Archive for July, 2006

Such an amateur

An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth” in The New York Times intersects a favorite topic of mine, amateur music performance. I suppose it is not a justified list, but there are things every able person should be able to do, including playing music, writing, quoting poems from memory, catching and throwing, running, calculating without aids, doing algebra and drawing. Drawing is my failure. It rightfully belongs in any list of basic skills even though I am deficient.

We’re addicted to convenience today. Cellphone cameras are handy, but they’re also the equivalent of fast-food meals. Their ubiquity has multiplied our distance from drawing as a measure of self-worth and a practical tool. Before box cameras became universal a century or so ago, people drew for pleasure but also because it was the best way to preserve a cherished sight, a memory, just as people played an instrument or sang if they wanted to hear music at home because there were no record players or radios. Amateurism was a virtue, and the time and effort entailed in learning to draw, as with playing the piano, enhanced its desirability.

Many teenagers still pick up guitars and other instruments. I started playing guitar then and have spent uncounted hours since. I see many people taking up watercolors, too. The question of how many people have pursued amateur arts hobbies over time seems difficult to answer. The situation might not be so bad as the article indicates.

There was also a philosophical change, away from drawing as a practical endeavor and toward art appreciation. From dexterity and discipline to feelings and self-esteem: the shift in values is implied by some of the later books in the show. Consciously or not, they parallel changes in modern art, which threw out the rule books of draftsmanship and proposed a new, free-thinking attitude.

This paragraph misleads readers. Any attempt at appreciation uncoupled from endeavor is insipid. Effort facilitates appreciation at the cost of confronting personal deficiencies. I try to counter apathy and sloth by undertaking sundry activities, pursuits athletic and artistic. When I manage to set aside my pride, they are great fun. They combine selflessness and selfishness. The return, however, exceeds the costs.

I will make a contribution to the sphere of amateurism this Sunday afternoon at the Cahokia Courthouse Old Time Music Fete as a member of Tom Thach‘s Taum Sauk. I will sing lead on “Angel Band” and harmony on everything else. We are an informal group, and jam sessions seem likely throughout the afternoon. In addition to the stage time, I hope to get in some playing under shade trees.


Michael M. on July 25th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Savoy faire

Ann Savoy receives credit several times in Jeff Place‘s notes on the performers on recently blogged Anthology of American Folk Music. Her name stood out because I had researched her just last month. She sang with Linda Ronstadt on A Prairie Home Companion back on the June 24 show. Stream the show from the site or grab mp3s via this post. I listen to the show sometimes. I even went to see it once. Nevertheless, I do not consider myself a big fan of the show. This one, though, got me.

They call themselves to ZoZo Sisters. I think their new album Adieu False Heart was released today. The pair cut a track for Savoy’s earlier project Evangeline Made: A Tribute To Cajun Music featured in this story on NPR‘s Morning Edition. The two sang together on the radio to inspire jealousy in twins. “Walk Away Renee” in the second segment is worth many listenings.

Ann Savoy was not the only familiar name in the notes. Nick Spitzer, host of public radio music program American Routes, also contributed to the research. Dick Spottswood, one of the pair who rediscovered personal favorite Mississippi John Hurt, also received thanks from Place.

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Michael M. on July 25th 2006 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Science and religion in the news

I enjoyed listening to Francis Collins on this morning’s second hour of The Diane Rehm Show on KWMU. He was promoting his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. He is clearly a thoughtful person who has spent his time pondering, and the discussion hit on many great topics. Soon after listening to it, I found “Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables” in The New York Times. reviews several recent books, including Collins’.

Evolution figured prominently in both the radio program and the article, as it should. At least in my sphere, the intelligent design news has died down. A few events, such as the Dover trial, came to a head, and the intelligent design advocates rightfully lost. I doubt they quit, though. I do not know what their new strategy will be. I am encouraged, though, by the reviewed books. Many religious attitudes exist among scientists, and the obnoxious anti-religious advocates of science were garnering an inappropriate share of the attention. Almost everyone is faced with the task of handling both the facts of the world and personal belief. Too much supposed science advocacy pushes some toward contradiction with observation.

