24 July 2007

Soccer comes to America! (again)

I had decided not to address David Beckham's debut on my blog. But when I logged in to post the entry I wrote about taxonomy (see below, it's fascinating, honest), I just couldn't leave well enough alone. Since just about everything I write about on here lately other than moving to Vermont is either about music or soccer, it seemed that I had to say something. And since I actually spent the time to watch an exhibition match that featured the LA Galaxy, I should get something out of it (even if you, my loyal readers, don't).

So unless you live under a rock, you undoubtedly know that David Beckham has arrived in the US to save soccer. His first game was an exhibition by his new team, the LA Galaxy, against the British powerhouse Chelsea. It's a bit of a cliche to say it, but Chelsea are like the Yankees of soccer. I was actually surprised with the scrappy play of the Galaxy, but things fell apart for them in the second half when Chelsea started emptying their bench. With fresh players who were still better than most of the Galaxy's, their victory was inevitable (although the 1-0 final is a moral victory for the Galaxy.) Overall, the game itself was pretty dull. As Anne put it, no one who tuned in was going to be converted to being a soccer fan after that game.

But who am I kidding, I wasn't watching the game because I cared about the final score. I wanted to see David Beckham take a corner kick. Because he has a bum ankle, he didn't start, but he did come on in about the 75th minute. The highlight for me in the final minute. Finally, the Galaxy had an opportunity for a corner. Pretty-boy Landon Donovan usually takes the corners for the Galaxy, so it was really interesting to see how this played out. Landon picked up the ball and set it in the corner, then looked up and saw Beckham jogging toward him. He then trotted out onto the field, while Beckham took his position, adjusted the ball, and made the kick. I really had to wonder what was going through Landon's mind at that moment. The two possibilities to me are that he was as excited as a little puppy to be David Beckham's water carrier, or he was resentful that there's a new -- much brighter -- star in town. Judging by the look in his face for most of the game, I guess the latter.

On a related note, we rented the documentary "Once in a Lifetime" the evening after the game. It's about the New York Cosmos of the old NASL and how they spent gobs of money on star players (most notably Pele) and made the US a soccer-mad nation very briefly, even selling out Giants stadium a couple of times, before the whole thing collapsed through overspending and mismanagement. The film itself wasn't great, but it was an interesting history lesson, especially given the arrival of Becks on our shores.


Are you a lumper or a splitter?

There's a philosophical divide in the science of taxonomy (the study of the classification of organisms, for example why humans are Homo sapiens in the family Hominidae and wolves are Canis lupus in the family Canidae). On the one side are the lumpers, who prefer to classify organisms into larger groups based on substantial differences, resulting in fewer species overall, while the splitters prefer to use minute differences to classify living organisms into a greater number of separate groups. My explanation is a bit of a caricature, and it's not truly correct to say that all taxonomists fall into one or the other groups, but it is an apt enough description to be useful in describing an important debate with far-reaching implications. For example, the determination of whether or not a group of animals is a distinct species rather than just another population of a species with a larger range can have a critical impact on the degree of protection it receives. (You can google "Preble's jumping mouse" if you want to see just how controversial this can be.)

Another, equally serious area where this debate rages is in my music collection. I'm currently in the process of digitizing all of my cassettes, records, and CDs and importing the tracks into iTunes. Because one of the main fields on which iTunes allows you to sort your music is the genre, I've taken it upon myself to apply a genre to each album that I enter into my digital library. I'm getting most of the data about each album from an online database (the CDDB) so that I don't have to enter the title of every last track. Genre is one of the fields that you can get from the CDDB, but I've been pretty disappointed by the results. First off, you can get some strange, sub-, sub-genres. (Did you know that both the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method ply their trade in a genre called "Big Beat?"). Clearly, the splitters are in charge at the CDDB. But I don't find it useful to have a distinct genre for every third album. On a more practical note, the information is uploaded by users, which means it can be very inconsistent. On more than one occasion, I've queried the database for double albums where the first and second CDs in the set come back with different genres. For these reasons, I've decided to enter my own genres, which means I have waded headlong into the murky waters of the lumper/splitter debate.

Interestingly, I think I'm philosophically more of a lumper when it comes to my music. I say "interestingly" because I think I'm more of a splitter (at least to a point) in the realm of biology. I think where I fall in both arenas hinges on practical arguments. In biology, I tend to favor anything that emphasizes greater conservation, and the splitter philosophy tends to take this into account. (I'll save its shortcomings for another day; you'll have to enroll in my conservation biology class to get the low-down ;-) ) In my music, I think it makes more sense to have larger groups. I often think "I'm in the mood for X" when I'm gazing at my CD collection, waffling over what to play, so it makes sense to have some way to divide the music into different groups. But I also feel strongly that the music shouldn't be balkanized into many separate little subgenres. I may think "I'm in the mood for something electronic," but I doubt I'll ever think "I sure could go for some Big Beat right now."

So with my philosophical underpinnings set, I'm categorizing my music as I digitize it. I'm through the K's, and although I'm relatively happy with the categories that I've come up with, I'm also noticing some worrying trends. For example, nearly a fifth of the music seems to fall into the maligned "Alternative" genre. This is probably because Alternative has become my default for anything that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, including, but not limited to, bands that you might think of as traditionally "Alternative" like REM. (Careful readers may note that although I'm going in alphabetical order, I've skipped ahead for a few bands.) And I don't even want to get into what to do about bands that play more than one genre within one album. For example, Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now" got categorized country -- even though it's probably more of a rock album -- because he has a bit of a twang in his voice and one of the songs is a duet with Emmylou Harris.

