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October 31, 2002

Happy Halloween!

Well, I didn't paint myself green from head to toe, but the day came anyway, and I hope you all have a great one. Happy Halloween!

I'll be in Greenwich Village around the time of the parade this evening. It will be my first time being near the parade without actually being in it. Should be interesting :).

October 30, 2002

Great Pumpkins

Nitrozak's amazing Ellen Feiss Jack O'Lantern

People are doing some amazing things with pumpkins! The folks over at The Joy of Tech carved theirs into portraits of Apple personalities. A detail of Nitrozak's impressive Ellen Feiss (1, 2) pumpkin is shown above. Their technique is based on the one described at Keith's Pumpkin Portait Page (don't miss Keith's pumpkins or tutorial). I've got to try this!

Via Boing Boing.

Songdog.net Changes

I just upgraded Songdog.net to MovableType 2.5. Please let me know if you have any problems. By the way, a belated Happy Birthday to Movable Type! Thanks for this wonderful tool, Ben and Mena!

I have also changed the sidebar. Most important is the new Search feature at the top. Use this if you want to find an earlier post at Songdog.net. Also, I have merged the Reading, Listening, and Watching modules in the sidebar with a single module listing things that I'm filling my brain with these days. For the time being, at least, I'm calling it "Inspirations and Distractions," but the name may soon change.

Everything else should be as it was, and if you find that it's not please do send me an email. Thanks for reading!

October 29, 2002

A Ukulele Weekend

The music of ukuleles flowed richly in my part of the world this weekend, and I drank deeply thereof. The occasion was Ukulele Expo 2002, held in and around Montclair, New Jersey. From the induction of Jonah Kumalae and Jesse Kalima into the Ukulele Hall of Fame to more than a dozen excellent ukulele workshops, from the Global Ukulele Summit at the Living Room Friday night to the big Expo concert in Montclair on Saturday, from the beautiful instruments for sale from the expo vendors to the premiere screenings of "Rock That Uke," it was indeed a time of ukulele abundance. Read on for more!

The festivities began informally on Friday evening with events in Fairfield, New Jersey and at the Living Room, in the East Village, where various expo-goers performed as part of the Global Ukulele Summit. Being in the city already, I chose the latter venue.

First to perform was Vancouver's King of the Ukulele, the inimitable Ralph Shaw, who took the Living Room's tiny stage in his signature bowler hat. In his marvelous voice he crooned ukulele tunes classic and original. Ralph returned regularly as MC of the evening's show.

Next was Azo Bell, who played his own original compositions as well as an excellent Mose Allison cover and a drinking song written by one of his bandmates from the Old Spice Boys of Byron Bay, Australia. Azo plays with great skill and throws surprising flourishes into his performance.

Local players Sonic Uke were up next, followed by rock ukulele pioneer Carmaig de Forest, who sang his haunting original songs. Two more New York bands finished the evening: The Honey Brothers and Songs From a Random House, whose lead singer and baritone ukulele player Steve Swartz arranged the evening. Songs From a Random House also features lead ukulele player Alan Drogin, who plays astounding solos on his concert uke, using distortion, fuzz, and wah-wah to great effect on the band's quirky original tunes.

Ukulele Expo 2002 started officially Saturday morning. The Expo is an annual production of the Ukulele Hall of Fame, whose Board members Dave and Sue Wasser, Tom and Nuni Walsh, and Paul Syphers kept things running smoothly.

This year's event took place at the Woman's Club of Upper Montclair. Yes, "woman" is singular (thank you, Frankie, for pointing this out!) and no, I don't know why either. The Expo's one fault is that there is too much happening at once, and attendees are always forced to choose one attraction at the expense of another, but that's what next year's Expo is for, I suppose.

I opted to start with Jerry Moore's melody-playing workshop, followed by Ron Gordon's ukulele blues workshop. We finished a little early, so I caught the tail end of Jim Beloff's introductory ukulele class. Jim is a ukulele evangelist from Los Angeles whose mission is to spread the joy of ukulele playing to as many people as possible. He emphasizes the coolness of the ukulele, and the ease with which one can start learning to play it. Jim really teaches beginners enough in an hour to play hundreds if not thousands of favorite songs on their ukuleles. Jim also performs and records, runs Flea Market Music, and publishes a great series of Jumpin' Jim songbooks and educational videos.

I couldn't resist going to the "'Ukulele, Hawai'ian-Style" workshop taught by Bryan Tolentino & Asa Young. Bryan and Asa are amazing players and genuinely friendly people. They played two songs with us, teaching strumming and vamping styles that are used in much Hawaiian music. Bryan and Asa were present throughout the Expo, always warmly greeting their students and friends, and welcoming questions and conversation.

