24 October 2007

New Pornographers in Boston

We went out with another couple to see the New Pornographers play at the Roxy in Boston last night. We went for shabu shabu for dinner first - it's this thing where they give you a bunch of vegetables and meat and a pot of boiling broth or water to cook the veggies and meat in. It was fucking delicious and affordable. I heart Chinatown. Also, despite the fact that there were nine million people with individual pots of boiling water, the windows weren't even steamed up, because they have the most hardcore, efficient and quiet ventilation system I've ever seen.

Anyway, the concert.

That was what I could see. Thanks, Roxy, for not allowing people upstairs to the balconies.

Admittedly we didn't arrive as the doors opened and scooch down front or anything. In fact we skipped the opening act (Emma Pollock, who is from Glasgow and seems to sing innocuous folky stuff, judging by the songs on her myspace profile and by the last half of her last song that we arrived in time to hear.) So no loss on the opening act.

The band themselves were good, although man - despite not being able to see, there were crazy bright horrible floodlights that were flashing in time to the music, directly in my eyes. I saw a lot of people wincing every time the floods got started. I swear it was like the Battle of the Seizure Robots in there. (I always thought that was just a Simpsons joke, but it turns out that the joke is based on a banned Pokemon episode whose bright flashing lights really did induce seizures in epileptic viewers. Fucked up!)

But no complaints about the playing - totally professional and tight, which I would expect from any supergroup and especially this one, which has been around for a while and has been touring Challengers extensively. I even got chills during My Rights Versus Yours, although that might have just been the garlic from dinner making itself at home in my digestive system.

One of the Pornographers (heh) was holding some kind of round object up at one point and we all compared notes.

"Is that ... an orange?"

"I thought since the lyrics were talking about the sun, maybe it's some kind of model..."

We eventually realized that it was a shaker. We realized this when he started shaking it near the microphone - to absolutely no effect, since you couldn't hear anything over the electronic beeps and clapping and shit that another dude on stage was putting out with his laptop. Seriously, in the front lineup were people singing, playing guitars and keyboards and one dude with a mike and a laptop. The hilarious thing about the guy with the laptop (Mac) was that he just stood absolutely still for most of the show, like he was watching paint dry or in a catatonic trance.

Anyway - we all agreed that it was a good show and also that it was a lot of standing up and that we are all old (even though the people we were out with are, I think, both 27. Le sigh.) Most of the audience looked like they were in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, and I'd say the four of us covered that demographic pretty well. The rest of the audience must have agreed with us on tiredness, because the crowd was a lot more subdued than I'd expected - I'd attribute that to Boston stuffed-shirtness, but I've seen crowds go batshit for Weezer and Iggy Pop. (Weezer was younger than last night's crowd, and Iggy's audience was mostly older.) Maybe it's just that young professionals work harder? (... not that you could tell from my workplace.) Maybe it was the band's fault, I can't say they bothered with much patter (and what there was was completely mumbled into the mike, so even if songs were announced beforehand I had no idea what was coming besides another song, named something.) Also, I wasn't actually wearing my black rimmed cat's eye glasses, but plenty of other people were wearing glasses like that so the hipster quotient was fulfilled, I think.

During the post-mortem afterwards, one person observed that it was good, but only with about every third song was she all, "hell YEAH! This song rocks!" ... to which Dave responded, "That's because they only write four kinds of songs." Which I think is fairly accurate. They played about 50% from Challengers (the only album I really know well) but I could peg where their other songs fit into - "oh yeah, that one's like "All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth". I wish I knew what the name of the last song before the encore was, because it was fucking AWESOME. (And in the same vein as "My Rights Versus Yours".)

Nico Case has pipes though, I'll tell you. She was so loud (I think - maybe too close to the mike?) but also so perfectly on key that it kind of maxed out the equipment. I don't really know how to describe this effect, except to say that it's the same thing you hear when you've got an old vinyl copy of Fleetwood Mac on the stereo turned up pretty loud and Stevie Nicks's voice kind of blats out of the speakers, as if when they originally recorded it in the studio she overwhelemed the recording capabilities of the equipment. I'm not a huge Stevie fan but last night might have converted me to Nico. (Sniffle ... wish I could sing like that.)

Final thought: last night I didn't think the live versions of the song were super different live, but while writing this post I looked up and accidentally clicked on Challengers in my iTunes liberry and they really did rock a lot harder live. Plus my earbuds that live at work suck ass.

