Thoughts for the week’s end

It rained this morning! We woke up late, to good air, and enjoyed coffee on the deck for a couple hours with my parents.

All week I had these notes about how horrible being outdoors was. The things I wanted most were to be able to open a window, to step outside for more than a second, and to enjoy a few moments of quiet without the constant hum of air purifiers—as grateful as I am that we have them.

And here we are. I’ve been outside. The air purifiers are off or running on very low. The sun peeked out for a minute. It’s cloudy and cool and comfortable.

A new level of madness was spending a week indoors due to bad air—Friday through Friday—without even having a place to drive to for a break due to a pandemic.

We spent several nights doing laps in the house to music for 45 minutes to an hour just to get a walk in. Who are we!

Michael Kiwanuka‘s 2019 album, Kiwanuka, was a joy to listen to this week. 🙌🏻

Still picking through Orwell’s essays, one by one. This time on Kipling.

His outlook, allowing for the fact that after all he was an artist, was that of the salaried bureaucrat who despises the “box-wallah” and often lives a lifetime without realising that the “box-wallah” calls the tune.

George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Horizon, February 1942

The footnote attached to “box-wallah” reads:

Strictly, a peddler, but in the context applied derogatively to those working in commerce in India.

The term made me think: “what are the odds this is why Dishwalla is named Dishwalla”. Sure enough, Dishwalla’s drummer confirms that the band name comes from an old issue of Wired.

Turns out it’s the second ever issue of Wired with this article.

Lajpat-Rai is a crucial link in this vast republic’s exploding market for satellite television – and a central supply port for a new generation of opportunistic entrepreneurs called “dish- wallahs”; wallah being a common Hindi phrase which translates to something between “hack” and “specialist.”

Dish-Wallahs“, Wired, April 1993

I have spent way too much time thinking about Dishwalla over the last month.

From the other room just now: “do you want to touch raw beef tongue?” 😂

Of course I did. Tacos tonight!

I’m about half-way in to Rage, Bob Woodward’s new book. The most striking part so far is how un-striking it all is when compared with how I felt while reading Fear just two years ago.

Dan Coats, former director of national intelligence, appears quite a bit at the beginning, which made his op-ed on the election slightly more interesting this week for some reason.

Rest in peace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May all current and future jurists—I mean, everyone really—be inspired by your life and your work.

My Own Words is now on my short-term reading list. I’m looking forward to being inspired rather than enraged.

60 some hours until fall!

Time for a whiskey. 🥃

Thoughts for the week’s end

Heyo 41.

I might be excited because I might buy myself a guitar today at our local music shop. I might also not be excited because I might postpone the visit yet again due to… pandemic!

I’m fairly certain they’ve done good a good job through everything—at some point I saw a notice that only one customer is allowed in the store at a time. But I still classify this as highly risky on my list of things Jeremy has done in the last 6 months.

Ooph, time goes.

So I’m browsing various models ahead of time, hoping to pop in and pop out. It will be a little weird to not sit and get to know the guitar for a bit, but also… pandemic!

One of the weirder decisions I made 9 years ago was to sell my guitars and amps and pedals and oh, it’s sad if I think too much about it. But stuff is stuff; the hobby went away for a bit and now it wants to come back.

I’m probably looking at a Telecaster this time around because I’ve always been curious of the sound. And if the hobby sticks, I can start poking at rejoining the Gibson family. 🎸

I caught up on a bunch of magazine reading last weekend and found James Meek’s history of the World Health Organization—accompanied by the history of the current SARS-Cov-2 outbreak—to be a very interesting read. It’s from early July, but still timely.

One thing the writer tries to clarify is the difference between communal health and “tech fixes”: (emphasis mine)

The divide between communal health advocates and tech fixers represents a deeper choice: between actions that aim to help an individual, so may indirectly help everyone, and actions that aim to help everyone, so may indirectly help the individual. Lockdown requires each individual to accept personal constraints for the sake of the community, even when they are not themselves ill. In theory, the tech fix can be for everyone, too, but because it is a thing to be obtained, rather than a constraint to abide by, it comes trailing issues of priority, price, privilege, exclusivity: what device, what pill, what treatment, what test can I get for myself, my family, my friends, to protect them?

James Meek, The Health Transformation Army, London Review of Books

I don’t know how I came across an old post of mine with a picture of a Pixies show taken on a (likely Nokia) camera phone circa 2004, but I did so now it’s here.

