Archive for August, 2009

St. Louis Blues

My friend johnnyC directed me to this post at St. Louis Jazz Notes. It is about the upcoming release of Devil at the Confluence, a new book by Kevin Belford on pre-war blues in Saint Louis. I will track the blog for the book. This gallery on his site probably has a fair amount of overlap in the artwork, and this page has a list of Saint Louis pre-war blues musicians with some of his illustrations. The local Virginia Publishing is putting it out. Mad Art will host an exhibition of artwork featured in the book on Friday, September 11, 2009 7-11 PM among several planned events.

The book will come with a CD from Delmark Records. The Delmark label started in Saint Louis on Delmar Boulevard and later moved to Chicago. A book with illustrations and a CD leads me to expect a recently blogged R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, & Country for Saint Louis. “Keep It Clean” by Charley Jordan better be on the CD. Listen on YouTube.


Michael M. on August 31st 2009 in General, Music

Folk School Trivia Night

Trivia nights are popular events here in Saint Louis. Local groups raise money, and participants enjoy a fun evening. I had a great time at one a few months ago. Now I am looking forward to my second. The beloved Folk School will host its own trivia night this Saturday, August 29, 2009. The Suburban Journals on STLToday published “Playing along: Folk School students learn instrument as part of a group.” It has information about the school and about the upcoming trivia night. The festivities will be held at Saint Margaret of Scotland Church at 3854 Flad Avenue, Saint Louis, Missouri 63110-4024 in the Shaw neighborhood. The doors will open at 6:15 PM, and the game will begin at 7 PM. I will play opening music with several of my friends from the Folk School and then play trivia.

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Michael M. on August 27th 2009 in General, Live, Music

Computer support

I have spent many hours helping family with their computer problems. This xkcd comic, Tech Support Cheat Sheet, sums it up.

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Michael M. on August 25th 2009 in General

8 Bit Trip

This video on YouTube pays homage to the early days of video game systems. Waxy Links directed me to it. The Atari 2600 is the only game system I ever had. I wasted many hours on it. I also enjoyed Lego and spent many fruitful hours playing with those bricks. The trip is easily worth $2.

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Michael M. on August 25th 2009 in General

Baby Einsteins

Your Baby Is Smarter Than You Think” by Alison Gopnik in The New York Times is wrong on two counts. I do not have a baby, and I do not doubt my baby’s smarts. Other than these two glaring errors, it is a great article. I particularly liked two of its points.

First, our brains perform probabilistic inferences. I believe that this task is among the major functions, as blogged twice. At this point, probability theory provides the best framework for understanding how our brains receive and interpret information and subsequently react. Of course, reception, interpretation and reaction truly are a web, not distinct entities. Probability is applicable all the way from how ion channels behave to how neurons transmit information to how actions by the whole person are performed.

Second, learning occurs through the refinement of neural connections through weakening and even elimination of some connections and strengthening of others. Twice blogged Jeff Lichtman has long been a major proponent of the importance of elimination, and I agree. One fascinating aspect of development is that experience and interaction shape the connections within our brains. Learning changes the brain. The process is especially active and important in early life.

Although not presented as such, the piece is a teaser for her new book The Philosophical Baby. She got the title wrong on the book, too. Based on the descriptions I have read, babies are scientists and engineers much more than they are philosophers. In fact, she previously was a co-author of the book The Scientist in the Crib. This New York Times review hints that the book addresses several old philosophical questions by viewing babies as investigators and by discussing the study of them. Predictably, reviewer Anthony Gottlieb is a philosopher.

Nearly all the great philosophers have been men, and Gopnik claims that this helps to explain why the nature of children’s minds has almost never been discussed in philosophy. But there is an alternative explanation: perhaps children have been left out simply because they are on the whole not all that relevant.

Development has a bearing on how the brain functions. It is both huge and obvious given the right background. I take Gottlieb’s ideas as reflections of how philosophy unfortunately tends to be estranged from actual investigation. We are gaining the scientific tools to address the questions long raised in epistemology, but the tendency to separate knowledge from its physical implementation, the brain and its development, is deep and persistent. Even within neurobiology and psychology, however, many investigators view development as having relatively little bearing on mature function.

Gopnik appeared on Charlie Rose in 1999 to discuss these matters. The episode page has this video from Google Videos embedded. My attention wandered while playing it, but it has some good points.

