Part 4 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
There are a lot of drum machines and synthesized instruments on this album. Those things were a lot more obvious in 1990. Wow.
If memory serves, this CD belonged to my brother starting in my junior high school days. It’s an odd mix of personal yet fairly generic relationship songs plus several attempts at socially significant anthems. The unchallenging political statements of “Praying for Time” and “Mothers Pride” registered in my brain, but the 13-year-old me was mostly feeling overdramatic about girls. When I blasted it in the living room during my latchkey days, it was for the loneliness angst.
How could one resist, after all, including a tune with the line “There’s one year of my life in these songs and some of them are about you” on an emo mixtape slipped into a crush’s locker? “Something to Save” and “Waiting for That Day” are ridiculously easy to learn, as well, so this budding guitar crooner took to them quite intensely.
But really, the best reason to listen (without prejudice, of course) is track 5, “Cowboys and Angels”. This seven-minute jazzy number is a significant departure from the dance-pop Michael is best known for, and seemed remarkably insightful to me in my early teenage years. It’s still a delight to hear for its instrumental solos - piano intro, muted saxophone jam session to the end, and upright bass fills – and multiple key changes. Play it during any romantic comedy and the movie actually becomes a rainy black-and-white noir film. Any hat you might be wearing transforms into a tattered fedora.
In fact, don’t even watch the video below. Just go listen to “Cowboys and Angels” on your favorite free music service. It’s so much better.
(Just kidding, you can watch the video. It’s weirdly right-aligned but there’s briefly a cat head in it.)
Twelve and a half years ago, Microsoft released its first operating system that most users were actually reluctant to give up. Today, April 8, 2014, after three service packs, two browser updates, and dozens of hotfixes, Windows XP gets its final security patches.
IT folks will tell you that the end of official support means that it’s time to upgrade. Without further updates, XP will become vulnerable to hacking exploits that haven’t yet been discovered. Microsoft has released three desktop operating systems since XP, and has already pushed back the end of support several years in response to XP’s popularity and staying power. That’s what they get for putting out a product that actually works.
In the last decade and a quarter, computers themselves have become much more capable while requiring less electricity to run. In some cases, recycling an old machine and buying a new one could be a net benefit to the environment and your wallet as well as security.
Still, the desire to keep using a box that works just fine is understandable. I’m guilty myself, with two old Pentium 4 machines in my house. And I won’t be throwing them away tomorrow – in fact, I’ve been researching ways to get them as up-to-date and safe as possible with minimum fuss.
As long as they’re fully functional, of course, I can just visit Windows Update. Even though Microsoft won’t be issuing any further updates for XP after today, existing updates will still be available for some time. Not forever, but a while longer.
To get all XP’s updates into a single convenient package, you can use a download script at xdot.tk along with the Service Pack 3 standalone installer, your original XP installation CD, and nLite software. You can even roll your PC’s hardware drivers into a customized disc for reinstalling Windows XP from scratch – just in case, you know.
Many browsers and anti-virus programs will still be supporting XP, so keeping those programs current will help maintain a reasonably secure machine. About.com maintains a good list of free anti-virus programs; Microsoft’s own Security Essentials will, unfortunately, no longer be issuing updates for XP. Install just one anti-virus program at a time, though – they often flag each other as suspicious and can really slow down a system fighting each other.
Are you putting your XP machine out to pasture, or just getting it ready for an active retirement?
I just bought a wireless charger for my phone. You lay the phone down on it, and like magic, the battery receives power through the magic of electromagnetism. The engineering was done quite well.
The English translation of the manual? Not so much.
From context clues, I’m guessing a “heart-birth-maker” is a pacemaker, though it could just as easily be a uterus. Just to be safe, don’t plug the wireless charger in and then carry it around in either your breast pocket or your underpants.
