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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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15 songs

Huh. Wrote this up ages ago and somehow never got around to clicking the Publish button. No longer actually reflects the last 15 songs played, but otherwise… Pretty much as randomly relevant now as it would have been then,

Random play 15 songs on your MP3 and say what they are. (Inflation, I guess, because last time I did this, it was only 5 songs.) Played them then, but only got around to listing them now.

1. The Golden Boy – Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé – Instrumentals

I have this Freddie Mercury box set. It’s a gorgeous thing, really, that includes a large book on glossy paper with great photos. But they also stretched out his original three (3) solo albums onto ten (10) CDs. (There are also two DVDs.) This particular one, called Instrumentals, is actually Karaoke versions of his songs. The music and the backing vocals are there; just not the lead.

Want to feel particularly inferior about your singing voice? Attempt Freddie Mercury Karaoke.

2. Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver) – Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (Bonus Disc)

3. Darling Nikki – Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain

Ah, dear, dirty, darling Nikki, the song that inspired Tipper Gore to request parental warning labels on albums. At least it’s not particularly misogynistic. Nikki owns her own sexuality, and the singer seems to admire her for it. On the Purplish Rain tribute CD, it’s song by a woman, and it’s pretty awesome.

4. Never in a Million Years – The Boomtown Rats – V Deep

5. Eleanor Rigby/Julia [Transition] / I Am the Walrus / I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles – Love

Until the recent reissues, Love was almost the only remastered Beatles CD available, and I still love the sound of the whole album. (It’s the soundtrack for the Beatles Cirque du Soleil show.) Lots of interesting mash-ups of the songs, like this one.

6. Bell Boy – The Who – Thirty Years of Maximum R&D Disc 3

From the compilation, but it’s the same version as on Quadrophenia. Nice duet between Daltrey and Moon. But as with many things Who, even better live. I love the ceremonial hand-off of the lead mike they’d do in concert.

Bell Boy mike handoff

7. It’s a Boy – The Who – Tanglewood

A live snippet (40 seconds) from an American stop on their long Tommy tour. Tanglewood is a classical music hall, so having a rock band perform there was highly unusual. You can hear the whole the concert at Wolfgang’s Vault.

8. Mandela Day – Simple Minds – Glittering Prize: Simple Minds 81/92

Still remember this song being played the day Nelson Mandela was released from, and it seeming so odd that this full song was all ready for the occasion, which came as something of a surprise at the time. (When Simple Minds wrote the song, they were just imagining how great would be the day that Mandela was released from prison…)

9. Slow Love – Prince – Sign ‘O’ the Times

10. Blue – Joni Mitchell – Blue

For some reason Joni has come up in conversation a few times this week. This is the only album of hers that I have.

11. Killer’s Eyes – The Kinks – Give the People What They Want (Remastered)

From my first-ever Kinks album, one I still really like. Inspired by John Hinkley, Jr., this tune is about a family’s confusion on finding our their son / brother is a murderer. (‘We’ve seen your picture in the paper. Your little sister pinned in on the wall. She thinks you’re some kind of movie…”) Cheery, huh?

12. Grand Illusion – Styx – Return to Paradise (Disc 2)

I think the hope of this exercise is that something really embarrassing will come up. I’m not completely mortified that I own a Styx CD (double CD at that), but I have to say, their music has not aged well. All the synths, the trite lyrics… Not stuff I’m too interested in listening to anymore.

13. Imagine – Jordis Unga – Rock Star: INXS

14. Dumb – Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York

Interesting sequence, as it’s largely through Rock Star: INXS that I got into Nirvana, actually…

15. Trouble In Mind – Janis Joplin – 18 Essential Songs

I’ve been adding some of Jean’s CDs to his iTunes, and bringing a few over to my iTunes as well. This would be one of those.


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High Tech / Low Tech: A joint project

I have friends who are really interested in photography, and one of the challenges some of them follow is this Sunday Stills idea, a weekly blogged photo challenge. A week or two ago the theme was High Tech / Low Tech, which resulted in two contrasting photos of eReader vs books: Robin’s | January’s.

That led me to thinking it would be interesting to do that with music: LP > CD > iPod. Main problem was, I’m really not interested in staging or taking photographs. Fortunately, though, I live with someone who is. So the following is a joint effort. I picked out the items. Jean staged them, took several photos from many angles, selected the best ones, edited those to be better, and here we are:

The iPod is just so little, isn’t it? Dwarfed by the five albums it contains, not at all obvious that it contains thousands more.

Yet, the LP lives on as well, and I think this also shows why. So big. So tangible. So warm, as they say. With every new LP you buy today, you also get a code to download a digital copy. The best of both worlds.


