Saturday, December 29, 2012

The world is a hellish place...

The Beginning

Drone isn't everyone's cup of tea. But you can stream Nicholas Szczepanik's 43 minute piece La Luna del Este while reading this post. And if you decide it is your cup of tea, he's made it available for purchase with a "you name it" price.

Try to guess what this is. Then click the link.
Tender Vittles

Vegan Sci-fi? Vegalien? Delicious Vegetable Alien by Till Nowak.
For the meat lovers. This fetching young lass has a certain je ne sais quoi. -OR- You had me at braunschweiger. (God help me, I can't look away.)

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Just look at it. I couldn't do that if I tried.

And what the hell's a wombat?

Improve Thyself

Goals, hope, and achievement. Consistently setting overly optimistic and ultimately unachievable goals (for example, the United Way drive at a previous employer who annually set goals of 100% participation) is counter-productive. However, our brain (specifically the left inferior frontal gyrus) is biased toward optimism resulting in a slight overconfidence which may be one key to achieving our goals.

Use the 5 most persuasive words in the English language in a sentence. You like new and free things because they instantly give you gratification.

This is a bit incestuous, but here's a list of the 100 best lists of all time. It ranges from the adolescent Maxim's Hot 100 (#95) to Picasso's Recommendation's for the 1913 exhibition of modern art (#55). I won't spoil #1 for you.

It's been a while since I ran across any interesting periodic tables. And you can actually purchase this glass platter of the periodic table of entertaining.
HO, HO, Holidays are Over (Better Late Than Never)
Students at the University of Sheffield have put an end to uncertainty about how to decorate your Xmas tree. (I was not aware that uncertainty existed. My decorating mantra has always been "put it all on.") You can use their treegonometry calculator to get the optimal number of lights and bulbs. (I also am curious about their calculations as they only take into account the tree's height and not it's base diameter. The latter number will influence the tree's surface area which seems like the parameter on which ornament density would be based.)

Create your own snowflake based on the mathematics of your name.

Maybe you prefer your snowflakes from a galaxy far far away. And made from real paper. So try these Star Wars snowflake templates.

If you're attending a holiday party with beer snobs a good brew to bring is Delirium Noel. This and other suggestions are available per type of party.

What if rather than concealing a gift, wrapping paper gave it away ("It's a pair of socks!")? That's what Crapping Paper is for. And you can generate your own.

Naughty Bits

Pr0n stars can be exciting even when fully clothed. But if you think my commentary here is often shovel-worthy check this out: "The hedonic experience can’t be isolated from its history and the prior facts (and expectations) you bring into it. This sort of insight is essential when we start talking about utilitarianism as if it’s a simple calculus." Say what?!?

I can't tell whether the courts are sending mixed messages or not. An Iowa court ruled that an employer can fire an employee for "irresistible attraction" even if the employee hasn't been flirtatious (the "I'm too sexy for my work" doctrine). But an Italian court has ruled that it is a crime to tell a man that he has no balls (i.e. it has an injurious quality).

Time to Get Crunk (As the Kids Say)

For the vinophiles, a wine styles infographic.
Not to be outdone, here's craft beer news.
For when you're just not that thirsty - the world's smallest beer.
The Trouble With Reading is All the Words

Harvard Business Review compiled this list of their top 33 posts of 2012 that we need to read before 2013. First, ain't nobody got time fo dat. Second, the most commented upon post was I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.

But when the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps tells you to read a book you say "Yes, sir." and "Which one?" Good thing he has a list of books organized by a marine's rank. For example, sergeants should read Sun Tzu's The Art of War while colonels should read Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War.

How poetry makes you weird.

Gimme an S, gimme a P, gimme an O, blah blah blah

The United States of Pro Football.
Or on a team by team basis, see these truly honest NFL team logos.
You call that art? My kid can do that.

I'll take art for $500. "No single event, before or since, has had such an influence on American art." What is the 1913 Armory Show, which celebrates its centennial next year. Notable among the paintings exhibited there was Matisse's The Red Studio said to have greatly influenced Rothko.

The LP aka the record. A quaint historical artifact. We've gone from LPs to CDs to mp3s and now, in some sort of digital full circle, you can take your mp3 and convert it to an LP using 3D printing. (If my turntable hasn't been broken for over a decade I'd consider giving this a shot.)

OK, not cool enough for you? How about a record made of ice?

