Sunday, December 27, 2015

The between time

The lull between Christmas and New Year’s is a special time.  A time for relaxing, enjoying cheesy holiday shows with your family, playing video games with your kids, and just chillin’ out.  Not a time for writing blog posts.  Nor reading them, really.  Put that keyboard down and go do some of that other stuff I just said.  Or follow your own bliss.  Whatever makes you happy.

And, speaking of happy: have a wonderful 2016.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ruminations of the Season

As we slip into the holiday season, it’s time to reflect on the year past, and look forward to the year approaching.  I could do that.  But my vision doesn’t quite extend that far, I’m afraid ... I’m looking forward to surviving the holidays, and that’s plenty forward enough, thank you very much.  Here’s some of the things (both good and bad) that I can look forward to as the holiday season begins to swallow us whole:

Multiplication of cardboard.  I love to recycle—really I do.  But recycling cardboard boxes is my least favorite part.  Because you have to break them down.  I mean, you don’t have to, in order to recycle them, but you have to, because otherwise they’ll never fit in the recycle bin.  And nobody in my house, other than me, breaks down the cardboard boxes.1  Also, we do all of our Christmas shopping at Amazon.  So this time of year there are a lot of cardboard boxes.  In particular, I can count on a solid hour or two of nothing but breaking down cardboard boxes on Christmas day, or maybe the day after, if I’m lucky.  The kids get to come rushing into the room and tear everything apart and fling around the bits all willy-nilly, but who do you think has to clean that up?  Well, The Mother will do a lot of it, really.  But all the cardboard is headed my way.  Bah.  Humbug.

Tiresome repitition of the “war on Christmas” meme.  The holiday season is sure to bring out the crazy in the CCFs.2  In fact, it has already—one thing you can count on is that, if the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year, then so must the mythical “war.”  I refuse to link you to the idiot whining about the fact that Starbucks cups are red and green (’cause apparently that’s not “Christmasy” enough for this douchebag), but I’m sure you’ve seen it already.  I really can’t improve on my 2011 holiday rant, so just go read that.  Plus it contains my excellent Christmas music mix, Yuletidal Pools.  Bonus.

The cruelty of the advent calendar.  To a kid, an advent calendar is an excrutiatingly slow countdown to the most exciting day of the year.  Since I now have three such smaller humans—well, really two, because my eldest is now taller than I am—I’m currently being treated on a regular basis to pronouncements such as “There’s no way I can possibly wait another NINE WHOLE DAYS for Christmas!”  Yeah, well: welcome to reality.  Suck it up kid.

Eggnog.  There’s lots of things you can pretty much only buy at Christmas, but the only one I really love is eggnog.  I suppose I could make it myself, but there are some perfectly good ‘nogs out there—almost certainly better than I could ever produce—and it’s nice to be able to just bring it home and pour it in a glass and kick back and relax.  Eggnog is somehow keyed to the spirit of the season for me.  The smell alone is enough to put me in a Christmas mood.  (Also, if you’re putting out milk and cookies for Santa, you’re gipping the fat man.  Eggnog and cookies is the classy way to go.)

The inescapable madding crowds.  Even though we make every endeavor not to do any actual Christmas shopping at physical locations, you can’t really get out of all shopping.  There’s grocery shopping, for instance.  And even though you may just be there for ordinary weekly supplies, try telling that to the rest of the crazed holiday crowd.  No point in bothering, really.  It’s a bit like being at the amusement park: you square your shoulders, tuck your head down, and push on through.

Watching my diet go down the toilet.  As you may recall from my Saladosity series (specifically in part 3, my take on Whole30), I am not “on a diet”; rather, I’ve changed my diet.  As a general rule, I do pretty well at avoiding added sugars of all stripes, grains, and legumes, plus miscellaenous other bits and bobs (like fries and chips).  But the one-two punch of Thanksgiving followed by Christmas is pretty much guaranteed to crush my newly improved eating habits all to hell and back.3  Partially that’s because of seasonally available food like candy cane faux oreo’s and chocolate oranges; partially it’s because of family recipes that come sneaking out of the woodwork, like my grandmother’s pound cake, or her ginger snaps; partially it’s because Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinners are, by tradition, celebrations of abundance.  But the exact reason isn’t important.  The point is, there’s a few extra pounds coming my way.

Quiet family moments.  One of the advantages of moving nearly three thousand miles away from one’s parents is that you get to have quiet little holiday gatherings with just the immediate family: The Mother, myself, and the children: 3 humans, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 1 guinea pig, and various assorted fish, shrimp, and snails.  Intimate family meals, lazing around on the couch watching movies (or watching the kids play video games), sharing the excitement of gift discovery, snuggling with a child (human or feline), enjoying the warmth and glow.

