Sunday, January 25, 2015

Juxtaposer


So, I’m fairly pleased with my graphic exercise in my last post.  I see ample creative pictures on Facebook or other places, often leaving a head-scratching “Who took the time to make that?” – never mind so quickly to keep it current with world events.  For what I had in mind, I didn’t bother searching for a ready-made image.

So, a brief session of searching for the ingredients.  Gollum, holding a ring - and I have to admit that I pretty much pictured this scene before I started looking for it. 

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And a suitable watch or clock face.

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So, how is such a thing done without learning Photoshop?  Well, a $2.99 app on my iPhone will do the trick.  It’s called Juxtaposer, and it’s pretty dang easy (other than finding the images from which you want to make a composite.)  The same company made Color Splash, a selective color desaturater, which I’ve had on my iPhone seemingly forever and used maybe twice.

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So, let’s view it step by step. You’re presented with your layers (there are only 2 available, but you can merge a final image, substitute that for the “Background,” and repeat with a new “Top Image”).

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You touch the layer, and the menu prompts for you to locate the file that you want.

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After finding both layers, this is what you have.

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Clicking the “Top Image” puts it in the primary working space.  As seen below, the image, the Move button allows you to shift the image around and contract or expand it.

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I want just the watch face, so I’ll expand the image thus:

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Then, after clicking the “Erase” button, I swipe my finger across the image and “poof!” it’s gone.

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With continued care, and occasional use of the “Unerase” button to put back what I accidentally erased, I begin to whittle the image away.  It’s fairly easy and doesn’t take much time.  Back to the “Move” button to shrink or rotate the image and size it to fit the ring.  Obviously, I haven’t finished erasing the edges.  Just pretend.

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Now to go to the editing options at the top of the screen.

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A simple slide of the opacity adjustment… 

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… and Gollum is looking through precious time, which seemed appropriate.  After finding the photos, the actual manipulation took maybe 10 minutes, including the learning curve.

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The website describes the features in more detail, though their intended audience is either kids who want to make fun of kids or parents who want to embarrass their kids.  I suppose I’ll get around to the latter, later.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Precious…


Recently, I listened to Dire Straits’ Making Movies, one of my favorite albums from the 80’s, and one that I hadn’t bothered to listen to in quite a while.  Side one includes three excellent songs, “Tunnel of Love,” “Rdire_straits_-_making_movies_-_frontomeo & Juliet,” and “Skateaway.”   Side two was never quite as satisfying, with three very good songs before concluding with an anti-climatic and out of place clunker.  The album has always been a brisk listen, even when I had to flip the album.

I used to drive on business a lot, and the car became my primary “music room,” where I could listen to the music 1) fairly loudly and 2) undisturbed.  And, it was in my car that I was recently  re-experiencing Making Movies in that context.

When I got to “Skateaway,” I was disappointed, not for any lack of appreciation of the song, but because its instrumental introduction had lost something… duration.  The song isn’t short; it clocks in at a generous 6:19.  It’s the intro.  The song begins muted and fades in with cymbals and a breezy beat punctuated by jingling tambourine to create a rhythmic mood.  It’s soon joined by an organ which creates the shape of what is to come before Mark Knopfler kicks in with his restrained fingerpicking flourishes.   Good stuff.  Then, at 35 seconds, the song formally commences when Knopfler begins singing.  I still like the song.  My recollection was that the intro lasted much longer.   It was a worthy intro, one to appreciate for longer than 35 seconds.

Bah, humbug.

So this sets me out to reading the interweb about what smarter people than me are putting forward as to why time seems to tick faster as we get older.  I know time is limited, but when I was younger, the time I spent concentrating on something didn’t just seem more expansive, it allowed me to live within the moment.  It was precious.

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If you want, you can read this.  The key quote which resonates (after searching through many similar articles) is this:

Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text Principles of Psychology, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

Hmm.

Many years later, a more sophisticated version:

[She] suggests that an intake of fresh, unusual experiences — rather than a predictable routine — can trick our brain into once again registering time more slowly, the same way we did as children.

