Sunday, September 16, 2018

Musical Equipment for Sale - This is Precious Roy and I just ate a handful of honey bees!

Somewhere on the spectrum between dilettante and Jack-of-all-trades is a little arrow pointing at me and blinking "you are here". I've spent some time pushing that arrow towards the latter, but I've got a lot of interests, and I've done a lot of things, and ultimately where my recreational activities are concerned, I'm still more of a generalist than any sort of specialist.

Of my various undertakings, music has been the most persistent, although there have been some long lapses. One of the things that I've learned over the past 30+ years of my life as an on-again-off-again musician is that it's better to have as single reliable instrument that you do use than a bunch of fancy ones that you don't use. Towards that end, I'm working on UNHOARDING a couple of decades of packed-away random musical equipment so that I can focus on just a few that I can keep in a more accessible fashion.

I'm selling my stuff.

What kind of stuff? All kinds. So far, a drum machine, a vintage guitar pedal, some rack-mount recording equipment, some odds & ends.

Prices aren't final. If you're in the Baltimore/Washington area, I'll knock a few bucks off of anything that I can hand-deliver.

Help me make room for less stuff.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running"

Let me clarify. Not me, Haruki Murakami.

Yea, I know, it's not one of the books in the "1001 Books..." list that I'm working through, but I've been carrying a half-read copy in my backpack for the last several months, and so I finally pushed through the second half, mostly on the metro. It was well suited for the metro - a light easy read with short chapters. I haven't read a lot of Murakami, but he's a wonderfully skilled writer; tight descriptive prose with an honestly reflective emotional core. Some of his other books are on the list, and I'm definitely looking forward to them.

But this one is an odd choice for me, frankly.

Mostly because I hate running.

I've got several friends who run for health/fitness reasons, and a few who run for...pleasure?

I guess that's why I ended up reading this book. I've never understood what it is about running that draws people to it. I don't mind the solitariness of it, but there's an interior state that some people seem to relish.

Murakami deftly articulates the appeal that running holds for him through a series of personal reminisces and reflections, and draws parallels between the commitment that running demands, and the day-to-day dedication that is required of professional authors. In reading this, it's clear that his mix of gentle self-effacement and acute self-awareness are, in part, derived from his experience as a lifelong runner. The knowledge of his physical limits, and the mature judgement to know how and when those limits can be pushed.

This provides a common theme that runs through the entire book - pushing yourself past your limits can pay off, but it can also be an act of self-sabotage.

It's a lovely little book, with some beautifully descriptive vignettes on running in Boston and Central Park, and Greece, and throughout Japan. Not my typical read, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


What did you do because of 9/11/01?

 Not "how did it affect your life?" or "what was its impact on your daily routine?"

What did you change - consciously or unconsciously - about yourself or your engagement with the world because of what you saw/thought/felt on 9/11?

What did you DO because of 9/11? What changes to your life did you make in response to that event?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Book 1 of 1001: Aesop's Fables

The very first book listed in the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” book is Aesop’s fables. Because it’s been around in various forms for centuries, I was able to download a copy of the e-book from Amazon for about a dollar. I could probably find it elsewhere for free, but I’m not 100% sold on doing any heavy reading on e-books as it is, so I went with convenience at a small cost.

A little background: It’s listed as just over 300 pages, though almost none of those are full pages. The Fables themselves are generally just a paragraph or two, sometimes with the moral of the story restated at the end. The introduction provides a useful history of the fables, explaining how they were initially compiled 2600 years ago, translated, added to, re-translated, recompiled, added to again, and translated and compiled a few more times.

The animal characters are generally obvious archetypes – Lions represent the most powerful members of society, while mice are the weakest. The characteristics of the various foxes, wolves, cranes, sheep, deer, oxen, crows, rabbits, and so on are all relatively consistent through the various stories.

And boy, there sure are a lot of stories. More than 350, in total.

It’s not an easy read, just because of the sheer quantity of fables. It’s like trying to make a meal out of a giant bag of assorted cough drops. If you try to read straight through it you start to burn out pretty quickly, and the stories start to blur together (not helped by the fact that it’s the same rotating cast of predictable animals and redundant moralizing).

All told, I’d be inclined to scrap about 70% of the stories here just for the sake of readability. Of course, I’m not actually sure who this volume is for. I mean really…what’s the goal here? Why put them all in one place like this? Who’s going to read this? I’d understand if it was being used as a Greek or Latin primer for young learners, but what purpose or edification can be derived from page after page of this stuff if you’re not a folklorist tracing the history of particular anecdotes across the Eurasian continent?  