There you have it, my not very profound (but long winded, as usual) thoughts on the show last night. I hope you enjoyed it, because I usually average about one concert a year (and even then I often fall asleep. Sorry 'bout that, Iggy. And Death Cab. But especially sorry to Iggy, who put on a fucking great show and was like this crazy flea hopping up and down, all old and wiry and full of energy and muscle tone. My celexa-induced somnolence was stronger than your manic vibes.)

...and here's where I should apologize for stealing some of Dave's best lines in this blog post. It's why I love you though, because you're funny. And also because your knowledge of Simpsons is better than mine. Thanks, doll!

21 October 2007

No Pictures, Thanks

Yeah. You really don't want to see a picture of what I'm about to write about.

Long story short, a weekend filled with much eating, drinking and socializing backfired and I felt really queasy and hungover, not to mention migrainous, all day today. So nice out, too. So we went for a walk just now, partly to get some ginger ale and saltines for me. We sat down outside the store so I could eat some and try to settle my stomach.

I guess that's just what my stomach was waiting for, because almost as soon as we started walking again there I was, crouched ignominiously on the sidewalk, barfing into the gutter. This will tell you how fast the ginger ale came back up: my barf was fizzing.

On the other hand, that IS why you eat saltines and ginger ale, because they're so bland and easy to throw up. And if I'm interpreting the messages from my stomach correctly, I'm not done yet with the barfing. My life is so glamorous.

Next time: why moderation appears to be an unlearnable skill for me.

08 October 2007

Musings on digital music formats, and laws regarding same

Wow, the title of this post sound really boring. Sorry. Maybe this post will only be interesting to other people who are following the evolution of digital music rights online.

I got interested because I've been reading a series of posts on TechCrunch (I read Techcrunch for work. Heh, that makes me sound like Homer Simpson, in the episode where he sharpies a face onto his tummy and then makes it talk. One of the kids busts him doing it and he says, "I have to do this for work." But I actually do read TechCrunch for work.) over the past few weeks aout what's happening in the music industry. Michael Arrington preditcs here that music prices are going to continue to fall, because at the wide availability of technological and software resources means that all music consumers are potential producers/distributors. He notes that Radiohead's latest album, In Rainbows, is available for download to anyone who wants it, for whatever price they want to pay. It's an experiment.

Of course, I also remember Steven King's experiment with this, where he asked people to pay $1 before or after they'd read his story, The Plant. Initial rates of payment were pretty high, but fell over tiem, and King went back to a more traditional publishing model. On the other hand, there's never been any kind of Napster for books, so King in different territory than Radiohead. Which is kind of Arrington's point, actually - he postulates that with music sharing so widely available via the internets, the only way the music industry will sustain itself is by charging people for convenience, rather than expecting them to pay $15.99 for a whole new album that you buy in a store.

The economics of recorded music are fairly simple. Marginal production costs are zero: Like software, it doesn’t cost anything to produce another digital copy that is just as good as the original as soon as the first copy exists, and anyone can create those copies (meaning there is perfect competition and zero barriers to entry). Unless effective legal (copyright), technical (DRM) or other artificial impediments to production can be created, simple economic theory dictates that the price of music, like its marginal cost, must also fall to zero as more “competitors” (in this case, listeners who copy) enter the market. The evidence is unmistakable already. In April 2007 the benchmark price for a DRM-free song was $1.29. Today it is $0.89, a drop of 31% in just six months.

P2P networks just exacerbate the problem (or opportunity) further, giving people a way to speed up the process of creating free copies almost to the point of being ridiculous.

I'm not really with him on the April vs. today evidence, I think that might work out to be true but, like the dollar in international markets, the trend could go the other way. However, I think he's right on when he points out that all consumers are potential producers.

The industry, on the other hand, is, let's say, not too excited about embracing this (probably neccesary) change in the way it markets things. Instead it's aggressively pursuing individuals who share files (and let other people upload their music tracks.) Like that woman, Jammie Thomas, that just got fined$220,000 for 24 songs - that's over 9K per song! Jebub. There weren't any precedents in the fees awarded since all the other cases where the music industry have pursued an individual have been settled out of court.

I buy CDs, actually, mostly because I still like experiencing the whole album as the artists meant it to be heard (uh ... and also I know a little too much for my own peace of mind about IP sniffing, while not knowing quite enough about things like IP address anonymizers) but my attitude seems to be a little less usual now, with the prevelance of iTunes and other stores offering single-song downloads. Plus, ya know, my boyfriend is a musician and in a band and I guess I'd be a hypocrite if I asked people to pay for CDs from his bands and then went and downloaded other illegal ones on my own.

