Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year of pretty good, nay, great reads ... 2013 reading list in review

2013.07.26-IMG_4970Here's my reading list for 2013; discovered some new things (Kelly Hand), re-read a number of old friends (Hesse, Tolkien, Orwell, Huxley); completed Hugh Howey's amazing Wool series and also a bunch of the Wool World from some pretty talented authors.

Spent some very good quality time with a few series of essays and breezed through Jo Wood's rock and roll biography while going more slowly through the Bruce Springsteen bio. I started earlier in the year planning to read through a series of "English Country House" novels, starting with Brideshead, but that turned into a min-Forster marathon when I started planning a work trip to Florence. Speaking of travel, Edith Wharton's In Morocco joined me in Fes.

My non-fiction reading was all over the map with no common theme. And in the world of speculative fiction, I stuck with the masters, Bradbury, Clarke, Vonnegut (and also a short Hugh Howey novella plus Jack London's Scarlet Plague. And, the three Margaret Atwood Positron novellas published during 2012-2013 (new one is out, number 4, but haven't read that yet).

Only able to get around to one book of poetry, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Leaving San Francisco.

And, my major reading project for the year, DFW's Infinite Jest (read more about that here).

So, here are the lists ...
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A random series of novels:
  • Au Pair Report, Kelly Hand
  • Siddartha, Herman Hesse
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman
  • The Plagiarist, Hugh Howey
  • The Scarlet Plague, Jack London
From the Wool series by Hugh Howey:
  • First Shift, Hugh Howey
  • Second Shift, Hugh Howey
  • Third Shift, Hugh Howey
  • Dust, Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey's Wool, in the wilds of a brick and mortar store Three series from the greater Wool World:
  • The Runner, W.J. Davies
  • The Diver, W.J. Davies
  • The Watcher, W.J. Davies
  • The Sky Used to Be Blue, Patrice Fitzgerald
  • Cleaning Up, Patrice Fitzgerald
  • Deep Justice, Patrice Fitzgerald
  • Rising Up, Patrice Fitzgerald
  • Last Walk: A Silo Story, Patrice Fitzgerald
  • Silo 49: Going Dark, Ann Christy
  • Silo 49: Deep Dark, Ann Christy
2013.07.25-IMG_4852 In non-fiction:
  • What Matters in Jane Austen? John Mullan
  • Governing the Commons, Elinor Ostrom
  • The Best of Both Worlds, G. Wayne Clough
  • Winning Isn't Normal, Jason Shen
Masters of more than just "Sci-Fi": Clarke, Bradbury, and Vonnegut:
  • The City and the Stars, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
  • Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
Margaret Atwood keeping us entertained in short form:
  • I'm Starved for You, Margaret Atwood
  • Choke Collar, Margaret Atwood
  • Erase Me, Margaret Atwood
Great collections of essays:
  • Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writings, Neal Stephenson
  • Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson
  • Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley
  • Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays, Albert Camus
2013.05.26-IMG_3021 For my travels:
  • In Morocco, Edith Wharton
  • Italian Hours, Henry James
  • Mornings in Florence, John Ruskin
E.M. Forster:
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread, E.M. Forster
  • A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
It's Only Rock and Roll Bios:
  • Hey Jo: The Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood, and My Rock and Roll Fairy Tale, Jo Woods
  • Bruce, Peter Ames Carlin
Poetry:
  • Starting from San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Sui generis:
  • David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest

Last 2013 Washington Monument photo .... still under scaffolding ...

2013.12.31At the rate it was being uncovered that past few weeks, I thought for sure that it would all be done before the start of 2014.

But progress slowed the past week or so and stalled with what I count as 10 rows left.