Philip Glass' REWORK is available as an iPad app. Too bad I don't have an iPad. 


Let no one confuse this for a fashion trend. Clean Air Asia has created visualizations of air pollution by nose hair length.
Jerry Seinfeld describes how he writes a joke. (The one he describes needs a bit more work.)

Define the intersection of these two sets: software engineers and Miss Universe 2012 contestants. The answer is Shilpa Singh, Ms. India.

Use this calculator to decide what's better - buying or renting a home. (You know who you are who needs this.) It looks like if you're going to keep the house for 5 years it's better to buy.

Translate C code to English. For example, int (*(*foo)(void ))[3] means "declare foo as pointer to function (void) returning pointer to array 3 of int."

Whatever this is, please don't do it. Because otherwise TSA will start looking for it.  source
Aviation Pr0n

Free reading for aerospace geeks: NASA's e-books, including a couple about the X-15 that look interesting, are available online in PUB, MOBI, and PDF formats.
One engineer's trash is another engineer's treasure. Code One Magazine has a great article on aircraft designs found in engineers documents destined for the burn barrel during a recent housekeeping. The concept drawn above is Lockheed's L-225 nuclear-powered bomber.
Principles of atomic bombs (with illustrations).

B-25 on display at the 2009 Chino air show. Many more photos at the link.
The Ending 

I leave you with this drum machine from Tokyo Plastic.

...and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering. ~Tom Waits

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ouroboros by Naked Truth

Of all the new music I've purchased recently the CD I most impatiently waited for was Ouroboros, the second release from Naked Truth. Their first album, Shizaru, was so wonderfully unique I couldn't wait to hear their sophomore effort.

Naked Truth has called themselves "omni-genre." And while they like most artists probably just don't like to be labelled, I hear mostly progressive rock while lots of others label them as jazz. The group consists of Lorenzo Feliciati (bass), Pat Mastelotto (drums), Roy Powell (keyboards), and Graham Haynes (cornet).

I list Haynes last because as soon as people read "cornet" they think of jazz so I didn't want anyone to jump to that conclusion. I listed Feliciati and Mastelotto first because their playing, to my ears, drives the group's performance. But what's most appealing about Naked Truth is their playing as an ensemble is so strong, with no one performer stealing the spotlight. The title, Ouroboros, refers to a snake eating itself tail-first and represents a cyclic renewal. That can be heard in the performances that twist and weave around each other leaving a gapless continuum.

Take the first track, Dust, as a perfect example. Mastelotto's tight drumming drives this piece forward and is countered by Haynes' flowing cornet work. In between, Feliciati and Powell deliver distortion that highlights the overall tension. As the drumming and cornet fade, the guitar, bass and keyboards growl to life.

Orange, a down-tempo piece, starts out like a cross between ambience and traditional jazz featuring Haynes and Powell with Feliciati's bass popping and bursting through the melody. Despite its softer feel, Orange is alive with a throbbing pulse and a fullness of sound from the interaction of all the players.

One of my favorite tracks is In A Dead End With Joe with its heavier, buzzing guitars. This one has Mastelotto showcasing all his drumming skills with a syncopation that feels like he's juggling the rest of the quartet.

Naked Truth may be what I'm most excited about in music right now. To my ears it's a fresh, unique sound that's masterfully and richly performed. Feliciati's got a tiger (snake?) by its tail.

Track Listing
  1. Dust
  2. Dancing With The Demons of Reality
  3. Garden Ghosts
  4. Orange
  5. Rite of Nightly Passage
  6. Yang Ming Has Passed
  7. In A Dead End With Joe
  8. Neither I
You can read and hear more about Naked Truth at Rare Noise Records.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

My Favorite Books of 2012

This year I fought through a couple of real stinkers. Fortunately, this blind squirrel also found a few acorns of very enjoyable reading material for 2012. Here are my personal favorites, in no particular order.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I had many expectations, all of them wrong. Its prose was more modern, more witty, more airy than what my mind had conjured knowing the topic. Definitely will read this again.
  • How to Read a Modern Painting by Jon Thompson. Chosen under duress for an airplane flight, this turned out to be wonderfully insightful and easily digestible, perfect for my interweb atrophied brain.
  • World Without End by Ken Follett. Another very enjoyable tale of 14th century England in the tradition of Follett's Pillars of the Earth. Addition of the bubonic plague - good. All the shagging - not so much.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Just excellent. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Honorable mention goes to The Autobiography of Ben Franklin and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I don't read much historical non-fiction but these two books reinforced the adage that the more things change the more they stay the same.

