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Getting into the mood

Five Utah school buses with their lights synced up to The Nutcracker’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”

Details about the how and why on the original YouTube post.

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Folksy Database

Part of the charm of the greater Grateful Dead culture was that there was something for everyone. Like any good pastime there was some aspect of a Grateful Dead show to please everyone.

I often compare the sub-culture of Deadheads to baseball fans. There are those that go for the scene, the roar of the crowd or to see their heroes play. Others go for the party, the beer & hot dogs on the one hand or the recreational drugs and lightshow on the other.

Then there are the stat nerds which also exist in both cultures. Go to any ball game and you’ll see people with detailed score cards, recording every hit and at bat using their own custom shorthand.

Baseball scorecard from September 10, 1999 Red Sox v Yankees game

There are stat nerds in Deadhead culture too. These are the people that can tell you the last time the band opened the second set with Saint of Circumstance or when they last played Red Rocks. There’s a special language of code to how they talk and a learned shorthand to normalize communication.

During the time when I saw the band, computers were not that widespread so a lot of the documentation was collected from memory and passed around on handwritten notes. Historic setlists were passed down as legend.

Printknot Printer’s 1985 Year at a Glance

The photo above is something I found in a drawer as I was packing to move house. It’s a handwritten collection of every setlist from every concert the Grateful Dead played in 1985. Crib sheets like these were passed around like a folksy database of shared knowledge.

Detail with graphic annotations

There’s endless detail in the notations that hint at a shared understanding of how a Grateful Dead setlist works. The capital “E” in the detail above ties Estimated Profit and Eyes of the World together as those two are often paired and segue seamlessly from one to the other. The “Gimmie Gimmie” scrawled above Gimme Some Lovin’ is a wink to the fact that Bob Weir was especially enthusiastic in his rendition of Spencer Davis that night.

All this was just to say that while the ever-connected phones in our pockets are wonderful for precision and recall, they don’t transmit knowledge and understanding as well as these folksy databases of handwritten notes. An illuminated manuscript from the medieval past, carefully hand-copied and embellished, is so much better at transmitting culture and passes on so much more than just the written word.

To listen to two Deadhead stat nerds get into the weeds, check out my post on Alex and JM Hart’s discussion about the evolution of Bob Weir’s playing style on Deadicated.

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Deadicated

Alex Wise is a professional musician (alexwise.com) and longtime Deadhead. As an accomplished guitarist, he listens to the music of the Grateful Dead with a careful ear for detail and can speak to the evolution of their style in a much more nuanced way than your average Deadhead.

Listening to Alex’s interview with Brokedown Podcast’s JM Hart is like listening to two baseball stat nerds get into the weeds on the specifics of the game. I love it. The cracks about Weir’s attempts at slide guitar are something that would make any member of this particular tribe smile.

If you have a passing interest in the the music of the Grateful Dead and wondered what all the fuss was about and how people can listen to so many different versions of Morning Dew, this podcast episode will unveil some of layers of that fan-hood.

The entire episode is above but the two get down to details at around 18:30.

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Walkin’ NYC

Did I mention that we’re walking the streets of Manhattan in order to get to know the neighborhoods? I use this iOS app called Trails to track where we go and then trace it old skool style with a sharpie onto a tourist map.

The nice thing about Trails is that it automatically logs everywhere we go so I can just put the phone in my pocket and go about our day. The location tracking doesn’t take as much battery on my iPhone XR as I thought but I do bring along an extra charged up external battery to top things up just in case.

One app that I also recommend is Urban Archive. They have a database of all the old buildings in NYC and using it, you can quickly lookup the history of buildings you see while walking around.

Here’s the master map with all the traces of where we’ve been so far since arriving on September 25th. Lots to still see (we’ve only spent a short time in Brooklyn) but it’s been a blast.

If there are particular walks you recommend, please add links in the comments!

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Talkin NYC

I can’t believe that New York City is my new home. We’re still nailing down details of a place to live (more on that later, don’t want to jinx it) staying in a furnished apartment in the meantime so it feels temporary.

