Sunday, August 26, 2007

(08.26.07) Recommends:

Kitchen Clam Bake!

What better way to get the taste out of my mouth from yesterday's unmitigated disaster then to have a tasty dinner. The Food Network has been hyping the Clam Bake lately, so we turned to everybody's favorite secret crush, Rachael Ray, for a recipe. We modified things a bit here and there, but still hope we did Ra Ra proud.

First up, a 16-quart stock pot:

Then, a little of Ra Ra's favorite magic sauce:

What goes well with a big pot and oil? If you said, "plate full of andouille and kielbasa," congratulations, you are correct:

Potatoes, in the hashed manner. This was the most questionable move of the evening, and I take full responsibility. Ra Ra (stop shaking your head out there; my use of this nickname should not make you nervous and/or sad) called for a "16-ounce bag frozen diced hash browns." But it's unclear whether this is what she had in mind:

One large onion, chopped:

Action Shot!

What form! What fingers! Have you ever seen 4 ribs celery, chopped, with such finesse? No, the answer to that question is no.

Seems like a good point to start filling up that big pot:

Stirring occasionally the potatoes, onions, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper and:

Thyme. We've only just begun, but it's already starting to look like Grandma's Famous Slaw:

Now that you mention slaw, next up is four ears of corn, complete with caterpillar. No really, that little curled up booger you see right below the tip of the earn of corn isn't a booger after all. It is a caterpillar. Now that's organic!

Action Shot!

When I spy caterpillars in my corn I act swiftly and without mercy. No, No, I'm not a hand model. Yes, yes, I know it's a waste of god-given talent that I'm not.

How do you like me now:

Note: The next picture is probably NSFW, so scroll accordingly.

Naked shrimp:

Now all dressed up, but only one place to go:

Action Shot! with chicken stock:

Action Shot! with tomatoes:

Action Shot! with salt:

Note to self: no bearded clam jokes, no bearded clam jokes, no bearded clam jokes...

Mixing muscles and clams:

No need resorting to 16-year old humor when you've got this staring back at you:

Wait, it gets better:

Put the top on and wait about ten minutes. Take the top off, and through the fog we get...

...Jackpot! Good golly, that is a serious pot of food:

Add some hot sauce to taste:

And you're left with a bowl of nearly unbearably awesome goodness:

No need to risk playing Scrabble on an empty stomach:

14.7 seconds later:

Discarded shells in the foreground. "Goonies" in the background. How long can the good life last?

Well, through the magic of refrigeration, I'm willing to bet that the good life can last a few more days:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

(08.25.07) Recommends:

Remaining Professional While Flying Your "Indie" Flag.

Okay, so I've got a rant pent up in me. I don't like to use this space to be negative as I prefer to focus on things that inspire me. But today I had a pretty horrible experience, and because I presume that I was the target audience of the event, some constructive criticism might be useful.

So. Today I headed out to the 2007 Bay Area Indie Music Festival. The gist of the festival was simple and enticing: 20 up-and-coming Bay Area bands on two stages from noon to 10pm, all for ten bucks. Sounds great, right? That's what I thought, too.

I rolled up to the venue in Martinez a little after noon. No band anywhere in sight. Like one sound dude. I thought this looked awkward, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt, after all it was a beautiful day and I was thinking I was in for a cool afternoon of music. But the minutes kept passing without a noticeable sign of getting the festival started. So I went and used the journalism skills I gained in high school. What I found out wasn't hopeful: the sound crew had apparently quit the night before, and they were also now down to just one stage. By 1pm there was still no sign of progress, so I left to explore Martinez. The highlight of the afternoon was walking around downtown Martinez in a KU shirt and running into a KU alumni and chatting for about ten minutes about Lawrence.

I arrived back at the venue at about 2:15 to hear the last few songs of the first band of the day. Now, using the word "Indie Music" in the name of your festival is a gutsy move because if the music turns out to be crap then lots of people like me will think you've used the word to try to get people like me to give you my money. And that's pretty obnoxious, right? So, this first band was completely completely cheesy. Something I would expect to see playing at a barbeque joint in Kansas City on a Thursday night. Completely cheesy rock 'n roll blues blah blah blah music.

