Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jailhouse Rocked

Waiting to meet Yesenia at the 110th Street #1 station earlier tonight, and on the opposite platform, there was a busker.  And not just any busker - probably the most awesome busker of all time.  Semi-elderly African-American man with an acoustic guitar, dressed in a cross between Sun Ra stagewear and a yellow track-suit.

It took me a few minutes to register what was going on, as I usually just regard buskers as part of the sound of the subway, and it becomes sonic wallpaper.  But sometimes the wallpaper forces you to notice it, like if it's a print of coked-up calico kittens driving Lamborghinis.  In this case, the coked-up kitten was actually a spectacularly monotonic - but not monotonous! - version of Jailhouse Rock.  He strummed away without ever laying a finger on the fretboard, hand just floating back and forth, up and down the neck like a pendulum.  And the guitar was in some tuning I've never heard before - possibly not even any actual notes.

The vocals also hung on one or two notes, sung with strength and a certain odd kind of conviction.  He played it over and over again, verse to chorus to verse to chorus to verse to...

It was frankly mesmerizing.  If he wasn't actually some garden-variety subway crazy - one of the types who this blog is named after - then he was making some deep comment on the repetitive life of the prisoner.  Minute after minute, train after train - the sound of the approaching subway would drown him out, the cars would roll in and obstruct my view, the train would pull away and as the echoes died down, everyone in the whole cell block would still be dancing to the jailhouse rock.  Mournful swaying is dancing, isn't it?

About fifteen minutes passed, and then Yesenia arrived.  I told her she had to stand and watch this amazing thing for a minute.  Another passenger with a toddler in a stroller came in on Yesenia's train, and I helped her up the stairs (which is my new policy).  When I came back from the street, Yesenia was staring in awe at the black Eilert Pilarm.

Fittingly, it ended as all iconic concerts must - after another minute or so, a downtown train pulled in and two subway cops got out and ambled over to the busker.  I'd like to think that he wanted that to happen.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Library Day w/Connecticut Native

Spending the afternoon redesigning the website for college friend / talented artist Kate Ten Eyck - so this particular blog entry is doing double duty as a Rambler update and as a way to show her how Blogger works.  Carry on. 

"Discs" - © Kate Ten Eyck, 2012
Speaking of Kate, I'm also showing her how to upload pictures and attach links.

See?  It's all so fucking easy.


Thursday, January 26, 2012


Amazing how far we are into the future.  2001 still seems like a year out of an unreachable, science-fiction datebook, and now it's eleven years past that.  Which I guess makes this the post-future.  No wonder we're building the Clock of the Long Now out in the middle of nowhere - once every single day of the present is actually the future, the entire concept of time becomes antiquated.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Canadian Spandex

A Comic Appreciated
Alpha Flight
Marvel Comics, 1983-1985

It occurred to me that it was time to start a new recurring feature here at the Rambler; enthusing about comics I have enjoyed.  I'm going to keep it flexible - an appreciation can be anything from a single issue to an entire series, and anything in between.

This inaugural A.C.A. is about Alpha Flight, specifically issues 1-28.  Alpha Flight was a group of Canadian superhero characters that first appeared in a 1980 issue of X-Men - specifically designed by creator John Byrne - himself Canadian - merely as a team that could 'survive a fight with the X-Men.'  The back story is that Alpha Flight is a branch of the military, and Wolverine was originally part of the team who went awol to join the X-Men.  The Canadian government, having poured untold resources into his creation, sends Alpha Flight to reclaim him.

Wolverine doesn't return with them, and by the time Alpha Flight's own comic premiered, the government funding had been cut off and the team was officially disbanded.

What followed was one of the oddest superhero comics of the 1980s, a decade where superhero deconstruction was the norm.  Alpha Flight preceded Watchmen (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) and The Dark Knight Returns (by Frank Miller) by a few years, but was also part of the era's thematic shift away from the 'what' of superheroes to the 'why' of them.  The difference between Alpha Flight and the other two books (beyond their being substantially more famous to the general public) is that, while Moore and Miller on some fundamental level thought superheroes were silly, John Byrne unabashedly loved them.  But he also spent a lot of time thinking about the 'why,' and that's the fundamental core of this book about a 'team' that rarely met or acted together. 

