I've Forgotten More Music Than Some of You Own
It's hard to come up with new wrinkles on the "Ten Random Songs" thing, but here's an attempt: Ten songs that I probably don't know anything about.
I've rated a bit less than half of the songs in my iTunes library, because, well, there are 7639 of them at present, and I usually listen to only the most recent acquisitions. Every now and then, though, when I get tired of whatever I've been listening to (Kanye West, in this case), I switch the "Party Shuffle" source over to the "unrated" playlist, and listen to (and rate) some stuff I've forgotten about.
So, rather than taking ten random songs off the four-and-five-star playlist, as I usually do, here are ten that haven't been rated until now.
- "When A Boy Falls In Love," Sam Cooke. Very sweet, slightly dated. The lot of a boy who has fallen in love is not entirely a happy one, but it's Sam Cooke, so it's not that bad. It's the nice Christian boy version of "When a Man Loves a Woman."
- "Weed King," Guided By Voices. Guided by Voices released approximately a million albums, each containing approximately a billion tracks with cryptic titles. This makes it hard to rate them without listening to them. This one's nothing special.
- "Stabbing A Star," Guided By Voices. Again with the GbV. Again, nothing particularly good.
- "Hoover Dam," Sugar. How on Earth have I not rated this? One of my favorite songs off Copper Blue, one of my favorite albums. A great tune.
- "Christmastime In The Mountains," Palace Songs. A little something seasonal from iTunes... Actually, it's not much of a Christmas song (sample lyric: "I'm saving all my rage for you"), though it does contain the words "Christmastime in the mountains," which is a little unusual for Will Oldham (as I understand it, "Palace Songs" is basically one guy with a reedy voice and a bleak outlook).
- "I Cried," Chris Thomas King. Better known as "The black guitar player from O Brother, Where Art Thou." I picked up this CD for a dollar at a Salvation Army store while Kate and I were waiting for a tire to be repaired.It's perfectly reasonable blues-rock stuff.
- "Check," Rustic Overtones. A sort of ska/punk band with hip-hop influences from, of all places, Maine, that have since split up with most of the group becoming Paranoid Social Club. Most of the songs make me think "Summer" and "Frat Boys," and this is no exception. That's not a bad thing, necessarily.
- "Celebration Day," Led Zeppelin. I think I would like Led Zeppelin more if the guy across the hall from me my freshman year hadn't played Led Zeppelin II on auto-repeat for about six months. I still twitch when I hear the signature riff from "Whole Lotta Love." As with the Grateful Dead, they tend to lose me when they try to get Deep, but this isn't too bad.
- "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," Wilco. We saw these guys live in New Haven, and Jeff Tweedy may have been the most stoned human being I have ever laid eyes on. I think he'd been to rehab by the time they did A Ghost is Born, but sometimes I wonder. You've got to sit through four minutes of repetitive synth before you get to the catchy guitar bit, and then there's a bunch of annoying feedback, but it's still better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
- "Only The Strong," Midnight Oil. Off a live album that I honestly forgot I had. It's, um, loud, and kind of disorted.
Farther down the Party Shuffle, we find excellent tracks by the Flaming Lips ("Do You Realize?"), the Jackson Five ("The Love You Save"), the Magnetic Fields ("All My Little Words"), and Dinosaur Jr. ("Start Choppin'"), but this selection is pretty typical. A few gems here and there, but lots and lots of forgettable (and forgotten) album tracks off discs I bought to get one or two good songs.
I'll probably do another iTunes purchase this weekend, but for the moment, I'll keep going through these. Most of these songs will probably never be heard again, save for those rare times when I shuffle the entire library-- at work, I mostly use the four-and-five-star playlist, and only a few of the songs listed above rate more than three stars (Sam Cooke and Rustic Overtones got four, and Sugar five, the rest three). Every now and then I stumble on something worthwhile, though, so I keep going.
A Little Something for the Atheists
If you'd prefer secular silliness, here are a few links that have been piling up in Bloglines:
- More "interesting" than "silly," really: a comparison of the 1963 and 1991 editions of Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. (Via Bookslut.)
- Scott Spiegelberg on How to Sing the Blues.
- The simply mind-boggling Bad Sex Awards long list, containing the following sentence: "It is the one drawback of fellatio as conscientious as hers that it eliminates the chance for small talk and poetry alike." (Also via Bookslut.)
- I started reading Fafblog for the political commentary, but I keep going back because they help make my day a little more surreal. Where else could you find the sentence: "We spend mosta the day lootin towns an villages along the edge a the Frankish Empire but I still haven't figured out where this thing connects to the commuter rail"?
- Also, no matter what you may think, somebody is having a worse morning than you.
Because Christmas Comes But Once a Year
We're past Thanksgiving now, so the annual blizzard of kitsch has begun, with otherwise respectable radio stations switching over to an all-Christmas-music format, and giant inflatable figures sprouting from local lawns like Lovecraft-style monster fungi. It's, um, the most wonderful time of the year?
