Friday, March 28, 2008

Short on RAM

My. Computer. Is. Moving. So. Slow.

The last four days I have sat down with the intention to post but eventually get frustrated when it takes my computer ten minutes just to start. Another ten to get my browser to the Blogger posting page. Who knows whether this post will actually post when I click the "Publish" button? Or whether I will care enough to go back and double-check?

(It didn't, and I didn't. It's Sunday now.)

I have been using those extra few minutes each day not blogging to do other things like reading books, which I almost totally forgot existed. I'm splitting my reading time between Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point," under the advice of someone that interviewed me a couple weeks ago, and "The Book of General Ignorance," both excellent in their own way. In between reading migranes I have given some extra thought to my future son's middle name, which is my responsibility, and right now I'm liking "Rowe."

The computer problems have also lead me outdoors, though not in pursuit of physical activity. More like credit card activity. During my last solo shopping spree I picked up some great new music: DeVotchKa, The Twilight Sad, Virginia Coalition, Fujiya & Miyagi, and Amiina. All great and can be discussed at a later time. Right now I would like to talk about something less obscure: Gnarls Barkley's new one, "The Odd Couple."

It is a lot of fun even though it is not the kind of fun I was expecting. Their first album was fun because it was so random -- from gospel to old-school-soul, from feng shui to necrophilia -- yet on a song basis I enjoyed "Transformer" more than "Smiley Faces." Said differently, I enjoy them more when they are loud and crazy than when they are reminiscent. Over half of "The Odd Couple" therefore disappoints me a little because it is more like a history lesson than a futuristic experience. Thankfully they do throw out some of that energy, and it still ends up being a lot of fun. It may just take a few more listens to appreciate. And I had plenty of time to listen. Plenty of time.

Track 10: "Whatever" by Gnarls Barkley from "The Odd Couple"
[iTunes] [website]

Quick bouncy song with a large helping of Cee-Lo snarl. "Going On" and "Neighbors" are also high points. For more patient listeners, see "Open Book."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Through gritted teeth

When you can't sleep, that is often when you think most clearly.

Up at 3:15. Too much on my mind. I look over, and my wife is awake too. Kid is kicking the crap out of her. We start to talk, to really break down and consider the awesome job offer I got the day before. The pay is decent, the company car and fuel card is amazing, and the company itself is strong. But it's second shift: 3:30 to 1:30. Would we ever get to see each other? Would she be able to get to sleep without me next to her? Would I even get to spend much time with my son after he's born? It isn't like we're in a dire situation. It's just an unpleasant one. If I were unemployed there would be no question, but I'm not, and I'd rather I be unhappy where I am than she be unhappy with where I'm going. Eventually her eyes become heavy, and I lay there for a little while longer. Yeah. I should probably tell them no.

I get up at 4:30, a little earlier than usual but not much. I have a meeting first thing this morning. As I shower I ponder exactly what I'm going to say during the meeting with the two owners. I can feel in my gut that it won't be a good one. I shave, get dressed, grab my lunch, open the blinds, kiss my wife on the forehead, and walk out. A couple miles down the interstate the car starts riding funny. I pull over at a gas station and find a bulge on my front passenger tire. I'm half relieved and half pissed. That pothole I hit last night caused more damage than I thought. I'm one block away from the closest tire shop and 50 miles from the office, so I call my manager and tell him that I will be late but can call into the meeting so I can still participate.

I sit at the restaurant across the street from the tire shop and slowly eat my breakfast. Thinking. Quietly. When it's meeting time I call into the office, and he says, "Actually we're already meeting. Let me call you back." I keep my phone by my side and wait for the ring. In the backgroud I can overhear one of the third-shift waiters around the corner sarcastically talking with a cook about his job. I try to focus on my apple slices and grapes, but since I'm the only person eating there, I can't help but hear it all. He's my age, and he's just as frustrated with his job. Eventually he calms down and simply says, "Sometimes summer jobs just last forever." I jump up, pay for the meal, and dash across the street now that the tire shop is open. It takes them over an hour to fix the tire, and I still don't hear anything from my manager. When I try to call the other manager there is no answer.