Here's a look back at the scaffolding going up and coming down this year; and, below, a picture of the tippy top:

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Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 in review: new music I was listening

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2013 was a very good year for some new tunes. 43 new stax of wax hit my turntable this year (metaphorically speaking). It would be hard to pick out my favorites, but I'm going to list those top ten (in release order) that got heavy rotation (I'm also not going to count compilations, archives releases, etc.):

  • Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper, Ripley Pine (February 19, 2013)
  • David Bowie, The Next Day (March 11, 2013) (and the extended EP released later in the year that might even be better)
  • Steve Martin & Eddie Brickell, Love Has Come for You (April 23, 2013)
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (March 19, 2013)
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me, One Kiss Ends it All (May 20, 2013)
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (June 11, 2013)
  • Dave Davies, I Will Be Me (June 4, 2013)
  • Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost (September 17, 2013)
  • Yoko Ono, Take Me to the Land of Hell (September 24, 2013)
  • Paul McCartney, New (October 15, 2013)

From the world of singles, a few stuck in my Earwom land:
  • Katy Perry, "Roar"
  • Cher, "Woman's World"
  • Capital Cities, "Safe and Sound"
  • Bruno Mars, "Count on Me"
  • Ylvis, "The Fox (What the Fox Says)"
And here's the full list, in chronological order:
  • Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose (December 18, 2012) 
    Ok, not quite a 2012 album, but pretty close. Plus, I wanted to say that Monroe's "You Ain't Dolly" (a duet with Vince Gill) is a really great song. For Monroe's true 2013 entry, see her work with Pistol Annies that came out in May. 
  • TORRES, TORRES (January 22, 2013)
    Very nice, if a bit too "moody" indie record by the solo chanteuse. Highlights include "When Winter's Over," "Don't Run Away, Emilie," and "Honey." Will be interesting to see what TORRES (aka Mackenzie Scott) comes up with next.
  • Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper, Ripley Pine (February 19, 2013)
    Not a group, but an amazing multi-instrumentalist Aly Spaltro. Only 23, Spaltro crafts a fabulous set from the kick-off "Heir to the Ferris Wheel" to the epic "You are the Apple". One of the best albums of the year. Really, a great album, I can't say enough about it! Go buy it now!
  • Golden Grrrls, Golden Grrrls (February 25, 2013)
    Some catchy, indie-style pop tunes from the Scottish trip. Interesting tunes.
  • Johnny Marr, The Messenger (February 26, 2013)The Smiths' guitar-man came up with his second true solo album this year and it was quite good. His jangly guitar of course calls up the work of The Smiths, but this is all Marr, no Morrissey. "The Right Thing Right" (the opener that most resembles a Smiths' song), "I Want the Heartbeat" (my favorite on the set), and "Generate, Generate" were my faves.
  • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Old Yellow Moon (February 26, 2013)
    Emmylou rarely disappoints and this collaboration with Rodney Crowell is another winner from the Red Dirt Girl. "Hanging Up My Heart," "Black Caffeine," and "Old Yellow Moon" are all standouts as is the faithful reading of Patti Sciafla's "Spanish Dancer." 
  • Los Originales De San Juan, Mariachi (March 4, 2013)
    Nothing like some nice mariachi music to get you in a good mood. The "Norteno Quartet" based in Southern California has been around for a while. This album is a god introduction to the group and their sound. 
  • David Bowie, The Next Day (March 11, 2013)An unexpected surprise from Bowie, The Next Day is quite good; a nice follow up to Reality and Heathen (both of which I enjoyed). Standouts include "Valentine's Day," "Where are we Now?," and "(You Will) Set the World on Fire." 
  • Eric Clapton, Old Sock (12 March 2013)A very nice and comfortable album, literally, an "old sock" with mostly old songs (real old ones). Standouts are "Gotta Get Over It" and a cover of "Goodnight Irene". Slowhand also brings in Paul McCartney to duet on "All of Me" (McCartney had warmed up his coversmithing with Kisses on the Bottom last year)
  • Boz Skaggs, Memphis (March 15, 2013)
    Skagg's amazing smooth voice is a little rougher around the edges these days, but his mature phrasings more than make up for it on this great album. Mostly covers (paying tribute to the Memphis sound), Skaggs brings along Ray Parker, Jr. and Willie Weeks for the ride. "Rainy Night in Georgia," "Love on a Two Way Street," Steely Dan's "Pearl of the Quarter," and Moon Martin's "Cadillac Walk" are standouts.Oh, and "Mixed up, Shook up Girl".
  • Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park (March 19, 2013)
    Wow, really great pop/country album. Musgraves pulls off a number of catchy tunes including "Merry Go Round," "Dandelion," "Blowin' Smoke," "Follow Your Arrow," are all standouts. Looking forward to more from Kacey.
  • Beth Hart, Bang Bang Boom Boom (April 2, 2013 US)
    Great album from the bluesy rocker. Title track is great and the bonus live cover of "I'd Rather Be Blind" is a great closer.
  • Peach Kelli Pop, Peach Kelli Pop (April 23, 2013)
    Super peppy poppy Peach Kelli Pop brings an infectious and fun set of tunes. Ten songs, with none breaking the 3 minute mark (and four under 2 minutes), all are great fun. Probably my favorite is "Tucson Song" (the album closer) that has some nice ukulele (?) strumming set over video game bleeps/boops (with some background songs of airport announcements) and a tune vaguely reminiscent of The Kink's "Waterloo Sunset." 
  • Steve Martin & Eddie Brickell, Love Has Come for You (April 23, 2013)An excellent collaboration. Martin's banjo playing and Brickell's voice work very well together. A number of standouts from the opener, "When You Get to Asheville," through "Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby," through "Remember Me This Way." Highly recommend.
  • Tom Jones, Spirit in the Room (April 23, 2013)
    I sometimes wonder if TJ would have been better off if he was less pretty. I mean, look at all the respect Eric Burdon gets as a singer. TJ, while not quite in that same league, has a great voice. Standouts on the set include his interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," Tom Waits' "Bad as Me," and Dylan's "When the Deal Goes Down." [note: released in 2012 in the UK, the US release wasn't til this year].
  • The Beaches, She Beat (May 3, 2013)
    An interesting, low key album. 
  • Noah and the Whale, Heart of Nowhere (May 6, 2013)
    Saturday Looks Good to Me's One Kiss Ends it All, this was my favorite album(s) of the summer. Great songs.
  • Natalie Maines, Mother (May 7, 2013)
    The Dixie Chick flies solo with a curious set of tunes, e.g. a cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother". Best cut, "Silver Bell." Overall, a bit disappointed with this album, I was, perhaps, expecting more Dixie Chicks and for that I had to look to Pistol Annies.
  • Pistol Annies, Annie Up (May 7, 2013)
    The follow up to Hell on Heels, the sophomore outing by Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, and Angeleena Preseley hits many of the same marks that made the first album so fun, though not quite as fun. A hybrid of Tanya Tucker sassiness and Dolly Parton depth, topped off with some wicked bass-bluesy-ess, it's a great album. Highlights, "I Feel a Sin Comin' On," "Hush Hush," "Girls Like Us," and more and fun plus tunes.
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me, One Kiss Ends it All (May 20, 2013)
    A creation of Fred Thomas more than a band, this turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Loved "Sunglasses" and "Polar Bear". Spent a lot of time listening to it during summer vacation, so this, along with  Noah and the Whale's, Heart of Nowhere were my summer of 2013 albums.
  • John Fogerty, Wrote a Song for Everyone (May 28, 2013)
    Not too much to say about this album; comprised mostly of classic Fogerty tunes done with other stars (and Fogerty's kids), it's a mostly pleasant trip down memory lane. The collaboration with Foo Fighters ("Fortunate Son") is great, but the most compelling duet is "Who'll Stop the Rain" with Bob Seger. Two new songs are added to the mix, but they don't quite stand up to the amazing past record Fogerty compiled.
  • Various Artists, Ghost Brothers of Darkland  County (June 4, 2013)
    So, let's say Stephen King gets together with John Mellencamp to write a musical. And then they get Elvis Costello, Dave and Phil Alvin, Neko Case and a cast of many other A-listers to sing (oh, and T-Bone Burnett to produce). So what do you get? Can't say as I'm sure ...
  • Black Sabbath, 13 (June 11, 2013)
    Three-fourths of the classic Sabbath line up participate in this album (minus original drummer Bill Ward). Ozzie is in fine voice, Geezer still plays amazing bass, and Iommi never lost his way with a guitar. Sure, it's hard to take lyrics like "Blood on my conscience / And murder in mind / Out of the gloom / I rise up from my tomb / Into impending doom / Now my body is my shrine" ("God Dead?") or "Indoctrination by a twisted desire, / The catechism of an evil messiah." ("Dear Father") seriously after The Osbournes reality show, but the group can still conjure up some black magic.
