December 15, 2010

A white Christmas. I'm dreaming of it.

In most of Arizona, you can't count on nature to really do anything that you'd consider festive for the winter, like, say, snowing. Or getting below 70°. Any festive atmosphere is entirely artificial, brought on through decorations.

I can't be arsed to hang lights outside even on a good year, much less when the house is still under construction, so our house normally doesn't radiate the Christmas spirit out to the neighborhood. But, it got this coat of white primer yesterday, and I'm kind of surprised how much I like it as a seasonal thing. I wish I could have told the painters to just leave it and come back in January to finish the job. (I'm trying to tell them to come back a couple of Januarys later to pick up their check.)

I remarked to the foreign students we host at our house that our house looks like it's all decorated for Christmas, and one of them, the not so great at English one, later asked Becki if we repaint the house to decorate for winter every winter, or just this one.

September 24, 2010

The Pixies, and theories thereon

The Pixies and their doppelgängers (from left: The bald one, the fat bald one, the other bald one, the fat one that's a woman)

There are a handful of albums that I feel like I know so well that I know every single note of music on the album; that if you dropped me into the album at any point, I could hear exactly what comes next before the sound even came out. Albums I've heard so many times as a whole album straight through that the album in its entirety becomes an indelible mark on my brain. The Pixies' Doolittle is one of those albums.

Joey had a copy my freshman year at BYU, and we had to have played that whole thing from beginning to end at least 200 times. There were some nights where I feel like I heard that album five times in a row. (That album and Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie were the two albums I think I heard the most that year. In fact, you could probably take this entire blog post and replace "the Pixies" with "Camper Van Beethoven" and replace Doolittle with Key Lime Pie and still have it be about as accurate). Even after I no longer lived with Joey, it took me a long time before I finally broke down and bought my own copy of Doolittle since I didn't think I really needed to. I knew every note already.

So, I was already familiar with the Pixies before that year, but that album really made me into a big fan. Alas, as was the case with so many of the bands I liked, the Pixies broke up (in a very big way) before I could ever see them play live. This was sad, but eventually I got over it and learned to accept it. Then, in 2004, the unthinkable happened. The Pixies reunited for a handful of shows, then a full fledged tour. There was a time in my life when I would have been driving cross country if necessary to see one of those shows, but being married with kids has kind of made that kind of thing a lot less likely. So, since the Pixies were never playing anywhere close, I would just find bootlegs on the internet and live vicariously through other people's concert experiences.

Luckily, instead of breaking up again, the Pixies have continued to tour off and on. This year, they were coming to Mesa Amphitheatre (only a 90 minute drive), coming on a Friday (meaning it's a lot easier to find a sitter for the kids because I can just leave them overnight with someone), and coming right after Becki's birthday (meaning I can justify the expense as a birthday present and throw in a hotel room to make it a romantic weekend getaway). To make it even that much better, this is their Doolittle tour, where to celebrate that album, they play the entire album straight through from beginning to end, throw in the B-sides, then finish with a couple of other hits.

So, of course it was a fantastic show. As were walking out of the amphitheater, I was wondering if this was better or worse than it would have been had I seen the band 20 years ago. Since I hadn't seen them then, I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty convinced that this show would have been better, and I'll tell you why:

The band looked genuinely happy to be playing together.
I'm sure that since tensions ran high in the band for quite a while in the old days that it would have shown in their playing somewhat. Just a guess on my part, but it seems easier for older band members to overlook the little things that would have bothered younger musicians. Also, when you spend a long time without something that you really liked, and you get it back, you tend to not let little things threaten to take it away again.

The band looked genuinely appreciative of the audience.
Same as above. None of these guys really played to audiences like this in their other interim projects, and even during the heyday of the Pixies they struggled to muster up these kinds of crowds. They're clearly making more money playing to more people than they ever did when they were active before, but they went without that for long enough that they're obviously very happy that we all showed up to make that happen.

The audience was very obviously thankful that this opportunity even exists. Seriously, probably 95% of the people at that show didn't have the chance to see the Pixies in the old days either because of circumstances or because they hadn't become fans yet or hadn't been born yet. So, we all got a second chance and are respectful to the band at the concert to show them that.

