Sonic Arboretum at the ICA

This was amaz­ing. With­out ques­tion the coolest thing at the ICA. See it before it clos­es!

Son­ic Arbore­tum
Ian Schneller (speak­ers) & Andrew Bird (music)
ICA Boston
Feb­ru­ary 4–May 10, 2015

May 6, 2015 May 6, 2015 reviews by Scott 1 Comment

Free­dom
by Jonathan Franzen
A great book about a guy from Min­neso­ta.

The Girl with the Drag­on Tat­too
by Stieg Lars­son
I am the last per­son in the world to read (and thor­ough­ly enjoy) this nov­el.

The Cir­cle
by Dave Eggers
Pre­dictable, creepy, and fun. A book of our times. Like it on Face­book!

The Idea Fac­to­ry: Bell Labs and the Great Age of Amer­i­can Inno­va­tion
by Jon Gert­ner
Defin­i­tive proof that I was born a gen­er­a­tion too late to achieve great­ness.

December 24, 2013 December 24, 2013 reviews by Scott No Comments

Gar­ri­son Keil­lor is not a con­ven­tion­al author, so in hind­sight it shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing that after a very con­ven­tion­al intro­duc­tion, Mr. Keil­lor calm­ly stepped in front of the podi­um, glanced toward the ceil­ing, and began hum­ming a hymn with the tac­it assump­tion that all present should sing along in four-part har­mo­ny. (The audi­ence oblig­ed.) So began the event billed as “Gar­ri­son Keil­lor reads from and dis­cuss­es O, What a Lux­u­ry: Vers­es Lyri­cal, Vul­gar, Pathet­ic & Pro­found.”

The oth­er cir­cum­stance which shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing is that Mr. Keil­lor did not read from any­thing. A man who can recall Shake­speare and Frost with the same ease as his own verse, min­gling them effort­less­ly with his rich­ly detailed tales, has no need for such a crutch.

For­tu­nate­ly, there was dis­cus­sion.

Freddie’s ques­tion was my favorite: “Do you ever get writer’s block?” Keil­lor stood next to us and respond­ed with­out hes­i­ta­tion: No. Peo­ple who get writer’s block are the kind of peo­ple who want to have writ­ten some­thing, not those who want to write. “Den­tists don’t get den­tal block… or at least, if they do, they don’t tell any­one about it.”

December 3, 2013 December 3, 2013 reviews by Scott 1 Comment

RPL Test Photo

I’ve been frus­trat­ed with pho­to labs late­ly. I’ve had so many col­or pho­tos ruined by slop­py pro­cess­ing or dig­i­tal­ly mud­dled by mediocre machine scans. It’s dri­ven me toward shoot­ing B&W almost exclu­sive­ly since the pro­cess­ing is less demand­ing. Almost all the com­pe­tent labs in the Boston area have gone out of busi­ness, leav­ing only Dori­an Col­or to trust for crit­i­cal work–but they don’t do scan­ning! And what’s the use of film pro­cess­ing with­out pro-qual­i­ty scan­ning in this day and age? (I do own a very nice film scan­ner, but scan­ning is hard and quite time-con­sum­ing.)

The Inter­webs enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly sug­gest­ed that I try Richard Pho­to Lab in Hol­ly­wood, Cal­i­for­nia. So I flew to Los Ange­les for DaleX’s wed­ding and took a bunch of pic­tures. I went home to Boston with the film, put it in an enve­lope… and mailed it back to Cal­i­for­nia. (So much for think­ing ahead.)

The first scans came back yes­ter­day. Here’s an unmod­i­fied image straight from the RPL scans. This is Kodak Por­tra 160 film on my Leica. The skin tones and expo­sure are basi­cal­ly per­fect right out of the box. In some ways this is eas­i­er than shoot­ing dig­i­tal­ly. I’m hap­py to say that RPL is my new lab of choice! I think there is more col­or in my future.

