Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wealth consists not in having great possessions...

Today's soundtrack is the famously rare 1957 live recording of the Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.  Every fan of classic jazz should own this; I've got it on CD.  Excellent.

Spend about three and a half minutes with Nature by Numbers, a well-done movie about math and geometry and numbers.

Genius: Green Eggs and Hamlet  "To sleep, to dream, now there's the rub.  I could drop a toaster in my tub."
Here's an extraordinary set of color photos of London during the Blitz in World War 2.

Drums Between the Bells is the latest album from Brian Eno with the words of poet Rick Holland.  (Three tracks from the album are available on Eno's site for your listening pleasure.) Since the album's release the two have collaborated on Re-View, an online dialog about the project.  One interesting quote: "Welcome encouragement, and then try to ignore it."

Are you taking AP Calculus?  Here's what you need to know.

Seth Godin puts an ethical spin on something I've said about businesses all along.  To pharaphase: A business can't be ethical - it simply has to make a profit.  People can be, and should be, ethical.  A business' employees can conduct themselves in an ethical way while meeting the business' objectives.

This may be the funniest thing I've ever seen on Monty Python: Hitler tells a joke.  (OK, maybe the fish slapping dance.)

I find it odd that this is The Official Sushi Clock Homepage, as though there's so much competition it's important to separate yourself from the pretenders.

All you need to know about beds is this: BUY THE KING!
What are the 13 best-paying college majors?  Hint: they're mostly engineering.  #5 Aerospace Engineering.  #9 Computer Science.  The NY Times opines that the Master's is the new Bachelor's degree, now the fastest growing type of degree.  In engineering, that's BS and does a discredit to the undergraduates who are fully capable of contributing to the workforce.  The value of an MS is the focus and depth of coverage it provides to a topic area.  It adds value but isn't a prerequisite.

In the periodic table of nonsense, Bigfoot (Bf) is defined as "a redneck in a monkey suit."

For my computer science friends, here's what looks like a whitepaper from the folks who write the Qt GUI toolkit on how to design a good API.  It should be easy to learn and memorize, lead to readable code, be hard to misuse, be easy to extend, and be complete.  Also, enjoy this list of the greatest works in programming languages.

The SR-71 Blackbird set several world aviation records in 1976 and still holds those records today.  One record is for the fastest man has ever traveled in an aircraft: 2,193 mph.  (That speed has been exceeded during missions but not during a sanctioned test.)

I think someone called this "staring into your own navel:" a visualization of organizations engaged in visualization, aka the VIZoSPHERE.

Stack Exchange, the site for expert answers on myriad topics, now publishes newsletters for each of those topics.  I just subscribed to OnStartups and Product Management.

Bringing together an interest (art) and a fetish (maps), Creative Cartography showcases several artists who use maps in their work.  I found Shannon Rankin's work to be most interesting.

Isotope3 is a "flash spirograph" but I find it to be a little touchy on the controls.  Can't quite figure out AVCLASH either. It's like some kind of techno sound generator with some pulsing things.

You can Test Your Vocab to see how many words you know.  (It's on the honor system so don't cheat.)  The test says I know about 32,100 words which is average for someone my age.  They have a graph of vocabulary by age that seems to level off around age 40.

Stacey Lee Webber is a Philadelphia-based artists who makes a lot of things out of coins like this saw.
Antiques Roadshow (I know you've watched it) set a record for highest priced find in Tulsa with a set of  17th or 18th century Chinese cups carved from rhino horn that are worth between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000.  As a friend of mine would say, "I'll take the cash now."

The blog post titled Eureka! A New Era for Scientists and Engineers extols the virtues of a new NSF program called Innovation Corps (I-Corps) that will provide funding to take research and researchers out of universities and turn them into startups.  Now it's not like I have a problem with academics, but often the hallowed halls of academia foster people who are singularly unqualified for business.  Or perhaps that's why they're professors in the first place.  Also, I'm going to assume that the awarded academics get to keep their tenure-guaranteed positions and salaries while participating in I-Corps, thereby eliminating the risk half of the risk-reward premise.

The MirageMachine - another cool "wiggle your mouse and see and hear stuff" thing. 