Inevitable holiday sicknesses.  I think this must be the 4th or 5th year in a row that some or most of us have been sick for the holidays.  Perhaps it’s the change in the weather, which comes fairly late in the year to southern California.  Perhaps the universe just hates us.  But, whatever it is, some of us will be sniffling, and/or hacking, and/or barfing, this entire coming week.  We’ve already started, actually.

Lack of sleep.  It’s tough to get enough sleep any time, but this time of the year complicates matters even further.  There’s so much stuff to do, and Christmas Eve is full of preparation—try to get the kids to bed, frenzied preparation for Santa, requisite picture-taking, plus it seems like there’s always at least one massive thing to assemble—and Christmas Day has a tendency to start very early, typically with small children jumping on your head.  Is it any wonder that parents tend to drift off on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon for the next few days?4

Flashes of simple joy.  Kids love Christmas, no doubt.  But parents love it just as much, if they’re honest.  Because Christmas is one of those times when you get to see straight into your kids’ hearts, via their smiles and looks of wonder.  Every person has a face they wear—even young ones.  Kids are just not as likely to be so adamant about it ... they let their masks slip quite often, at first, and only learn to be more cautious as life throws more and more crap at them.  And of course, a lot of times even when the façade cracks, you don’t happen to be around.  But there are certain times when you can count on your children’s social camouflage to drop away and allow you see straight into their sense of awe at the world around them.  We have a tendency to call this “child-like,” as if it’s only something fit for children, something that you leave behind you when you become an adult.  Bullshit.  You lose it.  You have it stripped away from you, because life sucks, and it’s hard to be a grown-up, and having people depend on you and having to pay your rent and keep food in your belly and having to show up for work every day is arduous and exhausting and we just don’t have the time or the energy to be child-like any more.  But you always want to go back there.  You always want to—no, need to—be reminded of that time when you could delight in simple things, when your standards for being amazed were delightfully low, and you could be happy for hours or even days just because you got a lick from your puppy, or a hug from someone who loved you ... or the perfect gift on Christmas.  That’s why parents give their kids way too much crap on Christmas (or whatever holiday is appropriate for their culture): because you’re hoping against hope that one of those silly pieces of plastic and yarn and circuit boards and wood and metal and wires—just one!—will trigger that ephemeral reaction that transports you back to your own childhood and reminds you that life doesn’t have to be complicated.  It’s quite simple, really.  There’s family and play and being with the people you love, and then there’s the other shit.  And all that other shit doesn’t really matter, no matter how much it seems like it does.  It’s just a distraction from what’s actually important in life.  Christmas is particularly good at reminding us of that.  And that’s why we need it.

And, you know what?  If one of my kids ends up throwing out the toy and just spending all day playing with the box, I’ll take that.  As long as they’re happy.


1 Well, usually.  To be fair, The Mother just broke down a few this weekend.  Which was much appreciated, to be sure.

2 “CCFs” means “crazy Christian fucks.”  These are the tiny minority that give the rest of the Christians a bad name by putting extremely tortured interpretations on Jesus’s message of peace and love.  (Personally, I blame Paul.  Honestly, he’s a bit of a prick.)

3 Helen Back ... heheh.  My surname is Mucus.

4 In retrospect, the lack of sleep probably has a lot to do with the inevitable holiday sicknesses ...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Perl blog post #46

If you’re one of my technoreaders, rejoice!  Another post in my ongoing Perl series on the date module I’m developing is now up on my Other Blog.

Contrariwise, if you’re not one of my technoreaders, then ... I dunno, anti-rejoice?  Not sure what the opposite of rejoice is.  But feel free to do that.  Next week you’ll likely get something useful.  Probably.  If you’re lucky.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Numeric Driftwood I

"Sail on a Silver Mist"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

When my eldest was little, he would hear music—perhaps on the radio, or television, or just music that The Mother or I were playing—and let us know in no uncertain terms that he liked it.  I made him his first mix when he was just turning four.  Soon he would hear a song and say “put this on my mix!”  He accumulated 3 such mixes, with another 2 in the works, before the tradition sort of trailed off.1

My middle child was never much into music.  I toyed with one idea for a mix for him for quite a while, though it too remains unfinished.2  Then along came LittleBigPlanet, and consequently the Paradoxically Sized World mix, and that became his music of choice.

