Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from January, 2015

Reading is Fundamental

My partner upgraded to the new Kindle Voyage, which is great and awesome and very slick. We're a reading household, so to my mind this is money well spent, in fact. I in turn received the hand-me-down Kindle Paperwhite and I've been experimenting with it over the last week or so. My go-to reading solution for the longest time has been my Nexus 7 tablet, which I bought on a whim and then it took over my life for a while, which was an unusual experience because I didn't expect to want or need it so much having lived without a tablet at all, and then getting an iPad for a while. The change from the full-size iPad to the N7 form factor sealed the deal for me, and I've never even considered a full-size tablet again. Plus, the latest generation N7 has a great screen, a beefy processor/RAM combo, and integration into the Google ecosystem which now basically acts as my adjutant brain.

The downside of an N7 (or really any tablet) is that the screen light turns out to be exactly…

Daily Jukebox: Brothers in Arms

Feeling pretty poorly for health reasons, but every so often I trip over one of those classic tunes that doesn't fit into my "Angry Women With Guitars" patch and it gets stuck in my head. Like ELO, Dire Straits is one of those bands that I arguably shouldn't like, because they're everything I don't like about music: bunch of guys with a noodly guitar and an inflate idea of their own position in music. Except that Mark Knopfler is so damned talented that it is undeniable how good the music is.

Brothers in Arms is a slow ballad. It's a quiet, careful song, which is pretty different from most of the stuff that came out of Dire Straits, and it gets stuck. It has it's own gravity, and soon you're humming the deceptively simple melody and imagining the broken, almost-whisper of the lyrics in your head, and wondering if there is someone who can attempt a cover of this song and really do something special with it, like Lorde did with Tears for Fears.

And …

It Comes In Waves

It's often hard for me to recognize that I'm dealing with a depressive cycle from the inside, because as a general rule my depressive symptoms don't manifest as "being sad" (although there is a significant emotional content). More often, I'll look back over the last couple of weeks and realize that all of the energy just basically drained out of my life. I'm still joking around and punning on Twitter and being clever on G+ or even in person, but I'll suddenly notice that I haven't posted to my blog in two weeks, and I haven't washed any clothes, and I haven't done the dishes, and... you get the idea.

The sudden realization that in fact, I haven't even read a book or listened to a podcast or even checked a news site. The sudden cognizance that I've been letting old movies play on Netflix in the background and I've done nothing but sit in front of my computer and poke at things, not even really engaging in the various and sundry …

Day Fifteen: No Cities to Love

So, remember when I talked about Angry Women With Guitars? I'm amazed I've gotten this far without talking about Sleater-Kinney. I got into them with their album The Woods in 2005, which was their seventh album, and I scoured the music stores both on and offline to find their back catalog. They were basically a band invented to play explicitly for me.

And then I found out that they had broken up. Just about the time I got into them. Which is exactly my kind of luck.

And then, last year, they announced they were getting back together. And then they started streaming music. And I hear that moment in an album when there's a song that just sings to you (no pun intended).

That's what I felt when I heard No Cities to Love, which is the title track of the new album.

The album drops January 20th, but you can stream it on NPR.

Obligatory (non)-Youtube Link: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=376085344&m=376086219

Too Cool For School

Aside from a couple of aborted attempts back when I was a teenager, and therefore incapable of making good decisions or long-term thinking, I haven't had any formal college-level education. I found myself incapable of following instruction sets, which was odd because I rapidly got involved in the IT industry which is effectively all about following instruction sets. And so I skipped the college degree in order to accrue a significant amount of experience in the IT industry in general and in Operations in specific, spending most of my time hammering away at various architectures and ticketing systems and in the meantime teaching myself how to do things like ssh and grep and write SQL queries. 
I had a string of good colleagues and mentors that turned me into a valuable and capable Operations person, but it's also managed to leave big holes in my experience and my brainmap, so while I know where to go to get the information, I often don't have it in my brain on recall at an …

Going Camping

Today I spent most of my day in a windowless room cut off from the internet and the greater world, with no access to electricity, writing in my notebook, while a couple hundred other people did mostly the same thing. It was called Puppet Camp, and sadly it was not a day-camp where they taught me to make puppets (though, given that this is Portland, I'm sure that's actually something I could do). Today was when a handful of people talked at me about Puppet Enterprise application, which is a configuration and automation management tool from Puppet Labs.

I like Puppet; it's pretty nifty and if I were starting up my own company *shudder* I would probably mandate using Puppet from the get-go to reduce technical debt. One of the speakers today said "There is no future where IT is smaller or less important" and I agree, but I often feel like there are companies out there that don't understand how important dedicated Operations tools and Operations personnel are. The…

Day Eleven: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

I'm a huge fan of covers. Lots of my favourite artists will take a great song (or even a bad song) and do something really interesting and different and clever with it, like Jonathan Coulton's cover of "Bills, Bills, Bills", or Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt", or Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of, well, nearly everything they've ever covered.

I'm also a huge fan of Tears for Fears, so the idea that someone was doing covers of music I already like was pretty exciting.

And then I actually heard Lorde's version of the song. And I was fucking blown away. It's such a good version of a great song, with a totally different vibe just by changing key and pace. It's a brilliant cover and I can't help but like it basically every time I hear it.

Check it out.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/smSSSs46rng

Day Ten: Nobody Loves You Like Me

I've been in a funk for the last couple of days, which is why I missed yesterday (among other things).

Since I'm in a funk, here's a good song from an artist who specializes in that "wait, what?" kind of music I like so much; music that sounds like it should mean one thing but actually means something much darker and much stranger when you pay attention to the lyrics. That artist is Jonathan Coulton, and he's basically made a career off of writing those sorts of songs. For a while, it was just him and his guitar, but then he started to get moderately popular and started stretching his artistic legs, and ended up with a great album produced by They Might Be Giants, which was great in all sorts of ways.