At some point these photos are going to classify as abstract.

What is the minimum number of people required on a video call before an Irish exit makes sense?

I’m thinking once you hit 10 it might be fair game.

Donating to politicians in other states seems like it should be wrong—if for nothing else because the amount of money involved in politics is wrong, but it also seems like the hate spread by existing politicians is worse, so here we are donating to politicians in other states.

You need a holiday, somewhere in the sun
With all the people who are waiting
There never seems to be one

Every once and a while the very beginning of Blur’s Advert pops into my head and I repeat it randomly throughout the day. It’s a sample used once that simply says: “food processors are great”. A keyboard starts looping, the bass comes in, and then the catchy guitar riff hits and it becomes a rock song. It has all the makings of a great track and I love it.

So I’ll be standing in the kitchen making coffee or lunch or anything and just start repeating out loud: “food processors are great”. Michelle asked me where it was from this week and of course I took the opportunity to play it.

This time I honed in on the chorus posted above and a song about advertising is now working in different ways as an anthem for our COVID summer.

A holiday, somewhere in the sun, would be fantastic indeed.

And of course I then made Thursday and Friday Blur listening days. It’s been a while since I went through the catalogue.

I can’t really pick a favorite. Leisure and 13 are the least likely, even though Tender, the first track on 13, is one of my favorite songs ever made and I thought I remembered the album being amazing.

Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape, and Blur all have their moments where I’m like: oh right, this is my favorite album. Even as I’m writing this I have Modern Life Is Rubbish playing again and my brain is trying really hard to convince me to pick it.

And then Think Tank, which I don’t remember appreciating as much at the time, but I very much enjoy now. And the reunion album, The Magic Whip, turned out to be very excellent.

Anyhow. One day I’ll sit down and do a proper write-up of the best parts.

Stay well! May we see 46 before I see 42. 🎂

Thoughts for the week’s end

Time has been operating on a different scale since March. It’s yesterday, it’s tomorrow, it’s hardly ever today. I’ve blinked and here’s September.

One week has become 12. This is the third “Thoughts for the week’s end” draft in my posts list. Let’s see if it gets published. I cheated and copied one of the blurbs from an earlier draft. I then deleted the rest. Gasp!

If you went back 10 years and told me that one day a simple CMD-Shift-n would restore an entire window of accidentally closed tabs in my browser…

I finished The Decadent Society this week months ago (book club!) and the main argument is that we haven’t really done anything Big since putting someone on the moon 40 years ago.

But I dunno…. restoring browser tabs? That’s a pretty big one.

The book itself was interesting and thought provoking. I did find myself shaking my head in disagreement more as it went on—I have a feeling he could expose himself to a wider variety of art to see that things have progressed since Star Wars, 60s rock, and the age of white male dominated fiction.

But! I appreciate some of the arguments and it sometimes does seem like progress has gotten stale. Maybe that’s how it works though. Stale until not.

If you want the book in a nutshell, the author wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times covering the concept.

More recently I finished a series of unrelated, yet very related books that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. I would recommend each:

  • The End of Policing explores alternatives to the ever-growing multitude of things that fit under the “police” umbrella.
  • I expected How to be Anti-racist to be excellent and it surpassed my expectations. I very much enjoyed Kendi’s narration of his work through things he thought he knew and things he learned along the way.
  • One Person, No Vote made me angry and helped to convince me that Secretary of State may be the most important office in US state elections. The rampancy of active voter suppression is stunning.

It’s probably me and my thousand tabs and not having restarted Firefox for a couple weeks, but Gutenberg gets really laggy when I’m several paragraphs into something. I just went through one of those 90s moments where I typed this entire sentence before it appeared on the screen in front of me. Hey, there it is!

No previous version of myself before the last several years would have understood how interested I am in hearing Miley’s new material. The vibe from Midnight Sky is so great. It put Edge of Seventeen (which it samples) in my head and I ended up listening to a half-dozen Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks albums this week.

I finished The Fly Trap this morning, a very readable and pleasant memoir by a Swedish entomologist. I could read books like this endlessly. More scientists should publish this style of memoir. Bonus: I’m pretty sure I had a hoverfly swing by and hang out with me for the last few pages.

That’s that. Have to hit publish before I wait another week! 🚢

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. 🎸🍻