How to Ask Sensitive Financial Questions

Polite society frowns upon asking questions of people regarding their personal finances, but today I made up a nice way out. I was talking to my friend Bob about how much his rent is every month:

Would you mind giving me a frame of reference by revealing how much your rent is? If you’ve got a secret deal with the NSA or Witness Protection, I understand completely, “Bob.”

Feel free to try this at home.

Death of a Guitar Magazine

I’ve been a subscriber to Guitar One since 2000 or 2001. I always appreciated its dedication to lessons and learning, where Guitar World is more of a rock rag aimed at guitarists, and Guitar Player until recently skewed toward an older demographic. Guitar One in many ways took the place of my favorite magazine, Guitar (formerly Guitar for the Practicing Musician, which died around 1997). And so now Guitar One is dead. I learned this when I received a copy of Guitar World in the mail. The second page insert informed me of the demise of my preferred magazine, and that the two magazines, owned by the same publisher, have been fused to some degree.

But it’s just not the same, and now I have a subscription through November 2008 to the crappiest guitar magazine in the world. This is a rag that regularly hosts beer chugging contests between its staff and famous guitarists. This is a magazine that I subscribed to up until 1993 when Frank Zappa died, and they put Dimebag Darrell on the cover. Dime’s cover article featured a list of his tour-bus supplies in which he listed “acid – for long bus trips.” That so incensed me that I tore off the cover.

Granted, I was 17 and prone to melodrama. Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ll probably test drive a few issues. There’s an offer for a refund, so maybe I’ll look into that.

A sad, cute fact

I heard a commentator on NPR this morning point out that sport is the only entertainment field where excellence is rewarded. If you’re really good at a sport, you have a far better chance of being financially compensated for your skills than if you were a musician, actor, artist, etc.

At first that statement really bummed me out, but then I realized it’s kind of a crock. Of course sport rewards excellence. Sport is the most simplistic of fields; excellence can be most easily defined there, even quantized. It’s almost binary: you’re either very fast or you’re not, you’re very agile or you’re not, you can throw a 90mph fastball or you can’t. Despite what the classical music crowd might have you to believe, music is not like that. Just because you can play “Flight of the Bumblebee” at an insane tempo does not mean that you are musically excellent. “Excellence” is a variable quality. Bob Dylan is excellent. Itzhak Perlman is excellent. Try quantizing that. The same goes for artists and actors. There’s a great deal more relativity to the notion of “excellence” in those fields.

I forget the commentator’s name, but his perspective seems common to older generations. I gather that their world seemed aesthetically simpler than ours. Perhaps it was less diverse. I am reminded of a great conversation that I heard on one of my dad’s old tapes of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. He had an older gentleman and a young woman talking about music and the older gentleman rambles on about classical music and how it represents beauty and truth, and the girl just says “but you can’t jitterbug to it.”

Otis and Jimi

A few years ago I discovered a particular LP. One side was Otis Redding. The other side was Jimi Hendrix. Both were performances from the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Until this month, that record has always been a little-known secret. It has never, to my knowledge, been released on CD. But now, as of last week, it’s available as a full-length concert DVD from Criterion (the people who know how to do DVDs real fancy)!

I don’t want to sound like a salesman, but dammit everyone and their pets should see and hear this thing! First of all, it’s one of the only surviving color presentations of Otis Redding performing live. And he’s backed up the legendary Booker T. and the MG’s (Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson, Jr.). This is the stuff:

Will R&B ever be that good again? Sadly, I doubt it.

Windows to the World

The first window to the world was invented in 1884 by George Eastman. Photographic film allowed pictures to be more conveniently taken, copied, and transferred around the world. Photographic film was quickly adapted for use in inside motion picture cameras, and “movies” were born. In conjunction with the newspapers and magazines of the early 20th century, photography allowed many folks to, in a primitive sense, travel the world without leaving town. Motion pictures offered a similar and somewhat more advanced experience at the local movie house. We had a window to the world.

The second window to the world arrived around 1928 when Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first working television system with electronic scanning. This went on to shape the TV sets of the next several decades. By the 1950’s many modern homes had television sets that allowed them to see the world without leaving home.

The third window to the world came in 1993 with the development of the first web browser, Mosaic. The Internet and the World Wide Web had previously been text mediums primarily. What Mosaic and later web browsers did was allow for more convenient and widespread transmission of digitized images. By 2000, Web-enabled home computers were pervasive for modern homes.

