Saturday Morning Tuneage: Once in a Lifetime

Posted in Life Profundities, Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on July 30, 2011 1 Comment

They say that coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous, and that serendipity is the art of making an unsought finding. And if there’s ever a time that you want these sorts of things to happen, it’s when you’re trying to piece together a special weekend to celebrate your wedding anniversary. As it happened, Kelly and I found ourselves trying to do just that – just a few weeks ago – as we searched for a B&B within driving distance that might have space available over the weekend that plays host to both Independence Day and Canada Day, depending on which side of the border you’re looking…

As it happened, we found a place, and booked a 3-night stay at the Timberhouse Lodge, nestled at the edge of Prince Edward County, Ontario. After a 5-hour drive with a dinnertime pit stop in Alexandria Bay, we settled into our room, too tired to spend much effort looking through the brochures we’d picked up, or planning the next day’s adventures. At breakfast, a charming retired couple joined us at our table – after the usual greetings and pleasantries, they explained that they were visiting the area for a special concert. Apparently, they were on the mailing list of a local winery and had tickets for a concert. And the artist? Just a singer from nearby Kingston – maybe we’ve heard of her? – her name is Sarah Harmer.

As it turns out, we had heard of the delightful Sarah Harmer. She’s been a darling of local indie station WBER, and even came to Rochester for a concert at the Water Street Music Hall, years before Kelly and I were married – a concert that we attended and enjoyed! So, needless to say, we were excited, and kept our fingers crossed that there’d be a few extra tickets available if we showed up at the winery, smiled real big and maybe bought a few bottles of wine to take home.

Thanks to the efforts of Robert, the owner of Chadsey’s Cairns winery, we were able to get the last two tickets – sealed with a rooster hand stamp. After trying some wine in their barn-turned-tasting-room, we took a quick peek at the venue: a nearby barn lined with chairs and hay bales, complete with a stage, endless strings of tiny white lights, and a cool breeze through the open pasture door.


A couple of hours later, we arrived alongside a hundred-fifty-or-so other (far more invited) guests. Kids climbed around the stacks of hay, parents mingled over glasses of wine, and we found a comfortable bale on which to park. Streams of afternoon sunlight cut through the barn’s siding, painting bright stripes over long-dormant farm equipment and highlighting what little dust floated through the air as if it were fireflies brought in just for this occasion. The concert opened with the lead singer from the Canadian band Bahamas playing a solo set, just as Sarah would not long after. A witty and likable amalgamation of Willy Nelson’s guitar, John Mayer’s voice and lyrics landing somewhere in the triangle connecting the Barenaked Ladies, Jason Mraz and The Weepies, Afie Jurvanen played a set of original songs that made us smile, and set the stage of good vibes perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.

After a short break, Sarah stepped nonchalantly from a small room off to one side, finished in the same slatted siding that was now casting long strips of amber late-afternoon light over the stage. With no fanfare and just a short introduction from the winery’s owner, she started into spinning her unique flavor of indie-infused folk that’s simultaneously brilliant and down-to-earth; through the delightfully-clear concert sound system, the pitch and intonation of her voice would have been at home right alongside Sarah Mclachlan or Regina Spektor. She ran through some favorites (Basement Apartment, I am Aglow), a handful of covers, and even a few new songs – one highlight was her performance of an upbeat commissioned song for the Canadian National Parks Service (presumably) titled “Won’t You Come With Me?” that put a smile on all our faces. Though she only speaks English, she did impress us with one verse in French after describing the difficulty she had in recording the French version. At another spot, when she forgot a chord for a cover song, she just started experimenting with the audience – eventually someone called out “B-flat!” and as she played it, a satisfied smile washed over everyone and the song casually resumed.


As Afie and Sarah played, I stopped at odd intervals and looked around. I watched people in the audience pouring wine and smiling, watched a small spider work across one beam of sunlight building a web that would have shamed Charlotte herself, watched as kids played on the broad, well-worn floorboards at the performers’ feet, prompting occasional smiles from behind the microphone that tinted the lyrics with joy. It reminded me of an article I read while we were on our honeymoon. I thought, This – right here – is the kind of thing you only read about in magazines and food blogs. It was a rare, special, once-in-a-lifetime treat, indeed.

