Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mathematical Politics

I just finished watching the BBC Documentary called "Dangerous Knowledge" on the work of Cantor, Boltzmann, Godel, and Turing on the concepts of infinity and irrationality in mathematics and physics. First of all, I highly reccomend that everyone do some research into these guys, even if you don't watch the documentary.
At the end of the documentary, the host leaves us with the thought of whether we as humans have matured enough to live with uncertainties, or whether we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the 20th century and pledge blind allegiance to yet another certainty. He alludes earlier in the video to the difficulty Godel encountered by determining that there would always be problems that exist outside of human logic while living in Austria as Hitler came to power as a leader who declared such certainties that people blindly followed him.
I ask you to take those thoughts to heart as our own elections come. Please don't judge a potential leader on their answers or how certain of them they are--there is not enough certainty in this world in which we live to levee the sorts of blind judgements our political system traps the candidates into making. Instead, if you can, judge them on their critical thinking abilities and their abilities to adapt to both work in depth on issues and also take a step back and look at the world-view ramifications of any actions--a skill that I believe can only be displayed by someone who has a multitude of life experiences outside of politics and govnernment.
I fear we have become so comfortable in our system of looking for easy answers in our politics and policies that we have become succeptable as a country. It's a pattern that has repeated throughout history--if we don't use our brains more effectively, we will fall victim to the blind power of another entity (if not our own, if we aren't cautious in our checks and balances).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Top Albums of 2007

Yes, here it is: the obligatory "Best Albums of the Year" list. I mention the EPs because those four are fantastic albums in their own right and are better in my mind than most of the LPs this year. Is that the way of the future? Or are those bands just on the verge of breaking out strong?
Also, as a special treat this year, enjoy the media player with a track or two from each of the albums listed below.


SeeqPod Music beta - Playable Search

LPs:
1. Kaddisfly- Set Sail The Prarie: A clear winner in my book. These guys simply get music and get life. As with any "progressive" rock, you have to have a taste for the sound before you can dive deeper, but I highly encourage everyone to pick up this album and give it a chance. And if you needed any more reason to purchase it, a goodly chunk of the profits (trust me, they don't make much as is) is donated by the band to the Mr Holland's Opus Foundation, supporting music education in schools.

2. Against Me!- New Wave: Most accesible and yet deepest punk rock album to come out in quite a while. I'm not usually a fan of shouting every line, but these guys pull it off with grace. Their nonstop energy carries over to their live sets, too, which they play without pause for banter or tuning--just plain rock.

3. House of Fools- Live and Learn: I'm not really sure why more people aren't huge fans of these guys. They have some pop sensibilities coupled with a folk-rock feel and ripping guitar solos. What more can you ask from a few North Carolina dudes?

4. Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank: Modest Mouse is simply the best thing the major labels have going for them these days--despite "selling out," they continue to spew brilliance and reinvent themselves with every song, just like they have for a decade.

5. Of Montreal- Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?: Man, these guys are out there. But man, do they ever pull off some beautiful songs. On this album, they embrace their own quirkiness to put personality into twelve delicious pop tracks.

6. Say Anything- In Defense of the Genre (sorry, no mp3s): I, like many folks, put this epic double-disc album as an early favorite for album of the year, simply based on 2004's ...Is A Real Boy. While Max Bemis and the gang may have fallen just shy of their target (thanks in large part to the relative inaccessibility of much of the album, which is long and works best when listened to straight through--not something a lot of people have time for), they did manage to create one of the most lyrically brilliant personal journeys in recent memory.

7. Iron & Wine- The Shepherd's Dog: I hadn't been an Iron & Wine fan until this album--I had left him to the swooning coeds who went ga-ga over his previous efforts. But WOW what a display of musicianship in every sense of the word. He definitely made a believer out of me.

8. Limbeck- Limbeck: With new drummer Jonny P in tow (formerly of Milwaukee favorites The Benjamins), Limbeck bounces back strong from a mediocre sophomore effort. This is what life on the road sounds like.

9. Sage Francis- Human The Death Dance: In his most personal album in recent memory, activist/rapper Sage Francis plays with many musical and lyrical concepts that hadn't seen light on his previous albums.

10. Anberlin- Cities: One of the most passionate rock bands around, these guys are poised for a serious breakout. Cities takes their force up yet another notch from Never Take Friendship Personal. Can their major-label debut match that?

11. Steel Train- Trampoline: A reinvented sound (much more upbeat and uptempo) brings these jam-band-turned-pop-rockers up a level, and hopefully people will take notice.

12. Radiohead- In Rainbows: Did you think I was gonna leave it off the list? Nah. This is definitely one of the best albums of the year, even looking beyond all the hype of the pay-what-you-want release. I'd put it higher, but as much as I respect Radiohead, I'm so rarely in the mood to listen to them that I just haven't spent the time with it.

13. Aesop Rock- None Shall Pass: Some absolutely fantastic tracks on this alt-rapper's latest effort. See especially "None Shall Pass," "Five Fingers," and "Coffee."

14. They Might Be Giants- The Else: Gotta show these veterans some love for their best effort since Factory Showroom. While it lacks a bit of the absurdist energy of their earliest stuff, John and John get back to what they do best: writing quirky pop songs laced with ingenious metaphors.

EPs (in no order--they're all too good to compare)

1. The Reign of Kindo- EP: This is what happens when a talented emo band loses its lead singer and decides to jam out for a while, only picking up a lead singer at the last minute. The result is an alt-jazz-jam EP that maintains the overall sound of This Day and Age but pushes their own musical boundaries into completely new waters.

2. Edison Glass- Let Go: Christian rock gone horribly right. While A Burn or A Shiver was a solid LP with 5 or 6 really worthwhile tracks, Let Go is a quick and gloriously appealing peak at what these guys have planned for the future--complex, catchy riffs coupled with a few extra Red Bulls. This is what you love to see: a band really taking what they do best to a new level.

3. Days Away- Ear Candy For the Headphone Trippers: Fueled By Ramen made a horrible mistake dropping these dudes, though there's no doubt they don't fit with the Fall Out Boys, Panic! at the Discos, and Gym Class Heroes that comprise that label. These jam-rockers have recouped incredibly well from their being dropped, and continue to play one of the most entrancing live shows around.

4. Ben Karis-Nix- We Are Giants Now: At the low cost of free, this is far and away the deal of the century. After the disbandment of Jupiter Sunrise earlier this year, Ben has ventured out on his own. Please please please do yourself a favor and go to http://www.myspace.com/benkarisnix and download the tracks (and maybe even buy yourself a poster or shirt or something).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The best things in life aren't things to a fugitive

As I sat a week or two ago in a small church in suburban Dallas, listening to a Japanese virtuoso flying over notes on a Stradivarius, I could help but think how lucky I've been in my life. Not only that, but all of the things I've been priviledged enough to experience have been through the generosity of others. A few short highlights of my fortune, just in the past year or two:
  • Played Augusta National (every golfer's dream), and a handful of other Top 100 courses
  • Traveled Scandanavia
  • Got to be on stage (and back stage) at Warped Tour, watching a sea of people screaming lyrics back at the bands on stage
  • Visited (at least) 13 different states in one year
  • Sat 5th row at an NHL game
  • Graduated from a top 10 liberal arts college

And the list goes on. Now, as I work to make TechJam 2007 a success, I find myself dependent on other people more than ever--but not for physical generosity; rather, for their stories and brains. In many ways, I think that's even more valuable. What we can learn from people and their experiences can often trump what experiences they can give us--not only do we get the lessons of the experience, but we learn more about that person as well. In that sense, I'm extremely excited to hear from the wide variety of folks participating in the forum--to facilitate their telling of their own tales, and subsequently creating an amalgam of ideas from those diverse experiences and opinions with an eye towards the future.

I can't offer them much in return, other than the opportunity to hear each other's tales and ideas and grow themselves from that. If I ever do have the opportunity to offer more (the forum's purpose is to create a concept for the future of music that will benefit both artists and listeners), however, I absolutely will do so. In the meantime, I can only ask that you check out some of their music, and if you like it, please support them in any way you can:

Ben Karis-Nix: http://www.myspace.com/benkarisnix

Feable Weiner: http://www.myspace.com/feableweiner

Limbeck: http://www.limbeck.net

Kaddisfly: http://www.myspace.com/kaddisfly

Manchester Orchestra: http://www.themanchesterorchestra.com

Ludo: http://www.ludorock.com

Monday, November 5, 2007

If God is Love, then does that make John Lennon Jesus? (or, Worshiping cheese colored underwater vessels)


To say that The Beatles' Yellow Submarine deeply affected me would be a profound understatement. Walking into Blockbuster that overcast Saturday, I would have never guessed a few hours later I would not only be supremely happy, but also living with a new view of life, and whatever might be beyond life.

At that point in time, my friends and I were still in deep mourning for our good friend Jay Chitty's death, Jared and I fretted over job prospects (or lack thereof) while Spencer and Scags nervously awaited responses from med schools, and I was strongly considering quitting the golf team.

Spencer had been telling us about the glory of Yellow Submarine for months, unable (or unwanting) to quite give an idea of the plot: "You guys just have to see it." I snubbed him, thinking "I'm over the oldies stage of my life, thanks." Little did I know I was in for a revelation.

