Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ray Romano : Saving Mankind from Extinction

Over at the Freakonomics blog Stephen Dubner posits a theory as to why global warming is getting more attention now than ever: it's the kids.

For all of Al Gore's trumpeting, Dubner suggests that the theme of human overreach and/or climate change in recent kids movies like Ice Age 2 : The Meltdown (I guess) is impacting on how and the frequency in which global warming is reported.

I'm not totally convinced. Personally, I think the evidence is just too freaking incontrivertable now. But still, it's a fun mind exercise to think that Dennis Leary has more to do with alerting the world to global warming than Al Gore and all scientists combined.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The following picture was not taken from the recent (*Edited for content*) School teacher workday.



We here are Dear Mr. Supercomputer are lucky enough to have an agent within the Independent School District of (*Edited for content*). As it were, today happened to be a teacher workday, meaning no students. Teachers worked all day long to increase student learning. Below is an actual transcript of a meeting of the (*Edited for content*) department at (*Edited for content*) School. (Unfortunately, we have no visual record, only audio.)

Speaker A: Good Morning! Here’s what’s on the agenda for today. (*points to board*)
Speaker B: What time do we get out for lunch?
Speaker A: 11:30 AM. Now, let’s get to work. Ready? Here we go. TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS student performance TAKS TAKS TAKS scores TAKS TAKS Math and Science TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS tutoring TAKS TAKS….
Speaker C: TAKS TAKS?
Speaker A: Yes. TAKS.
Speaker B: What time do we get out today?
Speaker A: Depends on TAKS TAKS TAKS. As you know, we’re under major pressure TAKS TAKS TAKS TAKS. Now, let’s open this TAKS test from a few years ago and look at the following problems. Let’s look at TAKS how we solve them.
Dear Mr. Supercomputer: But I already know how to solve them. And we did this last time. And the time before that.
Speaker A: TAKS TAKS TAKS!! Now. Onto problem one. On last year’s TAKS (*Edited for content*) percent got this problem wrong in this district. 34% guessed choice A. 26% guessed choice B…..
Dear Mr. Supercomputer: (*slits wrists*)
Speaker A: …percent chose D.
(*click*)

Unfortunately, that’s all we have of the audio. There’s some sort of “slumping body” sound after that.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

State of the Union Quiz Results - DMS was this close...


First off, I want to thank whoever decided to seat the tallest person in the building next to the shortest person in the building.

Secondly, out of over 1100 SOTU quiz entrants, Dear Mr. Supercomputer finished 11th. We had 35 right out of 50. And 37 was the top spot. I'm kicking myself for actually thinking Bush would refer to Ban Ki-moon. And frankly, I'm disappointed in both Nancy Pelosi and Dick Cheney for not alternately standing and sitting.

Anyway, this caps not only a whirlwind evening but also quite a year for DMS finishing just off the pace. If you'll remember DMS faltered late in the Baseball Prospectus Predictatron thanks in large part to the Mets sucking it up against an average St. Louis squad in the playoffs.

So, I hope you enjoyed not watching the SOTU as much as Dear Mr. Supercomputer enjoyed bringing it to you, presumabley after the fact.

(Update: Big thanks to Adam for sending this link. You can see how many times any word(s) were used in each of Presient Bush's SOTU speeches. It's a fun toy and I discovered this is the first time he has ever even used the phrase "climate change" (he has never used the term "global warming" - had I known this, I might have myself a nice set of Axis of Evil puppets).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Take the State of the Union Quiz!

Win fun and exciting prizes such as Axis of Evil dolls.

Sorry for the lateness of this link, but make predictions of what President Bush will tell the Union tonight here.

I'll post my score if you post yours.

(Update! : I'm totally kicking ass right now! He's wearing a blue tie and has already said the words "Math and Science.")




(2nd Update: Started off strong, but wavering now (mimmicking the Bush presidency). I predicted more Cheney-standing-while-Pelosi-remains-seated incidents. Also, I think I somehow overshot the number of times Bush would use the word "freedom." And foolishly, I thought he'd use the term "global warming.")

(3rd Update: Woo hoo! He said both "earmarks" and "Iran!" Bingo!)

(4th Update: Dammit! He said "Osama Bin Laden." And he's only mentioning the Persian Gulf, and not the Gulf of Mexico. I thought he would refer to both. P.S. The SOTU is about 600% percent more enjoyable with you have Axis of Evil Puppets riding on it.)

