February 2006

My wife officially wins the award for “best idea of the year so far” with her suggestion to get a piece of exercise equipment just after the start of the year. As mentioned in a previous post, we ended up getting an elliptical trainer just over a month ago and instead of largely sitting around for the winter months (like I did last year), I’ve been using it 4 or 5 nights a week at forty minutes a pop.

We’ve had it almost exactly a month now and I haven’t lost any weight. I mainly just hover within 2 pounds of 195, never going over 200 and never under 190. I’ve also managed to gain quite a bit of definition in my arms, shoulders, and legs and through my torso in general. The cardiovascular workouts are really nice, but challenging. I’ve never been one to want to put on a lot of muscle weight, so it’s just about the right workout for me.

I’m a little curious about one thing, though, and I haven’t had much luck finding a straight answer on the any websites. I wonder if there’s any sort of general rules about how many calories it’s safe to burn in a certain time period, and if there’s any sort of limit as to what’s unhealthy. I know that it’s not exact, but in the past three nights of 40 minute workouts, I’ve burnt 920, 926, and 943 calories respectively (or so the machine says, based on difficulty settings and my entered weight). I’m basically just trying to figure out if that’s normal or not. Anyone know?

Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace Consider The Lobster was the fifth book (and coincidentally the fifth book I’ve read this year) that I’ve read by David Foster Wallace. Because I’m a wimp, I still haven’t tackled either of his true novels (Broom Of The System or Infinite Jest). Perhaps someday I will.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy his collections of shorter pieces, whether they be fiction or non-fiction. I plowed through Oblivion and like most of his work I found it to be somewhat frustrating at times yet amazing at others, which is why I always seem to come back to his work. Even when he frustrates me, he manages to keep me interested.

Anyway, Consider The Lobster is a collection of his non-fiction work from the past six years or so, and it contains everything from book reviews to a long piece on John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. For those that find DFWs fiction work a bit too obtuse, they can rest easy knowing that his non-fiction is almost completely the opposite. Sure, there are places where he seems to revel in the craft itself more than the storytelling, and one story in particular (the closing one of the book) seems to rely a smidge too much on gimmicky arrowed subnotes, but overall this is a great collection of work that’s highly enjoyable to read. Even his sharp-witted criticism of a new John Updike book (which I hadn’t read (and had no intention of reading)) kept me engrossed.

Basically, if you enjoyed A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, you most likely won’t go wrong here. Easily one of the most fascinating writers practicing the craft today.

Talking Heads Dualdisc BrickLike any person who listened to the radio heavily in the 1980s, I heard a lot of the Talking Heads. Of course, the songs that were played on the radio are the tracks that everyone knows, and I think that by age 14, I knew most of the words to “Psycho Killer,” “Once In A Lifetime,” “Burning Down The House,” “Wild Wild Life,” and “She Was.” Beyond that, I didn’t know a whole lot about the group, other than that Saturday Night Live did a sorta funny spoof of the twitchy movement of David Byrne wearing far too large of a suit (with goofy vocals to match).

In college, I really started to explore music more, and for some reason I seemed to skip right by the group in favor of music that seemed (to me anyway) a lot more current. I went head over heels for early Warp Records releases by Black Dog, Autechre, and Aphex Twin, but I still managed to fill in on different things that I’d missed as well, with a little help from college friends of mine that were a little more “in the know” than I was at the time.

By the time I’d graduated from college, I’d heard most of the records by the Talking Heads, a couple of them enough times to form opinions on which albums were my favorite, along with particular songs that jumped out at me from each release. Even then, though, I didn’t find myself stalking up on their releases, relegating the group to a double-tape “best of” compilation that eventually found itself permanently lodged in a shoebox as my CD collection grew and grew.

Last year, almost out of the blue I suddenly decided that I should give the group another solid listen. My wife had a couple of their CDs, and when I listened to them, I started to hear things that I hadn’t heard before, even though the production quality of the albums somewhat bugged me. There was something in their music that was drawing me in, I couldn’t deny it. I picked up a couple more of their CDs and then heard rumors of a full re-release of their work (beyond the odd-shaped box set that was already released last year).

Late last year, the Talking Heads Dualdisc dropped onto the market, and being both a sucker for fancy packaging and boxsets in general, I added it to my list of things I should buy. This week, I finally purchased the box set and in the time that I’ve been listening to it, I’ve had one of those mini epiphanies that one sometimes get when they rediscover something they feel like they didn’t give a fair shake the first time around.

First off, the problems I had with the production of the group have been completely erased due to remastering. All the releases sound great, with punchier bass and sharper beats that no longer have the sort of thin feel that their original releases. Synth parts are juicy when they need to be and a bit brittle and cold when needed. Basically, the discs sound fantastic, with 5.1 surround mixes that I have yet to fully hear with my living room setup (although they sound great on a 2 speaker system as well).