I'll give you all the same treatment Spencer gave me (trust me, go see it), but suffice it to say that the moral of the story is "All You Need Is Love."

That got me thinking--isn't it rather amazing how ubiquitous the term "love" is, and yet there isn't really a solid definition (although my personal favorite is "a neurochemical con job"). Isn't that awfully similar to God? I mean, traditionally almost everyone believes in God (of one kind or another), yet there are no certain definitions of this greater being.

Then I started to think, well, what do people really want out of this God character? A trip to heaven? Well perhaps that's it, but for how many people and what percentage of the time are they thinking in those terms? How many prayers are simply "Please God, just let me into heaven"?

Instead, people turn to God in times of need or want or hardship (note that the poorest have also traditionally been the most religious). What they seek from him is a little help (as a friend would) and unconditional love. Well, would that be much different if it were just unconditional love returned? I know that would help me through almost any hard times.


I also find in my experience that people who worship God often put their faith more into other people, too. But really, in both cases they're just seeking love. They deeply believe it exists, so they try to find it on earth as well (not to say the rest of us don't, just in different ways and to a lesser extent). They treat love as devine when they can't find it in another being.

The Bible even goes so far as to say that "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). Does that not end the argument right there? Oh, perhaps they don't quite mean that literally...

Yet, they need absolutes in their lives, and if they can't find them immediately on earth, they need to believe there is an absolute beyond life. I believe the more absolutes you accept, the more obstacles you put between yourself and others. I've recently had multiple jewish friends dumped by significant others because the parents didn't want their children marrying people who were inevitably going to hell.

In my mind, there are so many different definitions of the afterlife throughout time, there is nothing certain enough to stop me from deriving pleasure from this life--which, interestingly enough, comes from love, be it friendly, marital, or material.

Now, this is not to say there isn't a God. I am not so atheistic to deny his (or her) existence, but if he or she does, I think people significantly misrepresent his or her role in their everyday lives. I'd also like to think that if this God is so great and loving, why can't he accept me for who I am? Why must I grovel to win his affection? Can't he be everyone's homie? And how could (and why would) he create a world where some people believe in him and others don't?

I think there was a lot to be said for the counterculture movement of the late 60s. Idealistically, they had it right--all you need is love. Unfortunately, they let that thought consume them and failed to do much productively (other than artistically).

After watching Yellow Submarine, my roommates and I, who were already very close, became inseparable. You would rarely catch one of us without another, and you'd rarely catch two of us without smiles on our faces. We love each other deeply, and we aren't afraid to say so and put faith in that love. Yet we still got our shit done. Jared and I are gainfully empoyed in our fields of choice, and Spencer and Scags are very happily working in research labs.

Am I so cracked out to adopt this theory? As our Finnish friend Eija posited on a trip to Estonia, "What do you all think is at the end of the universe? I think sand. Prove me wrong." Well? Have at it...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Davidson Basketball in the news

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/southern/2007-10-30-Davidson_N.htm
I know I've gotten this link from multiple alums already today, but perhaps the rest of y'all are generally above reading the USA Today (can't say I blame you after the pathetic excuse for writing displayed in this article). Nice to see the boys getting some more great press--they've been getting a lot over the offseason, and I like to think it's all well-deserved.
Oh, and if you want to download all or parts of the Davidson Men's Basketball Schedule using Click2Remember, click here: http://www.click2remember.com/elephant.asp?schedid=200710237911

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"I paid $160,000 for WHAT?!?!?!"

There's a lot of controversy lately about the US News' annual College Rankings--are they trustworthy? Can colleges really be boiled down to a series of categories and evaluated and weighed to determine overall quality? Isn't the most important factor in finding a college making sure it's a good fit for that individual, regardless of what anyone else can say?
Well, yes, sorta, and yes. And I'll tackle those issues in reverse order.

The most important factor is definitely fit. And that can't necessarily be determined even by endless visits, let alone college rankings. Things change. It's college. The whole point is not to be spat out the same person you went in. For some, they change early and they need to transfer to somewhere that fits them better. For others, it's a longer process of development, of shaping and being shaped by all things they are exposed to at their college home. I was lucky enough to be part of the latter.
Davidson was definitely, without a doubt, the perfect place for me. That doesn't mean I liked it at all times, by any stretch. But I know I do best when I'm pushed really really hard--harder than I want to be pushed at times. I learn best when I'm given a challenge I've never seen before and very little context or instruction. Davidson gave me the best of both of those things. The arguably most important thing I learned from college was that no matter how smart I thought I was or how good I thought I was at something, there was always someone better; but the only way to get better is to emulate those people. Sure, it was frustrating--grade deflation, trying to earn respect from a walk-on spot on the golf team, balancing sports, social life and school work--but ultimately I think it taught me more (though not necessarily in the classroom--I know I learned far more from people and about life in general than anything that can be taught) than anywhere else could have.
What you take away from college can't be written in a textbook. Nor a rankings list, for that matter. But those ranking systems are there for the people who care about such things. 99.9% of the time, if you go to State School X-City Branch Y, you inherently care less about where some people rate your school--it has what you want, be it a certain major, or a sports team, or a certain social lifestyle. I mean, from how many people do you hear, "Man, I hated college. It was the most miserable time of my life." And for the one person you run into in a lifetime who might say that, you have to respond "Why on earth did you fork over a fortune to go, then? And why didn't you transfer?"
For those people who do care about rankings, I don't think there's any disputing that the rankings are relatively accurate. Obviously they aren't perfect determinations of who should go where--for that we'd all have to be judged on some life scale a whole lot deeper than the SAT--but they do good research and generally report facts. As I mentioned earlier, it's up to the student and his or her family to determine whether or not to care about those facts. People don't always bother to follow the rankings (my roommate is much smarter than me on paper, yet goes to the 67th ranked university vs my 9th ranked college). The reviewers also don't bother to even try to rank, say, liberal arts schools on the same scale as large universities--they're so inherently different that it's rare for people to look at both.
All in all, college comes down to who you are and what you care about. To some, that's arbitrary rankings of what reviewers deem worthwhile statistics about schools. To others, it's any number of things. That doesn't mean the rankings are any more right or wrong than football rankings. It's merely a measure of certain priorities that many people share. In football, it's winning against other highly ranked teams. In colleges, it's high test scores, solid retention, and alumni giving. In both, there are other factors that enter into preference. In football, it's your home team or alma mater. In colleges, it's social life, location, cost, programs, and so on. Despite sharing it with so many others, college is the most personal experience one can go through--and no exterior rankings can affect that.

Monday, October 1, 2007

you can never go home again

as many of you know, 10 of my closest college friends (including "the deuce"--my 3 senior year roommates and i) and i spent last weekend in the charlotte/davidson area, both to see each other (my main objective) and to go to oktoberfest (aka beer orgy). reflecting back on it, very little excitement happened, there are no good (crazy) stories to tell (and yes, mom and dad, i'm old enough to tell them if there were), and yet it was the best thing that's happened to me in a very long time.
and the worst. no, i'm not talking about the extra $300 i had to spend to get there, nor the 1.5 hr airport delay because the pilot needed more sleep, nor the fact that i spent 2 nights on a floor with a couch pillow under my head; rather, i speak of the realization that it gave my bretherin and i on our return to our own cities: the realization that our time together will be relegated to these occasional weekends (at best) together, an alottment time that will likely dwindle as the years progress. that, to each of us, is painful.
i say that with a degree of certainty because by the time my afternoon bathroom break at work rolled around, i had already talked to both spencer and jared about it.
my parents, relatives, and friends who know the deuce and have seen us together have all told me that i must do everything in my power to stay in touch with these boys. i must admit, my first reaction was "duh." after the four of us spent a year sleeping within 50 feet of each other (on the rare occasion that we'd go to bed if someone else was still up and hanging out), i couldn't fathom a world without these boys. even the tragic passing of our good friend jay chitty on new years' eve couldn't force my mind to function in a world apart from my best roommates and best friends.
graduation happened (producing what i believe the longest-held smile of my lifetime--from the moment i finished my final exam to the minute i boarded a plane, nobody could burn that smile off my face with acid), then i went abroad (scags and jared went on cruisies--not horrifically different from any other vacation), then i saw jared in chicago and milwaukee for a few weeks at least once a week, and two days after i last saw him, i saw spencer for a night and a morning in birmingham. then a week or two later spencer visited me (bringing the remainder of my belongings) in dallas. so what was so different about this trip? did a solid month away from all deuce members really make the difference to us all?
no, i don't think that was it. though i suppose it probably contributed. instead, i think that when we were in davidson, we acted exactly like we did when we were in school. and it was awesome. well worth every penny of the plane ticket. but then when we recovered from our oktoberfest hangovers (which aren't that bad--when the fest ends at 7pm, you generally sleep enough to be okay), there was nobody around to play with. everyone just kinda disappeared. right when we had everything as it had always been and we were supremely happy again, it was all taken away.
as i spoke with jared and spencer earlier, we all agreed on one thing: being apart from each other sucks. sure, we're all pretty happy with our lives (they both have awesome significant others from davidson, and spencer is near many others of our friends), but there's a huge void when any one of us is missing (yes, spencer makes the same sized void as scags).
that being said, we're pretty smart dudes and will learn to adapt, i'm sure. we are already pretty outstanding (by every accord i know) at keeping in touch--there are husbands who don't talk to their wives for longer than we go without a conversation. i'd die without having jared's e-mail, spencer's google chat, and scags' aim addresses all available at work (no it doesn't distract from our productivity; we don't use it that often--it's just a lifeline). i think any of us would pick up the phone for one another at any hour in any situation. i send out cds monthly so we all live to a similar soundtrack (as we did at school), and we keep a private blog to have another mode of contact. i'll even admit that i'm glad i played fantasy football with them--i don't even care who wins or loses, i just don't want to miss any opportunity to talk (shit) with my boys.
but despite all the talk, nothing can replace being together. i hope against hope that there comes a time in our lives when we can all take a week vacation together (at least every other year). whether we be in our home states of wisconsin, west virginia, new york, and alabama, or the furthest reaches of the world, i sincerely dream that we can find a way to get together as often as humanly possible. i want to do better than all those roommates who think they're close because they post on each others' facebook walls once a month, or drunk dial each other every few weeks. i know we can, because i know we all want to.
we may never be home in davidson or ryburn002 again, but i'll be damned if i ever let anything come between us.
oh, and if you want one more example of how close we've become? i told jared this morning that i had randomly picked up a copy of jack kerouac's on the road in the airport last night and was on page 100. his response? "i'm on page 175."