A few of the more vexing problems beyond the preponderance of Alternative music have been determining what is "Rock" and how is it different from other genres, and is "Classic Rock" a legitimate category? (Provisionally, I've decided no.) What about "Progressive Rock" (also no) and "Space Rock" (a tentative yes). What about "Trip Hop?" (Another tentative yes, it may only have a couple records, but where else do you put Massive Attack and Portishead?) Is Hip-Hop/Rap destined to be a catch-all, or should I subdivide it?

So my system is still a work in progress. I've been adding genres as I go, which also means I have to go back and fix the metadata for some of the albums that I added earlier on in the process. I'm curious to hear if other folks have had to deal with this, and what you've ended up doing.

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16 July 2007

Let's all move to Iceland!

This article in the Guardian confirms what we already suspected about Iceland: its citizens are the happiest in Europe. (It kind of reminds me of how the Bhutanese government tracks Gross National Happiness.) I guess not seeing the sun for six months, doesn't seem to bother them.


The Big Move

A couple days ago, I checked out a book from the library, and the due date was after the day we're going to move. It really brought home how soon we're going to uproot ourselves and head for the east coast. I've been thinking a lot lately about life in the Bay Area, and how happy I am to live here. It's definitely going to be hard moving away from all of this, although I'm excited about the new opportunities we'll have in Vermont. It's been a challenge to conceptualize life in Vermont while we're still living here. In honor of the nine years we've lived here, here's a (by no means comprehensive) list of things I'll miss about the Bay Area. (I promise a "things I'm looking forward to in Vermont" in a future installment.)

My neighborhood
I can walk to just about everything I need, including two great groceries, three coffee shops that aren't Starbucks (and one tea shop), a movie theater, and Fenton's ice cream. There's even a cobbler.

I'm moving from Oakland to a state that's 98% white. 'Nuff said.

Ethnic cuisine
Which goes hand in hand with ethnic diversity. Thank god for our copy of "1,000 Indian Recipes."

Live music
To be fair, it's not hard to find live music in Vermont, but I think live jazz or hip hop are going to be hard to come by. I guess I need to get into jam bands.

Running at Mountain View cemetery
I don't even like running that much, but it's a pleasure in a place that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The UC Berkeley library
I think Harvard is the only university in the US with a bigger library.

The setting
It's become a cliche to say this, but San Francisco is really a beautiful place to stick a city.

The Parkway
The best movies theater in the world.

Most diverse city in the nation. Home of the A's, Raiders, and Warriors. Birthplace of the Black Panthers, Gary Payton, and hyphy. And my home for the past nine years. As if you couldn't guess, I hella love Oakland.

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14 July 2007

A big weekend for soccer

David Beckham's arrival last night was just the prelude for a huge weekend of soccer. For starters, there's the quarterfinals of the men's, Under-20 World Cup. The U.S. is playing against Austria tomorrow. Tomorrow evening is the third place game of the Copa America between Mexico and Uruguay. Then, on Sunday, there's more U-20 World Cup and the final of the Copa America between Brazil and Argentina. Argentina is probably the best team in the world right now, and if you haven't seen Lionel Messi's goal against Mexico in the semifinal on YouTube, you have to go watch it. Now. (Sorry, I'm at home with my dial-up, so I can't link to it.) Good thing Anne's out of town, 'cause it looks like I won't be leaving the house.


12 July 2007

Blasts from the past

We went up to Reno last weekend to see the family one last time before we head off to Vermont and to empty a storage unit full of my old stuff. My mom put a lot of my things in there when she moved to Vegas 10 years ago, and I felt it was about time to clear it out. Luckily I was able to pawn some of it off on my cousin and nieces and donate some of it to charity, leaving us with just enough stuff to fit in our rental car. Some of the treasures I found were:

Star Wars toys and Transformers
I was able to pawn these off on a 6-year old cousin. Hopefully he appreciates the Transformers now that it's the movie du jour.

A wooden elephant on wheels
I've had this thing since I was an infant. It was one of my favorite toys when I was a kid, and I was really happy to rediscover it.

A bunch of old coins, including a pile of pesos from before Mexico devalued its currency about 10 years ago. I think each peso is worth about 1/10,000th of a dollar now.

A Re/Max realty poster signed by the 1980(?) Oakland Raiders. Cliff Branch! Sweet.

A bunch of football pennants, including one from the (USFL) Oakland Invaders.


Osmium bear

A big pile of books, including a bunch of role-playing games. I have an incredible urge to play some Dungeons & Dragons right now.

A stuffed pterodactyl.

A bag of shredded money I bought at the US Treasury on a field trip to Washington DC when I was in seventh grade.

A lot of the things were in the same category as the last one, and I didn't feel too badly getting rid of them. But I still managed to keep one box of keepsakes plus the Leggos (of course) and some books. I imagine there's still some stuff I can get rid of (anyone need five years worth of Mad magazine?), but I see what's left having a bright future sitting on a shelf in my basement.

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03 July 2007


It looks like Scooter Libby won't be wearing an orange jumpsuit after all. Bush's commuting his sentence today reminds me of the Jarvis Cocker song: "Cunts Are Still Running the World." How much longer do we have to deal with this clown?