Actor Edward Gero spent some time in the Rothko Room of the Phillips Collection in Washington as part of his preparation to portray the artist in the play Red.  Gero is also blogging about his experience.
I tried this on both Twitter and Facebook and got precisely zero traction (except for my son who Googled the punchline.)  So there's this video going around about what looks like some professor in Japan who came up with this way of cooling off your car when it's been parked in the sun for a long time.  You open the driver's window and then open and close the passenger door 5 times.  Since we're on our 28th consecutive day of 100+ high temperatures with no relief in sight, I gave it a try one evening when leaving the office.  It works.  But as I'm slamming the passenger door over and over the only thing that popped into my head was "upper class twit of the year."  Does anyone else get that reference?  Here's the punchline in video form (see around the 4:00 mark).  Christ, that's a lot of effort for one measly joke.

Bonneteau is the classic shell game gone web.  See if you can follow the ball.

This year's winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest which annually challenges folks to write the worst opening sentence of an imaginary novel is Sue Fondrie with this gem (which also happens to be the shortest grand prize winner ever).  I suspect that writing something that bad may actually be harder than writing something good.
Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.
Tired of boring Lorem Ipsum text?  Fillerati gives you text from the works of masters like Herman Melville and H.G. Wells.  Or if you're a bit more edgey, try malevole's text generator.

Beautiful swear words: "A swear word a day, and shit."

...but in having few wants.  ~Epicurus

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My 4 Favorite Voice Actors

If you're familiar with my blogging at all you know that I listen to a lot of audio books.  Yesterday afternoon I was talking with a co-worker about authors we're both currently reading (Nelson DeMille) and one that I like and he's going to start (Vince Flynn). That led to the discussion of audio book voice actors which led to this blog post.

A great voice actor can make a mediocre book enjoyable while a poor one can suck all the enjoyment out of the best written words.  One Hollywood actress did such a hatchet job on one audiobook that I returned it to the library after about 1 chapter.  And I already posted about a similarly terrible job Patrick Macnee did on another book.

So, on to the list of my four favorite voice actors.
  1. Frank Muller - Frank's work was excellent but unfortunately he passed away in 2008 due to complications from a motorcycle (?) accident in 2001 that left him unable to work.
  2. George Guidall - Think grandfatherly but with a great range of expression that allows him to bring life to all his characters.
  3. Scott Brick - I think of Scott like a young George Guidall.
  4. Dick Hill - I've only heard Dick read the part of Jack Reacher from Lee Childs' novels but I can't imagine anyone else doing that character.  His diction and annunciation are both unique and perfectly suited for the role.
If you find yourself on the fence deciding whether or not to buy or borrow an audio book, turn over the package and check who's reading it for you.  If you see any of the names above it's a good bet you'll enjoy the book.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We shall not cease from exploration...

Mitch Albom writes forlornly about the demise of Borders and brick-and-mortar bookstores in general.  I was a Borders customer and used the local store (now closed) to purchase books when I couldn't wait the few days it takes for shipments from Amazon to arrive.  However, in the same way that I don't get hanging out in coffee shops, I never felt any love for the place itself as a destination for reading.  I bought my books and took them into my personal spaces for consumption.  Yes, I too fear the decline of printed books.  Or perhaps I fear being perceived as a dinosaur like crusty audiophiles who insist loudly that they can hear the difference in sound quality between an LP and a CD.  (Wait, I'm already there because I can hear the difference between a CD and an MP3.)

At least Po is easier to spell than Kaczynski.  source
Using you can get music with a local flavor from cities around the world.  Things teh interwebs were made for #1,600: a collection of garden gnomes.   I've heard of folks dining on dancing shrimp in Japan, but this video of a bowl of dancing squid is amazing.   How would you eat this using only chopsticks?

"In general the average size of the male organ was found to possess strong predictive power on the issues pertaining to economic development."  This and other gems can be found in this research study from the University of Helsinki.

Fun science fact of the day: about 15% of snails survive being eaten by birds and are pooped out alive. I wonder if they'd make an excellent escargot in the same way that fancy coffee is made from bird-pooped beans?