Monday, September 24, 2007

A New Vision for Virgin America






I am a political virgin. I know far less than I should, and probably can't fully comprehend what I'm missing.

I am what America needs.

Not me specifically, but the country as a whole, or at least those interested in politics, should take a step back and see things through the eyes of those with no political ambitions--see how corrupt (both legally and morally) our system has become. Only then can we make a fresh start on Democracy.

I use the term "virgin" intentionally to allude to the strategy of Richard Branson and his Virgin brands. In each market his over 350 companies occupy, Branson and his senior staff knew nothing coming in--they were virgins. And in nearly every market, they have succeeded, at times immensely.

When industries have been around for a long time with a single route of progression, with very few jumps or bumps, they are vulnerable. Same goes for government. America, while only a country for a relatively short period of time, has a government that has undergone few major changes since its inception, and has gone down a steady path into turning government into politics--a path that now leaves us incredibly vulnerable.

I read a post today from a canadian asking where our third party was. While third parties don't often win, they tend to be more progressive and can win some swing votes from both sides of the aisle on certain issues. In a time that will almost definitely prove a turning point one way or the other in America's (and the world's) future, we need someone who will completely reshape our thinking--someone who comes in with fresh ideas, rather than just a cleaner political path and more fundraising on the campaign trail.

I had high hopes for Obama--after his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I couldn't wait til he ran for president. He had my vote, no matter what.

And he may, still, but only as a compromise vote (the kind I feel like we're getting accustomed to making). But he's had the opportunity to be completely fresh with new ideas and direction and a positive attitude (a spunky virgin, if you will), and I fear he's been dragged down into the politics.

Now am I about to run for office? No. I'm not the right kind of virgin--I know nothing about government and policy. We need a virgin who's been looming in the shadows, doing his or her homework, and formulating the best revolutionary (rather than evolutionary--we've gotten really good at fighting the previous war) ideas to make our country great again.

I truly fear that if this doesn't happen, America might fall from superpower status within my lifetime. I try not to buy into all the scare media, but regardless of the day to day coverage, there's no denying that we've made more enemies than friends (if any friends) in the past decade. Many countries don't like us much right now, and frankly I don't blame them. We have a lot of luxury here that's easy to hate, especially when it's shoved down your third world throat as we try to "liberate" you from our high horse.

Anyone who's willing to get down from that horse and pull his or her own weight in changing our country and its relationship with the rest of the world has my ear, and potentially my vote. My guess is those capable are probably political virgins. Don't be scared to step into the ring--lord knows we're tired of hearing the same two sides going at it, and so is the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007

a religious experience

so i know i promised a blog about religion and God and all that yummy goodness, but it got a little late and i can't help but write about how incredible of a band manchester orchestra is. i just got back from my second conc...er...experience of theirs.
the first time i saw them, in february, there were maybe 10 people in the casbah at tremont music hall in charlotte. now, after tours with say anything and brand new, and last week's appearance on the late show with david letterman, they drew closer to 400 as headliners.
if i had to describe the show in a single sentence i'd say this: they are the only band i have ever seen who has been able to start a pit and have an entire room go 100% silent (not a whisper) all within the same song. the passion that lead singer/guitarist andy hull puts into his music is unmatched by anyone i've ever witnessed. even my favorite bands to see live, kaddisfly and less than jake, look like they're going through everyday routine compared to hull's embodiment of a tortured and constantly questioning mind exploding through music and song. the band began the show (after a 1 song solo intro from andy) getting their two "poppy" songs off the table ("wolves at night" and "now that you're home") before delving into the depths of all that is manchester orchestra. half the set is comprised of andy singing over plucked electric guitar strings, while the other half is an arena-rock-level show, replete with 3 layers of guitars, bass, keyboards, and lots of toms and cymbols from the back of the stage (though it should be noted that the separation of solo and all-out could happen many times within the same song). hull ended the main set (before the solo encore) with a powerful (understatement) rendition of "where have you been." after screaming variations of "God, my God, where exactly have you been?" for multiple minutes, it was all hull could do to lean his exhausted head up against the microphone. the room was as still as a wooded pond at night--not a peep from anyone for the longest 3 seconds of any of our lifetimes til hull backed away and thanked the audience.
after a couple more solo songs (again, the room fell silent, enthralled by hull's every word), i was fortunate enough to meet up with andy briefly--he still remembered half the questions from the interview i had done with him in february. he said he loved that interview and now hates the ones that he does on a daily basis--which made me feel pretty darn special. we chatted a bit longer (he said he'd help click2remember any way he could), and i gotta tell you, he is an absolutely incredible person, through and through. even if you don't necessarily like the music, i really hope everyone will support these guys.
more on God tomorrow, or another day, but in the meantime, treat yourself to the genius and passion of manchester orchestra...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

thanks God!

A funny thing happened at Camille's Sidewalk Cafe in Plano, TX today...
I was just sitting there, quietly eating my salad and staring out the window, oddly enough contemplating what I would do if I were to become a stay-at-home Dad if my wife had a better paying job she was more passionate about than I, and this probably 45 yr old woman with a kind smile, brown hair, a little extra weight, and fairly fashionable attire (who I noticed had been looking at me for a little while) came over to me and struck up a conversation:

Her: “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt your lunch, but are you Christian?”
Me: (thinking she was asking me my name, like I looked like one of her son’s friends from grade school all grown up or something) “No, I’m not, sorry…”
Her: “Oh, well, I was just sitting over there watching you and I had a moment of clairvoyance that God was calling you to become a millionaire.”
Me: “Really? Wow, that’s very nice, thank you!”
Her: “Yeah, it was really incredible, but it was crystal clear. Best of luck, have a great day!”
Me: “Thanks! You too!”

My friends and I have had a couple encounters with very religious folks at restaurants in the past (one resulted in a woman screaming "Are you coming home????" to my friend, the other was a much calmer encounter involving a woman declaring that Jesus Christ knew what the meaning of the hammerhead sharks on my roommate's t-shirt meant), but this woman appeared to be far and away the most sane and normal. She was just out doing some home decor shopping, reading a bestseller novel over lunch, when God spoke to her through me.

I have no good explanation for this encounter, mainly because I'm relatively ignorant on the subject of what makes people believe God talks to them (not saying it doesn't happen, just saying I don't understand it). It definitely has made me think, however, and I will more than likely be posting a longer post about my thoughts on religion in general tonight after the Manchester Orchestra concert (a band whose music focuses quite a bit on the struggle of whether or not God exists--from moments of certainty, to an instance of over a minute of screaming "God, where have you been?"). Y'all may not be ready for my wacked out religious thoughts, but hey, who cares--I'm gonna be a millionaire, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

you know you've grown accustomed to the south when...

a quick anecdote for those of you up north:
i walked out to my car this morning and was very tempted to turn the heat on. it felt downright chilly outside. i looked at my car thermometer and it read 68 degrees.
as i walked to my car to go get lunch, i wished i had my sweater with me. it wasn't very windy, but there was a distinct nip in the air. the temperature? 74.
apparently i can get used to this texas heat thing pretty easily. i'm gonna go play some tennis this evening to get warm. maybe i'll wear my courderoy knickers to make sure i stay warm.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ty white: the musical

