December 2014 Archives

Last Day of the Year

And so we come to the end of another Holidailies. While this month's entries have not, on the whole, been very good, it's still nice that I wrote anything at all, let alone 29 entries. This was, by a wide margin, my best Holidailies record since 2003. (It appears that I missed only one day in 2003.)

I considered doing a year-end quiz, but too many of the answers boiled down to "I need a job."

Elaine thinks I should start a journal without my name attached to it, so I can rant about whatever I feel like without worrying about potential employers and/or dates stumbling upon it. I'm not so sure about that, but I'm considering password-protected entries. We'll see. Possibly all it'd do is take away one of my excuses for never getting around to updating.

Regardless, thanks for reading, and I'll see y'all next year.

On another note, GrooveLily's New Year's Eve musical Striking 12 can be played in its entirety on Bandcamp, and I enthusiastically commend it to your attention.

Yet Another Short Update

Today I learned that some people on MetaFilter really don't care for Dave Barry. And that others there do like him. In conclusion, MetaFilter is a land of contrasts.

Otherwise, I sent off another job application (this time for a contract position). And wrote one quatrain of a song that may or may not get any further. And complained about the heat, which came back to my apartment again in full force last night. And went out to the drugstore for more epsom salts. And braved the kitchen (at the hottest end of my apartment) long enough to heat up some pizza. And watched two more episodes of Korra.

Aren't you glad I'm updating this month? (Aren't you glad it has only one day to go?)

Another Short Update

Over the past couple days, I have applied to three more jobs. Also, I've finished the first season of Korra and started on the second. And I've done a little more apartment decluttering. And done some light reading. So there's that.

The BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Good Omens wasn't bad. It's available for listening for the next few weeks.

Short Update, with Links

Today I cleaned my apartment a bit (there's still a long way to go), watched another couple episodes of Korra, and had a couple of long phone calls. Also, I made some Soylent Green.

Speaking of which... on the whole, I rather like Soylent. It's no doubt healthier than my usual food. My main problem with it is that it's also pricier. Currently it costs between $3 and $4 a meal, including shipping... which isn't bad compared to eating out, but it's substantially more than macaroni, chicken nuggets, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Meanwhile, if you have any interest in mashups of songs from 2014, have a bunch of links.

Bet Your Bottom Dollar

Annie (2014): 5 stars out of 5.

I mean, okay, yes, I could find things to nitpick. (And as I've since discovered—I didn't read any reviews beforehand, I already knew I wanted to see it—critics across the land have done so.) But this film is a ray of sunshine at the end of a cruddy year, and it does so many things right. Who knew we needed a remake of Annie, and that we more specifically needed one starring Quvenzhané Wallis?

One caveat: while I practically wore out the soundtrack to the 1982 film, I was never a big fan of the film itself. Even so... this version establishes in the first minute that it's going to be its own thing, and I think it pulls it off admirably.

So Don't Delay, Act Now

Have I become really boring, or just really lazy? Probably the latter.

Final Day of Music Advent: 1997.

It turns out that yesterday's pick, "Wannabe," was actually released in the U.K. in 1996, but in the U.S. in 1997, so it shouldn't have been on the table. But "no backsies" is in effect.

Today... second place goes to Chumbawumba, but I'm going with Smash Mouth's "Walkin' on the Sun."

Here's a story from A to Z

I haven't been keeping up with Postmodern Jukebox, and therefore I didn't know until just now that they did a song with Casey Abrams.

(At this point, those of you who aren't long-time fans of American Idol are probably asking "who the hell is Casey Abrams?" while the rest of you are asking "wait... the Casey Abrams? Season ten?" The answer to the latter is "Yes, and he's as quirky as ever, bless him.")

Meanwhile, I have finally gotten around to starting to watch The Legend of Korra, mainlining the first three episodes earlier tonight. (Spoil anything and I will cut you.)

Music Advent: 1996. I am so torn on whether to go with the Spice Girls or Garbage, to the point where I have now flipped the next sentence back and forth multiple times. "Supervixen" is admittedly the better song... but, ultimately, I cannot resist the infectious fun of "Wannabe."

(And it is only as I add the title to the entry that it occurs to me to wonder why a British pop group would pronounce the final letter of the alphabet as /zee/. Poetic licence, I suppose.)

You can call me a fool

I was going to air some grievances, but then I decided I really didn't feel like fighting the Internet.

Music Advent: 1995.