The second band had a lead singer who was desperately trying to look like Pete Wentz. Pete fucking Wentz? Give me a break. Consulting my show program, it looked like anywhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of the bands had lead singers desperate to look like Pete Wentz. My god. Is Fall Out Boy considered indie music? Last time I checked they were considered, er, "shitty music." That is, unless you're like a 16-year old girl. Attention Organizers of the Bay Area Indie Music Fest: are you trying to go after people like me, or 16-year old girls? Here's the thing: 16-year old girls have every right to have a music scene that they can get behind. But so many of the bands on the venue were billed as, e.g., selling out the Independent, or selling out Bottom of the Hill. These are 21+ venues, though, so it must be that you are catering to fans like me, right? So then, why all the FOB lead singers? I don't like FOB. None of my friends like FOB. Nobody with whom I've seen a show in the bay area likes FOB. So what was the point of the festival?

The organizers might say, well, if you go to so many indie shows in the bay area, then you have no doubt dealt with long delays before the headliner came on stage. And this is a valid point. But I'm not at a rock club. I'm at an amphitheater in Martinez. It's a hot Saturday. We live in the Bay Area, which means there are almost limitless opportunities to spend my day. So have the decency to get on the PA and explain to me the hold up.

Either way, if you are aiming for the teen crowd, or for me, couldn't you have been professional enough to get somebody on the PA to explain to the crowd why everything was so damn behind schedule?

So, after the second crappy band of the day I went exploring around the venue. I picked up a $5 plastic cup of Bud Lite, apparently the Official Beer of Indie Music. I tried to drown my sorrow over this experience in that 8 ounce cup of beer. Is "indie music" really this lame? Is it just "Bay Area" "indie music" that is this lame?

I consider "indie rock" to be the current musical epoch in which we find ourselves. It supplanted "alternative rock/grunge rock" which supplanted "hair metal" as the previously prevailing musical epochs. Now, the "alternative rock" epoch officially became irrelevant when bands like Stone Temple Pilots got big, because they were like knock-offs of the bands like Nirvana who defined "alternative rock." Nirvana itself knocked off a lot of music, but managed to be creative in its derivativeness. Meanwhile shitty bands like Stone Temple Pilots were just derivative without adding anything interesting to the mix.

Are we now at the tail end of the "indie rock" epoch? Because the bands I saw today were just rehashing played stuff, and it was kind of embarrassing and sad. I sat through one more band, some screamo, emocore, yadda yadda whatever stuff. By that time it was 4pm. Three bands had played by 4pm, and 20 were on the bill. Not wanting to camp out in Martinez until Wednesday afternoon, I left.

The whole ride home, I listened to my new Meiko CD, wishing I was back watching her play at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. To recap this week's culture war:

Los Angeles: 1
Bay Area: 0

End Note: The festival organizers should not put on a 2nd Annual event until they (a) fully articulate the point of having this festival; and (b) are professional enough to pull off something like this.

Friday, August 24, 2007

(08.24.07) Recommends:

A Meiko Update.

So I headed down to Los Angeles earlier this week to take in two Meiko shows. I've posted about her here and here. She is in the midst of a Wednesday residency at the Hotel Cafe. And this week, she also had an early Tuesday show. Early like 6pm. And with traffic the way it is in Los Angeles, there were probably 25 people at her Tuesday show. But that didn't hold her back at all. Meiko was meant for the stage; she's a natural born rock star. She is so at ease up there. She is very warm, and funny, and tells funny stories, and comes up with funny nicknames (example: calling her trumpet player Donald Trump-et). She has such a distinct voice: she's from Georgia, and the way she plays with the Southern accent just kills.

At this point, I should also gush about the Hotel Cafe. It is one of the coolest venues I've been to. It is what I picture of a music club in LA: a totally non-nondescript front, you have to enter through a back alley, to get into the club you have to walk through heavy curtains, inside there is a front bar room, then a door that leads to a very intimate music room that comfortably fits probably 300.

I wish I had pictures to share of the shows, but they requested no flash photography, and it was just too dark for me get anything worth posting.

Anyway, both shows were fantastic. If you are in or around LA this Wednesday, she has her final Wednesday date before she embarks on a month long tour across the country opening for Brett Dennen.

Finally, I've been getting a ton of hits from people looking for a "reasons to love you" mp3. I briefly thought about putting my copy of her CD up on yousendit, but I quickly realized that I couldn't do that even if I wanted to, because free music is cool and all, but making somebody else's music free isn't up to me. At any rate, Meiko is streaming her whole album (minus an awesome hidden song), at her website. So all of you looking for here stuff click here immediately.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

(08.15.07) Recommends:

The Moth.

I first learned of the Moth when This American Life recently aired a segment. Not sure how many amazing things I've learned over the years from TAL, but I gotta say, if you're not being enriched by it, please go here and start.

So, The Moth. Here's the intro from the website:

What is The Moth?

