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Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

[LISTENED TO: September 13, 2017] Believe Me

When I saw that Eddie Izzard had a book out I was pretty interested to read it.  I have loved his stand-up since 1997 or 1998 and I was lucky enough to see him on his Circle Tour (on the date they recorded it!).  I have been keeping up with his career and trying to see him in whatever he does (although I like my comedy more than drama and he has certainly made the shift towards drama in recent years).

I thought an autobiography or memoir by him would be pretty interesting (even if he claims to be boring).  But when I saw that he read the audiobook, I knew I had to give it a listen (even if it was 12 discs)!

Amusingly, there was a long delay at the library.  The lady at the counter (who is not the librarian–we librarians know the difference) said if I knew his voice, I could just read the book to myself in his voice.  It was an amusing thought, and I possibly could do that, ….yes, but Eddie’s voice is just so fantastic that it never would have worked properly.  Plus, he throws in easily an extra hours worth of footnotes and rambles that aren’t in the print book!  That’s right, an extra hour’s worth of nonsense if you do the audio.   True you don;t get to see the pictures, but it’s a fair trade-off.

Well the book finally came in and I had plenty of driving time to make short work of this 12 hours behemoth.  And I laughed and laughed.  And cried and cried.

Because while Eddie Izzard is an action transvestite (transgender, now) and one of the best stand-ups around, he is also an extremely warm and thoughtful person. He worked very hard to become the success he is.  And he has used his fame to do some absolutely wonderful things for humanity–including raising millions of dollars.  Not bad for an atheist who is sometimes in girl mode and sometimes in boy mode. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER-Tiny Desk Concert #313 (October 21, 2013).

Daughter is a quiet folk band (at least in this Tiny Desk Concert) in which two acoustic guitars (Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) and one drum (Remi Aguilella) play behind Tonra’s gorgeous, angsty vocals.

For all three of these songs, she sings delicate whispered vocals that are quite lovely, but also quite dark.

Like this line from “Youth” “Most of us are bitter over someone / setting fire to our insides for fun.”  I love the way Haefeli’s guitar harmonics sound like keyboards and how powerful the martial drumming sounds when it comes in.

“Landfill” opens with thudding drums (Mallets instead of sticks) which are louder and bigger and yet still feel gentle.  And yet, as the blurb says: The song is “achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — “I want you so much, but I hate your guts” — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.”

They put out an EP and in 2013 released an album:

the lovely If You Leave, but Daughter was kind enough to resuscitate “Landfill” for this stripped-down performance at the Tiny Desk. As you’ll see and hear, that aforementioned gut-punch is a recurring specialty for the band: In all three of these sad, searing songs, singer Elena Tonra showcases a remarkable gift for coolly but approachably dishing out weary words that resonate and devastate.

Between these two songs, Bob asks if this is an awkward place to play, and she responds, “No, we’re just awkward people.”

For “Tomorrow” there is a beautiful ascending guitar melody and loud drums.  I really like the way the guitars play off of each other–even though they are both acoustic, they sound very different and complement each other nicely.  Like in the wonderful melody at the end.  Despite how pretty the song was, apparently she was unhappy with it saying “a bit ropey, that one.”  I hadn’t heard that before, but evidently it means “unwell…usually alcohol related” so that’s pretty funny.

[READ: August 30, 2016] Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Zach Weinersmith writes the daily webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  I supported the Kickstarter project for his book Religion: Ruining Everything Since 4004 BC and this book was part of my funding level.

I was more interested in the religious comics, but I am tickled by how funny the Science comics are.  Weinersmith knows a lot of science (or at least scientists) and make some really funny jokes about the subject.

The one thing I have to say off the bat is that I don’t love his drawing style.  There’s something about it that I simply can’t get into.  Even after two full books of these drawings, it just never gels for me.  But that’s fine. because I’m here for the jokes.  And they are awesome. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA AINSWORTH-“Afterglow” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 23, 2017).

I was unfamiliar with Lydia Ainsworth, but I was instantly struck by the setting of her lullaby.

We asked Lydia Ainsworth to perform in Raum Industries’ Optic Obscura installation. Surrounded by dim, long-hanging optical fibers that look like an infinity room of cat’s whiskers, she sings a stripped-down version of the slow-burning “Afterglow,” accompanied only by an upright bass and light percussion.

I’m not sure what the original song sounds like, but this version is moody and intense.  The upright bass opens the song as Lydia’s whispered, sensual vocals come forth.  She has a beautiful voice and it is especially haunting in this setting.  It reminds me a bit of someone else although I can’t decide who.

The starkness of the silence when she stops singing is intense.  And I really like the way the song ends, not abruptly exactly, but rather unexpectedly.

[READ: March 21, 2016] T-Minus

Jim Ottaviani did the amazing graphic novel Feynman, and in the blurb about him in that book, it said that he also wrote T-Minus.  Coincidentally I had just brought T-Minus home for Clark and I to read.  He read it quickly and said it was very good.  It took me a little longer to read (I’m sure he didn’t read all the details) because Ottaviani jam packs this book with interesting facts.

