Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Emo Halloween

Remember years ago before Nightmare Before Christmas became all the emo rage and merchandise was being pushed by various mall retailers? Having seen this when it was originally released in the theater I can say that I do too.

But nothing will ever erode the beauty of this song performed by the great Catherine O'Hara.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Toilet Humor!

This story popped up on my radar and since I'm a devout XTC fan and great believer in potty ya go. Incidently, if you're looking for a fascinating book to read, try Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product
by Dave Praeger

Excerpt from the article:
"The toilet’s disconnection from everyday life, combined with the relaxing motion of the bowels, is also conducive to creativity. I recall Andy Partridge, singer-songwriter with Eighties indie-popsters XTC, making this very point in a documentary about his band. He may never have had a Number One, but Partridge claimed to be inspired to write a batch of hit songs while having a Number Two. A place of quiet solitude for men, the lavatory can be the modern equivalent of the Roman Forum for women on a night out. In women’s toilets in pubs and clubs, gossip is exchanged and slanging matches conducted while their peers queue patiently outside."

Tahoe counties to harness pedal power

A nice little write up from the Nevada Appeal on plans up at Tahoe to make bicycling a more viable transportation option for folks. Excerpt:

While much of the county’s plan update focused on the western county, county planners integrated Truckee’s recent update of the trails and bikeways master plan into the wider county plan.

“What that will do is, by having the two plans consistent with one another, it will make our projects eligible for state and federal funding,” said Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins.

Wilkins said the Truckee River Legacy Trail would be the most likely project the town would go after that funding for. After supervisors approved the Nevada County plan, one bicycling lobbyist praised its vision.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Morning Music - New Pornographers

This latest album (Challengers) is quite possibly the best of the 4 that they have put out. It's a lovely album that has melodies that grow on you instead of the grab you by the throat nature of earlier work. I was hoping to find a full length live version of Go Places featuring Neko Case but all I found was this:

Instead here is a wonderful version of Myriad harbour, the NPs latest attempt to outPixie the Pixies. They succeed admirably.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paris and the Great Bike Rental Experiment Follow Up

I noted this story a few months ago when Paris implemented a bike rental program. Here's a good follow up from NBC News with some results of this experiment. Some important stats:

In the 2 months since the plan was implemented the 20,000 rental bikes have been used 5 million times.

There are 1,400 Bike Rental Stations throughout the city.

There are over 200 miles of bike routes in Paris.

The most interesting thing about the story for me is the overall tone which I suspect is as much a product of the U.S. media attitude about cycling as anything else. It's as if the idea of using bicycles for transportation is such a strange and surprising idea. Gasp...who would have thought you could get people to ride bikes...for transportation? Shocking?!

It's also interesting that San Francisco is the only larger U.S. city they mention in the piece that is not interested in the program. They imply that it's because of the hills but I suspect it might have something to do with the overall bicycle friendly nature and bike awareness in the Bay area already. I could be wrong.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bike Pic of the Day

It's been awhile since I posted any pics from the bike commute. Mostly because my camera sucks and it's too dark in the mornings to capture much. But here's a photo of my herd of friends hanging out in the afternoon sun.

Parallel Lives, Parallel Universes

I'm hoping someday to be able to see this BBC documentary about "E"'s renowned physicist father, the creator of the many world's theory. How nice to think that for every action we take there are an infinite number of other actions being followed in parallel world's. Hey, if it influenced the creator's of Star Trek, you know it's an important theory.

Until I can see the film this article will have to do. I love it when E says:
Maybe Poetry plus Math equals what I do.
Interdisciplinary Genetics!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday Morning Music - The Boss

I've always had tremendous respect for Bruce Springsteen and own several of his albums. His politics, his plainspokenness (is that a word?) his flamboyant performances...but at the end of the day, with thousands of songs in my music catalog...he doesn't end up getting played all that much. I suppose that speaks more to his overall rating in my view than anything else. I'm not likely to put Woody Guthrie or Dylan on that much either (two artists Springsteen is traditionally associated with) but in the end I do listen to those two more.

Yet I was thinking about songs lyrics recently that I'd like to use in a poetry unit I'll be teaching and this song crossed my mind. A song that the students won't likely be familiar with but I find very touching. Something about the simple chord progression gets to me every time I listen to it. This live performance is a bit overwrought with the big intro...but that's the Boss.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Public Schools Should Look Like-Pt.1

This article on holding kids more accountable for their grades was circulating around school the other day among teachers. I quote:

The panel created by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings fails to recognize why other countries are "passing us by at a time when education is more important to our collective prosperity than ever" ("Panel calls for 'urgent reform' of higher education," News, Aug. 11).

