Album Testimonials

Travis Harvey has produced a series of video interviews with people describing albums that rocked their world. It's heartwarming, reminds me why I went into music in the first place, and reminds me of Erykah Badu's comment in Before the Music Dies that it's what makes the world go round.

Check out some of the episodes and reflect on the albums that have been especially important to you.

The Acoustic Origin of Smiles

You can tell when someone is smiling by the change in tone in their voice. When we smile our cheeks are pulled back, reducing the size of the mouth cavity, thereby raising the pitch of vocal track resonances. Once I get a little free time I think it might be a good idea to analyze this shift in spectrum and design a "smiling" filter setting for audio mastering, to make music smile. The Acoustic Origin of the Smile, by John Ohala.

Doing business differently—and succeeding

Mission in a Bottleby Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, co-founders of Honest Tea. This is another in a series of very interesting books I learned about by listening to Dan Pink's interviews in his podcast "Office Hours" series. Dan puts it well: "Seth and Barry have crafted a rich and compelling story and told it with the perfect blend of inspiration and humility. For anybody who has started a business—especially those considering an entrepreneurial path Mission in a Bottle is a must read." One of the many cool things about the book is it is written in comic book form.

Find common ground. It's the natural thing to do!

I enjoyed a recent episode of the "This American Life" podcast, about who is in the tribe and who isn't Here's a bit of the transcript, where the author of The World Until Yesterday describes how meeting new people is a new phenomenon created by modern societies. Jared Diamond: "The idea that you could just wander around and meet someone is utterly impossible in New Guinea. If you ran across a strange person on your land, that could only mean that they were there for some bad reason. They were there to scout out your land for a raid, or to steal a woman, or to steal a pig.

And so if you ran into a strange person in the forest and you couldn't run away from him, you came around a corner and there he was, then the two of you would sit down. And you'd have a long conversation in which each of you names all your relatives, trying to find some relative in common which gives you a reason not to kill each other. And if after two hours you haven't found any relative in common, then one of you starts running or you try to kill the other person."

So next time you meet someone, realize it's in your genes to find common ground with them. Sit down and find out what you have in common before you go any further. If that fails, I suggest that you take off running before they try to kill you!

Signs of the Times

I was in CVS Pharmacy picking up my meds and saw these two signs. I couldn't shake them from my memory and had to go back another day to snap pictures. The way the exit sign is labelled makes me wonder, is it an exit, or not an exit?

What interested me most, though, was whether I could really get my money back if I buy a beauty product and it doesn't actually make me beautiful.

The ultimate vanity license plate

Forget about vanity license plates. Get yourself a vanity car! How about this? It would work best on a car that has the license plate pretty flush to the back of the car, no deep recession, and if the color is the same color as the background of the license plate. For example, you have a white license plate with black lettering, and a white car. Then you could carefully paint in the same font and size as the letters of the vanity plate, but with a whole phrase, where the license is just part of it, like:

I'd rather bE PLAYINg the piano.

with "I'd rather b" painted to the left of the the plate, and "g the piano." on the right, and the plate itself saying E PLAYIN. To make it maximally cool, the plate itself shouldn't make sense. Please send a photo if you do this!

What Dorothy learned

The Wizard of Oz is a perennial favorite, sentimental, inspiring, and cherished for its simple truths. Going a little deeper, others have uncovered themes in the story revealing a political allegory. What interests me is what happened after the movie ended, following the clues that the story was not going to end happily ever after.Dorothy and Toto later in life

Getting veducated

Just watched "Veducated" on Amazon Prime streaming video, which gently makes the case that a meat/dairy diet is unsustainable in light of the world's growing population, and cruel to animals. "Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, Vegucated follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured by tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover the hidden sides of animal agriculture that make them wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. This entertaining documentary showcases the rapid and at times comedic evolution of three people who discover they can change the world one bite at a time."

Dead bodies attacking the living

Authorities are investigating an apparent hacking of the Emergency Broadcast System. Those watching Public TV 13 Monday afternoon or the Bachelor on ABC Monday night may have seen a message come across the screen saying "Local authorities in your area have reported the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living," the message warned. "Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous."

Anything thing is possible, if you have four hours

I feel I'm late on the uptake coming across Timothy Ferris (of four-hour fame, not the comsmologist), the "world's best guinea pig". He's tried out all sorts of stuff so that you don't have to. Check out his books on dieting and entrepreneurship. Many of the tips seem counterintuitive, like eating sweet rolls once a week while dieting, but if you're ready for some fresh ideas you'll find plenty to consider.

I am thinking of preordering his newest, "The Four-Hour Cook", which is reported to include information on how to learn anything.

Candy Recycling Service

Talking about my neighbor's decorations reminded me about something that happened the Halloween before last, that took place on a Friday. My kids had a sleepover, and the next day 5 kids were sitting around the breakfast table and I came up with the idea of going around the neighborhood acting like the Candy Recycling Service, and predicted about a 20% success rate. This was received skeptically but ended up being about right after they got dressed and took a trip around the block knocking on neighbors' doors--most either had passed out all their candy the night before, or wanted to hold in to what was left, and a few were openly suspicious as to whether the kids actually were with a bona fide Candy Recycling Service. But as predicted, there were a number of households that jumped at the opportunity to dispose of the temptation, one lady cried out "oh yes I do!" when asked if she had any candy she'd like to get rid of. They came back with a whole pillow case full, more than they'd gotten the night before in costume. As there had been a number of kids exposed to the idea, I predicted that it would quickly go viral as it spread around their school, and then jumped the fence to others, and soon sweep the nation. As far as I can tell this doesn't seem to have happened yet, I presume since this year Halloween was on a week night, and you can't really go after work the next day to same effect. I still think this could be a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new micro-business, selling cards for people to out in their windows with the words "No Candy Recycling" so they won't be bothered by surley teenagers the next day. I thnk it is only a matter of time before this takes off, so I want to register he idea to help future historians figure out where it began n

Neighbor Violates Christmas Decoration Ordinance

This has been a hard year for my neighbor. First he got a ticket from a city inspector for watering on the wrong day of the week. Next he had his industrial strength 4th of July fireworks show shut down by the police. Afterwards he said he was fed up, and was thinking of moving out if town. Every year since they moved in he has started early getting ready for Halloween. This year he has amped up his Christmas presentation, doubling the number lights in his yard after his dad unloaded a bunch of stuff on him.