So, in my second run at grad school, I was on a pub trivia team, consisting almost entirely of people from my grad program. More specifically, the nucleus comprised people from one of my Column Writing classes. We weren't bad, if I say so myself. We had people who were good at entertainment, math, science... our Achilles' heel was geography, but whaddya gonna do. (I once managed to be the only person who knew which film Sheila E. had made her big-screen debut in... and that was because I'd had Mike McGrady's review of Krush Groove hanging on my wall for years. It was written entirely in rap. "It's kind of cool, and it's kind of funky / Your ma, your pa, they'll say it's junky.")

As is the way of things, eventually we got our degrees and went our separate ways, and the guy who was the heart and soul of the team was among the first of us to leave the Boston area. For his final game, the rest of us conspired to mark the occasion. As my office was located next door to a Borders, I was delegated to pick up a suitable CD from his favorite band, Hootie and the Blowfish. I then slipped it to the trivia host and DJ (he played music between questions) at the start of the game. At the end of the game—a game we won, as I recall—the host gave our departing teammate a proper sendoff, wishing him well, and playing "I Only Wanna Be With You."

It was among the better moments in my life.

In Your Head

It is impossible to continue in the practice of contemplating any order of beauty, without being frequently obliged to form comparisons between the several species and degrees of excellence, and estimating their proportion to each other. A man, who has had no opportunity of comparing the different kinds of beauty, is indeed totally unqualified to pronounce an opinion with regard to any object presented to him. By comparison alone we fix the epithets of praise or blame, and learn how to assign the due degree of each.

—David Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste" (1757)

Back in my first run at grad school, some of my classmates had trouble with Hume's concept that critical judgment consists of making comparisons, rather than somehow being a process of judging everything strictly on its own intrinsic qualities. I, on the other hand, was like, "yes, of course, obviously; right on, David."

I may not have used those exact words.

Regardless, I grew up without MTV.

This is an understatement. I grew up without cable TV, with limited access to broadcast TV, and a presumption that I wouldn't be listening to pop music, but the point is that by 1994, I'd had practically no exposure to music videos. (I had seen the one for "We Are the World," which is a story in itself, but let that pass.)

During his campaign to educate me in the ways of the visual media, a friend showed me the videos for "Zombie," by the Cranberries, and "When I Come Around," by Green Day, and then looked at me expectantly for my opinion. Which wasn't forthcoming, as I sat there in stunned silence.

I didn't have an opinion. I had no context for parsing what I'd just seen. I didn't know the conventions of music videos. I didn't know how the images were supposed to relate to the music, and whether it was being done particularly well or at about par or quite poorly. He said he liked the way the various vignettes in the latter video eventually looped around, reflecting the title line. I explained I'd had no way of knowing whether that was typical, clever, or cliché.

All of this by way of explaining that "Zombie" is my Music Advent pick for 1994.

(And, yes, okay, it's actually Tuesday and I've backdated this entry. Hush.)

20 out of 21 Ain't Bad

Back in the late 90s, I worked at the weekly Queens College student newspaper. We put the paper to bed—which is to say, we finished making the master copy to be sent to the printer—on Thursday night. Often, very late on Thursday night. Invariably, we had music playing on the office's boom box. Most of the lineup varied, depending on what CDs people had brought in and felt like playing.

The constant, near the end of the night, was Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes. This is both the reason why I would later buy too many other Tori Amos albums before realizing that I really only liked the one, and the reason why every track on that album—but especially "Crucify" and "Me and a Gun"—brings me back to Thursday nights at the paper. It's my Proustian madeleine.

This got weirder once I found out what "Me and a Gun" was actually about (who was paying attention to lyrics? We had a paper to finish!), but whaddya gonna do. Mental associations are what they are.

And that was yesterday's Music Advent, for 1992. (I wrote the first two sentences yesterday evening, and then stuff happened, and I couldn't work up the wherewithal to finish the entry.)

Today in Music Advent, we're up to 1993, and my pick is "I'll Never Get Over You (Getting Over Me)." There isn't a story to go with this one, I just like it. (Though I did first learn the term "power ballad" while working at that paper, so if you want a narrative connection, there's that.)

I Try to Hide Away

I don't really have anything to say today, either. But here is a video about making glass horses. I strongly recommend you watch all the way to the end:

(Via xkcd.)