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The Shuffler

Spent some time today reading this thread in Salon

Inspired by The Onion’s Random Rules feature. Select “Shuffle Songs” from your iPod’s main menu and tell us the first five songs that it plays. No cheating, no skipping embarrassing songs you’d rather not tell us you have on your iPod, and feel free to give some commentary on the songs themselves or how you feel the five songs do or do not work in conjunction with one another.

Considering it was mostly just a very random list of songs, it was fairly interesting. I wasn’t too surprised at the number of people with songs I’d never heard by cool new bands I’d never heard of, because the list of cool new bands I’ve never heard of is just so very long. But I was surprised at the number of people with only classical musical on their iPod. At least, there were only classical pieces amongst their five songs.

Anyway, of course I had to try this. Not that I hadn’t shuffled all songs many times before, but this was the first time for this purpose. Here is what I got:

1. The Kinks – Property

OK, so one of my favorite Kinks songs ever. That’s a good start.

2. I’m a Believer – Smashmouth (from Shrek)

I don’t even know where I got this song from. I like it, though. Not too different from the Monkees’ original.

3. Layla – Eric Clapton (from Live Aid)

I extracted this from the DVD. It’s a lively version.

4. It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night (Live) – Prince

Ooh, iPod bringing in the funk!

5. Flash! U96 (from Queen Dance Traxx)

Oh, I love Queen Dance Traxx! Though I bet the vast majority of Queen fans find it completely appalling. But I love dance versions of Queen songs. This one is basically a dance remix of Flash!, with Freddie and band’s original vocals retained.

(I stopped the pod then, but it was heading into the Classical, with some Schubert.)

Nothing too embarrassing, though if I’m not embarrassed by Queen Dance Traxx, perhaps I’m not embarrassed by much…


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Stupid, immoral, or just weird?

So I’m pleased with myself because I’ve figured out how record music as it plays on my computer.

Now, I’d be more pleased if I could have figured out how to configure Windows to do this, for free, as is supposed to be possible. But after the simple instructions failed, and then I tried more complicated instructions which also failed, and eventually ended up in the Windows Registry and it was 1:00 in the morning and I still wasn’t recording…

I realized this was insane. So before I blew up the computer, I bought some inexpensive software to do this. Very simple; works great. Anything I play on the computer, I can now convert to MP3 (and other formats).

I wanted this for things like:

This, my husband informed, makes me a thief. Even though I pointed out that none of these things seemed to be available for sale. He said that the artists should still paid for their work, and I said, well, I’m sure they were paid for their original work and now their stuff is sitting on the Internet for free listening and what difference does it make if I listen on my computer or my iPod? (And actually the argument went on much longer and grew progressively ridiculous, so I’ll spare you.)

But it did make me think that, however I get my music now—and I use many means—someone seems to thinks it’s either stupid, or immoral, or just plain weird.

You buy music? [stupid]

Most commonly expressed by those under 30, who like to point out that everything is available for free on the Internet. I don’t know how immoral it is to never pay for music, but it’s at least kind of tacky.

You buy music from iTunes? [stupid]

Boy do, some people have issues with iTunes! That it’s too expensive, that everything is DRM, that it chains you to your iPod. But expensive is relative, the DRM thing is now history, and as for chaining you to your iPod; well, I’ve never figured that was so hard to get around. For example, I can just play whatever in iTunes on my computer, and make an MP3 copy of it using my handy new software! Voila, no more ties to Apple.

You still buy CDs? [weird. and possibly stupid]

Amazement that I still acquire some music little plastic disks, which clutter up your life. Especially since the first thing you do is convert it for the iPod anyway.

Now, I used to say all those CDS were my iTunes backup; but now started backing up my library to DVD. Or, that I liked the packaging—but I don’t really refer to the CD case, within its tiny print and sad little cover picture, all that often. Because I still buy CDs because of:

  • Price (since I often get them used).
  • Better sound quality. Compressing things for your iPod means dropping notes from your songs. I’m no audiophile, but CDs do sound richer.
  • Convenience—at least in my car, where the CD player is better integrated than the iPod.

As for clutter, my neatly organized CDs, all stashed away in cabinets in alphabetical order by artist, then by release date, are really the least of my problems there. But it brings me to…

You still buy albums? [weird]

This is, as opposed to just songs. Of course, it’s wonderful to now be able to just get songs so easily, but yes, I still get albums too. Because…

  • Classic albums like Dark Side of the Moon and Who Sell Out, which have a whole thematic that builds, can only be experienced by listening to the entire album. In order.
  • Some artists are so great in concert, I just assume I’ll like the whole album too. With a band like Swing, I was completely right—with both their albums. Which I’ve since bought more of, to give to other people.
  • Soundtracks, which may not count, since they are just a random collection of songs. Though something like the Trainspotting or Shortbus soundtracks have overarching sound to them that make them a great playlist in themselves.
  • Reliable artists like Ray Davies, Alanis Morisette (Flavors of Entanglement is great), Bob Geldof… They put out a new album, I’m probably going to get it.