Everything's going great with the new room and roommate, though I haven't moved in there full-time thanks to my newly purchased queen-sized boxspring's inability to make it up the stairs. Hopefully that will work itself out this weekend and I can sleep in my new room on something other than an air mattress.
At any rate, many of Mica's (my roommate) friends are indie/artsy-folks and one of the first questions I always get is "what kind of music do you listen to?" The standard answer is "anything" or "a lot of stuff" or "no country" or "stuff you've never heard of." I've decided I'm sick of hearing/giving that answer and instead I give the answer "I was raised on three things: Classical, Oldies, and Punk. You figure it out from there." A bit crazy, I know, but fairly truthful. As a result of my new answer, I've been thinking back to the albums that really formed my musical tastes. There are tons of "favorite" albums I have (a few are others by the same artists below), or formative songs, but those can all be discussed later. Here is my list of albums that had significant formative impact on my musical tastes, albums that knocked me on my ass the first time I heard them, made me think "this is what music should be":
  • Stravinsky's Firebird: The first piece of music that really caught my ear and made me enjoy and notice music.
  • The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds: Yep, me and a bazillion other people in the world. Can't get enough Brian Wilson, no matter how insane he is now.
  • Green Day- Dookie: revived (or helped create? modernize?) pop-punk and sent Green Day to the top, where they've stayed--whodathunk anyone could do so much with drums, a bass, and 3 chords on a guitar?
  • The Cranberries- No Need To Argue: Unbelievable vocals--both tender and edgy at the same time, on top of impressive musical talent. I heard a cover of "Zombie" on the radio the other day and it made me want to puke--it was SO forced; The Cranberries' music flows so easily, regardless of whether it's aggressive ("Zombie") or passive ("Just My Imagination").
  • Less Than Jake- Losing Streak: The CD that made me love ska and the integration of horns in music. They remain my favorite band to see live--so many years on the road, yet still one of the most admirably entertaining bands around.
  • Motion City Soundtrack- I Am The Movie: Inspired the dance-pop-punk craze that's so popular today (see Panic! at the Disco or any number of copycats).
  • Kaddisfly- Buy Our Intention, We'll Buy You A Unicorn: What progressive rock should be--utilizing many instruments, ability to speed up and slow down on a dime, catchy elements, but always moving towards a greater musical goal.
  • Eyedea & Abilities- E&A: My introduction to white-boy underground rap. Sick combination of skills between rapper and dj that other rappers wish they could find with their producers/djs.
  • The Beatles- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Yep, I'll admit it--I had never sat down and listened to Sgt. Pepper's until this past year. Needless to say, I was blown away.

So I guess it's still not overly difficult to classify what I primarily listen to: aggressive, yet poppy music that pushes musical boundaries, makes the listeners consider the music more carefully, and still pulls off a sound that's easy on the ears. I think I'll still go with "classical, oldies, and punk." It makes people think more.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

girl...er, women?

so here's something you might not have bothered to think of: most people don't graduate college at 21. okay, maybe you did think of that; but did you think of the ramifications? well, think about the dating game. most people like to date someone their own age (certainly not all, but most), and traditionally if the ages are different, the male is often older.
now take that idea and meld it with the fact that few people graduate college when they're 21. thus, pickins are (at least in theory) pretty slim for a college-graduate girl of approximately my age. this is not to say they don't exist or that you can't date college girls or someone older, just saying the standard superficial matching criteria are harder to match. even if you don't want to put the dating spin on it, just finding other dudes the same age and situation to hang out with is tricky.
lucky for me, as i've proven in the past, i show very little age descrimination with friends and significant others. but here's another thing we are very rarely subjected to at davidson: not only could that attractive person at the other end of the bar be in a relationship, they could be married! i had that mild awkwardness pop up on me for the first time last night--attractive young woman my age who i met casually at a local "young professionals" (which it turns out can mean up to 40 years old) networking event was rocking some of the most iced out (that means lots of diamonds, for the older set) rings i've ever seen.
from what little i've seen and heard of the women down here, i can presume that 90% of them are "fake" in one form or another--be it via surgery or personality. it's scary. granted, i'm very picky about that kind of thing, and i may misperceive "dumb" for "fake," though i often find the two to go hand in hand. i'm not trying to rage on girls, but i, like many guys, just don't see the appeal of many of the things women do.
anyway, those are my current thoughts and ramblings on girls. don't know why, just felt like writing it down. and that's what blogs are for. i promise the next one will be more interesting.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

when poking turns to sheep throwing

ah, facebook, the ever-creepier "social networking" website that allows you to connect with people you know or would like to know or are just kinda curious about. the fascination, nay, obsession began my sophomore year at davidson--people couldn't get enough of it. you could "friend" the people you were already friends with and see things about them that you probably already knew! and (omg) you could even "poke" them! if you did enough digging, you could even find out who was dating whom!
then they added high school facebook. pshh, those kids aren't nearly mature enough to use this high-level technology. luckily they kept us separate to, you know, avoid creepy college kids spying on the younglings.
then it was really strange that the new freshman class could "friend" each other before ever meeting, as long as they had their college e-mail address (and it was even stranger that my friend michelle, a junior-to-be, friended them all, too).
then there was the news feed scandal--putting a feed of all of friends' facebook updates took all the fun out of stalking! at a quick glance, you could see that tommy now likes the movie "anchorman" or that jill and billy broke up. what's the fun in that if you don't have to dig for the dirt?
then they opened up facebook to everyone. oh, man. in our davidson bubble, this meant that incoming freshmen could friend each other and join groups even before getting their college e-mail accounts (i wrote a response to this phenomenon for our school newspaper). i was even "friended" by my 31 yr old brother last week! weird.
the most recent obsession, which has pushed traffic away from myspace and into facebook, are facebook apps. facebook opened their api to developers who could create new applications of their own to help beef up the facebook experience. popular apps include iLike (lets you listen to and download music, plus see information on concerts--oh, and of course post everything on your profile), top friends (so you can rank your friends), and where i've been (a map of where you've been and where you want to go).
what do facebook apps add? quantifiably, nothing at this point. i threw a sheep at a friend the other day, and spanked another. is that that much cooler than poking? or couldn't i just write on her wall saying "i wanna throw a sheep at you" or something to that extent?
my biggest issue is that while the facebook demographic shifts older (it, like most social networks, is now largely made up of the 30-45ish demographci), the facebook apps seem to get more and more childish. there are a few more serious ones out there, but to have success as an application, you have to spread virally like crazy--and that ain't easy.
not to mention the fact that they've alienated the early adopters--many of my friends have stopped (or largely stopped) using facebook, and my roommate even declared last week "i hate mark zuckerberg."
so can facebook survive? my brother jed attended a facebook apps developers conference last weekend. here are his comments:
"Facebook was very interesting. I learned a ton, but I'm not convinced that there is a lot of value for older folks yet. What would be the "killer app" that gets all of us old farts to start using it regularly? Basically the platform is open for you to develop whatever you want and stick it inside the Facebook border frames. If you happen to advertise on your section/application, you get 100% of the revenue, which is a good deal. Or you can use your app to drive traffic to a different site and capture revenue there via ads or commerce. But the key is to think of something viral enough that people want to share it with their friends because that is essentially the only way to drive traffic to your app. Nothing in there currently (of 3,000+ apps already developed since the platform opened in May) seems like a particularly good example of something that would either make money or attract older users. Most of the popular apps are either juvenile ("tag, you're it") or related to showing how cool your low resolution pictures/videos are. Good for a certain (young) audience, but kindof a turnoff for older folks.

Included Nat on this email so he has a "heads up" that I will be quizzing him on Wednesday night about the usage of Facebook by his students and his colleagues. And as for you, Ty, do you think that your cohort will continue to use Facebook now that you're into the professional world? I understand that it's useful for "self-expression" and "street cred", but all the apps seem to be so light-weight. It's all about portraying yourself to the world and keeping tabs on your friends. Can you imagine people using Facebook for different reasons? Can you imaging a more complicated app (one that takes a while to learn about, for example) spreading virally the way a "poke" app does?"


so what do y'all think? are there bigger extensions for facebook? does it have lasting power? can a more complex app than a new way to poke people spread widely enough to survive? are there other possible uses for facebook's platform? i'd really love to hear, both because my brother and i are intrigued, and because we at click2remember haven't written off the possibility of developing a facebook app.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Davidson Golf in the news

So first off, props to both Alex Knoll and Steve Mayo for being Academic All-Americans for the second year in a row (you're only eligible as a Junior or Senior).
Secondly, have a look at the latest Golf Digest--they give their rankings of the best College Golf Programs. How did Davidson do? Pretty darn well, by all accounts. We ranked 45th in "Golf First," 10th in "Balanced," and 8th in "Academics First." Need I mention we're ahead of all the Ivys in "Academics First?" We'll take it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the housing debate

I've spent the past week or so very actively seeking a place to live, other than my friend's old room in my boss's house. It's definitely a process. I'm at the awkward level of having never rented/leased before, not having much established credit, and really not making enough money to have a whole ton of choice in features of apartments. The main keys are: safe, cheap, and not with a totally insane roommate.
Here's the biggest issue: I've been royally spoiled with each of these my whole life. I've always lived on the safe east side of milwaukee; I've rarely had to pay for housing; aaaaand my roommate has always been awesome. The lone exception was last summer when I lived in the ghetto, paid $325/month, and lived with 2 cats.
At any rate, I've looked at options from near downtown to way out in the burbs; from alone, to with up to 4 roommates; from 10x10 no closet, no bathroom to a 900 sq ft loft with new appliances and everything. And what have I learned?
  • Near downtown does not always mean better than the burbs. This may be a TX phenomenon, but the burbs also have a number of communities of and options for the younger crowd. Plus, they're generally safer.
  • When you go to check a roommate situation, focus on the roommate, not the living space. Unless you're independently wealthy, you're not going to be spending enough time in your apartment to justify extra costs that would come from prioritizing living space over roommate situation. And if you are that rich, why would you take a roommate?
  • Costs add up quickly. A $500/mo rent in a 2br is MUCH cheaper than a $600/mo 1br. Not only are you splitting utilities and internet/cable costs (totalling ~$200/mo in this area), but you'll probably find many other cost saving features of sharing--be it food or whatever. Multiply all those seemingly small differences by 12 and that's your annual savings (wow, tough math, I know--but it seems like few folks my age bother to really think it out).
  • Location, location, location. Especially in Dallas, a few blocks can make a SIGNIFICANT difference. Between slum an $500,000 house, or between walking and driving to bars or whatever else you might need.