  • Dave Davies, I Will Be Me (June 4, 2013)
    After all these years Dave Davies can still crank out great guitar parts. Yes, he's channeling some great Kinks songs of the past, but with enough new twists (and guest appearances from various hard rock friends like Anti-Flag and the Jayhawks). Starts of with a great, Kinky song, "Little Green Amp" and rocks on from there.
  • James McCartney, Me (June 18, 2013)
    It's hard to imagine the weight of a name like McCartney must inflict on the young James (son of Sir Paul). The voice, the perfect melodies, the charming lyrics, all show the son following closely in his father's musical footsteps. It's hard to listen objectively (especially when Sir Paul released an album this year), but overall, this is a powerful album. "Strong As You" is a great song; "Butterfly" is perhaps the most "Paul-esque" (and the weaker for that). "Snap Out of It" and "Wisteria" are nice rockers and "Life's a Pill" toe tapping sing along. After a few listenings, you are left waiting this McCartney's next outing. 
  • Grant Hart, The Argument (July 22, 2013)
    I confess that of the 1/3 of of Husker Du, Grant Hart was my favorite. Hart's great songes on Du's Candy Apple Grey hit home for me whereas it took me a long time to warm up to Bob Mould. I was looking forward to Hart's The Argument, but it turned out more curious than I thought. A mashup of Milton's Paradise Lost and William S. Burrough's Lost Paradise, the concept album is complex and maybe that's not a good thing (?). Standout song is the lovely "Morningstar."
  • Van Dyke Parks, Songs Cycled (July 23, 2013)Yet another quirky album by the king of quirky albums! No real standouts, the album is not only "cycled" but "re-cycled" with songs from his curious debut, Song Cycle.
  • Elvis Presley, Elvis at Stax (August 6, 2013)
    A collection of the highlights from 1973 sessions Elvis did at the famed Stax studios in Memphis. An overall good album with the standout being "Promised Land" (one of my favorite Chuck Berry tunes).
  • Sam Phillips, Push Any Button (August 13, 2013)
    Good, solid album from Phillips. Highlight for me was "When I'm Alone."
  • Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait (27 August 2013)
    An interesting take on Dylan, circa 1969-1971. The release covers much of the Self-Portrait album and New Morning period. Now, Self-Portrait has always been one of my favorite Dylan albums (and yes, I know I'm in the minority there). The alt-takes on the Self-Porrait cuts (eliminating many of the odd overdubs) brings out even more nuance in the (mostly) cover tunes. The New Morning cuts offer even more from one of Dylan's best album. I got the deluxe edition which includes as a bonus the entire Isle of Wight concert with The Band. The one GLARING omission from the release is any hint that the excoriated album Dylan ever existed. That album, released by Columbia in anger of Dylan's label jump, probably reflected the bottom of the barrel Self-Portrait sessions, but to totally ignore was a bit odd.
  • Neko Case, The Worse Things Get ... (August 30, 2013)
    Case is the darling of the alt music set and this just might be her breakthrough. She pretty much delivers on this set, full of interesting (heavy on the interesting) tunes, I liked the lead off "Wild Creatures" and the hard to pigeonhole "Man." 
  • Arctic Monkeys, AM (September 10, 2013)
    With AM, the Monkeys really hit their stride and make a move into a larger sphere of music. Quite impressed with this hard, sometimes sludgy (that's a good thing) set. Hard to pick out standouts since the album plays well as a whole. If I had to pick one, I might go with the lead off track, "Do I Wanna Know?"
  • Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost (September 17, 2013)
    Costello teams up with The Roots for a great album. The title song is a standout as is the opening track, "Walk Us Uptown." I also have to give a shoutout to the remake of "Pills and Soap" which breathes new life into a great song.
  • Sting, The Last Ship (September 23, 2013)
    Well, a curious album from Sting. A song cycle about shipyard workers with various others joining in on certain parts. Slightly odd (weird?) to hear Sting with various accents (Irish? Cockney?). Almost like demos for a Broadway show (Titanic II? Ragtime II?). That said, there were two outstanding songs, "Practical Arrangement" and "Language of Birds."