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Michael M. on August 16th 2009 in General

Les Paul dead at 94

The New York Times published this obituary. I have twice blogged about the Les Paul guitar. I have wanted a Les Paul sunburst guitar for years. I never blogged about Les Paul the man. Chasing Sound, a feature on him, aired a few years ago on American Masters on PBS, and to the extent that I remember it, I remember it as being great. Paul was a brilliant musician and inventor.

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Michael M. on August 13th 2009 in General, Music

Ghost World

After watching this YouTube video, I learned “Bye Bye Baby” by GeorgeLittle HatJones. YouTube user IplayBanjoNow has some great homemade performances of old songs. Looking for more information about Jones, I came across the movie Ghost World in several of the links about him. I checked out Ghost World and R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, & Country from the library. The latter has an introduction by Terry Zwigoff who directed the former. He also directed Louie Bluie. I blogged about several of these topics, but not Ghost World. For completeness, I found this video of Robert Crumb playing “Bye Bye Baby Blues” with twice blogged Eden and John’s East River String Band.

The movie has a few in-jokes that I actually got. In one scene, the girls browse LPs because they cannot play 78s. The record Enid picks up is R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders Number 2. She asks, “How about this one? Is it any good?”

“Nah, that one’s not so great,” replies Seymour, a character inspired in part by Crumb.

Old music runs throughout the movie. Enid buys a compilation of blues reissues on vinyl. Skip James‘ “Devil Got My Woman” becomes a favorite song. If I had known about that aspect of the movie, I might have watched it sooner.

I had heard about the movie a while back. I have known people who considered it a favorite. It always looked like a comic book movie about teenage girls. It is. I never have been into comic books, and it has been a while since I was into teenage girls. I did not think that the movie would have much for me. The character Seymour drew me in. When I saw his record room, I tried to recognize as many of the people in his photographs as I could. I can relate to having very compelling obscure interests, especially the musical ones.

After watching the movie, I leafed through R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country. It was a good companion borrow. The book has illustrations of famous and forgotten greats from the 1920s and 1930s with a paragraph or two about each person or group. I spotted many favorites among them. The book comes with a CD. It includes several favorites and a few that probably will become favorites.

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Michael M. on August 9th 2009 in General, Movies, Music, Recorded

Becoming a statistic

The New York Times published “For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics” a few days ago. When I was in college, I took a statistics class, STAT 310, as part of my mathematics major. It was great. The article, predictably, is about data mining, and it misses the real appeal of the field. Statistics is a wide open with a great amount of theory as yet undone, and new theory is likely to be widely applicable. I considered going to graduate school in statistics for these reasons. I decided not to, but the best part of my own work was its relation to Bayesian probability, a statistical framework for the optimal interpretation and integration of measurements. The article itself is biased toward economics, but every field reliant on measurements has connections to statistics.

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Michael M. on August 9th 2009 in General

Music in print

The Study of Medicine (PDF) is a brochure from the Washington University School of Medicine. The school sends out copies to prospective students. Look at page 16! It is a photograph of me on fiddle and Robert Mallery on banjo playing old-time music at the Coffeehouse this past spring. I blogged about our first effort there. We gave it another try before graduating. The Record published this photograph of one of the other groups who played. I had just rushed over from my pediatrics rotation with no time to change clothes. I did not realize the photograph had been taken, much less that it had been used for any purpose. I can become oblivious when playing.

A few weeks ago, a nurse at the hospital asked whether I played violin. I replied that I do play the fiddle. Trying to think quickly, I asked whether she had seen me on television. I was wrong. She had spotted me in the brochure. Her son will apply to medical schools this year, and she saw one that he had. I wrote the Assistant Dean for Admissions. She had a few printed copies sent to me. Then I had the thought to look for it on the web, and there it is. I only wish we had been identified by name.

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Michael M. on August 9th 2009 in General, Mine, Music

Mike Seeger dead at 75

I heard the news this morning on NPR affiliate KWMU. Mike Seeger, blogged about five previous times, died just 8 days shy of his 76th birthday. I brought him up just the other day when discussing bluegrass, old-time music and their differences. He had an extended illness, but I had not heard about it. He did a great amount of picking, spending time with pickers and teaching new pickers.

