March 2019 Archives

It was a dark and stormy night...

Now that I have your undivided attention, allow me to explain why I've completely blown my [admittedly never before publicized, for obvious reasons] goal of posting something every five days or so during 2019. This was not -- NOT -- a New Year's resolution; it was purely coincidental that my resolve to write more reached its apex on January 1st. Anyhoo...

While I've not put anything new on the Gazette in lo these many days, I have still been hard at work on your behalf, toiling mightily behind the scenes to address some rather embarrassing breaches in this blog's stellar reputation for quality content. 

You see, it came to my attention that a very few [*cough* about a hundred *cough*] of my prior posts contained links to videos that no longer work. The upshot of this stunning revelation is that when you looked at an article that referenced, say, a baby squirrel dancing a tango with a roller-skating nun* all you would see is the following:

This is, as they say, a sub-optimal situation. However, it's not my fault. Well, not entirely. OK, it's completely my fault but I have an excuse: I'm clueless, and shouldn't be held to such high standards of competency. Here's what happened.

YouTube first appeared on the interwebz with a zoo-related video uploaded in April, 2005. Those first YouTube videos were in Flash format (*spit*). It took almost twenty months before the first Gazette post featured a YouTube video -- don't bother looking for it; it's been deleted from the site, and the post itself no longer appears here, either -- so no one can accuse me of being an early adopter. I was sure that silly fad of moving pictures would quickly fade away.

Vimeo came along around that same time (I was unsuccessful in finding out when the first video was uploaded...Google is such a disappointment to us serious researchers), and it also employed Flash for its playback technology.

However, in response to a combination of browser evolution and security/performance issues with Flash, both services began offering non-Flash alternatives to its videos, adhering to HTML5 standards. The technical implications are not really important for the purpose of this excuse, uh explanation...just that the user experience on both platforms was changed for the better when Flash was dumped. But, the upshot was that the coding on websites where videos were embedded no longer worked.

More recently, most major browsers stopped supporting webpages with "mixed content." This is is a little more complicated to explain. Most of you are familiar with the the concept of a secure webpage, right? So whenever you visit a website, and you see the little lock icon up by the URL (as shown below), you know that your interface with the server on which that site resides is encrypted and thus safer from hacking or "eavesdropping" than a site without it. So, in order for a webpage to get that little lock icon, everything on the page -- all the images, and videos, and audio files, scripts, etc. -- must also originate from secure servers. 

Screenshot showing secure 'lock' icon on Google Chrome browser
Your browser may display the lock icon a little differently; this is on Google Chrome

But sometimes, even though the main webserver is secure, some of the content on the page you're viewing may not be. The page is then said to contain mixed content. And the vulnerability of that page to outside malfeasance varies depending on the type of that insecure content, to the point where the major browsers now actually prevent it from appearing, even when the rest of the page does appear. Embedded videos that aren't delivered from an HTTPS site fall into that category. I'm oversimplifying but that's the gist of it. And eventually, browsers will probably block ALL non-secure content, but that's another story.

This is a long, tedious way of saying that a bunch of the videos that I had embedded in blog posts were not delivered by way of a secure server and so they were not showing up. The fix is very simple -- just add an "s" to the "http" in the URL and -- voila! -- baby squirrels doing cute things now appear as before. Sounds simple, but it's not something I could do with a global edit command (or if it is, I don't know how to do it, which is very possible). 

So I ended up going through several years of posts, one-by-one, looking for blanks where embedded videos should have been. In some cases, the original videos had actually been deleted from YouTube or Vimeo, or the URLs had changed and I had to track them down via a search, but for the most part the addition of that one letter was all that was needed. At some point both YouTube and Vimeo began using https:// in all of their embedding coding so I didn't have to look at everything, but I still crawled through about five years of Fire Ant drivel, all to maintain the artistic integrity of something that no one will likely ever look at again anyway. But it's now there, in case alien historians investigate possible causes for the human race's extinction due to sheer boredom.

*There's probably no such video. Seriously, do not spend time looking for it. 
Art installation - San Antonio Museum of Art
Art installation - San Antonio Museum of Art
(heavily Photoshopped)

I try to post a new image to Instagram every morning. I'm not 100% successful because I'm lazy, but I don't miss too many days, because I enjoy the discipline of creating and sharing those pictures, when I'm not feeling lazy. I also like Instagram because it's the one social medium that is [mostly] immune to inflammatory rhetoric.