And more ways…

  • [immoral?] Extracting it from music DVDs—I have software for that, too. And I’m pretty sure it’s just another copy for personal use. I’m just thrilled that the mostly useless online help (“the filter pass setting sets the filter pass”) actually contained the one precise piece of information I needed to make the extracted songs stop “crackling”. Was driving me nuts.
  • [immoral?] Borrowing it from friends or family—Yet everyone seems to think this is just a nice thing to do, not immoral at all. Most will gladly make a copy for you.
  • [stupid?] Downloading it, not from a bittorrent, but from a “file sharing” location posted by someone on a Kinks mailing list. Which, I’m sure, is somewhat stupid. But I do have virus software, and all seems well since I did it, and it is a truly fantastic collections of Kinks songs. “The Fan Box Set” Anyone want to borrow it? 🙂


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Commuter challenged

Last week I attempted, for the first time, to participate in the Commuter Challenge. More people than I expected haven’t heard of this before, but the idea is that, for a week, you try to get to work by some way other than by driving yourself there. As part of the company “Green Team”, I felt I should try to participate, even though I really like the convenience of driving myself to work and back.

I don’t live far from work — Googlemaps reports that it’s 3.7 km, one way. Cycling would be the most logical alternative mode of transport, likely not taking much longer than the drive in rush hour.

The problem is, I’m not much of a cyclist. I don’t feel in shape for the activity, I do not like driving on the sides of city streets, I don’t want to feel sweaty at work all day, I don’t want to feel obliged to have to bike home again if it’s raining by then.

Next up: the bus. Grand River Transit has developed a new EasyGo system that is pretty cool. You enter your start and end locations and times; it gives you the full bus route to take. Unfortunately, that also revealed a slightly absurd, 30-40 minute itinerary, with one or two transfers.

Telework was an option. While I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to work at home the whole week, I did have a laptop and a method of connecting to the work network, so that was my method for a couple of the days. For the others? I finally went with “get a ride with husband” (which he helpfully pointed out just meant that he had to drive a little farther before going to work), combined with walking. Which took me 40 minutes.

Happy news was that I did get my exercise in, and on days I probably otherwise would not have. The weather proved to be cooperative — didn’t get rained on, wasn’t ever excessively hot or cold. Except for the one spot with the pond Canada geese and their chicks, and the (live) groundhog I saw one day, the walk route itself was rather uninspiring, even boring. But the iPod proved a helpful tool for dealing with that.

The challenges? Well, it made doing errands pretty tricky. Cats ended up chowing down on yellowfish tuna in olive oil because I wasn’t about to cart home a bunch of can cat food from the store near the office, as I usually do. Telework Monday I drove myself to a medical appointment and back; otherwise I would have missed too much work time. Right after walk-home Tuesday I got into my car for an event in downtown. Though the bus route to there was very good, the bus options home were not. Wine bottles to return to the Beer Store near work? That didn’t happen either.

I also had to really downsize the amount of stuff I normally carry. For the most part, this just proves I normally carry way more than I need. But keeping a bag lunch at proper temperature and weight — tricky. The glass bottled water I used as an alternative to plastic? Too heavy to consider. Carrying my laptop and accessories and papers so I can work effectively at home? Not practical — hence my using the ride option as well.

So, unfortunately, I’m unlikely to stay with regular alternative commuting options. But I will work at home more often, as possible. It’s good to know that walking — and even transit — are actually possible on days the car is in for servicing, or whatever. And walking made it clear that plenty of people deal with the busy city streets by riding their bikes on the sidewalk, so though you’re not supposed to do that, it maybe makes biking an option.

It was good to try it out. If you didn’t participate this year, look out for out next time. Gas ain’t getting any cheaper…


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Breaking out of the iPod bubble

“Love of iPod” is not exactly an original sentiment. I’m coming up on two years of ownership of my 30 GB “video” iPod, which holds no video and, despite the presence of some audiobooks, I mostly see as a music machine. The house and car are finally arranged such that I can listen to it anywhere, sans earphones (which hurt my ears, and make me sound particularly insane when I sing along). I love the playlists—the ability to combine a subset of my 3500 songs according to genre, mood, theme, composer, quality, date…

But the downside, of course, is that you really limit your exposure to new artists and songs—ones you might well come to love and appreciate, if only you ever had a chance to listen to them.