Thinking about the question of what the opposition to evolution might do next, I revisited an old post that received this comment about a private email list called the Philogenists or Phylos. I found only one old post that time. Thinking to search differently, I found a few more. one appears to include a message from Russell Humphreys, someone mentioned in the comment. All the posts are old. I do not know what to expect next from the confederation.

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Michael M. on July 25th 2006 in General

A Scanner Darkly

I saw A Scanner Darkly Saturday as planned. Adapting Philip K. Dick for the movies is today’s topic of discussion on Talk of the Nation. I missed some of the show, but I liked the parts I heard.

I never read the book, but I enjoyed the movie. The animation looks great, and it fits well with the themes and devices in the story. The scramble suit, a disguise, was done convincingly. I did get a little tired at the end, though. Without spoiling, the twist and turns just got to be too much. Overall, though, it is done well in a way that seems faithful to Dick’s style. The movie draws on the big questions of humanity, including sacrifice, privacy and duty in a way that is entertaining. Many of the common problems of pulp science fiction writing apply to what I know of Dick’s work, and he often wrote very quickly. In any story that tangles with big questions, it is challenging not to be too simple, too preachy or too patronizing. In the few books I read, Dick managed to stay interesting and fun. The movie follows in that path.

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Michael M. on July 25th 2006 in General, Movies

I want my puppy fox.

Well over a year ago, I posted about foxes bred for tameness. I still do not have one, nor do I know how to get one. “Nice Rats, Nasty Rats: Maybe It’s All in the Genes” in The New York Times reports on them and a small menagerie of other modern domestication efforts started by Dmitri Belyaev. I had not known about the other breeding efforts, including animals bred for aggressiveness instead of tameness. Unfortunately, the research groups has been reluctant to establish more research colonies, much less a chain of pet stores.

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Michael M. on July 25th 2006 in General

Strange coincidence

I am sitting in the Schlafly Library. I read this post at Arch City Chronicle. I read Run Bill Run a few years ago, and the Bill Haas site caught my eye. Having just seen his photograph, I recognized him when he walked past the table I am using moments later. He had a campaign button pinned to his shirt. It was a weird experience.

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Michael M. on July 22nd 2006 in General

The Anthology, Henry Thomas and Hype

I checked out the Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith from the library. Somebody should have directed me to it long ago. I am making my way through it rather slowly. Each find is terrific. I know that music tastes tend to crystalize with age. Although I wish I had listened earlier, it is good to know that new sounds can still catch my ear.

This story that aired on NPR‘s Morning Edition several years ago tells the story behind the anthology. The feature opens with “Spike Driver Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt, a favorite of mine. Jeff Place, the archivist interviewed, contributed to the booklet that comes with the CD set. I have enjoyed it as bedtime reading.

My favorite new tune is “Fishing Blues” by Henry Thomas. I had heard Taj Mahal‘s cover, which is great, but the joyous bouncing of the old recording is terrific. It includes solos on the quills (cached). Now I want to make my own set.

Although my interest in Henry Thomas is overshadowed by the one song, he recorded more. Texas Worried Blues is on my list for listening. I enjoyed this review. This page on the Hype Machine led me to this post about Henry Thomas. It has several tracks. Using my special skills, I found a few more tracks. According to this page, he is believed to have performed at the 1904 World’s Fair. My great-grandmother went to the fair, and now I live in fairsville.

The Hype Machine is a great idea, and I like the implementation. It aggregates music blogs. Popular tracks and the Flash player are my favorite parts so far. Podcasts and other formats abound there.

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Michael M. on July 18th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Big Star this fall

Although I have mentioned them only once in passing, I like Big Star a lot. I also shopped at Larson’s Big Star a little although I was more likely to go krogering. The band will play here October 1. I had read about the concert several weeks ago, and recently this StL DiatribeR post reminded me. The concert will be part of the Taste of St. Louis festival.

Although Big Star never hit it big, they had great influence. I, however, only started listening within the last few years. I am way behind the curve on all kinds of things. At least I found them in time for this reunion.