40 year olds are generally much better behaved at concerts than 20 year olds. There are some drunk people at every show that try to ruin it for everyone, but the drunk jerk contingent was proportionally less well represented at this show. Same with the pushing shoving people. All else being equal, I like going to shows with people who know that their enjoyment of the concert needs to not somehow prevent other people's enjoyment. (There's one weird difference in favor of the kids though: When I went to concerts as a kid, they were just constant clouds of smoke. You'd come home smelling like an ashtray, and that's just the way it was. You accepted that as the cost of seeing live music. With indoor smoking bans, it's been a long time since I've been to a show with any smoke at all. This show was outdoors, and it was just as smoky as any of the worst smoke filled venues I've ever been at. I've been to other outdoor shows with hardly any smoking, though, and the only difference I can see is the age of the crowd. These people tonight are the same people who were smoking at the shows 20 years ago, and they just haven't quit. Outdoor shows with a young audience don't have smoke, probably because the kids there never started smoking. There's a valuable lesson and some good news in there somewhere.)

The band is tighter and are generally better musicians than before.
After the band broke up, all the members played a lot of music with a lot of different people in a lot of styles. They all practiced up some, and that reflects in their playing.

I get to not drive straight home.
The band doesn't get credit for this. It's just nice that I'm old enough that I can afford to stay in the hotel right next to the amphitheater so that I can just walk over to the show and walk right back instead of having to deal with waiting an hour to get out of the parking lot and drive a couple more hours home.

So, while I'm on the subject of theories, there's probably a whole other blog post to be made out of trying to formulate a theory that would explain why I only see old bands. Maybe because I like the older crowds? Maybe because I just can't get into the new music as much? Maybe because these kids won't get off my lawn? I don't know, but off the top of my head, here are all the shows I've seen in the last ten years (I'm sure I'm missing a few, though, and these are definitely not in order):

Badly Drawn Boy (twice)
Elliott Smith
Peter Murphy
Weezer (where I was clearly the oldest person there)
The Samples
Cracker (four times)
El Vez (twice)
Spinal Tap
Joe Jackson
Ben Folds
Robyn Hitchcock (once solo, once with the Venus Three, and where both times I was the clearly the youngest person there)
No Doubt
Café Tacuba
Nitzer Ebb
Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Gogol Bordello
American Music Club
Camper Van Beethoven
They Might Be Giants

Badly Drawn Boy was right after the first LP, and again after the second. The Trachtenburgs and Gogol Bordello had been playing maybe 5 years by the time I saw them. Café Tacuba had been around a while but hadn't yet peaked (and possibly still haven't). Elliott Smith had released his last album and was playing one of his very last good shows when we saw him (Election Day 2000). Ben Folds is a weird one, because this was after Ben Folds Five, but before any solo record came out. I'm still leaning towards the solo career being a demotion from the band career, so I'm going to mark him as being on the downslide. Everybody else on this list was at least 10 years into their career, and on a definite downward trend career wise. This isn't a judgement on them. Some of them, like the Pixies, were playing their best shows, or releasing their best work. They just had long since peaked popularity-wise.

So, I only mention that because I can't figure out whether this is a problem or what the problem might be if there is one. I've got tickets to see Robyn Hitchcock again tomorrow. But he plays Tucson so often I feel like he's local and no longer counts in my list. I saw that School of Seven Bells is coming next month. I bought both of their albums, and really dig them (think Cocteau Twins with some of the shimmery guitar replaced with beats), so I might try venturing out to see a new act for a change. Other than that, you'll probably find me down at the state fair or at the casino watching whatever thirty year old band is playing over there.

August 13, 2010

Google Voice gives up

Today, I got a wrong number call to my Google Voice number, and the message that was left was entirely in Spanish. So, what transcription does Google Voice give when it can't manage to figure out a single word of your message?

(Actual unretouched screenshot)

July 6, 2010

iPad, Part 3

As prophesied in my previous writings on the subject of iPad, my Dad purchased an iPad over the weekend. He's absolutely tickled that he's got a "computer" that's all his and that he can actually use.

He coined an absolutely brilliant term for the device. He calls it his flaptop, originally as a portmanteau of faux + laptop, but also because the Apple case has a little folding flap on it for to cover the screen.

Parenthetical aside: As far as I can tell with a 2 second Google search, he's the first to use that word (at least in this context), so I'm memorializing the event here on the interwebs for all succeeding generations to see.

June 23, 2010

We are sorry for inconvinience.

Internet Explorer crashed on my work computer today, displaying the following error message:

(The actual text, for Google purposes: "Internet Explorer raised unhandled exception in third party module and should be closed. We are sorry for inconvinience.")