Music Advent: 1991. "Fading Like a Flower," by Roxette.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

This is going to be both late and short because I was at this event with My Sister The Graphic Designer, and it ran later than either of us had anticipated. Alas, that is all I can tell you about it.

I am tired, and my feet hurt, and I still have stuff to do.

Music Advent: Why is the world in love again? Why are we marching hand in hand? Why are the ocean levels rising up? It's a brand new record for 1990: They Might Be Giants' brand new album, Flood!

I'm going to resist the call of the more obvious choices and go with "We Want a Rock." Because, really, doesn't everybody want prosthetic foreheads on their real heads?

For your convenience, there is now a YouTube playlist with all my Music Advent picks.

This Bodes Well

I should have known better. I did know better. And yet, when I went to switch healthcare providers on the Obamacare website, I actually thought to myself, "any provider is bound to be better than the HMO I had this past year."


So, a couple days after signing up for the cheapest plan that wasn't totally useless (which I still can't afford, but that's another rant entirely), I get an e-mail:

Thank you for choosing [Redacted] Insurance! Please note that before your benefits can take effect, you must complete your premium payment.

To view your bill, login to your account on our secure system. If you do not already have an online account, simply click the "Register" link at the top of the home page and follow the steps. Once you are registered and login you will be able to view your bill, make your payment, and even set up ongoing withdrawals. I go to the website. There is no "Register" link at the top of the home page. There is, however, a "Sign Up" link. At least it's a synonym.

After choosing a username and password, I need to link my account with the registration made with the ACA system. To do this, I am to enter my Social Security number and my ZIP code. I do this. I get an error. I am told that either I did something wrong, or the ACA information hasn't yet made it to them. This seems odd, in light of the fact that they've e-mailed me, but I decide to wait and see if it works the next day.

It doesn't.

The day after, it still doesn't, and I call them on the phone. Would you like to guess why the site won't accept my input? Go ahead and guess. (You will never guess.)

It turns out that the reason why the site won't accept my input is that when the website says "ZIP code," it means all nine digits of the ZIP+4.

I don't actually know my ZIP+4, but the woman at the call center—having been convinced of my bona fides—helpfully provides it for me. I then discover that if you put a hyphen in the ZIP+4, you get the same generic error message as before. Only if you somehow intuit that the site wants nine digits and only nine digits will the website let you in.

Then on to paying the bill for January, which—among other things—requires that you scroll up to see how much the bill is, and then scroll down to the relevant box so you can type it in again.

This bodes really well, is all I'm saying.

Music Advent: 1989. Well, this one is obvious.


I mean, you can't deny that it's from 1989.

Okay. Fine. The Bangles, then, with "Eternal Flame."

Once a Debhead...

My Soylent arrived yesterday! I appear to be among the last people to receive version 1.2. On the other hand, they were on version 1.0 when I placed my order, so whatever.

On first try, it's not bad? Faintly reminiscent of Carnation Instant Breakfast, just without the added flavor. (I just might add some chocolate syrup tomorrow.) Slightly gritty mouthfeel. The manual recommends not jumping straight into having Soylent be all you consume, so I stuck to one cup today. (Plus I went a nearby coworking space to get some work done—you'd know the place better as "Burger King"—and the rent there is a Whopper...)

Fans of Darlene Love might like this post.

Music Advent: 1988. My mid-90s self would find a way of inventing a time machine, going to the future, and strangling me if I didn't choose a Debbie Gibson track either today or tomorrow. Let's do it today. The only question is which song.

(Aside: my mid-90s self would have called her "Deborah," but times have changed, and she's since given up and embraced the stage name.)

As it happens, 1998 was the year WQHT (then Hot 103) and WYNY (then Country 97) switched places on the radio dial. I was listening on two radios. The final song on Hot 103—which was moving to the better spot on the dial—was Debbie Gibson's "Staying Together." The first song on Hot 97 was M/A/R/R/S's "Pump Up the Volume." I probably would not remember this if knowing those facts hadn't been the basis of a promotion that night, and if I weren't a fan of both songs. "Staying Together" would be a good choice, if a bit of a curveball, but instead I'm going to go with the ballad.

With "Foolish Beat," Gibson became the youngest person in history to write, perform, and produce a #1 single. The record has yet to be broken.

Holiday Songs II: Chanukah

On to Chanukah songs.

I can't think of any Chanukah songs I hate per se, but I got really sick of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song" in the 90s. It was great the first time, still funny the next couple times, but then it got so overplayed. Radio stations used it over and over and over again as their one token Chanukah song to offset all the Christmas music.

