Monday, 27 March 2006

Even though I know I have some of these CD’s, when they come up on random play in iTunes, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Now playing: Hey Jude played in traditional Cuban musical rhythms. It comes from a CD I found a couple years ago when I was on an Afro-Cuban kick — Here Comes…el Son.

It was followed by a new-wave cover of “There Was an Old Woman” (Yes, the children’s song) by Minneapolis 80’s group The Wallets.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

On my way home Wednesday night, the sky was getting dark. Fast. The clouds were rolling in, but it still looked like a pretty normal evening thunderstorm. Little did I know.

Without a second thought, I finished my errands and made my usual Wednesday visit to a local restaurant. I’m there most Wednesday nights for a couple reasons. It gives me time away from the distractions at home (TV, Internet connectivity, etc.) where I can work on my writing. Second, I can grab dinner while I’m there. That my brother works there is an added benefit.

About half-way through dinner the rain started coming down hard. I’ll admit it was a bit disconcerting when the dime-sized hail and the gale-force winds started. Still, it was no big deal; I’d just hang out a little longer and work some more.

Not long after that, the power went out. Not just at the restaurant, but the car dealers on either side. And the half-dozen businesses across the street. And everything else I could see from my window seat.

Then the weather got really nasty. The wind picked up even more and the rain was coming down in sheets. Cars were stopped on the road because they couldn’t see anything.

After 45 minutes or so of eating and working in the dark, the wind and rain had let up enough that I felt comfortable going home. Sure, the power was still out and the house would be dark, but the laptop was out of battery so I had nothing better to do. At the very least I’d be able to read by flashlight for a while and go to bed early.

A fallen tree limb was partially blocking the driveway as I pulled in. Considering the wind earlier, it wasn’t that surprising. Finding leaves all over the place and the storm draims completely overwhelmed wasn’t unexpected either.

It turns out I didn’t know the half of it.

Safely inside, the rain started up again, without the wind this time. This pass wasn’t as long as the first, nor as fierce. I kept reading just the same. I wanted the storm to truly be over before I went out to investigate.

I was distracted from my reading by strange lights playing across the window. Opening the shades, I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black. I directed the flashlight out the window, but it still took several seconds to register what I saw. There was a tree blocking my view. A tree that didn’t belong there.

Normally the tree stood majestically, 30-40 feet from where it now lay. The canopy was usually just beyond my reach from the upstairs window where its leaves would turn glorious, firey colors each fall. It was the one thing that could convince me, if only for a couple months every year, there might still be some magic left in the world.

Now my long-time companion was effectively dead.

And that wasn’t the only one. Wandering the courtyard I saw at least 15 similar tragedies. Trees toppled as though someone just pushed them over as easily as one swats a fly.

That is (or was) one of my favorite things about this townhouse complex — the old trees in the common areas. Before the storm, we had 30-40 of them, each over 40 years old. Now we’re left with about half.

There were 20 or so trees, each over 40 years old, toppled over. It looked like someone just pushed them over, tearing the roots from the ground.

I can’t help but feel as though I’ve lost several old friends. It’s enough to make me cry.

Tuesday, 06 September 2005

From an email exchange with a friend about an upcoming show:

In an interesting bit of syncronicity, I’ve been working on a CD sampler from my music collection. As yet unnamed, it will showcase artists and songs I always play for friends when we start talking music. Stuff I’m excited about and think they should check out.

Most of my friends, save for a handful, have fairly unvaried musical tastes. They like what they like and don’t have much cause to experiment. There’s nothing wrong with with that, but I’d find it boring. Another way to put it is that I’m always looking for something new and they have lives.

In the sampler series, I’ll undoubtedly toss in something familiar here or there. Perhaps a Tears for Fears or a Jack Johnson track (but none of the radio singles), but most of it won’t be so familiar. You could say I’m trying to do for them what Northern Lights (Twin Cities record store) did for me in the 80’s. A way to expand their musical horizons and experience something outside the little box they currently live in.

So far the first draft is nearly 23 hours of music; 317 tracks. However, there’s some bloat in there too. I started with artists I wanted to feature and added whole albums, sometimes whole catalogs, worth of stuff knowing I would remove most of it later.

I figure I’ll have about 3 CDs worth (3 hours or so) by the time I’m done. But that means I really have to start culling the list. Whittle it down to the tracks that will actually make the series. That means grouping the tracks, building sections of the playlist, and removing anything that just doesn’t work.

