Tuesday, November 29, 2005

 

Irony

Weeks from the arrest of homicidal dictator Saddam Hussain to the first day of his trial: approximately 96

Weeks from the arrest of American citizen Jose Padilla to the filing of the first indictment:
approximately 183

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. - Amendment VI to the United States Constitution

 

The Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

Since it's seemingly impossible nowadays to have any sort of discussion about torture without bringing up the "ticking time bomb" scenario, I'd like to defuse this once and for all.

The scenario itself is simple - if there's an immediately impending disaster, is torture acceptable? It's intended to throw an opponent of torture off-balance (ironically enough, "moral absolutists" such as Sean Hannity are the most likely to employ it in an attempt to inject relativity into this particular topic). As one who generally opposes the idea of torture on both moral and practical grounds, I still think there's an acceptable solution to this.

If we accept the fact that it's OK for both the government and civilians to employ deadly force in the face of an immediate imminent threat to life (the three legs of this threat being the ability and opportunity to do great harm, along with the display of clear intentions to do so), then I don't think it's a stretch to allow someone to use, shall we say, other physical means in order to stop such an event. The key here would be that there has to be an immediate threat - as in, right this fuckin' minute. The possibility that a bomb might be detonated three months later doesn't qualify, just as I can't use a vague personal threat as justification to go shoot someone in self-defense.

But, just as is the case with deadly force, there needs to be a clear review process put into place each time such force is used, with severe consequences for the misuse of such force. The person who orders the "physical coercion", as well as any of those involved with actually applying the torture, need to be held responsible for their actions. If, in hindsight, it is found they acted reasonably, then they should be acquitted. If the policy is abused, well, I'd favor a little taste of their own medicine, but that's taking things too far and probably isn't constitutional.

Friday, November 25, 2005

 

Gadget Whore

I'd successfully fending off the siren song of consumer electronics for the past three years or so. My most-recent purchase of that sort was a Fujifilm something-or-another that I bought a couple of years ago for $99 on clearance at Radio Shack. I was still taking an 8-year-old CD player to the gym, and using the Mot V60 cell that I bought around three years ago (props to Mot, BTW, for building that phone to last).

Then I picked up an iPod, and it's been all down hill from there.

Just before going out to Vegas for work (man, I love the way that sounds), I picked up a Sony DSC-H1 digital camera. Features include a 5.1 MP CCD and a stabilized 12x optical zoom. How well does it work? Well, you can see for yourself by checking out Autoblog's SEMA coverage. Or not, since those pics are shrunk down pretty far, the lighting made it difficult to get a decent shot, and I'm a crappy photographer. Take my word for it - this is a nice camera for the money. It's also large, heavy, and a bit expensive, so it's not what I'd choose if I just wanted something nice to take on the occassional hike or sightseeing trip.

Last weekend, I retired the V60 cell for a Motorola E815. So far, it seems like a decent phone. I'm not sure how often I'll use the built-in 1.3 MP camera, but it's there if any spy shots present themselves (and the camera function is actually easy and quick enough to access that I'd have a chance of grabbing a shot of something while driving down I-75). I'm still feeling out this device, but so far, I've at least found that it works superbly as a phone, which is kinda the point. The Bluetooth feature would be nice if I had any other Bluetooth devices, but I think a year from now I'll have a much better chance of taking advantage of this functionality.

So, there we go - nearly a grand worth of stuff that isn't filling my gun safe or making one of my cars go faster. Who woulda thunk it?

 

Big Dumb Rock

I'm know that I'm wrong for doing so, but I love Type O Negative's October Rust. While one would probably not call the lyrical content "mature" (the biggest hit was "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend"), the coolness of the thick guitar and fuzzy bass should not be denied. And let us not forget the cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl", which has to rank as one of the more unlikley tributes to come from the '90s.

 

Holy Balls - Winter Is Here

After the past few piss-poor winters, I guess I was a bit shocked to get 6" or so of snow dumped on us here in West Michigan in the past 24 hours. Yea, that's nothing compared to what the UP got (my wife was on the phone with the in-laws last night, and they reported about two feet worth of snowfall in the previous day), but it definitely qualifies as "something". It's nice to have a white holiday for once, but I'm sure that Ol' Man Winter blew his wad with this one and we'll get a 50-degree rainy Christmas.

