Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things That Don't Suck, Part 1

While chatting off-blog with fellow virtual scribe Scott of Landscape Cycling fame, it dawned on me that my bike-centric blog focus could turn this site into a profound bummer over the next few months. After all, how many creative ways are there to whine about attempting to ride through a Midwestern winter? So, to cure my (and your) seasonal affective disorder, I thought I'd turn my attention to some of the non-bikey things taking up my brain-space now that the riding (though it continues) isn't worth talking about.

BOOKS: I just finished The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Sounds like the feel-good hit of the year, right? Actually, it's fascinating look at what might happen if, through some mysterious fate (mass illness? alien abduction? insert your own B-movie plotline here) were to remove humans from our planet in one fell swoop. How would our cities give in to entropy? How would the plants and animals left behind re-colonize in our absence? What works of art would be preserved? How long until our untended nuclear power plants melted down? How long until our impact on the global climate faded? Weisman extrapolates from what we know about the world before us, what our engineering marvels are designed to endure (and what they can't), and even what is currently happening in the places we have abandoned (such as the Korean DMZ and Chernobyl) to craft a simultaneously disturbing and beautiful "future history" of Earth without its most familiar inhabitants. The section on how our houses will collapse hit a bit too close to my 91-year-old home and the ongoing struggle to maintain it. I was especially impressed by the even-handedness of the writing; what could have been a shrill "humans are evil" environmental screed came across as remarkably balanced and apolitical (with the required disclosure that your humble narrator can be kind of a greenie weenie, and thus may have missed a touch of screed as he was agreeing with it.)
MUSIC: I put The Crane Wife by the Decemberists on my iPod about a week ago, and it's all I've listened to since. I'm at a loss trying to describe this album -- while it hints at things I'm familiar with (from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to Jack White to the Shins to the occasional Zeppelin-esque riff), I can't toss off a quickie comparison ("it's like [insert band] with a hint of [insert another band]") that does it justice. The sound and lyrical sensibility is anachronistic yet perfectly modern. And in the era of the iTunes "viral single" -- where one song is all you need, never mind something as silly as an album -- these ten tracks hang together as a cohesive, too-big-for-one-bite experience.

TECHNOLOGY: Since I mentioned my iPod, let me just say damn the Gen-X stereotypes and full speed ahead: I like my iPod in terribly unhealthy ways. I know the white color with all the white accessories was just a brilliant branding move by Evil Emperor Jobs ("Hey, look, white headphones! That guy's got an iPod!") which also allowed a hundred other companies to overcharge for basic audio accessories because they are a) white, and b) "designed for iPods", but still, kudos. Because even though I'm acting as a branded tool every time I wear those stupid white headphones, they also tell the people around me, "That guy is listening to music, thus he cannot hear me, thus I will not speak to him." It's my very own Cone of SIlence! There is just no better gift you can give a loner agoraphobe. (Double bonus in December, it even allows a loner agoraphobe Jew to avoid the relentless onslaught of Christmas music spewing from every corner. Cute kids' choir, your mouths may say Jingle Bells, but all I hear is Motorhead's Ace of Spades. Damn, what's the HTML for an umlaut, anyway?)

See, I'm feeling better already!


Steve Fuller said...

"Motörhead" is what you're looking

For increased isolation, I'd suggest a set of these. I can walk into a data center full of computers and cooling equipment and not have to adjust the volume at all. Best thing is you can get them in "not white" :)

I've been reading a lot of history lately. Titles include: Salt: A World History, The Devil in the White City, The Professor and the Madman, A Perfect Red, The Measure of All Things, Hiroshima, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed All are available for loan if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

for non-bike-y stuff, this is still interesting. :-)

The book about how the earth recovers from the current infestation of humans is interesting. It's good for us to have a sense of humility about how much we control our environment, as well as understanding how long it takes to recover from the damage we cause. It's also interesting that the newer technology gadgets (digital media) fade away much, much faster than the old media (paper, bronze, carving in stone...).

other books: Santa brought a copy of Jan Heine's "The Competition Bicycle". Let me add my name to the long list of people recommending this book.

Technology... very ephemeral, but still fun to play with! I've preferred to use mp3 players with solid state memory instead of hard drives, but still love it. Mine is used quite a bit for podcasts from NPR. Favorites are This American Life, RadioLab, and Science Friday.

Steve K.

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

I should have known that Fuller could code an umlaut. Of course, as an HTML nerd, I had to look it up too. Now I'm thinking about adding them to my own name for a touch of Germanic heavy-metal bad-assedness:

Jasön Nünemaker.

That rocks.

As for Steve K, I am *so* jealous that you now have the full Heine library now. The Competition Bicycle is definitely on my must-buy list after poring over Jan H's first book.