Fishing for more information, I came across this post of an interview with Seeger at Down Home Radio. At 59:35, interviewer Eli Smith said, “Dock said that if he could have started again, he might have liked to play guitar like John Hurt.” Mike Seeger replied that Dock Boggs and beloved Mississippi John Hurt both came and stayed with him. He said that the two played some shows together. The statement by Boggs actually came via Seeger, and in the interview, Seeger recalled hearing Boggs make it. It is documented, too, in a couple of reviews at Amazon, one by Tony Thomas.

W. E. Myers of Richlands, Virginia is an earlier link between Hurt and Boggs, also covered in this comment on this MetaFilter post. Myers recorded Dock Boggs on his Lonesome Ace record label. He wanted to record Hurt, but it never worked out. He did send Hurt two songs, “Richlands Women Blues” and “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me,” in the mail. Years later during Hurt’s rediscovery, he was still playing both of them.

According to the Down Home post, Thomas Hart Benton introduced the Seeger family to the music of Dock Boggs. The Bentons were prominent in Missouri. Thomas Hart Benton painted a mural in the state capitol. When I visited several years ago, I could not get into the room to my sustained disappointment. This post at Word on the Street has photographs with a comment by me at the end. I did spot a wonderful ivory-billed woodpecker, a three time subject, in this exhibition at the Missouri State Museum. I used to enjoy seeing all the Benton paintings at the twice mentioned Whitney Museum. When I moved from New York to Missouri, I was excited by the prospect of seeing more Benton paintings. I have found few in Saint Louis, though.

The post documenting the Dock Boggs statement about John Hurt also links to this post about Boggs and this post about Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (On Which Our Lord Was Laid)” is on the record bolted to the Voyager space probes. I blogged about that record two times. The same blog also has this post from soon after the news of Seeger’s terminal illness. With extreme appropriateness, the four posts are part of The Celestial Monochord: Journal of the Society for Astrophysics and the Hillbilly Blues.

By chance, I am listening to American Routes. The episode tonight is about recently mentioned Newport. Hurt’s “Make Me a Pallet” just finished.

Update August 12, 2009: Two blogs I track also marked Seeger’s death. Highway 61 Radio posted about the obituary in The New York Times. NMissCommentor‘s entry links to it and to this one in the Guardian by three times blogged English expert on American music Tony Russell.

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Michael M. on August 8th 2009 in General, Music

Slow up

I bought two Samsung EcoGreen F2 hard drives to upgrade my server after one of the hard drives I originally put in it failed. Unfortunately, my MSI K8MM-ILSR motherboard did not detect them. First I had to upgrade the BIOS. My motherboard’s BIOS splash screen initially showed Gateway when booting. It was strange. The bad part, though, was that there were no BIOS settings regarding a SATA controller. I thought it must be a weird BIOS version for Gateway that did not include SATA support. I thought I should flash the BIOS. I found it. Unfortunately, the program for flashing must run from floppy disk. It failed when I tried running it from a bootable CD in the past. I had to buy a floppy drive. I enabled the SATA controller, but it still did not work.

After searching, I found out about a problem with the motherboard chipset, the VIA VT8237. The drives and motherboard ideally should auto-negotiate to the old SATA standard, but they did not. I read that setting the hard drives to run at old SATA 1.5 Gb/s instead of newer SATA II 3.0 Gb/s might allow them to be recognized. Unfortunately, the drives do not have physical jumpers for this setting. I had to track down a computer that would recognize them to then run a software utility. To Samsung’s credit, the utilies HUTIL and ES Tool came as both a bootable CD image and a floppy disk. Eventually I did find a computer that could recognize the drives, and they work with my old computer after changing the setting.

Next I needed to be able to power both SATA drives simultaneously. My Antec Aria case has only one SATA power connector. I tried to find a SATA Y power cable or a Molex IDE to SATA power cable at a local Best Buy, Radio Shack and Office Depot stores. With technology becoming so common, finding such specific parts has become harder. I failed to find a cable. I settled on ordering one on eBay. It arrived yesterday.

The hard drive I replaced was the boot drive. I had to get it booting again. I eventually figured out how. I booted the openSUSE DVD and chose the repair option. My system configuration is a little too strange for the automatic repairs. After a fair bit of failure, I figured out that I could repair it by switching to the console to assemble the RAID arrays using mdadm, activate the LVM volume groups with vgchange and mount the file systems manually. Then I was able to go back to the graphical system and use the automated tool to fix the GRUB boot loader. I hope documenting what I did in this post will aid my memory should I ever need to do it again. Now I have redundancy, more space and a computer that works again.