The lack of articles and the misspelling made me think it's some browser hijack cleverly disguised as an error dialog. However, any anti-virus or anti-malware program I can find to run doesn't throw up any flags. Googling for the specific text doesn't give any hard info, but does show up instances of this message dating back to 2004!

This was in IE 8 on XP today, so either this is in some little-touched section of the IE code that hasn't been updated in forever (less likely), or it's thrown by some library that's used by toolbars or plugins (slightly more likely), or it's actually from XP, and never got updated in any of the 3 1/2 service packs and 45,000 other miscellaneous updates rolled out for that beast (most likely). Either way, text like this isn't supposed to make it out in a release, much less persist through many versions over many years.

May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Every Mother's Day, our ward, like probably every ward in the US, puts together a little gift/treat thing to pass out to all the mothers (or any woman of apparent child-birthing age). This year, I got tasked with deciding what to do for the mothers and putting it all together. I'm not sure exactly how that happened, and I'm really confused as to why I was chosen for this responsibility.

I'm sort of a non-believer in Mother's Day (and all greeting card holidays for that matter). It's not that I don't think mothers deserve respect. Quite the contrary. Mothers are awesome. I'm just more of the view that every day should be Mother's Day. We should reward mothers every day of the year, and if we're not, one day in May is not enough to make up for it. So, I'm not exactly your first choice to be in charge of the Mother's Day celebrationing.

So, I thought and thought, and got a few ideas, and eventually found some chocolate covered almonds at Costco that were a great deal. I put them together with some Jordan almonds from Target, then Becki and I wrapped little piles of almonds in sheets of cellophane, tying them with ribbon.

Then, to give it a little more of a gospel focus, I thought of printing little quotes on motherhood and tying them to the bags. Michelle had suggested Sister Beck's conference talk this year, and I remember liking that one a lot. So, I went back through it and found the perfect quote for the compulsory Mother's Day treat distribution.

So, remember that old Shel Silverstein poem where if you hate to do the dishes and you drop one on the floor, maybe they won't ask you to do the dishes anymore? Think this might work?

February 12, 2010

An Evil Twin?

My beloved wife Becki, during tonight's Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies:

"I can't decide who I can stand less, but I think I can stand Sarah MacLachlan more than that red haired lady who sings 'Adia'. Who's that lady, again?"

(In the meantime I kept yelling at the TV every time they introduced another musical act that wasn't Rush.)

January 29, 2010

More iPad

This started as a comment in reply to Scott's comment on the last post. I began to ramble on (as is typical for me), and after a while, it just seemed too long for a comment so I put it up here.

People have often asked me, "I'm getting a new computer; what should I buy?" Problem is, the people that really can make use of a computer usually already know what they want. So, the people who are coming to me for advice are people who can't really explain what they even want a computer for or what their needs might be. For most of those people, I flippantly reply "WebTV", "Typewriter", or in some cases, "Etch A Sketch". The only genuine component to my reply is that they should just buy a computer from whomever has the best phone support, meaning whoever's going to take their phone calls when they can't figure out where all these new toolbars came from or why the computer that they over-specced to somehow be "future-proof" is now running so slow. I sure as heck ain't taking those calls.

Whenever anybody like that asks me about a computer again, I will completely absolutely seriously reply "iPad" from now on. 99% of the people in that situation would be best served by an iPad. It's not an issue of something else being more than they need. It's more an issue of something else being a downright hostile user experience for them.

This kind of thing would be perfect for my mother. Or my mother-in-law. Or my sister-in-law who just spent large amounts of money on a laptop but literally only does 2 things with it: MySpace and watching Robert Pattinson movies. Or my aunt. Or my uncle. You get the idea.

I think specifically of my Dad who I don't really trust with a TV remote, let alone a computer. He accidentally erases the contacts on his phone every other week because he can't find the one number that he knows he saved somewhere but accidentally got saved to "SIM Card" instead of "Internal Mem". He got an iPod touch for Christmas and he loves it. More importantly, he uses it. He can figure out how to make it work and how to do things with it. It's downright amazing. He could totally use an iPad and be a web surfing emailing internet using fool.

The more I think of it, the more I think that Apple is not trying to shoehorn a device between the computer and the phone. I really think that they are out to replace the personal computer entirely for a huge segment of the market. And, more power to them. I've long thought that the computer was the wrong tool to choose for millions of people, but there really wasn't another tool that they could choose instead for their particular needs. This is the first real alternate choice there.