The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization, was founded in New York ... [by someone] ... who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings ... where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda's porch. After moving to New York, George missed the sense of connection he had felt sharing stories with his friends back home, and he decided to invite a few friends over to his New York apartment to tell and hear stories. Thus the first "Moth" evening took place in his living room. Word of these captivating story nights quickly spread, and The Moth moved to bigger venues in New York.

There have apparently been hours upon hours of amazing storytelling done through the Moth. Unfortunately, either somebody did not have the good sense to record all of them, or the website is hopelessly underutilized, because there are only a handful of stories you can hear on the website. But they're all worth a listen. Especially "Don't Fall in Love With Your Monkey" told by Ari Handel. This is the incredibly sweet recounting of a Neuroscience PhD's relationship with his research monkey.

Those of you who know me, know I have a sweet spot in my heart for Neuroscience PhD's who have tales of research monkeys. Those people will make the world a better place both for their research and for their story telling ability. So go give it a listen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

(08.12.07) Recommends:

Read All About It.

This small article appearing in the most recent New Yorker looks at Rupert Murdoch's purchase of Dow Jones Inc. (and it's crown jewel, the Wall Street Journal). I guess I've had journalism on the brain lately.

This article is obviously conclusory in that frustrating fashion of many New Yorker articles (Rupert Murdoch has killed the WSJ! before the first article with him at the helm has been published). However it's also brilliantly succinct -- another hallmark of the magazine -- and nicely sets the stage for what I hope will be more in-depth and nuisanced looks at the current state of journalism in our country.

I'd probably be overstating things to suggest that this issue might be something debated in the upcoming presidential election. But it's hard not to notice that the current state of journalism is a microcosm of the current state of our culture.

The story features the convergence of technology, law, politics, and capitalism.

There is so much about which to be hopeful: more sources of information than any other time in the history of mankind and available more conveniently than any other time.

But there is also so much about which to be cautious.

I think it's legitimate to be cautious about the role that profit margins and bottom lines play in the definition and distribution of "news." I tend to see journalism as the free market of ideas. So in the end, I believe that the market will always create a source that focuses on more than simply hype, PR, celebrities, and the weather. But quote unquote Serious Journalism is time consuming and expensive.

Therefore, I think that it is legitimate to be cautious about the way Wall Street values things. Wall Street hammers newspaper stock prices and we're told over and over again that newspapers are dying dinosaurs. Yet, from that PBS series I learned that the LA Times was doing $1bn in revenue, $200mm in profit, 20% profit margins and everyone concedes that these are really strong numbers. And meanwhile firms on Wall Street are at best hemorrhaging and at worst blowing up because they were investing in instruments that were heretofore completely incorrectly valued. Are we sure that the LA Times is a bad investment now?

I think that it is legitimate to be cautious about the role that digital technology will play going forward.

On one hand, there is no question that digital technology allows for some awesome things. Take The New York Times online for example. It features longer, investigative pieces. Shorter, right to the point news pieces. Compelling editorial writers. All pretty standard newspaper stuff. But then it has adopted to the net and features blogs, video-journalism, and podcasts and audio-journalism (in fact, Backstory might be my favorite part of the Times; my only wish is that they'd keep the Backstory link more up-to-date.). It's one-stop-shopping for overburdened consumers of news.

On the other hand, I think that digital technology has the potential to turn the Copyright Act into the Internal Revenue Code, with arbitrary laws and distinctions, and reading more like a negotiated contract than a principled legal document. And the result of this is clear: people are becoming increasing cynical about copyright law (it seems like some people believe that copyright law is a weapon solely created by the "RIAA" and wildly swung around in an attempt to kill us all rather than something that was expressly recognized by the federal Constitution). I think this is a very bad thing for both journalism and our culture as a whole.

I don't want to go on too long, but I think there's a lot to unpack here. I'd love to hear what other people think about this.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

(08.04.07) Recommends:

News War.

So this is an old story, but I just re-watched the series last night, and figured I should pass it along. News War is a four-part series produced by PBS that takes a glimpse at how journalism fits in with current politics and capitalism. It's as thoughtful a take on these issues as I've seen. I think that Part III is particularly strong and if you are interested in the future of journalism it's a must see. Here's Part III's decription from the series website:

In part three of "News War," entitled "What's Happening to the News,"FRONTLINE examines the mounting pressure for profits faced by America's network news divisions and daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet. Bergman talks to network executives, newspaper editors and publishers, bloggers, Wall Street analysts and key players at Google and Yahoo! about the battle for market dominance in a rapidly changing world.