My reasons for loving Alpha were that it was very different from anything else on the stands. Quieter, more introspective.  Most of the action took place in the middle of nowhere, making the stakes to bystanders minimal, but the stakes for the heroes much higher.  

It also looked different, with open space and forests - as close to a classic western as any superhero comic has ever come.  It was more serialized internally, less tied in to Marvel continuity, and there was real character growth and change.  White, anglo-saxon and even heterosexual men were in the minority on the team, and the views into other cultures and traditions were treated realistically and matter-of-fact, rather than some kind of curiosity.

Money problems were real, and the solutions were never perfect, permanent or effective.  Interpersonal conflict was an organic outgrowth of the characters, not tacked on to add flavor.

Tonally, with the longer character arcs and naturalistic dialogue, it shares a lot with the alternative comics of the early 80's, and served as a bridge to those titles for me.  In many ways, it's the book that changed me from an young adolescent reader of superhero comics to a fan of the form of comics, and the idea of comics as something that could be enjoy in much subtler and more 'adult' ways - and it did so without the gratuitous violence and sexual boundary pushing of Watchmen and Dark Knight.  In a lot of ways, the violence in Alpha Flight has much more consequence than in those books, and certainly more consequence than in any other contemporary title I can think of.

On top of that, it was a book with an almost zen stillness in places, which ran not only counter to the rest of the mainstream titles at that time, but seemingly the rest of American popular culture.

And it hasn't dated as a read!  If ever there were a self-contained title/run that can be re-experienced in comics, it's that.  It's like the Chronicles of Narnia of superhero comics, minus the Christian allegory (at least not one that I got).

I just realized that I wrote all that without once saying anything about the art, which is a testament to just how good the writing is. Obviously, the art was - to my twelve-year-old eyes - fucking awesome, and it's still stellar.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Night is Nacho Night

Apparently, Yesenia an I have both decided to live like bachelors together.  After getting home and telling  me she wasn't hungry - meaning that I stopped making plans for preparing dinner and went on to doing laundry - she asked me to make nachos.  Which I did, although one of my more soupy and ever-so-slightly disappointing plates of nachos.  

Since we were fresh out of jalapeƱos, I opened a can of Hormel's Vegetarian Chili and dropped about 3/4 of it on half a bag of chips, along with some decent salsa and a few handfuls of shredded Italian cheese mix.  Microwave on high for three minutes, and tell me that isn't the most bacheloriffic meal you can imagine?  I even left the chili can out with the spoon in it, contents dripping down the outside of the can to stain the counter.

My only concern is that I also had my dad's very bean-centric vegetable stew for lunch, so I feel I'm cruising towards a night of gas leaks that will have energy companies abandoning sites along the Marcellus Shale and coming instead to frack my ass.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sailing the Tappan Sea

I have declared 2012 the year of the completed artistic project.  I am, of course, thoroughly willing to write paragraph upon paragraph of whiny self-flagelation about stagnant artistry, but what good would that do?  More to the point, how readable would it be?  Not very, I suspect.

And readability in this blog is the goal.  Just as listenability will be in the forthcoming round of recordings from the basement studio.  And curse of the internet gods be damned (can you really damn a curse?), I'm going to discuss these projects in grimy detail as they rumble along.

Thus far, we've gotten our drum sound down.  Well, isn't that what I said last week?  Last week was almost there.  This week is there.  The drums do take their time.  Next week, we'll no doubt get our 'tambourine sound'.  It should sound like the jubilant bells in the distant belfry of a countryside Tuscany church.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Think It Through

There's much to celebrate in the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., but the thing that I realize I've most come to appreciate in his legacy is the thing that seems to most often be overlooked - the best way to tackle a problem is to approach it with cool intellect, not heated emotion.