After this class I ran upstairs to catch the second half of the premiere of "Rock That Uke," Bill Robertson and Sean Anderson's great documentary on the emerging ukulele rock scene. More on this later, as I saw the whole film the next day.

When the film and the Q&A session were over, I went downstairs to the auditorium where the vendors were. The open mic was going on, and I expected I'd make a circuit of the vendor tables and depart, but I was completely won over by the open mic performers. The novice players couldn't have performed for a more good-natured or friendlier audience, and the more advanced players wowed me with great songs and technical mastery. There were too many to list them all (please, Hall of Fame folks, put up a list of performers and songs so that I can find these people again!) but Bryan and Asa's performance with Hall of Fame Advisory Board member Byron Yasui was a particularly memorable standout.

After a break for dinner, the sizable crowd of ukulele players and fans reconvened for the evening concert. Ralph Shaw started things off and MCed again. He repeated a few tunes from Friday and performed a number of others as well. Ralph was followed by Ukulele Man Tom Harker who sang a number of his own original tunes.

Classical ukulele virtuoso John King closed off the first half of the concert, playing a beautiful and unusual six-stringed instrument tuned to the notes of a guitar, but with the size and voicing of a uke. With the touch of a skilled classical guitarist John played his own arrangements of early Hawaiian melodies. He will be releasing a recording of this music to join his acclaimed set of Bach transcriptions (check here). Songs From a Random House finished the first set. They did a similar set to their Friday night show, but sounded even better in the larger hall.

The second half of the show began with the Aloha Boys, a quartet of Hawaiians currently living near Washington DC. They sang traditional and contemporary Hawaiian songs in beautiful harmony and got quite an ovation from the crowd.

LA's Larry D. was next, channeling Joni Mitchell and others as he covered their songs and accompanied himself on his tenor ukulele. Then he sang his own composition, "Honolulu Surfer Boy," which was undoubtedly the most unique song performed that evening :). The crowd loved it.

Finally, Azo Bell took the stage. I was glad that he was given this slot, as he was undoubtedly the performer who had travelled the farthest to be there. His set was similar to Friday's, but again, the acoustics and the space were much more favorable and he sounded great.

After Sunday morning's extra hour of sleep I returned to the Expo. I had made the difficult decision of forgoing a number of promising workshops so as to attend the entire "Rock That Uke" screening, since it might be some time before I would get another opportunity to see the film. I'm glad that I went, and I sincerely hope I will be able to see it again soon.

Its makers are still working on "Rock That Uke" and very recently added introductory and concluding narration by Holly Hunter, whose voice is a fine complement to their work. The film focuses on the place of the ukulele in todays music, especially as an electrified instrument in rock and punk. Much of the film is derived from interview and performance footage gathered over the past three years, during which time the rock uke scene has grown significantly. The film is quite entertaining and amusing, and although few viewers will enjoy all of the musical styles represented, I doubt that anyone could watch the movie without thoroughly enjoying its numerous high points; there are some very surprising moments of humor, which had the screening audience roaring. I hope that the film will soon find a wider audience through festival or broadcast distribution. You can count on me for at least one DVD sale!

After the screening I returned to the Expo floor to watch the induction of this years honorees into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. Neither inductee is still living, but each family sent a grandson to receive the honor. The audience was treated to two performances as well: the first on vintage ukuleles made by Jonah Kumalae's company, and the second Byron Yasui's spirited take on "Stars and Stripes Forever" in tribute to Jesse Kalima's acclaimed version of that march. And then for a second day I couldn't resist staying until the last note of the open mic had died away.

Thanks to all of the performers and teachers for sharing their music with us, to the vendors who made Montclair a capital of ukulele craftsmanship for the weekend, to Bill Roberston and Sean Anderson for premiering their film for us, and to the Ukulele Hall of Fame for everything. I also want to say mahalo especially to the Hawaiian visitors who brought the Aloha spirit to New Jersey! I hope I'll see everyone there next year!

October 28, 2002

Microsoft Foolery

OK. I run Windows at home and at work, but I don't get uptight about it. I've used various of Unix and Mac OSes and have been quite happy with those too. I've just chosen to receive the bulk of my computer annoyances from Microsoft rather than from Apple or the open source community.

As you may know, Microsoft has embarrassed itself plenty recently with its awful attempt to respond to Apple's clever "Switch" ads. But now, right now, at this very moment Microsoft is embarrassing themselves again out in Bryant Park. There to promote the incipient media version of Windows XP they are actually doing so from within a glass house. No kidding.