(5th Update: Holy shit! It's Dikembe Mutumbo!! He wasn't included in the quiz!)


(6th Update: OK. What the hell is going on? Now he's going on about Baby Einstein? Where am I?)

(7th Update: Hmm. Is "God Bless" the same as "God Bless America?" If not, then I'm golden.)

(8th Update: Time for the Democratic response. I need another beer if I'm gonna get through this. Which reminds me: Play the SOTU Drinking Game 2007!)

(9th Update: Update on a prior update: Bush DID say "Global Climate Change" which, unfortunately, was not my choice. I actually thought he would pony up and use "global warming." Stupid me. On a side note: I once saw an interview who got the Republicans to all start using the term "climate change" rather than "global warming." A truly interesting concept that such a minor "clarification" could result in, really, the end of civilization. I forget who that guy is, but I'd like to beat him to death with a lead pipe.)

(10th Update: I think the aforementioned "climate change" monger is this guy. Note: Jim Webb is giving the Democratic response, but I'm totally not paying attention. And I'm drunk.)

(11th Update: Jim Webb mentioned Hurricaine Katrina, while Bush did not (point for me!). I bet if the Saints had won on Sunday he would have mentioned it. Because as Stephen Colbert says below: "If the Saints [had won] it is as if Katrina never happened!"



(12th Update: I've seen Senator Hilary Clinton interviewed on two separate networks. And I'm out of beer.)

(13th Update: Oh. And here's Barack Obama. That was subtle ABC.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Top Albums of 2006

Usually when music critics, professional or otherwise, sum up the Year in Music they like to make lists with neat numbers like Top 10 or Top 5 (like... so). It’s rather arbitrary. What if two albums set them apart and then four or five others are sort of in a “second-tier?” Why do we have to think in terms of five and ten anyway? This year, three albums truly distinguished themselves in terms of pushing musical boundaries and challenging the preconceptions of music. After that there were a lot of good albums left over, but I didn’t feel justified in putting them in the same list as the following three. So instead of forcing a couple extra albums in to make a contrived list of five, as far as I’m concerned there were the Big Three, and then the rest – still excellent albums, but a shade below these masterpieces.

3. Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head.


Nellie McKay is absolutely vexing. One minute she’s crooning about a lover, the next she’s going on an expletive laced tirade about conservatives, still the next, she’s singing about a cat. In fact, with every song of hers written from a different voice, it’s hard to figure out which one – if any – is hers.

What we do know is the tumultuous story behind her latest release. After being given unprecedented leeway with her debut album, Get Away From Me, a double-album with no real focus, is a testament to both her talent and how highly Columbia Records thought of her. When McKay came back with her second album, it once again sprawled to 23 tracks over two discs. Even though the album could have fit on one disc, McKay reportedly liked the nostalgia of having to switch discs in the same way music listeners once had to flip the record over. At this juncture Columbia became indignant to their budding 23-year old showcase artist to the point of sending their shortened 16-track single album to critics to review. While reports are sketchy and conflicting, it can be pieced together that McKay in essence, threw a hissy fit. She either gave the email address or the cell phone number of the Columbia CEO at a concert. At this point Columbia dropped McKay from the label.

Eventually, Pretty Little Head, was released in its full glory as McKay intended it under her own label. She produced it herself. This very fact shows the incredible talent that Columbia Records saw and presumably reluctantly let go.

While Pretty Little Head is just as sprawling musically as Get Away From Me, McKay is much more confident in her own ability and apparently had a nice time producing it. Pretty Little Head, in true Nellie McKay fashion, touches on everything from gay marriage to animal cruelty to single motherhood to euthanasia. But what sets this album apart is the production that showcases McKay’s amazing songwriting. Musically and lyrically, McKay can be whimsical and dark, heartwarming and troublesome. She croons; she raps; she yelps; she yodels; she even meows.

The album begins with an ode to gay marriage in which McKay takes on the voice of a gushy-in-love bachelor asking his boyfriend to marry him in “Cupcake.” However, for the first two or three minutes of the song, it’s unclear what the true focus is. It appears to be a simple song to a generic lover. But that would be too easy for the listener. McKay plays a kind of musical “gotcha!” It is with this spirit that one must venture into this album. Know that McKay will lead you through twists and turns.