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Michael M. on August 8th 2009 in General


Last night after a tough softball loss, I bicycled downtown with a friend to watch the Frontyard Features showing of The Big Lebowski at the Old Post Office Plaza. I blogged twice about FYF. We showed up late because neither of us knew the location of the Old Post Office Plaza. We thought it was part of the Gateway Mall. It is not. It is a little bit north from there. A helpful security guard at the City Garden directed us a few blocks north. Citygarden was packed for a Thursday night. I will have to return.

The Riverfront Times had a preview that added to the excitement. This review in the Daily RFT complains about the censorship of the movie. I did not think much about the language. I noticed that the volume went down once in a while during the showing without giving it much thought. I did notice one of the missing scenes. While I do not think the editing was necessary, I understand why they did it.

I thought the sideshow might be a show in itself. One fellow with long hair showed up in a bathrobe and sunglasses. I did not see any other costumed viewers. I also expected to see some white Russians. I think they were only served later at Flamingo Bowl. I had a blue bubblegum snowcone instead. It is not much of a substitute, but it was good in its own right. The crowd was reasonably big and enthusiastic. I had to head home after, but I imagine that a few continued to Flamingo Bowl and had big nights.

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Michael M. on August 8th 2009 in General, Movies

Ozark weekend

First the Ozarks came to me. Then I went to the Ozarks.

Three times blogged Big Smith hit the Gramophone Friday. A good old friend manages the band, and it is always good to see him when the band passes through town. It is always good to hear the band, too. They have that family sound. The Cropdusters played a good opening show. I talked to the Cropdusters drummer Taylor Steele before they played. He is a cousin of at least some of the Big Smith members. It was a fun night.

Saturday was the day to cross off a few Missouri natural wonders off my list. Elephant Rocks consists of rocks that are big and vaguely shaped liked elephants. It is a great place to climb and explore. I turned over a door and away scurried a little creature that I think was a wood rat. Then we made it to Taum Sauk Mountain. The observation platform gives a terrific view of several nearby mountains. The actual peak is very close to a parking lot. It was anticlimactic. Because it was not quite high enough, I climbed a tree at the top of the mountain. Then we trekked down to Mina Sauk Falls. While heading down, a family was heading back from the falls, and they looked disappointed. The falls were at a trickle. The walk itself was great. We saw swallowtail butterflies and an insect that looked just like lichen. In time for sunset, we climbed the lookout tower. The room at the top was locked. The view from the top landing of the stairs was still impressive.

The next day was Johnson’s Shut-Ins. I did not know what to expect. I loved skipping out of meetings at school retreats to go there. The disaster at the AmerenUE Taum Sauk power plant wrecked the site a few years ago. I had not been back since. The Shut-Ins are beautiful again. The water is back to clear. We slid, jumped, climbed and played. There were fish, tadpoles, frogs and turtles visible in the water. It is a wonderland. I also got to test my rock skipping skills, and I found them intact.

Then I cleaned up and had a pre-birthday dinner with friends at mentioned Dewey’s. It has become a favorite, and it was an excellent setting for a small gathering. It was great to see people I cannot see enough.

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Michael M. on August 4th 2009 in General

Old-Times Festivals

A friend from my class at the beloved Folk School passed along the article “Celebrating the Sounds of Appalachian Strings” in The New York Times about Fiddler’s Grove, an old-time music festival. Take in the audio slide show if you really care. It refers to Galax and Clifftop, too.

I fiercely want to go to the Appalachian String Band Festival, better known as Clifftop. It is the biggest. When I fiddled with the Mississippi Old-Time Music Society, I was asked several times whether I would be at Clifftop. I did not understand exactly what they were asking. Clifftop 2008 on YouTube by West Virginia Public Broadcasting gives a look into the world. This year I missed it again. I had the weekend off, but the travel would have take too much time. Several friends just got back. I look forward to hearing their stories about it. I still hope to make it there before too long.

Last year, I went to the Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering, called Battle Ground, last year. I played and listened and camped and repeated. It was great, and I am sorry that I will not make it to any festivals this year.

