Thoughts for the week’s end

Last Friday’s NYT crossword hit me like a sack of bricks. Looking back, I only spent 12 minutes on it before bailing, but it felt like an eternity and I got nowhere.

That feeling bled into Saturday and I didn’t even open the puzzle, I just spent more time reading instead. I finally got back into the groove on Sunday, which has become reliably solvable as long as I set aside the time.

At some point before solving Sunday’s I decided I had had enough of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and would just do old Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday puzzles in their place. But here I am, back on a 7 day streak and everything seems possible again.

Also, going back to 10 year old Monday puzzles is not that easy! It’s like playing old editions of Trivial Pursuit and trying to remember various geopolitical changes over the last 30 years.

We watched the Aaron Paul episode of Open Door on Hulu last week mostly because I thought that I always have fun watching other people show off their houses. Either the vibe of the show was way off, or I just don’t really enjoy the flaunting of extreme wealth anymore. Anyhow, that’s not the point.

Toward the end of the episode—we fast-forwarded pretty heavily—there’s a brief shot of them loading some dishes into a dishwasher. It hit me that no matter how great your kitchen is or how rich and famous you are, the dishwasher is still a dishwasher.

Then a few days later, up pops a headline about how Halsey fractured her ankle while loading the dishwasher. See!

I saw the Zeros and they looked like me
This is the America that I want to be
Anarchy and Hollywood, the land of the free
I saw the Zeros and they looked like me

Alejandro Escovedo, Sonic USA

I listened to a lot more Escovedo this week after gushing so much last week. I went through his 2018 album, The Crossing, a few times and the lyrics in Sonic USA made me go hunting.

The Zeros were a punk band in the mid-late 70s fronted by Javier Escovedo, Alejandro’s younger brother. I enjoyed this LA Weekly piece from 1999 on the band as a guide to how heavy of an inspiration various music can have on people.

And we don’t take requests
We won’t shut up and sing
Tell the truth enough
You’ll find it rhymes with everything

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Be Afraid

I listened to Reunions again this week and looked up the line above only to find out I had already done so back in February. This was funny to me because I looked up the lyrics to Elton John’s Levon last night after an exchange with Rich on Twitter only to find I had already done so back in January.

Lyrics, they’re great!

“I dislike Man City because it is Oasis’s club. Noel Gallagher is the most overrated songwriter in the whole history of pop music. They were perfect for the Brit press because they behaved badly and got all the attention. Blur were really great. That guy Damon Albarn is a real fuckin’ songwriter.”

Steve Earle, on being an Arsenal fan

I know maybe 2 people that will enjoy this quote. I love it. 😂

I agree with the Damon Albarn part; I’m not invested in Man City vs Arsenal; and while I might at one point have thought Oasis is a bit overrated, I’ve generally stopped carrying opinions like that around. I do like Steve Earle.

I’ve been grabbing more and more albums through Bandcamp and listening to them via the Sonos app rather than through Spotify. The quality is often noticeably better and playing music that you’ve paid an artist for just feels better. How strange to be back at this point after so many years of streaming!

My spam detection rate is still at 99.6% after almost 1000 spam comments. I think my next task for Self Sustaining Spam Stopper is to assume that anything caught with the honeypots is spam and can just be deleted.

The last week has been yet another heartbreaking week.

The murder of George Floyd over twenty dollars added fuel to a righteous anger in people all over the country and there are now protests in every major city and many small towns. Police, in what has become a standard approach in the US, have reacted with violence and made a sad situation worse.

In times like this I default to trying to read everything and find some sense of understanding. I’m not always sure of what to say. For the moment, it’s helping to find pieces written by others that align with how I feel. I need to sort out what active steps I can take next.

After reading through Jake’s recently updated post on using thermodynamics to explain why riots and stampedes occur—he uses the equation provided by Gibbs free energy, I’ve been thinking through how this applies to the protests in an age of militarized police forces.

My take: The military gear worn by police when responding increases the stress of a situation. The task as commanded of the police—wear this riot gear and contain the protest—reduces the amount of empathy they can afford to have for protestors. The change in energy is drastic. What would we expect other than chaos?