For those who are morbidly curious, the 32 books I finished during 2012 are listed here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lux by Brian Eno & Bandits of Stature by Harold Budd

In my own mind there are reasons for comingling impressions of these two albums. That doesn't mean the reasons are valid or universal, however. I suppose it goes back to two collaborative works by these artists that form the core of my ambient music collection: Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror (1980) and The Pearl (1984) (also with Daniel Lanois). The two are definitely among my favorite ambient albums. From a practical standpoint, with all the new music I've acquired lately that I'd like to share, writing one post seems more efficient than two.

Lux is Eno's first solo album since 2005. Subtitled The Play of Light, the album is said to have been inspired by Eno's observation of sunlight's interaction with his home studio throughout the course of  day. With that seed planted, I find it hard not to agree that Lux evokes the sensation of sunlight dappling and tinkling and weaving through the environment, evolving in color and intensity with time. Sonically the music, which is primarily keyboard, is light (in weight) but not spare, which should not surprise any fan of Eno's. This is not high-noon blazing sunlight, but morning rays peaking through foliage and refracted by glass. I was first tempted to compare this with Eno's Thursday Afternoon but after several listenings I now find it much more similar to the randomly indeterministic 77 Million Paintings. (I realize that most other reviewers are placing Lux in direct lineage with Discrete Music.) And while tonally the playing consists of discrete notes, they shimmer and echo and interplay - not just with each other but with you, the listener.

More information about Lux is available on Eno's website at

[Correction, 17 Feb 2013 - I have since come to learn that Lux was inspired by Eno's experience with lighting inside the  Great Gallery of the Palace of Venaria. For accurate details on that inspiration read this transcript of Laurie Anderson interviewing Eno.]

Bandits of Stature is the latest work from minimalist composer and pianist Harold Budd. Unlike almost all of Budd's previous works, Bandits consists of 14 works for strings, performed by the Formalist Quartet.

In the same way that I love painting but find sculpture to be uninspiring, the conclusion I've reached is that I love piano but strings leave me a bit cold. Regardless of the track, I found the songs on Bandits to be reedy and thin, almost strident in parts, and without resonance, emotionally or aurally. Perhaps I can hear Budd's prowess in parts of the compositions, but not enough to get me over the sound as a whole.

Certainly, I remain a huge fan of Budd's work and won't hesitate to get whatever he releases next. Obviously, my opinion about Bandits says more about me than Budd.

You can read more about Bandits of Stature on the Darla Records website.

I was not compensated in any way for these reviews.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

It is dangerous to be sincere unless...

Sobering words from William Deresiewicz: "To be an 'intellectual' today is merely to be monarch of the idiocracy." What set the man off? A call for youth of today to forgo college and become a "public intellectual," a blogger. Blogging has been called "citizen journalism" but after reading Deresiewicz' words I realize a more apt description is "reality journalism," using "reality" in the "reality TV" sense. Now, I am become Snooki, destroyer of words.

Can't. Look. Away. source
Most football players on BCS teams won't make it in the NFL. Their NCAA team has already profited from their athletic performance. So the most the player will get is a college degree. However, the graduation rate for the top 25 BCS teams can be pretty dismal. Texas A&M ranks 14th while Florida State hits rock bottom with a negative score.

Retro? Yes. Sophomoric? Yes. Funny? Yes. Baseball card vandals. (Of course, I never wrote on any of my baseball cards as a kid.)
There's nothing like a 12-month aged mimolette cheese. Unless it's 7,000 year old cheese, or at least evidence of cheese making. This article includes two notable statements: "Milk is a superfood" and "Neolithic Europeans were lactose intolerant." (As well as "most modern humans." Are "most" modern humans, meaning more than 50% of the world's population, lactose intolerant? If so, I'm buying stock in whomever makes Lactaid.)

no caption necessary - source
A remarkably quotable article on the decline of book books (of the paper variety) and handwriting (of the not typing variety). Actually, it's not an article so much as a review of two books on the subjects.
  • "...there are people out there who aspire to pick your work apart electronically, “remix” it in the name of some democratic hippyish ideal."
  • "...the open hand is the sign of divine calling, and so when reading, we call out and are called to. Books are also proxies for our hands: they hold things."
  • "...for sharing to have moral worth, it should involve sacrifice – a cost."
  • "...there is quite a lot of disgusting stuff about toilet paper, 'the fastest-growing sector in paper production'." (You knew poo would be involved eventually, right?)
More from the book review category: The reviewers of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse Engineer the Mind fall victim to their own opening lament - they suck the life out of the topic like James Brolin playing the role of Paul Lynde in center square. Yet, the reviewer explains the author's premise that overturned expectations are the key to humor (while my inner demons want to believe the Freudian released tension theory.)