Of course, I had decided to tear apart my truck to install a body lift on Sunday, a full-day project that stretched into something more like "a full day, a couple of weeknights, and a few more hours" affair (look for a write-up on Autoblog soon). I'm glad I was able to fit my new tires, but let me tell you, it's quite difficult to do a good job wrapping-up a big project when it's 18 degrees outside, and you're in an uninsulated pole barn with a little Coleman propane heater for company. Brr. Of course, it's my fault for having the main garage occupied with other projects, and I should consider myself fortunate to have an alternative indoor location to use as "overflow". Clearly, though, my Ultimate Garage Project needs to be moved up the priority list. I see no good reason to have 10 acres if I can't cover it with outbuildings.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

The Most Recent Concert Report

Damn, that's a dumb post title.

Good friend Chris J. and myself wandered on over to Grand Rapid's own Deltaplex (home of more gun shows than any other arena in W. Michigan) to catch Audioslave last week.

The only opening band was Seether, a group I had previously figured to be yet another mediocre post-nu-metal outfit. Not only are they exactly that, but they're also overly self-indulgent as well, spending well over an hour going through a bunch of milquetoast mid-tempo numbers. The lead singer's vocal style is best described as someone who's trying to sound like someone else who's trying to sound like Kurt Cobain. The low point is when the band briefly touched on an Audioslave riff; that's a serious opening-band no-no.

Rageslave or Audiogarden or whatever came out and played through something like a half-dozen songs from their new album. I was not impressed. Then Chris Cornell stated that the band wanted to play an instrumental, and he walked off the stage as a picture of a big red star was projected on the backdrop. That distinctive swirling sound arose from Morello's guitar, and then the band crashed into "Bulls On Parade". It felt like things were right again with the world. Cornell re-appeared and did "Sleep Now In The Fire" justice; he proved to be just as effective of a shouter as Zack de la Rocha.

After that, we got some vintage Soundgarden in the form of "Spoonman", where bassist Tim C. filled in the spoken verses. He looked terrible amused with himself, and for good reason. Cornell mis-spoke and stated that the next song was off "the same album", which "Rusty Cage" most certainly is no. That song was released when much of the crowd was barely in kindergarten. After that was a really weird version of "Slaves And Bulldozers", with Cornell delivering the lyrics as one would expect, but the rest of the band was playing as if they were backing a lounge singer. Somewhat amusing, but still odd.

Then there was a new Audioslave song, which sounded far better than anything from Out Of Exile.

A couple more songs brought us to the encore, which was performed mostly by Cornell and his acoustic guitar. He started with a great solo version of "Black Hole Sun", although to be honest I would have liked to hear Morello do the pyschodelic breakdown bridge. Next was an acoustic version of "Fell On Black Days", and then Cornell started off "I Am The Highway" by himself and was joined by the band for the last run through the chorus.

The show ended with Rage's "Killing In The Name Of..." in which Cornell once again performed superbly, and then my favorite two Audioslave songs, "Show Me How To Live" (which was introduced as "a gospel song, of sorts") and "Cochise".

I though that Audioslave's first album was just a bit of a disappointment for such an accomplished group of musicians, but I figured that maybe things would gel for the next album. Out Of Exile, then, was hugely underwhelming when it came out, and seeing the songs performed live does not change my opinion much. The contrast that the classic RATM and Soundgarden songs provided really drove this home. I do hope that the next album provides a chance for this group to perform up to its true capabilities, or else they might be in danger of becoming a glorified cover band.

 

Mellon Collie Turns 10

I'm a bit late on the following observation (by 22 days), but I find it absolutely amazing that the Smashing Pumpkin's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is now 10 years old. It seems like, well, not yesterday, but definitely not a decade ago that Oberon and I sat in an MTU dorm room, trying to decipher this overwrought slab of alt-rock. Like so many other double albums, it would have been much better served by being released as one disc with the primo tracks and a follow-up B-side, but there's little doubt that the thickness of the jewel box makes a statement all by itself.