As an electrical device, the charger of course presents various risks if it is used improperly. This page goes on and on, with different actions leading to one or more dire consequences in very specific combinations. Wet hands pulling out the AC adapter? Fire and shock. Dust? No fire, but heat and shock. “The protectors”, presumably of earth from aliens and/or robots, are there to prevent “shock and wound”, but not fire or heat. And surreptitiously slipping something between the charger and the phone (“charging machine”) “may lead to heart, fire and burn”, which if I recall correctly are three of the five Captain Planet kids’ rings.
If you’re wondering what those symbols are for, they’re very clearly described earlier in the manual.
While bellowing warnings about fire and wound might actually be appropriate, the placement of these icons is really more a graphic design problem rather than a language problem. They’re inserted on the line after the instruction rather than on the same line, so it looks like you should not lead to electric shock and wound, which … okay, that’s kind of good advice anyway.
Note relative size of this warning that your credit cards might get a little scrambled and the earlier warning that this device will literally stop your heart from beating. Insert scathing commentary of society’s valuation of commerce over life.
For the unfiltered, sublime directions, check out the full manual (1.2MB PDF).
Part 3 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
In this very special edition of Beating a Dead Facebook Trend Over the Course of a Year but It’ll Probably Come Around Again So It’s Fine, we discuss a band who happens to have a new album out. TV en Français, released last week, is a long way from 2006′s With Love and Squalor, but the shift in tone had already happened in the intervening two releases, Brain Thrust Mastery and Barbara.
So, okay, yes – the cover of this album played a significant role in convincing me to buy it. There are kittens! Being held by what I can only assume are reasonably attractive young gentlemen who play instruments! Perhaps I’m not solidly in their “Hey Girl” demographic, but darn if it’s not good music. Not revolutionary music, certainly – only a couple tracks depart even slightly from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure – but very deft at being fast, raucus, guitar-centric rock.
Although not the first release by We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor was their first on an actual record label, and is the first listed on their own website. As such, it’s unusually cohesive as an album, presenting an unrestrained portrait of party and hookup culture in all its confusion, desperation, and unreality. The aforementioned young men have a pretty clear mission statement, repeating it over and over right from the beginning in “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt”:
My body is your body
I won’t tell anybody
If you want to use my body
Go for it, yeah
…while lamenting that fear of rejection is scuppering pretty much everybody’s chances:
If no one moves then nobody’s going to get hurt
Don’t move, ’cause nobody wants to get hurt
The whole album is pretty much an ode to not getting laid. Drunk and exhausted in track 2, “This Scene Is Dead”, our hapless narrator’s mantra is “I’m not going home with no one” – bold determination if the double negative is taken literally, dejected resignation if read colloquially. He’s imbibing again in “Can’t Lose”, becoming someone he doesn’t like; bemoaning his lack of success and continued need to attend parties in “Callbacks”; and even chastising himself for listening to his conscience too much in “Lousy Reputation”.
It’s all done in high-BPM short tunes, mixing shoegaze lyrics with frantic post-punk yelling and even channeling Rush a tiny bit in “Callbacks”. Lead singer Keith Murray isn’t afraid to let his voice break and strategically miss notes – something sorely lacking on later albums.
No one’s quite sure what happened to We Are Scientists after With Love and Squalor; they’ve been accused of becoming bland and boring, but personally I think that’s a bit harsh. Certainly their music sounds more like Broadway finally managed some decent rock songs than a few guys pounding out their frustrations on guitars, but it’s just a suddenly different style, with more controlled and processed production as well as more songs dealing with actual relationships. They did lose their drummer; it’s all synths until a minute and a half into their next album. They also supplied “After Hours” to one of those Michael Cera coming-of-age movies, and if he can figure out how to get into girls’ pants, what excuse did these guys have?
An official notification arrived in my mailbox last October, trumpeting the weekend liquidation of “hundreds of new and used cars, trucks, vans and SUVs” at a local dealership. Imagine my shock, then, when I received the exact same notice again this very week.