Even though it’s the hardest part for me, it starts with auditioning every nominee and cutting the obvious chaff. I came to a group of Adrian Belew tracks on the way to work this morning. One of my favorite artists, it just so happens he’s playing a show in town this weekend (the original subject of our email exchange and hence the syncronicity.)

Barrelling down the highway at 70mph, I was treated to “The Lone Rhinoceros,” “Burned By the Fire We Make,” “Old Fat Cadillac,” “Inner Revolution,” and “The Momer.” Singing along at the top of my lungs, I was actually having fun!

Then I arrived at work.

Thursday, 01 September 2005

While headed into the basement to do laundry, I found a dead bee. It was on a ledge next to the stairs, which I thought it was an odd place for one to die. Even so, no big deal.

Once at the bottom of the stairs, I discovered another half-dozen or so, dead, on the floor. OK…that’s kind of strange, but not enough to be alarming.

Then, in the 30 feet between the landing and the washing machine, I saw more. There were two groups at least 12 and a few pockets of three or four, all dead. All told, there must have been 40-50 dead bees in my basement.

I’m not sure what worries me more, that 50 bees have found a way into the house, or that something (what, I don’t know) is killing them.

Saturday, 16 July 2005

So I’m at Cub the other day and in the 30 minutes I was in the store, someone had papered all the cars with one of those half-sheet flyers. This time it an individual trying to sell their car.

Normally people toss them on the ground or take them home and toss them in the trash. However, on my way out of the lot I saw a car for sale that hapened to fit the advertisment description perfectly. Irritated that they had basically littered on a car-by-car basis, I stuck the thing under their wiper. Eye for an eye, if you will.

Later that day I happened through the same lot and the car was still there. But with one change—others had followed my lead. There had to be 200 of the things jammed under the offender’s windsheild wipers.

Poetic justice at its finest.

Thursday, 21 April 2005

I’ve been trying to teach myself guitar for a few months now and it’s not going so well. The excuses are plentiful: I don’t have a suitable practice space, I don’t have a decent chair that won’t get in the way, I don’t have time; you name it. Honestly, what it comes down to is embarassment and laziness. Embarassment because I can’t bear the thought of anyone hearing me play because it sounds so bad, I’m just learning after all. From there, it’s just another convenient excuse to avoid practice, even though I know I’d better better if I spent the time on it.

A friend of mine has been a mandolin player for years. He has one at work and he’ll play around with it after-hours once in a while. To my untrained ears, he’s not bad. He has several songs in his repetoir and it usually teaching himself something new.

He’s offered to teach me guitar, but for some reason I’ve never taken him up on it. Mostly out of embarassment. I know nothing about playing guitar. I’d be starting at absolute zero. I can tune the thing, but that’s it.

It’s times like these I wish I had stuck with the violin or viola when back in junior high orchestra. Musically speaking, I’d be better off then I am today, perhaps even continuing to compose my own stuff. Instead, I have a piano I never play and my keyboard gear is stored in the basement, gathering dust.

As it turns out, one of the guys at work just bought a mandolin and my friend is going to teach him to play. So what did I do? I bought myself an inexpensive mandolin and hope to join in on the lessons.

I’m not sure why I think it will end up any different than with the guitar (and the piano, the keyboards, the violin…), but I want to give it an honest try. My expectations are realistic; I don’t expect to become great. Heck, I’ll be happy if I can simply learn to pick out a couple tunes and have them be recognizable.

Sorry this is so scattershot. I hope to clean this up and turn it into a new story later this summer. We’ll see how the lessons go.

Friday, 25 March 2005

Some time ago, on a private mailing list populated by several friends and acquiaintances, my friend Patrick brought up an interesting idea.

On two separate occasions he had run into friends of his father and they each told a similar story. Each had emigrated to the United States, leaving everything behind and starting over once they got here. One was Somali, and arrived in the US just a couple years ago. The other, from Nigeria, moved here in the early 90's.

After they got settled, they joined with several men from their respective countries to form a club of sorts. The groups were intentionally kept small. If it got to be more than 8 or 9 people, they'd split into smaller clans. They’d rather have 3 groups of 8 rather than a single battalion of 24 members.

They agreed to meet once or twice each week, promising to be there no matter what. No other appointments came before this meeting. Much like any other group, they would talk about their families, share stories from their lives back home, and share their goals.

But it went much deeper than that.

Together they would decide which goal came fist and contribute $50 each week toward attaining it. Once the first goal was reached, they'd work towards the second, then third; until each person had what they wanted.