Note: If you already follow me in Instagram, you can skip the rest of this post. Unless you're just here for the mesmerizing mellifluence of my which case you can also skip this post.

Everything I post is based on my own photography, and mostly nature-related, although a lot of it will be unrecognizable because part of the fun is enhancing/modifying/mangling/ruining a picture via Photoshop. So, don't believe everything you see...but everything you see has at least a smidgen of truth in it. What you won't see is a lot of family or vacation photos, or selfies, or pictures of my food. There's nothing wrong with those things, and I enjoy seeing them on other accounts (for the most part), but I stumble to the bleat of a different bagpiper.

If you have an IG account and want to follow me, click here or on the camera-looking icon on the right side of this page. But if you're not on Instagram, here's what I've posted lately. Click on any thumbnail to see a full-sized version.

Tail feathers of a cedar waxwing, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Coy bunny Canal flowing from Comanche Springs, Fort Stockton, Texas Crawfish in Comanche Springs canal, Fort Stockton, Texas Teen zombie love in the nuclear apocalypse Mexican dove, Midland, Texas Mexican dove family, Midland, Texas Dream neighborhood Drone's eye view of the full moon, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Gnarled tree, Horseshoe Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Gunsmoke Forest, Maui, Hawaii Last days of Atlantis View of Molokini from Wailea, Maui, Hawaii Pecan Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Trees along Horseshoe Creek, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Nexuses Burrowing owl #1, Midland, Texas Burrowing owl #2, Midland, Texas Burrowing owl #3, Midland, Texas Paddleboarding, Lake LBJ, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Painted sky, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Rat Race Rock squirrels, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Sunset, Horseshoe Bay, Texas Rough Green Snake, Fredericksburg, Texas Watch your step Beach, South Padre Island, Texas Relaxing squirrel, Midland, Texas Lightning at sunset, Midland, Texas Total eclipse of the salad Wild turkeys, Fort Stockton, Texas Turtle, up close and personal Vincent Black Shadow, San Diego, California Wailea, Maui, Hawaii Walk to the light

Three Books About Music and Stuff
March 10, 2019 5:22 PM | Posted in: ,

It's been a long time since I wrote a book review. I don't feel really comfortable doing book reviews, because they require some wisdom and contextual insight that I lack. But sometimes it's enough just to say here's a book I like because... and then let you, the perceptive reader, decide whether what I like might also be something you like.

I've recently read two books that deal with the subject of music, and one that is a series of brief essays that are, like this blog, focused on nothing in particular other than what strikes the writer's fancy.

Book cover - How Music WorksHow Music Works is not a new book, but it was new to me when I picked it up in a bookstore in Santa Fe last fall. It was published in 2012, authored by David Byrne, probably best known as the frontman for the musical group Talking Heads. Byrne is without a doubt a gifted musician, but he's so much more than that. He's also an historian, an artist, a businessman, and a darned good writer.

The title can be viewed as having a double meaning: the author explores the physical and emotional effects music has on listeners, but he also delves into the business of music. Byrne is quite transparent in describing his personal experiences in dealing with record companies and performing venues, down to giving dollar figures for how certain recordings performed financially. It is, so to speak, a peek inside the musical sausage factory.

The business aspect of the book won't be riveting to many readers, but anyone who is interested in the pop and rock music scene (and I don't know why you'd buy this book if you're not) will enjoy Byrne's anecdotes and insights about his career and those of his fellow musicians. Byrne's prose is easy to digest, conversational almost, and unlike the stereotypical rock deity, he's self-deprecating in a winsome manner in describing both the ways he's succeeded as well as his [few] failures. I was also impressed by the sheer width of his musical interests, including country, gospel, so-called world or indigenous, classical, and, of course, rock and roll music. He doesn't simply dabble; he gets immersed.

Bottom line: I liked this book a lot. (And, as an erstwhile graphic designer of little talent, I love the cover.)

