Monday, October 22, 2007

Buffaloed (Not)

Saturday morning, I trekked from Boston to Syracuse to see S.U . vs. Buffalo. With a great sigh of relief, I can say that Syracuse won.

And I will say this. In a world that is constantly changing and nothing is familiar from one day to the next, it's nice to know that Sal's Birdland of Syracuse has not changed their menu, their location, or even any aspect of their interior decor since 1986 (although I think they used to have a pinball machine). (The wings/chicken dinner/Sal's Sassy Sauce are all still as good, too.) We could call, order what we have always ordered for the past 21 years, and get exactly what we have always gotten. The height of comfort food!

Touch the Puppet Head—Live!

Back in 1986, when I first heard the very first They Might be Giants album, I had no idea that a) they would still be around 20 years hence, and b) I would still like them. And yet, here it is, 2007, and They are still going strong, are getting even better, and I still like them as much, if not more, than I did two decades earlier.

So last Friday, I ventured out to Boston to see They Might Be Giants live at the Roxy with Robert and Kristin. (That is, I went to the show with Robert and Kristin, and it was not the case that Robert and Kristin were playing with the band.) I had first seen They back in 1990 at the Beacon Theater in New York, when They had first started playing with a backing band (rather than a rhythm machine). I saw them about three or four times more over the years, as They would often play concerts in Central Park or Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I had last seen They in 1998 at the House of Blues in L.A.

As always, They put on a great show. With the giant cardboard head of longtime TMBG “mascot” William Allen White (a renowned newspaper editor chosen simply because he looked like the quintessential “old guy”), they played most of the new album The Else, a fair number of songs from their previous album (2004’s The Spine) and a smattering of songs from throughout their prolific career (my iTunes lists 349 songs, which includes just about everything they have released).

Almost every album was represented (even the “kids’ album” Here Come the ABCs), except John Henry (my least favorite album of theirs) and No! (their first kids’ album, although “Four of Two” and “Where Do They Make Balloons?” are quintessential TMBG songs and would have fit perfectly in their live set).

The Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh, the core of TMBG) are personable and funny and have always been ones for various onstage antics and weird props. For years, they would have a segment where they solicited requests from the audience, which usually comprised non-TMBG songs (at the 1990 Beacon show, someone yelled out “Le Marseillaise” which yielded a lot of accordion playing and gibbering in something that sounded like French).

This time, they took the audience request segment to a new dimension (literally) and featured “Phone Calls from the Dead” where they channeled the ghost of Ernie Boch, (who was apparently the P.T. Barnum of the automotive world and something of a local celebrity in the Boston area) who requested Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Ernie Boch returned later in the show during a segment called “Ernie Boch vs. Skeleton Arm" that somehow segued into “Particle Man.”

The intro to the song “Drink!” also asked the audience of “interventioneers” to respond to the word “drink” when sung by yelling “No, stop!”. Since we were staked out at the bar, we were a fine bunch to advocate temperance.

Anyway, the complete set list was as follows:
  • "The Cap’m" (“People seem to think you can’t be called the cap’m unless you drive a boat”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Damn Good Times" (“I got a friend who’s got a record machine/She acts like David Lee Roth before he turned 21”) —from The Spine (2004)
  • "The Mesopotamians" (“Sargon, Hammurabi, Asurbanipal, and Gilgameth”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Take Out the Trash" (“And once you get him out tell him not to come back again”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Don’t Let’s Start" (“No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful”) —from They Might Be Giants (1986)
  • "XTC vs. Adam Ant" (“Even the singer from Bow Wow Wow can’t make up her mind”) —from the horribly underrated Factory Showroom (1996)
  • "It’s Not My Birthday" (“It’s not my birthday so why do you lunge out at me?”) —from the B side of the “They’ll Need a Crane” single (1988)
  • "Drink!" (“I’ll take back my pinata, it’s wasted on you”) —from Mink Car (2001)
  • "Alphabet of Nations" ("Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, The Gambia, Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya and Mongolia, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Suriname, Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam, West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe”) —from Here Come the ABCs (2004)
  • "E Eats Everything" (“A hardly has an appetite and pokes at food too long/and B can barely bother because all the food is wrong”) —from Here Come the ABCs (2004)
  • "Upside Down Frown" (“Black is white and the rainbow has a beard”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Memo to Human Resources" (“I’m searching for some disbelief that I can still suspend”) —from The Spine (2004)
  • "I’m Impressed" (“I’m impressed, I’m impressed when that gorilla pounds his desk”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Mammal" (“So the warm blood flows/with the red blood cells lacking nuclei/through the large four-chambered heart/Maintaining the very high metabolism rate they have”) —from my favorite TMBG album Apollo 18 (1992)
  • "Mr. Me" (“So take the hand of Mister Me and mister, make him glad/To swim the Mister Misty Sea and cease the Mister Mystery/That mister, made him sad”) —from Lincoln (1988)
  • "Ant" (“One day that ant, he will grow up to be president”) —from the “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" EP (1990) and remade with a full band and new arrangement on the “Indestructible Object” EP (2004)
  • "Museum of Idiots" (“If you and I had any brains we wouldn’t be in this place”) —from The Spine (2004)
  • "With the Dark" (“My mind naturally turns to taxidermy”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Withered Hope" (“Today withered hope saw the very sad sack and she tried not to catch his eye”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (“If you’ve a date in Constantinople she’ll be waiting in Istanbul”) —from Flood (1990)
  • "Bee of the Bird of the Moth" (“It’s just a hummingbird moth that’s acting like a bird that thinks it’s a bee”) —from The Else (2007)
  • "Dr. Worm" (“I’m not a real doctor but I am a real worm”) —from Severe Tire Damage (1998)
  • "Particle Man" (“When he’s underwater does he get wet/Or does the water get him instead?”) —from Flood (1990)
  • Maybe I Know (unreleased)
Via the latest cutting edge cellphone technology, Robert was able to use his cellphone to capture small video snippets, including the "Ernie Boch vs. Skeleton Arm" segment of "Particle Man"...

video
and half of "Dr. Worm":

video

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Teed Off

Despair.com's new Despair-Wear T-shirt tells it like it is.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

iRob

I have some questions about this:
The Urban Institute, a research organization based in Washington, has released an interesting report that suggests that the proliferation of iPods helps account for the nationwide rise in violent crime in 2005 and 2006.