Welcome to The Twitters…

Posted in Geek Stuff, Random thoughts by dave on June 30, 2011 No Comments yet

Just in case you enjoy such things, I’ve finally gone and set up a Twitter account: @mtbkrdave

Saddle Time

Posted in Bike Stuff, Experiences, Random thoughts by dave on June 18, 2011 1 Comment

Ordinary (Penny Farthing) bicycle

I’ve made a somewhat startling realization this week: Beginning July 15th, I’ll be participating in some sort of organized cycling event every weekend for a solid month.

On the 15th, I’ll be kicking off the craziness with a ride in the 6th Annual Fat Tire Festival at our area’s definitive singletrack destination, Dryer Road Park. But that’s just a warm up – the following weekend, I’ll be burning about 6x the energy of the Fat Tire when I ride in a twenty-four hour mountain bike race – thankfully, as part of a team of 4 riders.

From there, the fun moves onto the road, with the Ride MS century (that’s 100 miles, kids) the next weekend, and a 55-mile tour one week later.

I suppose the training rides have already started – but I sure don’t feel as ready for this epic month of cycling as I did for last year’s race!

Prediction: Welcome to Reality!

Posted in Geek Stuff by dave on June 9, 2011 No Comments yet

Considering that (at least as far as I can recollect) I’ve only made one prediction here on, it appears I am now officially 100% more reliable than Harold Camping at fortelling future events…

Back in January, while musing on the topic of sea trends and innovations in mobile technology, I predicted that mobile app rentals would emerge as a new business model sometime in 2011. The idea? Rather than require users to purchase applications that they might only use for a short period of time, offer a rental option. It’s a particularly-appealing prospect for the travel and gaming markets, where application use is often transient, and rentals offer a potential annuity revenue stream. Of course, it doesn’t take much of a leap to make the jump to a subscription model, either…

Well, this morning I got a nice birthday present: My prediction came true! T-Mobile and WildTangent (an Android game development house) have announced that they’ll be offering 25-cent game rentals! Keep up the innovation, folks – every time I read the tech news, pick up my phone or sit down at my workstation, I’m reminded we’re living in amazing times.

When Green Means Tunnel Vision…

Posted in Geek Stuff, Random thoughts, Ranting by dave on April 22, 2011 No Comments yet

(Happy Earth Day everyone…)

Occasionally, staunch environmentalists make a good point or two. But in many cases, despite their enthusiasm for the term “sustainability”, they’re just not willing to look at the big picture. Case in point? Greenpeace recently released a scorecard for the “green-ness” of datacenters operated by the world’s cloud computing behemoths. Here it is:

Greenpeace's flawed cloud computing green-ness report card

“So what’s the problem?” you might ask… According to a Greenpeace quote highlighted by Boy Genius Report, everyone’s favorite eco-terrorism troupe based their siting scores on the typical sources of electricity for the states where the datacenters are located. But if we’re going to talk genuine “sustainability” (which, by the way, eco-nuts are completely uninterested in) then you’ve got to consider a lot more factors than just the makeup of the power grid sources in a particular host state.

If we take a look at an infographic from the ever-so-transparently-named CoolerPlanet, we can see just how “green” the electricity sources in each US state are:

So greener is always better, right? Not necessarily. Greenpeace specifically bad-mouthed Apple for choosing to locate its newest datacenter in North Carolina, where the energy supply is notoriously un-green. But what were their alternatives? A California site would expose the datacenter to earthquake risks – and I’m sure your neighborhood Greenpeace operative isn’t keen on downtime for their favorite iDevice. Coastal Texas isn’t really an option due to the risk of severe weather. That leaves inland Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and New York.