After all, emotion fades, but the logic and truth of social justice remains.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bright Spark

Just caught the SNL with Daniel Radcliffe as host, and I have to say that I am officially completely blown away by how good he is.  Near flawless American accents - not just one, but a variety in different characters.  If he doesn't somehow have a long and acclaimed career ahead of him, there's something very wrong with either movies or audiences.



Consider last night my 'Rick Perry Moment.'  Yesenia & I had dinner with friends and didn't get back in until late, at which point the main concerns were feeding the cats and going to sleep - although we did fit in an episode of Up All Night and the first segment of a Scientific American Frontiers on memory.

So I've work to do on the computer this morning, and then work to do on the house all day, but I'll come in with a larger chunk of type this evening.  Watch this space!  Seriously - don't move from where you're sitting right now, just keep looking at the screen an in a few hours, a new entry will appear.  The magic of the internet, and all that.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Paul Entry 1A

Looks like Paul's got a new album coming out, this time one of standard-y songs from the 40's.  I'll buy it, of course - I always do, as Paul is the only artist who I make a point of buying every new album.  But I'll confess to not being all that enthused.  I'm not sure why older artists always seem to get to a point where they think their fanbase desperately wants an album of them warbling cover tunes over an orchestra playing pastiche arrangements of stuff that will never be done as well as it was the first time.

Peter Gabriel's doing it, too, although his has got to be some kind of joke... he's done it even more lamely, by answering the underwhelming demand for him to re-record all of his hits with philharmonic accompaniment.  What did we do to deserve such a gift?  He's so artful.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fonts 'R' Them

It's been a little while since I've made a Google rant.  Admittedly, it's been a little while (like, most of 2011) since I Rambled about much of anything - but the main reason I haven't bitched about how lousy Google's free tools are is that their tools have actually gotten really good.  I mean, like I'd pay money for them good.  I'm glad I don't have to, mind you, but so long as they've essentially taken over every bit of web that isn't dominated by Facebook, Apple or Groupon, at least they finally have the good manners of not making all their crap essentially the web equivalent of protein paste.

The specific case in point is their new service, Google Web Fonts, which is one of those bright spots that makes me think that life after Flash won't be so bad, after all.  One of the main things I liked about Flash   was that you could use and embed any font you wanted - which, as a designer, is really 70% of the job.  There have been attempts by small companies in recent years to try to create a (for profit) HTML/CSS web method for any font you want, but as is the case with the web, things don't really catch on until someone finds a way to make it free.

Google did just that, and not only is it free, the implementation is almost perversely easy.  One line of code in the head of the page, and one line in the CSS page, and THAT'S IT.  And as you may note from a quick glance, they already have a really solid library and it's still growing.  Of course, the case could be made that this is Google once again making artists give up their work for free, but in this case, the damage  to the typographer's market was made long before Google got there - after all, when's the last time you ever paid for a font?

All that aside, I'm loving it.  Of course, given Google's general practice of either trying to monetize everything they do or just plain pulling the plug if they feel it isn't hot enough, I expect to suddenly have every site I design with GWF to first start redirecting people to Starbucks coupons, and then suddenly default to Comic Sans.


Crazy Stupid Shit 3

Yep, another night messing around with CSS.  CSS 3 actually refers to a group of definitions that aren't universally adopted, so I'm more messing around with CSS 2.1.  'Universally adopted' in this case means that not every browser will support a particular aspect, or that the particular definition hasn't been fully implemented, or someone hasn't been paid off, or something.

Anyway, I'm impressed with the results so far, but I still have the feeling like I'm riding on the hood of the car, while I really should be driving the damn thing.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

History Alt+Repeats Itself

For those who read along on the Rambler back in 2007 while I grumbled and cussed my way through learning Flash can now enjoy a strong feeling of deja vu, as we enter the next phase of my web-design career with (say it with me) CSS!  A truly powerful set of tools that's pretty much by coders, for coders.  It's a very strange approach to design, I must say.  In some ways, I appreciate it, as I'm generally very anal about design pieces I work on and like everything to be placed at an exact measure and be exactly X wide by Y high, but I like that as a small, easily accessed field of a largely graphic interface.