Over on the good side... Safam's "Judah Maccabee" is fun. I'm even more fond of Miami Boys Choir's "V'achar Kein," which has a bouncy martial beat appropriate for a holiday centered around a military victory. (Alas, that one's not online anywhere I can link to.)

But if I have to pick one track, the choice is clear: Amudei Shaish Boys Choir's recording of "Al Hanisim," from their first double album. (The guy who uploaded it to YouTube dates it to 1980. I would have guessed late '70s, but the album jacket doesn't say—it's more concerned with extolling the name of founder, producer, and director Shmuel Borger—so who knows.)

It is so wonderfully overproduced. The futuristic laser sound effects! The explosions!

(The entire double album is good stuff. On the other hand, avoid at all costs the 2006 compilation CD/cash grab The SuperStars of the Amudei Shaish Boys Choir, in which old tracks have been re-edited to highlight and lengthen solos by singers who would later hit it big as grown-ups, to the extreme detriment of the overall arrangements. In the case of the song at hand, Borger also changed all the sound effects, including removing all the explosions. I mean. Why even bother.)

Music Advent: 1987. We're now entering the period in which I started clandestinely listening to pop music. (Clandestinely, because Orthodox Jewish, and I was theoretically one of the good kids.) So many good songs that year, and the choices are only going to get harder for the next few... But I'm going to go with "La Isla Bonita."

Holiday Songs I: Christmas

Apparently the Holidailies prompt back on the 11th was "What is your favorite holiday song (or alternatively, what is the worst holiday song?)"

I'm going to take some liberties with this, and also spin it out to two posts, covering Christmas and Chanukah separately. Let's start with the former, and let's start with the worst.

The worst Christmas songs would be "The Cat Carol" and "The Christmas Shoes." Or so I recall. I have managed to almost entirely blot out my memory of both, and I am taking that as being a good thing. But the fact that I've been able to do so does indicate that neither actually gets much airplay.

So... moving to songs that do get lots of airplay, there are two strong contenders. The first is "Wonderful Christmastime." Almost everything about this song is bad. It ought to be listed in the dictionary under "banal." That it was written by a former Beatle only makes it worse. But ultimately... I have to go with Band-Aid's charity benefit single, "Merry Fucking Christmas."

...sorry, that's actually a link to a song from Mr. Garrison, which I love, because it takes the subtext of Band-Aid's execrable "Do They Know It's Christmas After All?" and drags it out into the open.

As for the best... just over twenty years ago, I was at the mall and wandered into the Sam Goody record store. As it turned out, they were playing Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album, which had just been released. I proceeded to loiter like anything, browsing the music racks over and over for at least the next forty minutes, until they'd looped back around to where I'd come in. It's her best album. (The sequel isn't bad, but it couldn't possibly live up to the first.)

And my favorite track from it is "Joy to the World," a medley of both the major songs of that name. Everything about it works: the arrangement melds pop and spirituality, soaring solo vocals and the gospel choir. I don't know that I can commit to a single best Christmas song, but it's certainly among those at the top.

Music Advent: 1986. This is getting harder. I am going to go with "Livin' on a Prayer."

Inevitable Consequences (Holidailies Triolet XI)

The problem with buying a gallon of nuts
Is they tempt you most strongly to munch 'em.
Because they're right there... but then again, what's
The problem with buying a gallon of nuts?
They're tasty and salty, with protein and such...
But, see, I've just ruined my luncheon.
The problem with buying a gallon of nuts
Is they tempt you most strongly to munch 'em.

(Previous Holidailies Triolet)


(It's actually more like a half-gallon, but hush. I have a poetic license.)

Music Advent: There was Springsteen, Madonna—way before Nirvana—there was U2 and Blondie and music still on MTV... which is to say, we're up to 1985. And it looks like my top choices charted in 1985, but were actually released in 1984, making them ineligible. (You may notice a pattern of lack of preparation here.)

So, fine. This was probably inevitable anyway. Let us go with what Blender magazine dubbed the most awesomely bad song ever. Let us go with "We Built This City."

Food and Suchlike

So today about the only thing I accomplished was a bit of grocery shopping.

I walked to BJs, which is... I dunno, about a fifteen-minute walk, during which time, I hate-listened to the latest episode of Serial. (I like Sarah Koenig well enough, and I think she's doing about as good a job with this sort of show as one might hope for. I'm just deeply unconvinced that this sort of show should be done at all.)