I didn't watch for long. I couldn't. But I fail to understand why they're presenting this tripe to the general public. It's one thing to do it at a trade show, where it's part of the kitschy experience, and where there is a very low standard of excellence. But it's another thing altogether to do this for the average buyer who's only seen Microsoft's more conventional advertising.

In the glass house, wearing wireless microphones, are a family of actors describing how "cool" this new Windows edition is. How it's revolutionizing their lives. How it's making the world livable once more. The father in his glass den describing his home theater fetish is creepy. But the two college girls in their glass bunk-bedded bedroom are downright unsettling. The actors are perfectly competent, but the voyeuristic appeal of watching them wander around their Habitrail home is shattered by their painful copy. They actually praise a software feature as "tight."


That's all I have to say.

Update (one more thing to say after all): I went by again and took another look. What I saw was a rehearsal for an event tomorrow (October 29). So don't go by the park today looking for Big Brother: Microsoft (insert joke here).

October 21, 2002

Spam from the Republican National Committee

I just received unsolicited email from the Republican National Committee!

I am confident that I have never been a member of the Republican Party, nor have I opted in to any of their mailing lists. Furthermore, the spam was sent to an old address which I do not actively use, but which is widely used by spammers. The RNC, it would seem, has been harvesting or purchasing addresses to promote their candidates.

The mail, purportedly from George W. Bush, tells me "This election matters a lot. The Republican Party needs your help today to win." Sorry, George.

October 18, 2002

Village Encounter

Last night I was studying the menu outside a restaurant and I felt a hand settle familiarly on my shoulder as someone walked behind me. The man attached to the hand stopped by my side after he'd passed me. He was black, and wore a dark sweatshirt with the hood up. He asked me for fifty cents.

When I apologetically declined (I prefer not to pull my wallet out in such circumstances: after dark, in Greenwich Village, alone except for the complete stranger with his hand on my shoulder) he replied, "so you want me to go to jail?"

That was unexpected, so I apologized again, and this time he calmly told me, "you see, that's why I hate white people." I went inside the restaurant to look at the menu.

October 15, 2002

Paris Observation #2

I have no background in French beyond the words and phrases I've picked up by osmosis. Prior to the trip I took a look at Teach Yourself French in 24 Hours (not bad) and listened to a Pimsleur audio course (quite good). I worked on my accent, and learned some basics (pleasantries, ordering food, counting, telling time, and so on).

As a general travel precaution I tried not to look too much like a tourist, keeping such red flags as cameras, guidebooks, and maps tucked away in an attaché until they were needed, and not wearing jeans or sneakers.

When I walked into a store or restaurant I would greet the proprietor in French. I would use French exclusively until I ran out. To my chagrin and despite my attempts to adapt the Parisians frequently answered me in English.

How did they do it? Was it my accent? I know that my pronunciation is pretty poor when I deal with unfamiliar words, and I'm sure my grammar breaks down along with my confidence when I start to get beyond my depth, but I thought I at least had a nearly-native pronounciation of the basic greetings.

For that matter, how did they know I spoke English? Even if I bungled my "bonjour"s it feels unfair to me that so little could mark me as an English speaker in particular. Why not German? Italian? Spanish? We heard plenty of these languages in Paris. <sigh>

October 08, 2002

Paris Observation #1

In short, to start with,

What we especially liked in Paris:

o The food, especially the fresh bread and pastry
o The parks and gardens
o Picnicking (hey, you bring the food to the parks)
o The museums and monuments--astounding stuff

What we didn't like:

o Everybody smokes. Everybody but us.

"Miniplanet" Discovered

CalTech astronomers Michael E. Brown and Chadwick Trujillo have announced the discovery of a spherical body 800 miles in diameter orbiting in the Kuiper Belt of our solar system, where Pluto resides. The body has tentatively been dubbed Quaoar after a Native American diety. It's not considered a new planet (it's too small), but it's the largest object detected in the solar system in seven decades. The last one was Pluto, which itself has had a tenuous grip on planethood. Here's the NY Times piece.

Thanks, Mom!

October 07, 2002

I'm back!

Paris was fantastic! Thanks to those of you who read this site despite its absentee blogger. It's good to be back, and I'll be posting Paris stories and observations here in the coming days :).

October 04, 2002

While I'm Away ...

I'm still in Paris. I return late this evening and will doubtless be far too tired to blog, so let me pay thanks and tribute to one of my very favoritist daily reads and the site that inspired my forward-blogging, Mighty Girl!

October 02, 2002

An Observation

Still in Paris, but I was wondering. Does it strike anyone else as odd that I'm getting more blogging done when I schedule it in advance than I've been managing when I'm publishing it immediately? I wonder why ...

Also: Happy birthday, mom!