Once my car is through, I restart the drive, beep the dispatcher to let her know I should be there around 9:00, and find that the meeting had just ended. Meetings don't usually run that long. I keep driving, though, and use one of the goofball morning radio shows for distraction. By the time I make it to the office it's actually closer to 9:30 and at my desk there is a stack of new things and an inbox of new messages to go through, the top of which reads that yesterday we lost a $4000 account due to a minor oversight by two of my people. I sit down, stare over at my desk phone for a few seconds, let out a sigh, and get to work.

Track 9: "Montana" by The Main Drag from "Yours as Fast as Mine"
[iTunes] [website]

I found these guys accidentially from a MySpace search but was glad I did. This is a great song that gets better with each listen. Great album too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bullet points

Storm clouds gather, and the week is only half over.

Rain has pounded here the last few days so much so that the parking lot at my complex looks like a lake. My personal, professional, and weather-related problems are a far cry, however, to what people around the world are dealing with these days. Thankfully we have at least a few things to be excited about...

Oil prices took their sharpest decline since the original Gulf War this week, which according to the rent-a-pundits on the cable news stations is something we should be excited about. This explains why the price this week was the same as it was last week, which is something we're not used to. Apparently a 0.1% decrease in demand had that great of an effect, though this will all correct itself as prices are estimated to hit $4.00/gallon this summer.

Someone is going to die on "Lost" this week, which by the looks of the ads is something we should be excited about. You can count on public interest in television whenever a person is either going to be voted off or killed. My money is on Claire, since we know Aaron is in the "Oceanic 6" but she is not. Maybe Michael now that they just brought him back-- that would be an easy marketing-worthy kill. Or Penn Jillette, since he's really not that good of a dancer.

And for the first time in a long while, later-scheduled primaries may actually help determine a presidential candidate, which is something my relatives claim we should be excited about. In Indiana, for example, this is the first time we've had an influence on a big election since the 1960's because the primaries here are usually late enough that a winner has already been selected by the time it's our turn to vote. Stumping against things you've previously supported (the war, NAFTA, No Child Left Behind, most other things) and frequently using the words "freedom" and "future" in your speeches are probably the best techniques to win our 74 delegates.

See? I'm not sure why I was getting so depressed. Things aren't all bad! Our glass is overfilling with half-fullness! Right?

Track 8: "Be Easy" by Ghostface Killah from "Fishscale"
[iTunes] [website]

Great party song from Wu Tang's most consistent warrior. He has always been a master sampler, but his use of The Sylvers on this one takes the cake.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Vampire hype machine

It finally occured to me why I thought "No Country for Old Men" was so good... I didn't talk to anyone about it before I saw it!

This doesn't always hold true, and yes, it certainly helped that the movie was in fact very good, but I didn't go into that theater prepped by Chad who said it was f*cking amazing or by the Academy who felt it was the best movie of the year. If you start listening to people of strong opinion too much, you start to form your own opinion before you even buy the ticket, or you watch it with a skew, like if the film doesn't blow your mind then it won't meet your expectation and therefore isn't good. You set yourself up for disappointment. That is why I didn't enjoy "Anchorman," "Chicago," Dodgeball," "The Life Aquatic," "Seven," and many other films as much as I probably should have. I talked to friends and read reviews. I did too much research. When I decided to check out "No Country," I almost avoided opinion, and by doing so I let the whole experience wash over me with no expectation.

The overhype effect is just as common in musical entertainment, which brings me to the topic of music blogs. I barely fit into that category as you can see by my white belt, but historically my peers have ruined some presumably good albums. Not to understate how many great bands they have led me to, but the specific blogs that have built up credibility run a serious risk when they push something new. When unique and interesting groups like Tapes 'n Tapes and TV on the Radio come along, and they all latch onto them, the expectation becomes much greater than any band is capable of meeting, let alone exceeding. Thanks to the overhype effect "well, this has GOT to be great" can quickly turn into "well, that wasn't as good as I thought it was going to be."

