Archive for July, 2009

Cities with Mountains

I’m a man of extremes.  I love urban living, but when I want to get out of the city I want to get way out of the city, skipping over all those suburbs.  Ideally my best vacation spot is on a remote trail hiking up a mountain.  Too bad that the best of both worlds is hard to find – cities with mountains.  Most cities are built on a plain by a river, not mountainsides.  Boston has some nice steep hills – and once had a three-peak hill the English called Trimountain (which was later torn down) – but nothing really mountainous.  So on this hot summer day in the city I’m going to write a tribute to four cities I’ve visited that have mountains within their environs.

First up is Eugene, which technically doesn’t have a mountain but a butte, but a butte is close enough.  I hiked up the trails of Spencer Butte on a visit in 1997 and it was a lovely escape from the city with a lot of typical public park ammenities with some added elevation.  Spencer Butte tops out at 2055 feet (626 m) although oddly it felt the least “mountainous” of the four urban mountains I’ve climbed.

Here’s a view in all its black & white beauty:

To be honest I'm not sure if this photo is of Spencer Butte or from Spencer Butte, but you get the gist

To be honest I'm not sure if this photo is of Spencer Butte or from Spencer Butte, but you get the gist

The following year I visited Edinburgh, Scotland which I wrote about on the tenth anniversary of the visit.  I was awed by Arthur’s Seat which may be the most urban of mountains with the city streets and buildings going right up to its foothills.  Arthur’s Seat is only  823.5 ft (251 m) but I’m certain its elevation rises most dramatically around the surrounding territory of any of the mountains in cities I’ve seen.

Im almost fell to my death trying to make this self-portrait.

I'm almost fell to my death trying to make this self-portrait.

Montreal, Quebec is actually named for its mountain Mont Royal.  I climbed the mountain with Susan & Camille in May 1999 and a few days later rode my bike to the summit.  Mont Royal gets bonus points for being in a park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and a spiff cross near the summit. Mont Royal stands at 764 ft (233 m) and is the lowest of the four “mountains.”

Taking in the view of Montreal in my bright yellow bicycling jacket.

Taking in the view of Montreal in my bright yellow bicycling jacket.

Finally there is the city of Salzburg, Austria which Susan & I visited in 2003.  Located in the Alps, Salzburg is surrounded by mountains but the closest to center city is Mönchsberg.  This mountain is fortified with the ancient Hohensalzburg Fortress looming over the city but also felt the most wild, as if we may wander off into some primeval forest of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Mönchsberg may also be the steepest of the urban mountains I’ve visited including one section of sheer rockface with monk’s cells carved in the side.   Mönchsberg is 1,771 feet (540 meters) high.

The monks' cells carved in the side of Mönchsberg.

The monks' cells carved in the side of Mönchsberg.

So have you been to a good urban mountain? Does your city have a mountain of it’s very own? Share your stories below, I need some cool thoughts for these hot days!

100 Favorite Albums of All-Time (60-51)

Part five of my top 100 albums of all time.

Previously:

60. The Remix Album…Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey (2000)

If this list of favorite albums confirms anything it’s that my musical interests are diverse.  I like electronic music.  I like loungey pop songs sung by a Welsh chanteuse.  And dang it, I like them mixed together.  The best thing about this album is how the remixes emphasize rather than overwhelm Bassey’s vocals.  Bassey’s famed for singing the theme songs to three James Bond films (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker, all represented here) but I’m particularly fond of her take on “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story” and “Big Spender.”

59. Songs In The Attic by  Billy Joel (1981)

Billy Joel is a divisive figure.  Many people pan him as schmaltzy and derivative.  Millions more  love him.  I was in the later category from the age of 7 until my college days.  Glass Houses was the first non-kiddy album I ever owned (co-owned with my sister) and remains a sentimental favorite.  While I’m not that into Joel these days, Songs in the  Attic remains on my iPod.  It’s a collection of songs Joel recorded early in his career with session musicians re-recorded with his band after he became famous.  The energy of such songs as “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” capture Joel at his best.

58. Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night by Stereolab (1999)

Stereolab’s music is hard to describe.  Electronic – lounge – fuzz – experimental – free jazz  – and all tres Euro.  Kind of like Shirley Bassey remixed but planned that way from the start.  This album is probably an enabler to my ability to enjoy dissonance.  Standout tracks include “Fuses,” “Italian Shoes Continuum,” and “Infinity Girl.”