She does noir jazz exceptionally in “Pink Chandelier” and “I am Nothing.” “There You Are In Me” traces the anger associated with genetics in which McKay furiously spouts out phrases of varying degrees of understandability such as “right wing” and “shellfish.”

“The Big One” is McKay’s first rap track on the album. To be sure, it has a catchy hook, even if lyrically it’s left wanting. However, the production makes this one of the best tracks on the album. More than any other, this track gives the listener glimpse into the boundless talents as a producer and her part as jazz pianist. In this song McKay seamlessly mixes a looped piano track with her high-pitched shrieks and electronica beats. It’s something that we’ve never really heard before and what puts McKay’s potential in the stratosphere. In addition to those three elements, throughout the song you hear distorted guitar, latin picking, and horns added one after another until the song itself is undeniable.

McKay gets help on this album from Cyndi Lauper in “Beecharmer,” an homage to Lauper’s musical era, and k.d. lang in “We Had it Right.”

McKay’s sarcasm kicks off the second disc in a tribute to Emo music in “Real Life” and living the good life in “Tipperary.” And just when you think that McKay’s sarcasm can’t get any more biting, she responds with probably the most honest, heartfelt and genuinely beautiful song in her repitoire in “Gladd,” an elegy for peace activist Gladd Patterson. But then of course she juxtaposes that song with the succeeding track, entitled “Food” and simply put: it’s about food.

This musical juxtaposition rears it’s head again towards the end of the album in which McKay bookends her second rap track “Mama and Me” with an unsettling reenactment of a mother and daughter yelling at each other, only to follow that with a 56-second jaunt “Pounce,” in which McKay actually meows in this way-too-bouncy tune. These “gotcha!s” can be frustrating (these are two of the tracks axed by Columbia) but it’s also what makes you fall in love with her.

“Columbia is Bleeding” was originally the last track on the shortened album. No, it’s not an indictment of the Columbia Record Company, but rather a protest song about allegations of animal cruelty at Columbia University. After a brief, smooth intro, the song turns into a hyperactive scat that builds throughout the track. It may very well be the penultimate Nellie McKay song: it’s dynamic; it’s biting; it’s politically charged; it’s Nellie McKay at her Nellie McKay-est.

And while some of the songs miss the mark, without them it wouldn’t be Nellie McKay. And it is her willingness to explore and push the boundaries of what is accepted that made Columbia so willing to invest so much in her up front to begin with.

Suggested tracks: “Columbia is Bleeding,” “The Big One,” “Gladd,” “Long and Lazy River”


Below: "Real Life"



2. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere



I hope that history is not unkind to Gnarls Barkley. I fear that while people were bobbing along to “Crazy” on one of the many radio stations – from alternative to rap to pop stations – they may have missed how truly great this album is. Not only that, but the album itself is amazingly dark. “Crazy” is in fact one of several tracks dealing with psychosis. After the first track, “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” the entire album is drenched with dark imagery and tributes to schizophrenia, suicide, and all the “Boogie Monsters” that lurk within the mind of lead vocalist Cee-Lo. Nowhere is this more prevalent in “Just a Thought” when Cee-Lo confesses, “I’ve tried everything but suicide; but it’s crossed my mind.” Alternating between bombastic crash cymbals and echoed vocals, Gnarls Barkley creates a distance and alienation between the central character and the listener. On this level the listener can possibly remain disengaged emotionally, but Gnarls Barkley demands a thorough examination of the lead’s psyche.

The album, which is generally classified as “Rap & Hip Hop” truly only has one rap track: the clever and smooth one and a half minute “Feng Shui.” The genre bending though, is one of the things that makes the album truly great as a whole. From a cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” to the gospel intro, it’s tough to really peg the style. But that’s the point of St. Elsewhere. Just as the central characters suffer from schizophrenia, so too does the album itself. “Smiley Faces,” which is an extremely catchy tune, emphasizes this and it can catch you off guard. It wouldn’t be a shock for someone to listen to the song several times, memorize the lyrics and sing it back a few times, before the darker, more disturbing meaning of the song becomes clear.

This kind of forethought in the thematic outlay of St. Elsewhere is rather bold for a new undertaking for producer Danger Mouse and lead vocalist Cee-Lo. Before the Gnarls Barkley project even got its feet on the ground, this dynamic duo decided to give it teeth and a brain.

