September 29, 2011

I Buried Paul's

Inevitable, I suppose, but still sad...  Paul's CDs is closing, probably in the first few months of 2012.

Given, CDs are a strange and unlovely technology--too small to offer engaging cover art, too bulky to comfortably transport in quantity; packaged either in rickety plastic jewel cases or some flimsy paperboard sleeve; easily scratched, given to inexplicable blips and unpredictable incompatabilities.

But for those of us who grew up in a time before the internet, physical media had a talismanic quality.  You really had to work--especially if you grew up in the boonies as I did--to acquire an album.  You went to the record store, in person, more or less during business hours.  You might have to order a title and wait for weeks until it arrived.   Sometimes, you couldn't even get what you wanted

Moving to Pittsburgh and discovering Paul's?  It might as well have been the Library at Alexandria.  The stock was broad but well-curated, promising not just a reliable connection for the classics, but also the thrill of discovering something completely unexpected.  Without Paul's, would I have found Lost Legends of Surf Guitar, or an entire album consisting of Louie, Louie and its genetic material?  (For at Paul's, it's totally OK to be the kind of weirdo who will spend a solid hour listening to duhduhduh DUH DUH duhduhduh.)

Record stores, independent record stores, reflected a worldview.  Paul's was--is, for now--a comfortable, eclectic oasis containing the entire back catalogue of The Kinks, but absolutely no Britney.  (Lest this come off as High Fidelity-esque judginess, I know for a stone fact that my mother has purchased some ABBA there.  I can at least respect saccharine that is not autotuned.)  I used to spend a lot of my time, not to mention disposable income, there.

Used to.  I'm part of the problem, of course.  Nay, I am the living, walking, breathing embodiment of the problem.  As legal downloads became cheap and insanely convenient, I simply couldn't justify purchasing those clunky silver discs anymore.  Every time the Amazon Downloader opens up on my MacBook, I feel a twinge of guilt.  I think, if only for a second, of those endless brown shelves at Paul's.  Of hours lost, flipping through tightly-packed rows of jewel cases.  Of the sweet torture of figuring out which of the discs I couldn't possibly live without was going to have to wait until next payday.

Sure, I run into new music all the time.  Between retailers' algorithms and music blogs and such, I'm stumbling into things I never would have before the digital revolution.  Rationally, I'm converted.  But my heart will always be in those beat-up old racks.  

September 28, 2011

Today In Relative Terms: "Delicious"

1). "No Fat, No Sugars"

2). Spread them with chocolate icing!

Perhaps I'm biased, having survived the 80s.   I would lick Nutella directly off the Lobster Phone before I'd voluntarily revisit the acid-green leg warmer of snack foods, the rice cake.

September 27, 2011

The Line It Is Drawn, The Curse It Is Caste

After a jam-packed weekend--which I guess is a pretty good way of describing a two-day jazz festival--the lecture I attended Friday morning seems to have taken place a very long time ago.

For those who attempt to dissect the unspoken rules of the unacknowledged American class system, there's especial reason to pay close attention to some extremely interesting research conducted by Robert Putnam (a Harvard professor and distinguished social scientist whom I inevitably end up describing as "The Bowling Alone guy").  What Putnam put into words--and showed with hard data--in his presentation was something I think is widely understood intuitively, but often dismissed as "class warfare."

The poli-sci-ese is that there is a marked correlation between the erosion of social capital and the growth of income inequality.  The plain English is rather close to "Watch out for the Old Boys' Network." 

Essentially, Putnam's data show that having meaningful social interactions is a much higher predictor of economic success than even a college degree.  Furthermore, higher rates of civic engagement within a society are heavily related to economic equality--and when those community ties erode, people socialize less outside of their own demographics.  (That this holds through different countries and different eras is simultaneously intriguing and depressing.) 

The Ivy Leaguer who offered his Army buddy a job in the family firm after World War Two is very likely grandfather to a youngish professional who went to private schools, lives in a demographically homogeneous suburb, and has friends who look remarkably similar.  Oh, and that plum job that just cropped up?  It'll be offered to one of those friends.

