Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a Happy, Health and Prosperous 2009!

Um, That's Not a Word...

Economic times are tough for everyone, but perhaps the used car dealership in Mechanicsburg, PA where I spotted this attempt at advertising a drop in price should invest some of their dwindling profits in a dictionary...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

They Canceled the Whole Damned Tour!

Life in a Bungalow is reporting a full cancellation of the Damned's US East Coast leg of their tour in support of their wonderful new album, So, Who's Paranoid? (buy here!)

I was going to be at the Washington, DC show last night, the Asbury Park, NJ show on Friday, and the Philadelphia, PA show on Saturday, so I am greatly disappointed -- this was how I was going to be ringing in the new year and celebrating my birthday!

As yet unconfirmed reports are that Dave Vanian has the flu. If true, here's hoping he gets well soon. The flu is no fun!

As of this point in time, the Damned's website, Official, is only announcing last night's DC show, today's planned NYC mini-show, and tonight's Poughkeepsie, NY show as canceled; the NJ and Philly shows are still being advertised. Perhaps a glimmer of hope?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rock This Town

OK, another check mark on my Life Experience list. Sitting here last night, just a few minutes after midnight, doing some online work and just about ready to close up shop and hit the sack.

At about 12:04 ET, there was a low rumble that quickly got louder and louder, like a train passing by right next to my window. Given that I was on the second floor and the nearest train tracks are several miles away, that couldn't be!

As the rumble continued, the house began shaking. My mind raced - what in Blue Hell is going on here? Some sort of explosion nearby? A couple of large trucks colliding on Columbia Avenue? No, neither of these could be the case either, as the rumbling and shaking was lasting too long.

And then it stopped, just as abruptly as it started. Was that a frickin' earthquake? In Lancaster, PA? In December?

Since I was online at the time, I immediately went to the local TV station's news website. WGAL-TV, channel 8, broadcasts from a building about a block or so west of my home. If I felt this shaking, then anyone there felt must have felt it, too - or so I thought. Then again, our local news is infamous for being a bit slow on the story, and more than a bit lax in their depth of coverage. Their website had nothing, and neither was there any information on their television broadcast.

I also immediately posted status updates on both Facebook and Twitter, basically asking if anyone else had experienced this. Had to make sure I wasn't going cuckoo, y'know! Not a lot of people on Facebook at that time, but Twitter absolutely came to life. For the next hour, several fellow local Twitterers and I exchanged info.

Relatively quickly, the links to the U.S. Geological Survey website started coming in, verifying that indeed, a 3.3 magnitude quake had hit us. Centered in Landisville, PA (a little less than 10 miles from where I am), the quake registered as far south as Maryland, as far west as Carlisle, PA, and as far east as Philadelphia - a huge region. This morning, I noticed the magnitude has been upped to a 3.4.

Once we knew what it was, and once the initial excitement on Twitter settled down, conversation turned to the fact that no news media was reporting anything - nothing at all! I stayed online for about an hour, and by the time I called it a night, there was still nothing on the local news, and precious little info online outside of the USGS site.

Got up this morning and did a cursory check around the house -- no damage, nothing fell over, no new cracks in the walls or ceilings. Definitely a case of the bark being greater than the bite, thankfully. To my knowledge, though, that's the first earthquake I've ever experienced. The whole thing lasted maybe 30 seconds at most, but while it was happening, it sure seemed to be occurring in slow motion.

Thank you to all my fellow Twitterers for being on the ball last night, and for picking up the slack where the news media failed.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gateway: 10 Records from My Pre-Punk Days

Mike E. over at the wonderful Strange Reaction (if you don't read it regularly, you must!) posted his Top 10 Pre-Punk Albums. The parameters he defined and challenged others to base their own lists on, were as follows:
"These were the albums I had as I was starting to get into punk, my gateway crap. You have had the same albums, hell, you may hate them all – that’s OK, I hate some of them now. Leave some comments; list your top ten pre-punk albums/singles/EP’s."

OK, Mike, I'm up for the task. I can't call it a "Top Ten" because they are in no particular order here, but these were definitely the earliest seeds of a collection that now numbers almost 3000 titles, and were the records that most greatly informed my later musical tastes:

1. Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes, 1982

Had this record before just about anyone else I knew, and played it until the grooves wore smooth. Still my favorite album, start to finish, of all time, but oh how powerful this was to the 15-year-old me! Makes me laugh to see how retro-chic this LP became over the years. Everyone and their uncle sings along with "Blister in the Sun" nowadays; in its time, this record couldn't get the time of day from most people!