That being said, I'm still no expert. But I'm at least confident that whatever my decision is, I can live with it. Besides, as long as your safe and don't have any major catastrophes, it's really not that big a deal to live in a shitty apartment--as long as things work most of the time, you can be perfectly happy there most of the time. And most of the time is pretty okay with me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I'm back!

After a hiatus from the blogging world (I know, all of you feel starved of my attention), I've decided to make a triumphant return!
Here's a rundown of life since we last spoke:
  • I spent almost a month in Milwaukee hanging out with friends, going to Summerfest, and playing a bit of golf (played one tourney, made the cut, but would prefer not to talk about it). I got to spend some quality time with Jared, my roommate of 4 years at Davidson, and many other great friends, plus got to see some great music including Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, MC Supernatural, The Fold, and of course my friends in Scenes From A Movie, who crashed at my house once again.
  • I took a job as Product Manager with an internet startup from Dallas called Click2Remember, a web portal that allows users to download customizable schedules and events from the internet to their Outlook (other calendars in the works) with a simple click. The website should go public in the next couple days (the portal will be in private beta for a while--let me know if you want a beta license and we can work out details), but I'll let y'all know when that happens.
  • I saw even more great music down here in Dallas. I got to go on stage at the Warped Tour for Bad Religion (who have been favorites of mine for 10 years), saw other bands at Warped including Anberlin, Meg & Dia, The Spill Canvas, and Street Drum Corps...and of course Scenes From A Movie. I also saw The Format and Limbeck, who teamed up for an amazing show. On my birthday, my friend Britti and I saw Days Away and The Working Title, both of which jammed out very solidly, then a few days later got out our skanking shoes for Reel Big Fish.

Now I'm hard at work, looking for apartments, and trying to get settled into my new home of Dallas. I'm going through the classic issues of deciding whether to live in the city (where the social scene is) or in the burbs (where it's cheaper and closer to work). I'm also struggling to meet new people and make new friends, since as of yesterday I officially have Zero friends living in the Dallas area. It's definitely different from college, but I've been very good about keeping in close contact with my best friends from school, which makes life seem a little less lonely (hmm...sounds like a good name for an emo band..."A Little Less Lonely").

Check back often, or subscribe to an RSS feed or somesuch, as I'll likely be posting here far more often than I have been (I'll make the promise of at least once a week). And if you can't get enough of me, I'm also doing a little blogging about Click2Remember over at http://click2remember.blogspot.com.

Much love! Keep in touch!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Some good tunes

Here are a few bands and tunes I brought back from my trip:

All good things must end...


I think it's finally time to finish up the European portion of this blog. Our final day in Finland we spent around Helsinki. We first went to Saapi's office at the Finnish Medical Association, where they had a very impressive collection of paintings from many famous painters. We then got on the trolley and walked around the city square, saw the old church, and went through a few touristy shops (there were some very cute moose caricatures on various items).

We went to an open-air market down by the harbor, where my mom got cornered by a very fun fashion designer who worked almost exclusively in felt. After a brief fashion show by my mom (she decided she was too pale to buy any of the bright colors in the woman's wares), we moved on to a very old (though beautifully refurbished) cafe for some caffeine.

From there, we moved on to more Merrimekko fabric and clothing stores and Iitala glasswares. Then to Stockmans, the enormous department store. There, my dad was introduced to the price of high and mid fashion these days--he was mortified. Eija also was generous enough to buy me a graduation present of a copy of The Book about Moomin, Mymble, and little My--a sort of Finnish Dr. Seuss equivalent involving the Moomins (mystical, adorable hippo-looking characters).

After a quick bite in the Aalto Cafe of the Stockmans bookstore, we did a bit more wandering to the Helsinki equivalent of Times Square (it's nowhere near the size...not even close), the modern art museum (which Eija doesn't like because it was designed by a Brit), and another fabric shop (mom's got some sewing to do). Then back to the harbor to board our ship to Stockholm.

The cruise was pleasant again, though my mom had been struggling with some digestive issues and spent much of the time in our cabin. My dad and I hung out in the bar area (the cover-song-playing-dude-with-guitar was much better this time around) and talked a lot about education of all kinds.

We got to Stockholm at around 10am and boarded the bus to the central station. We got a locker for our bags and a couple bus passes for later. Then we walked. And walked. And walked.

We finally got down to the Museum of Modern Art, which was pretty awesome. Obviously it didn't have all the incredible works of the more famous museums, but they did have a very impressive collection of Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, and others you'd probably recognize. It was a lot of fun to see these works in person--something I haven't really had the chance to do before.

We grabbed a smoothie in the cafe, then went to the architecture part of the museum (which my mom and dad really loved, but didn't interest me at all--I like nice buildings and all, but I don't have the training to appreciate models of buildings).

Realizing that the smoothie wasn't going to hold us for lunch, we walked back towards downtown and stumbled upon the Taste of Stockholm Festival. Perfect! We had some pad thai (pretty tasteless, but we were hungry enough that it tasted delicious) and went on our way.

After lunch (and after seeing truckloads of recent graduates partying it up literally in the beds of huge trucks), we hit the National History Museum. We were excited to see the Scandanavian Design exhibit, which turned out to be good, but nothing too amazing. I think what I was most impressed with was the glasswork. Throughout the years, they've done some encredible engraving and some even more incredible work with colors. Then we went upstairs to see the 19th Century French artwork (mostly impressionist). After walking around that exhibit for a while (they had all the standards of Renoit, Monet, Degas, etc), we were struck by the incredible lack of color. Either old Scandanavian collectors couldn't afford the best works, or they abhorred the bright colors that were so characteristic of impressionsm.

We headed back to the central station via bus (thank goodness we saved those bus passes for late in the day), grabbed our belongings, and hopped on another bus towards the hotel (all of 6 blocks, but we had a free transfer within the hour, so we decided to use it). The hotel was a gorgeous and luxurious 4-star business hotel near the pedestrian shopping district.

Not long after we got back to the hotel (though long enough to rest our tired legs and feet), we headed back to the Taste of Stockholm. My parents went for some calamari and fries, while I went for some sort of curried chicken plate (when I came back to our seat on a bench and declared "I have no idea what I just ordered," the guy on the other side of the bench started chuckling). The weather turned very cold and windy and it was all we could do to huddle together and drink our Murphy's Stouts.

The next morning, we woke to a beautiful breakfast spread in the lobby, then headed to the station to catch the bus to the airport. Our plane was severely delayed (well over an hour) because of all the security checks that had to happen before the US would let it take off. We finally took off sometime after 11am, and got into Chicago around 12:40pm (short flight, right?). I think we've all handled our jet lag pretty well, but it was very nice to come home to Nat, Julie, Jed, and Sharon taking care of dinner for us.

It was a helluva trip, made me notice a lot more about my own life and culture, and I would absolutely go back in an instant--if only it wasn't so expensive.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Tallinn (the old city)






First off, my apologies to everyone involved with my errors (spelling, ordering, etc). I had hoped not to butcher languages as badly as my dad made a habit of on the trip, but my own phonetic spelling habits apparently don't translate very well to Scandanavian languages and names. Sorry, and thanks to Eija and Vilma for the corrections!

Anyway, Tuesday evening we spent a bit more time in Jyvaskyla, including a great dinner and a trip to the natural history museum. The museum is located in the base of a watchtower overlooking the city and surrounding area (the Kujalas gave us a tour of the city from the viewing deck, which was a nice rest for our tourist legs).

We then hopped in the car and drove to Helsinki (about 2.5 hrs)--I'd tell you more about the car ride, but I slept through most of it. We got to the Kujala's apartment just in time to take advantage of their weekly sauna time (many apartments in Finland have their own sauna--I'm jealous). It was yet another different type, with a pretty large room without windows (it was in the basement) and an electric heat unit (and yes, you still pour water on the rocks on electric saunas, contrary to popular American belief). After sauna, we headed upstairs for a beer or long drink and an early bedtime.

The next morning, we woke up and readied ourselves for the cruise to Tallinn, Estonia. The forecast for Helsinki called for rain, but just clouds a 2 hr boatride south in Tallinn, so Eija insisted that we only bring one umbrella. We got on the boat (about the same size as our cruise ship from Stockholm to Helsinki) around 10:30am and found much of the boat already having cocktails (my parents and I opted for water).