  • Yoko Ono, Take Me to the Land of Hell (September 24, 2013)
    Wow. Yoko really hit the mark on this one. Now I know that Yoko is an acquired taste for most, but I've always appreciated her work, back to my first introduction to her, which was Sometime in New York City. On her new album, the 80 year old Ono can still do both hip songs ("Bad Dancer") and experimental songs like "Moonbeams" and "Cheshire Cat Cry." A great album.
  • Lorde, Pure Heroine (September 30, 2013)
    "Royals" was the big hit from the Kiwi teen singer, but "Tennis Courts" was pretty good too. Lorde can be a little droning for a whole album, but has potential!
  • HAIM, Days Are Gone (September 30, 2013)
    Pleasant set up contemporary pop songs; my favorites on the set include "The Wire" (nice bouncy pop) and "My Song 5" a darker, guitar-driven bit of grunge.
  • Steve Nieve, ToGetHer (October 8, 2013)
    Joining The Attraction's bandleader Elvis Costello with a 2013 release, Nieve turns in a eclectic release. Nieve brings in some friends to help out, including Costello and Sting. A worthwhile listen. 
  • Paul McCartney, New (October 15, 2013)
    An excellent new album from Sir Macca; Paul hits many notes that will be familiar to his years of fans. At the same time, he continues to innovate and brings in new sounds to that familiar voice (which is still pretty good after all these years). Highlights include the title track, "On My Way To Work" (another edition in Paul's observations of the minutia of daily life), "Appreciate" (a very hummable rocker), and "Queenie Eye."
  • Arcade Fire, Reflektor (October 28, 2013)
    Arcade Fire followed up its super hit from 2010 (The Suburbs) with Reflektor. A double-disc in the physical realm of CDs, Reflektor joins the ranks of Sandinista!, Exile on Main Street, The Beatles, The River, Tusk, Blonde on BlondeOut f the Blue, Melon Collie & Infinite Sadness, Electric Ladlyland, Quadraphenia, London Calling, Zen Arcade, Songs in the Key of Life, The Wall, Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, Physical Graffiti, All Things Must, Pass, Sign O' the Times, Freak Out!, Tommy, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Eat a Peach, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, English Settlement, 1999, Something/Anything, Aerial (those are mostly pretty good!)  on the spectrum of successful double albums (though at 75 minutes, it's just a bit longer than many digital albums. Standout songs are the title track and "Supersymetry."
  • David Bowie, The Next Day Extra EP (November 1, 2013)
    An excellent add-on to the Next Day album; include a number of songs - and of course mixes - of not on the album. Stand out is the lead track, "Atomica" that fades into a 10 minute plus remix of "Love is Lost". Highly recommended. 
  • The Beatles, On Air: Live at the BBC. Volume 2 (November 11, 2013)
    A perplexingly long time to wait between volume 1 and 2 of the BBC sets by the Beatles. This set focuses on 1963 and early '64, unlike the first set which spanned the whole BBC radio career of the Beatles. There is still a lot of tracks unreleased, so I hope we don't have to wait nearly 20 years for volume 3! Oh, wait, what about the album? Well, it's the Beatles, and it's very very good. Hearing them run through their well known songs with minimal production gives you a hint of what they sounded like without screaming fans. 
  • Neil Young, Live Cellar Door (December 6, 2013)
    An amazing solo set from 1970 at Washington's Cellar Door. The release has fabulous sound and a great selection of songs (heavy on the just released After the Goldrush, but many Buffalo Springfield and not-yet-released songs ("Old Man"). 
Albums I never got around to during the year:
  • Pearl Jam, Lightening Bolt
  • Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
  • Belle and Sebastian, Third Eye Centre
  • Elton John, The Diving Board
  • Sigur Ros, Kveikur
  • Dave Stewart, Lucky Numbers
  • Joan Jett, Unvarnished
  • Hank Williams III, Brothers of the 4x4
  • Billy Bragg, Tooth and Nail
  • Iggy & The Stooges, Ready to Die
  • Hero & Leander, Tumble
  • Beady Eyes, Be
  • Queens of the Stone Age, ... Like Clockwork
  • Jillete Johnston, Water in a Whale 
  • Julian Cope, Revolutionary Suicide
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Oh, and here's a peek back at a few of albums from 2012 that I missed in last year's roundup:
  • Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos
  • Yoko Ono, YOKOKIMTHURSTON
  • Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
  • Taylor Swift, Red
  • Jack White, Blunderbus



