The week that was

As cooler temps set in and songbirds started their migration south, the annual crashing of birds into the Manhattan skyscrapers season began.

In-person schooling started but the bus driver shortage was so severe in Massachusetts that they had to call in the national guard.

Japan announced that they have successfully tested a new kind of rocket engine that uses shock waves instead of thrust sending a 30 meter rocket over 230 kms into space during a 4 minute flight.

A UK firm announced that it is working on a blimp. The Airlander 10 is the world’s largest aircraft and can fly 100 passengers, 4,000 kms over 5 days with nearly zero emissions. It also has a nickname, The Flying Bum.

Who says you can’t reinvent the wheel. Michelin announced its airless tires are ready for mass production.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully delivered four civilian astronauts into three days of orbit and a successful splashdown landing in a self-driving rocket ship. Elon Musk also sent the obscure cryptocurrency Floki Inu up 1000% when he named his dog Floki.

A prankster put out a fake press release announcing Walmart’s adoption of Litecoin, a cryptocurrency, in a classic pump-and-dump scheme.

Kanye [Ye] West made news by unfollowing his ex-wife Kim Kardashian on Instagram. He made news again by re-following her. The last time there was this much excitement on the IG Follow beat was back when Drake followed Kim when K & K were married.

The week that was

Snow came early to Mt. Fuji. 21 days earlier than last year.

AT&T restored cellular service to the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Ida using flying drone antennas, also known as Cell-on-Wings (COWS).

College football started up again to packed stadiums of hopefully vaccinated fans. The Hoosier uniform staff had to explain how they misspelled their state and University of Miami fans found a new use for the American flag.

A recent power outage in the New York subway system was traced to someone accidentally pushing an “Emergency Power Off” button.

Singapore is testing patrol robots to look out for “undesirable” behavior. The robots, named Xavier (after the Jesuit missionary?), will roam public areas and use onboard 360-degree cameras to scan for violations such as smoking in prohibited areas, illegal hawking, and non-compliance with COVID-19 restrictions and send real-time alerts to the authorities.

An unspecified Southeast Asian military service placed an order for two jetpacks.

A standoff between police and an armed suspect was briefly interrupted when a naked woman drove a golf cart in between the two and refused to heed commands to take shelter. There was “a distinct odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her person, and she was completely nude.” The event took place in Florida but authorities were quick to point out the woman was from Boston.

A first edition Spider-Man comic book sold for a record $3.6 million, beating out Superman.

The El Salvadorian government officially recognized Bitcoin as legal tender to make it less expensive for its citizens abroad to transfer money home. The price of the cryptocurrency promptly plummeted.

Ben John, a 21-year old Nazi sympathizer, was found with over 9,000 right-wing and terror-related documents on his hard drive which he claimed he collected due to his “academic fascination.” To avoid prison time, a British judge ordered Ben to read Austin, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, and Trollope and agree to be tested on what he read.

Sept 11

Twenty years ago I was in Redmond, Washington at Microsoft on a business trip. Izumi called me at my hotel early in the morning to tell me something terrible had happened and that I should turn on the television to see.

For the next three days I was stuck in Redmond with no way to get back to New Jersey where I was living at the time. Izumi was alone with Tyler and pregnant with Julia and felt very alone. There were a few other visitors from the East Coast stuck with me at Microsoft and we were very close to renting a car to drive back home across the country when my travel agent called to say she secured a reservation to get me home (god bless her, she booked multiple reservations just in case one fell through). I got one of the first flights out of Seattle and, after connecting through Denver, made it home.

I’ll never forget coming back up the driveway, you could see the plume of smoke on the horizon from our house in Pennington, a good 60 miles away. I went to NYC several times over the next few weeks leaving from Hamilton Station, a stop on the NJ Transit commuter line. Each time I went in, you’d see several cars that hadn’t been claimed since 9/11, tickets piled up on the windshield, their owners were not coming back.

Tonight I noticed the twin beams shining up in the sky and took my bike out to ride down to the 9/11 memorial, like a moth to a flame. It was quite touching – many people were there, mostly in silence, to reflect and show their respect.

I spent a few hours riding around the city, viewing the lights from several vantage points. September 11 hits harder here in New York City, where it happened. Fireman dressed in their honor guard uniforms were out in force – many had been out drinking. It was like Fleet Week in San Francisco but instead of everyone giving high fives to the sailors, people were slapping the backs and thanking the firemen for their service. This was their day to honor the 300+ they had lost that day. So strange that 9/11 was the day and that 911 is the number you call in an emergency.