My YouTube search turned up several videos. This one of “September Gurls” from Stockholm raised my hopes. Videos here, here and here from Atlanta are not quite as good. Alex Chilton pulled through Katrina, and now he is rocking again.

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Michael M. on July 18th 2006 in General, Live, Music


I watched Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home on American Masters and then Bruce Springsteen: The Seeger Sessions Live on Great Performances back to back on my Myth system. The Woody Guthrie documentary was fun. He was not always such a good man. His communist allegiances look bad and simply odd today, but watching brought some perspective. The presentation of stories behind several of the songs was good, too. Bruce Springsteen never has been a favorite of mine, but I have respect for his choice to revisit the old music. I do not see the shows online. If you are a friend who would like to see them, let me know.

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Michael M. on July 18th 2006 in General, Live, Movies, Music, Recorded

Language profiling

WashU recruited John Baugh to head the African and African American Studies Program. Baugh came to my attention via his prominent role in Do You Speak American?. Phyllis Fletcher, a friend of a friend, produced the radio story “How to Sound White on the Phone” (RealAudio) for Seattle’s public radio station KUOW. (Her documentary about her father, “Sweet Phil from Sugar Hill,” is well worth a listen, too.) “How to Sound White on the Phone” cites Stanford research about linguistic profiling on the telephone. Baugh conducted that study. I found a good story about him. Then today, I saw the front page story in the Record, the official WashU newspaper, about this profiling research. My speech has become more standardized over the years. I used to get snide comments and the occasional guff. I never faced big mistreatment, though. On the other side, I automatically assign probable race, gender and geographic origin when talking on the telephone. The extent to which these automatic assignments that many of us make are used for injustice is not altogether surprising, but still sad.


Michael M. on July 13th 2006 in General

Sufjan again

Sufjan Stevens will be in Saint Louis again September 24 at the Pageant. I found out via this post on DiatribeR and bought a front row ticket. Since attending his concert at Mississippi Nights on a whim last year, I have blogged about him several times. The show was one of my favorites, and I am looking forward to this one.

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Michael M. on July 13th 2006 in General, Live, Music

Beatle Bob documentary

This post on StL DiatribeR and then this post on Arch City Chronicle brought the news that there will be a Beatle Bob documentary being made by Jenni Sterling. Beatle Bob attends many concerts, mostly around Saint Louis, and he has a mixed reputation. He has come up here two times. So far, Superfan: The Lies, Life & Legend of Beatle Bob has a MySpace page with a teaser trailer and an active blog. St. Louie Louie, a blog from Kopper, has this post about being interviewed for it. Kopper is the man behind, KDHX‘s The Wayback Machine and the possibly disappearing Lowlife Guide to St. Louis. I also found this post from Bob Couchenour and another from Bob Baker about being interviewed. For reasons unknown to me, the text of the two is the same. I have not seen Beatle Bob in a while. He seems to have earned his bad reputation although I do not know enough details firsthand to form a strong opinion of him. He is a character, and the documentary should be a fun show.

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Michael M. on July 13th 2006 in General, Live, Movies, Music

Blood drive

The Cardinals have a partnership with the Red Cross for July to encourage blood donations. While they last, every donor gets a t-shirt. The t-shirt features a John Pils drawing of the new Busch Stadium. These t-shirts look great. Most blood donation t-shirts that I have seen have too much print on them, and they tend to be very bright. These t-shirts look simple and clean. They show support for the Cardinals and the Red Cross. I have had good experiences with the local Red Cross. They are friendly and professional. Blood donation is safe, and it might even be good for you.


Michael M. on July 9th 2006 in General

All the music fit to broadcast

This post I found via Waxy Links took me aback.

In theory, anyone who’s passionate about music—whether a genre or a specific band—is also passionate about that music reaching a wider audience. But they’re actually not: they’re passionate with qualifiers. When I say that I want as many people as possible to like my favorite bands, what I actually mean is that I want as many people as possible to like my favorite bands for the right reasons—not necessarily my reasons—but the right ones (whatever they are). Or maybe what I actually mean is that I want as many people as possible to support my favorite bands; I only want these people to go to shows for the right reasons.