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55,346 flight miles in 2013, 2.22 times around the world ... but not all at once!

Screenshot 2013-11-24 19.51.462013 was a busy flying/travel year (55,346 miles), not nearly as busy as last year (2012: 62,868); here are some other recent years for comparison: 2011, 20102009

You can look at the Google map version here, or embedded below.
This year's stats from OpenFlights.

Unique
Airports 18
Carriers 7
Countries 8
Vehicles 12
Screenshot 2013-11-24 19.51.46
USA: East, West, South


Distance
Total flown  55,346 mi
Around the world 2.22x
To the Moon  0.232x
To Mars   0.0016x

Journey records
Longest: NRT - IAD, 6734 mi, 12:45
Shortest: FRA - MUC, 186 mi, 01:05

Average: 1677 mi, 03:59

Screenshot 2013-11-24 19.52.50
Europe

Airport records
Northernmost FRA (50.03°N 8.54°E)
Southernmost PTY (9.07°N 79.38°W)
Westernmost SFO (37.62°N 122.37°W)
Easternmost NRT (35.76°N 140.39°E)

Overall
33 segments
55,346 miles
5 days 11:54

Screenshot 2013-11-24 19.52.10
USA

Airports
Ronald Reagan Washin (DCA) 16
Washington Dulles In (IAD) 8
Narita Intl (NRT) 4
General Edward Lawre (BOS) 4
Charles De Gaulle (CDG) 4
Frankfurt Main (FRA) 4
George Bush Intercon (IAH) 4
Tocumen Intl (PTY) 2
San Francisco Intl (SFO) 2
Mohammed V Intl (CMN) 2
Franz Josef Strauss (MUC) 2
Seattle Tacoma Intl (SEA) 2
Incheon Intl (ICN) 2
Raleigh Durham Intl (RDU) 2
Chicago Ohare Intl (ORD) 2
Theodore Francis Gre (PVD) 2
Lambert St Louis Int (STL) 2
Firenze (FLR) 2

Screenshot 2013-11-24 19.51.32
Asia
Airlines
United Airlines 13
US Airways 5
Air France 4
Lufthansa 4
American 3
Alaska Airlines 2
JetBlue Airways 2

Planes
Boeing 777 7
Airbus A319 5
Airbus A320 5
Embraer 190 4
Boeing 737-900 2
Boeing 737-800 2
Embraer 175 2
McDonnell Douglas MD80 2
Embraer 140 1
Canadair Regional Jet 1
Boeing 757-200 1
Airbus A330-300 1



View 2013 Flights in a larger map

Friday, December 27, 2013

Alas poor DFW, a fellow of vast, but not infinite, jest ... on finishing David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

Infinite JestAs I neared, nay, slouched toward the end of Infinite Jest, the thought occurred to me that it was not a sum greater than its parts, but indeed, parts that were much greater than the sum.