I'm sure I've typed these exact words, before, but seriously: I'm a fucking designer, what's with all the numbers and symbols?  If I wanted to spend this much time crunching, I'd join the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team.

Anyway, after an hour break there wherein Ansley walked me through - well, stumbled me through - some of the more perversely hidden but very useful corners of Dreamweaver, I'm feeling a little more hopeful.  Tune back in tomorrow for more setbacks!


Monday, January 9, 2012

A Little Less Silent Night

The full-time membership of The Tappan Sea turned up tonight in the basement to engineer drums in advance of recording - we didn't quite 'get there,' but we got within shouting distance of 'there,' in spite of all sorts of self-imposed difficulties.  Only one pair of marginally functioning headphones, a drum key that was AWOL until it turned up right atop the kick drum an hour later, no monitoring system to speak of.

But we ended the night with a 70% decent sound, way better than we had any right to expect.  Honors largely go to Karl and Shaun, and I was largely lumpy.  Karl tackled the cabling & knobbing, and Shaun did all the duct taping.  Edz thwacked dutifully, which must really take a lot of patience on his part.  Next up, we work out why the kick drum sounds like someone overturning a plate full of spaghetti on the floor several rooms away.

Meanwhile, Yesenia expertly stripped the tree and packed away all the Christmas decorations.  The before/after was a little alarming when we finished band stuff and came back up to the living room.  It was like we went downstairs on Disneyland's Main Street and came up on Avenue L in Pascataway.  After everyone else lit out, I took the naked tree unceremoniously out to the curb, and reflected yet again that the saddest story I know is The Fir Tree:

"Now I shall live again," it rejoiced, and tried to stretch out its branches. Alas, they were withered, and brown, and brittle. It was tossed into a corner, among weeds and nettles. But the gold star that was still tied to its top sparkled bravely in the sunlight.

Several of the merry children, who had danced around the tree and taken such pleasure in it at Christmas, were playing in the courtyard. One of the youngest seized upon it and tore off the tinsel star.

"Look what is still hanging on that ugly old Christmas tree," the child said, and stamped upon the branches until they cracked beneath his shoes.

I went back inside and shut the porch light.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Adventures of Steven

Taking advantage of some Clearview Cinema passes that Leah & Val got Yesenia & me for Christmas (thanks!), we went to see The Adventures of Tintin for a mid-afternoon show, in a small theater 1/4 filled with very young kids, each accompanied by one parent.  I could hear the conversation that preceded that statistical point of interest - 'It's YOUR day with them!'.

All it really boiled down to was that the parents weren't very interested in getting the kids to keep quiet, but, thankfully, the film was engaging enough that it did the job for them (except for the one kid right behind me who lost interest about 2/3 of the way through and kept asking his dad when they could go to Chuck E. Cheese.  (The repeated answer was that Chuck's apparently wasn't open).

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie - really tight, really fun, beautifully realized and set in a magic early-mid-20th century analog land of wooden dashboards and rusting hulls.  It benefitted from Spielberg's mutant ability to take seemingly any script or story and infuse some sort of emotional resonance, but it's true that the characters are largely involved in plot and not much in drama, and good for them.

It won major points from me right in the opening credits, done in a sort of 2 1/2-D animation with the font from the albums falling all around.  And it kept right on going with great voice acting, which is something we've gotten used to in animation over the last couple of decades, but a quick look back at the Nelvana Tintin adaptations should show you how important it is to take the voice work seriously.  If the actors sound like they give a shit, we'll give a shit.  The Tintin from the Nelvana version sounds more like he's describing something he read rather than an adventure he's currently on.