As the title says, this is about the race to get a man to the moon.  It begins 12 years before the actual date occurred.  And it toggles back and forth between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On the margins of many pages there are drawings of all of the various attempts each country had to get a rocket into the air.  The drawings show the design and then at the bottom it states the duration of the flight, the date and some other details.  The USSR’s first rocket (1957) lasted all of 20 seconds before exploding.  The U.S’s first rocket lasted about 7 seconds.

We meet a handful of people who were instrumental in the design and origination of these rockets.  (Ottaviani explains that many of these people are composites of real people involved–if he wanted to include everyone, there would be 400 people in every panel). (more…)

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feynman SOUNDTRACK: LARA ST. JOHN-Tiny Desk Concert #529 (May 9, 2016).

laraWhen Lara St. John released her first CD it made ripples because of the way she appeared on it (presumably topless).  But if that was a stunt to get people to listen, it was a good one because the music on it was phenomenal (and the disc sold very well).  St. John is masterful on the violin and has released a dozen or so CDs of herself playing.

I have never seen her play before and it is a marvel watching her fingers  fly (and slide) all over the neck of the violin (including some absurdly high and fast notes).

The first piece is “Czardashian Rhapsody.”  It is an amazing mashup of two songs by Martin Kennedy: Czardas, the most familiar Hungarian melody for violin and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, the most familiar Hungarian melody for piano.  He merged them into a real barnstormer.  It’s 6 minutes of switching back and forth between the familiar melodies and very gypsy-esque sections (and some very long held notes).

The song is 6 minutes of musical acrobatics.

Although this is billed as St. John’s show, much recognition must go to her pianist Matt Herskowitz who is also magnificent.

St. John clearly has a sense of humor since she named her new album Shiksa.  She says the album actually has ten different titles because every culture has a word for “big Canadian chicks” like herself.

The second piece is “Sari Siroun Yar” by Serouj Kradjian.  She says it was the first song she heard when she went to Armenia in the lat 1980s.  It is a bittersweet Armenian troubadour song.  While this song is much more mellow than the first, it still showcases some amazing playing on both musicians’ parts.  The opening notes she plays high on the fret board which gives the violin a very different sound–almost breathy.  And the main melody is quite lovely.

The final song is once again a wild one.  “Oltenian Hora” is one that St. John arranged herself.  It plays off a catalog of violin tricks, St. John explains, practiced by traditional Romanian gypsy fiddlers: rapid-fire whistles, bird calls and slithery harmonics, all in a variety of off-kilter rhythms.  I’ve never seen some of the things she does on the violin (those bird calls are amazing).  And by the end she is bowing so hard the bow seems about to break.  It is way intense and really awesome.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a violinist get out of breath from playing so hard before, but she deserves all of the applause.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Feynman

This is a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman.  Ottaviani worked as a nuclear engineer, programmer and reference librarian, so you can trust him.

I have respected Richard Feynman for years.  I have a few of his books, although I can’t say I have read them intensely.  I knew that he was considered an amazing professor–making really intense subjects easier for the layman to understand.  And many of his lectures are available as audiobooks.

But there was so much about him that I didn’t know.  And this biography (which runs nearly 300 pages and is jam packed with information) covers nearly all of it.  Including excerpts from his own publications and attaching a massive bibliography for more works by and about Feynman. (more…)

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primeSOUNDTRACK: YOUNG FATHERS-Tiny Desk Concert #442 (May 19, 2015).

youngfatherYoung Fathers may have the shortest Tiny Desk Concert ever.  It’s only 4 minutes long.  I know that these are edited down from the full show, but wow.

Young Fathers evidently sing a kind of hip-hop, but in these two songs they don’t really rap very much and are more soulful.  The members met in Edinburgh but are from distant exotic locales like Ghana and, um, Maryland.

Something must have happened with their technology.  As the blurb says, “Full-on drums and electronics weren’t going to happen on this day.”  So they chose a simpler path.

They sing two songs virtually a capella.  I don’t know any of the members’ names, but there’s one singer for “Am I Not Your Boy” (the guy in the photo above).  He has a soulful voice (more or less R&B) and there’s a simple keyboard backdrop.

On “Only Child” there are three vocalists, each taking a turn with a verse.  It is surprising that the man who sounds Jamaican (the first singer) is white.  The final vocalist raps, and then all three harmonize very nicely over the final chorus.

Bob Boilen raved about them when he saw them live.  I’m not all that impressed, as they sound like any other R&B band to me, but a four-minute sampler isn’t all that much to go on.

[READ: February 12, 2015] Prime Baby

I’ve enjoyed just about everything that Gene Luen Yang has done.  But I had no idea that a) he wrote a serialized comic strip and b) that it appeared from 2008-2009 in the New York Times Magazine!

It’s interesting to see these strips presented in one strip per page format.  But far more interesting is the very strange direction that this story goes in.

It begins with the main character, a boy named Thaddeus K. Fong.  He is a reasonably selfish young man with a penchant for saying things to get him in trouble.  (He calls himself a martyr for truth).  And then his parents have a baby.  And his whole life is upended.