I really like Ian Rogers's (of Yahoo! music) take on it: that in order to remain competitive, the music industry is going to have to start offering music etc downloads as a convenince, so that paying for the music is a value-add, rather a must-do. I like this attitude because it recognizes that people are lazy. Here's Rogers's example:

When you compare the experiences on Yahoo! Music, the order of magnitude difference in opportunity shouldn’t be a surprise: Want radio? No problem. Click play, get radio. Want video? Awesome. Click play, get video. Want a track on-demand? Oh have we got a deal for you! If you’re on Windows XP or Vista, and you’re in North America, just download this 20MB application, go through these seven install screens, reboot your computer, go through these five setup screens, these six credit card screens, give us $160 dollars and POW! Now you can hear that song you wanted to hear…if you’re still with us. Yahoo! didn’t want to go through all these steps. The licensing dictated it. It’s a slippery slope from “a little control” to consumer unfriendliness and non-Web-scale products and services.

... heh. His scenario is so right.

Of course, he sort of skips the part where he talks about HOW to monetize it, if you aren't going to make people pay for the music ... which is a big question. I don't have an answer.

And of course, all of this verbiage up above also ignores the fact that your digital music collection is most likely ripped (or downloaded) in a format that's owned by the software vendor that sold you the track or the software to rip it with. In other words, if Apple and the iTunes store went belly-up tomorrow? You'd be SOL if the software ever stopped working. Sony users are in that exact position right now: Sony is closing its Connect digital music store and urging that users burn their existing colelction to CD (or into another format.) Sony doesn't seem to be pointing out to users that transferring music from one compressed, lossy format (such as their proprietary one used in the Connect store) back to CD then re-compressing it into compressed, lossy format such as mp3 is going to sound SHITTY. Even for someone like me - you know how sound mixers have "golden" ears? Mine are wood. But I can still tell the difference; it's like listening to a radio station that's not coming in well, all staticy and jumpy. (Another good reason for me to continue buying CDs, actually - the format's got a little more longevity than a million different versions of software that all does the same thing: compresses the music.) Of course, you can rip your CDs losslessly so you don't run into the compression issue, but that takes up more space on the hard drive. iTunes, outrageously, charges MORE to sell you the uncompressed version of the song compared to the regular one. That is fucking bullshit - you're telling me that if I want a copy of a song I can burn onto a CD and then onto my Windows media player for reasons of my own (maybe they don't allow iTunes downloads at work), I have to pay ten cents more for the priviledge? That's price-gouging, and it's wrong. I really don't think the extra file size eats up a whole 10 cents worth of Apple's bandwidth when the user downloads it.

... Um. Rant over. Where was I? Oh yeah - explaining that even if you personally don't download music illegally online (and I make no value judgements here), the practice is widespread enough that the record industry is quaking in its boots; and you should consider making sure your music collection is in a format that's replicatable (such as uncompressed digital files) or something with longer legs (CDs won't last forever, but they're not a bad investment while the music industry agrees on a standard format for digital music files.)

05 October 2007

Not all those who wander are lost … except when it comes to me.

Seriously. Worst sense of direction ever. Generally, the only people I know who are as bad as me are either directly related - my grandmother (although presumably she’s now getting directions from Saint Peter) and one sister (the other sister and my brother are not cursed.) I do have a coworker who seems to be as badly off as me, but that’s it. Three people, in my whole life, get lost as badly and as easily as me. I can’t really give you any examples because that kind of thing tends to be best exemplified by specific local scenarios. If I tell you that the first time I was in London I wasn’t much bothered by the fact that the traffic was all going in the opposite direction from what I was used to, does that help? I couldn’t really tell the difference.

I think part of my problem is that I’m a little right-left dyslexic, I don’t have any strong ingrained sense of which is which. In dance class I always had to hold my hand out to make the “L” to figure out which was left and which was right. (Of course, if you flip your right hand over so the palm is facing up, both hands make an L. Not helpful.) Later, taking driver’s ed made me so nervous I used to write “L” and “R” on the back of my hands for an easy reference – one less thing to think about. I took my test that way too, and passed. (It was in Massachusetts, after all.)

It’s an odd problem to have – most of the time it makes no difference to my life. It adds some complexity to timing arrivals to, say, job interviews (my usual formula is to figure out how long it would take a normal person to get there, allowing for traffic, and then to add 50% to that.) You’d think with all the travelling I’ve done that it would be an issue, but all tourists are semi-lost. I can read a map just fine, and tourist areas are pretty well marked. I do have some trouble translating from a map to the area around me. (My best friend and I went to Yurrop the summer we were 19. On the train to new cities, I would read the guidebook and figure out what district the fleabag hotels were in, together we’d navigate public transportation and then when we got outside to the actual ground, I would hand her the map with a star for our destination, and she’d get us there. Heh.)