“Great, relocate there!” say our tree-hugging friends. Not so fast – remember that inland Texas can throw down a wicked heat gauntlet in the summer, while Oregon, Washington and New York get downright frigid in the winters. The DOE estimates that almost half of a typical datacenter’s energy consumption is used for climate control – what happens to that number when the ambient temperature is well over 100°F? Or -10°F? Suddenly, choosing a comfortably-temperate and relatively disaster-free state like North Carolina or Virginia – despite the un-greenness of their energy supplies – doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m sure the stewards of these datacenters would much rather not use as much as 10X the total energy – along with all it’s concomitant transmission inefficiencies – and keep their overall consumption low.

When you start factoring in second-order causes and effects – such as the environmental impact of pulling power, water, fiber and vehicle conduits into remote places, landfill and recycling capacities, employee commute emissions, construction impact – the sites that Apple, Google, Facebook and others have chosen start to look even better. As is almost always the case, monovariatic analysis in pursuit of a pre-selected conclusion falls flat on its face when a bigger-picture view is considered.

Unfortunately, datacenters consume a lot of energy. Choosing their sites carefully – not only based on energy sources but also based on consumption – can reduce this. The people whose jobs, reputations and employers’ solvency are on the line have no choice but to look at the big picture. Ultimately the true solution for Greenpeace’s gripes is likely for them (and the rest of us) to give up their iPhones and App Stores – but then – how would they coordinate their naval blocades, nuclear power plant break-ins and cargo ship boardings?

Saturday Morning Tuneage: The Boxer Rebellion

Posted in Saturday Morning Tuneage by dave on April 16, 2011 No Comments yet

It’s been a while since I last wrote Saturday Morning Tuneage, but (perhaps along with my presence on this web site) it’s something I’ve been hoping to resurrect. A spate of new music purchases this past week reminded me just how much I enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings with my laptop and my favorite headphones – so (at least this week) I’m setting aside some tuneage time.

Maybe (probably?) it’s just me, but it seems like the majority of performers that appear in movies – while usually musicians in real life – are merely playing additional characters. So I suppose it was entirely natural for me to think that The Boxer Rebellion wasn’t a real band when one of the main characters in the rom-com Going the Distance dropped the group’s name. But, much to my surprise, the indie-rock group popped up on the set list of my friend Andy’s long-running Internet radio show! A quick Amazon search revealed they’ve actually released three albums, the oldest of which dates back to 2005. It only took a few previews to convince me to pick up all three…

Exits (2005) – Amazon, eMusic

I started my chronological tour of The Boxer Rebellion with Exits. Frontman Nathan Nicholson doesn’t waste any time before introducing us to his range – he gives equal time to quiet, subdued lyrics and urgent, almost-imploring vocals in the album’s opening tracks. The occasional distortion seems well-placed, and has a nice analog quality to it – you can almost see the board’s VU meters peaking into the red in Nicholson’s voice. While hints of Coldplay come through occasionally, the far more-indie sound of the instrumentals was a nice differentiator.

My first run through Exits – as with the other two albums – played through my office open-air as I wrote various bits of software. It was great coding music inasmuch as it maintained a good pace and an urgent tone – but no particular track stood out enough from the background for me to stop and take note of it. If I were to queue up the album on a different day, I can’t pin down any one that I’d jump to – all were good, but none were catchy enough to stand out. One possible exception was the atypically-melodic “Never Knowing How Or Why”.

Union (2009) – Amazon, eMusic

I started to notice patterns as I moved on from Exits to Union. The four years of (presumable) work and maturation that preceded Rebellion’s sophomore effort showed immediately, but the band certainly tipped their hats to their first release: come out the gate with a strong beat and prominent vocals to get the listener’s attention, make everything flow with nice seamless transitions, and offer a stylistic variety that (quite justifiably) shows off your musical versatility.

Unlike Exits, however, the songs on this album had contrast. When a new one came on, I noticed. I noticed the acoustic subtlety of “Soviets”. I noticed the head-nodding, foot-tapping magnetism of “Spitting Fire”. And I noticed the bits I’d go back to the next time Union ends up in front of me.