When we got to Tallinn and got through the passport checks (all customs we ran into abroad are far far easier than in the US), we were greeted by our guide- a mid-30s woman who had lived in Tallinn her whole life and proved to be a lot of fun. We got in a van and drove off. The first area we drove through was a mix of old houses--some had been refurbished, others were well worn and showed their age.

Our first stop was at the palaces of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great (known as mini-Versaille). The buildings and surrounding gardens are beautiful and now serve as government buildings (I think one is the President's place).

From there we got back in the van and drove to the amphiteatre, where choruses of up to 30,000 can sing together on stage, and many more thousands can sit on the opposing hill and listen. Singing got Estonians through much of the Soviet occupation, and the tradition continues with a huge choral festival every 5 years (the next is in 2009). The amphitheatre grounds was the site for many moments of solidarity throughout and following the occupation.

As we drove to the Old City, we passed many apartment buildings clustered together--tiny, thin-walled apartments ("renovated" since soviet occupation, but still very sad looking) that provide housing for over a quarter of the city's residents (including our tour guide).

In the old city (where our bus left us), we saw a number of very old churches and parts of the city wall (2/3 of which is still standing, thanks to Tallinn's traditional policy of handing over the city's keys instead of fighting). Aaaaaand is started raining. Hard. We hurried down the path from the upper city (power) to the lower city (merchant wealth), bid adieu to our tour guide, and ducked into a cafe and a brewhaus for some lunch (beer). We debated what's at the end of the universe (Eija says sand, and challenges all to argue against her), then moved on to a couple more sights (yep, still pouring rain) before settling in to our incredible 4-course dinner at a french restaurant called The Egoist (a sign of its class: we were the only diners there until just before we left, when a high-powered exec entertained government officials in the hopes of setting up shop in Tallinn's ports).

From there, we headed back to the ship and headed back to Helsinki. Overall, Tallinn was striking both with its history and beautifully preserved buildings and roads, and depressing with its leftover misery from the Soviet era. It was the first time I had seen the effects of Communism up close and personal, and it was tragic--and it had a profound effect on the people: the guide joked "an introverted Estonian speaks to his own feet, an extroverted Estonian speaks to your feet." It seemed somehow appropriate that it rained there, though I am confident that they can rebuild in the long run.

Friday, June 1, 2007

a quick hello

Happy 40th Anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band! Is it as big a deal back home as it is here? Just thought I'd give a quick hello to let y'all know I'm still alive and kickin. I'm sitting in our very nice hotel lobby in Stockholm using my 15 minutes of courtesty internet time. We've been to Estonia, Helsinki, another ferry across the Baltic Sea, and most recently the Taste of Stockholm festival here in Stockholm. The weather is freezing cold (okay, 14 degress C, but I haven't felt that in NC since Feb) and we saw the first of the sun today that we've seen in a very very long time. Tomorrow morning we wake up around 7am local time in order to get back to O'Hare around 12:40 and up to Milwaukee by 4pm. Once I get there I'll be sure to give a full update on the last few days, but for now I'm being overwhelmed by smoke and need to go back to our 4-star hotel room (if I've learned anything this trip, it's that I'm supremely spoiled...even if I thought I was before).
Much love to all and I look forward to sharing pictures, memories, and more good times upon my return! Everyone in Milwaukee save a beer for me!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Just playin around

Monday, feeling fresh from sauna the day before, we headed to Muurame to stay with the Kujalas now that the wedding festivities and stress have died down. We stopped to get some groceries (notes: unbelievable selections of fish and cheeses, the supermarket is part of a departments store, and gatorade is hard to come by), then headed to their house.

After unloading and unpacking, we drove 10 minutes to Muurame golf course. I played with some family friends (I think) of the Kujalas in the pouring rain (borrowing clubs from Eija's godson, a local pro). The course had just opened for the year 2 weeks ago, so was still a bit rough around the edges, but the setting was unbelievable. Everywhere you looked, there was nothing but hills and trees.

The course itself was short compared to what I'm used to, but very very narrow with pretty small greens. We wound our way all the way up a huge hill, then descended rapidly on the 16th hole. It was almost a completely different game for me, playing with borrowed clubs on a very different layout measured in meters in the pouring rain. But I made a bunch of pars (missed easy birdie putts on the two finishing holes) and got home with my dignity.

We sauna-ed again last night here at the Kujala's house (they have a beautiful new electric sauna and a little kids swimming pool outside for the cold water part), then got up this morning and headed to the gym. Not a whole lot to report there, except that there were no water fountains to drink from (so I've been chugging since I got back here).

Tonight we head to Helsinki, then tomorrow we take the ferry 2 hrs to Estonia, driving a bit then to the old city of Tallina. We ferry back that night, then spend the next day in Helsinki until our ferry back to Stockholm that night. We have another day and night in Stockholm, then board our SAS flight (thankfully the strikes have ended) back to the US, arriving home on June 2nd. I make no guarantees as to whether or not I will have internet again, as I had not found it anywhere other than here previously, but if I do I will be sure to tell the world more of our travels.

lost in translation

In an effort to make the blog shorter and easier to read, here are a few mildly humorous snippits of language use and misuse:
  • At the wedding, Nana was drinking a lot of water. My mom, trying her hardest to learn and use Finnish, said "Vessa! Vessa!" thinking she was saying water. Nana replied, "Why do you keep saying 'toilet'?" Oops! The word Mom was actually looking for was "vessi."
  • One of the big buildings on the outskirts of Helsinki has in very big letters "FAG"
  • One of the big supermarket chains here is "KKK."
  • One of the things you can buy at that supermarket is a brand of chips called "Megapussi"

Monday, May 28, 2007

mmmmm sauna...


So once I finally got up and moving Sunday (up a bit before 1, moving towards 2:30, out of the hotel closer to 3 or 3:30), we were picked up by Saapi and taken to Tuukka's family's summer house and sauna, about 35 minutes outside Jyväskylä. Their house is next to their cousins' house (the twins I sat next to at dinner) and another local friend's. In all cases, the houses were built by hand by the grandfathers in the early 20th century.

Everything about the places is very traditional Finnish, though they do have the aid of modern electricity (though still no running water and one still uses a wood-burning stove). The rugs in the houses are all traditional rag rugs--woven out of discarded and worn out clothing torn into strips. All the decor is traditional and has been there forever. As they have added family members, they have built new small buildings around the main houses. They spend much of their time on their summer weekends at these houses doing repairs and building new things (the big project this year is to level the sauna, which has begun to tilt towards the water).

There is a true sense of tradition and family about the group of summer houses and saunas that is unmatched in the US. I am forever grateful that the families were so welcoming of us into their community and traditions.

After our tours of the houses and different kinds of saunas, we went back to Tuukka's family's house for many leftovers from the wedding (the soup was again a favorite). We ate and drank until it was time for sauna (ladies first).

The sauna gets up to over 100 degrees celcius (really freakin hot). The sauna we went in involved a wood-burning stove beneath the rocks on top. You heat the sauna for 3 hours (depending on the type of sauna), then strip and go in. In the sauna, you pour water on the rocks to create humidity and make the body sweat, purging you of all dirt both inside and outside of your body. In the traditional sauna, they also have a bundle of birch branches and leaves that you thwap yourself and each other with to get the circulation flowing even more. They say that in the sauna, without clothes on and subject to grueling heat, everyone is equal.

After a few minutes in the sauna, and a few spoonfulls of water on the rocks, you run down to the lake (very cold at 14 degrees) and jump in. If you were to hit the water without the sauna, it would be unbearably cold; however, with the sauna, the cold feels incredibly refreshing and makes your blood really pump. After a quick dip (before you come to your sense about how freaking cold the water is), you head back to the porch of the sauna to dry off and have a cold (ideally, though most here is warm) beer. Rinse and repeat as desired (up to 5 or so times at the lake).

The feeling you experience after you come out of the lake is ubelievable. It is the single biggest high I have ever experienced. You feel refreshed, clean, and you've completely forgotten about all your worries in the world. The beer feels like ice running through your veins, and the world around you is beautiful. You go from the hottest heat of hell to the cold of the polar icecaps in a matter of seconds, and your body feels as satisfied as if it had just experienced every sensation there is in life.

After we journeyed from sauna to lake and back 3 times, we went back to the house to enjoy homemade Finnish desserts (Finnish pancake with jelly, chocolate cake, lemon cake, and gingerbread and cheeses). After that, I sat motionless in a hanging chair for quite a while, content with everything in life and enjoying the melody of my own thoughts.

After a bit of time, we had some sausages and mustard (very different from Milwaukee style, though) and hit the road. I mentioned it before, but I can't help but repeat how overwhelmed I was at the priorities of the Finns: family, friends, and tradition before all else. In conversation at the wedding, despite not knowing me, few ran out of topics enough to ask me my age or profession. To them, the more important things in who I am are where I'm from and what I like. To me, that's beautiful.

My new goals in life are to emulate those priorities....and own a sauna retreat on a lake.

A real Finnish wedding!

Now comes the fun part. We slept in quite a bit, got an expensive (about €7 apiece) breakfast of coffee or smoothie and croissant at a local starbucks equivalent (though they serve beer and cider, which many were enjoying on a cool Saturday morning), and got ready for the big wedding.