At BJs, I got chicken, cereal, an absurdly large can of peanuts, enough aluminum foil to last me five years, and—optimistically—some frozen vegetables. This got stuffed into a knapsack and tote bag for my trip home via dollar van. (Actually $1.50, but the nomenclature ignores inflation.)

Chicken is nice, I will grant you, but I don't think it's making for much of a fascinating entry.

In other news, I placed an order for a week's supply of Soylent back on June 18th. At the time, they were expecting a delay of 8-10 weeks for delivery. That turned out to be hugely optimistic; I just got notified today that it's being shipped, and will arrive next week. The good news—should it turn out that I like the stuff and somehow achieve a steady income, neither of which are givens—is that they say that once you're in the system, reorders are much faster. The current delays are because they're trying to gradually add new people into the juggling pattern. Also, they say I will be among the first people to try the new-and-improved Soylent 1.3 formula. So there's that!

(If you are not familiar with Soylent, it's a concoction designed to have a day's supply of nutrients and calories. So, all the scientific benefits of food without the hassle of cooking or deciding what to eat or whatever. Reactions span the spectrum from those who find that notion appealing to those who find it horrific. I'm much closer to the former. I believe I first heard of it from Ars Technica's August 2013 series about it. It's since gotten more coverage, notably on the Colbert Report. And, yes, if I had green food coloring on hand, I would totally add it.)

...and, hey, Elaine, I think I've passed 400 words!

Music Advent: 1984. I'm gonna go with "Time After Time," because it turns out "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" was actually released as a single in 1983. And as a bonus, here's Cyndi Lauper singing to David Letterman about lactose intolerance.

Ukulele, Small and Fierceful

So today I went to post a link to a nifty strum-along ukulele website on MetaFilter, and then I started adding supplementary links, and next thing I knew, I'd ended up with a ukulele megapost.

I keep thinking of links I left out of it (Dr. Uke! How did I leave out Dr. Uke?), but I suppose that there's more than enough there already.

Incidentally, if you're interested in taking up the ukulele—or if possibly you think somebody else might want one this holiday season—I endorse the Kala Makala Dolphin uke. It's what I'm playing in all my videos. You can find better ones, but they will cost significantly more money. You can find cheaper ones, but they won't be as good. And they come in a rainbow of colors!

Also, get a clip-on tuner. You can find 'em for less than ten bucks at your local music store... or even cheaper on eBay, if you don't mind waiting for shipping from China or Hong Kong.

For best results, swap the stock strings for a set of Aquila Nylaguts. Note that new strings will go out of tune every few minutes for a week or so. This is normal. Just keep retuning 'em. They will settle down in time.

Music Advent: 1983. Really, the only question is which Flashdance song? And the answer is "Maniac."

Offbeat Rejects

I have not yet received my own copy, but I gather that my latest almanac is now on the shelves! It makes an excellent stocking stuffer if you happen to have extremely large feet.

One of the bits I'm responsible for in there is the annual Offbeat News page. This was a particular challenge this year. What usually happens is that my boss and I each compile files of offbeat things in the news in the course of the year. Sometime in August, we trade files and come to a consensus about which items will make the cut, after which I research further and write them up.

This year, most of the items in both of our files were pretty meh. There were a few standouts—and you can read all about them on page 49—but mostly we had a bunch of stories that were minor variations on things we'd seen before, and stories which had a feature that would make for a cute headline, but nothing beyond that.

(We both started to wonder whether we were just getting jaded. It turned out, no. Immediately after I finished the section, we saw story after story after story that would have made the cut if they hadn't happened in October.)

On a whim, I threw together an "odds and ends (mostly odds)" piece consisting of a quick rundown of many of the stories that didn't make the cut, and submitted it for possible inclusion. As I said at the time, "Now I know how the 'Findings' section of Harper's Magazine got started."

We ended up not using it—and just as well—but I submit it now for your reading pleasure:

In Feb., Japan's noted deaf composer Mamoru Samuragochi was found to be neither deaf, nor the real composer of his most famous works. The 1981 Human League song "Don't You Want Me" hit #1 on the Scottish music charts Mar. 23, after fans of an Aberdeen FC midfielder rewrote the lyrics to "Peter Pawlett Baby."