The introduction sort of warns the reader of this:

Has [the fable] a future as a mode of literary expression? Scarcely; its method is at once too simple and too roundabout. Too roundabout; for the truths we have to tell we prefer to speak out directly and not by way of allegory. And the truths the Fable has to teach are too simple to correspond to the facts of our complex civilisation; its rude graffiti of human nature cannot reproduce the subtle gradations of modern life. But as we all pass through in our lives the various stages of ancestral culture, there comes a time when these rough sketches of life have their appeal to us as they had for our forefathers: The allegory gives us a pleasing and not too strenuous stimulation of the intellectual powers; the lesson is not too complicated for childlike minds. Indeed, in their grotesque grace, in their quaint humour, in their trust in the simpler virtues, in their insight into the cruder vices, in their innocence of the fact of sex, AEsop's Fables are as little children. They are as little children, and for that reason they will forever find a home in the heaven of little children's souls.

I’m not so sure that phylogeny recapitulates monotony, but among the chaff there are certainly a few kernels of wheat that bear relevance to our daily condition. One fable in particular, immediately upon reading, brought to mind the ongoing discussion about “the marketplace of ideas” and whether everyone deserves a spot at the podium or an equal voice in the debate (i.e. do Nazis and white nationalists deserve the opportunity to publicly debate the merits of their ideology of ethnic cleansing?).

The Wolf and the Lamb
by Aesop

A WOLF, meeting with a lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea, which should justify to the lamb himself, his right to eat him. He then addressed him: "Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me."

Indeed, bleated the lamb in a mournful tone of voice: "I was not then born."

Then said the wolf: "You feed in my pasture."

No, good sir, replied the lamb: "I have not yet tasted grass."

Again said the wolf: "You drink of my well."

"No," exclaimed the lamb: "I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother's milk is both food and drink to me."

Upon which the wolf seized him and ate him up, saying: "Well! I won't remain supper-less, even though you refute every one of my imputations."

Moral: The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny, and it is useless for the innocent to try by reasoning to get justice, when the oppressor intends to be unjust.


Well. One down, a thousand to go. Is this truly a book that you MUST read before you die? I'd say no. You're probably better served watching a few classic episodes of Aesop & Son from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Impressions of Manila

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to put a new stamp on my passport with a quick work trip to the Philippines. The time on the ground was too short, the jet lag was a beast, I spent most of the time working, and I never made it out of the metro Manila area.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience: I took my opportunities where I could get them, and I'm looking forward to returning in a month or so.

Sunset over Manila Bay

The highlights? Well, I've spent way more time in Latin America than in Asia or the Pacific Rim, but I do get around a bit, and I loved the fusion of the three regions overlapping geographically and culturally. I slipped into Spanish on more than one occasion, just because it all felt so familiar.

Open mouth. Insert food.
The food was outstanding, though I didn't really get to dig as deep as I would have liked. Pictured to the right is a pretty typical take-out lunch from a small local fast food chain called "Binalot". Basically, it's a fist-sized lump of rice with a couple of tablespoons of shredded BBQ beef and a wedge of tomato - all wrapped in a banana leaf, and wrapped again in a piece of paper. All for less than a dollar. 

A few things stood out to me regarding Philippine cuisine (what I experienced, at least): They do a lot with balancing sweet and sour flavors; they embrace fish, chicken, pork, and beef equally; and it's not nearly as spicy as I would have expected.  
One of the real striking takeaways for me, however, didn't really happen until I got home. Coffee.

Not all Philippine food offerings are appealing
Several months ago I read a piece over at Funraium Labs about a variety of coffee known as "Barako" that was unique to the Philippines. I'm not going to get into the fascinating history of why the Philippines has a unique strain of coffee known as liberica that's neither arabica nor robusto, but if you want to learn more you can check out this piece here.

As a coffee lover, I was immediately intrigued, and committed myself to grabbing a bag or two while I was in Manila. Though I didn't get to do much recreationally during my time there, I did make it to one of the several HUGE shopping malls, where I was able to find a purveyor of distinctively Filipino foods and beverages. 

I didn't get a chance to try the coffee until I got home, but let me tell you...I am NOT disappointed. The coffee itself, as described elsewhere, does have a faint aniseed aroma when whole, but that doesn't really carry once it's been ground. The color (as seen in the picture below) is pretty mixed - some appear to be roasted medium, some a bit more. I'm not sure if this is deliberate, and frankly I'm not too worried about it.