There's obviously a lot more to the research than that...  but I suppose the takeaway lesson is that cocoons can be comfortable to their occupants and toxic to their neighbors.

So Much To Say, So Little Hardware

Evidently, there is this thing called "p-ram" that enjoys blowing up my laptop. While my machine is being lovingly prodded back into operation, I'll be posting on a catch-or-catch-can basis.

Right now, I'm borrowing a friend's cast-off netbook, which has a beautiful screen, a big keyboard, the trackpad from Hell, and a processor that--as far as I've been able to determine--is powered by a red ant on a very tiny hamster wheel.

Anyway, posting shall return to a reasonable pace sometime in the near future. The sheer force of the bottled-up snark could be dangerous, especially if someone drops Mentos into it.

September 23, 2011

Go Play Outside With Your Friends

This weekend, if you're in The Burgh, don't miss Jazz Day in the Park*!  On both Saturday and Sunday, there will be FREE live jazz in Schenley Plaza** from noon to about 6PM.  Lots of great acts scheduled--the Jimmy Ponder Trio, 5 Guys Named Moe, The Tim Stevens Project, The Joe Negri Trio with Maureen Budway,  Al Dowe and Etta Cox, The Frank Cunimondo Trio...  and many more.

The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel gang will be in attendance, too.

*Yes, Saturday AND Sunday.  I think of it as endearingly "increasingly misnamed."  
**Schenley Plaza, not Schenley Park.  Aim for Oakland, between the Hillman Library and the Carnegie Library.  Or, in proper Pittsburgh terms, "where the parking lot used to be."

September 21, 2011


One of the things I liked about Facebook--especially now that I'm so freaking busy that I can't hear myself scream--was its sheer simplicity.  If I was having one of those hit-the-pavement-running-at-7:30-for-a-fourteen-hour-day days, I could roll my carcass home and quickly get caught up with a day's worth of internets.  (Is "internets" still funny?  I'm depending upon econ textbooks for my slang.  I feel confident that I am hep to the jive, totally rad, and additionally mad fresh.)

Anyway.  Now it bites.

See, there's the news feed ("the part you give a crap about.")...  and now there's this stupid box thing with "top stories from the last fifteen minutes," which for the love of Pete didn't work out as a format for Headline News, and another stupid box thing with this semi-scrolling list of friends' recent posts, and I assume the annoying chat bar on the right hand side for people who didn't figure out how to kill it.  (Click the gear.  You're welcome.)

In short, once again, Mike Judge has proven to be the foremost prophet of our time:

Facebook:  It's Got What Plants Crave.

September 20, 2011

I Miss My TI-82

I have spent a disturbingly large percentage of my waking hours this week doing my stats homework.  (I'd graph it for you, but...  no thanks.)

Here's the thing: Before this course started, I was so paranoid about the math; I failed to account for what a giant fu...nctioning pain in the butt the software was going to be.

It seems really silly now that I was so worried about the actual material.  This is, after all, the third stats course I've taken.  It's fine.  The lecture, the concepts, all that is no problem whatsoever.  Describe a valid way to study a proposition?  Pick apart a shady bunch of numbers from a biased source?  Give a data set and ask me to run some figures?  Fine.

Tell me to plug said data into SPSS?  Goodbye, Monday.  And a good chunk of Tuesday.

Oh, I'm getting graphs.  But can I change these spaghetti-thin lines into proper blocky histograms?  HAHAHAHAHAHA.  (Part of the problem, I think, is that the book we were assigned is exclusively based on Windows.  The Mac version's close.)

Recitation's tomorrow.  Thank heavens.    

September 19, 2011

Big Day For Fans Of Walls

More than most episodes, “The God Complex” puts the question of who the Doctor is at the heart of things. The title has a couple of meanings. It refers, of course, to the villain’s godly aspirations but also, as Rita makes explicit, the Doctor’s own need to save others. And in the process, control them. What kind of person does that? And who can remain so blithe after pulling the strings of so many lives?

