Archive for August, 2011


In high school, we had a network and email when it was still uncommon. Model 25 PS/2 computers connected to the Novell NetWare servers named for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jonathan Barlow posted a link to Nyet, a simple Tetris clone. It was the favorite game. I should get a DOS emulator working.

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Michael M. on August 29th 2011 in General

Banjo roots

NPR‘s All Things Considered featured The Banjo’s Roots, Reconsidered last Tuesday. Daniel Jatta, from Gambia, began thinking about the banjo while studying in the United States. He makes the case of the akonting as the main African relative of the banjo. The banjo has come up here many times, including one post particularly about its origins. This piece adds a little more to the story.

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Michael M. on August 29th 2011 in General, Music

Middle of Everywhere release

H and I met up with other Lulus and associated persons at Off Broadway for the late set of the release party for the album Middle of Everywhere by blogged Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. The band had played an early set to a seated crowd. We showed up for the late set. We knew something was different when the line stretched down the sidewalk toward Cherokee Street. I never found out the reasons behind the delay.

By the time we got inside, opener Colonel Ford had been playing for a while. The crowd enjoyed the honky tonk music. I was surprised by how many of the songs I knew. They are a very tight group of seasoned musicians. Pokey joined them for a song or two toward the end of the set.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three took the stage to great enthusiasm from the crowd. The KDHX blog has this review. They were on, and the music was great. The place was packed. I wondered whether the show had been oversold, and H mused about fire code violations. The air conditioning either was not on or failed. We eventually camped in front of a fan near the merchandise table. The crowd gradually thinned, but its fervor stayed strong.

After the show, we had a late meal at Benton Park Cafe. It stays open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays, something I had not known. The food was good. It hit the late night hunger spot just right. We headed home with our bellies full of food and our heads full of tunes for a deep sleep.

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Michael M. on August 21st 2011 in General, Live, Music

First trip to Cleveland

H showed me her hometown, Beachwood, Ohio, suburb of Cleveland and the bigger city. We had a great trip. I look forward to going back sometime. We had good visits with H’s family, and we visited a few area attractions.

We spent time on long walks and short drives to see personal sites. We had a good time looking around Coventry. Tommy’s Restaurant is a fixture. We shared french fries, and my chocolate malt was really good. We also had a good time browsing at Big Fun. It is a toy store featuring many vintage toys from my childhood and childhoods both younger and older than mine. I resisted the urge to buy a cap gun.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was not great. Before arriving there, I realized that it could be boring. I like rock music, but would I get anything out of visiting a museum? The museum mostly consists of exhibits of costumes and musical instruments. It falls short on actual stories or explanations. The exception is the section on the wonderful Beatles. One display featured a series of short movies, one for each album. They were entertaining and informative. They also shed more light on the personalities of the members and of their producer George Martin.

The next day brought a couple of good museums. The Cleveland Museum of Art is excellent. I wish it were not still under construction. It has exhibits ranging from ancient classical art to suits of armor to modern masterpieces. Seeing Stag at Sharkey’s was a treat. I want to go back. It is a big museum with great breadth. We has a quick late lunch at La Pizzeria for good pizza by the slice. Then we walked to the Dittrick medical museum. It has some cool creepy old medical instruments along with local history.

We capped the day with supper at Jack’s Deli. It was corned beef Tuesday. I tried the corned beef. It was good although I thought it would be saltier. I think I successfully partook in another Cleveland tradition.

The drives there and back were mostly dull. I-70 and I-71 have few sights along them. I tethered my laptop to my cell service, but it did not work well. High speed network coverage by T-Mobile is limited to cities and surrounding areas. Traffic was bad on the way back due to construction and a terrible accident on the other side of the highway involving a fatality and two 18 wheelers reported here and here. We fortunately returned without incident. Now I have to rest from my vacation before going back to work.

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Michael M. on August 19th 2011 in General, Music

The Help movie

During our Kansas City trip, H and I saw The Help. I previously posted this preview and this review of the novel. I expected the movie to fall somewhere between the heights it could achieve and the utter disappointment that many movie adaptations of novels are. It fell toward the better side, but it is not what it could or should have been.

The biggest problem is the overall mood of the movie. This feeling of triumph and humor is painted too prominently in the movie. In my reading, fear permeated the novel. The mood of the movie is too bright. The soundtrack promotes it. The frequency of humor does, too. Even at the end of the novel, I thought the characters could meet bad ends.