While songs such as "(Fuck You) An Ode to No One", "Here is No Why", and "Muzzle" still hit me just as hard as they did in Oct. '95, and while I eventually grew to appreciate "Tonight, Tonight", I still have little love for "1979". It just annoys me.

Anyways, in hindsight, this album probably serves as a good mark for the end of the alt-rock/grunge era.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

Paris, Immigration, Etc.

Mrs. Angry and I were discussing the whole Paris mess over dinner this evening, and I share the thoughts evolved during that conversation. Assuming that the riots are indeed sparked by a lack of proper assimilation of immigrants, why should the US be feeling so smug?

It's been claimed that the US is much better than Europe at assimilating newcomers into society, and without a doubt I think that's historically true; it comes with the territory of being a nation founded on immigration.

But considering that much of the recent immigration in this country has been of the illegal sort, I personally feel that there hasn't been a great deal of assimilation of new immigrants into society. I think that's clear with movements in the Southwest such as MECHA, and even here in the Midwest. I don't think that Hispanics, particularly, generally feel all that welcome or attempt to make themselves at home, although I think the same may be true to a lesser extent for the local Asian immigrant population. Maybe it's a sense of shame that comes with having no official status, maybe it's the fact that illegals tend to be paid extremely low wages, and maybe it's just the migrant nature of farming. I don't know. But I think it represents a potential future problem.

The advantage we have here in the US is an economy that is, with all its faults, considerably stronger than in Europe. I think we've got the ability to absorb any reasonable number of immigrants, assuming that they're given legal status and a chance to fully participate in our financial system. That isn't going to come with sub-legal wages, no taxation, and no access to capital.

The solution seems simple - establish sane immigration laws, and enforce them. Somewhere, somebody has an idea of how much immigration is ideal. We need to somehow make sure that we hit that goal and keep out the worst of the worst at the same time. I don't care whether the number is 10 or 10 million; we just need to control the border and make the people that are allowed into the country feel at home.

Of course, it's nearly unimaginable that such reform will happen any time soon. Those on the left don't want to be accused of racism, while those on the right don't want to shut down the supply of cheap labor. Additionally, neither party wants to lose the growing Hispanic vote. And so because of these short-minded goals, we're effectively allowing a large subculture to build up inside our border, with potentially disasterous consequences. Does that mean firey riots? I doubt it. What does it mean? I don't know. But I do think that isolating people in a foreign land is generally a bad idea.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

 

Dean Kamen Deserves A Lot More Respect Than I Previously Thought

The Segway, I don’t get. It’s expensive, heavy, and uses something like 6 gyros, a couple of really fancy motors, and triple-redundant X-by-wire technology to accomplish a little bit less than what bicycles have done for 100 years. In my opinion, it’s not a solution to a problem, and we’ll get back to that point many words later. The point I’m trying to make is that the Segway has caused me to form an unfair opinion of Dean Kamen. What corrected my flawed assessment of the man was a speech that he gave a the SAE Commercial Vehicle Engineering show that I attended. The topic was innovation.

The first thing that Kamen established was the difference between “innovation” and just “invention”. For this, he brought up the Chinese south-pointing chariot. A series of gears connected to each wheel keeps a pointer aimed in the same direction, regardless of the device’s path or direct of travel. Essentially, it's a mechanical analog computer. It was an early attempt at a direction-finding device, and it doesn’t take long to see that there’s bound to be flaws. A loss of traction by one wheel, just for a moment, could itself cause huge errors. But, hey, this was 500 years ago, and the Chinese are to be applauded, right?

Not so fast. 300 years prior to this, the Chinese discovered lodestone, a naturally-occurring permanent magnet material. Had they not be so fascinated by the potential ceremonial and religious significant of this material, they might have invented the compass. That’s the difference between “invention” and “innovation”. Kamen states that Henry David Thoureu described invention as “An improved means to an unimproved end”. Therefore, what us engineers really strive for is innovation. But how to get there?

Kamen then quotes Winston Churchill – “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s often when innovation is occurring. At this point, he whips out his Innovation Chart – a sort of noisy sine wave (actually, 1 ½ sine waves), with the first positive-going section the beginning of a project (one point near the peak is labeled “Brass bands and fireworks”). But then it trends downward – first with a point just below the X-axis labeled “Affecting existing business”, and then the very lowest point. Kamen calls this the “Dark Night of Innovation”. For anyone that’s ever been there – I think I have, but I’m not sure and probably won’t be without many more years of hindsight – it’s a damn accurate description. Once this breakthrough is made, then the chart starts climbing back up, finally ending at “it works”.