Interesting that we have a holiday movie season where a noted animation director (Brad Bird) does his first live action film, and a noted otherwise director does his first animated feature.  But there you have it.  This really is the third golden age of animation, and I am grateful.  But please start bringing back more of the hand-drawn stuff.  I miss it so.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Yet Again More Powerpoint

I was sort of backstage help for other people today.  Yesenia had her Second Annual Birthday Craftsplosion, which entailed getting all of her girlfriends over to the house so they could hang out and knit / crochet / scrap / what have you.  My job was to clean up the house, get wine and pizza, and just stay out of the way.  So the first thing I did was walk over to my mother's to put up a curtain rod in her living room.  Then I came home and did some Powerpoint for work.

While I was Powerpointing, I could hear Matilda - at 11, the only non-adult at the Craftsplosion - trying to keep herself entertained by playing the piano.  So I invited her down to the basement, where I played modal bass parts for her to play some pretty sweet Rick Wright style organ noodling to.

And that's really about it.  Goodnight, everybody!  I'll try to be more compelling tomorrah.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Powerpoint This!

One of the results of a career spent doing a little bit of everything there is to do is a small ad agency is that while I not an expert at any one thing in particular, I can do a lot of things passably well.  Which I didn't think was such a rare thing until I ended up at a larger corporation, where specialization is the norm.  So I spend half of my time wishing I were a bit more of an inspired designer, I also spend a lot of time taking on any project that needs doing.

In a corporate office at the turn of each year, that means Powerpoint, and I've honestly done too many presentations to count over the course of the last three months.  If I had to guess, I'd place the figure at somewhere around 25, with some of those being completely revised top to bottom several times (and usually under a vacuum-tight deadline) in the course of a day.

I'd always thought of Powerpoint as non-creative tools, but it turns out that these presentations are yet another thing that a mind trained to see all creative problems that need to be solved in terms of constructing a comics narrative can find a way to slice and dice quickly.  It's amazing how many problems in advertising and the larger world of design boil down to telling a story in words and pictures, you know?

I'm sure someone, somewhere has made a Powerpoint comic.  Or even a Powerpoint animated cartoon.  Keynote (Apple's more sophisticated Powerpoint-style app) is my go-to program anytime someone wants to make titles for an online training video.  Just throw something together, export as a .MOV file, and splice together in iMovie.  Huzzah.  But even still, I wonder if there's something there?  David Byrne used Powerpoint as a medium for a little bit, but he did so the same way he does everything - which is to say, ironically and with some condescension.  Is it a medium for real expression?  Or just for selling paint?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

His World of Flops

If I could claim to have a favorite website (outside of the ones that show the ladies cavorting friskily), it would be the Onion A.V. Club.  It's updated regularly with a good mix of current reviews, interviews, feature articles, and my personal favorite, the reexamination of past cultural artifacts.

The best example of the latter is when one of the writers picks an angle for a series of articles to get a handle on a topic - not just a random tumble through the past.  I've mentioned here before Noel Murray's great Popless column, in which the music critic went a year without listening to any new releases, and instead reviewed his entire extant record collection alphabetical by artist.  A neat wrinkle was the simultaneous goal of scraping the barnacles out of the collection, capped by a mix of full artist reviews and single song exegeses.

A current and more commercially successful excavation (there's a book, which I really do need to add to my wish list) is 'My World of Flops' by the him of this Rambler's title, Nathan Rabin.  A simple but excellent way to examine perceived and actual failure at the crossroads of art and finance - films that tanked at the box office.  How they failed, why they failed, should they have or shouldn't they? The beauty of the concept is that it allows Rabin to promote unjustly maligned classics as well as lace into some truly deserving cinematic turds.  I confess to being one of those people that really enjoys a good mean critical lambasting, but I also enjoy (for personal and transparently obvious reasons) reading while someone holds up the lost treasure, the discarded gem or the flawed but still worthy work.

All that is my way of saying that one of my favorite indefensibles, The Frighteners, is the subject of this week's entry, so go over there and read about it when you get a chance.