Remember this day. It is too soon to ask what lessons can be learned, time has not yet healed the wounds of those it has touched. Just remember this day and be reminded that life is fleeting and that those that passed away only live on in our memories.

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France 2024 Hype Videos

Now that both Olympic and Paralympic Games have closed, all eyes look to the next Olympic Games, Paris 2024. During the closing ceremonies they played a hype video to get you excited for France and it did not disappoint.

Click here to see the NBC broadcast including the tri-color jetstream

An equally impressive performance was shown at the closing ceremonies of the paraolympics.

The parolympic hype video was no less impressive

PlayTime

One more highlight from our recent visit to the MOMA was a clip from PlayTime, Jacques Tati’s 1967 comedic classic commentary on “confusion in an age of high technology” Tyler insisted we watch closely and upon multiple viewings you can see several story lines un-spool in the background.

You can watch the full two hours online from either Amazon or Criterion but I’ve been told you really should try and seek it out in its full 70mm glory because there are so many details that you’ll miss when you watch it on TV.

Nevertheless, here are a couple of clips just to give you a taste.

on bad UI
at the office
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MOMA

We stay-cationed over the long weekend and visited the Museum of Modern Art.

Starry Night was smaller than I thought.
I found the interplay with the art interesting
The people are as much a part of the art as the subject
Duchamp defined art as anything he called “art”
The detail on Wyeth’s painting can only be appreciated in person. I also learned that this is in Maine. I always thought it was Kansas, most likely because the woman in the painting reminds me of the Dorthea Lange photo

We’ve been meaning to go but just never got around to it yet. We enjoyed it so much, we signed up for an annual membership (it’s tax-deductible). What I love about the annual museum memberships is that it takes the pressure off to see everything in one go and now, whenever we’re in the neighborhood, we can pop in for a quick visit.

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The week that was

Toyota took its self-driving buses out of service after one of them struck a Paralympic, taking the judo athlete out of service. Toyota apologized for the “overconfidence” of its vehicles.

In Ida-flooded Louisiana, a man was eaten by an alligator. The Humane Society removed an 80-pound cougar from a NYC apartment.

According to the British National Corpus of Conversation, “fuck” overtook “bloody” as the swearword of choice in the UK.

A judge declared that only humans, not artificial intelligence algorithms, can be declared inventors under U.S. patent law.

The New York City Department of Emergency Management canceled their press conference on National Preparedness Month because they were busy responding to Hurricane Ida.

“All ye of little faith, bury this Sakara” were the last words of Zambian pastor James Sakala to his followers before they buried him alive in hopes he would rise again like Jesus.

In response to the Texas heartbeat bill that invited the general population to report on their neighbors, the Texas Right to Life group set up a website allowing people to submit information about suspected violators. You can imagine what the internet did next.

Catching Phish at The Gorge

I’m writing this in case I’m asked why I took nearly a week off to attend a three-day concert all the way on the other side of the country in central Washington. I want something I can send out that satisfies and hopefully inspires people to dig in to learn a little more about this band that drew me there, Phish.

I enjoy improvisational instrumental music. Not anything too rigid such as classical, nor as completely loose as avant-garde jazz. The attraction of jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish is that they have set structures that, after multiple listens, lay out the confines so you can appreciate how skillfully the band can diverge, explore, then return to a song’s structure.

While the music is the language of the conversation between the band and its fans, there’s also the atmosphere of a live concert that must be experienced in person to appreciate. I’ve been to many Grateful Dead shows between 1985 and the early-90s but stopped seeing them after the crowds became unwieldy with too many fans showing up for the party scene, less interested in the music or even musicians.

After Jerry Garcia passed away, a friend took me to see Phish play in Sacramento. The music sounded frenetic to my ears so used to the loping strut of so many Dead songs but I was intrigued and could see there was something to explore.

The next time I saw the band live was several years later for two dates in Tokyo. The fans that rolled into Japan brought an energy and joy of life with them that was palpable and infectious. While it was misty during the beginning of an outdoor concert in Hibiya, the clouds later parted and (I’m not making this up) a rainbow appeared.

It’s the lore passed down over the years by the wise elders to the newly arrived that sustain the fan culture. Phish “phans” are refreshingly welcoming and positive about what life sends their way. Yet their philosophy is not blindly optimistic, they know you also need a quirky sense of humor to roll through an unfortunate setback and come out with a good story that finds the silver lining or lesson learned.