But no. NYC is our home. Weird. I’m now one of youz guyz.

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to describe what living here is like, from a Californian point of view. Certainly people talk a lot more than back in Bay Area. Walking down the street is like an exercise in verbal river rafting. There’s no time to look down at your phone. Everyone has a quip or comment and you need to be fast with a witty reply to make a connection. Everyone is always, ON.

In this fast moving stream of conversations, whenever a group of New Yorkers gather for more than a few minutes, an instant community forms. This evening was a perfect example.

As you know, the pandemic limits the number of people that can be inside a shop at any one time. There is an amazing cheesemonger down the street, they’ve got cheeses from around the world and a chalkboard listing specials that they fly in each day for their customers. A sign out front that says no more than “two people or one group” at a time in the shop. Outside the store there are three people that don’t know each other, each waiting their turn to go in. As three individuals it’ll take more time to go in because that’s three separate groups.

A man is chatting with two women. Right as Izumi and I walk by I hear the man say,

Wanna be a group?

That phrase, right there, captured the perfect NY moment. A little eddy of inactivity shunted to the side of the overall flow of people walking by. Three people, milling around, waiting. There’s a problem. A restriction, a rule that is slowing their progress. A community forms – collective problem solving is put to work, they band together. Problem solved.

This is NYC. People of all types, strangers, reaching out to solve problems, together, with a laugh.

On a more serious note, we’re heading into what many are predicting will be a dark winter of the third wave. It’s going to be tough but that same resourcefulness from that vignette above gets force multiplied in times of crisis. The blackouts of 1977 and 2003, Hurricane Sandy, 9/11. New Yorkers rise to the occasion to meet the challenge, together.

NYC got walloped by the virus earlier in the year but they know what’s coming this time around and will face what’s coming with grit, camaraderie, and a sense of humor. I’m glad we got to experience the tail end of the Summer but am prepared for what’s coming.

Sign in SoHo paraphrases Queen’s We Will Rock You

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Kyrö Distillery

Kyrö Distillery – proudly Finnish

Friends from Finland shared this advert for Kyrö Distillery, a Finnish distillery, who gives us a master class at how to introduce the world to their unique line of products.

If you’re going to introduce a new Malt Rye Dairy Cream Whiskey to the world, there’s only one way to do it. With a naked man strolling around and staring straight at the camera in all earnestness.

Oh, and the story about five guys in a sauna dreaming up a business is true.

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Leaps of Faith

Two different perspectives on taking a leap. You never know what’s on the other side, sometimes you just gotta go for it.

Butterflies on a Ten Meter diving board in Sweden

12-year-old Sky Brown takes on Tony Hawk’s “mega ramp.”

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On Leaving California

It’d be easy to say that last week’s orange-colored skies were the final straw that told us it’s time to go but this move has been in the works for awhile and only in the past few weeks has become reality. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

For a couple years Izumi and I planned to sell the house and move once the kids up and left for college. Our house in Alameda is just too big for two people and a small dog and we live on a block too ideal for a family with small kids to keep it to ourselves. The house gained some value over the years as well which will allow us to pay off our children’s college debt.

So when our youngest started at college in August we began to inquire about selling the house. Things progressed rapidly from there and within a few weeks we completed the transaction, contacted the movers, and started the process of unloading years of stuff in preparation for moving into more modest quarters. 

George Carlin on stuff

The plan is to move to NYC. SmartNews has an office there and many of our publishing partners are based there so when things start to go back to normal it would make sense to be there. We would also be closer to the kids, who both go to school in Massachusetts, and they were both excited to the prospect of spending vacations in a bustling city. 

We leave in a few weeks. Because of COVID restrictions we wanted to limit the amount of flying back and forth looking at places so we’re not sure where we’re living beyond the 30-day furnished apartment we just reserved online. Come to think of it, this is how we moved to Alameda in 2004 and to Finland in 2010 so I guess this is just how we roll.