Speaking of laying cable, Greg's Cable Map reveals undersea communication cables.  Instead of undersea, on your head.

Seems like everyone's computer uses two screens now, but a laptop?  The GScreen Spacebook comes with two 17.3 inch displays.

A comparison of paintings by Mondrian (left) and Rothko (right).  The two pictorial graphs plot brightness horizontally and saturation vertically.  Source
Comparing the paintings of Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko and drawing conclusions based on the results of image processing and visualization techniques seems like a good idea.  (There's a video if you prefer not to read.) However, a well-written critique of the study exposes flaws.  IMO, while the original study looks at a number of factors not included in the article, reducing masterful paintings to two numbers (brightness and saturation) does a disservice to works that are inherently three dimensional.  Especially with the way that Rothko uses layers of color to create paintings with an unparalleled richness and depth, reducing a painting to a number misses the point.  That doesn't mean such a study wouldn't be interesting, however, if done well.

How to teach math to artists.

Even though it's hard to reduce art to a number, here's another attempt.  This time they've ranked poets by beard weight, from Walt Whitman to Samuel Morse.  Several authors share their personal rules for writing fiction.  "Only bad writers think that their work is really good."

Awesome photo of the SR-71.  Source: Code One Magazine
Everyone and their brother-in-law has been posting stuff about the last Space Shuttle mission so here's a video of the launch from the viewpoint of the solid rocket booster. The Fort Worth Air and Space Museum Foundation is leading the effort to open in around 2016 a world-class aviation museum that honors the aviation heritage of North Texas. This looks like an interesting piece of history: back during WWII the U.S. Navy teamed up with the mob to thwart Nazi saboteurs and pave the way for landings in Italy.

Who's planning on attending the Business of Software this October in Boston?  If you're still on the fence, check out this presentation from last year's event in which Rob Walling talks about what should be the number one goal of your website and how to properly conduct email marketing.  Because you may not want to spend 50+ minutes watching this video I'll reveal one tidbit.  The goal of your website is to create repeat visitors because they're much more likely (4x-16x) to buy than a first time visitor unless your product costs less than about $20.  There are also good, concrete tips in here for your email campaign like the words not to include in the subject line.

Read it and weep: Belief in Evolution vs. National Wealth.  source
What qualifies the British to complain about American English?   "Train station" puts someone's teeth on edge?  Quibbling over "take out" versus "take away"?  Let's set things straight.  Chips are fries, a bonnet is something a lady wears on her head, and the boot is a type of footwear.  And let's not even get started on Cockney slang.

For the programmers: Nature-Inspired Programming Recipes.  Need some good f*cking design advice?  (I have no idea why I left out the u.)  Public service announcement: Are you raising a douchebag? Only the biggest fans will enjoy this Star Wars and techno mashup called The Dark Side.

Altoids tins.  What's up with that stupid piece of paper inside?  The first thing I do is yank that out and throw it away.  Here are 22 ways to butch-up an Altoids tin, from first aid to a portable stove.

DuPont's chart of popular car colors has been getting around a lot lately.  My car's black, the #2 most popular color in the U.S. and the world making me unoriginal.  source
Put the solar system on your desktop with Solar System Visualizer.  I wonder if the solar system visualizer has been updated with the 4th moon found by Hubble to be orbiting dwarf planet Pluto?

A Facebook investor tosses off great sound bytes in this video about why social is over.  A few examples: Microsoft is toast, the iPad is the most important device since the IBM PC, and he really crazy loves HTML5.

DO NOT watch this video for winky winky wawa unless you like sophomoric cartoon singalongs with "poo" in the lyrics.

...and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  ~T.S. Eliot

Monday, July 18, 2011

Good Stuff in Communications of the ACM

There are some good articles in the July 2011 issue of Communications of the ACM for those of you who are computer inclined.

In Non-Myths About Programming, Moti Ben-Ari takes students' negative perceptions of computer science and rather than dispelling them mitigates them as truisms (non-myths) when compared to real life.  For example, the first non-myth is "programming is boring."  Welcome to the real world, folks.  All jobs - doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, police - become boring at a certain point, especially after you've put in several years and have developed certain skills.  The real question he asks is whether your career choice allows you to handle certain types of routine tasks.  This is an excellent article and great reading for anyone considering a career in CS.