The band feeds this quirky sense of humor. What other band would spend Halloween playing entire albums as their costume? Over the years they have covered classics such as the White Album, Quadrophenia, the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and many more. Then, after that became too routine, the band set up an elaborate Halloween prank by playing a fictional album by a fictional Scandinavian rock band complete with a backstory outlined in a pamphlet handed out at the show, fake music reviews, and fan sites to dupe their audience further.

I’ve only begun to dig into the lyrics of Phish’s music. There’s a lot of play on words, a song’s chorus of “moment ends” transforms into the song’s curious title, Moma Dance. NICU comes from the phrase “and I see you.” Finally there is The Mango Song, which I heard this past weekend. Why is an entire crowd of 30,000 belting out at the top of their lungs, “Your hands and feet are mangos, you’re going to be a genius anyway!” and what the heck is that about? Look it up.

There are so many threads to pull on in their music it’ll take a lifetime to unpack it all. During a 13-night residency at Madison Square Garden, Phish played 237 songs, no repeats. Like the stat nerd baseball fans, there’s an entire stat culture around Phish’s music that goes as deep as you want. Most of it lives on phish.net where the complete setlist of every concert and side project lives in its fan-built database. Register an account and tick off the concerts you attended and you’ll get a complete set of stats showing you how long it’s been since you’ve heard Ocelot or the probability of seeing Bouncing Around the Room at your next show.

During each tour, there’s a fantasy-football type game around trying to guess which songs will open or close out a set and phans post their picks and tally up their totals in a master google doc. While all this existed with pen and paper while I was seeing the Grateful Dead, usenet and basic websites is all we had to exchange information.

There is a robust community of traders who upload and share digital recordings and an app from which to stream the collective archive hosted generously by the Internet Archive. There are song-by-song analysis of each concert in a podcast and even a guy on YouTube having a good time doing the rundown of each night in the style of NBC’s political stats guy, Steve Kornacki.

As for official channels, there is the Live Phish site and its premium version which unlocks the entire soundboard archive. The band also uploads the soundboard recording of every show and gives away to everyone at the show with an individualized download code on each ticket so people can re-live the concert afterwards and the band can register new fans and convert someone who bought a ticket into a fan who starts to explore their music.

As with any experiential business, there are tiers built into their business model. For those that could not afford the time or money to tour to each city the band plays on a tour, you could listen along in the premium Live Phish+ and hear each concert the following day to hear how the band worked through their sets over the course of their tour as they made their way to where I was to see them at The Gorge this past weekend.

Reviewers of the tour spoke of “couch touring” which is, as it sounds” experiencing the tour from the comfort of your home. This is made possible by a package of video streams the band has been teasing on their YouTube channel and making available in full with a special $440 package.

When I asked someone about the lengths you can go to experience the band I learned about annual Mexico dates they started to play a couple years ago down in Cancun. For anywhere from $3000 – $12,000 a head you can spend a week at an all-inclusive resort where waiters will come and deliver your margarita to you as you dance on the beach. And I thought renting an RV and parking in the Gold Lot was bougie!

So back to the original question – why three days and why fly all the way to Seattle? First off, I bought the tickets pre-pandemic when the flight from the Bay Area was just a quick hop. Second, the plan was to meet a couple friends who were flying in from Japan that I hadn’t seen in years. Finally, I’ve heard that the venue, The Gorge, is life-changing and something that needs to be experienced in person to appreciate.

The Gorge at sunset

The journey out here isn’t easy which thins out the crowd to the committed. Most are here for the entire three-day run and experience the rhythms of the days together, as a community. There’s a crowd-sourced online guide to help newbies plan ahead and know what to expect and bring. I’ll add that the walk into the Gorge to swim in the Columbia River is totally worth it and that you should figure out where you want to situate yourself on the first night and return there every night as those around you will become your tour friends.

After a couple of songs on the lawn, where we experienced the fantastic view and lightshow, I found a walkway around behind the soundboard that let out on the left side of the stage where it was relaxed enough to get down in front, just a few rows back. It was a dancing audience so there was not a lot of conversation as the crowd just focused on the music.

The view down front

Occasionally the band would build into a tremendous crescendo of sound like they did with Scents & Subtle Sounds, Bathtub Gin or Saw it Again and banks of lights would descend until they were just over the stage like a giant transformer. While we were too close to fully appreciate it, the upgraded lighting rig has been the talk of the tour and the interplay of LED stripes and real-time adjustment of the rig adds a whole new dimension to what can be done.