How mysterious! These are not similar documents spaced four months apart; no, they are utterly identical, and yet both contain incontrovertible proof that they exist out of sync with the rest of the world. Observe:
Both the first ever edition – and yet both slated for spring! Early March, especially in New England, is spring only in the delirious dreams of snowed-in shovel-bearers huddled under blankets, but at least it’s in the right ballpark, unlike October. So is now the proper time for this flyer? Alas, no!
As is plainly visible on this universally recognized Trade Assistance Voucher, the year is 2013. Such a solid financial certificate would never be approved and signed with an inaccurate date. Moreover, it is utterly impossible for this sale to be repeated, as both flyers clearly state that it will not be.
The lack of actual sale dates, only references to “Thursday through Sunday”, makes only one conclusion possible: that both flyers traveled through time from Spring of 2013, approximately seven and 11 months into the future respectively. Woah, right?
Thus far, no other chronologically displaced mail has caught my attention, but it’s only a matter of – if you’ll excuse the expression – time.
TL;DR - Kids these days suck at journalism.
It’s no secret that Internet headlines are sliding toward “clickbait” – surprising, flashy, sexy phrases promising mind-blowing facts or crazy stories. That’s what headlines are for, right? To attract interest?
Sure. Then there are the ones that just lie.
Top(ish) of the charts
Last week, a map of the US spread across social networks with the headline, “Here’s Every State’s Favorite Band”. It originally ran at Business Insider and was soon picked up by Slate, Time, and (as Nashville Scene accurately pointed out) “goddamn Buzzfeed“. Not a single one of them bothered to read the original blog post by the guy who made the map, or even looked at the map with an even slightly critical eye. Give it a cursory glance:
Anything pop out at you? Anything seem a little weird? Like maybe there’s precisely zero repetition of “favorite” artists between states? That a lot of even famous bands don’t seem like today’s chart-toppers? That the word “favorite” isn’t on the map?
It comes from a blog entry with the extremely non-clickbaity title “Exploring regional listening preferences“. Written by a director at a data intelligence company focusing on listening habits of users of music streaming servers, the post itself does not contain the word “favorite” either – not once. In fact, the map shows something much more nuanced: the band or artist with the greatest differential in popularity between that state and elsewhere. And of course it’s not a formal study, being based on data from this one company.
Slate, at least, changed its headline to be slightly more accurate – two days later. By that time, the original blogger had put up a new map giving the Internet the easily-digestible factoid it wanted: that the Southwest loves Drake, Jay-Z is the favorite in almost every state east of the Mississippi, and South Dakota is the only place Imagine Dragons is on top.
Not quite right
In the sidebar of one of these articles this weekend was a link to a New York Magazine Story, “Meet the 4 Most Desired People in New York (According to OKCupid)“. Citing a source right in the headline – nice job! If only the article itself didn’t admit that the title is complete bull.
Rudder analyzed the data from a one-week period in January and used a simple methodology: finding the users who receive the most messages from potential suitors. The four people selected wouldn’t necessarily claim to be the wealthiest, most stunning or successful singles, but, out of 400,000 annual citywide users on the site, they were among the top five in their respective categories and, perhaps less scientifically, were the four who were also willing to be interviewed for a story.
The author chose one person from each of four categories: straight women, straight men, gay women, and gay men. Right there you have something a bit different from “the 4 Most Desired People” but that’s a quibble compared to actually selecting interviewees “among the top five” rather than the true number one. Moreover, the author went on to describe each person as, respectively, “the most sought-after straight woman”, “New York’s most popular straight guy”, “OKCupid’s most popular gay-woman’s profile”, and “the site’s most sought-after gay man”. Even forgiving the imprecise language omitting “in New York” or “on OKCupid during a single week in January” in every case, it contradicts the (understandable!) criteria actually used.
These hyperbolic headlines often don’t stand up to the least bit of scrutiny. In January, Fast Company promised “A Look Inside the Last New York Times Site Redesign Ever“. That’s patently ridiculous. The second sentence states, “That’s not to say that the Times will never again update its digital look.” Okay then, so why say so in the headline? To get me to click, obviously; either because I want to know more about this amazing story or because I want to know exactly how you justify your unbelievable phrasing. Neither of those tactics is anything but sleazy.
