jonathan coulton – seattle, wa – 2/24/07

Geek rock superstar gets a warm reception in Seattle.

Cursing the parking situation in downtown Ballard, my friend and I arrived at the Tractor Tavern a few minutes before Jonathan Coulton's set was supposed to begin. Thankfully he did not hit the stage until ten minutes after the start time, which gave us time to visit the facilities and secure seating.

The small venue was packed, and all of the seats were claimed, but we located to stools and re-positioned them on the other side of a post, thus allowing us to actually see the stage. Other latecomers were not so fortunate, and by the time the show began, the standing-room only overflow area was filled with concertgoers straining to see the stage over the heads of those in front of them.

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Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman

Dangit. I did it again. *sigh*

Several hours ago, I put myself to bed with a book that I had bought today on a whim. Prior to this afternoon, I didn’t even know it existed, but when I was browsing the science fiction shelves at the local used bookstore, I decided to give it a try. Then, after having it sitting on my desk staring at me all evening, I thought I’d read just a chapter or two and then go to sleep. Ha!

Without some knowledge of Star Trek canon, this book might be difficult to follow. I regularly feel like I’m missing some subtext with the books set after the Dominion War. I missed that part of Deep Space Nine and nearly all of the Voyager seasons due to being in college and not having time to watch, and then being out of college and too poor to buy a TV or pay for cable. Luckily for me, those events aren’t nearly as important in the book as events that took place during The Next Generation years.

The book begins by laying down the back story that both provides the motivation for later events, as well as the characters involved. The events that occur in the “present” are set shortly after events seen in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis in which the Enterprise E is nearly wrecked by trying to prevent the mentally disturbed Romulan Praetor Shinzon from destroying humanity and the Federation. Picard is overseeing repairs of his ship while also dealing with the changes in her crew. Of those who served with him in the early and later missions, only Worf and La Forge remain on the ship, but the one he misses most is Beverly Crusher.

Crusher has taken up her old post as head of Starfleet Medical, but soon she embarks on a covert mission that takes her into Romulan territory. When Starfleet loses communication with her, Picard and a small team are sent in to complete her mission and rescue her if possible.

Meanwhile, turmoil and intrigue plague the Romulan Empire, which has been weakened by Shinzon and his successor. The usual suspects (Tomalak and Sela) show up, do their thing, and it’s all settled in typical Romulan fashion by the end of the book. What I appreciated most about this was how Friedman wrote the minds-eye perspective of all of the main Romulan characters in such a way that I found myself rooting for all of them at some point, even when they were at odds with each other.

The book ends on a high note, and should please many fans. That’s all I am going to say about it, although it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler if I did.

And now, I’m going to bed. Really.

my poor front lawn

Last summer, something happened to the electric line that runs under my front yard near the street, so the power company had to dig it up. This meant I spent the rest of the summer trying to grow new grass and dealing with neighbors who thought it just meant that the street parking had widened … Continue reading “my poor front lawn”

stopped by the treeLast summer, something happened to the electric line that runs under my front yard near the street, so the power company had to dig it up. This meant I spent the rest of the summer trying to grow new grass and dealing with neighbors who thought it just meant that the street parking had widened a bit. When the snow that had been covering the yard since November melted last week, it revealed some green in that strip of land, which made me happy. Unfortunately, my lawn’s feeble upturn in health was dashed early this morning.

Some guy in a truck drove through my neighbor’s yard, took out a mail box and some utility things, and then was stopped by a tree in my yard. I slept through the whole thing (happened around 2am) and didn’t know about it until I left the house the next morning. Apparently there were police and ambulance vehicles, as well as someone or something to remove the truck from the yard. The guy ended up in the hospital, and that’s all I’ve learned so far.

Meanwhile, I’ve taken some pictures.

petticoat, petticoat

This up-and-coming pair of singer/songwriters are creating modern tunes that are reminiscent of 1960’s pop, rock, and folk.

cover of Every Mother's ChildYou might not know it, but Lexington and Louisville (Kentucky) are hotbeds of modern music. The bands and solo artists range from country and folk to rock and pop, with all sorts of variations and experimental genres in between. One such group is Lexington-based Petticoat, Petticoat, who create songs that are reminiscent of 1960’s pop, rock, and folk.

The core of the band is Kristin Messina (vocals/harmonica) and Dickie Haydon (guitar/vocals/keyboards/harmonica). The rest of the band members vary over time. For the purposes of this review, you may be interested to know that Scott Overall (drums/percussion) and Jackson Silvanik (bass) appear on Every Mother’s Child (Kalmia Records). Kristin Messina and Dickie HaydonThis is Petticoat, Petticoat’s first album, which surprised me because it is so good I expected that they would have had several previous recordings to fine-tune their studio skills in order to produce this one.