2. Beauty & the Beat by the Go-go's, 1981

People forget how huge this record was in '81. People also forget the newsworthiness of an all-girl band who played their own instruments having a hit record (and somewhere, the Runaways were undoubtedly gnashing their teeth!) Sure it's a naive pop record. Still, the freewheeling exuberance comes through even 27 years (!) later. To this day I have a crush on Jane Wiedlin...

3. Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam & the Ants, 1980

Yes, I was a sucker for Antmusic. Still love the quirky, angular sounds of this record, although it doesn't see nearly the level of airplay in my home that it did all those years ago. Nowadays, I prefer the earlier, much darker Dirk Wears White Sox, but for years "Antmusic" was my favorite song.

4. "Mexican Radio" single by Wall of Voodoo, 1982

I once heard Wall of Voodoo referred to as "the thinking man's Devo," and while the backhanded slap at the Spudboys is unnecessary, the spirit of the description is fitting. I remember grabbing this single the day after I heard the song - it sounded like nothing else I had heard to that point, and I loved it! Over the years, I have come to appreciate much of WoV's other work more greatly, but I guess I'll always wish I was in Tijuana eating barbecued iguana...

5. "Money" single by the Flying Lizards, 1979

The record that put New Wave on my musical radar! In 1979, the local Top 40 station, WLAN, was an AM station (remember those days, kids?) that I used to pull in with a hand-me-down AM-only radio that just barely made the scratchy signal audible. Each Friday, listeners would phone in their votes for best songs of the week, and the DJ would count down the Top 5. One week, this made the Top 5 by votes, but the DJ refused to play the record because "that's not even music!" I needed to have the record immediately, and thus began my hatred of commercial radio.

6. Freedom of Choice by Devo, 1980

"Whip it, whip it good!" On one of those VH1 specials where a bunch of irrelevant D-list celebs give their opinions on stuff, someone (forget who) said that Devo were ahead of their time then, and that record is still ahead of it's time even today! Yeah, I can go with that. For as much as Devo can come off as a novelty band, this record showed them capable of creating a cohesive album that flows start to finish. Still one of the best records in my collection.

7. The Beat - various artists, 1982

A K-tel Records New Wave collection? It happened! The cult-like as-seen-on-TV K-tel Records was infamous throughout the 1970s for their slap-together compilations of whatever was popular on the radio that month. Their heyday was steeped in disco, which made it astounding when the TV ads for this one started up: Bow Wow Wow? Thompson Twins? Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark? The Waitresses? Heck, half the albums playing list hadn't been touched by commercial radio yet. Even Duran Duran was unknown when this came out, with their scandalous "Girls on Film" tucked away in its grooves. Today it plays like New Wave retro jukebox, but at the time it introduced many a young waver to bands before their time.

8. "Valley Girl" single by Frank and Moon Zappa, 1981

You had to be there, I guess, but this was hysterically wonderful when it first came out. I knew girls who talked like this - and knew more who suddenly began talking like this once this record hit the shelves. Definitely dated and really just a novelty record, the thing rocks surprisingly hard when you dig past the surface.

9. Alive II by Kiss, 1977

I was in 4th grade, and my greatest ambition at the time was to join the Kiss Army. This was prime Kiss - too heavy for the glam crowd, too glam for the metal crowd; too metal for the punk crowd, but undeniably awesome. They were in some ways the sonic offspring of the MC5 and the Dictators, but they went a decidedly different direction than the punk rock family tree, finally ending up as just another metal band. Without them, though, I would never have appreciated the power of loud, hard, bowl-you-over music, and may never have made the side-step to punk rock.

10. Rarities by the Beatles, 1980

Just prior to my entry to the worlds of New Wave and Punk Rock, I was a Beatles fan. I believe, no matter what genre ends up being your music of choice, your path has to have gone through Beatleville at some point. In 1980, as a 13-year-old with a paper route, I wasn't buying records willy-nilly just yet. But, I knew I wanted the Beatles represented. This was the perfect choice for the blossoming counter-culturalist in me, for it was a Beatles record with versions of the songs that most people didn't know. When I hit the height of my Punk Rock days, I purged this record from my collection - no self-respecting punk would own a Beatles record, right? Wrong! I finally replaced the album some time ago, and hearing it again years later put a smile on my face.

So, there is my list of 10 "gateway" records into the musical world universe I now inhabit. How about you? What were the 10 records that started you on your musical journey?