This attitude is so different from my feelings about music. I consider myself (and many others) passionate about music, and the proposed “whether a genre or a specific band” looks wrong. I would not choose either. When I talk or write about music I enjoy, I want others to listen. I rarely know about small bands before they become famous. Usually, I operate in reverse, scanning things that have or have had sustained popularity as a way to find great music. Nick Drake’s popularity being revived by a Volkswagen commercial does not bother me. To tell the truth, the commercial boosted my interest after hearing his music before and not having it take. Perhaps I fall into the class the author dislikes.

The essay is not entirely foreign to me, though. I do avoid pop radio, and I do have pet musicians who remain relatively obscure. Maybe I would feel odd and disappointed if I ever liked a band right before mass popularity. I definitely felt some frustration in high school when Cracker blew up. I was and am a Camper fan. Camper was much better than Cracker, and I failed at convincing any friends to listen to Camper. I certainly listen more to the 1980s R.E.M. albums even though I only became aware of them at the tail end of that period, and I want fans to listen to their early music. I do not think I would be upset if their early albums spiked in popularity. I would be happy if others trusted my opinions enough to share what I like, and liking the music for reasons other than mine is fine by me.

The essay is just so different from how I usually operate, yet the early comments tended toward big praise. Although I do not share them, it expresses common feelings. The essay is just so weird to me. I want to call it bad, but I am not sure that the attitude expressed really hurts anybody. I do feel that he is missing out and unfairly maligning others.

My music snobbery is about playing. I rarely trust strong music opinions from someone who does not make music. Nearly everybody ought to play and sing a little. A reproduction culture runs the risk of ruining individual production. Trying to replicate music usually gives me an appreciation of how complex and difficult it is, and I feel happy when I can reproduce music with any accuracy. The sad realization is that better musicians than I, of whom there are very many, must experience, enjoy and appreciate facets of the music that escape me. I want to devour all the way down to the marrow, but I lack the tools.

When I go on a music jag, I cannot get the sounds in fast enough. I wish I had more ears and more time. I cannot break down the tunes and learn to play them well enough or soon enough. As blogged recently, I sometimes think about all the wonderful things I miss because my discovery process is so inefficient. KDHX is a terrific compromise of music passions in many respects. The DJs often are serious champions of specific bands or of some genre, but each show only last two hours. Many genres are represented. It even briges between people who love the obscure and buffet line listeners.

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Michael M. on July 7th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Spelling reform

/. had this article about spelling reform. I mentionedA Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling.” This comment was my favorite. It is hard to reform or standardize spelling when pronunciation is so diverse and ever changing.

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Michael M. on July 6th 2006 in General


The Evolution of “Crazy” tells the story of the song I like so much. It also links to several mp3s and videos. I used the excellent Firefox extension DownThemAll to grab the mp3s. Waxy Links provided the pointer.

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Michael M. on July 5th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Prosthetics advance

This article on /. directed me to this story on the BBC about an advance in prosthetics. The new design inspired by antlers allows skin to grow around the base of the prosthesis so that it can be attached to bone. It is hard to gauge the infection risks from the information provided, infection being a major concern for any medical device that passes through the skin. Along with the benefits to humans who have lost limbs, this discovery could be a boon to biomedical research if it pans out. I found the abstract for the scientific paper, but access to the full text is limited to subscribers.

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Michael M. on July 4th 2006 in General

Old pop hits

Waxy Links led me to a post on foldedspace with links to mp3s made from old American popular music from 1901-1920. I linked to this blog once before. The author seems to find many cool things.

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Michael M. on July 2nd 2006 in General, Music, Recorded


Wordplay is a fantastic movie. Rebecca directed me to its Rotten Tomatoes page. I was astounded by its 95% rating. I had planned to skip it. I am not good at crosswords. I like some wordplay, but not the way people in a movie about word puzzles must like it. The overwhelmingly positive reviews changed my mind about seeing it. Finding myself with nothing better to do, I trekked out to Plaza Frontenac.

