Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Return of the Clerkenwell Kid

The Return of the Clerkenwell Kid
The Return of the Clerkenwell Kid is a 2005 release by The Real Tuesday Weld (aka Stephen Coates). I just discovered this little gem the other day (helloooo Sonos!) and can’t stop listening to it. (You could say I took to this album faster than the Saudi government shits a brick when they hear the phrase “climate talks”.)

The style is “antique beat” as described by Coates – sort of a jazzy cabaret (circa 1940) meets electronica. There are spoken and half-whispered parts, dreamy sequences, and quirks galore to keep you coming back for more. I still haven’t worked past this album, which is named I believe for an area of central London, to explore his other, more recent work. Some of my favorites off of Clerkenwell: L’Amour et La Morte (“Well I don’t believe in love, until I’m in love…”), Daisies (“Daisies, I’ve always liked daisies. I really love the way they poke their heads through crazy paving…”), Something Beautiful (very autumnal, would not be out of place on the Clientele’s Bonfires on the Heath release.), and Goodbye Stephen (he imagines his own funeral – now don’t tell me that you haven’t done that).

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

It remains to be seen how this past Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, on campaign financing will play out. However, we have a bad feeling about this nugget of conservative judicial activism that basically opens the floodgates of spending from corporations and unions in elections. Apparently, existing safeguards on spending by corporations was a restriction of their free speech. Hmm. In that light, it is interesting reading through Justice Steven’s dissenting opinion, in particular, what he had to say about corporations (page 88 of ruling):

“In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters.”

The case was brought before the court because of the nonprofit corporation Citizens United’s attempt to show Hillary the Movie in violation of the McCain-Feingold Act (which is now essentially null).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Life in France – Julia Child

My Life in France - Front Cover
I started off the year reading Julia Child’s 2006 autobiography My Life in France. The book focuses mostly on her first four years in France, 1948-1954, and how the foundation for her passion in French cooking and really, all cooking, formed as well as the process behind the writing of her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My Life in France was collaboration between Julia Child (1912-2004) and her husband’s grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, during the last eight months of her life. The story was developed by Prud’homme interviewing Child as well as both of them combing through family letters, diaries, photographs, and other personal written items.

This autobiography is not evenly paced. On one page you might skip over a year while on the next you get the specific recipe of a dish that was consumed in a particular restaurant on a particular day (for example, La Couronne in Rouen). The book moves along more on a whistle-stop tour of people, places, event, and food that Child chooses to focus on. It’s not disjointing as it might sound and turns out to be quite effective because the stories they choose to tell are microcosms of her life.

The political landscape in America is a theme that weaves in and out the book. McCarthy’s witch hunts touched Julia’s husband Paul directly as he had nasty allegations leveled against him. (He survived and cleared his name continuing to work for the government). In Chapter 5, when talking about McCarthyism and the 1956 presidential election where Eisenhower sought re-election running against Stevenson, Child states “Stevenson, on the other hand, had a nobility of ideas that appealed to me. I liked eggheads, damnit!” Her support for Stevenson and other Democratic candidates was in stark opposition to her father’s political leanings. It was a sore point that Julia Child’s relationship to her father never got past stubborn opposition to each other’s beliefs.

One thing that struck us (all of us at Travelmarx read this one) is how Julia and Paul Child had nicknames for people and things. Their Buick station wagon is the “Blue Flash”. Their next car, a Cheverolet Styleline Deluxe Sedan is the “La Tulipe Noire”. Where they lived in Paris, 81 Rue de l’Université is called “Roo de Loo”. A room in their house in Paris where they stored extra items is the “oubliette” (forgettery). A slightly nutty made named Coquette becomes “Coo-Coo” Coquette. A later maid named Jeanne becomes “Jeanne –la-folle” (crazy Jeanne). The nicknames are for someone or something endearing to them. We operate that way at Travelmarx so could identify with this.