--Rather good recap of last week's Doctor Who from over at The Onion AV Club.

Alma Mat-Arrrrrrr

Avast, Panth-arrrs!!!

Arrrrrrr Ye Scalawags Readyin' Yerselves?

Arrr, me hearties, 'tis Talk Like A Pirate Day!


If ye be runnin' out of pirate argot, hie thee over to the vocabulary list on the International Talk Like A Pirate Day website...  or avail ye' self o' this handy video, straight from the cap'ns o' the ITLAPD ship:

In conclusion, mateys:

September 18, 2011

Looks Ain't Everything, But They Sure Help.

The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel has come a long, long way in the few weeks it has been in operation.  In that short period of time, we've had some amazing member support (and believe me, we truly appreciate what a leap of faith it is to donate to a brand-new nonprofit!).  Listeners have been incredibly encouraging when we meet them at concerts and events around town, and we've received some wonderful email messages.  Sure, there are times when the work seems to be overwhelming, but the stories of people who love the music sustain the team.  We're in it for the long haul, folks.

Almost everyone has been very understanding about the cosmetics being a wee bit lacking on the website, given the speed and utter lack of resources that characterized our launch.  Nevertheless, I am very pleased to let you know that the shiny, new, professionally-designed PJC website is up and running, and in living color!

A thankful tip of the hat to Andrew Ellis for the elegant design, and to Tim Emanuel for doing the coding.  You guys are, at very minimum, six kinds of awesome.

September 17, 2011

Watch For The Telltale Sign Of Corruption!

A charismatic fast talker ginning up unnecessary distress?  Whether or not you know the show, the song's familiar...

Blue Blog Post a la Turk

You probably already know that we Pittsburghers invented important things such as: music broadcasting, the polio vaccine, "Frick" as a muttered obscenity (I'm willing to bet), and Donnie Iris.  (I like me some King Cool*, so sue me.)

I'm thinking I should start a feature called Improbably Great Things You Probably Don't Know About Pittsburgh.  Installment One: The 1967 farewell performance of the Dave Brubeck Quartet was here, in what was then the Hilton.  Seriously!   And the show's coming out on CD in November--Rich Kienzle has a nice writeup on the PG site about the release.

We live in truly fortunate times, for prior to the invention of the term "awesomesauce," there were no adequate words**.  

*Especially the hit track "Love Is Like Iraq."  ("A Rock" you say?  Nope.  Pretty sure I'm right.  Fragmented, lots of undetonated explosives, the kind of place you really send loads of good wishes to but would be well advised to avoid?  Uh-huh.  Told you.)

**Look kids, tough week, I'm fresh out of gravitas.  (Gravitas....  that's the salted salmon with dill, right?)

September 16, 2011

That Once There Was A Fleeting Wisp Of Glory

Another edition of SMLTS In Exile... live-ish from The Cathedral of Learning...

I've had several conversations on a certain topic in the last day or so--the awkward kind, like when you lose a relative and people aren't sure whether they should bring up the death in the family.  So. for anyone who's wondering if I'm uncomfortable talking about the final demise of WDUQ, in the wake of the closing of the sale and the change in call letters...  it's OK.  (I mean, it's not OK, but it's OK to ask.)

The change in call letters is profoundly fair to all parties, strange though that may sound.  It's an acknowledgement that what's going on on 90.5 now--whatever it might be on its own merits--is not an extension of what the WDUQ crew achieved.

While the spirit lives on in other ways (<shameless_plug> The Pittsburgh Jazz Channel, </shameless_plug>), I can only say that it provides some closure to know that the station I poured heart and soul into is officially dead and gone.

September 15, 2011

The Best-Laid Plans O' Trackpads And Men

Coming to you from the glamorous computer lab in Posvar Hall, this is a special edition of SMLTS In Exile.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Secondmost laptop is incommunicado right now.  I'm dropping it off with a computer genius friend later; hopefully he'll be able to bring it back...  but getting four years of hard use out of a refurb is nothing to sneeze at.