If you need a Bluetooth enabled toilet like the SATIS - in fact, if you need to use your smartphone at all on the loo - you're doing it wrong.
There are plenty of games on the CIA's kids page. That I can't solve. And Math Run is equally infuriating. All those numbers.

This micro photograph of a garlic floral primordia (whatever that is) only earned 19th place in the annual photomicrography competition. Can you imagine what got first place?
Sometimes things go wrong. The detonation of a 10 kt device nearly 300 meters below the earth's surface in 1970 unexpectedly (due to soil water content?) released radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Sacks of potatoes are a good approximation to the modern airline passenger, physically and mentally.

THANK YOU SCIENCE!!! Squeezing breasts can inhibit cancer.
I know a guy who likes astronomy and music. So his elevator should go all the way to the penthouse for this. Voyager 1's measurements of magnetic fields in interstellar space were converted, using a lot of number crunching, into music. Domenico Vicinanza gives us Voyager 1 Magnetic Field Sonification. (There are versions with and without percussion at the link.)

Still need a last minute gift for that special someone? Spin the Crap-O-Matic gift generator. (I gots me a fantabulous cheesehead fez.)

Coke, Andy Warhol, and Twitter. In other Twitter news, a new tool to download your entire Tweet history is being tested with a small number of users.

Mmmm, cake. Wait - what? (I'd so buy this.)
Who says engineers don't have a sense of humor. Check out NASA Johnson Style, a Gangnam Style parody.

Know your techie stereotypes.
Makes perfect sense. Google underwater.
If you listen to only one mashup this year, make it this one: DJ Earworm's annual United State of Pop 2012.

Help your child understand why he may pose a threat to national security. source
A beginner's guide to game programming.

Don't forget - I'm on Pinterest too. Some photos from here go there. Some photos only go there.

One of the most stunning photos of Saturn I've ever seen, this one by Cassini while in Saturn's shadow.
Make your own bacon pixie stix.

You too? source
Are you a recent college graduate? You might appreciate this list of 9 things you wish you'd known about life after graduation. (This one seems obvious: Work hard, be nice to people.)

Need a randomly generated fake name? I am now Germana Trgalovic, a Canadian woman of Slovenian ethnicity.

So let's say you weren't happy with last week's report of Pantone's color of the year for 2013. You could look up any color you want in this RGB Color Atlas.
I know the holiday season can bring on depression. So when you're feeling a little down use this emergency compliment generator. are also stupid. ~George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Metallic Taste of Blood


Before you judge this book by its cover wait just a minute. I know what you're thinking. Metal. Mindless metal. Mindless metal of the head banging kind. 

That's not the case.

Metallic Taste of Blood is the self-titled album from the quartet of Eraldo Bernocchi (guitars, etc.), Colin Edwin (bass, of Porcupine Tree fame),  Balazs Pandi (percussion), and Jamie Saft (keyboards).

I know of Bernocchi from his ambient work with Harold Budd including Music For Fragments From the Inside (2006) and with Budd and Robin Guthrie on Winter Garden (2011). Reread that - those are ambient works and Winter Garden is perhaps my favorite album of the past decade and one of the utmost beauty.

I'm also familiar with the Rare Noise Records label through the work of Naked Truth (whose new album Ouroboros is trying my patience while I await for its arrival in the mail). So I found myself on Rare Noise's website and bing bang boom I'm downloading their free mp3 sampler. One of the tunes in the 10 song sampler is King Cockroach from MToB. It was love at first listen - not cuddly love, but OMG LOL love.

The tracks on MToB are:
  1. Sectile
  2. Schizopolis
  3. Glass Chewer
  4. Bipolar
  5. Maladaptive
  6. King Cockroach
  7. Crystals and Wounds
  8. Fist Full of Flies
  9. Twitch
  10. Transverse
Sectile kicks off the album with what to me sounds like a heavy version of a spaghetti western soundtrack. (I'm probably reading too much into Bernocchi's influence.)