The baby girl only says the word, “ga.”  His parents say that everyone develops in their own time, but he is not convinced.  And one day, when he learns about prime numbers in math class, he realizes that his sister only says “ga” in increments of prime numbers.    That is kind of interesting, but even more interesting is when his math teacher says that NASA has theorized that if aliens were to make contact with us it would be through prime numbers. (more…)

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unicornSOUNDTRACK: LIONEL LOUEKE-Tiny Desk Concert #56 (April 26, 2010).

louekeI had never heard of Lionel Loueke.   He is a West African jazz player with a wonderfully unique way of playing.  He uses low tuning, nylon strings electric guitars (the particular guitar he uses here is beautiful), and paper in his strings (to create a cool buzzing sound).

He also sings (but that’s not the right word), he makes sounds with his mouth–sometimes singing what he is playing, sometimes just making sounds.  He seems like he is having the best time up there.

According to the blurb, Loueke usually plays with a trio (with the bassist and drummer contributing to songs and shaping the direction of the band).  For this Tiny Desk only Loueke and drummer Ferenc Nemeth play.  Nemeth plays bells, bundle sticks and a little rig set up around a hand drum and a jangly tambourine–it’s a very cool percussive sound that perfectly matches Loueke’s guitar style.

They begin with of “Vi Ma Yon.”  It’s a five-minute traditional song that appears on Loueke’s album Mwaliko.  This is such a fun and interesting song, with Loueke’s voice floating above the interesting guitar styling he lays down (with that paper buzzing away).

The second song, “Merci,” feels more traditional–with what sounds like actual words done in a melody.  Although his guitar playing isn’t as interesting (the paper is gone), his skill is readily apparent as he flies around the neck.

This is yet another interesting Tiny Desk with a performer I’d never heard of who really impressed me.

[READ: May 29, 2015] Always Be Yourself.

The second bad book of the weekend is this one.  I have to admit I love the title of this book.  I don’t know exactly where it comes from (some Tumblr feed no doubt) but I think it’s very funny.  And that’s what attracted me to it.  But the book itself is really rather lame.

It’s always weird when a book tries to capture an online sensation.  Especially one that is completely of a time and basically ephemera.  So here we get this book about Tumblr.  Notice there is no “author” for the book.  Although on the inside we see that the text is by Perille Kok-Jensen and Els Dragt.

My guess is that it is striving to be like a Douglas Coupland book (the font is very similar) with pictures and pithy slogans designed to describe all that is Tumblr.  The blurb says this book is designed to look at today’s Tumblr generation who are “bold, dreamy and unfazed by the grim context in which they’re coming of age.”  And that it is written “to all the unicorns out there: perhaps you could buy the book for your parents so that they will understand that you are in fact not a freak but part of a greater movement.”

Okay, fine, but how is Tumblr (Tumblr? really?) a great movement?  And are people actually defining themselves by using Tumblr?  Because I can tell you that all kinds of stodgy places use Tumblr, too.

Anyhow, it starts with a pithy comment:  “The nineties called, they want their individualism back.”  Which seems like a direct contradiction to page 61: “Blending in is the new standing out.”  Whatever.

And then it quotes Farrell’s “Happy.”  In fact it quotes lots of song lyrics and other famous quotes (with no attribution, actually). (more…)

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whatifSOUNDTRACK: SON LITTLE-“The River” (2014).

sonlittleI don’t like the blues.  I find it dull and repetitive.  I also don’t really like singers who are described as “soulful.”  And yet here is Son Little with a soulful blues stomper that I really like a lot.  WXPN has been playing this song pretty often, and I like it more with each play.

It’s a fairly simple set up with handclapping and a two note guitar riff.  Even Son Little’s voice doesn’t seem all that special at first.  But there’s some way that all of the elements combine that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts.

And with each verse, more elements are added, a synth sound, some guitar lines, even some bass riffs, building the song’s intensity.

But it’s that chorus–so catchy and ominous at the same time with interesting harmonies that just sound like he is echoing himself.  I really can’t get enough of it.

[READ: January 31, 2015] What if?

This book was just entirely too much fun.  Well, actually I thought it would be a bit more fun, but Munroe is so scientific that at times (when he got really factually scientific) I just felt dumb.  Which lessens the fun.  In fact, the first couple of pieces are really heavily sciencey, unlike some of the later ones which are really funny.

But what am I talking about?  This book is a collection of the “what if’ section of the website xkcd. There’s no real guidelines on the site for what kind of question you can ask, and many of them are quite strange (and often hilarious). They are hypothetical (what if?) questions and, depending on the arcane rules that Munroe follows he will answer them to the best of his scientific scrutiny.  And he will take the questions very very seriously–no matter how stupid your question may seem, he will try to answer it scientifically.  It’s fun!

But it’s also serious, and seriously scientific–Munroe is a former NASA roboticist.

So the first one “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity” almost seems to be put in the front to scare off those who might not want to be too scientific.  And the second question comes more down to Earth (but also destroys the Earth): “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” (more…)

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