Scattered throughout the 1,079 pages (in the original edition) of DFW's opus are a couple of great short novels, some stunning short stories, and a condensed version of the Physicians' Desk Reference. Though I can list many great scenes that can stand on their own, I'll limit myself to these: the chaotic Eschaton tournament (a version of "tennis" created by the students of Enfield Tennis Academy); the wild shoot-0ut, fight outside the Ennet House rehab facility, and any scenes with the P.G.O.A.T.

I took my time reading the novel, just over six full month in fact, from early June through the end of December. Even though I was reading on a Kindle and didn't have to carry all those pages around, it was good to take a break from the tennis courts of Enfield Tennis Academy, the rehab facilities of the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, or the other depravities of the fringes of the Great Concavity before diving back in.

Tennis DFW's style is rich and evocative, and also, slyly simple at a casual read. I fear that generations of writing program instructors will be (and already have been) tortured by imitators of DFW's deceptively easy writing style.

As with the works of James Joyce (and other Les enfant terribles such as Pynchon and Gaddis), DFW's spew of words on the pen of a third rate writer (or second rate or even first rate writer on a bad day) are a irresistible temptation to imitate; how hard could that be? It looks so easy, here, let me try! Yes, it's oh so easy to churn out page after page, words by the thousands in a random stream of consciousness description and dialog, profundity and profanity ... but, but to have it add up to something, is a feat at which nearly all will fail.

So, is Infinite Jest a masterpiece? Perhaps, but flawed. DFW did what all artists should, he reached beyond his grasp in this portrayal of a weirdly set of interconnected lives in a not so distant future in something that looks a lot like the North America of our nightmares. But it is the reach that awes us in the reading, not the glimpse of heaven.

And yet, and yet, a small bit like Ulysses and a great great deal like Finnegans Wake, Infinite Jest is a dead end. For all the scholarly study of DFW and the industry around "Wallace Studies", Infinite Jest will stand as a lone monument, too complex, too easily imitated by the third rate, too complete in itself, to begat children worthy of the same shelf.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

920 Biography, genealogy, insignia: Melvil Dewey

DeweyMelville Louis Kossuth (Melvil) Dewey (December 10, 1851 – December 26, 1931) died 82 years ago today.

As you can tell from the title of this blog, I'm a fan of the decimal classification system (though in the blog's case, it is the Universal Decimal Classification, not Dewey).

Dewey was also a proponent of spelling reform (hence his preferred spelling of his name, "Melvil".

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A tale of two medieval cities: Fes and Florence

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Earlier this year, in May, I visited Fes, Morocco. Specifically, Fes el Bali, the oldest of the three cities of Fes. The old medina in Fes el Bali dates back to 859, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and, some say, one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world. The old medina was simply amazing and, when walking the streets, one can see why there are no cars, some streets being just a loaded donkey wide! While in Fes I was also able to briefly visit the "new" city, Fes Jdid (dating from only 1276), and the "Ville Nouvelle" built by the French in the 20th century (our group went there for pizza one night when everyone but me it seems was tired of tangines!).


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2013.10.31-IMG_7005And then, just back in November, was my next medieval city, Florence. Though dating back historically to pre-Christian Roman times, Florence really hit its urban stride just about 150 years after the founding of Fes, in around 1000. From there, it was all art and architecture (and banking and warring) for the next 600 years or so. 

Like Fes, Florence was full of narrow streets (not as narrow as Fes el Bali, but generally more suited to Vespas than autos); also like Fes, Florence is surrounded by the more modern Florence of wide highways and McDonald's. Also, filled with churches (instead of mosques), religion (in Florence perhaps more historically) has an inescapable religious tint.

And speaking of tints, rich browns were a shared color of both. Roof tiles, brick walls, all contributing to the colors of the cities.

Florence Panorama


And just as an aside, let's not forget Taos Pueblo!