Bergman examines one of the biggest challenges facing the traditional news media: As their core audience grows older, the number of viewers and readers who want their news in a conventional format is shrinking. According to a study by New York University, a majority of Americans under age 25 get their news online or from programs like Comedy Central's The Daily Show. "To the extent that people look to us as a source of news," says David Javerbaum, The Daily Show's executive producer, "that is 100 percent indicative of other people's failure and not our success." While the broadcast news networks still command the largest share of the market, they are losing viewers and advertising revenue to cable.

To stop this slide in ratings, network executives are making changes that have rankled some top news anchors. When ABC executives proposed bringing in Late Show with David Letterman from CBS to replace Nightline on ABC, host Ted Koppel decided not to renew his contract. "To the extent that we are now judging journalism by the same standards that we apply to entertainment," says Koppel, "that may prove to be one of the greatest tragedies in the history of American journalism."

"What's Happening to the News" also goes inside the embattled newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, one of the few U.S. newspapers still covering major national stories. After his newsroom had already lost hundreds of jobs, managing editor Dean Baquet was told to lay off more reporters by the paper's owner, the Tribune Company. He refused and was fired. "The people who own newspapers … are beholden to shareholders," Baquet tells FRONTLINE. "They want for the paper to be highly profitable, and sometimes that view of what a newspaper is supposed to be and my view, which is that a newspaper is a public trust, sometimes they come into conflict." Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman at top Tribune investor Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, says the L.A. Times needs to rethink its mission. "There is a role for probably three national newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. Each has its own niche; all three are national newspapers. We don't think there's any demand for a fourth."

An even greater challenge to both newspapers and broadcast networks is the growing power of the Internet as a news distribution platform, pulling consumers and advertisers away from more traditional media. Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, talks about CBS's partnership with Yahoo! News. "We haven't seen the model for how broadcast journalism is going to end up on the Internet," he says. "But … it has to go there. I mean, you don't see anybody between 20 and 30 getting their news from the evening news; you see them getting it online."

But Internet news aggregators like Yahoo! and Google say that they are not in the business of creating content, relying instead on traditional news-gathering organizations. "We're in fact critically dependent upon the success of these newspapers," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, referring to the Los Angeles Times and others. "We don't write the content. We're not in the content business. So anything that screws up their economics, that causes them to get rid of reporters, is a really bad thing."

If not newspapers, who will create content for the Internet news aggregators? Markos Moulitsas writes Daily Kos, one of the country's most popular blogs, which reportedly receives 3 to 5 million visitors per week. "People want to be part of the media," Moulitsas tells FRONTLINE. "They don't want to sit there and listen anymore. They're too educated. They're taught … to be go-getters and not to sit back and be passive consumers. And the traditional media is still predicated on the passive consumer model -- you sit there and watch."

But is this journalism? Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll worries that without the investigative skills of newspaper reporters, an important element of newsgathering may be lost. "I estimate … that 85 percent of the original reporting that's done in the United States is done by newspapers. They're the people who are going out and knocking on doors and rummaging through records and covering events and so on. And most of the other media that provide news to people are really recycling news that's gathered by newspapers."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

(08.02.07) Recommends:

One house down.

House Passes Children's Health Plan 225-204. This first step is expected. The Senate is expected to approve a plan next week. And the president is expected to veto anything by the program's Sept. 30 expiration date.

Prediction: Bush's stubbornness is paving the way for an election time disaster for fellow Republicans.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

(08.01.07) Recommends:

Ted talks.

I was first exposed to the TED Conference at some point over the past 18 months. It stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It's held annually in Monterey, Ca. Here's a description of TED, from the official website:

Our mission: Spreading ideas.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. Over time, you'll see us add talks and performances from other events, and solicit submissions from you, as well. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving work in progress, and you're an important part of it.

The TED Conference, held annually in Monterey, is still the heart of TED. More than a thousand people now attend — indeed, the event sells out a year in advance — and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and all the big global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience. It shouldn't work, but it does. It works because all of knowledge is connected. Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.

The Conference has a website that hosts full clips of seemingly every speaker. Since discovering the conference -- and the website -- it has quickly become a time killer. I've spent countless hours devouring these speeches and still leave inspired after every visit. The topics are all over the map, from Steve Levitt talking about gangs, to Tony Robbins calling out Al Gore's 2000 campaign to Al Gore's face (yes, it's weird to me that Tony Robbins spoke at this thing; we can all agree that Tony Robbins is pretty much a bafoon, but this 90 second take on Gore is actually stunning and makes me think that this Tony Robbins character is a lot more genius than I realize. Skip to 5:07 in the clip), to 14-year old Jennifer Lin doing jaw-dropping improvisational work on the piano.

If you have a few hours to kill, do us both a favor and check out some Ted Talks.