Another graphical method used was showing a typical Gantt chart with its staggered linear chunks of time, and then Kamen’s version – this looping and spirialing line, at one point broken by a big explosion (“something comes out of nowhere”), and finally ending, well, when it ends. This got a huge laugh out of everyone in attendance, not because it was funny (although it was), but because it was so damn true.

At this point, I should mention that Kamen gave this entire preso while wheeling around on stage in his 6-wheeled wheelchair. The awesome thing about this is that it can “sit up” on two wheels, balancing in place and giving the user the opportunity to see eye-to-eye with a standing person. It’s one of those things that has to seem like a godsend to anyone needing the use of such a device, and once viewed in operation, it’s gotta be thought of as an innovation. He shows a photo of himself, dressed in jeans and hiking boots (no need to question his engineering credentials), showing off the device to President Clinton. He then contrasts this with Deka’s other famous presidential experience, where Bush managed to fall off the supposedly uncrashable Segway. How’d that happen? Kamen states that it works better if one turns on the power first.

OK, back to the preso. Now, it’s time to talk about failure. Kamen quotes Einstein as saying “If we knew what it was we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research”. So true. He claims that risk, failure, and unpredictability are unavoidable when trying to innovate. At this point, he suggests failing early in the project, so that you’ve got more time to catch up. It sounds like a silly suggestion given to elicit some laughs, but he makes a great point. If you fail 6 months into a five-year project and need more time, no problem. Fail 4 ½ years into the same five-year project, and there’s big problems. Kamen then asks how many people in the audience beg for more time at the very first sign of trouble in the project, and how many wait until it’s nearly too late before raising a flag. His point – recognize when you’re in trouble as early as possible and do something about it before there’s unrealistic expectations and a lot of money sunk into rather inflexible items like tooling.

Since innovation and invention (Kamen doesn’t distinguish between the two at this point in the preso) are so fraught with risk, he recommends not inventing unless one has to, and if it’s necessary, remember that invention is “the art of concealing your sources”. Picasso is quoted as saying “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Kamen suggests that most problems have already been solved – just not in one’s particular industry. He gives the example of the heart stint that was developed by Deka in combination with Johnson & Johnson. With the required expansion ratio and life (10 years in a patient’s artery), it was an extremely demanding problem that hadn’t been solved in the medical industry. But a division of Deka had already solved similar problems in doing analysis on rotor blades for the company’s helicopter products. With the FEA tools available to the company’s aerospace engineers, a solution was derived in 3 weeks and has gone on to be implanted in millions of patients. Kamen described both the stint and the helicopter as “drug delivery devices”, drawing the not-so-obvious common thread between the two products.

A common problem, according to Kamen, is trying to “solve the solution”. Another way to put this would be to say that most invention is really applying bandaids instead of fixing the underlying problem. This is where I think the Segway falls so short, using even Kamen’s framework for innovation. The problem here seems to be that people are lazy, not that there’s shortcomings with the bicycle. The Segway attempts to reinvent the bicycle, but doesn’t help change the behavior patterns in place that make people hop into their cars instead of walking or pedaling. That’s just my take, though.

Kamen then debunks the theory that kids learn faster than adults. That’s not the case, he says – it’s just that adults are slower to unlearn obsolete or incorrect knowledge. Quoting himself, he says “It’s not what you don’t know that inhibits innovation – it’s what you know that just ain’t so”. It’s a combination of ego and that nasty human tendency to resist change that keeps us working with information that just isn’t correct, and that’s far more dangerous to innovation than the simple lack of knowledge. In my opinion, that’s 100% correct, although I’d never thought of it in that way.