Haydon is the primary lyricist, and he stays firmly in the realm of rock and pop lyrics, never straying too far into the storytelling of folk. Regardless of the style of music that is used to dress the song, Hadyn keeps the message simple and direct. He sings “you’ve got tank tops and orange tans / and we’re bathing all dressed in sand / give me your longest finger / ’cause I’ve got a ring for your hand” in one of the verses of “Crosshair,” and the rest of the album isn’t much more complicated than that. Compared to some of the pretentious lyricism prevalent in indie music, it is refreshing to hear someone writing straightforward lyrics while maintaining the poetry of the form.

One of the highlights of Every Mother’s Child is the waltzing “Love In An Alley,” which shows off the warm tones of Messina’s vocals. Another gem from the album is “We’re Gonna Be Poor.” The song is a blues-rock romp through the economical trials and tribulations of musical couples. “Maria the Tour Guide” is a sun-drenched acoustic pop for modern-day hippies. Finally, “Glittering Heels” concludes the album with the satisfying crash of electric guitar and percussion that is guaranteed to make pop-rock fans squee with delight.

Every Mother’s Child is a promising beginning for Petticoat, Petticoat. I look forward to hearing what they will do next.

If you want a copy of the album, you’re going to have to order it directly from the record label or pick it up at one of their shows.

lovers and stars

This EP is long enough to show off Ivey’s range, but short enough to keep the listener wanting more.

cover of Lovers and StarsThe first thing you notice about Melissa Ivey is that this girl has a fine set of pipes. Inevitably, there will be the comparisons to Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin, but Ivey can hold her own with a unique voice. She and her band have put together an EP of tight rock tunes called Lovers and Stars, which was released last fall, and should be getting more attention than it has already.

One of the benefits of a five song EP is that the artist can show off their range without having to include any weaker material in order to fill out an LP. Ivey pulled out all the stops for the tracks on Lovers and Stars, leaving the listener wanting more after the all-too-short 22 minutes have passed.

The title track begins the EP with an energetic acoustic rhythm guitar riff that is soon joined by the rest of the band and Ivey's vocals. It's a toe-tapper of a love song that is reminiscent of late-90s pop-rock bands like Sixpence or the Rembrandts.

Ivey follows it up with the darker sounding "Eyes on the Door" with its lyrical and musical theme of unrequited longing for someone who is not there. Something about the chord progression reminds me of Amy Ray's "Tether." I think it's that steady driving rhythm that carries an underlying intensity.

"Everywhere and Nowhere" is a head-bopping syncopated introspective pop-rock tune that provides a nice mid-EP lift.

"Far Far Away" kicks off with the energetic punk-influence grind of electric guitars that supports the lyrical theme of separation and longing to be back home with a loved one. This leads into the quietly introspective final track, "No Ties To Break," that begins with the line "she's been a lot of places / seen so many faces / walked across the borders of time," and continues on with the theme of the traveler and his/her relationships with others. It's an old story, but like a good storyteller, Ivey is able to present it in a fresh way.

Lovers and Stars reminds me of my eighth grade English teacher's description of an essay: It's like a miniskirt — long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.

Lovers and Stars is available at

state of the blog

I began writing a waffling, slightly navel-gazing reflection on the state of my blog as it stands and the direction in which it is heading. Then I thought, “aw, forget it!” This is my blog. This is my writing space. While I do think it’s pretty damn cool that about 650 of you are reading … Continue reading “state of the blog”

I began writing a waffling, slightly navel-gazing reflection on the state of my blog as it stands and the direction in which it is heading. Then I thought, “aw, forget it!” This is my blog. This is my writing space. While I do think it’s pretty damn cool that about 650 of you are reading it, I’m not writing it for you.

This past weekend, I had a realization. Since I wasn’t dressed in a costume or locked away in a room full of gamers, most people assumed I was one of the scads of writers in attendance. After telling the nth person that no, I’m not a writer, it finally dawned on me that in fact, I am a writer.

I write non-fiction.

This blog, the reviews, and my professional writing are all non-fiction. I find it highly ironic that I’m writing in a genre I generally don’t care to read in book form. Nevertheless, it’s what I am doing, and the surprising thing is that for the most part, I enjoy doing it.

All this is to say, I’m going to try to stop feeling guilty about pummeling my readers with reviews and non-librarian-y things and just write about whatever I feel like whenever I get the urge to do it.

Besides, you all should have had an idea of what you’d be getting when you started reading a blog with the word “eclectic” in the title.

radcon 4c

Last Wednesday, I woke up and decided I needed to be with my people.

Spaceball CityLast Wednesday, I woke up and decided I needed to be with my people. By that I mean I decided to attend Radcon. Radcon is a science fiction and fantasy convention held in Pasco (WA) every year over President’s Day weekend. I attended it last year, which was the first time I had been to a scifi con, unless you count the time I hung out with some pals in the same hotel as a con in North Carolina half a lifetime ago. I don’t think that counts.