57. Truth and Soul by Fishbone (1988)

This ska/funk/hardcore/et al band performed at the first “real” concert I ever attended supporting their excellent album Reality of My Surroundings in 1991.  This earlier album though is the strongest and most cohesive album Fishbone ever released.  It mixes a strong social message with a fun party vibe.  Highlights include “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” “Change,” and the Curtis Mayfield cover “Freddie’s Dead.”

56. Homegenic by Björk (1997)

This is the second and highest ranked Björk album in this list although I was sorely tempted to include them all, not to mention her work with the Sugarcubes Life’s Too Good.  But Homogenic is Björk at her best – lush and rhythmic, emotional and experimental.  Favorite tracks include “Jóga,” “Bachelorette,” and “All is Full of Love.”

55. The Beatles [White Album] by The Beatles (1968)

The first two Beatles cassettes I bought were their 1962-66 compilation and The White Album  They were both double albums so I thought I was getting a good deal.  I also didn’t know what I was getting into.  The music on The White Album was nothing like The Beatles music I’d heard on the radio growing up.  This album is The Beatles at their most experimental, venturing into country, folk, blues, vaudeville, heavy metal, and whatever “Revolution No. 9″ is.  The sad side of this album is that it documents the band at a time of squabling and “artistic difference” with members of The Beatles playing with guest musicians more than with one another.  Still though, it’s all pretty good, intriguing stuff.  Favorites include “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Blackbird,” and “Long, Long, Long.”

54. Portable EFO Show by  Eddie From Ohio (1998)

Eddie from Ohio are always best in concert and this is the best of there many live albums capturing them at a time when I think they were at their peak.  I actually picked up this album at the concert when it was first released and the song banter on the album was still topical.  Highlights include “Cleo & Tony Medley,” “The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown,” “This My Town,” and Eddie Hartness’ drum solo on “Very Short Fuse.”

53.  Last Splash by  The Breeders (1993)

The oscillating bass line of “Cannonball” provided the backing track to my Junior year of college.  Last Splash is 90′s indie rock as I want to remember it best.  Other highlights include “Divine Hammer,” “Drivin’ on 9,” and “Saints.”

52. Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós (1999)

Can music be both soothing and unsettling at the same time? Sigur Rós made it so.  I was late to the Sigur Rós bandwagon but after hearing this album I hopped on for the dreamy, ambient, and cinematic beauty of their music.  Highlights include “Svefn-g-englar,” “Starálfur,” and “Ný batterí,”

51. Crosby, Stills, & Nash by Crosby, Stills, & Nash (1969)

Like The Doors, Crosby, Stills & Nash are a band whose entire reputation relies on a brilliant debut album standing out like a diamond in the rough among their later smooth rock and hippie self-parody. Let’s ignore that though and enjoy the brilliant lyrics and beautiful harmonies of songs such as “You Don’t Have to Cry,” “Long Time Gone,” and “Wooden Ships.”


Book Review: Rex Libris: I, Librarian

Author: James Turner
Title: Rex Libris: I, Librarian
Publication Info: San Jose, Calif. : SLG Pub., [2007]
ISBN: 9781593620622

Summary/Review:

Rex Libris is a tough-as-nail librarian now several eons old fighting to protect knowledge and make sure books are returned on time, even when they’re held by intergalactic space creatures.  This comic book/graphic novel is funny and intelligent and lets you on what life is really like for a librarian.  I just wish Turner didn’t give away so many of our secrets.

Rex Libris succeeds at being witty whereas the Noah Wyle Librarian movies are just goofy (although the latter has Bob Newhart, so a point scored to them). I found the writing to be similar to the creative vein of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels.
Recommended books: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction, andVandals in the Stacks? by Richard J. Cox.
Rating: ****

Book Review: FREE: the future of a radical price by Chris Anderson

Author: Chris Anderson
Title:FREE: the future of a radical price
Publication Info: New York : Hyperion, 2009.
ISBN: 9781401322908

Previously read by same author: The Long Tail

Summary/Review:

I downloaded Chris Anderson’s latest book as an audiobook from iTunes.  The price I paid was … FREE!  The entire book is based on the concept that in an era when much content is cheaply reproduced, that Free is a good idea for many producers, marketers, and business.  In fact, Anderson argues that it is a good way to make a lot of money.  Not everything is free of course, Anderson proposes many models most avidly the Freemium model where a basic service or product is given away in hopes of luring customers to the premium version. Anderson calls on historical examples and current practice to support his theory.