Forty-two thousand Mazda6 sedans were recalled in Apr. due to spiders weaving webs that blocked engine vents. A Dallas, TX, man owed a free drink at Starbucks brought in a 128-ounce glass May 24, getting a frappuccino with 60 extra espresso shots; he drank it over the course of five days. Florida continued to have trouble counting votes almost fourteen years after Bush v. Gore, reversing the places of Miss Florida and her runner-up a week after the June 21 competition.

Due to a clerical error July 9, "George Carlin Way," a block of W. 121st St. in Manhattan, was accidentally extended to a second block, including a Catholic church that had deemed him unworthy of the honor. The Colorado Rockies gave out 15,000 shirts honoring shortstop Troy Tulowitzki Jul. 26, but misspelled it "Tulowizki."

Also in July, pine tree in Los Angeles planted in memory of George Harrison was killed by an infestation of beetles, delighting headline writers across the nation, and Venezuelan "anti-imperialists" released a new typeface based on Hugo Chavez's handwriting. A Kickstarter to "make potato salad" raised $55,492; much of the money went toward "PotatoStock," a giant party in Columbus, OH, Sept. 27, with leftover proceeds going to nonprofits to feed the hungry.

Music Advent: 1982. I think this is the first cover song I've selected. The original was released by Gloria Jones in 1965, as a B-side to "My Bad Boy's Comin' Home." And that version is fine. But it took Soft Cell to make "Tainted Love" a hit. (It was released in 1981 in the UK, but came to the States in '82.) If Doctor Who is to be believed, it is a song that will be played just before our planet is destroyed. There are worse possible legacies.

Elaine is going to be disappointed again.

Was v. busy today. Successfully returned two term papers to their respective writers. Which is good! But it doesn't leave me with much wherewithal for writing journal entries.

(Also, I feel guilty billing grad students. They are not exactly a demographic noted for disposable incomes. This is probably something I need to get over, given my own situation just now, but...)

Music Advent: 1981. Sheena Easton releases "Morning Train (Nine to Five)" in the U.S. It had been called "9 to 5" on its original 1980 U.K. release, but in the interim Dolly Parton had a hit song with that name. Regardless... if wholeheartedly loving this song is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.

(Okay, fine, yes, the lyrics are... not great. Shut up. Sometimes you just want a supremely cheesy song with a killer hook. And this is one of those pop songs where I wish I knew enough music theory to understand why it works the way it does.)

Hot in Herre

A song for the steam heat in my apartment, which has been making it very hard to get much done. (But I have multiple deadlines hitting all at once. It's a challenge!)

(In fact, I have one more deadline than I thought I had when I started this entry, because darned if the person I wrote about yesterday didn't revise their paper based on my queries and send it back over.)

Music Advent: 1980. There's no question here. "Hell Is for Children," by Pat Benatar. I love this song; it implies that somebody got out to tell the tale. (I even made the mistake of trying to sing it at my first time at karaoke. And thus I learned the paramount importance of choosing songs that fit your vocal range.)

As a bonus—in part because I've been choosing these as I go along, and thus have been neglecting the big picture, which helps explain why I haven't chosen a single Harry Chapin song—here's Benatar at a tribute concert for Chapin, with a somewhat surprising introduction.


Things They Don't Teach You In Copyediting Class: How to tell someone who's just hired you to copyedit their term paper that, having looked it over, there turn out to be so many problems with the actual content (or lack of same) that it would be a waste of their money to have the grammar and such fixed. It would be like getting a new coat of paint on a car to ready it for sale, when it's missing two doors and an engine.

Bonus points: the paper is due in three days, and working on said content is outside your purview. (I did provide a bunch of queries to point them in the right direction, but...)

I have terrible bedside manner. Also, I'm used to dealing with companies, not grad students. I can't help but wonder if another editor would have and could have found a more constructive way of dealing with the situation.

In short, I am tired and cranky today.

Meanwhile, the steam heating in my apartment finally kicked in again this afternoon, so local conditions have gone from "bundle up" to "strip down" on the way to "sauna."

Music Advent: 1979 is a two-fer.

We start with "My Sharona," by the Knack, surely worth the listen all on its own. It's fun, it's catchy, it's got a good beat you can dance to. They wrote and performed a good song. But they also performed a service to humanity by giving Weird Al his second big break. (First honors go to Dr. Demento.)