When my youngest was about to be born, I started on her first mix while she was still in the womb.  I wanted to put together a succession of my favorite songs to soothe oneself to sleep to.  Such a mix could serve a dual purpose: it would help her sleep and have wonderful dreams, and at the same time it would instill in her excellent taste in music.  This has worked, as she’s the child who most appreciates my tunes, and will happily dance to most anything I choose to throw at her.

Now, I’ve never considered mixes made for my children part of my “regular” œuvre.  However, Numeric Driftwood is different.  Although it was designed for my baby girl, I still listen to it quite a lot.  I enjoy putting it on when I’m drifting off to a nap, or when I just need to quiet my mind.  The title comes from my habit of naming mixes for my kids: the first word always contains their actual name.3  And, since the tracks are designed to help you drift away, “driftwood” seemed like a pretty spot-on choice.

This is some of the mellowest stuff I own, although not at all depressing.  As I said above: soothing is the emotion we’re going for here.  So naturally most of my limited new age collection appears here.  I’m not a huge fan of new age, in general, but those bands I like, I tend to like a lot.  So on this volume (and the next), we’ll see quite a few names repeated.

Probably first and foremost of those is Kitaro, whose album India was one of the first examples of the genre that really spoke to me.  I picked up another Kitaro album at the same time as India, and several more since then, but that one has remained my absolute favorite throughout the years.  The other new age artist that I’ve always loved since I first heard her is Enya.  I’m sure “Orinoco Flow” was the first tune of hers I ever laid ears on, but it was my snagging of her insanely good album Shepherd Moons in a used CD store that really turned me into an Enya fan.  I wore that album out, especially around bedtime.  There’s one track from each album here.

Of course, predating even my discovery of Kitaro, I used to use Victorialand for putting myself to sleep.  Now, feel free to refer back to my full discussion of how I discovered this life-changing album, but for now I’ll just remind you of my go-to description for what it sounds like: angels singing in a pink fog.  For many years, the opening strains of “Lazy Calm” (which is the Victorialand opener) could steal away any number of troubles and worries that had accumulated throughout the day and knock me right out before I ever got to “Fluffy Tufts.”  There was just no way I could start this volume with anything else.  For good measure, I threw in “Feet-like Fins” as the closer.

Going back to new age, another artist I’m fond of is Angels of Venice, from Venice Beach (right down the road from where I now work).  I first heard Carol Tatum’s harp on Hearts of Space, which I’ve talked about many times throughout this series.4  AoV is Tatum on harp, plus a flautist and cellist (the exact musicians have changed a few times over the years).  The music is so perfect for this mix that I’ve thrown in three different tracks, off three different albums.

In the category of true ambient—that is, natural sounds blended with soothing music—I’ve long been a fan of this CD I picked up from God knows where: Tropical Rain Forest, from the “Nature’s Relaxing Sounds” series.  It’s mostly rain forest, with just a touch of new age in the background.  While it’s not really well-suited for this mix, it did lead me to appreciate an artist I do feature heavily on this mix: Ukrainian-born Anjey Satori, who I discovered via Magnatune.5  Many of his tunes are long (including one of the two I use on this volume: “River Surround” clocks in at a whopping 12:22), which I usually consider a drawback.  While a track that goes on for ten-plus minutes can work in the context of an artist’s album,6 I generally believe that that’s too long to go without some variety in the context of a mix.  But Satori really has a deft touch when it comes to driving out tension, and most every track from his excellent For Relaxation will probably eventually appear in this mix somewhere.

And, speaking of Magnatune artists, Hans Christian is another one I discovered there.  I wouldn’t really call him new age,7 but “Atlantis” really works here.  This album of his (Phantoms) is sort of like a worldmusic version of smooth jazz, in a weird way.  Unusual, but very fitting.

Also unusual and very fitting is the utterly delightful version of “Trust in Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.  One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Siouxsie’s cover album Through the Looking Glass, this one is a cover of the Disney song from The Jungle Book.  You know: the one where Kaa the snake8 attempts to put Mowgli to sleep.  Siouxsie’s reimagining of this classic song from my childhood includes a lot of new-age-y touches, such as harp and cello.9  But it’s still a Siouxsie song at heart, not as dark as many of her tracks, but still with the ethereal, dream-like touches that let you know you’re listening to the godmother of goth.  The very first mix tape I ever put together for helping myself drift off to sleep was probably nothing but 3 or 4 tracks off Victorialand, 3 or 4 tracks off India, and “Trust in Me.”  Being one of only two songs with any decipherable lyrics in it on this volume,10 it also handily provides our subtitle.