If you'd like to innoculate yourself against this incursion of forced gaiety, you could do worse than looking at the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities at Going Jesus (via What Now?). It's hard to pick a favorite, but this is close:
This is a set of costumes for those geese people have on their porches, the ones that get dressed up to match the current holiday or season. Those geese. The best detail is of course the baby Jesus. Since I guess there are no cement/resin/plastic baby ducklings available, well, rubber ducky, you're the one.
Lo, I have come to make bathtime so much fun!
Also the "WTFWJD?" T-shirt goes on the list of CafePress shirts that are so brilliant I'm almost moved to buy one.
One of the many tasks I need to complete over the break (classes don't start again until Jan. 3, an odd consequence of our trimester-based academic calendar) is to develop a lab for our junior-level lab course ("Methods of Modern Experimental Physics"). We don't have any labs in our intermediate-level class, but we've collected the good modern physics labs together into a fairly intense course where students work through seven complicated experiments (Rutherford back-scattering, Mossbauer spectroscopy, a couple of labs on laser spectroscopy), and do a whole bunch of lab writing.
Starting this year, we're dividing this course among four of the experimentalist members of the department, so we'll each do a couple of labs over a two-week span in the middle of the term, rather than one person spending the full ten weeks working through all the labs. I'm one of the lucky ones this year, and while I've got a reasonable idea for an activity, I need to make sure it all works before February, when I have to actually do the thing with live students.
There are a number of issues involved in trying to set this up. The basic idea is a pretty straightforward extension of a paper I did with a thesis student from a few years back, and after a few snags involving diode lasers (can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em), I got the thing working. But now that the proof-of-principle stage is past, I need to go through the process of making it student-ready: figuring out what material they'll be given before the lab, what exactly they'll be expected to do during the lab, what I'm going to ask for in the analysis, and all that fun stuff. The key question in all of this is what is the appropriate time multiplier.
There are time multipliers all over the place in academia, to account for the difference between trained academics and college students. The most common multiplier is the exam multiplier, which is widely known to be a factor of three. That is, if I'm trying to make up an hour test for one of my intro classes, it should take me roughly twenty minutes to write out the full solutions, starting with a blank exam paper. If it takes me twenty minutes to work through, it will take an average student about an hour.
The time multiplier isn't as well-established when it comes to lab work, though. It doesn't seem to be anywhere near as consistent-- in the intro classes, some groups will take ten or fifteen minutes to do some preliminary activity that takes the rest of the class two minutes. Some students can find a really dizzying variety of ways to make simple procedures take forever to get through. And the worst part is that they're not even consistent-- the group that takes fifteen minutes on a trivial task one week will whip through a twenty-minute task in five minutes the next week.
So, the question is, if it takes me twenty minutes to line up a Fabry-Perot interferometer, how long should I allow for students to do this part of the lab? It's a critical question, because it determines what I'll be able to have them do as part of the lab, and what I'll have to set up beforehand. It's not an easy question to answer, either, as there are a whole host of tricks involved in the art of optical alignment that seem completely obvious to me after years of training, that may not be quite so obvious to students doing this for the first time.
(A further complication is that some of the students taking this class may have done optics research in the summer, while others are theorists in training. I may need to sort them into lab groups based on previous experience, and make different groups do different amounts of the full procedure. This conflicts with one of the other goals of this process, though, namely to minimize the amount of work I need to do making up different versions of the lab materials....)
I may end up dragooning somebody else's research student into testing part of the procedure for me, but that creates problems down the road when that student comes through the class. Or, I may do something radical, and bring Kate in to test it out.
Of course, having Kate test it just introduces a new time multiplier, one that sounds like a joke word problem: If it takes forty minutes for a lawyer to align a Fabry-Perot interferometer, how long will it take a junior Physics major, and who can she sue?
Covers Are For Wimps
Scalzi has suggested a music "meme": "Find a song with at least five cover versions (i.e., a version other than the most famous version) and give a quick review of each cover."
In a fit of cat-vacuuming a while back, I actually created an iTunes playlist consisting of all the tracks with duplicated titles in my music library. Surprisingly few of these end up being covers, and I don't actually own five cover versions of any single song (I do have five versions of "All Along the Watchtower," but three of the five are by Bob Dylan...).
I can go this one weirder, though, and review groups of songs that happen to have the same title, but are otherwise unrelated. For example, I've got four songs named "Angel":
- Eurythmics: A fairly forgettable 80's track. It's off their Greatest Hits package, but I can't say I recall ever hearing it before. I'm not sure if it was the token new track on the Greatest Hits album, or if it just flew below my radar. B-.
- Jimi Hendrix: This is Jimi in his mellow, dreamy mode. It's not bad, but it's no "Little Wing." B.
- John Hiatt: Off Perfectly Good Guitar, an album that isn't half as well known as it deserves. It's got a driving beat, up-tempo but not upbeat (the chorus goes "Somebody just stopped calling you angel/ Somebody just let love get up and go downtown"), and has some seriously loopy lyrics ("You skinned your knee at kickball, twenty years ago against all hoping"), but its goofy energy makes it about the best of the lot. A-.