September 13, 2011

In Which Pop Culture (Albeit The Smarter Neighborhoods Thereof) Melts My Brain

So, here I am, in serious policy-wonk mode, ready to tuck into a three-part case study on integrating housing and social services...  and then, I begin to giggle uncontrollably.

For the star of the show, the main character, the guy who I really need to be reading about in a serious and analytical manner...  he's named...

I swear.

September 12, 2011

My Morning Reading Is Itchin' For A Fight

1). Amazingly, an email with the subject line "One-armed man knocks out kickboxer" did not turn out to be a Viagra ad.  Weird.  (It was, in fact, about a one-armed man knocking out a kickboxer, and how this is some way means you should use a particular executive placement firm.)

2). Here is a free sample of academic literature: "When I eat a cheeseburger, you cannot eat the same one.  So you and I are rivals for that cheeseburger, just as much as contenders for the title of world champion are."

  • 2a). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that there are multiple cheeseburgers in the world, yes?
  • 2b). Writers of economics textbooks seem to firmly believe that by using junk food metaphors, they can relate to "the kids", get "down" and "funky," and make that whole "dismal science" thing go away. Nobody has the heart to tell them otherwise.
  • 2c). If that is the last cheeseburger, I will kickbox for it.  Fair warning.

September 11, 2011

Ten Years

Without anything fresh to contribute to the ongoing debate about the nature of appropriate response to terrorism, without any new insights into the institutional reaction to the attacks, and certainly without any illusions about how interesting my "where were you when you heard?" story is, I really didn't want to write a 9/11 post.

But one thing has been on my mind, one thing that I hope somehow wedges itself into the consciousness of future historians who try to understand what that day was like.

If you want to absorb how completely surreal September 11, 2001 was, it's not enough to understand that the nation was grieving in the wake of massive acts of violence perpetrated upon innocent people. We weren't just sad, we were confused.

It seems almost sweetly naive in retrospect to recall the rumor that another hijacked jet was circling Dulles.  That such a conventional horror felt like a plausible turn of events speaks to how completely unprepared we were for this new threat. 

As we watched the events of the morning unfold, it was without any sense of who was responsible (let alone their motivations), when the wave of attacks would end, or what would happen to a skyscraper that had been hit by a jet.

When I left Downtown that day (I waited longer than I really should have), there was a stunned, respectful silence on the bus.  There was nothing to say. Nothing we didn't all know, or all not know. Nothing to do but wait, and listen, and start learning the new rules and assumptions under which we were to operate.

It's sometimes said that everything changed on 9/11.  I think it's fairer to say that after that day, nothing seemed certain.  In truth, certainty is nearly always an illusion, if a comforting one.

September 9, 2011

Sometimes, I Just Don't Know What To Think About You People

This blog got a hit today from a search for "harass groundhogs molasses."

In the interest of public service, here is the correct answer: Don't.  Really. You'll be left with a weird sense of emptiness.  And an annoyed, sticky groundhog.

Guess Who's Coming To Lunch?

After a long morning of statistics, I decided to enjoy my lunch outside.  Seconds after I sat down, an inquisitive critter approached.

For an unpleasant moment, I thought his fearlessness might have meant he was rabid.

Then I realized that he just wanted some waffle fries.

There's probably a deep life lesson there.  But in case you ever wondered...  squirrels dig Chik Fil A.

September 7, 2011

Now, Where Do I Get My Punch Card To Access The Mainframe?

This was, what, the third rainy day in a row?  Fourth?  Don't know.  But I do know that when it gets this humid, my hair becomes firmly convinced that it's currently 1962.

2011 is keeping me busy enough, thankyouverymuch.  Rarin' to soak up some of that "free*" printing quota, I made my first grad-level sojourn into the computer lab in the Cathedral today.  Like most of campus, it's considerably cleaner and spiffier than it used to be.  There's even custom Pitt carpet.

