Boogie plus woogie.

Monday, April 30th, 2007

So Monday night, we were sitting down for dinner with our guests from Oregon who wander the US in their fine camper-plus-trailer type thing, and I get a call from Sue. Turns out Bob Page and John Cocuzzi are playing together, tonight around the corner at Blind Willie’s, and all real videographers are otherwise occupied, but Sue knows I can be ready to prepare mediocre shaky recordings of incredible two-piano performances with only a half-hour’s notice.

And indeed, I was. Yeah, the battery in one of my two cameras only lasted 10 minutes and there was only a tiny tiny amount of light up on stage, but it’s amazing what Final Cut will let you pull out of a picture.

And then there’s the “get it out there on YouTube” thing. Well, we did that too, here, here, and here. And darned if folks haven’t been watching it! Ah, the democracy of internet distribution.

Television, redefined.

Friday, April 27th, 2007

On a day when Sammy’s dad turned ninety (!), I finally succumbed to one of those fine internet deals and went out and picked up a fine new Samsung 26 inch high def LCD for our house. It is just the right size for how we watch movies’n’television’n’stuff.

(I mentioned this to Nick on the phone yesterday, who, after all has had a long history of television…he saw it when it was first publically demonstrated, at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He probably doesn’t see ‘more pixels’ as quite the revolution the TV industry does.)

Yes, we’ve gone high definition, and with a TV that accommodates our $70-from-Target DVD player (Y,Cr,Cb component), our Mac Mini (VGA until I get a DVI to HDMI adapter) our now-ancient VHS/DV deck (S-video) and pulls in analog cable in standard def while interleaving the QAM-modulated digital cable signals, and, oh yeah, does a very respectable job of pulling ATSC signals out of the air, which is a good thing, because for some reason Comcast isn’t providing WXIA in HD on QAM right now.

Holy petes. If you handed me a piece of paper with that paragraph on it in, oh, 1989, I’d have understood, well, almost none of it.

Oh, and all this entertainment wonderfulness is under the control of one amazingly uncomplicated remote. I may get annoyed at it or the TV later, but I have to give Samsung credit for designing TV software (since really, that’s what it is…it even has a USB port for Flash drive software upgrades) that hugely simplifies the process of getting all this TV craziness squared away. Aspect ratios snap to where they should be…data is presented in a nice (did I say that?) Helvetica, flush-left, and the remote, as I say, is quite unbaffling.

And all this niceness is happening without a cable set-top box, which I consider to be a huge plus.

My favorite thing to watch so far? A selection of our 24,000-odd pictures on the Mac Mini’s screen saver, which come up in startling clarity, with elegant dissolves. Makes looking at slides look amazingly low-res.

So we’re all set for company. (After having just had company.) My sister is riding the rails, even as I type, and will be here in the morning. It’s been quite an April.

Questioned, tallied.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Do you design websites or other online things? Well, then, this banner’s for you:

The A List Apart people (from whom I’ve consumed lots of tasty kool-aid regarding web standards and so on) are trying to do some meaningful research, and I’m honored that they tossed another pasty white guy’s opinion into the mix.

With luck and time, the design profession in general and web geeks in particular will be much more diversely populated than they are now. Maybe we’ll be looked upon with respect as pioneers. Maybe they’ll just be glad to have us out of the way. But in any case, I hope I’ve made some mark indicating I was here—even if it’s ticking radio buttons on this fine survey.


Friday, April 20th, 2007

It is both embarrassing and comforting to be able to tell you that the highlight of this day for me was being able to walk with Sammy “down the hill,” westward towards Monroe Drive, a Oaxacan market bag dangling from my wrist. We strolled to our brand-new-yes-finally-open Trader Joe’s, the intown one, the midtown one, the one we had been promised for more than a year.

It is, of course, a festival of upscale-y natural-y food and cheap wine that has figured out a way to get a Steve Jobs-ian Reality Distortion Field to extend across a modern american grocery store. It is, for reasons I’ve not sufficiently introspected upon, a fun place to buy comestibles that seem vaguely good for you…a place where the high-fructose corn syrup is consigned to the margins and the byproducts are mostly bygone.
It is in some ways the strange alter ego of Aldi, the bad-for-you-ingredients midwestern grocery store that older pinching pennies people prefer. Trader Joe’s is (according to this Business Week article a while back) owned by a trust created by the guy who cofounded Aldi. There’s a connection in a bunch of subtle ways—both places basically exclusively sell store brands, but we’re much happier that the one we live near—just over a mile from here sells foods that would not chase Michael Pollan away in abject terror. The nearest Aldi, on the other hand, is well outside the Perimeter. Phew.

But maybe I was wrong in that first paragraph…the highlight for me wasn’t just the nice jaunt out to shop, it was the lovely chicken and pasta meal whipped up by Ms. Sam from TJ ingredients (along with some fine fresh basil and pesto stick-blendered from that basil, brought back from the DeKalb Farmers Market.) It was warm, tasty, comforting, good for us. So, from the source of that food, let me shift the highlight back here where it belongs—to the experience of enjoying it with Sammy.