- Aerosmith: The hit power ballad off Permanent Vacation, and really, the very definition of a power ballad (Steven Tyler basically screams "You're my AY-AY-AY-AY-AY-ANGEL" about fifty times). If you have fond memories of the Hair Metal Era, it's probably a B+, but if you're bitter about the whole Power Ballad thing, it's probably a D.
Weirdly, the most duplicated title in my collection is "Anthem," with either five or six (depending on whether you count "Anthem, Pt. 2" as a separate song):
- Blink-182: The closing track off Enema of the State, the one where they repeat "I time bomb" about a zillion times. It's OK, but not great. B-
- Leonard Cohen: Pretty typical Leonard Cohen: great lyrics, croaky voice, inexplicable backing choir. B+
- Phantom Planet: This is the band with the kid from Rushmore on drums, best known for "California" (four tracks by that name), which is the theme for some godawful WB show, or something. The chorus goes "The whole world/ could use an anthem," which makes it one of two tracks to actually use the word "Anthem" in the lyrics. Depending on my mood, it's either pretty good, or the most annoying song in the world: B/D.
- Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers: A sort of sloppy garage-punk thing. On the plus side, it's got the most energy of any of the tracks by this name (the two Blink-182 songs are weirdly formal). On the other hand, songs that mention the name of the band automatically suffer a third-of-a-letter-grade deduction. B+.
- Steve Wynn: Plodding, repetitive, political, and just downright tedious-- just him and a Casio keyboard. This song is a nice reminder of why I need to be more judicious about purchasing singles from iTunes as opposed to whole albums. D.
- Blink-182: For the sake of argument, we'll count "Anthem, Pt. 2" as well. This is the opener off Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. The verses are kind of painful-- it's a direct pitch at their core demographic of 14-year-old boys in the suburbs-- but I'm just immature enough to like "If we're fucked up, you're to blame" as a tagline. Call it a B+.
And that's probably about enough of that.
Decoherence is Unavoidable
I'd be remiss in my geekly duty if I failed to mention Mixed States (found via Technorati), a new-ish site collecting together a bunch of feeds from physics-themed blogs (this site included).
Amusingly, this feed aggregating site offers its own feeds (here's the RSS 2.0 version, for example). Which means that now my RSS feed will feature a link to an RSS feed containing a link to my feed linking to their feed linking to my feed...
If the entire Internet collapses into a singularity of cyclic self-reference, well, sorry. But if it hasn't happened yet, I think we're probably safe.
Take Some Message Discipline, and Call Me in the Morning
I'm well behind the curve on this, but I didn't want to post something political just before leaving to spend Thanksgiving in the Land of Slow Dial-Up. The topic's probably all but dead, but I'll say my piece anyway.
I've been thinking for a long time that there has to be some way to put pressure on the party leadership to read the damned weblogs!
Really, it's shameful to see them going on television and falling for - and even repeating - RNC spin and falsehoods. They need to study-up, and it's just plain stupid to ignore the fact that the information is available gratis and easy to find.
It's pretty obvious that the level of discourse at places like Liberal Oasis, Daily Kos, MyDD et al. is significantly higher than the stuff that comes out of the party itself, and it's about time they acquainted themselves with what's really going on. A rep could do worse than to check The Daily Howler, Media Matters, and Eschaton every day just to get a handle on what kind of bull is being spit out by the right-wingers and that it really is just lies.
I agree to a point, but only to a point. While it's true that the blogs she cites often have good things to say, I don't think that the Democrats' problem with media management has to do with the quality of their talking points. The problem is the lack of cohesion.
After all, if you look at the things that the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy puts out there, many of them are downright farcical. They're not winning the media battle because they're saying things that are so stupefyingly brilliant that the public is just blown away. They're winning because they pick a message, and run with it. Even if their chosen message is stupid, they get dozens of people out there saying exactly the same thing, in exactly the same words.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are always all over the damn map. There's usually at least one Democratic official out there saying something that's both good policy and good rhetoric, but there'll be ten others saying ten different stupid things. You can't even predict from one issue to the next which Democrat will be the one with the good lines, and which ones will be the idiots.
Picking up talking points from liberal blogs is as good an idea as anything, but they could pick their talking points by looking at the entrails of free-range chickens, for all the difference that makes. The important thing is getting everybody on the same page. That page could be Daily Kos, or it could be Fafblog, just as long as everybody's reading from the same script.
Look, I know it seems stupid, and Jon Stewart will make fun of you for it, but repetition works. The people making up the news media are just people, and people are lazy. If every single person on the Republican side steps up and repeats the same line, while the Democrats say fifty different things, it doesn't matter that the Republicans are all blowing smoke, and the Democrats are all perfectly correct, people will incline toward the Republican position, just because it seems more consistent.
And, honestly, Jon Stewart is going to make fun of you either way, so you might as well get mocked for running a halfway competent media operation, rather than being a bunch of anarchic losers.