Book cover - The Birth of LoudContinuing with the music theme, I recently downloaded The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port after reading a glowing review in the Wall Street Journal. Port is a music critic and a guitarist, and his passion for music shines in this history of the electric guitar. He has interwoven the stories of Leo Fender and Les Paul to make a framework for a fascinating account of the evolution of what is arguably the most important development in the history of modern music.

Why Leo and Les? Well, each has a firm claim on the invention of the electric guitar, and they leapfrogged each other throughout the instrument's early history in terms of enhancing it. Leo was an inventor but not a musician; Les was both, but didn't have Leo's engineering expertise. He teamed up with the Gibson Guitar Corporation to compete with Fender's company for the hearts and money of the world's guitarists.

Their rivalry (and personal quirks) makes for interesting reading, but where Port really shines is in the retelling of the anecdotes around which the myths of some of the most iconic rock musicians are built. Case in point: a riveting account of the evening that a not-yet-legendary Jimi Hendrix caused the already-a-guitar-god Eric Clapton to question whether he (Clapton) should ever bother picking up a guitar again. You'll also learn that the earliest adopters of the electric guitar were folks like Buck Owens and other pioneers in the Bakersfield country music scene who sought to move beyond the pedal steel that everyone else was using.

Whether you're a guitarist or not, if you grew up with and loved rock and roll, you should read this impressively researched book. Prepare to be disappointed, however, at how quickly it ends, even if your e-reader tells you there are many pages left to go...that's how extensive Port's supporting footnotes are.

Book cover - The Book of DelightsAnd now, to quote Monty Python, for something completely different. The Book of Delights (hereafter referred to as TBOD) is a collection of short essays -- very short; the author calls them essayettes, and most are a page in length, and a small page at that -- by Ross Gay, an award-winning writer and poet and college educator. He set out to write one story per day for a year, from one birthday to the next, about things... people... events... whatever... that, well, delighted him. He didn't quite make his daily goal, but the book contains 102 of these essayettes.

A long time ago, in the early days of the Fire Ant Gazette, I coined the phrase "Content-Free Blogging" as a self-deprecating warning not to take most of what I wrote too seriously. TBOD is content-free essaying. I continually tried to put myself into the author's shoes, or head, or heart as I read his observations about what in his environment or memories caused him delight, and I wasn't always successful. But sometimes I was, and sometimes what delighted him did the same for me, even if it wasn't what he was describing but the way he was describing it. I wish I could say this was the case in all 102 essays, or even in the majority of them. Your mileage may vary. As they say.

As a primer for an aspiring writer who wants to learn more about how to observe people, places, and things, TBOD is not a bad one. Details are important, even if those details don't accrue to subjects you're personally invested in. Gay's ability to focus on the mundane (he finds delight in the vulnerability of a ... carport) and then describe it was a helpful reminder to me, even as his focus on things I didn't care about provided a cautionary note to be mindful of my blogging audience.

Coupla things of note. If the world ever runs short of commas, we can blame Ross Gay. In one paragraph of one essay, I counted 23 of them. The man does take delight in commas. And, of localish interest, three of the essays arose from observations made in Marfa, Texas. You have to get close to the end of the book to find them and they're not focused on anything unique to Marfa, but they're there. And, finally, he tends to get embarrassingly specific about his own bodily functions and anatomy at times, thereby employing the official/unofficial #nofilter hashtag that I apply to modern poets. If you shy away from reading between the lines, let's leave it at this: don't pick this as a book for group study by your Sunday School class, unless it delights in kegs, smokes, and ribald limericks at its get-togethers.

TBOD is not written in a style that appeals to me, and the writer often gets a little too twee for my taste, but I stop short of saying the book was a waste of my time. I can't give it an unqualified recommendation. But, then, I don't appreciate poetry either, so that's on me.

Photo - 45 record with paper sleeve
I think I've finally come to the end of my vinyl ripping project, as I digitized the final 7" 45 rpm record in my collection. I added about eighty songs to iTunes (in addition to the 850 or so that were on LPs). Most of the 7-inchers were from the 1960s and 1980s; I have no recollection about the fate of the apparently-lost decade of the Seventies.

About half of these records had custom jackets, instead of the generic blank paper or record studio jackets. I scanned the custom jackets and added them as album art to the songs in iTunes and made a sort of collage, shown below. You can click on any specific cover to see a larger version, and navigate through each cover via the pop-up controls..