We’re planning on living in Manhattan. People are fleeing downtown so hopefully that will make it somewhat affordable. We’ll see when we get there. I am optimistic for the future. NYC may be down but I can never imagine it would be out. The spirit of the city is just too strong. 

If part of the plan was to keep Izumi busy so she wouldn’t get depressed being an empty-nester than I guess you can say it worked. She’s been a Tasmanian Devil packing what’s important and ruthless about pitching the rest. 

I will, of course, miss friends and family (bye Sis!) I leave behind. I came out to the Bay Area in 2004 because no one on the East Coast knew what I was talking about when I ranted about the transformational impact of blogging. I moved here to be around like-minded people and rode that wave to where I am today. Now everyone “blogs” on Facebook. and tech is making moves to set up in NYC anyway.

Thank you to my colleagues at SmartNews for their understanding and support that allowed me to make this move. I should mention we are hiring to find someone to fill my shoes and work on my team in the SF office so please reach out to me if you want to learn more. 

Izumi and I were born in Brooklyn so this move is like returning home in some ways. On my last trip to NYC I stayed in Brooklyn and spent the evenings riding a bike around the city looking for my old house. Like salmon swimming upstream, maybe we’re feeling a little nostalgic?

I think I read somewhere that Italians like to say that you should live your life in pursuit of experiences that will make for a good stories. Stay tuned as I have a feeling we’ll get a lot of stories out of this move. 

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Modern Luddite’s Prayer

I found an old notebook of scribblings from a two week vacation taken in Paris around 2010. We were wonderfully disconnected from the internet and spent each morning at a museum or gallery and each afternoon on extended walks thru selected neighborhoods. As you can see, I took a grim view of technology when viewed from outside that bubble.

A bit over-dramatic but indulge me. This is what a couple of weeks in Paris will do to you.

The spindled algorithms of our time are optimizing the sinews of humanity. Gnashing life’s great works in the gears of its Engine. These are the dark Satanic Mills of our generation. Spitting out matchsticks of Knowledge that are mere sulfur-tipped flashes of attention-seeking factoids, no longer able to light the pyre of change to our mossy, over-grown minds deadened by years of trackpad-enabled twiddling.

We are addicted to the new of newsfeed but have lost the wisdom of perspective. Supplicants to the superior recall of the internet brain, we slavishly log time on the social treadmill with a thirst to be first for our friends and followers. Dark Times ahead if we continue to blindly submit to the false gods of Real-Time, PageRank and Likes.

Step away from your monitor, stop stroking your little glass-faced friend. Look into your neighbor’s eyes and peer into their soul. Smile to the passing stranger on the street and note them for who they are and how we are all connected. Embrace the warmth and smell of humanity. Live to create, not consume.

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Incident in English 177

At UC Berkeley I took Literature of Philosophy which spent a lot of time debating the meaning of specific words and dissecting them ad infinitum. The final exam consisted of three questions, each one a paragraph long that took up half a page. You only had to answer one question but it took me a good hour to read through and comprehend each question before I could even pick which one I wanted to answer.

While cleaning things out my garage, I ran across an old journal with this passage that made be laugh, it sums up my experience at Cal Berkeley perfectly.

Prof. Banfield introduces Bertrand Russel’s Theory of Knowledge. She uses his example of the table using the table in the classroom for illustration. The table is your typical classroom table, linoleum top, chrome legs, standard academic affair. The class can only visually see three legs and Prof. Banfield posits that there is no proof to say that the fourth leg isn’t a grandly carved walnut late-Elizabethan leg, no proof that it is or is not . . . and to make her point she leans over and puts her weight on the corner. To her surprise, the table collapses and she falls to the ground in an ungraceful heap. The 4th leg was missing.

The entire class was silent, not knowing if we were to laugh or if this was part of her lesson plan. Turns out UC Berkeley facilities just gave Prof. Banfield a bum table. Take that Betrand Russel!