The Marshall Project is a “nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Their site has plenty of curated material on a variety of topics, including police abolition. I reached Matt Taibbi’s article from 2014, “The Police in America are Becoming Illegitimate”, through that page and I’ve started to think through what a future without policing could look like.

I also connected with Paul Butler’s opinion piece from Saturday in The Guardian, “Policing in the US is not about enforcing law. It’s about enforcing white supremacy”.

We can’t expect things to get better without making drastic changes. We can’t expect groups with systemic power to forfeit that power voluntarily.

Black lives matter. ❤️

Thoughts for the week’s end

And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like Jelly Roll
And it stoned me
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like going home
And it stoned me

– Van Morrison, And it Stoned Me

A three week break that seemed like two. Sounds about right.

Hello from the other side.

The line “and it stoned me” popped into my head the other day while I was in the midst of hunting memories due to a random song that popped out of somewhere which is how it always happens.

I listened to Alejandro Escovedo’s A Man Under the Influence a few times this week for the first time in quite a while. It’s one of those albums I can still associate a specific time and feeling with. There are a handful of albums from the early 2000s that probably fit in that way. One thing that was nice about pre-internet-everywhere was cars with CD players and the same disc on repeat for weeks at a time. 🙂

Anyhow. The entire album is great and I have good memories of several tracks. The other night I was specifically thinking of seeing Escovedo perform Velvet Guitar at the Metro in Chicago as part of benefit show for Neon Street, which I believe is or was a teen homeless shelter. The First Waltz was modeled after The Band’s The Last Waltz and gathered a bunch of excellent performers together for a few years.

It was at these shows that I learned of Alejandro Escovedo and watching him perform stoned me.

I even told Michelle the other night that watching him play that one song—Velvet Guitar— had permanently altered my relationship with music.

But there’s a problem! I don’t know what to trust or believe!

He was one of the few musicians that played at all 3 benefit shows over the years and I saw each of these performances:

  • March 25, 1999: Pissed off at 2am
  • March 22, 2001: I Wanna Be Your Dog
  • March 23, 2002: Velvet Guitar

So. I know Velvet Guitar impacted me, and I stand by most of the memory. But does my brain now mix that performance with the earlier ones? There’s no way I wouldn’t have fallen in love with him after seeing I Wanna Be Your Dog so I’m guessing I was already at least a passive fan by 2002.

I’m going to accept the ambiguity and, unless otherwise corrected, continue to remember that it was the Velvet Guitar performance that did the most.

It’s amazing how indelible a memory seems until you start to source it.

I’ll leave it at something like: sourcing may change memories, but it gives them a little more dimension.

Example: I had completely forgotten that Steve Earle played the 2002 show!

And bonus: We saw Iggy Pop perform I Wanna Be Your Dog at the Vic only a couple months later in 2001.

My actually indelible memory from that show is being absolutely convinced my ear drums were going to explode. Thanks, Iggy.

While digging through Escovedo’s catalog on Spotify, I ended up on the No Depression: What it Sounds Like, Vol 1 comp album. I enjoyed the listen, so I searched for No Depression to see if they had other volumes or playlists. I then ran into their Spotify playlist of favorite tracks for the month. The first track this month is Chuck Mead’s I Ain’t Been Nowhere, a great re-purposing of I’ve Been Everywhere.

And from all of that I finally ended up on the No Depression website, saw they were a quarterly nonprofit roots music journal, enjoyed what I was looking at, and subscribed.

No Depression’s site also reminded me that the new Steve Earle album, Ghosts of West Virginia, was due this week. It’s such a great surprise to forget that something is coming and then relearn about it the day before.

I fired it up Friday morning and it was good!

Other things that have been on repeat lately: Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is really, really good and I very much enjoy Jason Isbell’s Reunions.

I’ve been tinkering with my own plugin to stop spam comments, named as well as I can name things, and spent a bit of time over the last many months trying to dial in a handful of word lists as a way to stop most of the spam without relying on an external service.

It’s a game of whack-a-mole, really. You identify a handful of words or patterns that seem to do the trick against a handful of comments just in time for a new bot with new patterns to slide on through and leave a bunch more. Repeat.

A couple weeks ago, after letting the spam pile up a bit, I determined that this strategy was boring and annoying and was about opposite the amount of effort I really want to put into spam detection.

