And on that note…

Here’s some of the music I have been listening to lately:

Jon & Vangelis, The Friends of Mr. Cairo — I originally bought this album around 1986 (it came out in ’81) but sold it with a bunch of other CDs back when I was a stupidly poor college student. I just picked it up again for $10 from iTunes. This is a surprisingly good pop album. The weakest track is probably “Back to School” in which the duo try to “rock out” and even that one isn’t really awful. “I’ll Find My Way Home” and “State of Independence” are both catchy as all get-out and the centerpiece title track is a funny pastiche of ’30s and ’40s film noir/gangster films.

Prism, “Armageddon” and “Night to Remember”. Alas, iTunes did not have the album available so I picked two tracks from a “Best of Prism” collection. I first owned this on 8-track. Ah, 8-track, the medium where album integrity was treated with a hearty LOL as tracks got shuffled about, duplicated or split in two. how I miss thee! Anyway, the track “Armageddon” is one I first heard as a piece used in a Remembrance Day ceremony back in grade 8 where we all solemnly read bits about how awful war is, with the orchestral intro/extro of “Armageddon” bookmarking the whole bit. I absolutely lurved the music and bought the album for what amounted to a couple minutes from one song. The album as a whole is perfectly serviceable pop, although I still get a chuckle out of some of the lyrics — “Jerry and Linda in the White House, president sleep in his shoes…” Somehow it seemed plausible that Jerry Brown and Linda Rondstadt could end up being the First Couple. Silly Canadians! “Night to Remember”, by the way, is not about the sinking of the Titanic, but rather a man wanting to bag a woman. It’s rather crass (“Hey, little girl, can I show you the world? Lay down beside me now…”) but all kinds of catchy.

Coldplay, Viva La Vida. Yes, it is and always has been trendy to hate Coldplay because they are fey wannabe rockers or something. I still really like A Rush of Blood to the Head, even if the simplistic lyrics do annoy if I focus on them. I thought the follow-up, X+Y was okay but nothing special. Viva La Vida, though, is their best effort yet. Musically, the band has expanded its sound and Chris Martin’s lyrics aren’t as cringe-inducing. The band is uncharacteristically whimsical on songs like “Strawberry Swing” and the title track, with a bright pop sound that is new. Definitely recommended if you’ve cared for any of their past work.

A couple of albums I picked up based on recommendations from a thread at Quarter to Three:

Zombi, Spirit Animal — This is a duo consisting of keyboard and drums, with some guitar thrown in here and there. They play “space rock” and it’s all instrumental, no vocals. The sound has been described as a cross between Rush and John Carpenter and that’s not a bad description. This is reminiscent of the long tracks favored by prog rock bands of the 70s, with songs divided into movements stretching out over 10 to 17 minutes. It’s great background music and I mean that as a compliment. At times hypnotic or soothing, a great album to mellow out to (man).

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion — This is a weird one. The sound is dense and layered, heavy on effects and processing, with vocals that sound submerged. In fact, that’s a good word to describe the sound as a whole — submerged. It really is difficult to accurately describe the songs because there is no standard frame of reference in pop music to compare to. The sound is at times haunting and even creepy but there’s also plenty of layered harmonies that recall the bright sound of The Beach Boys. Definitely something you want to sample before diving into.

Yes, I can play keyboards

Actually, I can’t, but I kind of look like I’m auditioning for a synth-heavy band in this photo from my 1990 college student card. This is probably the last photo I have where I am clean-shaven. Compared to the high school grad photo from 8 years earlier, it’s about 1000% better.

1990 college student card

Jogging vs. weightlifting: Fight!

Last year I did the ol’ diet switcheroo, dumping fast food and junk food in favor of lean meat, veggies and low-fat snacks. The chief aim was to reduce my slightly-elevated blood sugar so I was no longer pre-diabetic. The diet has had side benefits, chiefly in terms of reducing me from a porky 187.5 pounds to a more svelte 150ish pounds. I then decided that the next step was to exercise more so that my skinny muscles would become toned and I’d have more energy and all that.