Then again, they work.
I’m going to be on the radio for a few seconds today.
A New Hampshire Public Radio show, Word of Mouth, issued a challenge the day before Valentine’s Day. “Calling All Musicians,” they said. “Help Us Fix Our Terrible Love Song!” they said. It seems one of their producers attempted to create the ultimate love song out of nothing but clichés and it went about as well as you’d expect. Listeners might still be able to salvage it, they reasoned.
Of course I couldn’t resist the siren call of an open submission process. I did, after all, write and record a theme song for Nathan Fillion when he asked.
In that case, sending a link to the MP3 the next morning utterly failed to garner the retweet and subsequent adulation I so desperately desired. With a local radio show, however, the next morning was not only quick enough – it got me first billing. Rather than “fix” the song, I opted to enhance its essential character (“Terrible”) with some overbearing MIDI and a video featuring horrendous heart animation and my best impression of Stevie Wonder as I glanced between lyrics and my fretboard.
Other submissions sauntered in – audio only, I must haughtily note – until some critical mass was reached and Word of Mouth announced it would play a “medley of listener submissions”. A couple were from NHPR staff members. One was from California. Noble attempts all, but I don’t think anyone will be offended when I say that the source material was a bit much to overcome.
By my count, it’ll be my fifth time on the radio, after:
- That time I got roped into a fundraiser for a literacy project with ties to the Church of Scientology, and a college station in Boston played two songs from Stars or Streetlamps while interviewing the organizer, who said all profits from selling that album would go to the literacy project, which I totally never agreed to.
- That time I sent a CD of “Practical Car” to Car Talk for them to play between segments and they did for some reason.
- Those couple times my boss at The Hippo was sick or on vacation or something and I talked to WJYY about upcoming weekend events instead of her.
This latest instance is, of course, my proudest moment.
Part 2 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
If it weren’t for a terrible teacher, I never would have heard of Gideon Freudmann.
My decision to leave high school and attend a hippie early college in the woods was not made lightly, but the pivotal factor was certainly an assignment that had 11th graders coloring a world map for a significant portion of our grade. So it’s fitting that Adobe Dog House, the fourth album from electric cellist Freudmann, includes a song called “Geography” with the silly but possibly insightful lyric, “If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you don’t know what you see.”
Freudmann was a frequent performer at my college campus, performing solo but building layers upon layers with a loop recording pedal. Many of his recordings are done without other musicians or overdubbing, just him and his technology. He calls his goofy style “CelloBop” and composes many instrumentals along with folky songs with words.
Adobe Dog House is his best mix of the two formats out of his many albums. With 10 instrumentals and five songs including vocals, it is contemplative, haunting, slightly bizarre, and tremendously fun. At times his lyrics and song titles (“Abra Cadaver”, “River Skeeters”, etc.) border on nonsense, but there’s always the sense of a man testing the limits of his compositional and improvisational skills. He quotes other music from Deep Purple to the Star Trek theme, which of course endears him to me immensely.
In most cases, I prefer studio albums to live performances, but part of Freudmann’s appeal is his infectious playfulness in concert. Adobe Dog House captures that playfulness quite well, but still takes itself just seriously enough to suggest that every note of every song was placed very deliberately. If nothing else, the inclusion of Freudmann’s dreamy “Over the Rainbow” cover should earn it a place in collections of renditions of that classic tune.
Last Tuesday, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debated the head of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, on the feasibility of creationism as a scientific explanation of the origins of life, the universe, and everything. Nobody won, no one was convinced, and a sizable portion of the commentariat believed Nye just showing up gave Ham credibility he didn’t deserve.
You can watch the whole debate on YouTube. Right away, you’ll discover something odd.
Ken Ham doesn’t know what words mean.
…or at least their connotations. Apologetics is an actual term for arguing rationally in favor of a controversial opinion, but in common parlance it’s usually applied by opponents, referring to someone defending the indefensible.