Finally, after reading the autobiography you get a pretty good sense of the amount of energy Child put into her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes one and two. The first volume took about a dozen years to complete. For both volumes, Child doggedly focused on simply making her recipes work. She was concerned with the scientific repeatability of the recipes and was often frustrated with the lack of the aforementioned by her co-authors, Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle. Child wanted her recipes to be “operational proof”. I think the staying power of her cookbooks is a testimony that she largely achieved this.
My Life in France - Back Cover

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1882 – 1941) is a semi-autobiographical novel where one Stephen Dedalus finds himself as an artist and in the process refuses to be bound by family, country or religion. The story takes places at the end of the nineteenth century, 1880 – 1900, when Ireland is dealing with questions of autonomy and the role of the Catholic Church.

Luckily I stumbled on to Spark Notes for Portrait about halfway through the book, because it was in those notes that I realized I missed the point of some key events that happened in the first few chapters. Oops. I could not tell what was real and what wasn’t with the stream of consciousness style of writing. I guess I’m a little rusty without an English teacher to walk me through a novel like this. (There is also a good 40 minute discussion of the book on the BBC radio show In Our Time located here.)

Joyce is considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century or so I’m told. Okay, but something still doesn’t sit well for me after finishing the book. It’s a combination of the following: I feel slighted because I don’t “get it” as in it was too artsy for me; there were too many footnotes (50 pages worth in the edition I read) and it was overwhelming; I just didn’t care much for the intricacies of Catholicism like that a chaplet is one third of rosary; and perhaps mostly, while I identified with Stephen’s quest and the difficulty of it (re: breaking free), I just didn’t care much for Stephen the character/person.

Travelmarx Quicknotes for ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’: Boy has sing/song, stream of consciousness memories when young. Gets thrown in a sewer while at school, catches a cold, and reader is treated to dream sequence where boy thinks he is dying. ‘Christmas dinner’ incident – basically, a huge family fight – adds nervous energy for dozens of pages. Fast forward some years and visits to prostitutes start – he can’t stop it and it feels good. But eventually, a long sermon (and I mean a really long sermon) from a priest scares the bejesus out of him. Boy rebounds to be dogmatic in his religious practice and walks around counting rosaries in his pocket. But it’s no good, he can’t take it and he wanders back to middle ground. Meanwhile, boy dreams of this one girl who he never ‘gets’ and disparges all other female characters in the novel. (But, doesn’t seem to like his father either or really anyone for that matter.) Boy, now getting in his late teens and the oldest in family, seems to wander in and out of his family’s house and his siblings seem to be ghosts who sacrifice to send him to good schools. At good schools, boy misses classes and wanders around aimlessly with deep thoughts. Then, an epiphany moment, boy decides to dedicate himself to be an artist after seeing a girl on the beach (called ‘bird girl’ by scholars in the know). More sulking occurs and the reader is treated to converstations with other students whom the boy seems to despise but whom, you the reader, will probably like. Boy starts to lay out his artistic principles in these conversations. Last few pages of book, boy’s journal entries, in first person, tell reader he is about ready to fly the coop.

Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway

Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with Artist Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson is a small exhibit on at the Burke Museum (University of Washington) from December 19, 2009 to May 31, 2010. Ray Troll is an artist whose distinctive work you may have seen before. In this exhibit Troll teams up with paleontologist Johnson for a whimsical yet serious look at evolution, extinction, and life on earth. Fossils are displayed side by side with Troll's original artwork depicting the animals represented by the fossils - often in funny situations. The concept of extinction is presented as a natural part of the cycle of life. In fact, over 97% of species that ever lived are now extinct. The average mammalian species lifespan (from origination to extinction) is about 1 million years. Paleontologists estimate that humans have been on the earth for about 200,000 years. Will we beat the average?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Windows 7 GodMode: Not Your Ordinary Control Panel

God Touches Windows 7?
Heard of the Windows 7 ‘GodMode’? The name is a bit much, because, if I truly had God-like powers over my Windows 7 machine it wouldn’t crash unexpectedly or freeze. Maybe they should have called it something like ‘ConvenientAccessModeForControlPanelsCheatsheet’ but then again maybe not. Anyways, ‘GodMode’ goes like this: you create a folder (anywhere) and you give it the specific name XXXXX.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C} where XXXXX could be ‘GodMode’ or ‘Gaia’ or ‘AgnosticPowerUser’. The folder icon changes to an administrative control-like icon and you have access to lots (all?) control panel settings. Given that Start Menu in Windows 7 has gotten much better with finding phrases (e.g. try “power plan”) the GodMode may not be so relevant?