So this is where we are. Will there be a 4th window? If I had to guess I would say that the second and third windows will fuse somehow. We’re in the process already; I know I tend to watch TV shows on the Internet more than I do on the television.

Geography Nerds Rejoice

Michelle sent me this wicked cool Geography Quiz today. So far my highest score is 72. My weak spot is mainly Africa, so I’m going to have to refresh my memory there. Did I mention I love maps and geography? I haven’t posted any obsessive Google Maps entries lately. I need to do that, especially since they’ve finally upgraded their satellite photography of rural Arkansas. Here’s my mom’s house.

1.) Your search – “wicked cool geography quiz” – did not match any documents.

Welcome Home

Last weekend, Katherine and I went exploring in northern Arkansas in search of a town called Welcome Home. We found it southwest of Marhsall. We took the scenic route, mostly old country roads, and we diverted from our destination often in hopes of finding other oddly named villages (like Beverage Town, which we sadly failed to decisively locate).

We goofed off in the antique stores in Leslie, ate terrible things at the Daisy Queen in Marshall, and decided against seeing a drive-in movie at the Kenda there as we had both already seen Spider-man 3. We did descend the steep hills to find the Natural Bridge of Arkansas, a roadside attraction that I have neglected to witness for 31 years now.

We also found scads of Hendrix College dorm furniture for sale at an antique mall. $50 and you can take home a set. I have to admit I really enjoyed seeing those things again. I marvel at what they’ve seen: awkward romances, drug experimentation, late-night studying, deep conversations among new friends, and surely more. Goodbye, dorm furniture. We’ll miss you as you travel on to your new lives among the rural stepchildren you’ll support and the kindling you’ll eventually become.

Context-Intelligent Spam?

I just got three blog comments from spammers using the fake names of “Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers” and “Mahavishnu Orchestra.” I can’t help but wonder how or why these actual band names, reasonably obscure as they are, managed to get employed in the name of spam. Did they come about at complete random, or are the spam bots aware that I have several Mahavishnu CDs in my collection? I don’t have any Blakey, though. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Which would be a nice illustration of correlation that does not equal causality…

Breakfast and Other Hoaxes

I’ve recently discovered that breakfast is, in fact, the least important meal of the day. I know this because after a decade of eating cereal every weekday morning, I’ve switched to just wheat toast and orange juice, and I don’t get noticeably hungrier around lunchtime. So all those bowls of cereal really weren’t accomplishing much.

Also, I’ve found that, if you’re the type of guy who showers in the morning and shaves immediately afterward, you really don’t need to use shaving cream. It’s pretty unnecessary if your shower has sufficiently cleansed and moisturized your face, and if the facial hair growth isn’t very extensive after 24 hours. After a few days’ growth, then sure, you’ll want some shaving cream. But not daily.

I’ll be saving some money now with these new bits of information. My milk intake will drop to near zero, so I’ll be sure to get the orange juice with the calcium added.

Rant: Stop the Singer-Songwriters with Band-Like Stage Names

OK MySpace is plugging this kid named “Young Love.” What the hell kind of stupid name is that? Could you possibly pick a more irritating stage name than “Young Love?” Is it even possible? The only thing that might be worse would be to name yourself “Basket of Puppies of Kittens.”

While we’re on the subject, I’m really really getting sick of all these singer-songwriters who give themselves stage names like they’re bands. It has to be the most annoying, pretentious trend in semi-popular music since the whole mid-90’s “one random word band names” (Sponge, Wax, Filter, Bush). Today we have individuals named Bright Eyes, Aqualung, and Iron & Wine, and more are popping up every day.

A case can be made for artists like Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin (ask me about my Aphex Twin story) who present themselves as something larger than their individual selves – for example you don’t see a picture of Trent Reznor on his album covers because it’s not about a man and his songs, it’s about a whole imaginative universe of sound. But if you’re just a bearded guy with an acoustic guitar and you walk up to the mic and say “Hi, I’m Iron and Wine?” No. Sorry. Get real. I love Iron & Wine as much as everyone should, but come on. It’s just goofy and trendy. You’re Sam Beam. It’s a perfectly fine name. No need to puff yourself up by fooling new listeners into thinking you’re a band.

But anything is better than “Young Love.” It just makes my skin crawl. Even more than the impossibly saccharine “Bright Eyes.” And this is coming from a guy who loves a band called The Softlightes.

I’m not saying my position is logically defensible, I’m just saying that this trend irritates me. But then, most trends irritate me.