Instead, I added a couple of hidden honeypot inputs: one contains a string that should not change; the other a value that is cleared by JavaScript 1.5 seconds after page load. If either of these appear incorrectly, or if neither appear, the comment is classified as spam.

At about 3 weeks, I’m at a 99.7% spam detection rate. Simple success!

While doing some light pandemic reading, I noticed the words “viral titer” for the first time. I went a googling and landed on titer’s Wikipedia page.

Titer is concentration. Viral titer is the concentration of virus required to infect cells. Titer is also the temperature at which a fat solidifies. The Wikipedia entry adds: “The higher the titer, the harder the fat”.

The phrasing made me laugh and I hope the cleverness of the phrasing was intentional.

Now that I’ve spent this much time thinking about titer, it better appear in a crossword.

I think I’ve learned that schedule is important for me if I want to write regularly. Skipping the Thursday night session the one week was a disruptor. We’ll see what happens next week!

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the US, so this late Saturday posting is more like a Friday posting, which technically means I hit my deadline by my rules.

May it get sunny for a few days and may everyone find music that alters them. 🎸🍻

Thoughts for the week’s end

Hey, it’s not Friday. Happy Saturday?

This is the first time I’ve missed my normal Thursday night writing and editing session, but I also kind of like doing this over coffee on Saturday.

We’ll see.

Way, way back when, in the long distant 2000s, I spent many years doing tech support via phone and email for a wide variety of clients in an outsource call center. I started at the beginning of the 56k modem explosion and spent countless hours over the years participating in the progression of getting people connected.

Dial-up, ISDN, DSL, cable, a little bit of fiber. It’s amazing how quickly things moved when you look back. There was probably only a 5 year (less?) span in which we went from troubleshooting AT commands in a terminal window in Windows 98, trying to figure out why that V.90 bong sound was eluding us, to having customers go computer to computer throughout their house while troubleshooting their new wireless router.

Don’t ever get me started on printers.

The key to walking a novice user through something like typing terminal commands was often to not give any hint to how “technical” it was. Move the mouse here, click here, type this, click OK, type this, read me what you see. However uncommon many issues might seem, they were often resolved with one of only a few series of repeatable steps.

We once provided support for a new to the market, very low-cost desktop computer. It was something like $299 at Sam’s Club, maybe even less. Early support calls suggested that something was seriously wrong—many computers just weren’t working. I left in the middle of the night from the Chicago area to arrive in St. Louis as Sam’s Club opened. We had no actual reference computer yet and that was the nearest location one was available.

I walked in, grabbed a couple computers, paid, and drove 4 hours straight back to work. It was a great day.

It didn’t take long to determine something was wrong in the way the processor was seated on the motherboard. All we really had to do is take it out, put it back in, and things Just Worked.

A few calls later, we had a repeatable process, and then it became almost a competition. How quickly could you walk someone who has never seen the inside of a computer through removing the case, re-seating the processor, and putting everything back together again?

If I remember right, we made it into the sub-10 minute range, which at least impressed me.

I started this all for a reason and now I’m stuck reminiscing.

I had a video chat over Zoom this week with someone 14 time zones away. Everything about the call was smooth. There was no noticeable audio or video lag, the quality was excellent, and the conversation was as natural as video conversations can be. As soon as we disconnected I sat for a second realizing how amazing it all was.

One of our clients in the early 2000s was working on their version of a video IP phone and I spent a bunch of time messing with it to try and find various problems so that we had a chance at supporting the thing. The setup process was so manual and fragile and while video technically worked, the experience was a whole lot of “well maybe this will be decent next decade”.

And here we are. Bandwidth solves all?

I wonder what it would be like if voice and video over IP had worked out in a way where we actually did have desk phones with video screens rather than webcams and cell phones that handle it all for us.

Was it the introduction of the iPhone or Blackberry that changed everyone’s expectations around how mobile all of our communications should be?

I listened to Gish for the first time in a long time this week and love how much it holds up. It’s definitely a nostalgia influenced decision, but I added I Am One to the best first bars on first songs on first albums playlist.

I then listened to Siamese Dream and had great flashbacks of practicing guitar to that album over and over and over and over and over. What did my roommates even think?