"My Bologna" was famously recorded in a public restroom on Al's college's campus, because the acoustics were good. Dr. Demento picked it up. That might have been that, but the Knack liked the parody, and got their record label, Capitol Records, to release Al's version as a single. It was an early indication that maybe this comedy music thing could be a viable career path.


I said yesterday that "if I were transcribing what's actually on my mind this year, every entry would consist of 'I need a full-time job' repeated eleventy-billion times." That was... true, but incomplete. What's actually on my mind is a round in four-part harmony. "I need a full-time job" is one part; it's joined by "I am a complete failure," "There are things I need to be doing right now," and a repetition of "I am a complete failure."

Playing the ukulele or catching up on Twitter or MetaFilter can keep all that at bay for a bit, but they inevitably lead back to "There are things I need to be doing right now / I am a complete failure." (In a way, my ukulele progress could be taken as evidence of all the time I've wasted in the past year.)

I got a referral to a therapist a few months ago, but first I was busy with Almanac Season, and now I can't afford it anyway, so, meh.

Music Advent: 1978. I was going to go with Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Blue Bayou," but it turns out that that was a 1977 release. If I'd realized that, I'd probably have gone with it yesterday, and done an ABBA song another day, but oh well. (Clearly, I have not been planning these ahead.)

But that's okay, because it was only ahead of today's choice by a whisker. I give you Barry Manilow's masterpiece, "Copacabana (At the Copa)." How can you not love a song that embraces cheesy melodrama to the extent of asking "but just who shot who?" before making you wait through the chorus? It's impossible.

Ukulele Progress

The one and only area in which I've made measurable progress in the past year is playing the ukulele. (Maybe two, if you count losing some weight since mid-summer, but I think that owes more to my going on blood-pressure meds than anything else I've done.)

At this point last year, any song with a B or B-flat chord was a song I'd automatically be transposing to a safer key. This is no longer the case! In fact, the song I posted the other day about my birthday has a section in which I have to keep switching back and forth between B-flat and D-minor... which is a pain, but I managed it!

That said, I still have a long way to go. The art of barring a chord has totally eluded me this far. Also, it seems that I can manage to (a) play the chords of a song, (b) employ strumming patterns more complicated than four down-strums per bar, (c) sing a song, (d) remember the chords of a song, (e) remember the lyrics of a song, and (f) do any of the above in front of other people... but I can manage only about three of those at the same time.

(I'm not sure any of this is of general interest, but, honestly, if I were transcribing what's actually on my mind this year, every entry would consist of "I need a full-time job" repeated eleventy-billion times.)

Music Advent: 1977. By this point, you may be expecting me to go with "Da Doo Ron Ron," but, no.

I almost chose "Dancing Queen," which was released as a single in 1977, but I decided that probably I should confine myself to just one ABBA song... in which case, that one has to be "Thank You for the Music." (The single wasn't released until 1983, when it served as the group's swan song, but I'm going with the album here. Or should I say, The Album.)

A Short Entry Is Better Than No Entry?

So Peter Pan Live happened.

I suppose it's kind of nice to have something in the news to complain about in which nobody actually died. Just as a change of pace.

Music Advent: we're up to 1976, and I'm finding it impossible to resist the temptation of choosing "Disco Duck," This is a song that knows exactly what kind of song it wants to be, and it achieves it. It's goofy, it's silly, and to the extent that it's a satire of the genre, it's a good-natured one. Long live Disco Duck.

They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright

Elaine has thrown down the gauntlet, so I kind of have to update.

But I don't know that I have much to write about! I've spent the entire day in my apartment, except for a short trip to the mailbox downstairs, which was empty. I did some editing, cooked and ate some food, practiced the ukulele a bit, and sent out two more job applications that probably won't be replied to.


So instead, here's a report from this past October, adapted from an e-mail I wrote at the time.

Back in late summer, My Sister the Graphic Designer and I found that while we'd seen Matilda on Broadway last year, we both wanted to see it again. She checked with the rest of the family, and ended up with a plan for six people to go to the show: the two of us, two more sisters, one sister-in-law, and one 13-year-old niece. (The niece was the only one of the bunch who didn't actually know the plan, only that the gang was going to Manhattan for unspecified reasons.) That was the plan.

I left the office at my seasonal job and walked the thirteen blocks to meet them, and found that—for unexpected logistical reasons—my sister-in-law had brought her one-year-old son. She did so in the endearingly naive belief that you can take a one-year-old to a Broadway show, and simply take him out if he starts acting up.