I had all of this floating in my head before I even put Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut into my stereo, since the vibe on the bloggosphere has been nothing but overly positive. I had pre-pre-judged it way before I picked it up. After much concentration during those first few spins, however, I am happy to report that it is an album that actually deserves much of the hype it has gathered. It isn't for everyone, but it is in fact pretty enjoyable. It's a diverse collection of songs presented in a quirky, endearing fashion. Check out the sample track below; it isn't necessarily a reflection of the whole package, but it will give you a pretty good idea of the fun and oddity the set delivers.

In conclusion, even the overhype effect can't ruin every well crafted piece of art, but that said, my official statement on "Vampire Weekend" is "no comment." You're welcome.

Track 7: "M79" by Vampire Weekend from "Vampire Weekend"
[iTunes] [website]

Strings add charm to this toe-tapper about a Manhattan bus that goes through Central Park. I particularly enjoy their use of the phrase "coronation rickshaw grab."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Free zone

I might be able to breathe easier at Steak n Shake, but that doesn't mean that I'm better off.

I don't smoke. I don't like smoke. I don't like that it is the cause of many of my relatives' health problems. I especially don't like that my mother tells us that she is going to quit because she knows the consequences, "quits," and then starts smoking again because it helps her with stress, because it suppresses her appitite, or because he boyfriend does it. They saw a shadow on a lung during her last checkup, yet she had a fresh cigarette butted out in the ashtray on the table the last time we visited. I don't like that.

I'm walking into Steak n Shake, and at the front door in bold white letters it reads "NON-SMOKING." Apparently the entire restaurant is the no smoking section now. The design of their buildings have always been chancy in terms of smoking vs. non-smoking designation, often separated only by a silver banister. Clearly several patrons felt that the light if not unnoticable and nonexistant smoke presence was putting them in harm's way. It was certainly making their whole dining experience -- including the greasy double steakburger, large fries, and cup of chili -- seem less healthy. "We don't have to deal with this at Subway," they were probably chanting in the aisles. The organization must have almost been at a stand-still. If they didn't act fast no one would eat there ever again!

On the other side of the interstate there are bars that have voluntarily put into place smoking bans. Again, there was obviously a fierce demand for loud places that sold unlimited alcohol and let you hook up with strangers who are smoke free. So much so that all of them are doing it. The smoking section at the hospital started in the designated lobby, then moved to just outside, then moved to 50 feet away from the building, and today there is no smoking even in the parking lot. No one is advocating smoking in the patients' rooms, but they have to go down the street now? Smoking breakrooms used to be horrible, claustrophobic rooms where no one could accidentally breathe in smoke, and now they don't exist. Smokers feel like outcasts when they haven't been going out of their way to bother people. They get taxed more and they're told to stand outside.

If you were to blow smoke in my baby's face, yeah, I would be upset, but if you are on the other side of the building, then I salute you. People should have the right to be a dumbass as long as they aren't hurting anyone else while they are doing it. Potato chips are bad for you. So are tanning beds. Yet it's stupidity and arrogance that we're trying to outlaw. (That being said, if you're reading this Mom, seriously you need to quit.)

Track 6: "Queen of Apology" by The Sounds from "Dying to Say This to You"
[iTunes] [website]

Catchy new-wave-pop-punk song from an album that just won't get old no matter how many times I listen to it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WLK 1982-2008

An old friend passed away last Friday, but I just started reacting today.

I wasn't avoiding the thought of him on purpose. I don't think.