This album is exceedingly fun. Hell, Schizopolis has what I swear is a harpsichord part. In fact, a lot of the tunes use Saft's keyboard work in melodic lines that seem to be saying "don't take the heavy stuff too seriously." But it's Edwin's bass lines that really make the entire album work. When I got the CD home and played it on my good audio system (not mp3s through my computer) I was compelled to turn up the volume to fully experience his playing.

Then Glass Chewer begins with a piano line that reminds me of the Debussy etudes I ordered at the same time I ordered MToB. The piano work continues like lightning over storm clouds of bass, drums, and guitar. Again with the split personalities, Bipolar starts out almost like a traditional pop tune but veers into rumbling bass and fuzzy guitar. Maladaptive is one of my favorite tracks on the album and begins with something almost ambient which I assume is Bernocchi's contribution. Edwin and Pandi combine on an intense rhythm line throughout which Bernocchi's guitar weaves.

How Edwin achieves the fuzzy bass sound on King Cockroach I'll never know but this mid-tempo tune is another example from the album of Saft's keyboards and the reggae interlude lightening the load. Twitch is an uptempo piece that pushes Edwin's bass playing. And Transverse brings us to the end by reprising the bouncy western feel.

The entire album is densely packed musicianship that is heavy and intricate, serious and fun.

One take away is that free samplers do turn into sales. Thanks, Rare Noise.

Here are websites for all the guilty parties.
I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

This world is a comedy to those who think...

It seems that the whole "power of positive thinking" deal is a load of crap. Whether you call it "the negative path to happiness" or "the premeditation of evils" sometimes just imagining in detail the worst case scenario can allay your fears and set you on a path to contentedness. The article goes on to describe how extreme goal setting in business can be counterproductive.
Hope you like it because Pantone named Emerald 17-5641 as color of the year for 2013 (for its sophistication and luxury). However, you make not actually be able to see it everywhere for technical reasons. I think the RGB and hex formats of this color are (1,152,117) and #019875.
Since I just watched Trinity and Beyond this week, here's a list of the 15 best nuclear war movies. Including Trinity I've seen 6 of them, 7 if you count watching Threads online in fits and starts.

Speaking of things I know very little about (movies), how about the 10 worst-reviewed movies of 2012? Sorry, Eddie Murphy. And what's up with the remake of Red Dawn?

How about which movies made the most money?

This week I learned what a "fupa" is. Google it yourself, but be warned.

Michelle Jeneke is BACK, and as bouncy as ever.

When it comes to magic, my favorite style is sleight of hand, at which Yann Frisch is pretty impressive.

Instead of blowing things up, Boeing's CHAMP missile turns them off.

Here's a great look at aviators' flight jackets from WWII.

MUST SEE science of the week: electron microscope images life on life on life.

Mario meets an Alien egg-layer.

Have you ever wondered how a Predator eats?

Smarty pants time #1. Another good essay by William Deresiewicz, this time about the sciences and the humanities that eloquently captures something I believe but have failed to effectively put into words. Science and the humanities are two sides of the same coin. Science asks "Is it true?" and the humanities ask "Is it true for me?"

A table-top double canon, easily readable by 4 singers seated around a table.
Can you name the 9 beers that Americans have stopped drinking? (I can hear my craft beer friends saying that Americans should never have started drinking them in the first place.) Here's a hint, Milwaukee's Best is #4 on the list with a 57.1% decline in sales from 2006-2011.

It's likely that you wouldn't want to recap a half-finished bottle of Milwaukee's Best but I can imagine wanting to save some of Rogue's Double Dead Guy for tomorrow. Hence the combo bottle opener and resealer.

What could you do with a Linux distro that runs on as little as a 486 with 16MB of RAM? Find out with DSL, Damn Small Linux.

Just jk or 4 r33lz? Capsules of gold leaf you swallow and then wait for your glittery #2.