I’m also not sure what I would have thought if someone told me in the late 90s that my obsessive interest in the music of Billy Corgan would transfer to pretty much every other musical thing except that. 😂

At first glance—I listened to one song and skimmed through others—Post Malone’s Nirvana tribute is everything a Nirvana tribute should be. One of my favorite things is seeing how talented musicians are outside of their usual rehearsed playlists and environments.

The screen has replaced the window in the side door, so the weather has officially been determined nice.

Enjoy the weekend. 🍻

Thoughts for the week’s end

I remembered what day it was several times this week and actually took time to acknowledge it. And it was great.

On Tuesday, there was even a moment where I thought it was Wednesday already! So maybe time is starting to normalize? Right.

We read Jennifer Egan‘s A Visit from the Goon Squad for book club last month. It was fun, fairly standard fiction sprinkled with some music geekery.

A thing that one of the characters, Lincoln, focuses on is pauses in music and their importance as part of various songs. There’s even an entire chart—among others—in the book titled “Relationship of Pause-Length to Haunting Power“. Exactly the kind of conversation I like to have!

One of the examples, George Michael’s Faith, has a 3 second pause at the 2:58 mark. Bernadette, by The Four Tops, supposedly has a 6 second pause, but I only count 2. I haven’t dug into the other tracks listed, but I’m assuming they’re correct.

And now that I’ve read the book and have the idea of pauses in my head, I of course notice them everywhere.

Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here, can you handle this?
Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you’re gonna die?
Or did you long for the next distraction?

I listened to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill this week and sure enough, there’s a pause of about 1.5 seconds at the 3:09 mark in All I Really Want accompanied by self-referencing lyrics.

It’s a good song and I’d rank the pause as short, but powerful on Lincoln’s chart. That whole album also gets better every time I listen.

And then! While rocking out to Local H’s Pack up the Cats again this week after geeking out on it last week, I caught the almost 2 second pause in All-Right (Oh, Yeah). Talk about a song with a title that fits. 🎸

So why not create a collaborative playlist based on a thing I read in a book? Here you go.

I’m glad I looked Bernadette up tonight, it’s a good tune. It’s familiar to me now that I’ve listened to it, but I wouldn’t have known to check it out purposefully if it wasn’t for the book.

It also reminds me of something very specific that I can’t put my finger on. Oh well, next week.

I figured out a way of phrasing a feeling that I sometimes find myself having as an open source contributor/maintainer.

“I am not confident enough in the solution to summon the future energy it may require to defend the change after all of the work has been done.”

Now that I have the phrasing, I might need to think through a way of actually summoning energy. 💡

I’m going to do a photo post soon, but we walk through our local set of primitive trails at least once a day now, sometimes as many as three times, and it’s fun to all of a sudden be so familiar with a chunk of nature as it blooms into spring.

Even the cottonwood trees, which I absolutely despise, are interesting to me at the moment.

My head is finally starting to wrap around how VR could start to solve video chats. How to explain in a nutshell?

Just because you’re hanging out with a group of people in a bar or a restaurant doesn’t mean that you’re all always having the same conversation.

Someone tells a story, everybody listens. The story ends, people start asking questions or talking and then all of a sudden there are 2 conversations happening at once. If you’re on the end of the table, you and one other person may be chatting on the side about their move to a new city while also keeping an ear on the conversation next to you as it progresses.

The conversations ebb and flow. The group comes together and moves apart. It’s all very fluid and our physical signals make it all relatively easy to deal with.

On a video call, only one person can talk at once. There is no way to have a quiet side conversation while 4 others are talking unless you open up a text chat, which is something completely different.

In a proper VR video chat (or something, I don’t know), the volume of the conversation could change as you move your head. So if two people wanted to shift to the side a bit and carry on a side conversation, they could still hear bits of the main conversation, but the volume of the people speaking would change based on their virtually physical location.

Until something like that is available, every video chat is like a rigid meeting in a conference room. It’s the best we have right now—and it can still be fun! But it will also be interesting to see what it’s like in 20 years.

This week has felt closer to a normal week than it has in a while, even with everything still going to shit. Here’s to normal weeks! 🍕

Thoughts for the week’s end

Local H’s new album, Lifers, came out last week and I’m having a lot of fun with it. Sometimes you just need some heavy rock and roll.