I'd been prepared for a lunchtime rush; it occurred to me when I found a workstation quickly that pretty much everyone has their own computer now so of course the school computers aren't in as high demand as they were, say, fifteen years ago.  (I'm reluctant to haul my laptop in until I absolutely have to, hence my own visit.)

You now swipe your ID at the printer to retrieve your print job.  I LOVE this. Used to be that your stuff would come out under a cover sheet with your user ID on it, which would be placed on a table by a lab attendant, who hopefully wouldn't stick your stuff under someone else's.

The Future is pretty darn convenient, I have to say.

*With origination of two hefty loans...

Google, Honey, We're All A Little Worried About You...

"Recycling tip" offered by Gmail.

September 6, 2011

Everyday I Read The Book (and the case studies and the news articles and the journal excerpts...)

"To think I used to enjoy reading," one of my classmates posted on Facebook.

Of course, tongue was planted firmly in cheek... but make no mistake, grad school involves a whole lot of dense, heavy, academic reading.  Ideally, this is pretty much your concept of a good time because you are a giant nerd (it is; I am).  Otherwise...  hooo-eeee.

By and large, the readings have been absorbing--again, assuming geekitude on the part of the reader.  I have to admit that my econ textbook lost some credibility with me when it posited the ludicrous assertion that margarine is a substitute for butter.  All I'm saying is that if the author wakes on All Hallows Eve to find Zombie Julia Child looming over him with a blowtorch... well, we must all own the consequences of our actions.  (Although, come to think of it, the same text includes a discussion of the bank bailout...)

September 5, 2011

On The Plus Side, I Guess This Means I Haven't Been Banned From The AT&T Store?

I would have just said "You are not currently eligible for an equipment upgrade."

But always with the silver lining, these AT&T people...

That's right, I am eligible to pay full retail!  At participating outlets!

I fear I may become removed from the common folk by these immense advantages circumstance has afforded me.

How To Keep Your Sanity In Grad School, Part 1

1). Do not do the math (ha) on how much each page of your stats textbook cost. Really, don't... oh, honey, don't cry. Look, they'll probably buy it back at the end of the semester... unless they change editions again---NO, DON'T SOB LIKE THAT! Think happy thoughts! Puppies and kittens and rainbows! Marshmallows and liquor! Drunk kittens chasing marshmallows!

2). Clear communication is key. Sure, you know that it's important to concentrate fully on the material you're reading, but your friends/family/we're-gonna-say-"roommate"-because-"squatter"-is-such-an-ugly-word will tend to interrupt you, constantly, with irrelevant observations ("Hey, look outside! That baby kitty is failing the field sobriety test! Awwwww!!!!!").

Subtle signals, such as closed doors, or reading while visibly surrounded by a pile of $130 textbooks, may not adequately express your need for quiet study time. But people generally get the point when you ask nicely, while wielding a flamethrower.

3). (ONLY IF OLD) Rejoice that outside readings are free on Blackboard rather than Xeroxed, bound cheaply, and sold for $50 at the University copy center.

4).  Stay conscious of how incredibly huge a privilege it is to have time to think, to read deeply, to write thoughtfully, to be guided by some of the best minds in academia today.  Keep your eyes open to the wonders surrounding you.  You really ought to see the kitten.  It's, like, delinquentdorable.

September 4, 2011

Metaphors And Plaids: Mix With Caution


The Worm in the Apple: Whose Ox Is Being Gored?

September 2, 2011

Gather 'Round, Cat People

For extra meta points, your cat may be doing exactly this while you're watching the cartoon!


Math camp.  I survived.

The morning session was in 324 Cathedral.  I remember having one of the core rhetoric classes there as an undergrad.  I don't remember the pretty wooden benches being that incredibly uncomfortable.  Of course, I wasn't using them for three-hour stretches back then.  Oh well.  Builds character, and an appreciation of upholstery.

Anyway, yeah.  I feel pretty confident that I'm prepared for the material.  

I also feel like I saw all of the numbers today and so shouldn't have to take any more math classes.

September 1, 2011