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Eartha Kitt 1/17/27 - 12/25/08

The world lost a great entertainer on Christmas Day. Eartha Kitt passed away at the age of 81 yesterday after a battle with colon cancer.

With a distinctive voice that made her instantly recognizable, Kitt made her motion-picture debut in 1948 and continued performing on a regular basis up through her stage show earlier this year - six decades!

Kitt was well-known for the holiday hit "Santa Baby", and was the best of the three actresses (Lee Merriweather and Julie Newmar being the other two) to portray Catwoman to Adam West's Batman in the '60s. Oh, that growl!

The video below, with Kitt performing "I Want to Be Evil", is a prime example of her style and talent. She will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

Twittering Away in Amish Country

I am honored to have been included in the Lancaster Twitterati roll call created by Daniel Klotz of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. Folks, if you have any connection at all to Lancaster, PA, whether as a tourist or as a current or former resident, and if you are currently on Twitter or are considering joining, these are the folks you want to follow!

One of the pluses of having some extra time on my hands recently is that I have had the opportunity to catch up with some old friends, forge new friendships with some very good folks, and reconnect with the goings-on in my own town. The folks you'll find in the Lancaster Twitterati list are a large part of what rekindled that hometown pride.

Twitter, like any other Social Network, does have a global reach. But one of the neatest aspects of Twitter is its ability to bring together a strong local community, who can not only serve as ambassadors for their locale but can also work together to improve it.

If you are reading this saying, "Great, Bryan, but I'm not in Lancaster, PA, and have no reason ever to be," I say to you: Create the Twitterati Roll Call for your town. Build the group that will welcome travelers to your community, that will foster that sense of local pride, and who can be your ambassadors to the Twitter universe. Not sure who those folks might be? There is a great piece of Freeware called TwitterLocal that allows you to filter down your Twitter stream to a particular zip code or area, and can give you a start on discovering your Twitterati.

Oh, and even if you're not from around here, consider following the folks on the Lancaster Twitterati list. I can attest to the fact that they are among the most friendly, open, and occasionally goofy group of folks you'll find.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Death or Glory - Joe Strummer 8/21/52 - 12/22/02

Hard to believe it's been this long, but today marks six years since the world lost Joe Strummer. In his remembrance, here are two of my favorite examples of his work:

The 101er's - "Keys to Your Heart"

The Clash - "Death or Glory"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yeah, I Know, Changing Already...

If you are currently getting email updates from me via Bot-a-Blog, please resubscribe using the new Feedblitz field on the left-hand side of the page. Bot-A-Blog was nice, but didn't offer the same flexibility or data services that Feedblitz does.

I'll leave the Bot-A-Blog service running for a couple of days yet, but after Christmas I will be stopping that feed -- please make the switch-over before then so you don't miss anything!


Keep Those Home Computer Fires Burning

Nothing better on a cold December night than to curl up by the fireplace with loved ones, Christmas carols in the background.

What? You don't have a fireplace? No problem! The folks at have you covered. Follow the link, and choose your settings - with or without music, and with or without fireplace sound effects.

As I said, nothing better than to curl up in front of the computer...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Your Friendly RIAA

News broke today that the RIAA is ending its five-year campaign to wipe out peer-to-peer file sharing through vigorous, if highly questionable, lawsuits against its own customers. Of course, they are not giving up the fight. No, now they are appealing to the major ISPs to help them root out the evil file sharers and take away their Internet service. They've gone from treating the public as guilty-until-proven-innocent criminals to treating the public as kindergartners who will have their toys taken away if they don't learn to play with them nicely.

On the one hand, this news is positive: it only took five years for the RIAA to figure out that their approach not only wasn't effective, it was counterproductive! In 2003, when the RIAA began the lawsuit campaign, there were estimated to be somewhere around 3,000,000 people in the US using P2P networks to share music. By 2007, there were closer to 9,500,000 - better than a 300% increase in P2P network population. This with the highly publicized monitoring of those P2P networks in full force.

Overall CD, vinyl and cassette sales during that same have famously plunged, from about $11 billion in 2003 to $7.5 billion in 2007. (To paraphrase Jello Biafra, could it be they've put out too many lousy records?) Tellingly, during the same period the RIAA's own sales numbers for "legal downloads" has grown dramatically, from $184,000,000 in 2004 (the first year for such reporting) to $1,250,000,000 in 2007 -- better than a 675% increase! (source)

On the other hand, is the new remedy the RIAA is choosing worse yet? After all, they are still going to identify "likely" violators with the same questionable methods they've always used. Now, they've conveniently eliminated the need for any due process whatsoever - or even the need to identify the owner of a given IP address! Now, they just go to the ISP and say "This IP address may have been sharing music files - cut their Internet service!" Just like that, your grandma in Tucson is bumped offline.

