29 January 2006

One Down, One Up

I got a couple gift cards to Borders for Christmas. We have a small apartment, and not a lot of room for books, so I thought it'd be better to use them to buy music. I finally got around to spending them, and I picked up a couple positive additions to our music collection, most notably a new John Coltrane CD called One Up, One Down: Live at the Half Note. It's absolutely great! one of the best CD's I've gotten in years. It's made up of live performances at a club in New York in 1965. In typical "“lost classic"” fashion, the master tapes had been in a hall closet in his widow's house for years before getting remastered and released recently. There are only four songs between the two discs, but they're full of epic solos from Coltrane and his pianist, McCoy Tyner (who's about to wrap up his annual residency at Yoshi's; sadly, we were too late to get tickets.) Some of Coltane's solos are out of this world, as are McCoy's, especially during My Favorite Things. If you like jazz, and Coltrane's later stuff isn't too skwonky for you, you should definitely check this out.

The other two I got were the newest Kanye West, and a CD by the band Mastodon. I think Late Registration lives up to the hype. (As for Ye the person, well, that Rolling Stone cover is a bit much, but he really won me over after saying GW doesn't care about black people.) I feel a little guilty grooving to a song about blood diamonds, but it's catchy as hell. The CD by Mastodon is the first metal album I've bought in nearly a decade that wasn't by Iron Maiden. I learned about Mastodon when I saw them at Ozzfest last summer. They're really cool, and the album that I got (Leviathan) is a concept album about Moby Dick. How metal is that?

27 January 2006

This blog may be embellished for dramatic purposes...

I usually don't follow lit gossip (honest!), but I just can't get enough of these fake memoir scandals. Now you can add one more name to the list of potentially dishonest memoirists that contains James Frey and JT Leroy. The no-last-named Nasdijj is known for writing three memoirs recounting his life on the Navajo reservation. But according to an article in the LA Weekly, Nasdijj is actually a white man named Tim Barrus whose previous literary exploits are mainly in the gay S&M genre. I'll admit I couldn't be bothered to more than skim the LA Weekly article, so I leave that up to you the reader. I did read enough, however, to see that Sherman Alexie himself claims Nasdijj ripped off parts of his life for the memoir. What I find so amusing about this story is the way it reminds me of Jeff Gannon, the Bush Administration's stooge who infiltrated the White House press corps to lob softball questions and was previously employed as a gay escort.

And finally, the world's greatest comic strip, "Bad Reporter," has returned from vacation with a vengeance. Yesterday's installment nearly covered the entire front page of the Datebook in the Chronicle with a hilarious take on the memoir scandals that weaved in Carol Channing, the Nigerian e-mail scam, and Jesus Christ. Happy reading!

24 January 2006

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go....

So I'm currently suffering my first case of blog-neglect guilt. I've only been keeping this thing for a month and half or so, and I've already taken my first lengthy, unanticipated hiatus. The last couple weeks have been pretty hectic, and I've had a couple things in particular that have kept me from writing anything. The first was a data analysis project I foisted on myself a couple weeks ago that took a lot longer than I thought it would. Luckily that's mostly done so I can catch my breath and start prepping the talk I have to give at a conference in a couple weeks. The other reason for the delay between posts was a (possibly unwise) decision I made at the beginning of last week.

I've been a fan of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series since the books started coming out about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, and as anyone who's been trying to keep up with them since is well aware, the books hit a big lull a couple years ago. The first 5 or 6 were great: really engrossing plot, interesting world, epic battle between Good and Evil -- all of the hallmarks of a good fantasy series. Then, around about book six, I think Robert Jordan (no relation; it's not even his real name) and/or his publisher started to realize what a cash cow these books were becoming, and so a series that initially aspired to be a trilogy has stretched to a projected 12 books. And in order to do that stretching, he's introduced all sorts of minor characters and subplots that make each book both 1) difficult to follow and 2) easily forgettable in the two years between installments.

Last week, I was mulling over starting the 11th book, which my mom gave me for Christmas. Because, in spite of all of these annoyances, I'm far too stubborn to quit now (although I wish I could say it was something other than stubbornness that's kept me going). I figured I'd look up some chapter summaries on the internet, (these books seem to have attracted a rabid online following) to jog my memory of what happened in the past couple books. Then I got the wool-headed idea to just start over and read the entire series from the beginning. I figured I'd finish about in time for the publication of the 12th (and ostensibly final) book. So I tottered out to the bookshelf and grabbed the first one and started reading it one night last week. Although I doubt I'll be getting to the book my mom got me anytime soon, I've been enjoying re-reading the first one, and I'm remembering why I got hooked in the first place. Unfortunately, the book has had a crack-like hold on me, and almost all of my non-football-watching free time over the past week has been spent reading it (or now blogging about it). That said, it's rekindled my interest in the series, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest (or at least the next few). Well, I should get back to reading....