Now last plus one summer (2011) I was able to visit the Taos Pueblo (another UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest continuously inhabited area of North America (dating from 1000, just a little younger, relatively speaking) than Fes.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"I'm a DPLA Content Hub" swag arrives at the Smithsonian, thanks @rudeamy and the rest of the @DPLA team

DPLA swagThe Smithsonian is one of the Content Hubs for the DPLA. Today, thanks to the DPLA team, our bag of swag to hand out arrived.

Look for me and my DPLA Content Hub button at library, archive and museum events, coming soon to a city or town near you soon!

The Smithsonian is currently the #3 provider of content to DPLA (with over 630,000 items!). Among those items is this great early illustration of the Smithsonian Castle.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Qotd: When teaching a well-established truth, better to please 1 intelligent person and displease 10K fools [paraphrase] Maimonides

2013.05.28-IMG_3204Here's the full quote:
[W]hen I have a difficult subject before me -- when I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools -- I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice whatever of the condemnation of the multitude; I prefer to extricate that intelligent man from his embarrassment and show him the cause of his perplexity, so that he may attain perfection and be at peace.
("Directions for the Study of this Work," The Guide for the Perplexed; Friedlander translation from 1904)
Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135-1204) is the author of today's quote. It's from his The Guide for the Perplexed (later 12th century), today, 12 December marks his death

And so, it just so happens, I stopped by Maimonides house earlier this year when I was in Fes (see more posts on Morocco!); here's a picture peeking in:
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Peeking in the house

Maimonides was also an alum of the University of al-Karaouine (some shots of the Uni below):

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QotD: "Now there's some sad things known to man / But ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown / When there's no one around"

2011.10.09-IMG_4406It was this week in 1970 that "Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles hit number one on the Billboard charts. The song (written by Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosy) stayed at number one for two weeks (preceded by The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" and replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord").

Interestingly, the song was written in 1967 and released on the Make It Happen album of that year; but it wasn't til September 1970 that it was released as a single!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

And so we say thanks and farewell til the next CNI meeting in STL #cni13f #cni14s





When did Mus musculus become the go-to icon for the "gene" concept? @ #cni13f @VIVOcollab session





@Krafft at #cni13f with Brian Lowe giving overview & update on @VIVOcollab




Good overview, over 10 institutions worldwide; only way to exchange research and researcher information openly via linked data; returns researcher information as HTML or data. Data that is visible gets fixed fast.

USDA using it for 45k researchers, goal is to link all land grant institutions.

Can create dashboards, visualize network strengths, and more.

Important feature is to creat context for research data. Also doing work with data set registries.

VIVO is a worldwide community, open suite of tools, hiring a project manager, an ontology.

Brian Lowe focused on how the VIVO data works. VIVO-ISF (integrated semantic framework) is the way it represents people based on the products of their research and activities.

Snow picking up, 4-6 inches predicted

(FYI, whoops, turned out to be more an inch that melted before noon)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Two Moroccan libraries, Al-Karaouine Library (Fes, 889) and The Mohommed VI Library (Al-Akhawayn Univ., Ifrane, 1995)

2013.05.28-IMG_3297The University of al-Karaouine in Fes, Morocco is one of the oldest schools of higher education in the world. Started in roughtly 859, the university is associated with the mosque and has had a number of famous scholars through the years (e.g. Maimonides, Leo Africanus). But we're hear to talk about its library.

Located a few "blocks" (not that this term means anything in terms of the medieval streets of Old Fes) from university is the Al-Karaouine Library. I was fortunate to get to peek inside the doors of the library. There amidst the manuscripts, manuscript card catalog, and marvelous tile floor, was a site not too often seen these days, the library cat. Comfortably curled into a chair in the reading room, s/he didn't seem too upset by my visit.

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In stark contrast to the ancient university of al-Karaouine is the Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, an almost two hour ride from Fes. Al-Akhawayn University ("The Two Brothers") is a modern university (founded in only 1995 -- over 1,000 years (!) after al_Karouine) located in the Atlas Mountains. With an architecture that looks more like a Swiss village than an Berber village, the university as up-to-date as one would want. Likewise, the library (The Mohommed VI Library, cat-less sadly) is nearly indistinguishable from any typical university library in the world.



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