Children have to be extremely engaged (i.e. dedicate many neural resources or significant brain power) in the present moment because they must constantly reconfigure their mental models of the world to assimilate it, and properly behave from within. On the contrary, adults may rarely step outside of their mental habits and external routines. When an adult frequently experiences this overstimulation of the same stimuli, their brain renders it "invisible" because the brain has already sufficiently and effectively mapped those stimuli. This phenomenon is known as neural adaptation. Thus, the brain will record fewer densely rich memories during these frequent periods of disengagement from the present moment. Consequently, the subjective perception of time often passes by at a faster rate with age.

Maybe.  Or, maybe I just need to disengage my critical thinking and absorb the experience more.

I was recently introducing my daughter to The Who’s “Eminence Front,” another prime example for a fantastic music intro, but one that is more satisfying at almost a full two minutes before the vocals begin, has much more time to deliver.  And, with a common denominator in these two songs, it’s easy for me to recognize that 1) I tend to listen frequently to songs with great intros, 2) many of these are keyboard based (I’m far more of a guitar fan), 3) there are varying types of intros.

First, there is the type of intros above, which establish a feel or a mood that becomes the essence of the remainder of the song.   Others in this vain include Led Zeppelin’s haunting “No Quarter,” The Verve’s aptly titled “Bittersweet Symphony,” Guns N’ Roses bona fide rock ‘n roller “Sweet Child of Mine,” Steve Winwood’s ultra groovy “ Night Train,” Dire Straits wonderfully indulgent “Telegraph Road,”  and others.   A common denominator is that these songs sound great loud, as in loud enough to hear the quiet parts above the road noise… if you were in a car.

Second would be songs where the intro is more of it’s own musical piece but is revisited occasionally in the song.  The Temptation’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is a great example.  The intro is a fully realized piece, but it’s not the foundation for the song.  A pitfall of this tactic is Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” whose intro is revisited as a gorgeous refrain that only reminds the listener that someone spliced the wrong song around it.

Third, there are songs whose introductions take a bow before yielding to something largely unrelated.  Sometimes, the artist gives it a proper name.  Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time” includes a pulse quickening rocker before taking a breath and settling down to a mere foot stomping rocker.   Alan Parsons Project irritates in that “Sirius” is a great intro to “Eye in the Sky,” but it is listed as a separate track and doesn’t hold its own water.   There’s an abundance of progressive rock songs that fall into this category; I’d rank Renaissance’s “Song for All Seasons” as a resplendent  exemplar.

For those who bother to download Spotify, I’ve grouped the songs accordingly for your enjoyment.

 

 

 

Please feel free to comment on other songs with great intros!

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Assault on Political Correctness


Let’s start with some terminology.

assault

1. Noun – a sudden, violent attack; onslaught: “an assault on tradition”

2. Verb (used with object) – to make an assault upon; attack, assail.

3. Law – an instance in which a person demonstrates the intent to hurt another and the victim believes that he/she will be hurt.  There is no requirement of actual contact or physical injury, which is why the legal definition is so different than the common English meaning.  There is a subjective element, i.e., that the victim believes that he/she is in danger of immediate harm.

political correctness – “marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues especially race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology. (Dictionary.com).    Or, “Showing an effort to make broad social and political changes to redress injustices caused by prejudice.  It often involves changing or avoiding language that might offend anyone, especially with respect to gender, race, or ethnic background.”

Examples filter across the news seemingly each day of someone or some institution failing the test of political correctness.  As usual, I can’t think of something as I write.  But two come to mind:

1) The revision of any and all instructional materials used to train agents in counter-terrorism, specifically removing any linkage of Islam and terrorism.  It’s true that terrorists act for many reasons.  But, if Muslims are offended at any linkage between the two in recent events, they should look within their faith for solutions.

2) A Catholic student being told to remove the cross pendant she was wearing for fear that it might offend someone.

I don’t need to bore with more examples, I hope.  On the one hand, no one should seek to…

Oh, heck. We interrupt this paragraph for yet another definition:

offendcause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful.

…deliberately offend others.  And, on the other hand we find tolerance, this Age’s queen of ethical conduct, which demands that people not be offended.  Insert your own Charlie Hebdo opinion here as to which side was wrong and which caused the greater harm in societal terms.  I’m not going there.