Much like the preparation, the wedding ceremony itself was relatively casual and short by American standards, though it was in a beautiful old church in the very center of the city. The ceremony was similar to a basic American wedding (just enough to be classy without any overkill on religiosity and hymns and prayer and such), though Uuso (guitar) and Rasmus (snare) were kind enough to help play the recessional. The married couple made their getaway in an old green Fiat (similar to a VW Beatle) and the rest of us boarded the busses to the reception.

The reception was at a beautiful old farmstead (though I suppose there was far far more woodland than farmland) about 20 minutes outside downtown (which means way out in the country). We were first invited into a very old, historic wood building to drop off presents, greet the newlyweds and families, and make a traditional toast with sparkling red wine.

Then, at about 3pm, we were ushered into a slightly newer, but similarly designed building about 50m away for dinner. We started with some delicious black root soup with croutons, then moved onto a buffet of pasta salad, potatoes, smoked salmon, and roasted and smoked moose (which Tuukka's father had killed and prepared). I have to admit, I was very surprised to find that I loved smoked moose! After some time and plenty of wine at our tables, we enjoyed some wedding cheesecake and coffee with either Bailey's or cognac. I was seated at a table with Wilma, Uuso, Tuukka's twin cousins (5 weeks older than Tuukka), all their significant others, and Tuukka's French friend JB. They all were very good at translating for me and teaching me what to expect from Finnish weddings: people get very drunk, dance a lot, and become more and more willing and excited to speaking English with you. Man, were they ever right.

We went back and forth between the two houses over the next few hours for various games and traditions (having games is a tradition, though the specific games are up to the bridesmaids). The games included the bride and groom picking out which pile of random objects the other one bought them at a flea market. The traditions included a long speech from the father of the bride, which Tuukka's father decided to follow with his own speech about Tuukka. Oh, and did I mention all activities involved more eating and more drinking?

After some slideshows and mingling and such, the night turned into drinking and dancing in the older house, with music provided by Uuso, Rasmus, and some of their friends. It was fun to watch my parents relive their younger years, cutting a rug to The Beatles and many other favorites from their hayday (perhaps helped by my mom's insistance that it was impossible for her to to get drunk off Finnish beer, and subsequent efforts at it).

After a few drinks, though, I couldn't believe the friendliness of the Finns. Countless people would just come up to me, introduce themselves, and start talking about whatever it is they felt like talking about. I was blown away by the friendliness, and their English abilities! I met a former World Cup skiier, an advertising executive, a former head of the last surviving Finnish shipping company, and a marketing executive for a software company (among many many others). Saaku (Nana's husband) was even so kind to lift me up on his shoulders (beer in hand) so I could get a clear view of the traditional first dance--a Finnish waltz. They were all so happy and amazed that we made the trip all the way from America to Jyväskylä. I was just happy and amazed at their abilities and friendliness!

After the wedding (the busses left at around 1am), dozens of friends I had just made (mostly in their late 20s and 30s) insisted that I come to the club with them. Oh, did I mention it's okay to have open containers in vehicles over here, as long as it's not the driver drinking? Anyway, I sent my parents to bed (though they said they struggled to sleep thinking about what I was getting myself into in this foreign land) and hit the club. Juha (the advertiser) brought me in, bought me a shot and a beer, and gave me the tour of the place (introducing me to as many girls as he could as "coming all the way from America").

The club had four areas (far bigger than any bar I had ever been to): a main bar by the front door, a euro-pop/rock dance club, a "suomi-pop" (Finnish pop) bar area, and a discoteque (with both european and american classics and current pop) upstairs. After the tour, we wound up spending most of our time upstairs, and after a couple more drinks I wowed a few of the fellow wedding-goers with my American white-boy moves (you've never seen a more intense rendition of "YMCA"). Among others, I met the back-up goalie for the Finnish national hockey team (who had just won silver at the World Cup) and a Spanish girl with her upper-gum pierced.

Rasmus (who I hadn't seen much at all, but who is nearly my age) apparently had some drinks and then told a friend (or maybe Uuso) "Okay, now I am ready to use my English." He found me in the upstairs club and we hung out for quite a while. His English was incredible, especially since, as he said, he's never had a chance to use it (except a very little at my brother Jed's wedding). He's a very very cool and nice guy, a drummer in the Finnish army at the moment, and insisted that he show me a real Finnish time (this was after 2:30am). We went back to the front bar area (a little quieter) where he bought me a Jaeggermeister shot and a "long drink" (a delicious sort of grapefruity drink), the combination of which he insisted was most Finnish.

When the club closed at 4am, we went with his bassist to a friend's nearby apartment to hang out more and have a bit of a snack (which I didn't need or want, but Rasmus insisted "you must eat like a Finn!"). We finally left around 4:45, making it back to my hotel around 5am, sun fully shining. I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable days and nights of my life, even though I couldn't understand 98% of the words I heard throughout the day. The Finns are so friendly people, and strikingly similar to Milwaukeeans (perhaps why Finns that move the US tend to congregate around the Great Lakes).

The boat and first day of Finland

We got on a cruise ship Thursday night from Stockholm to Helsinki. I can't begin to estimate how many people were on the boat, but the boat was 11 stories. My parents were generous enough to get a first class cabin in my honor, which meant that we had a window and our own bathroom, though the room itself was as small as you would expect on a cruise ship (with fold-down bunk beds and the works).

Shortly after boarding, we ate a nice buffet dinner (a perennial highlight for many travelers) with as much Finnish beer and wine as you can drink. We had a table near the front window of the boat and had a nice view of the thousands of islands in the Sweedish archipellago. Sweedes generally own a summer home on one of the many islands, and enjoy a simpler life (with lots of fish) in the warmer months. I was astounded at how many islands there were, and there were houses on each of them til the very end (which we did not reach til it was dark--at around 10pm).

After dinner, we sat on the top level of the boat and took in the scenery until it got very cold and windy and we got kicked inside. We were nearly alone on the top deck, as the cruise (as we later learned) is often used by the Sweedes and Finns as an excuse to buy alcohol from the tax-free shop and get drunk. We reset our clocks to Helsinki time (an hour ahead), grabbed a drink at the bar, and went to bed around midnight by our new time (still jetlagged) as the boat was pulling away from its only stop--an island, whose name escapes me at the moment, which is technically Finnish territory, but is rather independent and has many of its own laws.

I slept very soundly to the purr and rumble of the motors (though I had never had the sensation of a shaking bed previously), and my parents suffered yet another nearly sleepless night. We awoke to a delicious breakfast buffet before pulling into Helsinki around 8am. Saapi, our host along with his wife Eija, picked us up and drove us to Muurame (the 9,000 person town of which his is mayor, among many other responsibilities--though he and Eija have spent much of their lives as doctors).

Finland, like Sweeden, is built largely on rock. However, unlike the part of Sweeden I saw, Finland has 40,000 lakes and millions of birch and evergreen trees (an integral part of their biggest industry: paper). The whole country has 5 million people (about the same as Wisconsin) and Helsinki (the biggest city) is smaller than Stockholm. The country is officially bilengual (Finnish and Sweedish--not nearly as similar as you might think; Sweedish is far more western) and everyone learns a third language (usually English, sometimes German or Spanish) and spends a semester abroad--quite impressive, no? The countryside is very beautiful, but it makes for a rather monotonous 3 hr drive from Helsinki to Muurame (and while Saapi is incredibly nice and smart and tried his best to make it better, English is his 5th language which makes normal conversation understandably difficult sometimes).

We got a quick tour of the Kujala's recently renovated house (in Finnish style, they pack an incredible amount of space into a house that would be small by American standards--the key is being very organized and having great designs of storage spaces), then were shuttled to our hotel in the nearby city of Jyväskylä (pronounced: yu-vas-kay-la)--population 90,000. The rooms were again small by American standards, but very very nice and comfortable (hardwood everywhere and an Indian theme in the decor).

As we walked around town to find some lunch, I was a bit surprised by the differences between Finland and Sweeden, especially the people, having come with the assumption that they were rather similar. In style, instead of the chic European fashions of Stockholm, most teens were dressed in goth-punk black outfits. In manor, Finns are far more reserved and seemed to keep to themselves when possible. Once you begin a coversation with Finns, however, they are infinitely nice and speak very good English (though they hate to admit it--they are born perfectionists).

We exchanged some dollars for euros (yay! i have a € key!), grabbed a mozarella sandwich at a cafe, and did some more wandering around the city before heading back to the hotel. I grabbed a nap (which my parents had trouble waking me up from--I apparently didn't respond to door knocks or phone calls) and we again got picked up by Saapi and taken back to his house for dinner and a pre-wedding meeting.

Now for the fun part: names. Eija and Saapi have six children; from oldest to youngest they are (and I will undoubtedly butcher the spellings): Uuso, Nana, Sanra, Wilma, Mina, and Rasmus (oldest and youngest are male, middle are all female). Uuso, Nana, and Sanra are all married and with children (Nana has her 3rd on the way), Wilma's boyfriend's family owns a bookstore in another part of Finland, Rasmus and his girlfriend live in Jyväskylä, and Mina's wedding to Tuukaa (an extreme skiier) is a main reason behind our trip.