I'm calling it a night, but don't forget to dig through all of the great and insightful Star Trek and ST:TNG reviews there.  And I can't tell you how hot I am to read the soon-to-start top to bottom reviews of Deep Space Nine, still my favorite show of all time.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One More Day, Three Worries

Interesting the way stresses alight and depart in unison.  You'll have a good few days/weeks/months of lesser, easy-to-handle problems, and then several big ones arrive at once, like depressing and obese clowns pouring out of the trunk of an old Fiat.

In this case, it's a three-fer: work related, school related and money related.  The work related one is dealing with the last gasping revenants of my old job in a gout of bad karma; the school one is trying to work out how I can attend classes this Spring if no-one seems to offer the classes I need at time I can take them; and the money problem is just money, as it always is.

Anyway, I cleaned up the kitchen when I got home, and Yesenia made us grilled cheese with some carrot ginger soup, and that seemed to make everything feel better.  The small pleasures of the real world do battle with the Fiat clowns, and often are able to make them retreat for a little bit.  Sure, they're just going down the street to live in denial, but the view there is great.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Day In

First day back at the office after ten days off.  Ten days that pretty much amounted to an extended nap - well, no.  I did get a lot done earlier in the week, but if you add hosting the family Christmas to the pile of things that happened, I was totally shot by mid-week.

Pretty much from the moment I got home from a trip to Manhattan this past Wednesday until Saturday morning, I basically just plopped my ass down and burned through the usual few seasons of a TV show on Hulu.  3rd Rock from the Sun, in this case, which I will write about some point at length.

But, anyway: today was a decent day.  By 5 PM on Christmas Eve eve,* I'd managed to get through about 99.5% of all of the work that I'd had to do, so today was a nice, productive clean-up day.  I tend to work faster when there's less work to do - too many things to do at once and I kind of shut down.

...decent day, yes, but decent days are dull to write and read about, aren't they?

Tomorrow marks beginning of fact-finding for the Spring semester, and no doubt a return of some great blog-generating anxiety.  Opening shot is a visit to the LIU Graduate Center open house, where I get to find out how many credits I still need before I can move on to phase two.  Should be fun, yes?


Monday, January 2, 2012

Fully Packed People in Shopping Sauce

Holy Mary, Mother of that Guy, was the mall crowded today.  Which I knew it was going to be, of course, but seeing as tomorrow is Yesenia's birthday and the last week didn't afford any opportunities for gift-buying, today was it.

But, wow, the crowds.  If we let one unit of mall density per square foot (p) equal the number of people waiting on line around 2 pm at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (MS), then today at the Palisades Center, p = 1025MS, or approximately more people at the mall than there are hydrogen atoms within the solar heliopause.  Consequently, given three opportunities to lose my shit, I only went into full Dave mode once.  That's got to be some kind of mark of character growth, don't you think?


Sunday, January 1, 2012

All is Quiet, etc.

Frank Nora has a theory about the nature of existence he calls 'corridor.'  The really short-form version: the reason none of us ever experience paranormal events is because we traverse our lives in very set, repetitive ways - as if we were always walking the same 'corridor' - and the only way we can ever perceive anything of the larger fabric of existence is to perform actions that are so odd and unique that they somehow (temporarily) allow us to see outside of the corridor.

That's probably something akin to the way most of us feel about New Year's - it's a point where space/time pauses and gives us a new vantage where we can step outside and look at the larger patterns of our lives.  Who are we, what are we doing, can we grab out one thread and change it and weave it back in so that when time resumes, the pattern of our lives reforms in a manner more pleasing to our eyes?

I know I'm waxing kind of blowhardy, but the gist of it is sincere.  Resolutions are the best we can do to alter reality, and it's only when we forget that we have the power over our own lives that we end up back in corridor without having changed a damn thing.

End on a positive note, you say?  Well, the good thing about being stuck in a corridor is that even if you find yourself unable to alter the pattern, at least you can scribble graffiti on the walls.