Missouri has a number of surviving dance and music festivals. I hope I can make it to something. West Plains, hometown of my great-grandmother, hosts the Old Time Music Ozark Heritage Festival annually. Hootin’ N Hollerin’ is a square dance festival in Gainesville. I have heard of more whose names I have forgotten. They remain community festivals largely promoted by word of mouth. I will have to listen.

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Michael M. on August 4th 2009 in General, Music


I watched Moon the the Landmark Tivoli. The director is David Bowie’s son. The moon has been a topic three other times. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, another movie watched at the Tivoli and an early topic, had Bowie songs in Portuguese. This movie set in space has none, not even in English, nor do I recall any sea songs. In fact, the soundtrack blended seamlessly although I know it must have been there.

The movie, while not as good as the real thing, was quite fine. I had read that the main character was stuck on the moon and gradually came to realize that his conditions were not as benign as they seemed. I expected another movie about an evil computer, but I was wrong. I also thought maybe this isolated man had grown mad. I do not want to give away what really happens. I will report that the movie is visually striking and that I was engaged throughout it.

After the movie, we walked to Eclipse at the Moonrise Hotel for the obvious reasons. The host asked for a name and then used a walkietalkie to announce us to some other employee. It was silly, but a little fun, too. To top it off, I just had to order Oberon to pack in one more moon. The new waxing crescent of our own sidereal companion looked perfect down near the horizon.

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Michael M. on August 4th 2009 in General, Movies


NPR‘s Weekend Edition Saturday featured this criticism of the body mass index (BMI). I missed the broadcast, but I caught the reddit post. I mentioned this measure a while back in a post on mathematics. In health care, BMI is used all the time. It serves as a fair proxy for proportionality of height and weight, but it certainly is flawed. At this point, it may be too entrenched for a move to better measures to come soon.

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Michael M. on August 4th 2009 in General

Debt collector

I received a call on May 27 at 12:44 PM with the caller ID number 1-000-000-0000. Not being busy, I decided to pick it up. It was a debt collector! He asked me about a $4000 debt on an HSBC Master Card. Because I was worried about identity theft at that point, I asked him who he was after. He said a name that had nothing to do with me. I said, “You’ll never get that money, so you can give up right now.” Then I hung up.

I had dreamed up this idea a while back. Once in a while, a debt collector gets my telephone numbers when seeking someone else. I usually am too busy to spend much time with them. I explain that they have the wrong person. I thought it would be funny to be evasive, defiant and insulting instead.

At 12:54 PM, I got a call from Private no. It sounded like the same fellow. He asked me why I had hung up on him before. I told him because I felt like it. He told me, “I’m as hard as concrete.” Because I had not caught much of what he said the first time, I decided to get more information. He told me that his name is Don Turpin. He works at the law office of John Frye in Roanoke, Virginia. According to him, Roanoke is the Star City of the South. He was looking to collect on a debt owed by someone I do not know. He told me he debtor’s name and year of birth. He decided that I did not sound like I could be the debtor because he is old.

I got another call at 1:40 PM from 540-767-7800. This time he told me only that his name was Don and that he was from the firm of John Frye. He would not tell me his last name. He would not let me speak to his manager or to Frye. He said that he was the boss. I told him that I thought John Frye must be the boss. I gave him a hard time. Eventually he hung up. At 2:53 PM, Heather, whose last name I did not catch, called from the law firm of John Frye at 540-767-7800. She asked for the debtor by name. I was busy and just hung up.

The frequency went down on May 28. I received one call from 1-866-392-3100 at 2:56 PM from a man who identified himself as Don from the law firm of John Frye. He would not give a last name this time. I gave him a hard time for a while, and he hung up.

I tracked down a little information. John P. Frye works with Atlantic Credit and Finance. John P. Frye: Typical Debt Lawyer? is dedicated to raking muck on him. His local newspaper published this article about the many complaints against him. This page shows listings for John P. Frye and Daniel P. Bengston at 540-767-7800. Googling 540-767-7800 returns many results. The operation buys debt from big creditors and tries to collect. I found the debtor at of the Missouri Courts. At least, the person has the right name and year of birth.

While I would not recommend egging them on, it was an amusing for a while. I have no idea where these people come up with the telephone numbers. I have had the one they called for years. I suppose that they do not care. They just hope to collect a little money. They will not be getting mine.

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Michael M. on August 4th 2009 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.