But like I said, unless you’ve recently moved to a totally new place, it’s not an everyday issue – I usually don’t get that far outside my neighborhood and most of my errands are work, home, supermarket, yoga – local. So not something that I’m really investing a lot of time and effort into solving. However, I was reading this Gord Hotchkiss column where he talks about how you navigate the search landscape, and draws an analogy between finding your way around online and finding your way around in meatspace (heh heh, I love that retro phrase lately. So 2002!) I don’t think the analogy quite holds up, if only because my experience is so different. Remember the path to where my stuff is saved on various hard drives, or remember how to replicate the searches I did which eventually landed me on that cool t-shirt website? No problem. And I can get around supermarkets, too.

But Hotchkiss talks about, and links to, a paper talking about special cognition and how people (and robots) process that. The paper breaks it up into three types of knowledge – there’s landmark, which is, um, finding your way around using landmarks; then there’s route, which is using a series of landmarks (like when you always take the same route to your grandmother’s house because it’s the one you know, even though there might be faster/easier ways to get there); and then there’s survey, which is where you combine landmark and route knowledge to create an abstract spacial map in your head that explains how all these things relate to one another. This is where I fail. I’ve lived in Somerville for 2 years, and I am JUST starting to be able to deviate from my routes (usually when there’s no time pressure and no one else in the car with me, because I still get lost a lot).

You know what else I suck at? Rotating objects in space. I couldn’t have hacked it as a chemist. I actually took an IQ test a while ago (no, I’m not a genius … I’m sure this is shocking news, but take a deep breath and try to get over it. Also, not an online IQ test, this was a two day series of tests in an office. I did indeed have Rorschach tests – I remember seeing a lot of twinned animal images in them) The IQ test results (besides that I wasn’t a genius) pointed out that I’m much weaker than normal in rotating objects in space. (Also the IQ results pointed to me being much more of a risk taker than normal. What, not everyone elopes at 23 and then moves to New Zealand without any job, work permit, place to stay or person to call? Not everyone thinks this is a fun idea?)

IQ tests are deeply flawed (I am totally a genius! just not in the ways that they measure, which are heavily math-science and learned-knowledge oriented) as are SATs – some of the same flaws; I know that the SATs have been shown to have cultural biases towards the test-writers, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that IQ tests have some of the same problems – for starters, they don’t measure much in the way of creativity - your ability to write a sentence isn’t taken into account. Neither is humor.

And my comments on SAT flaws aren’t due to not-a-genius sour grapes; I did stupidly well on the SATs, so well that my SAT scores pointed to me being a lot smarter than the occasional As and mostly Bs on my report cards, which meant a lot of colleges saw my application and read a little “danger! This student doesn’t live up their full potential” into it. Which is maybe why I got negged EVERYwhere except my safety, which eventually led to going to university in the UK. ANYWAY. I think the reason I did so well on the SATs was mostly due to a great deal of practice in taking standardized tests, a good all-around education, and sharing the cultural history of the SAT test writers.

Uh, where was I going with this… oh yeah. SAT and IQ tests are totally flawed, but the IQ rotating-objects-in-space thing does seem to tie in with later-in-life difficulties getting around. My little problem with directions didn’t become an obstacle until I’d moved away from home and had to find places on my own (my mother has a weird genius for giving me directions to places I’ve never been, because she knows what landmarks I will know). And the most valuable part of articles I linked to is that they gave me a little more context, and language to frame around the specific difficulties I have with navigating day to day. I wouldn't say it's held me back - I have strategies in place - it's just sometimes hard to explain to people exactly what the problem is - I get accused a lot of "not paying attention", which really isn't true, but I couldn't explain that before. Now I've got the language to help me frame an argument. Small victories. It's what life is all about.

04 October 2007

Why I Am Late To Work Sometimes

Because most mornings, someone warm and soft and purry comes and sits in my lap and digs her wee face right into my armpit and then I can't bear to get up and disturb her until she decides she's had enough and gets up, all mussed fur and smiles, and flops over on the couch to snooze with all four paws in the air. (I'm not kidding about the digging part; she's got a wedge-shaped head and she burrows right in there.)