In many other countries, it's students who are held responsible for learning. For example, in Germany, students at the end of the fourth grade are divided into two tracks — the university track and non-university track — according to abilities and performance at school. If students don't perform well in the university track, they move to the non-university track.

Teachers can only point the way. Students need to be held accountable and failed when they don't make the grade. But our system holds teachers responsible; they're at risk when students fail.

As a university professor, I know many students are bright and capable. They do not, however, have the same basic understanding of subjects, especially math, that students of yesteryear had. The situation gets worse as time goes on because students are not being held accountable for their performance at the elementary, middle or high school levels.

The change that is overdue is holding students responsible and recognizing that not everyone has the ability to move up to the university level.

As a late bloomer academically I can't help but have mixed feelings about this early tracking of students. Yet I see students every day who don't appear to be what the author would term, "college material." Did I look like college material at that age? Probably not, but I also attended a high school in the Midwest that was made up of mostly working class kids whose parents often worked in the Goodyear plant that was a few blocks away. I never had a conversation with a counselor about my future college plans and I don't remember my friends getting that talk either.

The most interesting thing to come of the article was when I took it and created a reader/response assignment for my Freshman Seminar students and asked them to reflect on the article, on what the school system should look like, and what the school day would be like if they designed it. I've received a few responses but I'll post more about them later. It seems that everybody has an opinion on the subject from the President on down. I was just curious what the opinions of the students might be. They are the ones most effected after all. So far no students have responded with a school day that includes:
1st period "Intermediate Texting"
2nd period "Halo 3" for beginners
Nutrition Break - Poptarts and Hotpockets
3rd period - Advanced MySpace
But would this schedule be such a bad thing? I did have one student who drew a picture of her "perfect school" but managed to misspell "SHCOOL"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The World is Going to Hell

I had a good day at school, a beautiful autumn ride home with swirling winds and colorful leaves peppering the road, make a nice dinner, sit down to watch the evening news and am greeted to:

"The president said if Iran can build a nuclear bomb, it could mean World War III."


"Arctic ice has shrunk 23 percent in the past two years."

and this about staph infections.

On the other hand, Lou Dobbs issued another blistering attack of the Bush administration.
There is little mystery about what future historians will consider to be the legacy of the 43rd president of the United States. Those historians are certain to describe the first presidential administration of the 21st century with terms such as dissipation and perversion.

But that doesn't really cheer a person up when you realize that GWB is supposedly the leader of the free world.

At least I have another bike ride to look forward to tomorrow. And a glass of wine and Pushing Daisies tonight.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marketing God

You gotta love this church sign generator. I could think of slogans all day. But nothing will top the actual cemetery sign I once saw that said, "Thank you, come again."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Morning Music

This is not exactly the type of music that normally interests me. But since one of my students who is reading East of Eden for my class came to me and told me about "this band that references" East of Eden I thought it only fair to check them out. Turns out "Meg and Dia" have links to both Vegas and St. George, Utah...places that I have family ties. So, in honor of my student who went out of his way to look up some pop cultural tie-in [probably while looking for a plot summary] with one of the greatest works of literature ever, I give you "Monster"! This song is supposed to directly reference East of Eden and I imagine you'd only have to read chapter 8 to get the homage.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What's on your ipod?

When I was a kid my ability to own music was severely limited by the lack of money and the distance to a music store to acquire my favorite songs. Almost my entire music collection was made up of the vinyl that my dad kept around in the basement and more importantly the cassette player “boombox” that I had tuned to the local top 40 station and was perpetually cued up to record on a blank tape. Recording music became sprint training. At the first recognizable beats of a song coming over the airwaves I would dash to the box to unpause the record mode as the favorite song “du jour” was captured on the crusty cassette that had been recorded and recorded over literally 1000s of times. I loved music and this method ended with too many unfortunate accidents. The most memorable I can recall was when I was helping my dad paint the house and I leapt from the ladder to capture the precious first few seconds of some new wave wonder that has now passed from memory. I do however remember being grounded for a week because of the can of paint that tumbled off of the ladder and landed on the air conditioner turning the dull gray whirring box into a splotchy brown eyesore.

This story captures a bit of my feelings about the dangers of acquiring music in the modern day. A couple of days ago a woman was fined over $200,000 for illegally downloading music. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, there’s no way you can argue that this isn’t stealing per se. But what seems to me to be missing in the tactics of the recording industry is any acknowledgement that they are basically hunting down the people who are their best customers. You may say, but they are not customers by definition because no money changes hands. But I think a paradigm shift has occurred for most music “consumers” that apparently is years ahead of the industry. Consumption isn’t just about money after all.