Turns out? You cannot!

After some failed bargaining and a hurried sideline consultation, it was decided that I and My Sister the Graphic Designer would take the baby and sit the show out, while the other four would go ahead and see it. After all, the two of us had both already seen the show once, and we were the two in the best position to see it again some other day. (The sister-in-law in question lives in Toronto.)

The box office gave us a letter to the effect of "this is your fault; we don't have to do anything for you; but out of the goodness of our hearts, we may let you use your tickets on a later date. Call us the day of the show, and pray that we have open seats available." And someday we will try to use it, but the opportunity has not yet arisen.

With two and a half hours to kill, we ended up going to the bowling alley across the street. I bowled something like an 80. I wasn't really keeping track; we were mostly concerned with keeping the baby happy. We definitely had more fun in the second game, when we realized we could turn the bumpers on.

(Don't ask what it costs to bowl in the heart of Broadway / Times Square. You really don't want to know.)

After that, we went two doors down to the Guitar Center that had recently opened there. It had good air conditioning. I confirmed that they had no banjoleles in stock, and then my brother (father of the child) showed up to assist, upon which we wandered around the area for about 40 minutes until the show got out.

On the whole, it was not the night I'd envisioned, but it wasn't a terrible one either.

I'm up to 1975 on Music Advent, and I'm going to go with what seems the obvious choice: "Bohemian Rhapsody," a song that manages to work despite being thoroughly ridiculous. It's also a song that ought to be banned from all karaoke venues, because it's six minutes long, it includes multiple interminable instrumental solos, and you're not Freddie Mercury. (I will allow an exemption for large groups.)

Catching Up on Ukulele Videos

It occurs to me that I never did update this journal with any of the ukulele videos I've made since last December. (It also occurs to me that doing so would help me make my post quota. Score!) There have been six, and you can find them on my YouTube channel for such things.

In particular, this includes two wholly original songs. The first was written for my birthday in May, and expresses my feelings on the subject:

The second is my attempt at writing a blues song. Kind of.

(In both cases, if you click through to view it on YouTube, the lyrics are in the description.)

In Music Advent, we're up to 1974. I waffled on this one, but I'm going to go with Terry Jacks' cover of "Seasons in the Sun." Because I live in a state of perpetual earwormage, and because I have have a propensity toward musical masochism/sadism. Bad songs can be fun!

Also, it gives me an excuse to link to Coverville episode 559, with another seven versions of the song, from the Jacques Brel original to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Here We Go Again

As you can see from the sidebar on the left—if you are reading this in 2014 and there is such a sidebar; one of the reasons I dislike dynamically generated websites is that such things are mutable—I have not done well at Holidailies in this incarnation of my online journal. The high-water mark is 2012, when I updated a full 17 out of 31 days.

It's not just me. Even the Holidailies site—if you are still reading this in 2014, and have not been scared off by that ludicrously long aside in the first sentence (seriously, what is up with that?)—simply says

Holidailies 2014 participants try to update their personal websites consistently -- perhaps even daily -- from December 1, 2014 to January 1, 2015.

It used to say

Participants must promise that they will try reallyreally hard to update their Web sites every day in from December 7, 2004, to January 6, 2005. What with holiday obligations and all, this realistically means you might post a minimum of 20 entries for the month.
and even that was a compromise from earlier wordings, I think. (I see I managed 24 entries that year.)

But here goes nothing.

My name is—if you are reading this during an archive binge after finding this site via a link from my obituary, then you may substitute "was"—Shmuel. I've been keeping this journal for almost 16 years now, though only sporadically for most of that run. I live in Jersey City. I am still an underemployed copyeditor. I am now officially living on borrowed time; if matters don't change really soon, I will need to downgrade "underemployed" to "homeless" or worse. As you might imagine, I am kind of preoccupied with this, and sending out lots of job applications (most of which disappear into the void), and veering between panic and despair.

This is obviously going to be a very cheerful month, if you're reading it as it happens.

...on the other hand, I also play the ukulele, so there's that.

Stacey's entry today features something called "Music Advent"; apparently, the 2014 edition consists of posting a song a day, one from each successive year, starting with the year of your birth. (I suppose anybody under 25 years of age needs to be psychic to fully participate.)

The #1 song the day I was born was "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando. One could do worse!

(25 years later, I would write a parody version about "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I'll spare you the lyrics.)

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2013 is the previous archive.

December 2015 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.