Of course, let’s not kid ourselves: the finest gem on this album is the mega-hit “Crazy.” It ran the gamut of radio play, topping dozens of different charts in the U.S. and worldwide. It’s smooth and goes down easy. Even though you hear it all the time, you’re still not sick of it. It’s easily the most infectious song of the century thus far. From the moments the first few halting beats of the track hit the speakers, there is an instant anticipation of what is to come. It’s tough to explain what exactly it is that makes the song so great, so across the board. Sure it’s got a catchy chorus that every one knows. But the verses with their lo-fi production and ominous choir vocals are what really set this song apart from other rap-pop-alternative crossovers. It’s almost too simple. It’s got a simple beat, a simple bass line, and a relatively simple melody. The choral effect, however, creates a rapturous, ethereal feel. Meanwhile the lo-fi chord progression makes the song instantly accessible, while at the same time not overdoing it. It is almost as if Gnarls Barkley simply “takes it easy” throughout the verses. For this reason repeated plays do not get exhausting.

Whatever the reason, “Crazy” will be the most remembered song of the year. It invaded every station on the radio and stayed there for months with no backlash. St. Elsewhere is an album worthy of such a truly great song.

Suggested tracks: “Crazy,” “Smiley Faces,” “Just a Thought”

Below: "Crazy"



1. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain


I’ve already waxed poetic once about this album, and I really have no more words to describe it’s brilliance, save for the following parallel.

During my Junior year of college, Dear Mr. Supercomputer was just beginning to take upper level Physics courses. What struck me was how much more we have yet to learn about Physics. I had pretty much figured that we had discovered most of the Physics there was to discover. Sure there might be some fine details that we can get a few MIT geeks to solve for us in a decade or two. But more or less we could use Physics and the laws that Man had discovered to pretty much figure out anything we need. As my Junior year got going, I came to a startling conclusion:

We don’t know shit.

We have no idea what principals run the universe. I had thought up until that point we pretty much had a decent idea of what was going on. We don’t. I foolishly figured one could, with time and diligence, discover everything there is to discover and then that would be it. Like there was a top level of Physics and once you reach that level, that’s all there was.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this conclusion though. Every year brilliant minds win Nobel Prizes in things like Economics, as well as Physics. If there are still principles being discovered in the field of Economics, then there must be a shitload of Physics knowledge that is currently untapped.

I share this because every year I look backwards at the great music that has been “discovered” and wonder if there are truly any more boundaries left to push. In 2004, the Arcade Fire put out the aggressive and emotionally charged Funeral and it was like waking up to a new version of rock. In 2005, Sufjan Stevens put out the eloquent, sprawling, and beautiful Illinois which takes you on a journey both musically and geographically. In 2006 TV on the Radio is introducing us to the sound of anthemic rock falling apart. And the other aforementioned 2006 albums, Nellie McKay and Gnarls Barkley, both push their genre – if you can even find one for them – in a new direction that this world has not seen before.

And sure enough, at this point I look at 2007 and shake my head wondering, “well, is there anything else really out there?” Once again, I’m doubting that artists will continue to forge new ground musically. Thankfully, if history is any indicator, these doubts will soon be alleviated.

Suggested Tracks : “Wolf Like Me,” “I Was a Lover,” “Dirtywhirl”

Below: I've already linked "Wolf Like Me" twice from this blog, so let's just make it three. This is TVOTY on Letterman. Now, I never watch Letterman so I don't know how he usually reacts to musical guests, but he seems genuinely impressed, which I would think is saying something because usually he acts like a condescending prick.




The Rest. Other great albums of 2006, in no particular order:

Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope. Spektor classes it up a bit for her sophomore album. What it is lacking in it’s rawness, it makes up for in polish and sincerity. “Fidelity” opens up the album with a flicker of strings in a gambit reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.” “Samson” is certainly one of the more gorgeous songs released this year. “On the Radio” hints at the cleverness of Spektor’s first album Soviet Kitsch when she refers to “December Rain” by Guns n’ Roses, singing, “the solo’s awfully long, but it’s still a pretty song” and “we listened to it twice because the DJ is asleep.”