Hypothetically, let’s suppose there is a certain fellow who likes music a lot and is reasonably into technology. Perhaps on occasion he or she downloads the occasional song because of reading about it online or in a magazine. This person thinks, hmmm, I’d like to hear what that band sound like. Subsequently this “customer” thinks, I think I’ll buy that album, because it’s worth the $10 instead of the time it might take to find a bunch of downloads of varying quality on a freebie file sharing site. Taking this a step further, what if this customer, over years of consuming music in the modern file-sharing era, can document that he/she has actually purchased more music than he bought prior to advent of high-speed internet? Is the sampling of songs out of curiosity via a file-sharing program that much different than taping songs off the radio for the sheer love of music? Perhaps this person is deluded because younger folks don’t take the step to ever buy the music they “sample”?

A recent story on Marketplace Morning Report interviewed an expert in this area who asked what it means for an industry that conducts a witch hunt to get at the people that most want their product? My thoughts exactly.

It’s old news by now, even though the album isn’t even officially released, but Radiohead, arguably the best band in the world, has decided to release their new album for free today. Well, it’s not necessarily for free. You can pay what you want. You can also pay for a packaged box set (around $70) that will be delivered before Christmas (it also includes the immediate ability to download the album even though the hard copy won’t arrive until later). It has been reported that musical artists generally make between .80 to a buck twenty per album download via sites like iTunes. I don’t know how to crunch the numbers but it seems like for a band like Radiohead they are going to come out ahead in this venture. Or maybe not. Either way, the fact that the band is bypassing being picked up by a record label and selling direct to its very loyal fan base should be making the record industry nervous. As one recent article on this story puts it - Radiohead Bends Record Industry Over Conference Table And Goes To Town. Indeed.

But perhaps the music industry has already found a way to strike back.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sunday Morning Music - Along Came Polly

It seems only fitting that I plug PJ's new record given that it's the best thing I've heard in quite a long time. Bummer she's only playing 2 gigs to support the album in the U.S. The footage from youtube is mesmerizing. I saw her years ago in concert and she held the crowd in the palm of her hand. Too bad she was opening for a totally ridiculous neo grunge band. At that show she had a complete backing band but it looks like this go around she's touring with little to no accompaniment. It may very well be a better concert for it. So without further ado, here is a little retrospective with some great clips from the new show. It's not just the quality of the songs but the breadth of her abilities that can be so wonderful. - I'll try to refrain from any more pj posts after this (for awhile) - I don't want to be accused of being as obsessive as Myrna is about the Clash.

The title track of the new album:

Possibly the best track on the new album. On the album it plays like some demented cross between Nightmare Before Christmas and the Beach Boys.

I lost my heart...the best version of Down By the Water I've heard.

Blowing the doors off


And, finally, the first single I ever heard from her first album. Way back during grad school in the early nineties. Put on that dress...

ok, ok, one more. Man Sized!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I always thought things come in THREES but it turns out it's Ps.

Paolo Bettini became only the 7th pro cyclist to win back to back World Road Championships this weekend with a stunning sprint finish. The guy's amazing and you can see why he would be so angry given the swirl of innuendo around him in the last week and the people trying to keep him from racing. My favorite pro cyclist. A small, feisty, Italian.

PJ Harvey's new album hits stores tomorrow. I wrote about this awhile back but it's worth mentioning again because, well, she's one of the greatest living songwriters working today. There, I said it.

Parking, or the trouble with it, is covered in an interesting expose on Salon. This is not as much of an issue when you ride a bike.

Parent Night was last week at school. It's nice to meet parents but unfortunately the parents that show up at such events are not the ones that typically have kids that need extra attention or help. The parents are already involved with their kids lives and education. Hmmm, I guess that's what you call, um, ... parenting!

Speaking of school, I was asked by a group of 9th grade students to be the faculty advisor for a new club called the P.A.A.C. or People Against Animal Cruelty. I was only too happy to oblige. When young people actually show an interest in becoming actively involved in a social/political issue, how can you not try to support them. Besides the fact that transitioning to a vegetarian, or nearly vegetarian, diet is one of the best personal acts one can do for the planet.

Finally, the online version of the latest Practical Pedal magazine hasn't hit the website yet but the print version arrived in my mailbox the other day. I mention this only because there is an article about me and written by Reno writer, biker, and photographer, extraordinaire, Mike Henderson. The photo actually makes me look reasonably good so you know he has talent. The article is mostly about the Bike to Work Month challenge from May that I undertook along with Mike. This issue is probably worth a read more for the Reno Bike Project article.