The casting has several problems, too. Aibileen Clark is played well enough, but the actress is too young. In the book, the character was older. It matters. The actress playing her gives a good performance, but the casting was not right. Of course, Skeeter Phelan is played by an actress who is not homely enough. Skeeter intelligence and ambition set her apart from her friends, but so does not being as pretty. Hilly Holbrook, Minny Jackson and Celia Foote look about like they should.

The movie, by necessity, leaves out many of the book’s best scenes. Many of the great scenes in the book involve the maids’ stories. The movie’s reduced focus on Aibileen’s quality of writing also dampens a major impact of the book. The movie also makes some plot changes regarding Skeeter’s own maid Constantine. The resulting story in the movie makes somewhat less sense.

The reactions to the movie have been mixed. That much is understandable. The movie is entertaining, but it has plenty of problems. Much of the discussion, though, focuses on the hype surrounding the movie rather than the movie itself. The movie serves as a witching rod. Some of the criticism has been off the mark.

No thanks Kathryn Stockett, I don’t want to be “The Help” at the Ladner Report comes from sociologist Joyce Ladner. Before she became a prominent academic leader and sociologist, she worked as a teenage African-American maid in Mississippi. Ladner seems critical of the book, but many of the problems she raises are ones that Kathryn Stockett clearly shares. Ladner’s points and Stockett’s points largely coincide, yet Ladner concludes “The people who populate her book and movie are viewed through rose colored glasses where everyone gets along.” Ladner understandably writes, “Moreover, there is no reason to rejoice in the good old times black servants and white employers.” Ladner tells gives a harrowing account of a few of her experiences as a maid, and her revenge by serving dirty pancakes mirrors a central episode in the book. I see Ladner’s criticism of the times, but not so much of the book. The Help is much more social criticism than celebration.

“there was his light on, waiting for me”– Ralph Eubanks on Eudora Welty’s alternate view to The Help of Jackson in 1963 from NMissCommentor pointed me to W. Ralph Eubanks‘ piece Eudora Welty’s Jackson: ‘The Help’ In Context on NPR. He makes an insightful link between the movie, whose events include the assassination of twice blogged Medgar Evers, with blogged Eudora Welty‘s short story “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” told from the imagined perspective of Evers’ killer. Eubanks deftly uses another ficitonal work to put the movie in context.

I came across Jackson Jambalaya when reading. This blog primarily concerns politics in and around Jackson, Mississippi. Judge Green dismisses Help lawsuit. (Video), a post there, brought my attention to a lawsuit filed by the housekeeper of author’s brother, Ablene Cooper. She alleged that The Help included her likeness. The judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the comments on the blog post are the more interesting feature. They include accusations of greed, accusations of manipulation by lawyers, accusations of discrimination by the judge and support for the plaintiff. The comments shed some light on race relations and attitudes toward domestic employees in modern Jackson. Prior posts related to the book and lawsuit provide more perspective.

I recommend seeing the movie. I would not see it, though, before reading the book. The book is something special. I think I am better off seeing the flaws of the movie from the perspective of knowing the book than the other way. The movie also is serving to generate discussion, and I am happy to hear more myself.


Michael M. on August 19th 2011 in General, Movies

The Tillers

The Tillers played the favorite Folk School . H and I went on a whim. See this video by blogged friend Ryan Spearman and this one by John Hotze. They are a three man folk group from Cincinnati. They switched around on classic string band instruments. The vocal harmonies were the best, though. I got too sleepy to make it the whole way through the show, but I am glad to have caught what I did.

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Michael M. on August 19th 2011 in General, Live, Music

New Mississippi John Hurt biography

The University Press of Mississippi recently published Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues by Philip RatcliffeMississippi John Hurt is a favorite of mine. I met the author, also known as Dr. Phil / Delta Dan, on my 2007 trip to the MJH Festival. He told me then that he was writing the biography. My father saw copies for sale in Square Books and very thoughtfully gave me one for my birthday. Work prevented my getting far into it until vacation this week.