The article Passing a Language Through the Eye of a Needle by Roberto Ierusalimschy et al present the aspects of scripting language design that supports its ability to be embedded in a host program.  The article presents the case for Lua and because a friend uses Lua in his product it was a nice read.

The cover article, Algorithmic Composition: Computational Thinking in Music by Michael Edwards, is incredibly interesting.  The music theory stuff went clear over my head but the discussion about the historical use of algorithmic techniques going back to Mozart and earlier proves yet again that what was old is now new.  Computer based algorithms.  Of course, the authors really got my attention when they cited the algorithmic composition work of Brian Eno and Steve Reich, two musicians whose work I enjoy.  Although I was surprised that Eno's generative work 77 Million Paintings wasn't named.  Regardless, the article was quite excellent.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

After finishing Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, my second novel by this author, I realized that I still haven't gotten my head around his writing.  It's not like his writing is complex - it's quite ordinary.  And the plot is equally straightforward - in this case, its a day in the life of business mogul Eric Packer who goes out in his limo for a haircut.  But within this modest setting DeLillo touches on topics as diverse as technology, socioeconomics, sex (yes, always with the sex), destiny, and commerce.

One critic wrote about DeLillo that the problem with trying to cover everything is that you often end up covering nothing.  I'm not saying that's the case here.  It's just that there's a lot of serious stuff being addressed here that I'm just not getting.  In other words you don't read DeLillo like you read Brad Thor, for example.

Maybe my problem is that I'm trying too hard to understand.  Certainly the voice acting on this audiobook was quite ponderous, seemingly saying "this is important" beneath every line.  With authors like Shakespeare and Faulkner once you let the language wash over you, there's a decent story beneath it.  Without such a language barrier, I tend to listen too hard.  Does all literature need a decent story?

According to, Cosmopolis will be released as a feature film in 2011.  Twilight star Robert Pattinson will have the lead role.  (Was he the one that sparkled?)  I wonder if they'll leave in the scene where Packer gets a prostate exam in the limo while simultaneously having a face to face meeting with a business associate.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It is so much simpler to bury reality...

How's everybody feeling?  Find out with Feeling of the World.

Let's call this the Twitter of art: a painting reduced to 140 circles.  Guess before you click through.
If you're faced with documenting your work, these tips for technical papers might come in handy.  This may be common sense but: "Do not use etc. unless the remaining items are completely obvious."  Or maybe you have to organize a meeting.  In that case, the conference organizer's handbook may be useful.  I liked this nugget: "The purpose of a keynote is to draw attendees to the conference early, especially on day 2, when they’re hung over and would prefer to stay in bed a little longer."

I'm now on Google+ but I'm struggling to figure out how and why to use it.  Addressing the "how", here's a cheat sheet for Google+ with 11 handy tips.   As for the "why", I'm not sure why I'd use Google+ versus Facebook and Twitter.

This photo of 4 moons transiting Jupiter's face is #47 on the list of the top 100 Hubble images.
For those of you interested in Malcom Gladwell (I am not - I thought Blink was horrific) here's his website:, a website dedicated to the promotion of infographics and data visualizations, launched this week.   I'm an enabler: here's a family tree of the Emacs editor.  Creo Sketch is PTC's 2D sketching tool - and it's free.  This video makes it look pretty easy to use.

I will not link to the crazy nastyass honey badger video.  (That does not mean I haven't favorited it on YouTube.)

Just wash that fallout down the drain with Flobar.  source
Tru du cul du jour: Dude and wife get $12,000 because of a "malicious, repressive, and reprehensible" incident on Air Canada in which he was spoken to in English.  Judge: "the violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation."

Just a little eye candy: video of a brief abstract animation: Divide.  Aviation pr0n of the week: video of the F-35C during a jet blast deflector test (a plane never looked so good going nowhere).  For my quilting friends: improvisational quilts.  Haven't had one of these in a while: the periodic table of search engine optimization.

Get a God's-eye view of any location on the planet with Earth View.
In this list of the top 10 algorithms of the 20th century, SIAM's editors include the development of the optimizing Fortran compiler in 1957.  "The creation of Fortran may rank as the single most important event in the history of computer programming..."  I learned Fortran during a summer internship at NASA in 1983 which was fortuitous because the next year we were required to do a senior design project in Fortran even though we hadn't been taught it at school.

So much to read, so little time.  Here's a list of the top 50 entrepreneurs ranked by their tweets and blog traffic.  I follow 3 of the top 5 but my readership drops off dramatically after that.

Thank you for reading.

...than it is to dispose of dreams. ~Don DeLillo (Americana)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is...

You have three choices for this post's soundtrack.  You can stream Brian Eno's new album Drums Between the Bells from Wired (and read about it too).  You can listen to Moby's new album, Destroyed.  Or you can go to Trey Gunn's blog, read about his recent visit to Texas, and hear several of his tunes (and watch a couple videos).  Trey is also featured in a Guitar International article on Modulator, his work with drummer Marco Minnemann.  (My review of Modulator is here.)

A stunning likeness is what you'll get from Turn Your Name Into a Face.  (Yep, that's me.)

I don't know much about this blogger, but after reading these two posts I started following him by RSS.  Parts 1 and 2 of "A Better Business Doctrine" are Assholes are bad for business and Give a shit.

Was Captain Kirk a playboy who traveled the universe hooking up with everyone in a foil mini-skirt? According to the author of The Women of Star Trek, definitely not.

For the person who truly misses the Big Apple, N SKY C is the average color of the New York City sky, updated every 5 minutes.

Newsweek's list of America's best high schools is out and my town's Colleyville Heritage comes in at #305.  Now if we can only get my boys' Grapevine High School up into the top 500.  Forbes magazine thinks Austin (#1) and Dallas (#7) will be two of the top 10 upcoming U.S. boom towns. The University of Texas has a site dedicated to Richard Wagner and his The Ring of the Nibelung.

Veggies sunt bona vobis, proinde vos postulo esse magis spring onion beet greens garlic gram watercress leek lentil.  This paragraph from Veggie Ipsum provides fair and balanced coverage relative to a previous link to Bacon Ipsum.

B-2 bomber over St. Louis.  source

Aviation pr0n: Space Shuttle piggybacking on a 747, Thunderbirds lined up in their F-16s, gallery of Convair's FISH - First Invisible Super Hustler, a CIA-backed reconnaissance aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II has it's own web site at  Boeing salutes the Space Shuttle with this photo gallery.

Cartoon Brew (rightfully) tears apart Time Magazine's list of the top 25 animated features of all time.  I realize that Chuck Jones' The Dot and The Line is a short subject (winner of an academy award in 1965) but I'd rate it higher than 1979's Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner movie.

Check out Preston Blair's fundamentals of animation drawing.  Or if you prefer something less vintage, here are tips from Lackadaisy.  Here's a twist - an animation fights back.

For my beer friends: the beer archaeologist.  For my programming friends: 10 ways to improve your programming skills.  #1 Learn a new programming language.  For my baseball friends: the physics of cheating in baseball.  I know what you're thinking - "Who's he kidding, he doesn't have any friends."

Do you know what a pizzelle is?   Or even how to pronounce it properly?  One son dislike, other son meh.  Wife and I agreed the brand linked to was pretty good for out of a box.

Here are two stupid music things: APEXvj, Automachine.

Here are two stupid fractal things: fractal eye candy, fractal toys.

Here are two stupid nuclear things: The Atomic Revolution (a comic book from 1957) and The Atomic Energy Lab (a toy lab set from 1951).

These are cool (and for sale).  Portraits of authors done with their own words.  This is William Faulkner done with The Sound and The Fury.

Who better to come up with a snappy insult than an author, especially when that insult is aimed at another author.  For example, Hemingway on Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Reading books is fun but apparently making books is fun too.  Here's a site dedicated to Shakespeare in American Life.

I haven't read any of the top 3 (and only 4 of the top 10) from the list of the greatest books of all time.  Time to pull Ulysses and Lolita down off the shelf.  Twenty-three authors give tips on writing a book including this: write the book you want to read.