So, hey…we’ve got the DFM, we’ve got Whole Foods, we’ve got the best baguettes in town over at Alon’s, we’ve got Trader Joe’s. Let’s eat!


Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Sammy and I were walking in the neighborhood a couple of days ago and we were talking about my birthday (I’ve started writing this in the waning minute of my very extra special 50th annual celebration of my natal day, but by the time I hit the ‘Send to weblog’ button in MarsEdit, it’ll be the 12th, for sure.)

Sam did a wonderful job of (first) listening and then facilitating and arranging and making sure that my day went just as I might possibly want. And indeed it did. I received wonderful birthday wishes in blog-comment, email, snail mail, and telephonic form…we had a great informal dinner of Doc Chey‘s takeout, capped by Sam’s Killer Brownies, or at least the incarnation of them she was inspired to make after coming across a feature on brownies in the April 11th New York Times. Lots of beautifully handmade cards, a two-page reminisce about, well, me written by my father (!), great gifts, just…wonderful.

Anyway, we were walking and I was talking in that way I have of making big pronouncements and sweeping observations about my life and our lives and where we are and where I’ve been and what being with Sam means to me and she drily noted “you’re in a reflective mood,” and I thought, well, true enough…but it’s familiar terrain, a place I spend a lot of time inhabiting.

And, indeed! I remain reflective in the wee hours of this day, after a great late-evening phone conversation with my friend Deb (I’d link to her blog, but no, it would be more of a stress generator than a stress reliever for her to have one, so you’ll have to be content with her occasional comments on Nancy’s site or once in a great while, here.) She pointed out that in addition to Helvetica, 1957 also spawned the International Geophysical Year, which, if nothing else, gave the world a nearly endless supply of Donald Fagen lyrics.

As we talked, I clicked to the front page of the NYT, and I was greeted by the world-weary face of Kurt Vonnegut, whose body apparently grew weary enough of this world to depart yesterday (late April 10th, according to the article.)

So, to quote Linda Ellerbee quoting him, it goes.

I am indeed one of the people who carried tattered copies of Mr. Vonnegut’s paperbacks with me in my denim jacket on long bus rides in my late teens, and I’ll never forget riding through upstate New York, bound for Vermont—through the towns inhabited by huge General Electric factories that inspired him to create fictionalized versions of those places in novels like 1952’s “Player Piano” (inexplicably one of my favorites) while the landscape about which he wrote unspooled outside the bus window. Amazing…he says it here and I see it there.

(It’s like reading Tony Hillerman while bumping along a dirt road in northwest New Mexico. There’s probably a ten-dollar word for that quality-of-experience, but it remains one of my favorite ways to connect with the written word. You’re soaking in it!)

One of the best attempts to get Vonnegut captured in the world of the moving image happened at WGBH in the early 1970s. “Between Time and Timbuktu” was produced on videotape by Fred Barzyk and a talent cast and crew, and I think it survives, barely, on deteriorating videotape. Boy, I’d love to have that on DVD, just as I treasure Ursula LeGuin’s “The Lathe Of Heaven” in its Barzyk/PBS video incarnation (on DVD!)

But Kurt Vonnegut was most at home wading deep in a stream of his own written words and narrated ideas, swirling them with his feet, getting lost and found along the way. I will of course take out the tattered paperbacks and put one of them in the pocket of the denim jacket I bought last week in Mason City, Iowa. But probably only during one of my more reflective moments.

This explains so much.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

A quick late-evening email from Nancy says:

You share a birthday with…Helvetica!

Famous typeface reaches 50 (from The Times Online)

And just like that, the meaning of the last fifty—yes, on April 11th, it will indeed be fifty—years of my life snaps into razor-clear focus.

All those years of a love-hate relationship with a typeface that is ubiquitous, beautiful, and intolerable in its ubiquity. Ah, Helvetica. We are of a common time, if not a common place (very few lasting typefaces have emerged from Central Ohio.) By turns functional and detached. Icy and daring. Pedestrian and urbane. Ah, just let this guy tell you about it. I am but Helvetica’s fellow traveler through this world.

But in other news, I have about an hour of my forties left, according to my carefully crafted Hypercard stack, written maybe 18 or 20 years or so ago. (I remember being amazed when I could actually write code—Hypertalk script, actually—that did something meaningful on my small, smiley appliance computer.)

I’m delighted that the code I worked hard on still actually runs (inside a layer or two of modernity) on my machine, and I have enough brain cells left to construct a modern, universal, Cocoa application that does, well, much the same thing. It’s a tiny date calculator called Date Arithmetic and it’s my birthday present to you.

(By the way, the font in the ancient Mac dropdown menu? No, it’s Chicago.)

Hugs and warm thoughts to my amazing wife, family and friends. Thanks for each and every year thus far. Let’s do more.