Tolerancethe ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Toleration is the cure for offending behaviors.  They’re complementary.  They’re both sides of the Coin of Peaceful Coexistence among civilized people/persons/races/etc. who find occasion to disagree.  But, it doesn’t work that way.  Tolerance is not practiced by the movers and shakers of the world, and offenses are not tolerated by the unmoved and unshaken.

There’s a quote I’ve mentioned before, author unknown: “Tolerance is a virtue to those without convictions.”  As pithy as that is, I don’t fully agree with it, but political correctness has hammered into a more observable phrase: “Intolerance is a virtue when others have opposing convictions.” 

It’s really the conviction that’s the problem, isn’t it? 

conviction a firmly held belief or opinion, a feeling of being sure that what you believe or say is true.

I’ll remain focused on religious political correctness, because, I suppose, it’s the least offensive subject that might test the reader’s, eh, tolerance.

God bless America.  Christmas.  One nation, under God.  These archaic terms of an unnecessary or laughable belief system that is endured by the new age masses and sustained only to enrich its leaders and placate the most dimwitted of homo sapiens are on their way out.  Right?

Why? Because both sides have convictions, which is a claim to truth, which, by definition, excludes.  And the seesaw between competing views favors those who by hook, crook, might, judicial appointments, or vocal amplitude and reach claim the opposite pole from meekness, humility, and tolerance.

Okay, folks, lighten up!

All of this is just a preface to some pictures which entertained me on the way to Nashville, TN this week.  I am convicted that these billboards are an assault on political correctness which may offend a subset of those who claim tolerance as their guiding virtue. 

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If I needed a gun and lived in Tennessee, I’d buy from these guys, who not only advertise their wares effectively for their target audience but also raise a (very prominent) middle finger, repeatedly, to those who will hate them for it.  No offense.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sean McConnell – Live @ Eddie’s Attic


A friend asked me to go see a concert.  It would, of course, be better to say a free concert, but $15, as concerts go, is close enough.  And it was at Atlanta’s “legendary” Eddie’s Attic, a cool place to listen to a show. 

My friend volunteered to work with a church youth group a good number of years ago, and one of the kids was friends with Sean McConnell.  So there’s the connection, because I hadn’t heard of the guy.  Although there was no real consideration of a return favor, because I like going to concerts, the same friend did go with me to a Jason Isbell show years ago, who he was unfamiliar with.  So there’s that. 

Anyway, let’s just say the nearly two hour commute from Woodstock to Decatur was the steepest price paid for the night. 

Opening acts… you never know what you’re going to get, but rarely are they bad.  This was Statesboro’s own, Scotty Cram.  Scotty grew up with a father that likes Motown, and as a result of talent and some work, he’s one of the palest soul singers ever, his voice reaching an octave or two above his speaking voice.  Enjoyable and artist perhaps on the rise, though a website would be a start.

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So, I said yes to this concert without listening to the artist.  In the previously mentioned 2 hour commute, my friend had a couple of McConnell’s early CDs, one of which was likely while he was a teenager, “Faces.”  Maybe it was the car stereo that was set to Treble only or maybe the recording just suffered from funding, but I wasn’t so impressed, though “Running From the Devil” was interesting, and he has an unpretentious way of writing that speaks of faith without hammering it.  Whatever.  That was like 2001.

And now he’s playing for an almost packed Eddie’s Attic.  Where an artist comes from isn’t really something that I think about.  Sure, maybe a State or the U.K., but not local.  And here’s McConnell, singing about Trickum Road.  Well, yeah.  If you’re going to pick a street name in my vicinity, that one begs to be included in a song.   

Now Nashville based, McConnell has been at the music business for over a decade, and though he doesn’t possess an audience between songs, he shares enough to illuminate enough about himself and his path to make the songs more personal.

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The songs I liked the best were probably “Save Our Soul” and “Novocaine,” not because they’re lyrically great, but rather because they move musically.  Too often, McConnell remains on the same fret which brings a certain “sameness” to too many of his songs, as earnest as they are.