GodMode seems to devolve (nice pun, huh?) to be just a general trick where if you know the GUID to a particular control panel then you can use it in the same way. For example from my 32 bit Windows 7 machine these will work:

Network Connections.{7007ACC7-3202-11D1-AAD2-00805FC1270E}
Wireless Networks.{1FA9085F-25A2-489B-85D4-86326EEDCD87}
Power Options.{025A5937-A6BE-4686-A844-36FE4BEC8B6D}

To find the GUID to use, search your registry for the phrase “.ControlPanel” and you’ll find references to control panels and you can find out the appropriate GUID. This is left as an exercise to the reader. Note that fooling around in the registry can have unwanted consequences so be careful and read up on good practices for working in the registry. Here's what the full GodMode panel looks like:

Update: 2017-02-21. This still appears to work in Windows 10.
Update: 2023-08-10. This still appears to work in Windows 11 Pro.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sonos – Je Te Veux

Sonos Controller
We just installed Sonos and in a word it’s fantastic! What’s Sonos? Sonos is music at your fingertips, any room of the house. The real magic (besides the wireless technology) is the touch-sensitive Sonos Controller. From the intuitively designed controller interface you can quickly access your music archives or Pandora or Rhapsody to name a few of the possible services or just plain old radio. The controller goes where you go around the house. Stop, start, change music, adjust volumes, and mute with a few taps of the finger. Each zone (or room) of the house if you like can be playing something different.

Within a matter of a few seconds I set up a Philip Glass Radio on Pandora and was loving it. As I write this, I’m listening to El Chicano (a little Tell Her She’s Lovely doesn’t hurt does it?) via Rhapsody. Last night I was enthralled with Camille’s latest relase Music Hole (very interesting, Money Note). The real deal cincher was when I looked for the obscure-ish Erik Satie song Je Te Veux (here’s a video performance of the song) and discovered an album of Satie work that I’m not sure I would have found otherwise, Sport & Vergnügen.

Sonos brings the fun of music discovery back. It makes music immediate and very accessible with very little friction. That said, you still have to do a little work to let Sonos see the music you own. We use an HP MediaSmart server to host our media files. And, there is a gotcha with WAV file formats in that Sonos doesn’t preserve album order. The solution is to use FLAC format.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Knock, Knock, Who’s There? Edward Jones.

The other day the doorbell rang and we thought oh it’s one of those darn door-to-door religious nuts, but we answered it anyways. Well, well, it wasn’t someone warning us about the end of the earth, but rather advertising financial advising services. Whoa. We don’t live in that upscale of a neighborhood. After a little research it seems it is common with Edward Jones. Still a bit weird for my taste. The knocker even followed up with a Christmas card.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The 2010 Lunchbox

The phrase we’d like to kick off 2010 with is this: don’t poop in someone’s lunchbox. This was a phrase that came up over and over New Year’s Eve night with some friends as we joked around. The next day we kept saying it and realized that it is a pretty good guiding principle. If you are about to dump on someone’s ideas, manner of being, or general happiness, think twice before you do it. Please, don’t poop in another’s lunchbox.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Goodbye Peppermint Stick

I suppose we should be saying goodbye to 2009 and the decade, but we have nothing interesting at this time to say about that. However, we will take this opportunity to mention a subject near and dear to us: chocolate. By far, the best chocolate we’ve had this holiday season has been the Theo Chocolate Peppermint Stick 70% chocolate bar. Who could resist them? A perfect blend of dark chocolate and peppermint, not cloying or overpowering as sometimes peppermint-infused chocolate can be. From what I understand, this chocolate bar was made for Bartell Drug. We could rely on getting them at Theo’s showroom in November and most of December but when they ran out just before Christmas, frantic calls to Bartell began. We were able to secure a small stash to last us for a few weeks. When the last of our peppermint stick bars run out, it’s back to the Jane Goodall 70% bar, which is fantastic anyways – so that’s not so bad.