Here's the part I can see - her little ears are all flattened back, so she can get further into my armpit. Did I mention that this event typically occurs before my shower?

yeah, my bathrobe is really pretty ratty. If Dave ever read this blog I'd hint at a future gift, but he doesn't. That works out better for me anyway, since then I can say what I want with impunity, things like: it's okay that he doesn't buy me a bathrobe since I make enough money to buy one for myself - without him thinking I'm slighting him.

Here's the back view:

please ignore the fact that I fucked around with the colors on both pictures without comparing temperatures on Zobo's fur and they don't match and I don't care enough to change them

I'm guessing she probably has her eyes closed most of the time, actually, but I had to reach around behind my back to take this picture (with my cell phone, the only digital camera I own which has a battery that holds a charge for more than 12 hours. Yes, my digital camera is ratty too.) ANYWAY, my point was not about the camera (although if you wondered about the poor photo quality, that's your answer) but that my twisting and squirming to get a picture of the back of my armpit required some flexibility, which I have, but even so I woke the cat.

03 October 2007

new haircut photo essay, sort of

"Sort of" a photo essay because I can never resist being wordy. And why should I, if I enjoy the sight of my own typing?

Below is my previous hair - I don't actually like it long, but divorce is expensive. Guess what else is expensive? Maintaining a precision cut. So for the two years and thousands of dollars necessary for my divorce, I dispensed with regular haircuts.

I don't know why I look so plaintive here. I do know that this photo is evidence I shouldn't try to do my own eyebrow shaping anymore, though. Curls are a natural result of summer heat + humidity.

You can see the length more here. Also you can see I get super awesome bedhead. Curls are stretched out from sleeping. They recharged later that day, in the shower.

The beauty process is never pretty. But I document it selflessly anyway. For humanity.

New haircut. My favorite thing about this picture is how goofy I look - I'd just had some good news - and how you can see my crooked bottom teeth. You can't really tell here (blame the cell phone camera and fluorescent lighting) but my bangs are about two shades darker than the rest of my hair. And yes, I totally work in a cube farm.

02 October 2007

Sopranos + timewasting = genius

Okay. So a friend of a friend (it's more complicated really but I'll leave it at that) created this gorgeous little snippet of a video documenting reactions to the Sopranos finale. It's clever and amusing. There are NO spoilers. And it's worth watching even if you haven't watched Sopranos since Season 3 and have no idea what went down in the final version. (Uh, in a crazy coicidence, I fall into this last category.)

Eventually I plan to Netflix the entire Sopranos series but haven't gotten around to it. Also Dave sleeps much less than me - no seriously, he sleeps like 5 - 6 hours a night which A) leaves me in slack mouth wonder and envy and B)makes him predictably REALLY SUPER FUCKING CRANKY by the end of the week. Anyway, it means that he gets through Netflix DVDs of TV shows much faster than me - I'm still working on Season 2 of The Office (UK version - totally, awesomely relevant to a bunch of stuff in my life) and he finished it the same night we started watching - Sunday. So far I've fallen asleep a few episodes in each time. This would be fine if he didn't object to having DVDs around for longer than, say, a week. (Maybe we just each need to get - and pay for - our own subscriptions, so I can wait AS LONG AS I FUCKING WANT to watch them.)

Anyway. The video.

By the way, if you've got time, click on this link instead of the YouTube one since the visual production values are so much better and you can see how pretty it all is.

The creators of the video are hoping it'll go viral and get all over the internet, just like it's hard to eat lobster without getting lobster stink all over your house and person. Even after repeated scrubbings with lemon juice. But, uh, to get back to the viralness, if you think it's a decent video, then by all means, repost. Submit it to digg or reddit if you're a user. Post it in one of the TelevisionWithoutPity threads. I don't even know what the best platform for spreading viral TV-related videos would BE, it's such a narrow vertical and so far out of my usual terrain. If you have better ideas, though, definitely lemme know.

Other news, in upcoming post: got a haircut. gained more weight. got divorced. these three events are related. heh. I'll post haircut pictures, at least (I'm sure no one wants to see eveidence-of-weight-gain pictures. Although my own obsession with the way my jeans fit did give me pause over the past 4 weeks. I think it's as simple and as difficult as this: my weight is ostensibly under my control. It didn't help that my shrink was booked solid for 4 weeks, either. Sort of my fault for not making a bunch of appointments in advance, but then I had a bunch of other stuff going on.)

And I bought a bunch of new music, most of which turned out awesome - Feist's The Reminder being the best surprise - and I was feeling all cocky and then realised: when you haven't bought new music in two years, it's not that hard to cherry-pick seven decent albums.

I bought a bunch of new makeup, too. Including liquid liner. Hee. I'm scaring people with it already.