Aretha Franklin - Freeway of Love (1985) Berlin - Take My Breath Away (1986) Billy Joel - This Is The Time (1986) Bobby Sherman - Julie, Do Ya Love Me (1970) Mick Jagger & David Bowie - Dancing In The Street (1985) Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart - I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight (1968)
Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart - Out & About (1967) The Buckinghams - Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (1967) Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - Casino Royale (1967) The Dave Clark Five - You Got What It Takes (1967) Dire Straits - Money For Nothing (1985) Electric Light Orchestra - Calling America (1984)
Samantha Fox - Touch Me (1986) The Rolling Stones - Harlem Shuffle (1986) The Art of Noise with Max Headroom 7 - Paranomia (1986) Herb Alpert - This Guy's In Love With You (1968) INXS - What You Need (1985) Children's Choir - It's A Small World (Unknown)
Loverboy - Lovin' Every Minute Of It (1985) John Cougar Mellencamp - ROCK In The USA (1985) Mike + The Mechanics - All I Need Is A Miracle (1985) Janet Jackson - Nasty (1986) Prince And The Revolution - Kiss (1986) Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love (1985)
Run DMC - Walk This Way (1986) Tommy James and the Shondells - Mirage (1967) The Rolling Stones - Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968) Pete Townshend - Face The Face (1985) Gary Puckett & The Union Gap - Lady Willpower (1968) USA for Africa - We Are The World (1985)

I'll readily admit to some questionable musical choices (I'm looking at you, Samatha Fox, you saucy minx), and I'll also confess that I think some of these records never got played more than once or twice (Max Headroom just didn't stand up to repeated listenings). But some of these records are semi-classics (such as the Disneyland-issued of It's A Small World sung in four languages by an unnamed children's choir and selling for 29ยข, the Canadian version of Rock Me Amadeus by the non-Canadian Falco who died in a car wreck at age 40, and the all-star USA for Africa group's We Are The World relief fundraiser recording, said group featuring the likes of Dan Akroyd, Waylon Jennings, and Paul Simon).

I have no particular sentimental attachment to these 45s, now that I've digitized them, so I'm more than happy to give them to a new home that might appreciate them either as music or history or cultural artifact or substitute clay pigeons for trap shooting. So, here's the deal. I've made a musical collage of 3-second snippets from ten of these records (some are NOT included in the record sleeve collage above), and uploaded that collage in mp3 format. You can listen to it below. The first person* to correctly identify all ten songs via the comments section on this post (or in the comments to the Facebook post leading to this article) will win all ten records. What a deal, huh?

I intentionally didn't make the collage too difficult (e.g. I omitted songs by John Wesley Ryles and Don & The Goodtimers [who aren't who you and Wikipedia might think], as well as all of the B-sides), but it will require some musical knowledge spanning a few decades. I think all of the songs landed in the top 20 and many of them hit #1. Good luck!

Update (3/6/19): We have a winner! Fellow blogger Jay Solo correctly identified all ten songs over on Facebook. I've listed them at the bottom of this post in case you still want to give it a try.

[Note: MLB thinks that I need to add a disclaimer that the winner gets the records...whether they want them or not. I suggested that the winner gets 10 records; second place gets 20. Sheesh. My music gets no respect.]

*The date and time stamps on the comments will absolutely rule. Ab-so-lutely. In the event of a tie, the person who sends me the most money wins. Oh, wait...that's probably illegal. Never mind. The person who flatters me the most wins the records, but loses their soul. Probably.
Here are the songs in the order of appearance:
    1. Thank The Lord For The Night Time [1969] - Neil Diamond
    2. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You [1967] - The Monkees
    3. Polk Salad Annie [1969] - Tony Joe White
    4. Secret Agent Man [1966] - Johnny Rivers
    5. Addicted To Love [1985] - Robert Palmer
    6. Don't Sleep In The Subway [1967] - Petula Clark
    7. Money For Nothing [1985] - Dire Straits
    8. Born To Be Wild [1968] - Steppenwolf
    9. Mirage [1967] - Tommy James & The Shondells
    10. Hello, I Love You [1968] - The Doors

    About this Archive

    This page is an archive of entries from March 2019 listed from newest to oldest.

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