And then there’s all the things that I heard before, but didn’t seem to appreciate as much as I have with this second chance. The group mixes world beat with synth pop and rock and avant garde bits with crazy polyrhythms and interesting and unique vocal harmonies. Basically, they were a bunch of art school friends that sorta slammed together a bunch of different musical genres and ideas and came out the other end with something catchy and amazing.

Another nice thing about the re-releases is all the bonus material they include. I haven’t gotten to all (or even close to) the videos on the DVD portions of the dual-sided discs, but some of the early performances of the group are highly entertaining and the liner notes in each of the discs (including hand-scribbled lyrics and ideas, extended notes from band members, and extra photos) are all nice added bonuses for either fans of the group or someone (like me) who’s looking to learn some more about the group I seemed to pass over the first go-around.

If that weren’t enough, you get bonus tracks on the discs as well, including my favorite, an instrumental precursor track called “Right Start” that morphed into “Once In A Lifetime.” After listening to all the discs again, I have to admit that I’m not a monstrous fan of their last three albums (at least to the extent that I am their first five), but that said, there’s still great songs on each of the last three releases, and the first five discs (including my favorite, Remain In Light) pretty much make up for that.

This is one of those releases that makes it fun to re-discover a group again, simply because it sounds so great and has so many extras. Granted, it’s a bit on the expensive side, but I’ve already listened to the discs enough to make it more than worth it.

For a good part of the morning and the beginning of my afternoon, I listened to the hearing with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. As the questioning wore on, I heard lots of talking around the issue and outright lies, and after awhile it simply wore me down and I had to tune it out and put on some music.

It’s only early in the year, but I’m starting to feel the same sort of post-2004 election burnout that I had after Bush was re-elected. In the months following, I tried to stay engaged by reading a slew of political books (from which I actually learned a great deal), but finally reached a breaking point at some undetermined time and had to escape to other pursuits almost completely.

I think I’m back to that level of disgust again now, and in order to stay sane I’m going to have to voluntarily attempt to sever some ties with my usual daily intake. Some have already coined the phrase “outrage fatigue,” and I would say that’s a definition that fits my situation pretty well. Granted, I’m not going to be able to simply stop and go cold turkey (you can pry my thinkprogress.org from my cold, dead hands), but I am going to have to chill out a bit in the next couple months if I don’t want to have a meltdown before the elections this November.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus a bit on other things and try not to let myself get so wrapped up in all the sordid details and specifics of every single committee and investigation. I just end up getting my hopes up and nothing seems to every change or come to fruition anyway. I haven’t given up the fight, I’m just going to stop being such an absorber of micro-details. If something big happens, I’m still going to hear about it, but a little buffer isn’t going to hurt at all.

I’m currently about 5/7ths of the way through my current book, and with any luck I should be able to finish it up this week some time. I have another book in the queue after that, and possibly one more arriving soon from an online purchase that I may or may not want to push to the top of the pile.

I’m one of those people who likes to plan my reading in advance (just so I can get excited about what’s coming next), so I want to ask for book idea suggestions from people. Because this is The Year Of Non-Fiction (a choice I made before beginning 2006), I ask you to please recommend titles in that genre only.

Basically, I just want to read about real experiences this year, whether they be personal essays or something more learning-based. Please, recommend away!

JunebugAfter our last experience with an independent film from a first-time director (see Thumbsucker), I think I had some apprehension going into is another independent film from a first-time director, so I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed Junebug. The story itself was fairly simple, basically a culture clash story where the main character comes back his roots after a long time away and the resulting weirdness.

In addition to all the performances in the film being great (Amy Adams is nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress), the film moves with sort of an unassuming air that works perfectly. It doesn’t play anything for laughs and also seems very nonjudgemental towards all the different characters, which was very refreshing.

At first, some of the motivations and actions of the different characters seem like they might be a little misguided or simply done for dramatic effect, but as the film progresses, all the neurosis and quirks and emotional instabilities seem to fall into place and everything seems to make sense. The film touches on everything from education to religion to socio-economic classes, but does so in delicate ways and subtle ways and in doing so resonates even more powerfully. It’s one of those films that creates tension through peeling back different layers and doesn’t rely on gimmicks.

This is easily one of the better films I’ve seen lately. Highly recommended.

It was pointed out to me today that this blog looks wick-wack in Safari, so I checked it out when I got home and indeed it is screwed-up looking. I looked through my CSS and code (which validates) and couldn’t find the issue (even after doing some searches for Safari bugs. It seems that the background image for the main content of my page isn’t loading for some reason.

If you’re a web person and you have some idea why this might be happening (the site looks find in IE and Firefox both), drop me an email. I would be very grateful.

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