It was an interesting book and a good follow-up to The Long Tail.  I’m said to say that I misplaced my notes, otherwise I’d have more to say about this book.   It’s already stirring up some good debtate.  Read Malcolm Gladwell’s review and Anderson’s response for starters.
Recommended books: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (ironically), Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer by Paul Freiberger (for a more in-depth story of the dawn of the information age).
Rating: ***

Book Review: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories by Pagan Kennedy

AuthorPagan Kennedy
Title: The dangerous joy of Dr. Sex and other true stories
Publication Info: Santa Fe, N.M. : Santa Fe Writers Project, 2008.
ISBN: 0977679934

Summary/Review:

I selected this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer program because I knew that Kennedy was a Boston-area writer, but that was the extent of what I knew about her.  Then I let the book sit around for over half-a-year, because I wasn’t sure it was the type of thing I wanted to read.  My mistake, because Kennedy is a brilliant writer.  Her sentences are very spare, but contain the precise wording necessary to convey complex ideas and emotions.  I imagine Kennedy labors over each sentence for hours to get the wording right.  If she doesn’t, then I hate her because no one should be able to write that well, that easily.

The essays in this book are written in a literary nonfiction style – what Kennedy calls “true stories” – and mostly are short biographies of interesting people.  Most of these people are involved in science, technology, or medicine, all of them are innovators and have tormented lives that motivate them.  Stories include:

  • the title story about Alex Comfort, the psychologist behind the book The Joy of Sex.
  • Amy Smith who strives to invent things that can cheaply and easily be adopted poor, remote areas of the developing world.
  • A young female weightlifter, Cheryl Haworth, who seems to have a future as the strongest woman in the world.
  • Amateur researches examining the effect of electric charges on the brain for improving memory, intelligence, and personality.
  • Vermine Supreme, a prankster-activist.
  • A man who wants to restore the coastline of Eritrea by planting mangrove trees (Dr. Gordon Sato).
  • Singer/songwriter/collaborator extraordinaire and child prodigy Conor Oberst.
  • Saul Griffith, who wants to teach the next generation to be tinkerers and inventors.

The book also contains autobiographical stories from Kennedy’s life, most interesting is the revolutionary yet commonsensical ideas put forth in the essay “Boston Marriage” about women sharing lives and residences together.

Recommended books:
Rating:****

Book Review: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Canada

Author:  Carol Shields
Title: The Stone Diaries
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 1994.
ISBN: 0670853097

Summary/Review:

First impression:  This author has a predilection for unsettling, detailed descriptions of human flesh in order to get the point across that a woman in overweight.

Second impression:  Shields also has a disturbing hang up about sex and sexuality.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Or unusual.

Third impression:  While this book is ostensibly about a woman name Daisy Goodwill Flett the reader rarely hears her voice.  Daisy’s family and friends are the narrators and often go on a bit about themselves more than Daisy.  Its like we can’t really approach Daisy, we only touch her tangentially.  In that way it’s reminiscent of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Fourth impression:   Who are these people in the photographs in the centerpiece?

Fifth impression: While each chapter is titled as a specific period in Daisy’s life, the narrative is nowhere near that linear.  Flashbacks cunningly fill in details we were spared earlier in the novel, as if we’re learning as we’re growing older, just like Daisy.  The chapters vary widely in writing style too – one chapter is the dying vision of her father, one chapter is entirely letters written to Daisy’s newspaper column about flowers, and one consists of divergent opinions from family and friends about Daisy’s mental breakdown. In this sense it reminded me of Ulysses.

Sixth impression:  The writing in this book is brilliant – moving without being manipulative.  I didn’t think I’d like it at first but for the second half of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

This book was selected by my W&M Boston Alumni Chapter book club and I’m also assigning it to represent Canada for Around the World for a Good Book.  After reading so many books by authors from developing nations who’ve relocated to Europe or America, here’s the rare instance of an author born in the United  States moving to Canada.  Despite that, and despite the fact that even the protagonist spends part of her life in the US, I like the internationality of the book, and at least one commentator considers The Stone Diaries to be the Great Canadian Novel.