Their 1998 album, Pack up the Cats, has one of the closest-to-perfect track combinations ever put together. The way that tracks 4, 5, and 6 flow into each other is beautiful and still brings me so much joy every time I listen.

Tracks 8, 9, and 10 on the new album bleed together in a very similar way, just darker. So happy with this album.

More music. I’ve decided to get an electric guitar again. In hind sight, selling my guitar and corresponding gear back in 2011 was one of my least favorite decisions. It’d be so nice right now to have the half stack, a full array of pedals, and a guitar to just jam out on.

And in 2020! All of the tools available for recording music that surpass the creative ways we mangled things into a 4 track tape deck. I’m pretty excited.

Om’s post on rethinking how we support music really struck a chord (hahaha) with me this week.

In the Napster era, I downloaded a lot of MP3s. It was my way of researching music and opening doors I wouldn’t have known existed otherwise. We spent the weekends hopping between a handful of places to get used CDs and I filled in the research with actual purchases.

If I didn’t have Napster, there’s at least some chance that I wouldn’t have purchased as much music as I did. I also have no idea how the resale of used CDs works, so maybe I wasn’t really supporting anyone.

Now that I use Spotify—and previously, Rdio—for almost every second of music in my life, I don’t purchase music anymore. There’s no need because everything is at my fingertips and I “pay” for it with a subscription.

Really, I’m listening to the radio all day. But it’s a radio I have full control over and will play just about anything I tell it. This is fine for larger, more established artists that either have enough streams or have a more diverse income stream, but probably doesn’t do any favors to new artists. Even though it acts as a way for those artists to “easily” reach wider audiences.

Anyhow. I’m sure I need to complete some more thoughts there, but I do like the idea of buying albums again where it makes sense. And I joined Bandcamp finally, so I guess Om’s post worked. 😂

An example. I enjoy a lot of Spotify’s genre based playlists. Every once and a while I’ll go to something like “The Pulse of Icelandic Experimental” to try and find something that fits with focused work. This week, one of the first few songs on the playlist was “Changes“, a track from Jason Singh’s Water Songs. As soon as the trumpet started I stopped working and went to find out who it was. Luckily, Yazz Ahmed was listed as a feature musician on the track. I then looked up her stuff and ended up listening to all 3 of her albums in a row.

Then! I made my first purchase on Bandcamp. I bought the digital version of Ahmed’s album, La Saboteuse, and downloaded the FLAC files. When I streamed them to the Sonos the first time, I could immediately pick up on the difference in audio quality.

So. I guess that’s a decent example of how “radio” led to discovery led to supporting an artist in a more direct way.

The trumpet really is a great instrument. It ends up being a common denominator in much of the music I enjoy writing or working to.

I’m not done with music yet. Another album I have a lot of fun working to now is Kælan Mikla‘s Nótt eftir nótt. It’s dark and haunting in a strangely peaceful way. I don’t know how to really explain it, though I do know the vocals first reminded me of something like Le Tigre or Bikini Kill when I first ran into it.

Today I listened to it and started staring at the second track, Nornalagið and got interested in the ð character. If Google Translate is correct, Nornalagið means “witch song” in Icelandic. The ð itself is an eth and, from my quick I’m not a linguist reading, is pronounced like the th in this, except never happens at the beginning of a word.

Any ways. It better come up as a crossword clue now because I’m not forgetting that one.

I’ve had Twitter blocked on my laptop (again) for over a week now. Once every couple days I come soooooo very close to removing the firewall rules. I then recover and just get myself to close the tab I was trying to use Twitter in and go about my day.

I finally broke down so that I could post an amazing photo of my 20-year-old self in blue hair from Cycle Pinsetter’s 1999 Halloween show. That was a good time.

I came across the word antinomianism while reading Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens.

The next morning I woke up and read how CREC churches (overall, a relatively small group, but one with a couple local congregations) have announced that they will soon start ignoring states’ isolation orders.

What’s the opposite of serendipity?

I couldn’t help but end on a non-musical note.

Sorry. 🙈

Enjoy your weekend, your coffee, your tea, your beer!