and LPs.

Incidentally, I see that Crooked Beat, my record store, was featured this past spring in a local news piece about the resurgence of records...in which they interview people who say many of the same things I just said:

*Googling for a link to the Spoon cover image, I noticed that the second hit is a post on some fashion blog that provides shopping links if you want to recreate the look of the room in the cover photo. Oy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Recent movies

I've been on a bit of a movie-watching spurt lately, many of which have been good. My thoughts on a few:

Avatar - Impressive and immersive visually...and a surprising amount of social comment for a mainstream blockbuster. I enjoyed it, but it's also the least-subtle movie I've seen in a long time.

The Road - After seeing Avatar in the afternoon, I saw The Road that evening. With its dreary post-apocalyptic world and plodding action, it made for a seriously manic day of culture. The film was well-acted, which is important because of the extent to which it focuses on the two characters. Having read the book, I was surprised how closely it was followed. I recall that the NYT review said it wasn't quite grim enough to match the book, a point on which I would have to disagree.

Up in the Air - I thought this movie was very well-executed, as well as the right mix of funny and contemplative. After not giving him due consideration previously, I'm willing to admit that Clooney is a skilled actor.

Man on Wire - I highly recommend this documentary about Philippe Petit's famous, illicit high-wire walk between the Twin Towers as they were still being completed in 1977. The film is well-made, and the style seems influenced by Errol Morris. But the real attraction here is a plot that would be implausible if it were fiction, as well as the uniqueness of Petit's outlook on life.

The King of Kong (A Fistful of Quarters) - This great documentary focuses on a rivalry between competitive Donkey Kong players. The characters are neon-bright (and garish) -- I had to keep reminding myself that they actually exist. The director brings it all to the screen in a compelling way, building up the story between the characters as you would in a fiction film. It's on Netflix on-demand -- go watch it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trendy travel

An article entitled The 31 Places to Go in 2010 has been lingering in the New York Times most-emailed list for a week or so. The whole piece is a little obnoxious, really -- the premise being that these are "the" hip places to be this year, as evidenced by sprouting luxury hotels and plenty of chic restaurants. (e.g., "Is this the next Koh Samui? The Trat islands are emerging as Thailand’s new luxury outpost.")

One mention caught my eye in the blurb for Marrakesh, Morocco:
Ms. Zwollo herself is adding to the glamour of the city. Later this month, she plans to open Harem (www.harem-escape.com), a wellness retreat just for women, set on a stunning 12-acre estate in the city’s outskirts surrounded by olive and palm groves.

So, you've named your new women's spa "Harem"? You've got to be kidding me. The website promises: "...we give our clients the opportunity to (re)discover their Femininity with a capital F."

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Here's a cool video for "Tonto," by Battles:

The light setup is neat, and I really enjoy videos that artfully synchronize what's onscreen with elements in the music. Good song, too.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Bon Iver - Skinny Love
> Animal Collective - People
> Modest Mouse - Trucker's Atlas
> Outkast - Slump
> Tegan and Sara - Someday
> Charlotte Gainsbourg - Heaven Can Wait
> Tribe Called Quest - Vivrant Thing

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Illustrious former resident

After plugging our address into a web search today, my roommate Steve came across a fun factoid: Our house was once the residence of Reid R. Ashworth, who became Chief Food Inspector for Washington, D.C. in 1916 and remained in that position through the 1930s. (His address was given in a 1935 list of nominees to the board of the American Public Health Association.) Hopefully the house isn't haunted by ghosts of food-borne illnesses past.

My search for more information about Mr. Ashworth led to perusing the January 1920 issue of the American Food Journal in Google Books, which is quite fascinating. Among the hard-hitting articles:
Bread Most Essential Food

THIS is the morning of a new day for the baker.

Aroused to the importance of bread in the diet, Americans are buying and eating more bread today than they did yesterday, and they will buy still more tomorrow. People are beginning to be aware that bread is the only low priced good food, and at the same time the most essential of all foods. When more people learn these facts, more and more bread will be consumed. [...]

And also:
Perhaps there is no disease of the potato more common than potato scab. It has been called variously Scab, Scurf, Spot and Bust, but in order to distinguish it from the less well-known Powdery Scab, it seems advisable to use the name Common Scab for it, says the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry. [...]

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Cold weather

It's unusually cold in DC at the moment -- highs didn't get out of the 20s yesterday or today. So it was a little surprising that Steve asked if I wanted to go for a bike ride yesterday morning with his friend Michael. The reason is that Michael is a photographer and wanted to get some shots of people biking in cold weather. Funny to see pictures of myself riding, which I'm not accustomed to seeing, of course.

In addition to the pictures of us riding, Michael also has some great photos up on Flickr of the legendary 14th and U snowball fight that went down during December's blizzard (before the incident with the gun).

Today, we miraculously had 6 people turn out for pickup frisbee, so I put in some more time outside running around in the cold. Often it seems folks in DC regard winter as something to be suffered through until the warm weather returns, but the cold is so much better when you get out in it instead of just scurrying between buildings.