October 10, 2012 October 10, 2012 reviews by Scott 1 Comment

A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion
Live HD Cinecast
4 Feb­ru­ary 2010

I blame Rhode for this one. I am not a reg­u­lar Prairie Home Com­pan­ion lis­ten­er. Nor, hav­ing just lost $15 and three hours of my life see­ing Avatar the night before, was I delight­ed by the idea of shelling out $20 to watch a pri­vate tele­vi­sion broad­cast at my neigh­bor­hood movie the­atre. But with a lit­tle per­sua­sion, I decid­ed I could afford anoth­er chance to get in touch with the cul­ture of my Min­neso­ta heritage—the great pil­lars of which are snow, fish­ing, Luther­an church­es, fun­ny vow­el sounds, and Gar­ri­son Keil­lor.

We arrived ear­ly and were treat­ed to an amus­ing pre-record­ed video tour of St. Paul. Keil­lor, whose unmis­tak­able bari­tone lends a cer­tain grav­i­tas to his off-hand­ed com­e­dy, walked around the city ram­bling about life (win­ter is “nature try­ing to kill us”), archi­tec­ture (accus­ing a new gov­ern­ment build­ing of hav­ing the grandeur of a “fil­ing cab­i­net”), the life-size stat­ue of F. Scott Fitzger­ald on the side­walk (“we didn’t put him on a pedestal”), and just who The Tor­na­does are (the Anoka Tor­na­does). And so on.

The show was fab­u­lous. The writ­ing is first-rate. The musi­cian­ship is superb. Watch­ing it on screen for the first time, it becomes evi­dent that the PHC crew runs a tight ship: per­form­ers appear and dis­ap­pear with­out delay, micro­phones silent­ly come and go as need­ed, and musi­cians per­form dozens of num­bers right on cue. The pro­duc­tion is star-stud­ded but laid back and unpre­ten­tious. The musi­cal guests were excel­lent. It was a treat to see Heather Masse on stage—I remem­ber her from her Pickin’ Tues­day days. The high­light of the show was prob­a­bly Keillor’s mono­logue, The News from Lake Wobe­gon. I had naive­ly assumed from its mean­der­ing but focused nar­ra­tive and unhalt­ing pace that this seg­ment was care­ful­ly script­ed. It is not. Keillor’s prowess as a sto­ry­teller is unmatched by any­one.

For the Regal Fen­way 13 the­ater, the tech­ni­cal require­ments of host­ing this broad­cast were evi­dent­ly too chal­leng­ing. The entire pre-show pro­gram was pre­sent­ed with bad­ly unsyn­chro­nized sound, which they reme­died by com­plete­ly shut­ting down the pro­jec­tion halfway through the open­ing num­ber of the pro­gram. The audio was glitchy through­out. Need­less to say, I will not be see­ing future cinecasts at this venue.

Will I see A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion live again, if I get the chance? Absolute­ly.

February 6, 2010 February 6, 2010 reviews by Scott No Comments

Nou­velle Vague
Somerville The­atre
24 Jan­u­ary 2010

The premise: a French band rein­ter­prets New Wave and punk rock songs as laid-back bossa nova tunes. Imag­ine lush, [some­times] qui­et remakes of clas­sic Talk­ing Heads, Vio­lent Femmes, Dead Kennedys, and Joy Divi­sion mate­r­i­al. Yes, it’s weird, but it works. It works even bet­ter live.

As the con­cept is not entire­ly unique, Nou­velle Vague owes a large part of its suc­cess to sol­id musi­cian­ship. The breathy, seduc­tive vocals, stun­ning out­fits, and some­times over-the-top stage pres­ence of vocal­ists Hele­na Noguer­ra and Kari­na Zeviani were the care­ful­ly-craft­ed cen­ter­pieces of the per­for­mance. The gui­tar, key­boards, and bass were right on, but in some ways drum­mer Spencer Cohen stealth­ily stole the show, charg­ing pre­cise­ly through very com­plex rhythms with a relaxed bear­ing and goofy grin that effused under­stat­ed sim­plic­i­ty.

