Archive for November, 2009

Roland White at the Folk School

H and I went to the Roland White concert at the favorite Folk School several weeks back. He came several years ago, and I got to play with him at a Folk School jam session. This time he played with local picker Thayne Bradford. His wife was to have accompanied him, but I believe that she was convalescing. The show was a bit disorganized. The two frequently had to compare lists to decide what to play next. The music itself, however, was excellent. White also had interesting stories about playing with his brother Clarence and Bill Monroe. I look forward to his return.

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Michael M. on November 30th 2009 in General, Live, Music

The Help

This review in The New York Times convinced me that I must read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It is a novel about domestic workers set in 1960s Mississippi. While not quite my generation, it is close enough that I am sure to find connections to the environment in which I was raised. I hope I find the time to read it.


Michael M. on November 30th 2009 in General


A friend alerted H that the Asylum Street Spankers would be at Off Broadway. Previously blogged mandolinist David Long has joined the line up. They mix songs and styles from early 20th century string bands and Tin Pan Alley with new themes and material. We caught a fun show. They opened up with gospel music from new album God’s Favorite Band before moving to more satirical music. I knew them from the video for “Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV” on YouTube. It is amusing and positively filthy. In person, I realized that they are excellent musicians. The encore included the song “Shave ‘Em Dry” by Lucille Bogan. It was the smuttiest musical performance I have ever witnessed, not that I am against such artistic liberties. I got to talk to a few of them after and even fiddle a little, including “Bankhead Blues” and previously blogged “Magnolia One Step” from the three times blogged Nations Brothers. The show was good fun, and despite being hopelessly outclassed musically, I had a good time trying to join in a little after.

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Michael M. on November 12th 2009 in General, Live, Music

MCB and Oxpatch

As previously posted, I rode the train home last week. After deboarding, I visited the McComb Railroad Museum. I happened on the special exhibit Journey Stories, put on in conjunction with the Smithsonian, by my good luck. The local Enterprise-Journal had this article about the project. The next day, we headed for Oxford.

This post on Highway 61 Radio alerted me to the most recent edition of Thacker Mountain Radio. It featured three times blogged William Ferris discussing his new book, Give My Poor Hear Ease. I heard about it earlier in this interview on NPR‘s All Things Considered. Off Square Books, which hosts the show, was overflowing. I had to stand on the sidewalk for a while where I ran into the proprietor of blog NMissCommentor.

While I had Ferris sign my book, I said that I had seen him years ago in McComb at a senior apartment complex. I think I was home from college at the time. I probably was the youngest person there by half. Ferris brought up blogged Bo Diddley, and I happily recollected his visit to my chorus class in seventh grade. I look forward to leafing through my copy.

Ferris previously used Give My Poor Heart Ease as the title of this documentary movie from the 1970s. It is available on FolkStreams. This story covered the FolkStreams project on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday a few years ago. I twice blogged about other Ferris documentaries.

Thacker Mountain also featured musical performances. A young fellow from North Carolina played “Talking World War III Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Bill Ellison and Temperance Babcock played bluegrass. Jim Jimbo Mathus played his music.

Ellison has hosted Grassroots, a bluegrass show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, for many years. It comes on just before Highway 61, whose blog started this post. Ferris used to host Highway 61. I spent quite a few Saturdays listening to the two shows.

Several other events, including the game, rounded out the weekend. The night after, I ate with my family and H and Taylor Grocery. We went out to Rowan Oak. I tried to go to Thacker Mountain with H. The land was posted, and we were not up for trespassing at the time. We then visited the University of Mississippi Museum. The Millington-Barnard Collection of scientific demonstrations and instruments and the David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman antiquities were my favorites. I had intended to visit for years, and my parents had intended to go for years before me. I am happy to have finally made it. On the way back, H and I visited the National Civil Rights Museum and Lambert’s Cafe. We returned to Saint Louis full and tired.

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Michael M. on November 10th 2009 in General, Live, Movies, Music


This post on /. pointed me to “Iraq Swears by Bomb Detector U.S. Sees as Useless” in The New York Times. The headline is foolish equivocation by the newspaper. The device, the ADE651, is a dowsing rod for bombs. Because it is a fraud, and the Times should not be so weak in assessing the situation.

