For many years, at the end of the year I would make a list of my favorite new music released that year. In fact, from 1995 to 2003 I ran the end-of-year poll for a private indie music discussion forum. Eventually I fell out of the habit, but this year I decided to at least keep track of the new music I listened to. And now that the year is half over I figured I might as well share, because maybe you might be looking for some new music to listen to?
To be honest I can't unreservedly endorse everything on this list, because a lot of it is stuff I only listened to once and haven't gotten back to yet. But they're all things I liked enough to want to listen to them again someday.
I started working at Wellist just shy of a year ago. The office overlooks City Hall Plaza in the middle of downtown Boston. I like to get out of the office to get lunch, and there are tons of options nearby, so for fun I decided to get lunch from a different place every day and see how long I could go without repeating. I figured maybe a few months, to last me until winter, when the snow would probably make me want to stick with the Subway one floor down from our office.
This past Friday, on the summer solstice, I decided to end my streak at the 200th different lunch place, Ruth's Chris Steak House at the Old City Hall.
As the streak went on, I developed some ground rules:
Going out to lunch with the team for some occasion (e.g. to welcome a new hire) didn't count. I didn't want to be in the position of saying "sorry, can't join you because I've already been there".
When the company orders food in, that doesn't count. We usually order pizza from the same place, and it seemed silly to avoid lunch if it's right in front of me. Same goes for eating leftovers.
There are multiple locations of a chain within walking distance, e.g. Sweetgreen, Zo Greek, Dunkin', Starbucks. I counted each different location as a different lunch spot. (Yes, I got sandwiches from three different Starbuckses, because I had to spend a $25 gift card and I don't drink coffee...)
Boston Public Market and Quincy Market have many different food stands inside. Each of those counted as a different location.
Lunch trucks definitely count. I probably wouldn't have gone to the same lunch truck in different locations, but that didn't come up; lunch trucks generally get assigned to the same location all season. I probably would have counted a lunch truck separate from its stationary location, but it seems that none of the trucks downtown also have brick-and-mortar locations downtown. I also counted a few street carts.
A couple months ago, I discovered a Fooda had opened up nearby, inside 75 State Street (with an entrance on Kilby St). They have a different pop-up restaurant every day, with some repeats (e.g. every Thursday is Chick-fil-A, although I never went there then because of Chick-fil-A's odious politics). I counted each different pop-up as a different lunch spot, on the theory that it's basically like a food truck.
I still have another dozen or so places on my to-do list, and I could easily expand that-- for example, I only went to one place inside the Corner Mall food court (in Downtown Crossing). But that already seemed a bit too far to walk for lunch. My rough rule of thumb was that I didn't want to walk farther than back to the Park St T stop, since I usually walk from there to work every morning anyway. But I did break this rule a few times: I went to the North End a few times, and once to Chinatown to meet Jasper, and I even walked over the Longfellow Bridge to have lunch with Kristin in Kendall Square (she works at the NERD Center).
Anyway, 200 is a nice round number, and it happened to coincide with the solstice, on a Friday, two days before my 1-year anniversary. So it seemed like a good time to have a ceremonial end to the streak.
For the record, here's my full list, in chronological order, in case you're ever looking for a different place to get lunch in downtown Boston:
Hey MA friends! If you're considering sitting out the election this Tuesday, because it's a mid-term and Senator Warren and most incumbent Representatives are well ahead in their races (or uncontested), please reconsider. There are three propositions on the ballot, but more importantly, the Republican Governor has a challenger. Please vote!
I'm planning to vote YES on all three propositions; I'm happy to discuss them more in the comments if you're interested.
I have had a hard time staying in touch with MA state politics; I know next to nothing about Governor Charlie Baker, except that he's a Republican who is somehow very popular in a very Democratic state. As far as I can tell, he hasn't done anything controversial or partisan, but he hasn't done much of anything at all. I've followed Jay Gonzalez since before the primary, and I'm confident that he will be a great governor. But even without knowing anything about him, I would almost automatically vote for any Democrat over a Republican governor.
Governor Baker supports Geoff Diehl, the Republican challenger to Elizabeth Warren's Senate seat (who was Trump's MA campaign co-chair in 2016). Democrats absolutely can't afford to lose ground in the Senate. While MA has special elections to fill absent seats, the Governor can appoint an interim Senator in the meantime: in 2009 after Senator Ted Kennedy died, Governor Patrick appointed Paul Kirk, who served for four months until Scott Brown took office after the special election. It's not out of the question that if Senator Warren or Senator Markey were to leave office for whatever reason, Governor Baker could appoint a Republican Senator for a few months.
More alarmingly, Baker has appointed 5 of the 7 justices currently serving on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and because of mandatory retirement at age 70, Baker will be able to appoint a 6th justice in 2020. In 2003, the MA SJC was the first in the country to rule (4-3) that same-sex marriage licenses were legal. Do you think a Baker-appointed supermajority would have ruled the same way?
There have been three gubernatorial debates; you can watch them here, here, and here.
If you are a Charlie Baker supporter, and especially if you're one of the 48% of Democrats who say they'll vote for Baker, please let me know why in the comments! I honestly don't understand why anyone who is voting for Elizabeth Warren would also vote against Jay Gonzalez.
Unretiring Status update: I'm coming out of retirement! I accepted a job offer from Wellist as a senior software engineer, starting Monday June 25. Wellist helps hospitals connect patients with support services like transportation or meal delivery. They've been expanding into new markets and just received a series A round of funding. I'll be working with my former co-workers Bill and Dave, doing much the same thing we did together at PayPal: full-stack web development in Ruby on Rails. It should be fun!
Are encores dead? I've been going to rock club concerts for 25+ years, and they practically always follow the same script: the headlining band plays for 60-90 minutes, they go offstage, the crowd claps for a few minutes, then the band comes back and plays a few more songs for an encore. (The Feelies typically play at least 4 encores!) I always imagined that this was a rare occurrence in the 1960s, where the norm was that the end of the set was the end of the performance, and only an extraordinarily insistent crowd would call the band out again for an encore, and the band would be thankful but they'd have to scramble to figure out another song to play because they hadn't planned to keep playing. But by the time I started going to shows, this had ossified into a mandatory ritual at nearly every show, hardly ever questioned or even thought about. Occasionally the club will turn on the house music right after the band leaves the stage, signaling that there will be no encore, presumably due to curfew requirements or whatever. Once in a blue moon the band themselves will apologize and say they hadn't rehearsed any more songs (e.g. if they have new members who don't know the band's whole back catalogue), or the band will simply announce ahead of time that they agree that the ritual is silly so they'll just play their encore songs as part of the main set and we can all just leave when it's over.
Last night at the Windhand concert at ONCE Somerville, though, something happened that I don't think I've ever experienced before: the crowd, which was not sell-out sized but respectably sizable (maybe 100-200 people), applauded enthusiastically after each song, but after the last song, they clapped for less than a minute and then just... stopped. And so after a minute of relative silence, the house music came on, the band didn't do an encore, and everyone went home. It was weird! Sometimes I don't bother clapping, because everyone else is clapping enough for the ritual to play out properly. This time, was everyone a free rider expecting other people to clap? Or were they genuinely not into the idea of hearing another song or two? (For the record, I thought it was a great show and would have been happy with another hour of it.) I felt bad for the band... Were they expecting to play an encore like they always do? And then it turned out the crowd just wasn't that into them? Or is this just something that happens regularly now, and it's no longer actually an automatic expectation? I'd be relieved, if so, because it's always felt silly and artificial. But I'd just hope that bands start playing longer sets to compensate.
Best Picture thoughts One of the perks of having weekdays free is that I can see matinee movies: they're cheaper and less crowded. I haven't really been taking full advantage of this, but recently I realized I had seen two of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, so I decided to see the other six. Here are some thoughts about them (in the order I saw them). [tl;dr: my faves were Room, The Martian, and The Revenant; the others weren't bad, but I'd be disappointed to see them win.]
Fall Like a Flower - Autumn 2015 mix I went to a lot of concerts in Autumn 2015 in the Boston area. Here's a mix of songs from (most of) the artists I saw, in the order that I saw them. Mostly I picked songs from their most recent release, but in a couple cases I couldn't resist picking a slightly older song.
Since 8tracks is weirdly coy about showing the playlist until you listen to it, here's the full list (20 tracks, 1:31:24):
The Feelies - Should Be Gone 3:30 (Here Before, 2011) The Besnard Lakes - Golden Lion 3:46 (Golden Lion, 2015) Ride - Black Nite Crash 2:33 (Tarantula, 1996) Grooms - Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair 3:52 (Comb the Feelings Through Your Hair, 2015) A Place to Bury Strangers - We've Come So Far 5:07 (Transfixiation, 2015) Quilt - Mary Mountain 4:59 (Held in Splendor, 2014) Dungen - En Gång Om Året 4:32 (Allas Sak, 2015) Boom Said Thunder - Summer Twin 5:36 (Summer Twin, 2015) Major Stars - Blank Slate 5:57 (Decibels of Gratitude, 2013) Ghost Box Orchestra - Sound of (Eternal Now) 5:08 (Sound of (Eternal Now), 2015) Magic Shoppe - Trip Inside This House 4:03 (Triangulum Australe, 2014) Ringo Deathstarr - Chainsaw Morning 3:55 (God's Dream, 2014) Tasseomancy - Healthy Hands (Will Mourn You) 3:27 (Ulalume, 2011) Braids - Miniskirt 4:54 (Deep in the Iris, 2015) Kinski - I Fell Like a Fucking Flower 4:29 (7 (or 8), 2015) Debo Band - Ney Ney Weleba 5:30 (Debo Band, 2012) The Ex & Brass Unbound - Theme From Konono No. 2 7:10 (Enormous Door, 2013) Acid King - Coming Down From Outer Space 5:47 (Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere, 2015) Lera Lynn - My Least Favorite Life 3:29 (True Detective (Music from the HBO Series), 2015) Wand - Reaper Invert 3:41 (Golem, 2015)
If 8tracks doesn't work for you for some reason, I also made a playlist on Google Play Music, but I think this might only work if you're a subscriber. And even then, I had to make two substitutions for songs they don't have in their library:
Ghost Box Orchestra - Into the Light 5:06 (Vanished, 2013) The Ex - Theme From Konono 8:25 (Turn, 2004)
(I've been using Google Play Music for a while now, since it lets me upload my own mp3s and listen to them from any device. And I recently decided to pay the $10/month for a subscription, since it also includes YouTube Red, i.e. no more ads!)
I made a Spotify playlist too, but they also don't have all the tracks, so I made the above substitutions plus one more:
Acid King - Into the Ground 4:33 (III, 2005)
Likewise, I made a YouTube playlist, which has the advantage that some of them have actual music videos, but I also had to make some substitutions there (because I'm too lazy to figure out how to turn my mp3s into videos to upload to YouTube):
Major Stars - Black Road 2:45 (Syntoptikon, 2006) Ghost Box Orchestra - Into the Light 5:06 (Vanished, 2013)
If none of these work for you, or e.g. you'd prefer to download the tracks, let me know and I'll do what I did for my previous mix and just host it all on my server.
Anniversaries Twenty years ago this month (August), I moved to Boston. I had been working in Silicon Valley for a few years after college, then started graduate school at Northeastern University. I put all my stuff in boxes in my mom's garage, packed a few boxes of clothes and CDs into my Honda Civic, and drove across the country. Along the way, I visited my uncle Dick in Colorado, my cousin Cathy in Iowa (she had already started grad school herself, chiropractic), and friends in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Toronto. I remember coming off the Mass Turnpike in Back Bay and driving down Columbus Ave looking for my friends' apartment, where I crashed on their couch for a few days until I found an apartment of my own: a tiny ground-floor studio a block from campus (rent was around $600/month). I remember opening my checking account at BayBank on Huntington, which became BankBoston, then Fleet Bank, and is now Bank of America. And I remember going to Lechmere (the store) to buy an air conditioner, even though I only needed it for another month or so—I definitely needed it!
Ten years ago this month, I defended my thesis and got my PhD in Computer Science. I was living in Somerville, a few blocks from where I live today. I had already started working full-time in January, commuting to Burlington every day and writing up my dissertation on nights and weekends. The thesis defense was in a conference room in the newly built glass tower building on Huntington across from the Museum of Fine Arts; it holds the CS department and is also a residence hall. The building's name is "West Village H", which as I understood it was meant to be temporary until a donor bought the naming rights, but it's still named that today! The defense went smoothly and was a little anticlimactic, since I had already incorporated all the feedback from my committee into the dissertation and gotten their final approval. The last step was to print off a copy at Kinko's on acid-free paper and deposit it at the school library. I don't think I bothered printing out a copy for myself—it's on Sourceforge, and I figured that was good enough.
When I moved from New Jersey to California in 1984, I never expected to come back to the East Coast, though I remember liking Boston when I visited it a few times growing up: it felt academic and technological, without being big and dirty like NYC. And when I got my degree I don't think I expected to stay in Boston for another ten years. But, it wasn't like I had a concrete plan to leave; I just figured I'd go wherever the jobs were. In 1995, my career goal was to work at a research center, like Xerox PARC or IBM TJ Watson, and those sorts of places required PhDs, which was my main reason to go to grad school (I was never interested in academia). But by 2005, doing research at a research center didn't seem to be as much of a thing anymore: innovation, particularly in programming languages and frameworks, seemed to happen more in open-source communities populated by hobbyists and people working at startups who had the freedom to stay at the cutting edge. I think I had also become a bit disillusioned with the idea of doing CS research, and wanted more to work on making things that people used. This is partly what led me to become a web developer, and I'm still pretty happy in that niche. And there are more than enough opportunities for that in Boston for the forseeable future.
On the other hand, remote working is on the rise, so in theory I could live wherever I wanted. I sometimes fantasize about moving somewhere out in the boonies where I could afford a nice big house. I've also always thought I would like to live in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose now would be the best time to think seriously about moving, with lots of free time and no job holding me down.
But, really, I'm comfortable here in Boston. Inertia is strong! In another five years I'll have been here half my life. Maybe I'll even start to think of myself as being from Boston...
The US military, and probably all militaries ever, have a really quite low tolerance for fuckups. When somebody isn't dependable, when somebody doesn't exercise adequate restraint in their conduct, they get marginalized so they can't do too much damage, or simply gotten rid of.
All these youngsters join up, and have it drummed into them that they have these huge responsibilities to their fellow warriors and their nation, and they must do their jobs right. It's not just that they have to cover their squad mates in fire-fights, but things like, "If you don't clean this surface correctly, the guy who is going to try to land a plane on this deck will die and maybe take a bunch of us with it." And they discover, yes, they have it in them to do their jobs that well, that dependably. They are somebody who pulls his weight and can be counted on.
And furthermore, they discover they are in a whole society of people who are equally determined to be dependable, to pull their weight and be somebody who can be counted on. That can be a down-right rapturous experience; I know, because there's other ways to have at least some of that experience, such as through the performing arts, and having tasted it, I can attest it's positively intoxicating. It's like falling in love. Or maybe it is falling in love: this probably is more the basis of that intense camaraderie shared by veterans who served together than common adversity or common purpose.
Civilian society, as a whole, is, in contrast, replete with fuckups. People who can't get out of their own way enough to be depended on, people who don't take commitments seriously, people who are exploitative, who phone it in, to try to get away with minimal contributions, who don't care about those who rely on their work, who don't want to be relied upon, people who don't want to have self-restraint. We don't get to throw those people out of society, so there they are, being part of civilian society, fucking up, and their fucking up being tolerated.
People in the military, who subscribe to the discipline of speech and courtesy described above, are way, way, way, way, way too polite to actually come out and say, "We're different from civilians because we're not used to putting up with fuckups," but that is what it sounds like is lurking between the lines. It feels like they're trying to apologetically and politely say something that more bluntly put might sound like, "See, among us, fucking up is not okay; being a fuck up is not okay. We have these values and stuff which say it's not okay. And we totally get that that's okay in civilian life, where if you want to be a fuckup, that's your free choice. In our culture, the military culture, we see that as not a legitimate choice. We see that as bad – and comport ourselves accordingly."
ShuffleComp 2014 - Part 2 In Part 1, I described how I submitted lists of 8 songs and 8 pseudonyms for ShuffleComp, an interactive fiction competition. On April 8, 2014, I received the following lists of songs and pseudonyms from the shuffled list of all submissions:
Not everyone who was laid off is as happy about it as I am, though. Paradoxically, I feel especially bad for those who weren't laid off: their jobs will change drastically, but if they want to leave, they won't get severance. Fortunately, I have plenty of contacts: you who are reading this! If you know of a tech job opportunity and you haven't already told me about it, feel free to ping me (here or email) and I'll forward it along.
An alternative to not voting For those who choose not to vote today, I respect your decision. But, to quote Oblique Strategies (by way of Slacker): Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy. If you want to withdraw in disgust, consider voting for a third party or a write-in candidate; otherwise you'll be presumed apathetic.
Well, good news! My doctor reported that my echocardiogram "looked fine", and that "the aortic valve is trileaflet". He also mentioned "Color Doppler is suggestive of PFO/tiny ASD with left to right shunt." I had to look up PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale) but it appears to be... mostly harmless? I asked him to confirm, and he explained: "These tiny abnormalities are seen in the general population and are not of clinical concern. You should be fine."
Receive a random list of 8 songs and 8 pseudonyms dealt out from the submission pool.
Write an IF game inspired by one of the songs, under one of the pseudonyms.
Play other people's stories and vote for the ones you like.
Once the comp is over, the top 30% vote getters are announced as Commended entries.
When I heard about the comp, I thought it sounded like a neat idea, but I felt I had no time to write a game by the deadline—at the time I was in the middle of both Puzzle Boat 2 solving and DASH 6 planning, and I had been itching to get back to some of my many back-burnered projects, including revising my IFcomp entry from 2011! Plus, that IFcomp game had ended up being way more work than I had anticipated, and I was not really satisfied with the result (nor were the comp voters, who placed it 25th out of 38). Did I really want to commit to making another game on a deadline? I chatted with prog about ShuffleComp at a party shortly afterward and it turned out he had gone through exactly the same thought process. Ah well, we both figured... maybe next time.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I really wanted to submit some songs to see what people could do with them. I started brainstorming about songs that could make good IF games, and almost immediately I remembered two songs that I've always thought of as great examples of songs that told a narrative story (a sadly under-populated category). I couldn't resist putting together a list, and then I figured, if I submitted a list of songs and thus committed to writing a game, in the worst case I could always just spend a day or two to scribble out a really short choose-your-own-adventure or hypertext game, using ChoiceScript or Undum or Twine. Much easier than wrestling with Inform 7 programming!
So there was that! I had submitted my lists and committed to making a game based on someone else's submission; now I just had to wait for all the lists to be shuffled up and sent back out. In the meantime, I discovered that prog had, again, gone through exactly the same thought process as I had and also ended up submitting his own lists and committing to making some semblance of a game.
This seems like a good time to pause. Continue reading Part 2, where I receive my assignments and somehow manage to come up with and (spoiler!) finish making a game.
Mouse on Mars (1993) Ghost Box Orchestra (members of Lockgroove (1996)) !!! (1996) Glenn Jones (1985) Robert Fripp's Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists (1967) Man or Astro-Man? (1993) Wire (1976) Big Country (1981) Dick Dale (1959) Melvins (1983) Adam Ant (1976) The Cult (1983) Supersuckers (1988) Peter Hook and The Light (1976) Girls Against Boys (1988) (with special guest David Yow (1982)) Nine Inch Nails (1988) Godspeed You! Black Emperor (1994) Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson (1967) Nik Turner's Hawkwind (1969) The Dickies (1977) Sebadoh (1986) Octa#grape (members of Trumans Water (1991) and Olivelawn (1990)) My Bloody Valentine (1983) Flamin' Groovies (1965) Goblin (1972) Queens of the Stone Age (1996) (members of Kyuss (1987))
Here are some bands I had the chance to see in 2013 but I didn't end up going:
New Order (1980) The Breeders (1990) Dinosaur Jr. (1984) Simple Minds (1977) Black Sabbath (1968) The Feelies (1976) The English Beat (1978) Monster Magnet (1989) The Flaming Lips (1983) The Rolling Stones (1962) Paul McCartney (1957) The Psychedelic Furs (1977) The Zombies (1962) Yo La Tengo (1984) Belle and Sebastian (1996) The Orb (1988) Elton John (1964)
In other words, I saw tons and tons of 40-somethings, 50-somethings, 60-somethings, and even 70-somethings! This was the year of the old fogies.
I did see some good younger bands too: Tame Impala, Metz, Junip, MGMT. But I'm definitely feeling out of touch with what cool music the kids are making these days. Any pointers?