Favorite Passage:

When we think of the past we tend to assume that people were simpler in their functions, and shaped by forces that were primary and irreducible.  We take for granted that our forebears were imbued with a deeper purity of purpose than we possess nowadays, and a more singular set of mind, believing, for example that early scientists pursued their ends with unbroken “dedication” and that artists worked in the flame of some perpetual “inspiration.”  But none of this is true.  Those who went before us were every bit as wayward and unaccountable and unsteady in their longings as people are today.  – p. 91

Recommended books: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Ulysses by James Joyce
Rating: ****

A Day in the Life of a Librarian

Librarians everywhere are signing up for the Library Day in the Life project as a way of showing what we do to fellow librarians, library school students, and anyone curious.  I missed out on this the last time it occurred so I definitely wanted to participate this year, especially since I’ve been looking for ways to kickstart the library content on this blog.

My position at my place of work (MPOW) is Information Lifecycle Management assistant.  The job title is not the most self-evident and in the year and one month I’ve been working in this position the responsibilities and definitions have shifted.  Basically, I work with people and records whether those records be active (records management) or permanent (archives).  My typical responsibilities involve accessioning records for storage or for archives, retrieving & returning boxes at the request of an administrative or faculty office, and answering reference questions related to archival material.

That scratches the surface, and hopefully this exercise will explain more.  With no further ado, I present…

A Day in the Life of an Information Lifecycle Management Assistant

Monday

  • wake up (late).  My son gets me up with zerberts and lots of giggling. Get ready for work.
  • My wife drives my son and I to the school.  He goes to the childrens’ center, I go to the library.
  • begin work day by checking emails, planning out tasks for the day and other administrative tasks.
  • check out Twitter and FriendFeed to see how my other library peeps are doing.
  • continue an ongoing reference project to learn about details of the lives of students from China who attended the school in its early years.  This involves reviewing registrar records, yearbooks, and alumni bulletins among other things.
  • at request from a faculty assistant, arrange to have boxes picked up and returned to offsite storage
  • prepare a student file for loan to the admissions office.
  • Lunch!  I eat a salad and read the Rex Libris graphic novel.
  • Spend an hour on-call to page materials from the stacks for patrons in the reading room.  Spend the time populating a spreadsheet for records storage stats and reading scholarly articles and blogs relevant to my job.
  • At request of my manager, I refile boxes related to a reference question we worked on last week.  Also photocopy a few pages of interest to the patron.  I cut my finger when trying to remove the staple.  Ouch!
  • Resume research on Chinese students.  Also work on a similar question about the school’s earliest research in India.
  • Close out my day of work.
  • Go to childrens’ center to pick up my son.
  • Take bus to public library.  I get teased for going to the library on my time off, but MPOW generally doesn’t specialize in stuff I’m interested in.
  • Ride subway home.  My son is inordinately fussy.
  • Relieved to get home, eat supper, put the boy to bed and go to bed myself.  Whew!

I’m glad to get that done.  Now I’ll have to find time to read what everyone else wrote.

Beer Review: Rogue Shakespeare Stout

Beer: Shakespeare Stout
Brewer: Rogue Brewery
Source: 22 oz. bottle
Rating: **** (8.9 of 10)
Comments: Rogue Brewery is one of the most creative and competent craft breweries out there, one which I had the delight of visiting way back in 1997.  I hadn’t had a Shakespeare Stout in a while and decided it would be worth revisiting.  Oh, is it worth revisiting.  This is a dark, dark stout with a foamy tan head.  It’s tastes like bitter chocolate with hints of stone fruits and licorice.  The beer is smooth and velvety on the tongue.  Good stuff! Yum!

This is as a good a place as any to link to a great blog post about Beers Named After Books and Authors.

Beer Review: Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy

Beer: Summer Shandy
Brewer: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Source: On-tap
Rating: ** (6.8 of 10)
Comments:  I’ve reviewed a couple of Leinenkugel beers before and found them a bit too sweet for my tastes.  Yet on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon I was drawn to the Summer Shandy.  Shandy is basically lemonade mixed with beer so I expected it to be sweet as well, which it is, but surprisingly it’s more balanced than the other Leinie’s brands.  It was just the thing to refresh a dry throat and keep my sweet tooth happy too.

Previously:

Beer Review: Redhook Long Hammer IPA

Beer: Long Hammer IPA
Brewer: Redhook
Source: On-tap
Rating: ** (6.5 of 10)
Comments: I always think Redhook beers should come from Brooklyn, but in reality they are brewed in Seattle.  I don’t generally like IPA’s but the Grand Canal was out of pretty much everything on tap, so I gave it a try.  Luckily, this IPA was not overly bitter and had a nice balance of flavors.  A decent but not great beer.

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