Right, so...we went to the Kujala's for a dinner of Finnish pizza (similar look to ours, but different toppings...very delicious) and some chatting. Unlike American weddings, the night before Finnish weddings is inconsequential. In fact, this meeting was very unusual, even though it was a very informal runthrough of the timing and responsibilities of the next day (Eija was kind enough to translate the occasional word to keep us on topic: church, rice, dancing, sausages).

After the meeting, Wilma and her boyfriend drove us back to our hotel and related information about how Finnish tv was largely American TV, but 2 years late with subtitles (throughout my time, many have quoted episodes of Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons). We also discussed how Finland can produce 60 NHLers (plus many world class javeliners, skiiers, and rally racers), while similarly sized Wisconsin has 2 or 3. Pretty incredible stuff.

We had our complimentary welcome drink, a Finnish beer of sorts, in the hotel lounge and watched the sun get close to setting around 11pm (it gets dark between 1am and 2am...then gets light again). Then to bed for the wedding the next day...

Travel and Stockholm



WOW! First of all, my apologies for not blogging nearly as much as I had promised. The only time I have found internet access was on a cruise ship between Stockholm and Helsinki and I could only afford 4.5 minutes of dial-up speed internet (enough to check e-mail, but not blog).

Anyway, I have quite a lot to talk about and will separate it out over multiple blogs. First, the travel. We left Chicago at 4:25 on Tuesday, as planned, flying SAS to Stockholm. Being a Sweedish airline, they gave the announcements primarily in Sweedish, though repeated everything in English. The flight attendants and other travelers started speaking English if they didn't know which language you spoke, then changed if they found out you spoke Sweedish. However a trend that began on the plane and has continued throughout my journey is for everyone to speak Sweedish (or more recently Finnish) to me, thinking that I am a native. I sort of got the same treatment in Germany, though I was much younger and generally around family, so maybe I am more European than I realize!

Anyway, the movies on board sucked (I watched Hoodwinked and some unnecessarily long Matt Damon flick about the CIA) so I tried to sleep some, but to no avail. I had forgotten to bring headphone on board, so I bought some very nice (though cheap compared to competitors) noise-cancelling phones in the Charlotte airport--a very VERY good purchase for reducing stress on ears and thus tiredness and headaches that tend to come with plane rides.

After flying over the longest part of Canada's northeast and through the Arctic circle, we arrived in Stockholm early in the morning. We grabbed our bags, changed some money (Sweeden is not EU, so 7 of their currency is about one dollar (and there is no dollar sign on this Finnish keyboard)), and made the 30 minute busride to downtown, past the site of the European Masters golf tournament among other things.

The first thing I noticed about Stockholm (other than the overwhelmingly gorgeous women) is the mixed-use buildings, with lots of retail and many companies sharing the other floors (all adorned with huge logos on the outside of the buildings). We got downtown to the bus/train station, got our 24hr passes (good for both bus and train), grabbed a banana, and hit the train north to our hotel. The train system (and bus system) is incredibly efficient, with many lines running all over town, and you never have to wait more than 8 minutes to catch a particular train. The terminals are generally clean, as far as subways go, and the people are friendly, though not everyone uses their English readily.

Our hotel was very nice, though very very small by US standards. We had 3 small beds and a small TV and not much room for anything else, and a bathroom where you're nearly sitting on the toilet when you shower. The people working there spoke very good English and were helpful whenever we needed them (they even let us keep our bags there before they were ready to check us in and after we had checked out so we wouldn't have to lug them around town).

We spent much of the day in a historic district towards the south side of town--a very touristy area, but beautiful all the same. After taking a self-guided walking tour that I was too tired and jet-lagged to remember much of (I remember the buildings were very pretty), we ate lunch at a Sweedish-Italian retaurant. It was a nice, classy place and I ate some good, homemade ravioli in tomato basil pesto sauce, but I was also struck by the fact that Pearl Jam was the mood music. The thing to do in Sweeden is to go out to lunch (most places have specials for 60-80 kr (their currency)) and get food from the grocery store for dinner, as prices in restaurants increase significantly.

We sat by the river for a bit after lunch before doing a bit more walking around the district. On our way back to the train, we saw some sort of shtick (presumably for a Sweedish Jackass-type show) being performed that involed a man in a gorrilla suit carrying a shouting man in an animal cage. I'm sure it would have been more amusing if I had a clue what they were saying.

We got back to the main station, grabbed a coke and coffee (we were really hurting from jet lag and no sleep) and set off again in hopes of finding our second (or fifth) winds. We grabbed a bus towards the big garden in town and drove past lots of waterfront and museums. Once we got there, we turned around and immediately headed back a few stops to the shopping district. If you're unfamiliar with the stereotypes, Sweedes care a lot about appearances and wear very expensive designer clothes. Yep, that's for sure. As much as I wish I could pull off a European-cut (very tight) suit and tight jeans, there's no way I could afford them. To make matters worse, every pair of underwear in the mens section is either briefs or boxer-briefs. Apparently, they like it tight.

We headed back towards the hotel from the shopping district, picked up some cheese and crackers from the store for dinner (a simple salad for one costs 70 kr, or about 10 dollars--we think Sweedes stay so thin by charging so much for small portions of food), and sat in our room eating and trying like hell to stay up til 10 as we had been told to do to minimize jet lag. I crashed out around 8, I think, and slept clear to 9ish the next morning. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and headed out.

As our 24 hr passes had expired by the time we left the hotel, we decided to walk around near our hotel. Stockholm is about the same size as Milwaukee (though with more tourists), so it's not unfathomable to walk everywhere. We discovered that we were closer than we realized to one end of the shopping district (where the few cars that drive on the roads give the absolute right of way to pedestrians in the street). We stopped in a few stores along our way, but found ourselves near the University.

We climbed the biggest hill to the observatory and looked out over the city (I have some nice pictures, but also managed to forget my camera's transfer cord). It was so unbelievably beautiful and pleasant that we sat there for nearly an hour. We noticed that the young women there took very good care of their babies, and it was definitely very trendy to be seen in public with a stroller--a good thing since the Scandanavian countries are well below zero population growth and need desperately to produce more children.

On our way back to pick up our bags from the hotel, we stopped for lunch at a great local sandwich/coffee shop. Going to a place like that which was not touristy at all meant the people working there didn't speak very good English, so we had to do some stupid-American pointing to order. On a whole, though, I am very impressed at nearly everyone's ability to at least get along fine in English. And while they are very courteous and kind, it makes me feel like a very stupid American not to speak their language. I am now reminded of another huge difference-- you have to pay 5 kr to use the bathroom (or water closet as it is called everywhere here) in all public areas and in any place you are not paying to eat or drink.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, hit the subway to the station, then the bus to the dock where we got to our cruise ship...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We're not in Davidson anymore...

As I sit in the international terminal at O'Hare (yes, my passport came in about an hour ago...thank God), I can't think of any more drastic a change from Davidson than this terminal. Sure, we have (some) diversity at Davidson, but nowhere near the diversity here. I can't count the different languages I've heard in 2 short hours on my fingers. Then there's the fashion--from nordic drab to Japanese uber-hip and everything in between.

Just as immediate of a departure from Davidson as the diversity is the security. All the airport security in the world can't make me feel as safe as I did in that bubble, surrounded merely by good people who rely merely on each others' word to know that they are safe from theft, lying, and cheating. If I were to get up to get a bite of food or go to the bathroom in even the most public of places at Davidson (ie-Union, Baker, Library), I would absolutely feel secure leaving my bookbag, laptop, or even my wallet lying around. Here, I probably won't leave my seat for hours because I don't want to lug my 50 lb bag around.

Another difference is people's intentions. At Davidson we look out for each other, lending a helping hand to strangers and friends alike without expecting anything in return. Here people are cold and frigid to each other, as if suspecting each other of being dangerous. I admit, I was blindsided by a man who asked me where I was going as I wandered around the baggage claim area looking for signs to the international terminal. He told me I wanted Terminal 5, and to put my bag on his cart and he'd take me there. I did, and he did, and in my own ignorance (I'm not stupid, just too used to Davidson), I offered him what I would at Davidson for his troubles: a genuine "Thank you" and a firm handshake. This was not acceptable. He demanded payment, which I, startled, gave him.

I wish people would share more in this world: ideas, information, services, support, whatever you have to offer that someone else might need. I know that this is an impossible goal, as people are naturally ultimately self-interested, but I believe the more we share, the better the world we live in will get.

On a related note, though not necessarily relevant to my trip to Finland, what do people think about the RIAA going after the radio stations for royalties? In my mind there are 3 ways this can go: 1) Radio stations are forced to pay up, making even the top independent radio stations suffer immensely without the operating budget and national support of ClearChannel; 2) The plan backfires and radio stations start getting their music from non-RIAA labels, boosting sales of independent music through the roof and essentially hitting "restart" on the music industry; 3) ClearChannel pays, independent stations find other music, and ClearChannel is forced out of business (my favorite, but clearly the least likely). At any rate, I think the RIAA is again being unnecessarily desperate for funds in an industry that just happens to be sprawling away from major labels. But maybe that's just me...what do you think? (Pssst-that's a hint to comment)