On the other hand, it’s obvious he does pay careful attention to his lyrics, and that’s really the challenge of a self described “optimistic troubadour.”  When you choose to be a singer/songwriter for a living, I can only imagine the pressure to turn a pithy lyrical phrase that will nail an audience.

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And he seems to be getting better at it.  His voice is richer, he sings in varying styles, and the  new songs he previewed spoke to a deliberate effort to raise the bar lyrically.  If he could pick up a few guitar licks from the pessimistic troubadour, James McMurtry, he’d leapfrog a year or three of gradual growth.

It was a really good show, and I’d go see him again.  Below is his latest CD, which detours from the personal acoustic set as he’s accompanied by a full band.  There’s merit in both.  There’s a lot to like here, such as “Kiss” and “Lord it’s Gonna Rain.”   He’s definitely growing a sense of vibe.

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

I Found Santa


For many years, it was a goofy tradition but one that we lost possibly due to disinterest, being busy, or… heck?  Where’s Santa?

Rescued from maw of the unyielding “junk drawer of all idle things,” he deserved a more comfortable rest.

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And, so it begins, where I place Santa someplace for my wife to find him, then it’s her turn, etc. 

Well, here he is in action. Hanging out in the jewelry cabinet, likely to be opened soon for a planning evening out.

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Hard to miss this one.

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Or this one.

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Sometimes, he has a challenge of finding his balance, but he manages.

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Knowing your spouse’s tendencies can help.

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Or staying current with illness symptoms.

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Sometimes, there’s humor, such as a Santa holding a bell pointing to a bigger one.

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Here, Santa is about to be squashed under a recently arrived package from the Big River that 1) has supplanted his sleigh and 2) will need to be opened as it contains a present.  Poor Santa.  He looks a little concerned, frankly.  As he should, after having spent two days in the fridge.

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After such a crushing experience… things don’t get better.

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He’s very pliable in doing what we want him to do, at least.

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Christmas comes and goes, and so Santa is once again placed in the maw, although one not quite so deep.

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There is a Mrs. Claus as well, whereabouts unknown.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yazoo Brewing – Nashville, TN


Finding myself in Nashville on a Wednesday night without work related obligations, I sorted through my brewery options.  There’s quite a number, and many look interesting.

However, the one that was open on a Wednesday was Yazoo Brewing, a mainstay of the area.

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The Taproom is open 4 hours and advertised a tour.  I arrived to find only about 10 people, but the crowd grew in size later while I was on the tour.

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While waiting for the tour to begin, I first sampled for a full pint of their Hop Project, aptly titled as they change the hop variety with each batch.  This was an adequate IPA and one that left me wondering if they just tweak the formula or if earlier generations were significantly better.  A drinkable beer but a disappointment to begin the tasting.

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I can’t think of another brewery where pints are served per drink and they charge for a tour.  In my experience, tours are either free or there is a charge which includes a pint glass and tickets or other allotment to a certain volume of beer.

In any case, $8 bought the tour, which included a small snifter, an unusual choice for a brewery that doesn’t delve deeply into Belgians or advanced hops.

During the tour, three beers were provided, poured from  growlers that the guide brought with him.  Below is their Pale Ale, aptly named and a decent beer for the style.  The “founding” was told, from home brew, to hard work, to good timing, to decent market share in Nashville, with a distribution into MS.  Still, it seems like Yazoo Brewing belongs in Mississippi… It annoys me in the way that Jekyll Brewing in suburban Atlanta should be located on Jekyll Island in southeast Georgia.  Still, if it means something to the owner… then there it is.

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Samples also included the Dos Perros, with Mexican influences including maize.  No thank you.  Also provided was their Hefeweizen, a style that I avoid but was actually very drinkable for the style.

As usual, there’s not much to see in the brewery.  Stainless steel tanks, with the basic gist of what happens in each.

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A little detour from the usual was one of the patrons who observed that the bottles were exiting the bottling machine without their caps on.  This is a problem.  The idea is that you want to pour the beer and immediately cap the bottle to prevent contamination.  So, for whatever reason, a dozen or so bottles emerged before they could halt the line.

What that means for a tour group is the result:  More free beer!  This was their Winter Scottish Ale, which was a fine mild beer but nothing remarkable.