The movie shares much with Spellbound. The comparison was made on the IMDb board. In both, profiles of favorites in the contest are followed by the tournament. Wordplay adds segments with celebrities who enjoy crosswords. It also features puzzle makers Will Shortz and Merl Reagle. The format, although not new, works because the people are captivating and the competition at the end is riveting.

The people in the movie are all over the web, much more than with the other time I took a look for another film. I have spent some time reading their reactions to the movie’s release. As a warning, beware of spoilers in their writings. Ellen Ripstein blogs, as do Trip Payne and Tyler Hinman. Payne is on Friendster. Hinman is on it, too, and on MySpace. I also found this copy of the Wall Street Journal article about Ripstein.

My favorite find is the participation of the people from Wordplay in the IMDb discussion of their movie. The same epiphenomenon happened for Spellbound. Ellen Ripstein, Al Sanders, Trip Payne all have profiles. I suspect that Payne added information to his IMDb page.

The people in the movie are quirky and delightful. Hinman is usually wearing a Trogdor t-shirt on screen. It fit with the audience. I know the guy who sat a few rows ahead of me, and I know he has a Trogdor t-shirt. Several of my friends do, too. Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? connects Ellen Ripstein, who was a researcher, and Trip Payne, who was a contestant. Ripstein was on Jeopardy! in 1991. Qaqaq is a Payne’s nickname. It makes sense, as explained here, in connection with one of his segments in the movie.

Going back to Jeopardy! takes me to the Ken Jennings connection. This thread with him and Ripstein reveals that she stopped working for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? in 2004. I found in this post that Ken Jennings recently won the C division. Al Sanders made the first reply. Trip Payne replied, too. Ellen Ripstein did, too.

Although not in the movie, I found a connection from puzzle maker Francis Heaney who once linked to me from his blog. I cannot figure out how he found this blog, but he liked a story in my April, fool last year. On his Friendster profile, I found Trip Payne and Tyler Hinman along with several other people who appear in the film to lesser extents.

Even though I find the connections fascinating, the movie stands on its own. It is dense with emotion. Parts are hilarious. Some are extremely sad and touching. Others are thrilling. There are wrenching scenes. The feelings even happened at the same time when a win for one meant losses for others because I liked them all. Ripstein’s scene about standing up to an old boyfriend about her strange hobby is a fulcrum in the movie. It captures so much about defiance, success, pleasure and alienation. Like other scenes in the movie, it turns many screws at once. Wordplay is about “love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice,” friendship, community, discovery, loneliness, competition, joy, struggle, talent, being oneself and appreciating others as they are.

The cleverness of the movie makes it fun. It is worth multiple viewing to catch more and more of its subtleties. The graphics framing many scenes have a crossword theme. I caught some of them, but many passed by too quickly. As one might expect its title, jokes and puns are everywhere, and they are fast. I hope to find time for more viewings, perhaps once it comes out on DVD.

I do have to admit that the audience for this movie is probably small compared to how good it is. It will be a sleeper hit. I thought I might not like it because it is about a hobby that I do not have and because I come from a mathematical and scientific background. On the first point, anybody who has a passion for something odd can relate to these people. They will annoy others, though. My second misconception is countered by the fact that the best puzzlers tend to be mathematical and musical. Within its audience, this movie has terrific appeal. If you do not care whether someone is a nerd or a freakazoid, this movie is for you. If you love nerds and freakazoids, why are you reading to the bottom of this post instead of rushing to the theater?


Michael M. on July 2nd 2006 in General, Movies

STL transit

This post at STLUX led me to check out Google Transit. The service provides routing information for public transit. Unfortunately, it is limited to Portland, Oregon. I started wishing that Metro here were part of the service. I knew that the WashU UPass program was going into effect July 1. I did some looking.

TripFinder fits the bill. It looks much better than when I blogged before. It lacks the slick realtime tracking that I would really like, not is it the handheld application I want. It does work with Opera Mini on my cell phone, but the small screen formatting makes it hard to parse. These complaints are small. TripFinder looks good. It is a big step forward. I have a pass, and I have interactive trip planning. My laziness in driving is even less excused than before.

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Michael M. on July 2nd 2006 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.