You should check him out if you want some weird and messed up music with really catchy tunes stuck in your head.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/9LR_5yk7bgc

Day Eight: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

The first unabashedly Country album I ever bought as an adult was Lucinda Williams. She's everything I love about modern women's country music: soulful, intelligent, moving without resorting to cliche, she is an amazing songwriter and singer and I'm often sad that my cultural dislike of country music kept me from listening to her earlier in my life.

I'll probably cover "Can't Let Go", another song of hers that does a great job of taking a pretty standard lovelorn theme and does something fun with it, but for now, Car Wheels is a great and fantastically evocative song, and you should do yourself a favour and buy a copy of it.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpPL_aY190

Day Seven: What Can I Say

I had an interview today, so I'm a little wrung out. So here's some of my go-to music: a woman's voice and an acoustic guitar.

Brandi Carlile drew me carefully back into that folksy, country music that was present a lot of the time when I was was a kid growing up, that I was dismissing out of hand because of the guys with pickup trucks and cowboy hats that I really was afraid I'd become. But the woman's voice in country music is much more complex, complicated, and nuanced than many of the male voices in country music, probably because of the complex, complicated and nuanced place that "traditional Midwestern culture" allows for women in general. Including all of those edge cases and outliers that are present but often unacknowledged. I spent a lot of time denying that Neko Case and Melissa Ethridge and other artists I liked were connected to country, because I didn't like the label Country Music, when in fact I liked and often admired many of the arti…

Day Six: Mister Blue Sky

So there's this band that I've basically got to watch go from playing five-song sets in the back of gaming stores to doing tours and headlining their own shows. It's been pretty awesome, and they're a great band that I encourage everyone to check out.

They're the Doubleclicks, a sister duo from Portland, Oregon and they're brilliant. I have a t-shirt where my "fan" number is printed on the back, and the number is 001. I'm literally their number-one fan. I've been so excited and happy to see these two artists go from singing on weekends to quitting their jobs and becoming full-time creators and musicians.

Their musical style is a little quirky. The best way I can think of it is that they're a female-version of Paul and Storm, but with fewer jokes about seamen (yes I spelled that correctly). They're also my heroes; watching women who are into subcultural things stand up for not just themselves but for all women has been inspiring and a l…

Day Five: The Worst Day Since Yesterday

Some days, you listen to music that doesn't really reflect your experience, but it's a good song so you end up singing it anyway.

This is one of those days.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDSud7vAH_0

Day Four: Swee Swee

Every so often, I have this thing where I'll be poking around on Pandora or Youtube or something and I'll stumble across a group or an artist that is so incredibly the middle of my wheelhouse that I am shocked that I have never heard them before. Like, for a little bit of time I'm actually angry at the world, because I didn't know about this music before.

And then I stop, because now I have a whole new thing to go diving down the rabbit hole for, and that's an incredible gift some days.

I had that experience today, with a group called Mountain Man. It's a three-person voice-and-guitar folk group. They're mostly into quiet hymn and folk tunes, and they remind me strongly of the Wailin' Jennys. They're awesome.

You should check them out. If you're into that sort of thing.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5ivBnosEJo

Day Three: Comfort

I am sick.

I hate being sick. I especially being the kind of sick where all the energy drains out of you, but you can't just sleep it off, because you're achy and uncomfortable and blech-y. So you sit and want play games on the computer but you can't because that requires more brainpower and energy than you actually have, so you end up just staring at the computer and maybe watching something you've already seen before because there's no spare energy to process new things.

And that's the mood you're in when your partner comes in and hands you a box of tissues and a mug of hot tea and kisses your forehead and makes you feel a little better, even though you know you're definitely going to die.

Yeah, that's the mood I am in right now.

So here's one half of the Weepies (who will definitely be appearing later in the year, I'm sure) talking about that feeling.

Obligatory Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TolHm9GLL4k

Day Two: The Closer

An ex-partner of mine once joked that a majority of music in my library was effectively described as "Angry Women With Guitars". I'd like to think that my taste has grown since then, but as a general if you were to pull up the playlist of, say, Lilith Fair, I'm probably going to know the majority of the lyrics.

One of the groups that acted as sort of feeder band for my obsession with the kind of music you hear a lot in (just as a purely hypothetical, totally not based on my experiences) Chicago Lesbian Bars is a band called Tegan and Sara. I kinda fell in love with them once I decided that I actually wasn't terribly fond of all that 80s and 90s hypermasculine hairmetal music I listened to in High School so I would fit in with a bunch of people that I didn't actually want to fit in with, when I was secretly playing my tapes of Siouxsie and the Banshees so much that I had to buy replacements.

Tegan and Sara had a pretty good string of albums that catered to a p…

Day One: Rox in the Box

One of the things I realized as I was doing a yearly review of my personal life this morning (sometimes I do that; it's a Jesuit Thing) is that I don't listen to enough music.

I used to listen to music basically all the time; I had songs in my life since the time I was old enough to have an object that made noise into headphones (at the time, a battery-powered portable tape deck). I would order my thoughts and my days by the music flowing into my brain, and if my life didn't have a narrative, at least it had a good soundtrack. But as I've gotten older, I've gotten less into radio and music and more into podcasts, and most of those podcasts are people talking into my brain and me trying to learn something new or interesting. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it does mean that effectively music has disappeared from my life.

I got a little of it back over the last couple of years as a succession of Rock Band games came out, which was a brilliant series and hey if a…