On the topic of “innovation management”, it’s stated very clearly that innovation is not a spectator sport. It’s either all-in, or get out of the way. Kamen states that projects require management, while innovation requires leadership. What’s the difference? He doesn’t quite know, although he states that managers know how to do things right, while leaders know how to do the right thing. Management is about reducing risk, and it’s already been established that risk is an inescapable part of innovation. Many big companies excel at reducing risk and uncertainty, and he states that this isn’t always a bad thing. After all, he states that one doesn’t want to hear “Let’s try something new!” from a doctor just before an appendectomy. But this isn’t always the correct approach, either; handing a machine gun to an axe murderer might be something a manager should like from the standpoint of efficiency, but it’s not the right thing to do (I wish I could come up with analogies like Kamen does).

Back to the whole risk thing, Kamen quotes “To err is human”, but puts an asterisk by it. The footnote then states “*Unfortunately, it’s not company policy”. In other words, everyone fucks up, but almost every company won’t tolerate such behavior. It’s a fundamental clash of goals vs. reality that ultimately stifles innovation if risk management practices are used.

So, why innovate? Simply, because entire industries can be created from single innovations. They affect people’s lives.

When should innovation occur? Well, Kamen states that it wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark, and that the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. Innovate with times are good, not when innovation is absolutely required for survival.

How to innovate? Kamen doesn’t necessarily know. He just states that one should not define success as a lack of failure, and that change should be embraced.

Who should innovate? Well, certainly, optimists. He gives the example of the Wright Brothers, and says that anyone depending on a lump of cast metal and some wood and fabric to carry them into the air must have been optimistic. But then there are pessimists, too, who invented the parachute in case airplanes didn’t work. Both have their place.

Getting back to the issue of risk, failure, and trying to solve solutions instead of problems, there’s the story of the Deka dialysis pump. The original task was to develop a new valve that would do a better job of pinching off hoses, as the current valves required over 100 lbs of force to stop the flow of liquids (traditional valves weren’t desired due to sterility issues). Deka saw that the problem wasn’t in the pinch valves – it was in the construction of the whole dialysis machine. Using a system that applied a light amount of force directly to the bags of solution, no valves were required. As Kamen put it, the hoses were designed to flow, not to restrict, and in the battle of hose engineers vs. valve engineers, the hose guys were winning. This approach caused the project to run twice as long as scheduled, and at twice the cost. The result was a device that allowed kidney patients to perform dialysis at home instead of being admitted to a hospital, saving an untold (but huge) amount of money and resulting in an immersurable improvement in quality of life. From failure came success.

At a party celebrating the introduction of this new dialysis machine, the CEO of the medical company offered up this quote about Kamen and his company – “If you’re going to ask a pig to go into the woods and shit golden eggs, you’d better stand back while he does it”. This goes back to the point about innovation not tolerating spectators.

So, who should be innovating? Those with a passion to make things better. He quotes sociologist Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world… indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

He concludes the main presentation with another Einstein quote – “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits”.

At this point, Kamen plugs his volunteer organization FIRST, which stands for “For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”. It’s basically a competition he organizes that offers the chance for high-school students to build a robot for use in a physical competition (it appears to be a friendlier take on the “Battle of the Robots” idea, and predates that by several years).

He does this because, in his words, “You get what you celebrate”. If society idolizes celebrities and athletes, then that’s what children will emulate. Kamen points out that the US only graduated 62,400 engineers last year, a number that has continued to decline in recent times. More students graduated with degrees in sports management than engineering. Meanwhile, China and India combine to graduate over 400,000 engineers per year (I seem to remember seeing figures even higher than that). If this country was indeed built on technological innovation, Kamen says, then this should be seen as eventually being fatal to our standard of living, and must be corrected. The way to do this is to get students interested in science through a mentoring process. In the process of explaining this, he clearly states that the solution isn’t going to come through politics (“the last thing politicians want are real solutions to real problems”) or any other means. It will take local involvement by members of the engineering community.

Indeed, I have not given Dean Kamen a fair shake. He could have avoided bringing this upon himself by bringing a decent $200 bicycle to the world, though.