The contribution wasn't always financial either. If the first goal was to get someone their taxi license and lease a cab, he might chip in with rides for the families of other group members. If one goal was to own a coffee shop, they'd all work towards it and reap the benefit of free coffee and a place to meet while they worked toward the next project.

In this way, they were all able to to grab their share of the American Dream—to prosper despite being a long way from home and starting with nothing. Just by sharing their dreams, working hard, and bonding together in a true community.

Patrick brought this up because he was hoping that we were the right size group and might adopt the same kind of arrangement. We even had one opportunity, chipping in to get Daren a Mac. Patrick or Tomas could help find the best deal and the return on the investment would be free Linux assistance—Daren being quite good at it.

Unfortunately it didn’t come together. As a group we didn't seem to gel in that fashion. Nobody truly stepped up to the plate and the idea just died. One example of why might have come from Bill, who quickly replied, “Me first! Everybody chip in $50 so I can get a somethingorother.”

While I’m sure Bill was joking, I’m sure we all had similar thoughts, “What’s my dream and how can I get it to the top of the list?” He was just the first to vocalize it.

Then I started adding it up. Even if we met once a week, that would be $200 per person, per month. Not many of us have $200 to spare in a month; I’d certainly have a hard time of it. But if we could, imagine how fast that could work with 6 or 8 people in the group.

And don’t forget that the contribution doesn't have to be in the form of money.

Each of us could offer our expertise among a broad range of subjects. For Daren it would be Linux administration and networking. Hjalmer could offer music and Windows advice. Patrick would bring Mac and music to the mix. I'd add Web design, networking and databases. And those are just the people I know the best and their technical abilities. I'm sure the others would have something to offer.

There is another handicap, perhaps more cippling than the cash outlay; our complete inability to agree on a time and place for dinner, even as a one-time event. Herding cats would be easier than trying to coordinate a recurring meet-up. To plan a single gathering requires at least a week of email exchanges to decide the meeting time. Then it’s another week to pick the place. Once everything settled, someone invariably comes up with a conflict and a third of the group no-shows.

I just don’t see the group of us actually making the time commitment and truly honoring it.

The problem may lie at a more fundamental level too. For some reason it's hard to see the good in contributing to a community. I think it comes from growing up in America, largely without want. We have evolved into a competitive society that encourages short-term goals and looking out for our own interests rather than working toward a common goal.

I still believe it’s possible, in spite of the problems and the cultural shift.

One reason I hold out hope: there were several years where I didn’t drive. I was totally dependent family, friends and mass-transit to get around. In return for rides and the occasional assist in hauling a large load, I'd never turn down a request for help with something else, especially building something.

When it came time to drive again, my dad gave me his old truck. Even though he didn’t ask for anything in return, I’ll help him haul anything he needs, provide computer support and other projects if at all possible. I did it even before the gift of wheels. It’s just how we operate as a family.

In a sense, my family does exactly what Patrick is talking about. It’s not that hard—painless really. It starts with the realization that the world doesn't revolve around any single individual.

Why can’t it work for a half-dozen guys connected through long-term friendships? What’s to stop us from pulling this off, each coming up with attainable goals and offering something back to the group?

Monday, 13 December 2004

I managed to squeak out of work in time to see the 2004 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train on it’s stop in North Minneapolis.

It’s one locomotive and 10 cars decked out in Christmas lights. There are actually two trains, one in the US and one in Canada. They run a cross-country route to raise donations and awareness for hunger relief efforts in North America.

It was so last minute for me that I ended up borrowing a friends camera so I could take pictures. Despite complete unfamiliarity with the camera, I got a few really good pictures and a couple great ones. Hopefully I’ll have some time this weekend to get the Web-ready and share them on-line.

For a train geek like me, it was great. I loved it. The only thing that could have been better was if they had let me up in the locomotive. It would have so cool to get a few pictures from inside the cab.

Monday, 29 March 2004

When using a ballistic nailer, always use hearing protection. I forgot, just once, and my ears are still ringing. But I have to say, it certainly works for holding a 2×4 to the cement wall. I’m starting the installation of new train tables and it’s much better than driving them by hand. More on the train tables, and the new layout, later.

Monday, 02 February 2004

Snow Day! Well, sort of. They let us out of work early today due to inclement weather. By the time I finished the couple things I had to do and got myself home, it was my normal arrival hour. Then again, if I had left at the normal time, I’d probably still be out there driving.