The Cold Still (2011) – Amazon, eMusic

After listening through five years of music-making in my first two hours with The Boxer Rebellion, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I dove into their most-recent release. Of course, as most assumptions go, I was wrong. Right out the gate with “No Harm”, the band made it clear they intend to be taken seriously. The indie-sounding guitar tracks are pushed farther into the album, and they wait to turn up the catchy-dial. This was the point where I stopped my work and took notice.

In The Cold Still, the lyrics turn more introspective and dark – but in light of their accompaniment remain encouraging-sounding. More than just offering song-to-song contrast, the band now juxtaposes sounds with emotions, and explores the complexities that take them beyond the typical indie sound – they achieve a phenomenon I’ve wanted to explore more: Some of the songs enter that personal canon of music that seems unfathomable not to have been written. For a perfect example of all-of-the-above, listen to “Organ Song” with your eyes closed. It makes you want to get up and run. Not from anything, or to anywhere. Just run.

If you couldn’t tell from the above, I’m glad The Boxer Rebellion is a real band. They’ll certainly be regularly appearing in my playlists from now on, and I hope they keep up the good work in their releases. In the mean time, do pick those releases up – if you have any sort of affinity for indie rock, you’ll be glad you did.

I couldn’t agree more

Posted in Random thoughts by dave on March 31, 2011 No Comments yet

Harvard Business Review: “Big Content” is Strangling American Innovation

When you want to foster innovation, a good place to start is to look at who’s putting up roadblocks to it. The most reliable answers lately? Government, deep-rooted and deep-pocketed existing industries, and those who are out to extort an easy buck from others’ hard work. So that logic, I suppose, puts the RIAA on the same level as the world’s many patent trolls. Too bad our government of-late seems all-too-happy to cater to both.

[Update: Here’s a perfect example – Time Warner removes channels from iPad app (facing pending battles with content providers)…]

Shameless Opinion Blurb…

Posted in Ranting by dave on March 23, 2011 No Comments yet

…that I think we can all agree on:

For the last year – including recently, thanks to special a couple of special elections – politicians and their TV and radio ads have been telling us how much trouble New York State is in. Apparently, well over a million people left last year, and from what I hear we’ve got a deficit that puts us pretty high on the list of states that, well, have big deficits. Our new governor, despite the “D” that follows his name, is proposing some pretty steep cuts in his forthcoming budget, which supposedly needs to be passed by April 1st, or (horror of horrors) the state might have to shut down. If it does somehow pass, I’m sure we’ll be left with a lot of pissed-off special interests who’ll gladly spend what’s left of their money baiting public sympathy on the airwaves.

And yet, somehow, our elected representatives have managed to make sure that budget contains over a million clams that are earmarked for the state’s desperately-needy “racino” facilities!

I know first-hand that doing business in New York state is hard. Nobody’s out there wheelbarrowing money to “Impact Aid” programs for companies that innovate and invent. Meanwhile, consider the racino business model: basically customers show up, pay to play some games, and in nearly every case leave with less money than they walked in with. Winning – and therefore cost – is stochastic and controllable. So that basically boils down to owning a business where your customers come in, hand you some money, and leave. And yet somehow, these places need taxpayer subsidies?!

At the lowest level, I’m not sure why racinos shouldn’t have to play by the rules the rest of us on the big New York state business playground have to follow. If you can’t keep the lights on with customers giving you money in exchange for a few minutes with a video poker game, you should close. Which brings me to the larger point, which is purely a matter of my opinion… The honorable senator Nozollio says that subsidies for racinos are important because the racinos create jobs. But for every job they create, how many people’s livelihoods do they impact negatively by providing a convenient place to gamble? And for every dollar that flows into the racinos in the form of the “Impact Aid” program, how many more go into those games out of people’s taxpayer-funded subsidy checks?

It’s one thing for a “racino” to stand on its own two feet, operating as a sustainable business, providing jobs and what all-too-often passes for “entertainment”. But when the state starts writing big checks to that racino out of my tax dollars, someone’s priorities are badly misplaced.

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