 

More Music Musing

I tend to reminisce about the “good ol’ days” of music once in a while (surely, anyone that knows me is questioning my definition of “once in a while” right now). That train of thought is derailed, however, once I realize that these so-called good times that I experienced listening to a particular album usually consisted of working my ass off on homework in my senior year, on a slow lonely slide towards insanity. Yea, there’s nothing like listening to Nothing’s Shocking while fighting with my EE453 homework for hours every night. I think it was sometime in May ’99 that I figured out why I slacked off during my first four years of college and spent that time mountain biking instead, and we won’t even go into what was going through my head as a EE who was designing wheels and hubs and doing frame fabrication on the university solar car. I digress somewhat, but I’m trying to frame things properly. For those that I lost somewhere, I’ll summarize by stating that most attempts to associate a particular piece of older music usually ends in the understanding that I should not be attaching any false sense of attachment to those bygone days, at least not on some larger whole-life basis. But this time around, it’s slightly different.

What brought about my latest music-related funk was reaching the “R” section of my CD collection in the ongoing effort to rip my CD collection (I think this is something like Week 10 of solid effort, although the project in its current form really goes back to April and is the continuation of an effort starting in June 2002 – but I digress, once again, because it’s my blog and and I can, dammit). This led me to WGRD’s RadioActiv collection of music from the southern Michigan area, circa 1997-1998.

Anyone reading to this point is probably saying “So fuckin’ what?” and thinking about going to something far more entertaining, like a personal-finance blog. Stick with me here. Or don’t. This post is for me and me alone, and if you find it interesting, that’s purely coincidental and management regrets the error.

First, the albums remind me of the influence that radio had on local music scenes around this time. Sure, grunge had come and gone, Rolling Stone had declared electronica to be the Next Big Thing (how’d that proclamation work out, dipshits?), and Seattle was now simply a place where rock stars went to die. All of that didn’t bring down GR’s music scene, which was hopping just about every night at locations like The Intersection, back when it was actually located at an intersection (the new venue is cool and everything, but it just ain’t the same). This, of course, was not the era of local radio ownership – that concept had been shot in the head a couple years earlier by the telecom bill that we thought was just about internet censorship, and Big Business had already stepped in and gobbled up every radio station they could – but modern-rock radio still gave a shit about local music.

In the GR area, it was WGRD and WKLQ who where giving big pushes to local bands, holding local-music shootouts, dedicating hour-long blocks to local stuff, and cutting discs like the ones that sparked this whole rant. Turn to either one of those stations nowadays, and you hear what a rock station sounds like when it sucks so bad that it’s only weeks away from switching to the Jack/shuffle format. The corporate fuckers can’t even manage to do a decent concert run-down once a day. And with the death of airplay and promotion, the local scene seems to have disappeared, with only a bit of a murmur when Brian Vanderark makes an acoustic appearance or Sponge comes around for a reunion show. Hitting the “R”s also brought me to Radford, a band that played down on the Grand River during WGRD’s 2000 free concert, which is the last time I recall a decent local show. Actually, that’s not correct – there was a cool streetparty sort of free show in September 2001 that involved Mustard Plug (embarrassingly, I can’t remember who else, even though I was sober), but that was only a couple weeks after a rather tramatic sequence of events and so I don’t recall it being as fun as it should have been.

Summary of the above first point – radios stations around here suck. 267 359 words distilled into four, but I think it misses something. And to add, radio stations elsewhere suck, too. I miss traveling around the country and getting a different flavor of modern rock everywhere I went. Nowadays, it’s the same 40 bands grouped into roughly the same ranking on roughly the same playlist.

So many bands “almost” made it. I seem to recall Milkhouse getting some good airplay during one of my downstate trips (rare and significant events when one is going to school 525 miles away in the Upper Peninsula, and music often served as a backdrop of sorts for these seemingly epic events). Mustard Plug never grew beyond cult status, even after covering the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman”, who themselves couldn’t escape One Hit Wonder status outside of Michigan. Hell, the Pipes’ “Veneer” with it’s chorus of “13 miles on ‘31” makes for far better home-state song than Phantom Planet’s “California”, but then again we don’t get many prime-time soap operas based here in the Midwest. The live version of this song on RadioActiv II (it’s an unlisted track at the end of Disc 2) should be considered Michigan’s unofficial state song (houls of protest from “Fred Bear” fans notwithstanding). Domestic Problems coulda gone somewhere, and I that that 19 Wheels was as good as anything else on national radio in the late 90s (hmm, almost sounds like a backhanded compliment, but that’s not that I intended – they were good enough to open for Our Lady Peace and Matthew Sweet when the latter was going through his fat-and-stoned phase).