January 28, 2010


A few people have asked what I think of the iPad, so I figure I might as well write it down here. The answer is "I don't know." I'd have to actually have one in my hand to form a real opinion. If it's anything like the iPhone (and it obviously is), then reading about it is a far different experience than actually picking one up and putting your fingers on it. Therefore, it would be foolish for me to really come up with a concrete opinion without some actual hands on time.

That said, I can answer a few more specific questions, like "Do you think you're going to get one?", and "Do you think it will be a hit?"

I'm attempting to be a more provident provider right now, so the answer to any question asking me if I'm going to spend money on anything is a reflexive "no". However, if I had extra money lying around and was debating whether to buy this or something else it might still be a hard purchase to justify.

On paper, it doesn't seem like I'd really need it. I use my iPhone for many things, and my MacBook for everything else. There is almost nothing that I do that couldn't be done by one of those devices yet could be done by an iPad. Still, the iPad could be more useful at some of the things those other devices do, like surfing the internet on the toilet, for example (there's about 1 hour of my week right there).

An iPad would actually be really useful in church (I'm the executive secretary). I've got 2-3 meetings each Sunday, and I have a big padfolio plus my iPhone to manage it all. I'd honestly really rather do everything electronically, but my laptop would be a poor choice for that. It's too bulky, and I can't use it in the hall or in priesthood or anything. An iPad with nothing more than the built in apps, Pages, and the iPhone church apps that I already have would really already be perfect in my church workflow. If someone makes an iPad-specific app that's more useful for what I do at church, even better. I would feel a little self conscious using it for reading in priesthood or something, but there are already 5 guys in the elder's quorum who use their iPod touches or phones for scriptures, so I'd get over that quickly.

I said that there's almost nothing that couldn't be done by one of my other devices that could be done by an iPad. There's one thing I can think of that neither my laptop or phone could do that the iPad would be perfect for: sheet music. I've got a ton of sheet music, yet my collection is puny compared to others (I've got maybe 3 cubic feet worth. I know people who have rooms of their house dedicated). Still, I can never find what I want because there's no rhyme or reason to the way I've got everything thrown in a cupboard. On top of that, half of what I have is photocopies, so without going through each page individually, there's no way of telling what's what. Imagine an app for displaying sheet music that could also catalog and manage scanned music, import the various electronic score formats, give all the expected options for the electronic formats like transposing and audio playback, and couple that app with an online sheet music store with a wide selection. That would be a dream come true for me to be able to sit down at any instrument anywhere and pull up any music I own, or buy/find what I don't. If someone put together the right combination of app and store, I'd be digging through the couch cushions starting today for the money to buy one of these things the second they're available.

Yes, there already exist electronic solutions for this, but they suck. Hard. The MusicPad is $900, is single purpose, and is too big to really carry around idly. The software is also terrible. There's another package that attempts to replicate the MusicPad's functionality for Windows on any Tablet PC. That's a slightly better value, since you can get more use out of a Windows computer, but almost every Tablet PC would still be too big and heavy and poor in battery life. There's the other problem that the program's designed like a Windows program. What works with a mouse and keyboard doesn't work the same with a stylus and certainly not with a finger. That's the big hangup when you try to take an existing solution and just put it in a new context.

What Apple does is different. Rather than use the existing solution, they really rethink the problem instead. They usually do that in such a way that their solution is unrecognizable and unfamiliar. But, if you try what they came up with, you'll often find that they really have come up with a better way. Does that mean I think this thing will be a huge hit? I have no idea. It's hard for me to come up with a list of reasons why anyone would need one, much less me. But, I would not want to bet against Apple on this one. If they're entering a market, you can be sure that they've really done their homework and they have every reason to think that they'll succeed. If they're attempting to create a whole new market, a market that many others have attempted to define and failed, they must really have some reason to believe that they've cracked it, that they've figured out what's been missing from all these other attempts.

If it was any other company, I'd laugh at them and wait for them to fall flat on their face. But, it's Apple, and they've pulled this off twice before with the iPod and iPhone. So, if you don't want one and can't understand why anyone else would want one, that's fine. But don't think that means that no one will buy it, since Apple clearly knows better than you or I about what people want.

(Further evidence that Apple knows what it's doing: the Apple stock I added to my IRA back in 1996 is up over 3800% since I bought it. Sure would have been nice if I had the foresight to buy more than 5 shares, though...)