After mulling some choices, I settled on dumbbell exercises for a few reasons:

1. A set of dumbbells is fairly cheap.
2. I can work with them at home — no need for trips to a gym.

It turned out I pretty much also needed:

3. An exercise bench.

I never really committed to the exercises much despite getting the dumbbells and bench. Initial motivation in any new activity, especially one that requires, you know, actual physical exertion (and isn’t sex) is difficult to manage. But eventually I laid out a routine based on a book I had purchased and that’s when I discovered the bench I bought is too short and cannot be lowered quite enough for someone of my height. Crap. While I have found another bench that might work, it got me thinking that maybe I ought to consider other forms of exercise.

I have my bike and will probably ride it a few times a week. While not as good an exercise as some, it has the benefit of not being too hard on the joints. There is swimming but my lessons in January convinced me it will be a good while before I am comfortable enough in the water to consider swimming as an exercise instead of “not drowning”. And then there is jogging.

I was a decent runner back in junior and senior high. I was also about 16 years old. I’m now at the “consult your doctor before exercising” age and face the prospect of injuring myself if I don’t do things right. But I have been investigating running — looking at programs that ease you into it, scouting jogging trails (to avoid the pain of running on pavement or concrete) and looking into getting fitted for a good pair of running shoes. I even bought the current issue of Runner’s World and not just because the model on the cover is smoking hot (that was only 50% of the reason at best). So I think I may try this jogging thing out and see if my knees suffer a thousand agonies or if it goes a bit better than that. More to come!

New exercise stories

Which is not to say these are stories about exercising but rather stories written as exercises. These are the latest I have written, numbers 7-11 (not to be confused with the convenience store of the same name).

7. The Downside — Second draft (this will be cleaned up and eventually relinked without being a “second draft”)
8. The Dogfish (unfinished and sadly will likely remain unfinished)
9. The Invisible Weekend
10. Lily Tries to Go Shopping
11. Hello?

Hair, big big hair

One of my 1982 high school grad photos. The photographer told me to look serious. As you can see, I took his request to heart. There is so much to admire here — the cold “when the hell do I get out of here?” look in my eyes, the mountain of hair that echoes the recently passed 70s, the coolio aviator-style glasses and the thin smudge of hair pretending to be a mustache.

[singlepic id=86 w=320 h=240 float=none]

More photos being added to the scary School Photos gallery.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Dear Logitech,

Your promotional Flash site for the new G-series line of products looks very snazzy. However…

logitech-promo

I do not think you mean what you say…

lightening

Admittedly, I’m old enough that I’m not up on all the cool kid lingo anymore, so it is perhaps possible that you really are comparing the speed of the G9x mouse to the descent of a uterus.

Meanwhile, I irrationally crave the G19 keyboard even though it will be ludicrously expensive. So pretty, so very very pretty.

For the record, being sick sucks

See title.

What’s even better is having a co-worker coughing and wheezing and complaining for days about being sick just before you get sick (by amazing coincidence).

Also, it got up to 12 degrees today. No snow! Yay!

The Apple Store: Scary, pleasant

As mentioned in the previous entry, I bought a pair of Shure SE110 earphones. The one local dealer that had them in stock was the Apple store downtown. I had never been in there before so I went in as an Apple store virgin. This was akin to entering a cult compound as a curious and lost waif, seeking knowledge and wisdom.

The store is an open air design, with various bits of Apple hardware lining counters on the left and right for a little hands-on lovin’ and islands in the middle sporting more hardware. It is very bright, white and clean-looking, almost antiseptic if not for the light-colored birch (my guess) that lines the counter tops. At the far end of the store is the sales counter where the POS system consists of Mac notebooks mounted on swivel stands. Behind this counter are two large LCD screens displaying things like a glossary of technical terms or a list of people with appointments for the day.

I head about halfway down and find the racks with iPod accessories. I pull down the box of Shure earphones and look it over. So far no one has approached me, but it’s the weekend and the store is pretty crowded, so the sales reps may all be occupied. Good.