CK5, Phish’s fifth member

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, the band opened with Torn & Frayed on the first day. This band has an on-going conversation with their fans. There is no, “Hello Seattle!” shout out. They know you know who they are so there is no need for frivolous introductions – they are there like an old friend, picking up the conversation where you last left off. This is, after all, a band that had an ongoing chess match during a tour where fans voted on the next move during the gap between each show.

There’s a respect of the audience’s attention that allows the band to dive deep and explore each song, turning it inside out, giving them the courage to try something new every night. During several extended jams, as the tempo of the song completely shifted, I would forget what song was being played until it was brought back, like a wayward spaceship, and landed back onto the original melody.

Because of this relationship, there are moments where the crowd will break out and do something unexpected and wonderful that, if anything, gives you an excuse to start a conversation. So why does everyone throw tortillas in the air when they play Carini and do you really bring a stack of tortillas to each show just in case they play it? The band speaks through its song selection and there are endless conversations around trying to decipher the message in the music of each night.

As with other multi-day festivals such as Burning Man you orient yourself by the campsites around you – the guy with the Japanese fishing flag, the Montana flag we couldn’t make out because we were reading it in reverse, and the family we met at the RV place. This becomes your mental map for the next three days and the people in your neighborhood are there for the same reason so you might as well chat with them.

Japanese fishing flag was our marker on the way home

All this meeting and getting to know new people exercised mental muscles that had atrophied during lockdown so by day three I was tired. I’ve done a weekend of shows before but three nights in a row is something you need to pace yourself for. At one point we realized we had walked over 20kms in the two prior days (maybe that river is further than I realized) so we were ready to take it easy. I was content to drift off while sitting in the shade, eyes closed while the high desert winds blew gently, carrying with it distant and faded conversations, laughter and music.

Charged up after a relaxed day, we headed in for our final night of music. Sunday night seemed more crowded than the previous two so lines were longer to get in. The “still waiting” line from the Talking Heads song Cross-eyed and Painless was a nod by the band to the crowd and the band wove that line into other songs in the set just for kicks.

After saying, “Some people deserve two songs” the band broke out Shine a Light for an encore as another nod to the late Charlie Watts and sent us on a way.

The week that was

Trump’s $20 billion border wall, that has been circumvented by $5 ladders, is now partially washed away by torrential rains along the Arizona border.

Spencer Elden, who was was posed as a baby swimming after a dollar bill on Nirvana’s Nevermind album, is suing the band for child pornography.

The famous leaning tower of San Francisco shifted dramatically just as a massive shoring up project was started. Engineers are regrouping to figure out their next move.

A Russian man defected to Japan by swimming.

The drought in the Western United States is so bad they are airlifting water to animals by helicopter.

Someone is building a near-earth space station but the company contracted to build the life-support system will not say who.

A Swedish firm announced they have successfully figured out how to produce carbon-free steel, a huge step forward to cleaning up the environmentally unfriendly steel industry. The first customer? Volvo.

Someone pranked Newsmax and called in to an interview about the Afghanistan situation posing as Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to say “The next time we have two trillion dollars lying around, let’s spend it on something useful like health care or education.”

The week that was

Tesla announced they are building humanoid robots to be used for unsafe, repetitive or boring tasks. “In the future, physical labor will be a choice,” said Elon Musk.

Disney announced they are developing “sentient” robots and will have them wander their parks free amongst the guests.

Robotics firm Boston Dynamics demonstrated how their Atlas robots can now jump, flip, and do parkour.

Westworld, the dystopian thriller where sentient robots take over and kill their masters, resumed filming for Season 4.

Roblox, the virtual world software marketed towards kids, is having a tough time stamping out recreations of mass shootings built on their platform.

The Peacock network thinks it’ll be fun to watch humans play a “live-action real-life” version of the Frogger video game. Thankfully the gameshow takes place in a studio and not on the streets of NYC or Vietnam.

A burned out shell of a home in Walnut Creek sold for $1 million. “The potential is limited only by imagination,” the listing gushed.

Sensing rough waters ahead, the secretive big data analytics company Palantir loaded up on $50 million in gold bars.

A 1909 baseball card was auctioned off for $6.6 million, smashing the previous record of $5.2 million. Major League Baseball, sensing greater profits ahead, announced an end to their 70-year deal with Topps in favor of the sports apparel company, Fanatics.

A Wisconsin woman accidentally shot a friend while using the laser sight on a handgun to play with a cat.