88 slides on the state of the internet? I don't care how well respected Mary Meeker is, aint' nobody got time fo dat. Here are some highlights.
  • Use of Android phones is growing at 6x the rate of iPhones.
  • Nearly 30% of adults in the U.S. own a tablet.
  • Spending on mobile ads and apps has experienced a 129% CAGR since 2008 ($19B in 2012).
  • There's a slide about gesture-based interaction with your desktop PC. I just don't see that happening until everyone has arms like Popeye.
  • Since 2010Q4, shipments of smartphones and tablets have exceeded those of desktop PCs and laptops. The latter has remained flat while the former has continued to grow.
  • There's a slide about "re-imaginging" note taking from pen and paper to devices and services like Evernote. I just ain't feelin' that.
  • There's a slide about "re-imagining" education from classrooms to online. We've had that for a while. It's called the library.
  • Regarding the evolving digital landscape she says we're still in "spring training."
  • There's a series of slides on "asset heavy" vs. "asset light." An example of the former is a hotel and of the latter is a service like Airbnb. To which I say "you must be joking."
  • Interesting factoid cited about the federal government's budget: entitlement and interest expenses alone will exceed revenue in 15 years.
What clean, sterile, and abundant substance makes for a great plant fertilizer? Pee-pee.

If that didn't turn you off, here's another example of science solving the important problems of our day. How about a nice pair of panties for Aunt Flo?

Smarty pants time #2. Sorry - more about intellectual pursuits, this time science and poetry. I like the opening - science and poetry have never slept together without each keeping one eye open. But they have slept together. Both revel in the unknown, both are observers, and both indulge in wonderment.

More aviation pr0n than you can shake a stick at. This photo of the F-22 Raptor is my favorite from the entries for Code One Magazine's 2013 photo contest.
If you prefer your aviation photography from the inside, here are some sweet shots of amazing cockpits.

Someone mapped all the bombs dropped on London during The Blitz in WWII.

NASA's artist - escape the engineer's mindset.

An animated video tribute to the lowly GIF.

...a tragedy to those who feel. ~Horace Walpole

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sublunar by Kane Ikin

I first heard about Kane Ikin's Sublunar from a friend, a fellow admirer of the ambient genre, and the man behind music review site After previewing a couple of tracks I came to think of Sublunar as ambience with grit.

Taken as a whole, the album brings with it a sense of place and a tangible quality almost like a found object. It asks "Where am I?" Paradoxically, the dictionary definitions of sublunar are both "within the moon's orbit" and "earthly." It's the grit of lunar dust and an echoing loneliness that I hear. But I also feel the earthy outdoors with waves of cold gray wind pulsing through the music.

There is a natural quality and a post-industrial quality to the music. Visually it brings to mind fragments of damaged black and white film footage, a solo walk through a vast, moonlit, grassy field, an abandoned factory looming nearby. The familiar and the strange. Is the music damaged? More likely it's the imperfections that make it beautiful.

When it's playing, I hardly acknowledge it. When it stops, it's like the air has been sucked out of the room.

More about Kane Ikin can be found at

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

My selection process for audio books lacks rigor. Years of listening have exhausted the public library's selections that are within my areas of interest such that selecting a new book can mean twenty minutes or more of scanning the shelves. One shortcut is to look for shiny new boxes. Justin Cronin's The Twelve (2012) was one such new box and when I saw the phrase "post apocalyptic" in the plot summary it sealed the deal.

Unfortunately, with a bit more research I would've found out that The Twelve is part 2 of Cronin's three-part Passage series that began with The Passage (2010). The final installment, The City of Mirrors, appears to be due for publication in 2014. I was already well into the book before learning any of this so I pressed on.

Somehow I found myself in another zombie-like tale. However, unlike the lifeless World War Z, Cronin's tale is a bit more interesting. First, the protagonists are not simply undead - they are nearly immortal vampire-ish creatures. Second, they're not the result of some natural phenomenon but rather a government experiment gone horribly wrong. Third, unlike your average mindless zombie, Cronin's "dracs" have an extra-sensory or metaphysical side to them.

The Twelve is set about a century after the event that unleashed the drac hordes on the U.S. populace nearly wiping out humanity except for small but highly fortified communities like Kerrville, Texas (a town just northwest of San Antonio, about a 5-hour drive from where I am now). As most people go about their lives and try to rebuild the country a few are focused on trying to destroy the dracs. More importantly, they want to kill the dozen original infected persons (i.e. the twelve) who are psychically tied to the dracs.