I take the earphones to the sales counter. There is a vague kind of line-up here, further underscoring my belief that over the decades Canadians have lost the ability to form a line. A woman comes up to me and asks how will I be paying. She has a big smile and even bigger saucer-like eyes. Her hair is straight and long. She looks a bit like someone from a love cult circa 1973. I tell her I am paying by debit and she smiles some more and nods and tells me someone will be helping me soon. Okay. Thanks, I guess. I continue to wait. The line is a bit slow. Maybe the POS Mac notebooks need more ram. Finally I get to the young man who scans in my purchase. The process of doing this, getting the receipt, the bag and combining these things into something I can carry out is deliberate and studied, as if a sacred ritual is being performed. The Apple bag has a drawstring on it instead of handles cut into the plastic. I feel like I am being handed a bag filled with secret runes, that I am about to begin a journey of discovery to unlock the mysteries therein. Then I get the bag and get the hell out, skirting past the greeter as she nods and smiles at someone coming in.

I can’t say the experience was unpleasant but it was a little creepy. Apple doesn’t get buyers, they get converts.

Not a Shure thing

I recently decided to upgrade the earphones I use on my iPod. I’d been using an inexpensive pair of JVC earphones after the Apple-supplied ones went on the fritz and they have been serviceable, but I’ve never liked the fit that much and as a consequence I play music at a higher volume due to a lot of the audio bleeding out of the earphones. Fearing a Pete Townsend-like future where I had to crank everything to 11 just to get good volume and making myself deaf in the process, I reckoned that sound-isolating earphones might be the answer.

After some research, I opted for the Shure SE110 earphones. They are described thusly on the product website: “Featuring Balanced MicroSpeakers, these sound isolating earphones deliver optimized audio for a rich, lifelike listening experience.  Assorted sleeves and a modular cable provide unmatched comfort and customization.” Sounds good! (ho ho)

My first moment of doubt comes when I observe that the earphone “nozzle” is angled, suggesting that it is meant to be inserted in a specific manner. That strikes me as a bit fiddly for something I just want to slap on. Then I see an illustration of “recommended use” and gape at this composite man wearing the earphones in a way I never have, the cables draped behind the ears. This is the preferred way, Shure says, to keep the cable secure and provide better isolation.

Okay, I am amenable to changing my ways, so I give it a shot. I don’t know if I have defective ears or simply lack coordination but I cannot keep the cable draped over my ear. It keeps sliding off and around and instead of getting a better fit or isolation, I look like I’m having an epileptic fit trying to keep the damn thing hooked over my ear. And I don’t exactly have petite ears, you know?

Since the user guide grudgingly acknowledges that the earphones can be worn the way normal humans prefer, I try that and can at least get them into my ears. Next I discover the cable is way too short. It would work if I duct-taped the iPod to one of my cheeks (the ones on my face, perv) or maybe held it in front of my nose while listening. Shure has covered this, though, and includes an extension cord that extends the length of the cable. All right, I am almost ready to listen to music!

My final step is to find the best fit with the supplied sound-isolating sleeves. There are two varieties, pliable plastic and foam and each comes in three sizes. The phones have the medium foam sleeves on and I try them but the fit is non-optimal, so I switch to the larger plastic sleeves. Initially the fit seems good so I leave them on and come the weekend, I go to take the bus downtown and whilst waiting, don my new supersonic, form-fitting earphones. And I can’t keep the damn things in my ears. The right one in particular seems to pop out at the slightest movement. They might stay in if my jaw was wired shut. The iPod teases me briefly with excellent sound-isolated music and I note that I can indeed keep the volume much lower. But alas, this is not meant to be. I trudge back home and grab the JVCs, vowing to spend more time with the sleeves later.

Maybe it’s like getting a new pair of shoes. It takes a bit to wear them in, to get comfortable. Maybe I have goofy ears. I’ll try the smaller sleeves or the foam or scotch tape or something. I’m not taking them back, though. I bought them at the Apple store downtown and that place was downright creepy. I’m not stepping foot in there again if I can help it.