Going through my RadioActiv discs brought back memories of other bands that deserved to get a chance – the DTs, Nectar, Knee Deep Shag, Papa Vegas (heck, they got as far as to get signed to Madonna’s Maverick label and then things blew up with the death of a band member, if I remember things correctly), Troll For Trout (“Lost My Balance” has that freshness and sincerity that doesn’t come from big-label recordings), Daphne Blue (with a man/female lead vocal pairing that’s as unique as I’ve heard in rock music, making “Fly Away” a simply beautiful song), The Roswells, Pudgy Chuck, The Julia Set, Monkey Chuck, etc. What about Fat Amy? A great band, but was there a bigger insult to everything I stood for in the 90s than Bob’s appearance on “The Bachelor” a couple of years ago? So fuckin’ disgraceful, it makes me mad enough to spit blood. Hey Bob – your solo stuff sucked even if – or because – it got VH1 airplay, and your former band’s “Break The Ease” is Exhibit Fuckin’ A for that argument. “Temptation Eyes” is a damn fine song as well – affectionate, without being so mushy as to attract the sort of women who religiously watch reality TV. Yea, instead, we got The New Radicals, Hanson, the son of the Bachman dude from Bachman Turner Overdrive, and all sorts of other crap that’s still causing the slow death of radio and MTV to this day. Much of the “failing” of recordings from the above artists results in a post-ground sound that’s too heavy to get categorized into a pop mushy love song format, and yet has way too mature of a lyrical content and a real melody and thus couldn’t break though in the nu-metal crapfest that hit in the late-90s.

I’m not summarizing the above paragraphs and 400+ words, because if you made it this far, you don’t need it.

There’s supposed to be a third point here, in the standard intro-three-argument-points-conclusion style that was driven home in high school. But, uh, I seem to have run out of steam, so I’m not going to force it. I’m not even sure I can bring this train wreck to an appropriate conclusion.

It’s not like there’s a single event that caused the local scene to wither away and for local radio to suck so badly. The shuffling of the Rick/Darla/Scott show from KLQ to GRD pretty much destroyed local morning shows, causing KLQ to fumble around to this very day (this went down eight frickin’ years ago), and then the RDS thing eventually crumbled (Rick and Scott have now regrouped for a new show, but it’s a talk-only thing on a AM news station of all places) and left GRD with a show called “Free Beer and Hotwings”, which happens to be the handles of the hosts’ names (the real genius on the show, Eric Zane, can be identified by his use of a real name as a start, but there’s other reasons as well). There used to be great afternoon shows, like some dude (the name of who I wish I could remember) that was on GRD in the mid-90s who scored all sorts of great interviews with talent big and small that was playing in GR. It was through this show that I first heard Marry Me Jane, and upon seeing the band in concert later that night (opening for God Lives Underwater, who passed around the biggest sheet of acid I’d ever seen), the lead singer had me smitten for life. Bronson and Michael following up the nameless wonder and had a good thing going until Bronson left for parts unknown, and now Michael’s over at KLQ suckin’ it up like everyone else on that God-foresaken hellhole of FM bandwidth. I’m not even sure who’s on GRD afternoons now. Um, I don’t think I could name a single DJ on that station, and that’s true for KLQ as well. I tune in once every month or so (literally) to each station, here the same mix of six-month-old and six-year-old stuff that’s repeated a half-dozen times a day, and then I go back to NPR like the old fart I’m scared of turning into (aside from the fact that old farts don’t know how to properly pogo in a mosh pit when it comes time to do so).

If you’ve read here to the end, I am amazed and flattered, and I probably should send you a $5 gift certificate to Applebee’s or something, but that won’t happen because places like that suck. I doubt that too many folks would be able to take advantage of my offer of a fish n’ chips basket at Turks, so no food freebees with this post unless you’re coming over to help with a transmission swap or something.

 

When "The Family Guy" Starts To Fade...

... I have a feeling that "The Boondocks" will become the must-watch cartoon. I'm damn curious to see if the TV show will live up to the comic strip.

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