The report notes that nationally, violent crime fell every year from 1993 to 2004, before rising in 2005 and 2006, just as “America’s streets filled with millions of people visibly wearing, and being distracted by, expensive electronic gear.”

Of course, as any social scientist will tell you, correlation and causation are not the same thing.

The report’s authors, John Roman and Aaron Chalfin, acknowledge in the report that “rigorous empirical tests” of any theory for the two-year-old rise in violent crime “are not possible.” But they offer three tantalizing observations.

First, the recent increase in robbery has been disproportionately greater than increases in other economically motivated crimes, such as theft and burglary.

Second, the recent increase in robbery has been greatest among juvenile offenders, among whom iPods “are highly valued as a status symbol.”

Third, robberies increased in particular from 2004 to 2006, the very period when iPods entered the mass market and became ubiquitous among consumers.
I admit, I have yet to read the report, but two questions immediately spring to mind. The first is, is there perhaps a demographic reason for the increase in crime? For example, declines in the crime rate in the 1990s were largely attributable to a decline in the overall number of people who were of prime crime-committing age (teens and 20s) at that time.

I would also ask if there were similar increases in crime rates when, say, the Sony Walkman was introduced in the late 1970s. Or the mobile phone, for that matter. (In the early 90s, whenever Steven's parents visited him and Amy in Brooklyn and left their carphone--they were early adopters--in full view on the seat, the car was broken into and the phone stolen.)

I'm willing to concede there may be some causation in the proliferation of the iPod and an increase in crime, but I think there needs to be more rigorous investigation. Plus, I'm not sure that finding any significant connection really tells us anything we don't already know. Hmm...hot, hip, electronic consumer items are likely to be stolen. Huh. Who would have guessed?

Ad Nauseam

How, you may ask, could cellphone be even more annoying? How about if you had to watch a commercial before you could make a call? Here is the very definition of hell:
Google Inc. has developed a prototype cell phone that could reach markets within a year, and plans to offer consumers free subscriptions by bundling advertisements with its search engine, e-mail and Web browser software applications, according to a story published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal.

Google is showing the prototype to cell phone manufacturers and network operators as it continues to hone the technical specifications that will allow the phone to offer a better mobile Web browsing experience than current products, the Journal said.
...
The move would echo another recent product launched by a phone industry outsider, Apple Inc.'s iPhone. But Google's product would draw its revenue from a sharply different source, relying on commercial advertising dollars instead of the sticker price of at least $499 for an iPhone and $60 per month for the AT&T Inc. service plan.

Negotiating the fairest way to split those advertising revenues with service providers could be a big hurdle for Google, one analyst said. Another problem is the potential that consumers could be scared off by the prospect of listening to advertisements before being able to make phone calls, said Jeff Kagan, a wireless and telecommunications industry analyst in Atlanta.
Look, I admit that I'm a cheap bastard, but I will gladly pay for things I like and use--and be happier for it than having to deal with annoying ads every time I want to do something.

It's funny: Google is taking over the world by making everything free but ad-supported. What happens if everyone expects everything to be free and ad-supported? Who will then want to buy the things the ads are promoting? And then why will any advertiser want to support ad-supported technologies? Norman, coordinate!

Computer Bugs

Uh oh--another reason to fear our computers! Says PC World:
A computer keyboard can be a dirty thing, often filled with crumbs that help make it a reservoir for disease-causing germs. Ironically, keyboards have been identified as vehicles for spreading diseases inside hospitals, in particular.

But now, there seems to be increasing interest among IT vendors in doing something about the plague of dirty keyboards.

For instance, Aten Technology Inc. in Irvine, Calif., this month said it has begun applying antimicrobial nanocoating to its KVM switch devices, which are commonly used by multiple IT workers in data centers. The KVM switches --- the acronym stands for keyboard, video and mouse --- lets users control various systems from a single unit.
I'm sure this is true, but, you know, before I turn into Howard Hughes 2000, I think I'd like to see a single study that provides evidence of someone getting even remotely ill from a keyboard. After all, I commuted to work on the NYC subway for more than seven years, and I find it hard to believe that any given keyboard could be filthier and more disease-ridden than any surface in the subway. And let's not even get into the whole "doorknob" issue.

Walkies!

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me in last Sunday's AIDS Walk in Albany. Because I raised
more than a certain amount, I got a free T shirt and sweatshirt. Sweet! More importantly, though, local organizations that provide help and counsel to those living with HIV and AIDS
got that much more to continue their important work.

I am told this was the 13th annual Albany AIDS Walk and boasted the highest participation yet. And the weather could hardly have been better.

Odd though: I was having severe beverage problems that day. They were selling water at the event, but when I tried to buy a bottle (I was thirsty!) I was chastised and told that it was for after the walk. So then I walked over to the Dunkin Donuts at Lark and Madison to perhaps get some coffee. I stood at the counter for a few minutes whilst the clerk tidied up the crullers; another clerk ambled over, asked if I was being helped, I said "No, not yet," she said "OK," and then both clerks disappeared into the back, never to be seen again. Well. Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink!