24 November 2015

Return of the Boss: Hummingbirds are Rad

The hummingbird feeder on my porch balcony outside area space continues to return superb value for money. I have learned things about hummingbirds. So many things! To wit:
- There are wonderfully many different types of hummingbirds (!!)
- We have similar dietary preferences (sugar)
- We don't like to share our stuff
- They are mean as hell (we do not have this in common)

I mention this because one of the smaller birds has claimed the entire feeder for his own. It may be the same bird that claimed it before (Barry the Boss Bird), or it may be the same species of bird but a different individual. I have no way to know. The Allen and Rufous hummingbirds are impossible to tell apart anyway. I am calling this new one Barry also, just in case he is the same as the old Barry. He definitely behaves like the last Barry.

Watching Barry defend an essentially unlimited source of food is very entertaining, not least because he weighs 2-5 grams, and his food source (not including the feeder itself) weighs, umm, 1105 grams, or 200x more than he does. It would be like a person defending a mountain of food that weighed 40,000 pounds. I'm pretty sure he is losing more food to evaporation than he actually eats. (For reference a gram is about the weight of a dime.)

Various other birds of either the same or different species will test him but he is resolute in his obstinacy. Occasionally they will overwhelm him with numbers - I have seen up to 9 birds on the feeder at one time. When that happens he just parks himself on the feeder and gives everyone hard looks until they leave. Woe to the bird that shows up by himself because he is getting shunned immediately.

Need to borrow a camera to get a proper photo of all the madness on the porchalcony. In the mean time photo credit to Joe Burgess.  

23 November 2015

Well Hello There

Yamaha XSR900
Long time readers know that I said goodbye to sold my motorcycles three-ish years ago. Haven't had one since. At one time I owned two very racey bikes that were gathering dust in my garage, as street riding on a racey bike is not at all fun and getting out to the track got to be too much of a pain in the ass. On top of that I was planning on moving and making some other changes so I figured I would catch up with another motorcycle later on that was more street friendly.

I need a bike with an upright seating position because I am old and my back hurts. Fortunately there are more cool bikes that meet this criteria than ever before. Scramblers for the people!

Ducati makes a scrambler, which they introduced to great fanfare. I like this bike! They are selling a 'lifestyle', which I can do without. You have to sell lifestyle to move units in the USA, because motorcycles are a luxury buy. So even if your bike is obviously shit (see: most cruisers) you can sell a lot of them because people 'identify with the brand'. It works!

Deus is the best example of the 'bike as lifestyle' branding. They started out building very cool, very expensive custom bikes in Sydney. They are now an aspirational and lifestyle brand that also happens to sell motorcycles all over the world. Mostly they sell a lot of apparel and "accessories". This is smart, because the volume and margin on apparel/accessories is much better than the actual motorcycles. (Harley Davidson figured this out a long time ago.)

All of which brings us to the new Yamaha XSR900, which is a restyled version of the FZ-09 aimed squarely at lifestyle. Look at the photos from Yamaha and you'll see a hirsute gentleman riding in jeans and boots and motorcycle-style jacket and in gloves that wouldn't protect your hands from a tipover in the parking lot. In other words: you will see a person that looks like a lot of people that buy and ride motorcycles.* I would ride this bike. 

This new XSR900 looks superb and when it comes out in 2016 I will have to go review it in person, maybe get back on a bike. That's assuming Yamaha fixed the fueling and suspension issues that plagued the FZ-09. We'll see.

* This is dumb as hell. You should wear a proper jacket and racing gloves all the time. Your hands are fragile. There are plenty of good jacket options available now. Also some decent options in kevlar jeans to keep your ass from turning to hamburger in a crash. Also plenty of good boot options too. Good gear is cheaper than the hospital.

21 November 2015

America Day

Once a year or so (schedule permitting) I take a day off from everyday things and celebrate America Day.

America Day looks like different things for different Americans. Make it yours! My America Day usually finds me at the range. I could do one of my other hobbies but I don't think "making desserts day" or "fallout 4 day" sounds quite as good. I have a better word for when I pursue those hobbies ('weekends').

Had my own little range all to myself and it only cost $30 (plus cost of the targets). That's good value for money.

20 November 2015

Hot Like Fire: Perdon by Nicky Jam (Argentum Remix)

Solo on espanol, obvs. This is a reggaeton classic updated with a 'tropical' feel. "Tropical" house has become its own subgenre. If you're not sure what that sounds like then this is a good example. If calypso and commercial house had a baby then that baby would be tropical house. Sometimes it's fun.
Sometimes it sucks. It's like a metaphor for life!

16 November 2015

Paris Attacks and Radical Islam: Sam Harris Tells the Truth

In light of the attacks in Paris that have left 130 dead (so far) with over three hundred injured, many of those seriously, I have been thinking more than usual about radical Islam, about war, and about loss.

Sam Harris does some very good work articulating the position that I feel the left should take in its approach to radical Islam.

"There is nothing so destructive that these people won't attempt it. The only thing that has prevented them from killing millions of people is a lack of technology, and we have to ensure that they they never get it. But the idea that our enemies are sufficiently like ourselves, and that they won't set the world on fire, is pure delusion. ...

It is not mere wartime propaganda, that we will one day look back on with embarrassment, to call ISIS a death cult, to call them barbarians, to call them savages, to use dehumanizing language. They are scarcely human in their aspirations. The world they want to build entails the destruction of everything we value and are right to value, and by 'we' I mean civilized humanity, including all the Muslims who are just as horrified by the Islamists and jihadist project as I am."

ISIS is Islamic: they self-identify as Islamic, their practices and beliefs are reflected and supported in the text of the Koran. Not all Muslims are members of and support ISIS, but all members of ISIS are Muslim. Moreover, the extreme beliefs and practices related to jihad are not controversial in the Muslim world, despite what you may have heard from Muslim apologists in the media.

Read Harris' full essay or listen to the podcast above (only 20 minutes) for an erudite summary. And let's start treating radical fundamentalism like the cancer that it is.

09 November 2015

REPOST: Cold War Kids - First

I posted this in March. It is still outstanding so I am posting it again.


Good friend Scott says that in my book reviews I tend not to like the endings of books. He suggests that it is maybe because I am sad the book is ending and I want to keep reading. I disagree but I thought it was funny.

08 November 2015

Back Catalog: Marc Aurel - The Sun (Dominator Remix)

Wrote a long post about how I ended up finding this song on youtube but it was boring.

Short version is this here is one of my favorite old trance records that I ever bought. Some kind soul just put it youtube back in June - it isn't even on soundcloud.

It's kind of two songs in one, and you can skip the second part. When I mixed it I tried to be in by about 40 seconds and out after the first breakdown (about 3:55). That's all you need; the vocal always felt tacked on to me. The synth sound was all the rage at that time, and although it became so popular that it wore itself out I still like this jam.

Sonically the song is very simple (sophisticated listeners will want to give it a pass), but in a small room with big speakers it will melt your face off.

One annoying thing about this record is that this was the A2 so cueing up the song was a bitch. Worth it though.

02 November 2015

You're Doing it Wrong: Trick or Treating

I guess this is a real thing that happened. A parent posted these around their neighborhood in Philly or its environs.

Someone forwarded it to me so who knows? The internet is full of things that are not true. But it is funny and sparked a discussion amongst the peeps. I mean a discussion beyond the gross helicopter parenting and projected sadness on display in the flyer. (It is hard to decide which part is the most lame. Is the the 'don't exclude anyone part'? Or is the part where you should hand out candy that is gluten free, dairy free, and nut free? Lord have mercy on this poor kid because his parents are failing.)

What is the lamest halloween trick or treat you can put in someone's bag?

This list is a very strong summary of utter garbage. Let's rate them on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a full size snicker's bar, and 1 being an apple or whatever.
  • Carrot sticks? Go f yourself. (Not Rated)
  • Smarties - Not good but they will do the job. 4 out of 10 wrappers in your pocket.
  • Necco wafers - have only seen these in movies about the apocalypse because they are the last thing left to eat. 1 out of 10 zombies.
  • Lifesavers - Could eat it if you were dying. 2 out of 10 red tongues. 
  • Brach's Lemon Drops - My favorite, except that they ruin your mouth. 8 out of 10 cold sores. 
  • Raisins - You are a troll. 0 out of 10 opportunities to be socially well adjusted.
There were some other options suggested by my friend Eames:
  • Pennies. This was definitely the worst thing I remembered. 0 out of 10 pieces of garbage you rescued from your ashtray, adjusted for inflation.
  • Homemade popcorn ball -  Depends on if it is caramel corn or not. If it is homemade caramel corn then that is actually good. 8 out of 10 pieces of popcorn stuck in your teef. If it is anything but caramel corn then it sucks. 1 out of 10 balls of sadness. 
Hope you had a good halloween. Mine was quiet. I loathe dress up, if you hadn't heard.

29 October 2015

Very Good Until You Get to the Last Chapter: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Finished The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell months ago but never got around to writing the review. It was very well reviewed by others (summary on the amazon page).

I thought it was very good for the most part but unfortunately the end was shite. The last chapter is so weak that I wonder if he wrote the story and then felt like it needed some additional exposition. Where was his editor?

The ending fails at a macro level (it is unnecessary and predictable) but the storytelling at a micro level also really falls off in the last chapter. It is repetitive and boring in the extreme, right up until the 'dramatic climax' you can see from miles away. Which is a shame, since what should have been the end of the book (the previous chapter) is riveting.

On balance I think it is a book worth reading, because the story is well told up until it takes a nosedive.

Recommended, with reservations.

25 October 2015

Boxing: Golovkin vs. Lemieux on 17 October 2015

Golovkin and Lemieux
I caught up with the Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux fight over the weekend. Instead of paying $60 to watch it on PPV I watched it for free on my friend's HBO go account. (Thanks Jeffy!)

Boxing can be fascinating to watch. A good fight is an opportunity to enjoy watching two skilled athletes solve a difficult problem under duress. A bad fight is watching two mokes fumble around embarrassingly. Most fights are bad, because boxing is hard.

Some fighters are intelligent, delicate artists that excel at specific aspects of the trade. Floyd Mayweather is supremely good at not getting punched, and also a very accurate, precise puncher. He is also famous (infamous? famously smart?) for not taking fights against anyone that will maybe give him a hard time. (He didn't fight Manny Pacquaio until the latter fighter had been beaten by other, lesser fighters and was years past his prime, due in no small part to a Juan Manuel Marquez punch that probably would have killed anyone not a professional fighter.) Mayweather uses these two skills to win (mostly) boring fights. Occasionally he will deliver a sustained beatdown and KO finish against a wildly outclassed fighter (Ricky Hatton) but usually not. Mayweather is not a risk taker; he is all about protecting the brand. Which is too bad, because Mayweather is a jerk and serial abuser of women and it would be lovely to watch him catch a beating.

Other fighters are less technical, and (like Mayweather) get by on favorable (read: weak) matchups to pad their record and bully their way against opponents that are likely to succumb to their strengths and hide their weaknesses. David Lemieux , a 'model handsome' multilingual fighter is of this type: a strong puncher, but not terribly smart or strategic. The only thing he has in common with a fighter like Mayweather is that he has stretched his record by feasting on weaker fighters. That is maybe a bit unfair because he is certainly a good fighter so by definition most of his opponents will be weaker. Fighting mostly at home in Quebec he came into his fight with Golovkin with a record of 34-2, with 31 knockouts. This is very good indeed! According to the announcers he has the power to turn around any fight. A puncher's chance, as it were. More on this anon.

Then there is the rare fighter that is both technically sound and heavy handed. Enter Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin. The hype train on Golovkin has been running full steam for years now, and with good reason. That's how you get a PPV fight with over 150,000 buys. (A pathetic number given Golovkin's qualities as a fighter and the fact that the Mayweather-Pacquaio shitshow got over 4.4 MILLION ppv buys. People are dumb.) His most recent fight was no different. Golovkin is a very good boxer. This fact is often obscured because he has legendary punching power.

Aside: In boxing circles you hear a lot of talk about how hard a guy punches. Any comments on this topic from promoters or managers are so inflated that they should be immediately and summarily ignored. This stuff is always overstated because people (including me) like talking about it and it sells tickets. It is not overstated in Golovkin's case.

The Golovkin - Lemieux fight itself was a 'great' fight only if you enjoy watching one man repeatedly punch another man in the face. It was certainly great if you are a Golovkin fan. It was decidedly less great for Lemieux's modeling prospects. It took only one round for Golovkin to imprint his will on Lemieux, via a sharp, accurate, punishing jab. Whenever I see a great jab I am reminded of one of the interviewees from When We Were Kings (I think it is Thomas Hauser) who says, "a jab is a punch in the face", and that getting punched in the face hurts. 

Golovkin took the opportunity to share this little nugget with Lemieux over and over and over again. As a casual observer it was difficult to watch. Lemieux had no answer for it, and was forced to lunge and reach and tip himself off balance in the hopes of landing a haymaker to turn the fight around. The obvious problem with this strategy against Golovkin is that whatever your 'puncher's chance' you do not punch as hard as he does. And so even if you exchange punches it is not an even trade. Watch what happens with Daniel Geale in this GIF: Geale lands a glancing blow. And then HOLY SHIT.

There were a few odd moments in the fight: Golovkin hit Lemieux after a he took a knee to recover from a body blow. He should have had more time to recover from it. The fight went on at least a round too long because Lemieux is a game fighter. His corner should have thrown in the towel after the 7th round.

Hamilton Nolan wrote some very good words about the fight. His summary of the footwork was astute. Lemieux was busy. He bounced around a lot but to no effect; it was inefficient. Golovkin was a model of efficiency and balance. If you are efficient you do not tire as easily, and if you are balanced and planted your punches land much harder.

So not a great fight, but a great performance from a very good fighter. Golovkin deserves his accolades.

18 October 2015

Star Wars is great, except for those three awful movies

Poor Trigger Discipline
(Updated this post because the image went missing. I tracked it down on ze interwebz. Too lazy to check the other links.)

Star Wars: Visions is a collection of artwork inspired by the Star Wars universe. Normally that kind of thing makes my skin crawl, but some if it is pretty gdamn cool. Darth Vader has been such a badass for so long that you forget what a great character he was. Han Solo was cool as hell, and so was Chewbacca. So I thought this re-imagining I cribbed from the Star Wars website was kind of fun. Han is dark, brooding, and also he will shoot you. If you got past Han then Chewie would rip your head off and eat it. Intergalactic hustlers, capable of taking on the empire. Han fired first. Fuckin' a.

Star Wars: Battlefront Looks Good

This game looks pretty good. I may have already logged some hours in the beta, and me and good friend Jeff talked about the game last night for a few minutes. He asked if I said I was going to buy it, and I said, "yeah man, the music". And he said, "hell yeah the MUSIC!"

Related: this is me in 1979 or '80.

Don't even try to fight it.

Good Parenting

Buckle up, readers. It's time to do some reportage.

I have a twin sister that I do not interact with and rarely speak about. She is a terrible human being. I have accrued many, many examples of her terribleness over the years but she reached a new low (peak?) recently that I want to share here.

Her awfulness has gone on for so long, and manifested itself in so many unique and wonderful ways, that over the years people who heard my accounts have questioned my veracity. I must be exaggerating, because no one could be that terrible. Au contraire, good reader. Keeping in mind that people do not remember what happened, but instead remember what they remember (two different things), I won't go into a lifetime review - who has time for that? Instead I will give a brief account of her greatest hits, which are easily verified and known by at least two people.

In the past 10 years she has (in rough chronological order):
Defrauded my (gullible) folks out of over $20,000 by convincing them to pay for nursing school, enrolling, and promptly dropping out and collecting the money they paid for tuition. The fact that this was not even a surprise to those that know her is telling and says a lot about how impressively naive my folks are (especially my mother). She had been in regular contact with them but after she took the money she disappeared for seven months. Following her return my mother, who has displayed judgment in these matters that is best characterized as "suspect", welcomed her back with open arms. Because she is stupid. (This will be a recurring theme.)

My sister got married and my stepdad set up her and her husband by financially backing them in a business venture. (Yes this is after my sister stole the twenty grand; I know I couldn't believe it either.) My sister saw that my folks were reluctant to continue to finance her directly beyond the business funding so she 'accidentally' got pregnant, thus ensuring that she could continue to receive regular cash payments from my folks for the foreseeable future. At the same time she was married and pregnant and had a baby she was carrying on relationships with at least two other people (per court documents). And she convinced my mother that she needed to finance her divorce and move so she kidnapped the child and left her husband one day while he was at work. She claimed he was abusive but was unable to prove it as part of the divorce proceedings, but she got what she wanted: she didn't have to work and the money kept coming in.

Special bonus: she sued my stepdad (the real victim of the original $20k nursing school theft/fraud) as part of the divorce settlement because he was a backing partner in the business that he had financed for her and her husband. At the same time my mother was supporting her financially because my sister has no education, no marketable skills, no trade, and no job. The grandchild is her meal ticket / ATM.

My folks supported my niece and, by extension, my sibling for several years after that. They could not give my sister money directly because it never ended up going where it was supposed to. At one point my mother ran out of checks because she wrote them all to my sister and when my mother called the bank for more they had to triple confirm that she was not the victim of identity fraud. You would think this conversation with the bank would give a person pause (Bank: You're out of checks already? How can this be?// You: I'm doing this on purpose, everything is fine. // Bank: Srsly? // You: Oh yeah. Perfectly fine. // Bank: Umm, okay.). But behind every great loser there is an enabler, so here we are.

Eventually my sister had her oldest child taken away by the state of Oregon for abuse and neglect. I know this because the state of Oregon asked me to take her before she went to foster care. My folks fostered the child for a while until my sister realized that if she kept my niece at her place and neglected her she would be making money and so she took the opportunity to weasel her way back into my folks lives and reclaim the child. While she was doing that she stole everything at my folks house that wasn't nailed down. (I guess it's a good thing I'm not trying to get engaged because my parents and grandparents legacy jewelry is now at pawn shops in the Portland and Beaverton area. hashtag silverLinings)

My sister sending her obviously abused and neglected child to school eventually got the attention of the teachers so they called in the social workers and my niece was taken away from my sister for a second time(!). That was about a year ago. You would think, if you were a reasonable person, that my folks (idiots though they are) would be able to get guardianship at this point. Hahaha you're funny! No.

Instead my sister is weaseling her way back into the child's life again, and doing it in the most awesomely manipulative way possible. Here is a summary I wrote for a friend:

My understanding was that my folks were the child's legal guardian but it turns out they are not. So of course my amazing sister is now back in touch with them after no contact for ten months. Kid had christmas and a birthday and nothing from her mom but now she is back on the scene and filling her ear with bullshit. Good parenting right there.

Here's my sister in a nutshell: she is working her way back into her (abused) child's life like a cancer, telling lies, saying she's going to do this and that, etc. So she says she is going to drive down and visit her daughter for the first time in 10 months. Talks a big game like she always does, promises the moon. So the day comes and she doesn't have gas money. So she asks [grandmother, aka my mother, aka the enabler, who is fostering the child] for gas money and [grandmother] says no, because my sister is a cockroach. And then my sister goes into a rage fit at her daughter, blames [grandmother] for not being able to come see the kid, and blames [grandmother] for encouraging her to promise things to the kid, and then breaking her promises. [grandmother] looks bad (and probably feels bad, because she is weak), the kid feels bad, and it drives a wedge between the kid and [grandmother]. Is that some next level manipulation or what? I confess I wouldn't even be able to imagine doing something like that. Hats off to my sister for being an impressively terrible human being.

How is it possible that my folks don't have guardianship of the child? They had to take the kid away because of child abuse! My sister is Hitler with less ambition. The fucking worst.

So that's where we are as of today. 

So far it looks like my folks will be unable to get guardianship. My sister is a world-class manipulator and she knows exactly what to say to the courts and child services in order to get what she wants. My folks are old and emotionally weak and my sister has already outmaneuvered them numerous times; they are no match for her. Best case scenario is she gets run over by a bus and her oldest kid won't be raised by a sociopath. We can but hope. Barring that we can hope that my folks and the courts will figure out a way to do right by the child. We'll see.

See you out there. Thanks for reading.

13 October 2015

Good Reading: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark - The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson

(If you are getting bored with book reviews then just imagine how bored I am with nothing to write about but books. Someday in the future I'll Do Things again but for now this is all I got.)

This book is a superb (if somewhat dated) summary of the forces that drive the economics surrounding contemporary art. The contemporary art market does not make a lot of rational sense (just as art in general, and contemporary art in particular, does not often make rational sense), but that does not prevent the super rich from spending incredible fortunes on 'pieces' that are indistinguishable from garbage. Or are, in fact, made of garbage.

Thompson does a good job examining the subject without injecting commentary about the validity of certain art pieces as 'art', such as a leather jacket thrown in the corner that sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Instead he asks (and answers) probing questions of why anyone would pay millions of dollars for what is basically bullshit.

The short answer is that rich people are not like you and I, and they literally have more money than they can spend. As such the driving forces are ego and exclusivity, and also a market that is designed to continually inflate the market, protect the sellers and auction houses and continue perpetuating the illusion that any of this expensive useless garbage is anything but, you know, garbage.

Highly recommended.

11 October 2015

Easy Reading: Lock In by John Scalzi

Breezed through Lock In by John Scalzi over the course of a couple afternoons. It was a good, easy read.

It won the Hugo award, which is either an accident or a sign that it was a very thin year for candidates. It was a good book but not especially sophisticated. The best part was the well-realized near future world that Scalzi built for his story. I hope that he revisits it in future novels.


09 October 2015

Trying Times: Religion is the Enemy of Reason

This is a good read.

First sentence:

These are trying times for rationalist rejecters of make-believe celestial tyrants and human-authored “magic” books.


08 October 2015

Throwback Thursday: One Headlight by The Wallflowers

Is this track underrated, overrated, or properly rated? I posed this question to a (younger by 10 years) friend of mine a while back and she asserted that it was underrated, which is saying something for a track that has 24 million youtube views and is an insta-lock for any 90's era rock radio playlist. I'm inclined to agree.

Unlike the cut from last week I was never obsessed with this band. I just always thought this song was fantastic. Still do. I've had it in my back pocket for a TBT post for a while.

90's classics. That's how we do it around here. (Unless it's some of the new hotness from soundcloud.)

What Are You Reading? One Summer by Bill Bryson

In between watching LoL on youtube and flexing my dork on Destiny I read books, both before and during my convalescence.

One Summer is good reading. The summer of 1927 was transformative and Bryson seems to cover it well enough. Of course there were some things I felt warranted additional coverage but it isn't my book. Maybe it is bad history? No idea. I'm not a historian so you should read and decide for yourself.

It is very easy to read and Bryson has a dry sense of humor, which I appreciate. He shares enough detail to keep it interesting but also keeps the story moving along very well. Highly entertaining, and highly recommended.