The book was a pleasure to read. It explores the phases of MJH’s life from before his birth through his times in and out of the music business to his death and its aftermath. It also takes a look at MJH’s circumstances in addition to the man himself. He put a lot of work into understanding the familial, geographic and interpersonal relationships of MJH’s community using census data and other old records. For me as a big fan, this level of detail was great. Of course, there are many entertaining anecdotes, too. Through reading them, I came to see how superstitious a man he could be from mythical beliefs about local fauna to timing dental work to the phase of the moon. His personal warmth also came through clearly.

I was thrilled to find my own name on page XVII of the introduction among the people thanked.  I made it into a sentence that included blogged Mike Seeger, Jerry Ricks, Dick Waterman, Steve LaVere, blogged Harry Bolick, Andy Cohen and Larkin Bryant, Patrick Sky and Mike “Backwards Sam Firk” Stewart. I was not sure whether I really had done anything to be included, but Phil confirmed it. At the 2007 festival, we talked about many things including connections between the Avalon/Valley community where MJH lived and the Emmett Till murder centered around nearby Money, and we had a brief email correspondence after. Grover Duke is listed here as a character witness for Roy Bryant, one of the men who murdered Till. He had lived around the Valley store, and he is listed in the liner notes for Harry Bolick’s album Carroll County, Mississippi. One of photographs is in the book is by Jim Steeby, whom I also mentioned from that first festival visit.

This year’s festival is scheduled for September 3. My chances of going are not great, but I might try to make it.

A related project is Mississippi John Hurt: Discovery, a collection of recordings made in Avalon by Tom “Fang” Hoskins soon after he found MJH. I look forward to listening.


Michael M. on August 13th 2011 in General, Music

Kansas City vacation

H treated me to a trip to Kansas City as a birthday present. We rode the Amtrak Missouri River Runner across the state. I blogged about riding another Amtrak route in 2009. This trip was good, too. I enjoy the relaxed pace, the space and the relatively few restrictions. Using the AC power outlets, I was able to use my computer. The cell coverage along the line, however, is spotty. I was on the Internet only intermittently during the ride. We were able to take our bicycles for an extra $10 each.

I insisted on trying the two most cited bastions of Kansas City-style barbecue, Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. At each place, I had burnt ends. Normally, I prefer pork to beef for barbecue, but my research led me to believe burnt ends would be the best choice.

We walked from our hotel in Westport to the Gates location on Main Street. My sandwich was huge. It was too big because it was too good to leave any on my plate. The first few bites were good, but nothing special. It got better as I went, much better. The Sweet and Mild sauce was not especially good. The “Classic” Original was great, though, and the Extra Hot was wonderful. Although I like both barbecue and spicy food, I never enjoyed them together. The smoky and sweet flavors suit my palate better. The Extra Hot sauce at Gates, however, is an awesome exception. It was the reason I had to finish my sandwich when most signals were telling me to stop.

We used the bus system to get to Arthur Bryant’s. The neighborhood is a little desolate, and the place is plain. Neither factor hurts in barbecue. We went through the line and found a table with Original, Sweet Heat and Rich & Spicy sauces. The sandwich already had sauce, presumably Original. I spent a little while trying each before deciding that the sandwich was best the way they made it. H got pulled pork, which was good, but not up to the high standard of the burnt ends.

Who won? I did. I got to try two legendary restaurants. I have to give the edge to Gates, though. A lot of it was the sauce. The meat at both places was excellent, but two of three Gates sauces elevated the flavors to ethereal heights. The Gates portion sizes are beyond reasonable, though. I would love to eat more of both.

Transportation was easy within the city. We arrived at Union Station, which is beautiful, and rode our bicycles to the hotel. The hills are bigger than here, though, and we were not there long enough to adjust. We relied almost completely on our bicycles and the Metro bus system. The buses are reasonably fast, and we only had to rely on a cab once because the buses stop running from about midnight to 5 AM. The app for Google Maps on Android includes a public transportation option for directions, and it worked great. The buses have bicycle racks on the front. We used them once on the trip back to the train station, and they worked well.

We did witness a wreck when walking a couple of blocks from one bus to another. A Jeep Cherokee ended up on its side after another driver ran a red light and T-boned it. We were walking parallel to the path of the driver who caused the accident. I did not notice until the loud crash. I looked up to see the Cherokee in the air on its side. H called 911. By the time we reached the intersection, both drivers were walking around unscathed.