When will the RIAA learn? The marketplace isn't out to do them in, yet they seem always to have felt this way. Remember the "home taping is killing the music industry" campaigns in the '80s? Heck, if it weren't for hearing artists on tapes my friends made for me back then, I wouldn't have purchased half the albums in my collection!

What better way to market a band than through word-of-mouth? Aren't you more willing to give an unknown artist a listen when one of your buddies tells you, "Oh man, you've gotta hear this!" than you are even based on review you might read online or in a magazine? This is why P2P networks are so popular.

Would it be so difficult to create the RIAA's own "legitimate" P2P network? JR Raphael, in an article for PCWorld, suggests this very solution.

I think it's an outstanding idea. How about you?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh No, It's Bebo!

I admit it: I'm a social networking junkie. I have a great time checking in with my online friends on a daily basis, sharing snippets of my life and catching glimpses of theirs. While it is certainly no substitute for actual human interaction, there is a definite sense of community found among those of us who are conducting this "virtual social life". And, the online neighborhood has no physical boundaries. My network, for example, includes folks from as far away as Amsterdam, Indonesia and Australia as well as friends who literally live a few blocks from my house.

As I am still a relative "rookie" in the Social Networking world, and there are a wide assortment of Social Networks out there to choose from, I try each one out in order to find which fit my personality best. I have presently settled into four main services: Facebook is far and away the best I have used, combining a user-friendly interface and a variety of privacy levels with an assortment of games, discussion groups, and other interactive services; it is my main network online. Twitter is a close second, with its "online cocktail party" vibe; here is where I have met the most new and intriguing people. Linked-In is an absolute necessity for maintaining a professional network; here I maintain existing business contacts as well find new ones. MySpace, while definitely geared towards a younger main demographic than I fit into, is useful for keeping in touch with some of my former employees as well as keeping up with bands I enjoy. There are other networks online that I am in for various purposes (MyBlogLog, for example, now that I've entered the blogosphere), but those four are the hub of my online life.

A couple of days ago, I was introduced to Bebo. Now, there have been sites that I have tried and decided weren't for me, but never before a site that I'm sorry I ever came into contact with. Folks, let me tell you about the fun that Bebo injected into my world...

Like any other social site, Bebo wanted to know about me - who am I, where am I, what do I like -- you know the drill. I dutifully filled out my profile, and onto the next step: are any of my existing contacts already on Bebo, and if not do I want to invite them? Again, pretty standard fair. Plug in your address book and let it determine who matches up to the current roster, and hit a button to send automated invites to those who aren't. Simple, right?

A few of my contacts were already on Bebo, so I wanted to add them to friends list. However, when I'm trying out a new service, I don't want to invite my whole network willy-nilly until I have had the chance to see whether I'm even sticking around. On most sites, this is easily accomplished - and the steps to accomplish it clearly indicated. Bebo is not so clear when it comes to navigating its auto-invite page, but I'm a smart guy. Should be no problem. Ahem.

In a matter of moments, a few acceptances trickled into my inbox, including one name I didn't remember being on the list of friends already on Bebo. Hmmm...maybe I missed that one or it just didn't register. Oh well, good to have friends...wait a minute, now I know I didn't invite THAT person yet. What's going on here?

Within about fifteen minutes, what had happened became embarrassingly clear: Bebo had, despite my wishes, sent invites to my entire address book. What's more, somehow invites had also gone out to every single email address found on any email in my inbox...including several people I don't even know!

Now my inbox was being bombarded with confused emails from strangers asking who I was, how I had their email, and in one or two cases telling me in less than polite terms that I should never email them again, and suggesting places I might stick the invitation.

Damage control time! As quickly as I could, I put together an auto-response that would go out to anyone sending me an email explaining what had happened and apologizing profusely. Many folks were understanding - thankfully so. But I was still left wondering how in Blue Hell this happened. Had I really misread the instructions? Had I picked up some sort of Bebo virus?

One of my favorite type of Google searches to do if I want to find out about a company, product, or website, is search for "________ sucks" -- if you get a small number of search results, you know that not many have gone online to voice complaint. My search for "Bebo sucks", however, returned page after page of results, including this remarkably similar tale. And my personal favorite, here, complete with a call to arms that my post here responds to.