Then again, even before iPod, I’d already mostly given up on radio stations that played new music, whose between-song patter and ads were clearly aimed a couple decades younger than me, and the music television stations, which seemed to be largely taken over with rap music. At least, with iPod/iTunes store, I cheaply sample a song or two from a new (or new to me) artist, if it happens to reach my consciousness.

I haven’t deleted the “Purchased” playlist that the iPod software automatically places all your bought songs into. It becomes kind of a map into the music that has managed to break through the barriers of “the music I already own”. So what does manage to burst through?

Music from TV. (Just not from music TV.)

Most influential has to be the addictive reality shows Rock Star: INXS and Rock Star: Supernova, from which I have not only have I bought performances from the show itself, but also originals of what was covered, and songs by the performers on it. But there’s also a smattering of Canadian / American Idol, and even some influenced by dramatic series.

  • “Single” by Kalan Porter. The winner of the first season of Canadian Idol I watched most of, the judges kept commenting on his rich, mature voice. Though recognizing he was a good singer, I didn’t really grasp that quality of his voice until this song, which really plays that up from its opening notes. Hard to believe he’s only 17.
  • Nevermind by Nirvana. I had the Unplugged album already; Rock Star: INXS convinced me I need this one too.
  • “Wish You Were Here” by Marty Casey. A breakthrough moment in Rock Star: INXS, as Marty Casey sang this more melodically than anything he’d done previously, and this helped carry him through to the final. Also a bit of a breakthrough for me, as I finally started to understand the mania for Pink Floyd, a band I’d previously dismissed as too dark. “Wish You Were Here” is beautiful, and some of their other stuff doesn’t suck, either.
  • “How to Save a Life” by the Fray. This song became so associated with Grey’s Anatomy that I actually thought it was the official theme song, and wondered why it didn’t play at the start of the show. Then it stuck in my head and I had to get it.
  • “Anything, Anything” by Dramarama. The wonderful Storm Large won her first encore on Rock Star: Supernova with her performance of this song, that I’d never heard of before. It’s a barn burner. (I also bought Storm’s own “Ladylike” single, a true feminist anthem.)
  • “California Dreamin'” by JD Fortune; “Baby One More Time” by Marty Casey. Two radical reinterpretations of these well-known songs reveal the creativity on display in Rock Star: INXS. In both cases, I think I like these better than the originals.
  • “Save the Last Dance for Me” by Ben E. King. I bought this because it was the soundtrack for Brian and Justin’s season 1 prom dance on Queer as Folk, and have developed an appreciation for just how sexy this song is, in its own right.

Others in this category: “Pretty Vegas” by INXS (their first single with winner J.D. Fortune), “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Suzy McNeil (a tour de force from the show), “Man Who Sold the World” by Jordis Unga (beautiful song, beautiful performance), “We Used to Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols (Veronica Mars theme song), “Over My Head” by The Fray (since I liked their other song), Suzie McNeil’s Broken and Beautiful album (girl has pipes), and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers (whom I suspect I should get more of).

On the dance floor

I don’t have a whole lot of pure dance albums, but I do love me a really good dance tune. Sometimes I first read about these; sometimes I catch a minute on MuchMusic after all; sometimes I hear it when out dancing at parties or weddings! Mambo No. 5, Livin’ La Vida Loca, Hips Don’t Lie, Maneater, Can’t Get You out of My Head…

But the ultimate has to be Great West’s “Home for a Rest”. Because that’s just what you need to do after dancing along to this infectious tune.

From when I used to listen to radio

“Laid” by James. I loved this song when I used to hear it on 102.1 (back when I still listened to that), but had a heck of time figuring out what the song and artist name were. When I finally found it, this became, like, the fourth song I bought for the iPod.

The only other one in this category, I think, is “Closing Time” by Supersonic.

The Grammy’s / The Junos

TV again, but in the specific genre of music awards.  These would have some influence over my owning some Shakira and Nelly Furtado (as previously mentioned), and definitely affected these purchases:

  • “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. He was really criticized for his “native American” theme here, but it kind of blew me away.
  •  “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. I don’t think he performed at the Oscars, did he? But he still won, and I love this song, and I don’t even know why, because it’s definitely rap.
  • “Hallelujah” by KD Lang. Gorgeous, gorgeous; I have two versions of this, live and studio. The lyrics just get me; I don’t understand them literally but they seem to reach right past the logic into the emotion. (I also bought a few more of her covers from Songs of the 49th Parallel.)
  • “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. This was not a beautiful look period for her, but she really killed this song.
  • Green Day’s American Idiot album. It’s sort of punk/pop and kind of great.
  • “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks. Although, it was more the documentary than all the Grammies that had me buy this song.