In the wake of my recently satiated lust for post-apocalyptic fiction (A Canticle for Leibowitz), here's a list of 10 great post-apocalyptic novels.  #1 Alas, Babylon.

The Economist has picked their six greatest business books of all time and I've read exactly none of them.  Fortunately, the author of The Innovator's Dilemma will be speaking at The Business of Software conference that I'll be attending this coming October.

These inspiring business ideas from software success Derek Shivers range from the "Hell Yes!" (#17 There's a big difference between being self-employed and being a business owner) to the "Huh?" (#16 When you sign up for a marathon, you don't want a taxi to take you to the finish line.)

Three (count 'em) secrets to awesome presentations.  Tell a story.  Go overboard.  Make your first and last slides the most awesome.

Is this Vincent or Theo Van Gogh?

The Atlantic has a 20 part retrospective on World War II in Photos.  (They're currently up to part 3.)

I'll give you a choice: Gary Busey photoshopped onto war photos or Justin Bieber photoshopped onto just about everything.

Great news: Coordinated Activation of Wnt in Epithelial and Melanocyte Stem Cells Initiates Pigmented Hair Regeneration!  Mr. Science person will now translate: an end to gray hair.

In science of a more dubious quality, a study of the desirable personality traits of robot vacuum cleaners revealed that people want them to be calm, polite, efficient, and systematic.  I would describe my Roomba, Bob, as a guy who just wants to help out wherever he can.  However, he is a little needy and likes a good cleaning every once in a while.  I do not think he's not as artistic as these light-painting Roombas.

Here's an animated explanation of Einstein's theory of time dilation, namely that the speed of light is constant for all observers.

When you think about it, hitting a metal disc with a wooden stick to make music seems kinda odd.  So perhaps you'll enjoy this slo-mo (1,000 fps) film of a cymbal  being struck from the scientific standpoint.

More trigonometry than you can shake a cursor at.

Is everything a remix?  These videos well made, thought provoking, and worth watching.  But honestly, I'm not sure what the point is.  Is he just trying to make shameless, unoriginal copiers like me feel better? Part1, Part 2, Part 3.  (Part 4 is coming.  Visit the website.)

Yes, I am anal-retentive.  Yes, I own (see above) the entire line of Discwasher products to clean my LPs (even though my turntable has been busted for 12 years).  So here's a DIY resource for cleaning LPs, DVDs, and CDs.

What in the bejeebers?!?  Scroll Madness.  You could play all day with this string of beads or these zig-zagsGuilloche is like a spirograph but on the internet.  AAARRRRGHHH - CLICKISTAN.  I suggest watching the video before you play to prevent frustration.  I know you're probably sick of the Nyan Cat by now, but you may not have seen this Nyan Cat Lego video.

Visualization Insights #9: Visual Journalist.

You should never wear socks with sandals or flip-flops, but is it OK to wear socks that look like flip-flops?

98,000 tweets per minute and other factoids about what happens on teh interwebs every 60 seconds.  Google's going to rebrand this blog's hosting service from Blogger to Google Blogs.  The 3D mouse is pretty cool, but this 5 finger mouse is mind-blowing.  Is your website down or is it just you?  Find out with  Web humor: microscopicons.

Here's an interesting commentary on open source, GPL, and the OpenFOAM CFD solver from one of the keynote presenters at the recent OpenFOAM Workshop.

A website made out of chocolate?  If you were going to make an edible anus what else would you make it out of besides chocolate?  Videos of animals pooping (really): snake, alligator, frog, rhino.  I think I love this woman.  Enjoy this hilarious blog post about being constipated (really).

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, 1948-49. source  (Note: Pollock insisted that all his paintings included figuration and that's clearly illustrated here.  He was not just throwing paint around.)
I already blogged about this for work but I'll repeat it here.  Harvard scientists describe how Jackson Pollock's paintings reveal his understanding of free fluid jet coiling.  Quoting: "We are all students of nature, and so was Pollock. Often, artists and artisans are far ahead, as they push boundaries in ways that are quite similar to, and yet different from, how scientists and engineers do the same."

Here's a nice interactive timeline of American art courtesy of the Phillips Collection.