07 January 2006

I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now because I just figured out how to post a picture to my profile. No longer is the ol' blog a page full of drab text - now it's a page full of drab text with a purty picture in the upper corner!

06 January 2006

Deferred maintenance

I had a couple odd dreams last night. In both of them, I was packing up to move. In the first dream, Anne and I were carrying boxes to a moving van. I woke up from that one, and when I fell back asleep, I was packing up to move again. I can't remember any other time that I've resumed a dream "already in progress" like that, so I'm assuming that my subconscious was working on something. (You can tell I took a couple psych classes as an undergrad.) I'm guessing the dreams were suggested by the fact that my friends Roger and Gina are in the process of moving right now. (My subconscious feels your pain, guys.) We don't have any plans to move anytime soon. Luckily my dreams never act as premonitions because I hate moving. However, I'm getting a bit worried about the dry rot that's slowly eroding the walkway in front of our apartment.

We got a new landlord a couple months ago. This is the third owner since we moved into the place about seven years ago. Each one has brought a unique perspective on property management. The first one was a typical slumlord who illegally evicted people at the drop of a hat. But he was affable if you didn't cross him, and his communist handyman was fun to chat with (although he always did a half-assed job). The next owner was in way over his head trying to manage the property while maintaining his day job as a Baptist minister. The two buildings that make up the property are basically falling apart, and he didn't have the money to fix them, but he tried his best to do the repairs on his own. He lasted about two years before he sold. One of his finer moments as a landlord came when he tried to illegally hike an 80 year old neighbor's rent by about 40%. Did I mention that he's a minister?

The latest owners are a group of people who (as near as I can tell) spend their money buying up properties throughout the East Bay, slapping new coats of paint on them, and selling them at a profit. They have an unfortunately dictatorial style of property management. Within 48 hours of officially taking ownership, and with absolutely no warning, they came in and cut down all of our trees, leaving a barren moonscape in the thin strip of ground between the two buildings. The only living things over an inch tall that they saved were a couple palm trees out front and a big cactus in the back. But all of the greenery out our front windows is gone.

Anne and I were pretty unhappy with the new owners' scorched earth landscaping style, but I was optimistic that at least that implied they would follow through on some of the deferred maintenance. Most critically, the back staircase was listing dangerously away from the building. Not long after the new owners came along, they tore it down. By then there was a good 2" of separation between it and the side of the building. (The most the minister had done was put up some yellow caution tape at the top and bottom of the stairs shortly after he bought the building. This tape was promptly torn down by my neighbor who didn't mind risking his life for quicker access to the laundry room.) It was just this week that some laborers showed up to do something about our lack of a rear evacuation route. They've been making an unruly racket for the past couple days, most of which I've luckily missed while at work. There still doesn't seem to be any evidence of a stairway, but they have exposed a lot of dry-rotted beams supporting the walkway that runs in front of all of the apartments on the second floor.

Some readers, after all of this, may be wondering why we've stayed in this derelict building for the past seven years. At this point, I think I should mention that Oakland has very tenant-friendly laws, including strict rent control. That, combined with the great location, are the main things keeping us here. I'm definitely interested to see what the new owners are up to, although we're a bit nervous about the rent increase of unspecified size we were promised a couple weeks ago ("capital improvements" can be used as a justification for a rent increase above the allowable amount). That was the first time I'd met the new owner, and he seemed pretty shady. That said, once the walkway is repaired, the back staircase is replaced, the building gets repainted, and the promised landscaping arrives, it might be a nicer place to live. I just hope we can still afford it.

03 January 2006

Be it resolved ...

Happy New Year! I generally don't make New Year's resolutions. I tend to feel that if there's something about myself I'd like to change, I prefer not to wait until the end of the year to try to fix it. Also, -- and let's be honest, it's the real reason I tend not to make resolutions -- I'm abysmal at keeping them. In spite of that, I decided to make two resolutions this year, and I'm hoping that because I'm writing them here for all one of my reader to see, I'll do a better of job of maintaining them.

The first is a repeat of a resolution that I've made many times before (with varying success), which is to work out more. Even though I ride my bike to school nearly every day, I still feel a little torpid every afternoon. I think partially this is because so much of my work is sedentary and the bike ride isn't quite long enough to compensate. Since I get a cheap gym membership as a student, I really ought to take advantage of it and go lift weights or play basketball in the mornings. The spring semester is about to start, which seems like a good transition time to alter my routine.

The other resolution is to write more. I've found that I don't have very many hobbies, and that I like writing, so maybe I should carve out a little more time for it. Granted, the next year is going to be devoted to writing a lot for work because I plan on finishing my dissertation by the end of the year. But I'd also like to do more writing for fun, which is part of the reason I started this blog. I'm not sure I'm prepared to start writing short stories or anything that ambitious, especially with the aforementioned dissertation looming over me, but I at least plan on keeping a journal. We'll see how it goes.