The good news: after three or four days, everything seems to have settled back down. Clearly, there are those who use Bebo and are fine with it. I am not one who wants to work with a site that spams my entire email universe, though, so I went to cancel the account. Surprise, surprise - even though there is a link to click to cancel, all of the sudden Bebo doesn't recognize my password in order to allow me to delete the account (even though I just used that password not a minute before to log in to the site in the first place!)

Facebook is wonderful. Twitter is outstanding. Linked-In is excellent. MySpace serves its purpose well. Bebo = FAIL.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Maddening Crowds - 10 Rules for Crowded Aisle Etiquette

I am a regular visitor to Lancaster, PA's Central Market, the country's oldest indoor farmer's market. It's a great place with great food: fresh, homegrown produce, any kind of meats or cheeses your heart desires, and stands presenting cuisine from places as far abroad as Greece, Thailand, and the Middle East.

It also has crowds. Locals like myself come here as part of our regular grocery shopping. Tourists come here because of it's historic value. Amateur musicians, pamphlet-wielding religious freaks, and sidewalk saviors come here to reach the wide and varied audience found here.

And, like anywhere else large numbers of people gather, no one seems to understand the most basic rules of how to move through crowded aisles. It being the last week or so before Christmas, I have no doubt you will find yourself to be part of similar crowds somewhere. So, although my list of rules below has been written specifically after seeing all ten violated at Central Market this morning, no doubt you will find that you are able to apply them in other locales:

1. You are not alone. You are not living in a vacuum. The person towards whom you are directly walking (me) is real, and you will not be able to miraculously walk through me. Do not register surprise or annoyance at this fact. Don't give me the "where'd you come from can't you see I'm walking here" glare when you made eye contact with me from ten yards away.

2. Do not push an empty double-stroller around while your demon children run about screaming like banshees. You are in the way. Yes, YOU are the one in the way. Don't give me that look because you can't maneuver that hulking stroller and herd your vile spawn at the same time.

3. Yes, your children are demon spawn. They are horribly misbehaved. They may be the loves of your life, but they are knocking stuff over, having a sword fight with loaves of Italian bread, and kicking me in the shin. While you're beaming with parental pride, they are spewing out language that would make Sarah Silverman blush. Just leave them at home. Trust me, everyone will be better off.

4. Do not suddenly stop and stare slackjawed into space. Keep moving! If you've momentarily forgotten where you are and why you're there, or if you're scanning your memory banks for the next item on your to-buy list, smack in the middle of the traffic flow is not the place to regain your bearings. You wouldn't pull out into the middle of an intersection and then stop and decide which way to turn, would you? (Oh wait...I've seen that happen too many times as well.)

5. Put the cell phone away. NOW! If you don't have the authority to decide what kind of lunchmeat to bring home without consulting someone who's not here, maybe THAT person should be here instead of you.

6. It's wonderful that you have run into an old friend. The place to stop and catch up on each other's adventures over the past twenty years is not in the middle of a traffic aisle! I'm only saying "Excuse me," once, then I'm pushing through. Don't give me that "how dare you interrupt our conversation" glare. Again, YOU are the one in the way!

7. At most stands or counters, there is a line. Wait in it! Do not push up past everyone and lean on the counter hoping you'll get served sooner. Yes, I know you're in hurry. So am I. So are the other ten people in line. I don't care if you're the President of the United States - get to the back of the line!

8. Before you even head out the door of your home, ask yourself this question: is it really necessary for my entire extended family to join me? Getting out of the house may be good for Grandma and Grandpa, but they move really slow - a bad thing in a crowd. They also have the strongest tendency to violate Rule #4.

9. If you are bringing your entire family, or every friend and neighbor you know, do not walk three or more abreast, chatting like you're having afternoon tea. You're moving way too slowly, and you're taking up the aisle for BOTH directions of traffic. Congratulations, you're now in EVERYONE'S way!

10. It's a freaking market, and you are not blind. Why in the name of all that is holy do you have your dog with you?!? Your misbehaving kids, doddering grandparents, and chatty friends are bad enough, but now I can't get through the aisle because Rover wants to get to know me better. Your rights to go out of your house should be immediately and indefinitely revoked!

Keep these rules in mind the next time you're out and about. Or, if you want to have fun, keep score of how many of these rule violations you see. Make "Idiots in the Crowd" bingo cards. Just, whatever you do, stay out of my way. I'm busy and have places to get to!