Ken Ham likes having cartoons of himself drawn.
The debate opened with an animated commercial for the Creation Museum. The minute detail of the cartoon Ham wearing a lapel mic juxtaposed with the obvious unreality of a comet swooshing by and a Tyrannosaurus Rex contemplating eating him is exquisite. (Moments later, Ham cheekily directs Rexy back to his exhibit, and the terrible lizard roars and stomps away obediently.)
The moderator was clearly anxious to be parodied on SNL.
CNN’s Tom Foreman made awkward jokes, adopted Pixar’s lamp as his illumination source, and generally resembled Chris Parnell.
Nye and Ham didn’t disagree on everything.
Look at them both using the same brand of laptop. Gives you hope for humanity, doesn’t it?
Ken Ham doesn’t know what words mean (part 2).
Ham’s presentation began with the claim that scientists are using the word “science” wrong. He later freely admitted that he worked backwards from the conclusion that the Bible’s account of six days of creation was literally true.
The past is kind of adorable.
Look at the tiny little arms on that grinning T-Rex! And the embarrassingly long ones on the monkey! Ridiculous how anyone could think they’re related, right? The portrayal of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as grapes rather than an apple is an interesting choice, too, given the use of wine in Christian worship and the fact that grapes don’t actually grow on trees.
The Bible is a snake.
Okay, sure, it’s supposed to be that ribbon attached to old books to act as a placekeeper, but why the forked tongue? Are Ham’s illustrators trolling?
Bill Nye has major flair.
That’s clearly his personal MacBook, because it’s covered in stickers for NASA missions JUNO and MAVEN as well as the Save Our Science campaign of the Planetary Society, which Nye heads. He also wore two lapel pins: one with the logo of the Planetary Society and one rectangular green thing that one can only hope is not a Borg emblem. Oh, and that rock? He picked it up from the side of the road. It has a fossil in it. Science just follows this guy wherever he goes.
Ken Ham likes having cartoons of himself drawn (parts 2, 3, & 4).
At least he cuts Nye in on the action some.
Bill Nye did not hire a graphic designer.
At least I hope he didn’t. On one slide (which I have generously not included) he used Comic Sans.
Bill Nye has odd labeling priorities.
The point here is a very good one that I personally hadn’t thought of before: if the only animals surviving the great flood were on Noah’s ark, where’s the evidence of them moving to their current habitats? But if Nye explained his rationale for labeling nine random spots on the globe like Utah, Sweden, and Peru, I missed it.
Science is just plain neat.
We built giant telescopes to look farther and farther into space. We predicted cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang and built stuff to find that. We use the Earth’s change in position over the course of a year to analyze the minute apparent shift in star positions and measure how far away they are. Science, you rock.
Ken Ham has problems with scale.
Can anyone make sense of this timeline? 130 and 800 add up to 930, but I have no idea why they’re on this diagram. Maybe it wasn’t finished in time?
Ken Ham is a disturbed psychopath.
This slide was supposed to depict the absurdity of a universe where pain and suffering is natural, as opposed to the sensible, perfect world where death was only introduced as punishment for eating fruit. Instead, it’s clip art of a white man in a 1980s suit standing on a pile of blood and skulls being stalked by an alien vaguely resembling an ape.
Skeptical moderator is skeptical.
Tom Foreman didn’t often have to cut Nye or Ham off; they were both remarkably cooperative in using only their allotted time for presentations and rebuttals. It must have been challenging staying neutral.
Science is just as revelatory to scientists as religion is to believers.
At one point Bill Nye acted out the Big Bang with his hands, and went “PSSSHH!” with his mouth. Then he did it again without sound because there’s no air in space to transmit sound. Look at how excited he is. Look at how much it thrills him to know not only how much we’ve discovered about the universe through hard work and dedication but how much we have yet to learn. How much does this guy love his job?