I got a lovely idea for a performance art piece: hiring a guy to dress up like a city worker to deliver a citation for being in violation of the city's excessive Christmas decoration ordinance, having exceeded by 30% or more 50% of the average amount of decorations per residence of his street. It's a funny idea to me, but I don't think he would agree, and it could prove to be dangerous for the imposter. My neighbor may be ready to snap, and he has guns. Christmas decorations

Murphy Was Wrong

You know Murphy's Law and may enjoy lists of its many corollaries. Basically it's the idea that "If anything can go wrong it will", and even more ominously, "If more than one thing can go wrong it will be the worst one", etc. I haven't quite worked my response out, but I think I'm far enough along that there may be something to share. Too bad I didn't put two and two together before Oprah went off the air. I slip into seeing traces of the truth of Murphy's Law in situations like being in a hurry and getting stuck at red lights. "It's always that way. When you're in a hurry you get red lights, when you have plenty of time you get green." It hit me a couple of weeks ago that Murphy's Law may be connected more to the effects of human perception and memory than it is to thermodynamics ("the universe is headed towards disorganization"). You just notice things going wrong more, and remember them better. You don't remember all the times you were in a hurry and got lucky with green lights, or when you were not in a hurry and hit red lights. Murphy's Law is a reflection of the way the human brain processes experience.

Maybe if we had a name for the opposite effect it would be easier to grab ahold of and see pleasant patterns. It's worth a try. How about "Willey's Law"? "If anything can go right it will, and if more than one thing can go right the best one will." Then when you're in a hurry and you hit a green light it won't just slip by unnoticed, you'll say "There it goes again—Willey's Lawwhen I really needed it something good happened."

Let yourself be lucky. It's not something magical, like a shimmering glow you get from being tapped by a fairy's wand. If you don't believe it, check out Richard Wiseman's article ("The Luck Factor") on a ten-year scientific study into the nature of luck.

Anyway, back to my debunking of Murphy's Law. If everything that could go wrong, and the worst of all possible ones being most likely, you would never get anything accomplished. You definitely wouldn't make it to work, what with the accidents that could have happened and all the mechanical problems your vehicle could have developed.

While this may perk you up a little and give you a bit more bounce in your step, I think the most productive application of this awareness could be in your relationship with your partner. We often develop resentments about the way people who are close to us are, seeing patterns and believing that we have figured them out. "You are always doing X."  It is another result of the sort of perception we have that makes us imagine Murphy's Law in effect. You just don't notice all the times that they are doing YZ, or J. If you think that someone is a certain way, try remaining especially attentive to times  they are not that way, and be willing to revise your estimation of them. Resentments are often hardened by believing in patterns that may not be there.

The Four Rules of Anything

  1. Pay attention
  2. Remain calm
  3. Accept what has happened
  4. Do what needs to be done

Told to me by Jeff George, who doesn't know where it comes from.

I'm finding lately when something comes up it's just a matter of finding which of the four rules is most appropriate to apply. If you work through all four and  still find no relief, try closing and locking the door, or running.

How to watch TV, without increasing your risk of developing diabetes

Junk food TVPeople who log more hours in front of the television are at greater risk of dying, or developing diabetes and heart disease, a new study suggests. "The message is simple," says study author Dr. Frank Hu. "Cutting back on TV watching is an important way to reduce sedentary behaviors and decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease."

Here are my two suggestions to address this problem:

1) The combination of TV's image and sound creates a hypnotic brew that few can resist. My brother turned me on to this—turn the sound down (and perhaps play music of your choice) and just watch the picture. Your brain will have a chance of remaining alert, and you'll avoid being sucked in, and if you're paying attention you'll be delighted by occasional synchronicities between what's on the screen and what the music's doing. You don't have to sit there and stare, it will just become part of the ambience, in the way most people have music on without sitting down and really listening.

2) Watch TV standing up, preferably while doing some sort of movement or stretching instead of eating unhealthy foods. Not only will you be less sedentary, but you'll get tired and decide, no doubt before you've hit the two hour danger mark, to go and do something else.

For more information, visit

Slow and steady gets the job done.

I'm on the mend from the brink of a frozen shoulder and can't stretch out my arm, and my friend has a bad knee and can't bend over. He kindly came over and helped me with installing some shoe molding. We made quite a team, compensating for the other's limitations. I told him we should start a lite home improvement company called "No Sudden Moves LLC". Our selling point would be that we would show up on time on the day we scheduled. I think if we did that we'd have more business than we could handle.

11 Things You Won't Learn in School

OK, this isn't exactly lovely, but there some of the points have the ring of truth that truely lovely ideas share, even if it's not true that Bill Gates actually ever gave such a speech.

Bill Gates is reported to have given a speech at a high school about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault; so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you "FIND YOURSELF". Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television and video games are NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.