My preferred approach to brewing is the basic drip/pour-over approach. I'm not a fancy guy, just gimme that hot water bean juice. In this regard, the barako works like any other variety of coffee. There's a distinct sweetness to it, which is striking and quite lovely, and it definitely packs a punch. I don't know where it stands in caffeine content relative to other varieties, but it definitely does the job.

Hot water bean juice.
So, you might ask, "where can I get this delightful coffee without spending a big chunk of money on a 20 hour flight to Manila?"

Well, it's a bit tricky. See, barako is only about 1-2% of the world's coffee, and most of that gets consumed by Filipinos themselves. For whatever reason, it just doesn't make it to the US in significant quantities (sorry to assume that only Americans are reading this, but that's where most of my visitor numbers are coming from).

Nonetheless, ye olde Amazon dot com does have a limited number of options. An 8oz. bag of beans can be found here, and a pound of green/raw/unroasted beans is available here. And if you want to buy 'em green and roast 'em yourself, there's ways to do that at home.

So that's it. More on Manila later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A New Start

Last post was mid-2015. Did I miss anything interesting?

Regardless, I'm back.

So what's in store for the website? I'll be weighing in on travel, literature, food, and music. Possibly a podcast and some music of my own as well. Politics? Some. I do a lot of ranting and arguing on Facebook, so maybe this can be something different - a place where I don't do that.
The real goal is just to keep me writing on a regular basis (writing non-work material, that is). Towards that end, I'm about to start working my way through the list featured in this book, with updates as I finish each book.

1001 Books? That's a lot of books!

Yea, by my estimation, I've already read 10-15% of the books listed here (and started several others), and I'm not planning on rereading them all, so that saves a bit of time, right?

But I also travel a lot, and when I'm not travelling I have a pretty long commute, so I'll be taking advantage of that as well.

So how is this going to work?

Well, here's the deal: I prefer to read in hard-copy when I can, but I'm not about to go out and buy all of these books if I don't have to. I'm also pretty low on space - I've got a pretty big library, and it includes several books on this list that I was already planning to read (or finish).

What's interesting about the "1001 Books..." is that the books are listed oldest to newest by publication date. This means that basically the whole first half of the list is all in the public domain (i.e. free or super cheap as e-books). So what I'll probably do is run two simultaneous tracks, one for e-books, and one for hard copy. I'll start the e-books at the beginning, and I'll pull the hard copies off my own shelf pending availability. That'll work for at least a few months, and if I come up with a better system, I'll update you all here.

[Sidenote: I"m using the 2008 edition (as opposed to the 2006 or 2010 editions, which vary somewhat). All three lists can be found here.]  

First two books:

"Aesop's Fables" (e-book) and Stendhal's "The Red and the Black" (which was on the shelf nearest my bed, so...why not?). 


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Packing for Travel Part 2 - The Checked Bag

My suitcase is my home and office while I’m on the go, and there’s a decent amount of redundancy, since my current work is team-based, and part of my job is to keep them functioning smoothly in the field. This is why 25% of my luggage weight is cliff bars and office supplies.

Items pictured, vertically right to left: Dress shoes, additional gallon zip-lock bags, folders and manila envelopes with additional documents, duct tape (black), masking tape, books, running shoes, oblique strategies deck, card game, business cards, cheap folding knife, head-lamp, bandanna, packing cube (socks, undershorts, and undershirts), zip-lock bag with secondary toiletries (comb, deodorant, assorted vitamins, hand sanitizer, Emergen-C,  lozenges, q-tips, soap, full-size toothbrush),  small travel cube (t-shirts, and misc. loose items), crushable hat, binoculars, large travel cube (dress shirts and dress slacks), spare notepads, gallon zip-lock bag with tertiary toiletries (electric razor, lotion, sunscreen, bug repellent, lint-roller), gallon zip-lock with office supplies (sharpies, highlighters, markers, pens, post-it notes, binder clips, scissors, voice recorder), gallon zip-lock (assorted cliff bars). Not pictured – suit jacket and hiking boots.

The most interesting and exciting discovery I’ve made in the course of getting better at travel is “travel-cubes.” Somehow these modular stuff sacks make packing insanely easy. That's a week's worth of clothes in the image below, except for my suit jacket, and footwear. A must-have from now on.

Some various comments on products above:

Books include “The Nature of Scientific Revolutions,” and a general history of Central America. Decks of  cards include the game "Flux" and Brian Eno's creative problem-solving deck, "Oblique Strategies"

Some reflection on what was and wasn't useful will come next week.