This debate wasn’t so much about secularism versus religion as it was science versus a very specific strain of young earth creationism. There’s nothing in evolutionary theory saying that there’s no god; it just doesn’t deal with the untestable. Nye said several times that “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer in science, and it is. Filling in supernatural explanations cuts off the search for knowledge rather than satisfying it.
The next iPhone will not be transparent, holographic, foldable, transformable, completely flat, tiny, or giant. Sorry to disappoint.
Don’t tell that to the hundreds of designers eager to put their own stamp on the Apple brand, though. Whether it’s to show off, punk the tech news media, illustrate a wish list, or fantasize about a job in Cupertino, there’s no shortage of concept videos and images for upcoming iPhones around the web. Usually, the designers themselves (often students) are up front about not having any connection to Apple, but that doesn’t stop the pictures from spreading and being hailed as the next big thing by gullible viewers.
Throwing different ideas at existing designs can be a good way to stimulate creativity, but the results in this case just lead to unreasonable rumormongering. Don’t get me wrong: the modeling and animation is top quality, it’s just the technological predictions that are nutballs. Nor do many designs adhere to Apple’s clear track record of implementing small, incremental changes in each product generation. They’re like well-written, enjoyable fan fiction that nevertheless gets established characters’ personalities entirely wrong.
In short, nothing in this post is happening any time soon.
Think about the small text on your phone screen. Wouldn’t it be easier to read if, instead of a solid background, you saw your fingers and the floor behind it? It wouldn’t at all, you say? Clearly you have no imagination.
The last one is obviously, if you know your OS X revision history, a few years old. It was part of an iLounge concept contest, but the left side of the picture is frequently used by itself to illustrate iPhone rumor stories. Those who do so are horrible people.
Smartphones with curved screens did come out last year: the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex. They’re concave, reducing reflections and conforming to the curves of the human body. A couple iPhone concepts, on the other hand, take us back to the tube TV days with convex glass. Otherwise known as smudge and glare central.
That second image is based on an actual Apple patent, a public document in which surely the notoriously secretive company would provide a precise illustration of a planned future design rather than a rough sketch supporting the specific technology being patented.
Not “magical” as in Steve Jobs himself literally calling the iPad “magical” in front of an audience, but as in beyond the capabilities of today’s science. A headline presenting this first concept calls it “insanely thin”. It’s hard to tell how ironic the headline writer was being, because yes, anyone who thinks this level of thinness is achievable with current technology is literally out of their mind.
It’s laying on top of an iPhone 5S, and is 3mm thick at the bottom, compared to the 5S at 7.6mm. Good luck fitting a 3.5mm headphone jack on that thing, never mind processors, circuitboards, and everything else.
Still, at least it’s not one of Soundwave‘s cassette-bots.
A still image cannot contain the wackiness here. Placing the phone on the table makes this concept automatically transform into the gadget you see above; a pair of projectors throws a Mac OS X Lion desktop on the wall, while another pair provides a keyboard on the table. The video, from late 2012, is titled “The Secret of iPhone 5″. Virtually the same video was published six months later under the name “iPhone 6 Concept”, so this feature is just around the corner, don’tcha know.
The creator was at least kind enough to annotate his video – titled simply “iPhone 6″ – with a persistent caption assuring everyone that this clear slip of polycarbonate with the capability to levitate an enlarged user interface several inches above itself is “not real”. Thanks.
Along with the designs themselves, some designers create promotional copy. Attempts to mimic Apple’s understated yet fantastical style almost always fail. As do simple grammar and spelling.
Want to “take shoot of your life”? Presumably “18Mpx” means 18 megapixels, an improbable 10-megapixel leap from all recent iPhone camera resolutions, and “led” is really the initialism LED and not the past-tense form of the verb “lead”.
Am I being unfairly critical? Probably. These artists just put their ideas out into the world; it’s not their fault that unscrupulous webmasters pair them with iPhone rumor stories, knowing that sensational images will draw clicks. Or that credulous page visitors don’t bother to read and spread clearly ridiculous information over social networks. Or that apparently no one has learned that the Internet does not always tell the truth.