Not much different happened at the con this year compared to last year, except this time I knew what to avoid and what to attend, and there were more familiar faces in the crowd. I still feel a bit like an outsider hoping to get invited to the party, but that’s the problem with any relatively small group of people. Anyway, I took some pictures this time, although I missed most of the Star Trek costumes (dangit!), and I also use the video function on my digital camera to capture two medieval combat events (event 1 and event 2).

apples in stereo

This album gives me hope for the future of pop-rock.

by Apples in Stereo

There is a line in the lyrics of The Apples In Stereo tune “Sundial Song” that goes, “you circle me and try to pin me down.” The metaphor aptly describes the experience of trying to pin a genre label on the band’s recent release, New Magnetic Wonder. This album is quintessentially The Apples In Stereo — a band that straddles the line between electronica and sunny pop-rock, and only occasionally do they lean in fully on one or the other.

The Apples In Stereo came together as a band fourteen years ago in Denver, Colorado. Guitarist/vocalist Robert Schneider has been the main creative force in the band, which consists of guitarist John Hill, bassist Eric Allen, and until recently, vocalist and percussionist Hilarie Sidney. New Magnetic Wonder is their eighth full-length album, in addition to many singles and EPs. It is also their most ambitious recording to date.

The album clocks in at a little over 52 minutes with twenty-four tracks. Many of these tracks are electronic instrumentals created by Schneider using multi-layered tracks and mathematics. That’s right, mathematics. photo by Josh Kessler | hosted by Flickr.comSchneider used mathematical equations and logarithms to replace the standard twelve tones in a musical octave with completely different frequencies. You can hear a bit of that in the opening of the first track, “Can You Feel It?,” as well as in the instrumentals “Non-Pythagorean Composition 1” and “Non-Pythagorean Composition 3.”

Musical art aside, New Magnetic Wonder is a fantastic pop-rock record. “Can You Feel It?” repeats the title of the song in the chorus and adds the line, “It makes you feel so good.” It certainly makes me feel good when I listen to it, and the fun doesn’t stop there. Every track on the album grabs my attention, including the quirky instrumentals. I find myself humming little bits and pieces of it at the most random times, and it’s a rare album that will have that much of an effect on me.

For some people, pop-rock has become trite and canned, and it is often used as a derogatory label by indie hipsters. The Apples In Stereo are a shining star leading the masses to the truth and goodness that is intelligent pop-rock. They have not sacrificed creativity and art to produce an album that is very commercially viable, and it gives me hope for the future of pop-rock.

Be sure to catch The Apples In Stereo later tonight on Conan O’Brien. If you miss it, don’t despair. The band will be on tour all around the US over the next couple of months. Also, here’s the video for “Energy,” the first video from the album and actor Elijah Wood’s directorial debut:

buzzed on bazza

Yay! A new low-calorie energy drink that doesn’t taste like ass!

In recent years, the bottled drink market has been flooded with a variety of so-called "energy drinks" that claim to use natural (and sometimes not-so-natural) ingredients to boost energy better than the standard caffeinated and sugar-filled drinks. Whether the claims are true or not is a matter of some debate. Most of these drinks contain a higher quantity of caffeine than what the FDA recommends for standard soft drinks (68 mg. per 12 oz. serving). One might unscientifically conclude that the energy drinks get most of their oomph from the extra caffeine and sugar rather than from any herbal additives.

Personally, I do not care either way. Almost every one of the energy drinks I have tried has tasted so nasty that I concluded that any buzz I might gain from them is not worth the effort. Until recently, the only exception to that has been Bawls Guarana — not the sugar-free Bawls Guaranexx, which tastes as nasty as the other energy drinks — but for 80 mg. of caffeine per 12 oz., I would rather drink something with less than 100 calories, like unsweetened coffee or a diet cola.

BAZZA High-Energy Tea bottlesEnter BAZZA High-Energy Tea.

I first noticed this recent addition to the energy drink market a few weeks ago at my local 7-Eleven. I didn't give it much thought beyond an "oh, great, now they're making energy teas." Then the press release for BAZZA came across my inbox, so I decided to give it a try. Color me impressed.

Right now the drink comes in two flavors: raspberry tea and green tea. I had both, and they are quite tasty. In fact, they do not taste like a sugar-free diet drink at all. I prefer the green tea over the raspberry because it is not as sweet-tasting, but your mileage may vary.

As for the buzz, the 99.4 mg. of caffeine per 12 oz. is making its presence known throughout my nervous system. I feel far more jumpy and awake than I normally would, given the amount of sleep I have had recently.

If you are looking for a low-calorie high-energy drink alternative, give the BAZZA High-Energy Tea a try. Just be careful — too much caffeine can kill you.