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Here’s what happens to those bottles that don’t get capped properly.  Out they go into the drain.  (So they may as well be handed out, eh?)

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Somewhat perturbed not to find a remarkable beer, I asked one of the bar tenders what she felt was their best… and received their Sly Rye Porter.  This was slightly more spicy than I had expected and lacked the richness I had hoped for.  Again, not a miss, but not a hit, either. 

That’s the fun about all these craft beers.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions.  Yazoo, named for a river in Mississippi where the owner had lived, obviously has their following.  For me, it was just a miss of my favored styles and a sameness that either doesn’t differentiate from other breweries or, when it does, doesn’t help.  The Hefe, though, was good.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Car Hood Needed Repainting

 

So, I’m driving along on a Saturday night, on a divided highway with three lanes going each way.  There’s plenty of cars.  In fact, I’m in the middle lane, and having just left a stop light, the car to my left is slightly ahead, and the car to my right is slightly behind.  We’re up to about 40 mph, which is legal.

WHAM!

There was the briefest observation of a deer head illuminated by my front left headlight, followed by a loud noise and a pretty hefty bump as the left side of my car lifted but didn’t quite get airborne.  Oh, and there’s that airbag in my chest along with the wonderful odor of the gases and particulates that inflated it.  For a system that triggers and activates in 1/25th of a second, I guess I shouldn’t complain. 

I’ve long prepared myself mentally that should “something” happen while driving, my first priority, assuming I’m alive, is to maintain my lane and not make matters worse by overreacting.  Health systems seemed fine; in fact, if the collision caused my body to move forward, as physics suggest that I should, I wasn’t aware of it.  Maybe the airbag did the trick, but there was nothing in the event that spoke of a real disruption to my control over the vehicle or risk of harm.  From the vehicle standpoint, the immediate good news was that everything seemed to be working – steering and brakes, particularly.

The car to my left speeds on, having just missed the deer (or vice versa) and is the lottery winner for this night.  The car to my right zoomed on, but the one behind it had seen what had happened and slowed a bit.  So I slow and wait for the cars behind us all to sort themselves out in the disturbance in the Force of Traffic, and finally manage to find a safe place to pull over about a quarter of a mile later.

It’s a dark lot, and with the assistance of my phone’s flash… the damage doesn’t seem too bad. Replace the bumper assembly, repaint the left front fender, and fix whatever is leaking.  And there’s a fair amount of short single strands of deer hair.  Weird.  You’d think they’d blow off rather than stick like fiberglass strands. The police respond and confirm that I’ve killed a buck but, alas, of undeterminable points.

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Returning the next morning, after having called the insurance company, I return for further assessment.  The car continued to leak a bit, but all in all, the Murano held up pretty well.  I’m 1) alive 2) unbruised, uncut, and unburnt from the airbag deployment and 3) likely to be inconvenienced for a week to 10 days for what seems to be minor repair needs (figuring a week plus a 3 day annoyance factor). 

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Well, how about that, there’s also this crack in the plastic grille on the left side of the car.  And a slight indentation on the hood.  Oh, and my seat belt doesn’t work well. Whatever.  In any case, I’m fortunate that the rascal went under the car rather than over the hood.

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Three weeks later…

PART COST
Front Bumper cover $330
Front Bumper Chrome strip $49
Front Bumper Lamp Cover $96
Front Bumper Underbody $63
Front Bumper Energy Absorber $62
Front Grille $195
Front Lamp Assembly Left $260
Front Lamp Assembly Right $260
A/C Condenser $94
Steering Column Switch Housing $180
Restraint System Retractor $191
Driver Air Bag $740
Restraint System Diagnostic Unit $876
Restraint System Impact Sensor $290
Restraint System Belt $191
Radiator Support $616
Radiator Assembly Reset System $75
Misc Paint and Materials $230
Radiator $330

Parts: $5,128.  Total after labor, fees, and taxes, $6,600, for a deer that seemingly caused minor damage.

But!!!  For a $250 deductible, not only are all the bug guts and blemishes gone, but also the rock dings and dents of 8 years of travel.  Spiffy! 

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