An artist who paints with her lips.  Of course she does.  I suppose that's a step up from the artists who made perfume out of their #1 and #2.

Only 2 of 51 Miss USA contestants advocate the teaching of evolution in schools and it appears that all 51 don't know what they're talking about.  Wasn't it better when they kept their mouths shut and we just looked at them in their bikinis?

After all that, I think you need to make everything OK.

...a matter of the utmost precision. ~Italo Calvino

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bordeaux by Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd & Far Away Trains Passing By by Ulrich Schnauss

Just a quick note on a couple new music CDs I recently purchased (yes, I actually bought real compact discs, not mp3s).

Bordeaux is the latest (2011) collaboration between ambient/minimalist guru Harold Budd and former Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie.  Not having heard any of their previous work together, I tend to find Bordeaux as very Budd-like - rich, deeply textured, and smoothly tonal.

The older (2005) Far Away Trains Passing By is something that sat on my Amazon wish list for quite some time because I really enjoyed the first track, knuddelmaus (which translates to "cuddle mouse" according to Google - who knows), when I heard it on Pandora.  After hearing the entire album (actually the album plus a second disc with bonus tracks), I still like knuddelmaus the best and, at least at first, thought the entire CD sounded a little dated.  Relative to Bordeaux, it's more electronic, more rhythmic, even more melodic.  I'd classify it as more electronica than ambient.

However, just by chance, today I added to the CD player the Oscar Peterson Trio/Milt Jackson collaboration Very Tall and was struck by the parallel.   Jackson's smooth and subtle vibraphone is a great contrast to Peterson's technical and melodic greatness and together they sound absolutely fantastic.  While not on the same recording, Guthrie/Budd and Schnauss complement each in the same way.

The Apostle by Brad Thor

Rounding out my time off with a military thriller seemed like a good idea so I grabbed Brad Thor's The Apostle off my "on deck" shelf and knocked it out in a couple days.  It was everything I wanted - an anti-terror shoot 'em up starring Thor's main man, Scot Harvath, former Secret Service agent, former terrorist hunter, current security contractor.

When the daughter of a powerful ally is kidnapped in Afghanistan, the newly elected U.S. President is compelled to work toward her recovery despite having campaigned on a platform calling for less of a military presence in that country.  Enter Harvath, now a contractor, who can apply his considerable skills directly for the ally allowing the U.S. government to remain hands-off.

What follows is a satisfying albeit rather linear sequence of events that brings Harvath closer to his prize.  There's a sub-plot here too, but it is so tenuously tangential to the main story that it'll be dropped for the TV movie.  Another thing that bothered me is that virtually every character is introduced as being good looking, especially the women.  I thought I was the only one surrounded by beautiful people all day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Walter Miller's 1959 post-apocalyptic tale A Canticle for Leibowitz is an excellent novel and a thoroughly enjoyable summer read.  Considering my fascination with nuclear fiction I should have read this a long time ago.

The novel opens in the 26th century with a young monk in the desert southwest of what used to be the United States.  He accidentally falls into a small cavern which turns out to be a fallout shelter with artifacts from the late 20th century.  Amazingly, the artifacts include personal items from I.E. Leibowitz, the founder of the monk's order.  The order's charter is to preserve scraps of knowledge from the pre-apocalypse society that was destroyed by what they know as the Flame Deluge.

Over the next 12 centuries civilization is reinvented while the monks continue their role as guardians of the past.  The real question is whether things will turn out differently this time.

Canticle is both a perfect reflection of the Cold War era in which it was written and a timeless classic that considers the true nature of man.  My favorite quote from the book is this rather long one.
The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well.  They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow.  When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it.  But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
It's mere coincidence that I recently finished reading Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, another sweeping novel centered around monks and their abbey.  Let's not infer too much from how central religion is to both plots.  It's interesting to look back to Pillars' 12th century monks who were historically the center of knowlege and then extrapolate that same role to Canticle's monks - if they did it before, there's no reason why they couldn't do it again.

Whether or not you're a nuclear or post-apocalyptic fan, I highly recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz.  Many reviewers have said this is a book they've re-read numerous times and I can see myself doing that too.

Saturday, July 2, 2011