I was out on the field doing some training with a new guy, and a customer added four hours of work to the ticket. Since I train the new guys on service, once the actual work began I had to step back and watch him perform, offering notes when I could. I'd like to get my hands in there and help, but at this stage I really shouldn't, so I basically helped at the beginning and then hung out doing nothing for four hours straight. Half of that time I sat in the van, checking in with my wife, checking in with the other guys, and finishing some paperwork, though that only lasted 30 minutes. I started looking out at the houses down the street. A couple of them were for sale. Then I checked out the cars that passed. Behind me was a busy street with some restaurants. I wondered if they were hiring. And then Bill popped into my mind.

I imagined what he would be doing right now if he hadn't gotten trapped in that apartment fire, and even though I hadn't really spoken to him in a while, I was positive that he wouldn't be sitting where I was. I couldn't even picture him in the uniform. He would be out there. He was my age, yet he had traveled so much of the world, had so many amazing experiences, and met so many diverse people. He was the kind of guy who you would run into and immediately start catching up... he'd eventually ask, "so where are you working," and when I would give him the answer, instead of faking a nicer response, he would let out a short laugh and ask "don't you have a masters?" He was admirably straightforward, occasionally a little too cocky, had a great, sometimes twisted sense of humor, and could always be counted on when you needed him. I honestly wish I had needed him a little more the last few years because we had grown pretty far apart. God, this wasn't the time or place for a memorial. Still, how could I have lost touch with him? How could I let this guy get away without telling him how many moments during our friendship that he impressed me or inspired me?

By the time I got to that last thought, Josh startled me when he knocked on the van door to let me know he was almost finished. I ran into the house behind him to make sure he presented the customer with an accurate summary of the work, cleaned up his workstation, and left behind all of the marketing materials. We thanked the customer and headed back to the shop. On the way Josh talked about some of the crazy things the customer talked to him about while he was working. I appreciated the distraction.

Track 5: "Arcadia" by Apparat from "Walls"
[iTunes] [website]

Thumping yet peaceful track from one of my favorite German imports. If you enjoy this track, check out "Hailin from the Edge," "Holdon," and "Way Out" (with Ellen Allien).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Asking for Flowers on Aisle 300

Multitasking has its downsides, so this is going to seem choppy.

I'm writing this in between looking professional at a home show. Some of the representatives at other companys' booths are text-messaging friends, playing with their displays, or staring off into space. It's been quite dead due to a small snowstorm we had in the area. We only got an inch at my place. I could barely drive on the road on the way in, but they weren't cancelling this thing.

"Oh, hi there! Can I answer any questions? No? Okay, well, give me a shout if you need anything!"

Anyway... big disapointment in attendence. And therefore very boring. But I stand and smile. Let me tell you a few things about Kathleen Edwards' new album while we wait for the next uninterested patron to pass. "Asking for Flowers" is everything I had hoped for and more. It isn't as loud or as tongue-in-cheek-fun as the last one, but it definitely has more beauty to it.

"Yes, sir! These rental units are much more efficient than your average... yes, they're only $19.95 a month. We've got these smaller ones... okay, well, thank you, sir!"

She has always had this undenying sweetness in her voice, and she certainly keeps it coming, like at the end of "Sure as Shit" when she almost whispers the touching words she's written, but the whole album shows off her range of emotion as well as her maturity. She tells you like it is. Like no one ever has before. The first two or three minutes in you already feel like you're experiencing so many of the things she has experienced. Seriously, "Buffalo" almost made me cry the first time I heard it. It's not all sad and sweet, though. "The Cheapest Key" and "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory" are two great uptempo pieces where her sass and attitude take over.

Definitely something I would recommend to friends. Even if you're not normally an alt-country fan, you might still want to check it out. It's probably the first great album of the year.

Track 4: "Oil Man's War" by Kathleen Edwards from "Asking for Flowers"
[iTunes] [website]

Kathleen's vocals and lyricism are particularly potent on this one, a song about two kids chasing their dreams.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Waiting for returns

When you have a baby on the way, you start to look for inefficiencies in your life. No matter what road it takes you down.

Here's an example: in a regular five-day workweek there are 120 hours available, and I spend ten of them driving to and from work. You'd be surprised how little I accomplish during this time. Besides regret.