I wondered why the government of Iraq would waste millions of dollars on these things. This comment on /. helped me understand. No major government official truly has to believe that they work if there is enough corruption. Greed might be more powerful than gullibility.

When I was an undergraduate student, a similar device was being pushed on American law enforcement agencies. It was called the Quadro Tracker. This page by one of the professors who debunked it has several related stories. Stories along these lines keep coming back, and they will for many years.

Goofy fake detector devices carry great appeal. I found this TED talk on strange beliefs. Our brains are highly sensitive pattern detectors. The trade-off for high sensitivity is reduced specificity. We have to be sensitive to events that might kill us, even when it leads to false alarms. With our human biases and our tendencies toward corruption, I expect to see more of these devices in the future.

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Michael M. on November 10th 2009 in General


The news is filled with stories about the H1N1 flu. So far, I have escaped the bug. I have received both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines. I hope I mount an appropriate response. The news brings up an opportunity to revisit vaccination. This Wired story about vaccines made the rounds of Facebook friends. About the same time, this video of Desiree Jennings made the rounds among neurology residents and faculty. She developed movement problems after receiving the seasonal flu vaccine. The unanimous opinion was that this woman has a psychogenic disorder, not dystonia. These two posts from the NeuroLogica Blog cover the situation. Single anecdotes, even ones that are not what they initially might appear, can carry great public weight. I hope nobody suffers as a consequence of the misleading news coverage. As with many medical interventions, the important questions are of risk and benefit. The initial data were promising enough for public vaccination.

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Michael M. on November 4th 2009 in General


I caught this story on NPR‘s All Things Considered about the upcoming album from three times blogged R.E.M. The interview goes back to the early days of the band. Michael Stipe discusses his lyrics and how many of them are nonsense. It is some reassurance for all of us who have tried and failed to puzzle out what he was singing.

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Michael M. on November 3rd 2009 in General, Music, Recorded

Homeward bound

Since moving to Saint Louis, I have had the plan of riding the train home. Years later, I finally am about to do it. I will travel all the way from my door to my hometown without riding in a private vehicle. Because there is no direct passenger train route from Saint Louis to Mississippi, I had to choose between riding up to Chicago or waiting a few hours to catch a late night bus over to Carbondale, Illinois to meet the train. For the maximal rail experience, I decided on Chicago.

This morning I walked to the MetroLink stop and took it from my neighborhood to St. Louis Union Station. It cost $2.25. There I caught the Megabus to Chicago Union Station. It cost $3.50. Megabus offers Wi-Fi on the bus. I gave it a try. It was slow, a little over 100 kbps when I checked, but functional. Judging from my IP address, Megabus contracts with AT&T to provide the service. From searching on the web, it appears that some Megabus buses have power outlets. I did not see any on mine. Unfortunately, my laptop battery does not last very long. Wi-Fi is not very useful without power outlets.

Later this evening, I will board the Amtrak City of New Orleans bound for home. I currently am waiting in the Union Station food court. I found a corner table near a power outlet. I decided to bring many devices on the trip. My cell phone, PDA, iPod and laptop are all charging right now.

I am using a Novatel MiFi for Internet access. Verizon carries it, and I am using that service. Sprint carries it, too, but Verizon coverage looked better. AT&T and T-Mobile offer less nifty devices for connecting, and their coverage maps also looked worse than Verizon’s. I do not know how far the railroad diverges from the major highways that are often the only areas with cell coverage in rural areas. The New York Times published this review back in the spring. Right now, I have it tethered to my laptop by USB. I just got about 1.8 Mbps upload and 600 kbps download speeds. It also can act as a Wi-Fi access point supplying a connection for up to 5 devices.

My plan is to use it on the train. Again, though, I will face the need for electricity. From my web searching, it seems that there are power outlets on Amtrak trains, but only a few. I chose not to spend the extra money, nearly twice as much, for a private room with outlets. I will try hard to find a seat near one. Thinking ahead, I brought an extension cord and a power splitter with the hope that somebody will share with me even if I cannot get a seat right by an outlet. If it works, I will post an update.

Update 8:45 PM: I am on the train rolling out of Chicago. I was delighted to find power outlets at every seat. I had read that only some cars have been retrofitted, but there are plenty of outlets on this train. Now it is time to watch the nighttime scenery roll by and catch a little sleep along with some Internet time.


Michael M. on November 3rd 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.