I had a little bit of a problem following the early part of the book because Cronin tends to toss in a little backstory that's out of context and at one point I thought he was looking back from even farther in the future. There are quite a few characters to keep track of which made it even harder to keep up with what's going on. And the way the plot is structured, it's actually two stories in one - or at least a Part A and Part B - and the two are virtually independent. There's also a strong Christian undertone that peeks through at various stages of the story and I can't tell whether Cronin's overtly trying to make this a morality play or whether it's just a plot device.

Overall I found The Twelve to be enjoyable enough to queue up The Passage for my next audiobook. I think it's on par with another modern thriller trilogy (thrilogy?) - John Birmingham's Without Warning series. But at 29 CDs it may take a while to get through The Passage.

The Twelve was voted by Goodreads' users as the top book of 2012 in the horror fiction category. (I guess I don't know what horror is.)

You can read more about Justin Cronin's The Passage Trilogy at There is also a companion teaser site at

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin

My musically formative teen years were dominated by two bands: Genesis and Led Zeppelin. Genesis was my gateway into the progressive rock world and Led Zep satisfied the metal-leaning side of my young tastes but may also be the root of my recent forays into progressive metal.

So there was zero hesitancy when I heard about the pending availability of Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day, a live recording of a 2007 reunion concert in tribute to Atlantic Records' founder Ahmet Ertegun. I immediately placed the 2-CD set on pre-order at and waited patiently to add it to my collection of Led Zep recordings on LP, CD, and box set.

The show's lineup includes the three surviving members (Robert Plant on vocals, Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards) and (in a plot twist that no one would believe in a book or movie) the son, Jason, of deceased drummer John Bonham.

This concert was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a reunion of one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time performing classic music. Ticket demand was so high they were sold through a lottery for which over 1 million people registered. Knowing there'd be no second performances the pressure was on for everything to go just right.

Sorry to say it takes about 3 songs for the band (and maybe the recording engineers) to get their act together. In fact, Good Times Bad Times, Ramble On, and Black Dog sound like they're performed by a Led Zep tribute band. There are technical problems - feedback, a compressed feel to the sound, inconsistent mic levels - and Plant just doesn't have the pipes warmed up and seems plain tentative.

But when Page pumps out the bluesy opening to In My Time of Dying the band seems to come to life and everything clicks into place including Plant's plaintive vocals. Two songs later they barrel through Nobody's Fault But Mine like it's 1976. The first CD ends with an excellent version of No Quarter, one of my favorite Led Zep tracks.

The guys are not reimagining or reinterpreting their catalog. There's no jazz redux of Houses of the Holy nor a dance version of Whole Lotta Love. They're just playing their music the way it was meant to be played. Yet, probably due to their age, the guys seem to be playing a bit more refined with more of an open, spatial sound that gives each player room to breath.

And as I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate more and more how Led Zep's music is so strongly rooted in American blues music of the 1920s and 1930s. Yes, I know this is obvious. Thinking of it as just metal, as a teen is inclined to do, does it a disservice.

I'll forgive them for including Stairway to Heaven but I suppose it had to be done - it just isn't a favorite of mine, probably due to being overplayed. But the entire 2nd CD, from Since I've Been Loving You to The Song Remains The Same and everything else is simply rock solid. Kashmir is another high point. Page's guitar playing doesn't seem to have lost a lick and although Jason's drumming is not nearly as aggressive as his father's he's technically more than up to the task.

If you're a Led Zep fan or a fan of classic rock in general you owe it to yourself to give Celebration Day a listen.

You can read more about Celebration Day at

[Correction, 09 Feb 2013: After multiple listenings, it's clear that Dazed and Confused is performed slightly down-tempo, drawing out its bluesy feel. Therefore, my comment above about reimagining is not strictly accurate.]

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The art of living is more like...

Willfull ignorance of science is a bipartisan value. Why would politicians like Barack Obama and Paul Ryan be willfully ignorant? It's easy - to avoid offending the equally ignorant within the electorate. In other words, they pander to the ignorant so as to sweep the ignorant vote. Face facts - the earth was formed about 4.54 billion years ago. If creationists or intelligent designers (that euphemism is laughable) disagree they can stick it in their backasswards.

I've never gotten a flu vaccination because (fortunately) I don't suffer from the flu on a regular basis. That includes me in 60% of the unvaccinated U.S. population. However, this article makes the case that if 80% of the populace was vaccinated it would all but wipe out the flu. Makes me wonder.