I have difficulty fully explaining to people how I ended up the operations manager of a company I've never heard of, in an industry I know little to nothing about, in a city I promised myself I would never return to, which is 55 miles away from my new home. Basically I spent two years chasing a dream, and by the time I realized it wasn't going to happen, I learned my first post-college lesson: always have an exit strategy. After a pretty serious crash and burn, I went with another dream, which led me back to Indiana where the only contact that could help got me to where I am today.

I've had plenty of time to think about it, especially on those long drives home. As the sun sets to my right, I ponder how I will summarize the last three years. In interviews. To my parents. To my children. To the students I hope to be teaching someday. It will probably just become one small bulletpoint in an extraordinarily long PowerPoint presentation.

Lesson two: don't expect immediate returns in your efforts. Still, I'm hoping the returns start coming soon. I have five exit strategies in waiting.

Track 3: "Hot Soft Light" by The Hold Steady from "Boys and Girls in America"
[iTunes] [website]

Great rock song from a great rock album. By the time the lead singer gets to "there are guys," you most likely will be shouting along.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Flash is the future

It's getting harder and harder to find music these days. At least in physical form.

Spending two hours browsing around a local CD shop sounds like a wonderful evening to me. My wife disagrees, but to be fair she's never had a reason to seek out much music. She is perfectly satisfied with the 20 songs the radio plays over and over again, and she doesn't really need to go out of her way to listen to them because she can hear those and others online anytime she wants for free. She can even enjoy just the choruses in ringtone format. With that immediate accessibility and overexposure, the artistic value of these songs become almost nonexistant, so it's no wonder that so few people are paying for them. These days something genuinely has to be unique for a person to take enough notice to go out to a store and purchase the physical product.

Music's most important format wasn't vinyl or the compact disc. It was the album. The whole package. The cover art, the sleeve. Even the smell. There is something special about holding a physical album while listening to it. Clearly I'm one of the few remaining people who feel that way. Many of the independent shops I've enjoyed over the years have closed, and mainstream sellers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart have decreased physical shelf space for CDs while they opened digital music stores on the web. This might not be up to me for much longer. Sure, the sound quality of the mp3s are poor compared to the old way, but I guess I shouldn't be picky. At least most of the great things I love about independent artists are still around. I'm willing to be okay with flash being the future as long as Fergie isn't my future.

Track 2: "Restless" by Unkle from "War Stories"
[iTunes] [website]

Josh Homme lends his drawl to this heavy hitter, one of my favorites from 2007. Best enjoyed in a loud dance club. It can also make a late night city drive a lot more exciting.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The necessary outlet

Ever since I moved from home eight years ago, it immediately became clear that I would have trouble keeping my sanity, or at the very least my cool, without two very important elements.

First and foremost: music. They say you grow out of your dependence on music. I'm 26, but it hasn't happened for me yet. It's how I prepare. It's how I re-energize. If I need to focus or if I need to be distracted, I put on my headphones. Considering the number of albums I have, it could be said that listening to music is my one hobby, because I have rarely made time for anything else.

Second, I need some outlet of creative energy. Sometimes I can focus it into my work, but usually it's not enough. Even if I didn't really have the time and even if nobody asked for it, there has had to be some public output. First I had a Blogger blog, and then a website. For a while I DJed at a volunteer radio station, and after that I wrote a weekly column for the campus newspaper. Then I buried my head in research for a year, and in between journal readings I wrote music reviews for an online publication. In October I moved closer to home and, for the first time, tried just working full time and spending time with family, avoiding the need to constantly stay busy. I thought it would help me enjoy things more, but I've become more and more stressed and frustrated.

So here I am. Back at Blogger. I hope this helps.

By the way, I'm Craig. Thanks for reading.

Track 1: "Prescilla" by Bat for Lashes from "Fur and Gold"
[iTunes] [website]

A perfect opening track. It's a song that you assume will keep building as it goes, but when it doesn't, you somehow end up appreciating it more because of it.