Lastly among the more-or-less expected artists we have Skyedance.  I’ve always sort of loved bagpipes—in my experience, you either love them or hate them.  Of course, even when you love them, you can’t take them for long stretches at a time.  The biggest problem with bagpipies, in my opinion, is that they’re usually heard in the company of other bagpipes, and little else.  The bagpipe combines a lilting woodwind tone with a buzzing that’s almost harsh to the ear.  Multiply that by several bagpipes playing simultaneously and it can easily overwhelm the listener.  Too bad there’s no cool music which features a bagpipe but also has other instrumentation, which is also cool.  I happened to mention this to my programming friend from ThinkGeek11 and he handed me his Skyedance CD.  Formed by Scottish fiddler Alisdair Fraser, Skyedance features a Canadian flautist specializing in wooden flute, a jazz/worldmusic bassist, and a percussionist specializing in medieval/renaissance music.  And also Eric Rigler, often considered to be one of the most prolific pipers in the world.  He played bagpipes in Braveheart, Titanic, Battleship ... it’s sometimes said that, if you hear bagpipes in a movie or on television, you’re listening to Eric Rigler.  On top of that, he plays Scottish smallpipes, uilleann pipes (the Irish version of bagpipes), and tin whistle (a recorder-like instrument featured often in Celtic music, as well as in pop songs by the Cranberries, the Pogues, and the Dave Matthews Band).  The net effect for Skyedance is quite intoxicating: their fast songs make you want to move, and their slow songs are gentle and soothing.  I chose “The Lupine” for this volume, which has a pretty, almost lullaby-like quality.12

Numeric Driftwood I
    [Sail on a Silver Mist]

        “Lazy Calm” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
        “Atlantis” by Hans Christian, off Phantoms
        “River Surround” by Anjey Satori, off For Relaxation
        “Caravansaray” by Kitaro, off India
        “18” by Moby, off 18
        “The Enchanted Forest” by Angels of Venice, off Music for Harp, Flute and Cello
        “Forest Surround” by Anjey Satori, off For Relaxation
        “Trust in Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, off Through the Looking Glass [Covers]
        “The World Beyond the Woods” by Angels of Venice, off Awake Inside a Dream
        “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star, off So Tonight That I Might See
        “No Holly for Miss Quinn” by Enya, off Shepherd Moons
        “The Lupine” by Skyedance, off Way Out to Hope Street
        “Starshine Lullabye” by Angels of Venice, off Forever After
        “Feet-Like Fins” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
Total:  14 tracks,  73:25

And that just leaves us with the more unlikely candidates.  Electronica artist Moby is often known for his more pop-leaning compositions such as “South Side,” “We Are All Made of Stars,” or “Porcelain.”  But he can do EDM with the best of them, and also downtempo too.  “18,” from the album of the same name, is a particularly relaxing track.

As for Mazzy Star, their songs are never fast-paced, but they usually still have a bit of harshness to them, a buzzing to the guitar work that often seems more fitting to a thrash or punk band.  Even their more languorous tracks have a tendency to skew more towards “creepy,” which is obviously not good for this mix.  But I’ve always found “Into Dust” somewhat soothing.  Maybe just don’t listen to the lyrics too closely.

Next time, we’ll take a trip to the beach.


1 Although I still have all the details on all those mixes.  So they’re easily resurrectible at any point.

2 Since this writing, I resurrected and finished this mix.

3 For my eldest, that’s trivial: his name is a word.  For the other two, one has to get a bit creative.

4 First way back in the intro, but probably most extensively in relation to Shadowfall Equinox.

5 For more details of what Magnatune is and how I discovered it, see the discussion in Rose-Coloured Brainpan.

6 Although probably not as often as the artist believes, unfortunately.

7 Although apparently Magnatune does.  Perhaps some of his newer stuff better fits that label.

8 Voiced by Sterling Holloway, probably most famous as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh.

9 The latter provided by the ever-excellent Martin McCarrick.  You know, when discussing Shadowfall Equinox, I mentioned that McCarrick was my second favorite cello player.  We’ll be hearing from my first favorite—Jami Sieber—on volume II.

10 The Cocteau Twins are known for many things, but decipherable lyrics ain’t one of ’em.

11 The same fellow I mentioned back in Smokelit Flashback, who also introduced me to Lemon Jelly, Naomi, etc.

12 And no actual bagpipes.  While bagpipes feature prominently—and excellently—in Skyedance’s faster songs, they’re not really designed for helping you drift off to sleep.