Open­ing act Clare and The Rea­sons was a delight­ful dis­cov­ery. Her voice is great. Her hus­band plays gui­tar, vio­lin, pen­ny­whis­tle, kazoo, and the saw. Their song about Plu­to was fun­ny. They closed their part of the show on a high note by sum­mon­ing a guest tuba play­er to sup­ply the boun­cy bass line for their hilar­i­ous cov­er (with vio­lin and clar­inet) of Gen­e­sis’ “That’s All.”

Ver­dict: awe­some!

January 29, 2010 January 29, 2010 reviews by Scott No Comments

Run speed

For my run­ning pro­gram, this has been a year of firsts: In Jan­u­ary, I bought my first MP3 play­er since 1999 and start­ed run­ning with music. Music! But music doesn’t make you faster. My inner engi­neer decid­ed that more data was need­ed. A few months ago, Garmin released the FR60, the first prod­uct that cor­re­lates foot-pod accelerom­e­ter and heart rate data in an agree­able-look­ing dig­i­tal watch. I know sev­er­al peo­ple who are fans of the sim­i­lar Nike+ sys­tem, and I’ve often won­dered about these foot pods—are they at all accu­rate? Garmin’s lit­er­a­ture promised “98% accu­ra­cy,” which is good enough for me, so I bought one.

Turns out, Garmin lies. My first run with the watch was a huge let­down: the instan­ta­neous pace read­out, the main fea­ture that led me to pur­chase the prod­uct, was indi­cat­ing more than 1 minute slow­er (per mile) than I believed I was run­ning based on old-fash­ioned esti­ma­tion. That would rep­re­sent an error of more than 12%. To check my san­i­ty, I bor­rowed a fanci­er watch that uses GPS, not accelerom­e­ter data, to cal­cu­late speed. I did a quick jog/walk with both prod­ucts and cor­re­lat­ed the data shown here: GPS speed (Fore­run­ner 305) in blue, foot-pod speed (FR60) in red. Sure enough, my speed esti­mates were more accu­rate than the watch read­out! But I was sur­prised to see the cor­re­la­tion improve dra­mat­i­cal­ly dur­ing walk­ing.

While Garmin makes no effort to call out its neces­si­ty, the FR60 offers a cal­i­bra­tion pro­ce­dure to improve the foot-pod accu­ra­cy. Will cal­i­bra­tion improve run­ning-speed accu­ra­cy at the expense of walk­ing? We’ll find out in part two.

November 15, 2009 November 15, 2009 reviews by Scott 10 Comments

Last week I bought a Sil­ca Super Pista bicy­cle pump. I felt the $20 pre­mi­um it com­mands over oth­er well-regard­ed floor pumps was justifiable—the steel cylin­der, the pol­ished beech han­dle, the “Made in Italy” label, and its rep­u­ta­tion for being a repairable hand-me-down kind of prod­uct sold me. How dis­ap­point­ed I was!

Out of the box, I dis­cov­ered two prob­lems. First, the ris­ing han­dle and droop­ing pres­sure read­ing told me that air was leak­ing back­wards through the pump seal. I dis­as­sem­bled the one-way valve and dis­cov­ered a loose shred of plas­tic which pre­vent­ed the valve from seat­ing. So I fixed it. Once I got the pump work­ing, the hybrid Schrader/Presta chuck proved to be too tight: I destroyed two tubes try­ing to remove it. (There goes anoth­er $12.) So I loos­ened up the chuck’s rub­ber wash­er and greased it—two things the man­u­al says noth­ing about—and now it works fine.

The qual­i­ty of the clo­sure cap also leaves much to be desired. This plas­tic part is attached to the tube with an ill-fit­ting self-tap­ping screw, and was prob­a­bly the source of the debris which jammed the one-way valve. On a pos­i­tive note, I liked the low-impact pack­ag­ing (a print­ed mesh bag).

In sum­ma­ry, the Sil­ca Super Pista can be made into a nice pump, but due to poor man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices and cost reduc­tion attempts, it is no longer the kind of qual­i­ty tool you’ll pass on to your kids. Don’t buy it.

August 19, 2009 August 19, 2009 reviews by Scott No Comments

12