Laura Paulini, Black Beauty, 2010

What is the world's oldest printed book? It's the Diamond Sutra from 868 A.D, a Buddhist text about impermanence. You can read a translation of it here.

Here are the 12 best business books of 2012 according to Fast Company of which I've read precisely none.

The NYT offers their list of 100 notable books of 2012. I barely have time to read a list of 100 things, how am I gonna read an entire book? Although, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History is enticing. (Another oh-fer list for me.)

Why do educated people use bad words? (Is the implication that swearing is only for the uneducated?)

According to the Japanese miyabi principle, swearing violates the idea of elegance and should therefore be avoided. See all 9 principles at the link.

This has got to be a story from The Onion - Mom names newborn baby Hashtag. At least it didn't make the list of the most popular baby names of 2012. #10 for boys is Jack, my father's name.


When the exchange rate is 1 sixpence = $431,250 you know it's the 1652 variety of which only 8 are known to exist.
It seems money can make you happy. Specifically, $161,000 per year. On the other hand, money follows the law of diminishing returns - as you get wealthier, each additional dollar brings slightly less happiness.

It's a bird, it's a... 

Our Chinese friends have been conducting sea trials of their new aircraft carrier (the former Russian Admiral Kuznetsov) including takeoffs and landings of their J-15 fighter (based on the Russian Su-33).

Not to be outdone, an X-47B UAV was hoisted onto  the USS Harry S. Truman for deck trials and eventual flight tests. (Ours is cooler than the Chinese' and there are plenty of photos and videos at the link to prove it.)

Hear about an encounter between A-1 Skyraiders and MiG 17s over Vietnam and how the Skyraiders came out on top.

Must Watch aviation pr0n of the week - Les Chevalier du Ciel

Listen. Fripp - When the Rains Fall.

Watch. Lennon + typography.

See. Machu Picchu, 16 gigapixels.

Animate. John Coltrane, Giant Steps.

Dry. Your balls.


With the holiday dining season upon us here are some tips for restaurant wait staff - things you should never do. #32 Never touch a customer.

Git yer chant on. Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb done Gregorian style. (I know it sounds corny but I really like it. High school choirs take note.)

Create words from Google images with Google Type. (This thing doesn't work that great. It took six attempts before it came back with an image for each letter. How hard is it to find an "O"?)
I'm not sure what I'd use this for but Random Selection in Random Image shows you a random image and highlights a random area within that image.

Where art goes to die.

Silver Screen 

Will you be getting a new TV for Xmas this year? You'll probably want to read about how it ruins movies.

More than you ever wanted to know about Dr. Strangelove.

Cross a Star Wars Stormtrooper with a Predator and what do you get? Predatrooper.

Ridley Scott is directing a film adaptation of Joe Haldeman's Forever War.

I have no recollection of why I bookmarked this article about Keats.

Unexpected collaborations - Robert Fripp and Bill Gates.

Maybe he should've been called Niels Bheer. The physicist had a direct pipeline (literally) to the Carlsberg brewery next door so that he was never without fresh beer on tap.


The video learning approach to OpenGL.

According to this immense list of facts, byte is a contraction of "by eight."

Nerd fitness? Is there such a thing? It appears so as evidenced by this list of 43 ways to level up your life (#6 Stop drinking soda.). (If it was truly nerdy the list would have 42 items.)

I think this is a nice bit of marketing. IE sucks...less. Owning your own pain is good.

Know your geek by his facial hair with Beards of Silicon Valley. (This indicates I'm a "software developer" although that's what I would call residual self image.)
Solving Super Mario using AI.

Differentiate online. (Calculus, not distinction.)

The hierarchy of digital distractions.
SciFact and SciFi

Science is solving the truly important problems. Like making tastier bacon through mapping of pig DNA. Think I'm joking? Check out the Swine Genome Sequencing Consortium.

That gray line is actually a strand of DNA.
There's one less mysterious sound. Remember the bloop? Turns out it's just an icequake.

Star Trek geeks are gonna be lining up for this wallpaper-sized image of Enterprises.
Diminished Mental Faculty
Isn't this where we started?

Yoko Ono's latest contributions to men's fashions. (C'mon, I dare someone to try to defend this.)
I wish they had invented the Crib Dribbler about 20 years ago.
Clockalpyse is counting down to the Mayan apocalypse. So while we wait, enjoy Taco Spin.

...wrestling than dancing. ~Marcus Aurelius