Suggested tracks : “Fidelity.” “On the Radio”


Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther. It’s bold of a band to change their sound entirely on only their second album. It’s even more risky to make that second album a concept album, but Midlake pulls off both stunts beautifully. The album centers around backwoodsy folks in generations past. Accordingly, where as their first album was more Flaming Lips, Van Occupanther is more Iron and Wine. Midlake puts aside the carnival-like feel in favor of a more toned down natural sound. It fits them well.

Suggested tracks: “Roscoe,” “Young Bride”

Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. Aside from having probably the greatest album title in history, YLT puts forth an exceptional album that would almost pass as a “Best Of” album. The various signature elements of what has made YLT a mainstay on the indie-rock scene since before there was an indie-rock scene is all here. Noise tracks, sweet piano ballads, occasional falsetto vocals, and the humor to intentionally misspell the track “The Story of Yo La Tango.” In a year where so many bands pushed the limits of their genre, Yo La Tengo continue to push the limits of themselves.

Suggested tracks: “Sometimes I Don’t Get You,” “The Weakest Part”

Built To Spill, You in Reverse. After the rousing nine minute opener "Goin' Against Your Mind" you'd think the rest of the album would be a letdown. Built to Spill has made an entire career on rousing songs though. They're able to somehow shrink time. Nine minutes seems like five. Six minutes seems like three. They're a guitar band that somehow doesn't get put in the same group as other guitar bands. You In Reverse ends five years of waiting and wondering for impatient fans awaiting a next release and it doesn't disappoint.

Suggested tracks: "Goin' Against Your Mind," "Conventional Wisdom"


Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras From the Illinois Album. As an unabashed Sufjan fan, I was hesitant to put this album on this list, let along amongst the top three. However, were the title of the album, say, Rhode Island, and some of the geographical references altered a bit, I would probably be placing it right alongside Pretty Little Head. However, the stigma of an “extras” album is too powerful for it’s own good. If you can get past that fact, you find the same great songwriting that made Illinois the best album of 2006. You find the same layered instrumentation that makes repeated listens enjoyable and even necessary. It speaks volumes of Stevens’ immense talent that his “extras” album is better than most artists’ best efforts.

Suggested tracks: “The Avalanche,” “Dear Mr. Supercomputer”

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Day + Ice = Catching Up on Blogging

Expect Dear Mr. Supercomputer's Top 5 Albums of 2006 soon. In order to pacify the masses clamoring for insight, I give you my "Which Bluth Are You?" results.


You scored as G.O.B.. You are an illusionist.

You sleep with random people just to make people jealous.

You've made a number of huge mistakes.

G.O.B.

81%

Michael

75%

Tobias

63%

Buster

44%

George, Sr.

44%

Lucille

44%

Maeby

44%

George Michael

38%

Lindsay

19%

"Arrested Development": Which Character Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Fiesta Bowl : Boise St. - Oklahoma, 1/1/07 - 1/2/07




Games like this just don't exist in real life. Games like this are reserved for an 8 year old's imagination in the back yard or in one the seemingly never ending onslaught of football movies. In fact, this game was better than imagination could have conceived.

Mrs. Supercomputer and I had the fortune of actually going out Monday night and I had taped the Boise St. - Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl in the hopes of doing some freelance scouting work on OU running back Adrian Peterson for the Cleveland Browns. They haven't returned my phone calls yet, but you know how the holidays are.

(note: "taped" is what you used to do before the days of Tivo)

While AP was a slight disappointment, the game itself was anything but.

I hate to go in to too much detail. Let me say this: Mrs. Supercomputer stayed up and watched it with me. If that doesn't tell you what an exciting game it was, then nothing will.

I know that last year's exciting Rose Bowl game for the National Championship had more prestige. And I know that Boise St. - Oklahoma doesn't have a same pizazz as USC-Michigan. But in terms of an actual game, last night's Fiesta Bowl was the best game I have ever seen and probably ever will see. There's no way it could have been topped. I hate to shill for The Network but if you have ESPN Classic - and they should be showing it on ESPNC any minute now - get a bowl of popcorn ready.

Trick plays. Last minute touchdowns (several of them). Do or die situations. 4th and 18. Marriage proposals. Underdogs. I'm not sure what else could have been done to make it a "better" game.

Below is a nice succession of video clips from the end of the game. But I'd implore you to watch the game itself first.