We visited a couple of museums, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Both lack bicycle parking. The Nelson-Atkins is fantastic. I enjoyed the paintings by regional artists George Caleb Bingham featured in Bingham@200 and mentioned Thomas Hart Benton. One hall featured Bingham’s drawings used as studies for paintings, and they were treats, too. Photography usually appeals less to me, but part of the collection features samples from the beginnings of photography that are intriguing. The current exhibition Heavens: Photographs of the Sky & Cosmos has some older photographs of celestial objects in exquisite detail. The Kemper was good, but the Nelson-Atkins Museum is spectacular.

The Westport neighborhood was active, especially for a Wednesday night. We spent a little time at McCoy’s Kansas City. I did not see the sidewalk dining that is so common here. Patios are plentiful, though, and very nice. The weather was mild, and it was good to be out at night.

We visited Loose Park and looked around the Country Club Plaza at the suggestion of friends familiar with KC. I had a great cupcake at Cupcake A La Mode. The park is nice and open. Its rose garden is maintained very well. The exhibition on Civil War happenings in the area was a good diversion, too.

We also watched The Help in the Plaza and pursued several other diversions. I will revisit the movie in a later post. The trip was relaxing and fun. I have wanted to visit Kansas City, particularly by train, for years. Doing so was a great. It took nearly a decade of living in the Missouri before going. The next trip should be sooner.

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Michael M. on August 12th 2011 in General

Folk School on Cityscape

KWMU local arts program Cityscape featured the beloved Folk School on today’s program. The last Folk School segment, as far as I know, was on the blogged May 27, 2005 program. Friends director Kelly Wells and blogged instructor Ryan Spearman were interviewed today. They also performed two jug band numbers, “Yes She Do, No She Don’t” and “Take It Slow and Easy.” Their blogged Green Strum Project got some well deserved promotion. Listen to enjoy the songs at to learn more.

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Michael M. on August 12th 2011 in General, Music

Old-time fiddling at the Atomic Cowboy

I returned to the blogged Atomic Cowboy Open Mic last night. The heat slacked enough to bring out many of the best regulars along with a new face or two. I realized a while back that I had no videos of myself fiddling. My banjo playing friend SB graciously joined me on stage. We played three Illinois fiddle tunes and then I added a song on guitar, not recorded, at the end. H recorded the first three, and I have posted this playlist on YouTube. Below are audio files of the tunes and the embedded playlist.

The tunes all come from Illinois. “Dog Treed a Possum Up a White Oak Tree” is one I have blogged two times. “Brisk Young Soldier” is one I learned from SB at the beloved Folk School. Harvey “Pappy” Taylor played it. My “Red Hills Polka” comes mostly from Bob Holt‘s recording. The Allen Street String Band, the fellows who collected it, named it after Red Hills State Park where they heard it. They did not get the original title from the woman who played it for them or even her name. Mudcat has this discussion.

“Dog Treed a Possum Up a White Oak Tree” (mp3) (m4a) (video on YouTube)

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“Brisk Young Soldier” (mp3) (m4a) (video on YouTube)

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“Red Hills Polka” (mp3) (m4a) (video on YouTube)

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Michael M. on August 9th 2011 in General, Mine, Music, Recorded

openSUSE upgrade

I upgraded to openSUSE 11.4 today. These upgrades always make most things run better at the cost of breaking a few others. The server seems to be back in working order.

Predictably, the upgrade broke my graphics configuration. My video card is an old NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200. The card still works, but it requires legacy drivers. I took multiple steps I forgot. I remember that I hand edited /etc/X11/xorg.conf to use the driver nvidia rather than nv. It seemed to work after whatever I did, but for good measure, I followed the easy way to get NVIDIA.

The upgrade also broke this blog. Something changed with the MySQL users, passwords and permissions. The databases themselves were still there and intact. I tried re-installing the MySQL server, repairing the tables and restarting it many times to no avail. Eventually, I decided to run the commands here for installing WordPress with the omission of the CREATE DATABASE command since the database already had been created.

I had previously been running openSUSE 11.1. My server stayed up 377 days! It finally went down in early July. Even so, the failure was from the uninterruptible power supply, I think with the battery. Neither the software nor computer itself forced the down time. While I would prefer a Debian-derived distribution such as Ubuntu or Kubuntu or Debian itself, switching looks too difficult. I still need to look into replacing the UPS battery. I will aim for another whole year of uptime after getting the UPS fully functional again.


Michael M. on August 8th 2011 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.