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Star Trek/Star Wars Mashup

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Raleigh (being Raleigh) hosts Great Big Sea

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A few quick notes about the Great Big Sea concert I just returned from:

  • Thanks to Lynda for selling me her ticket. The seat was incredible. Not that I was in it very much. As posh a setting as the Fletcher Opera Theater is, not a single person on the floor level sat for any length of time, and the balconies were frequently vertical as well.
  • This was a stronger performance than the one at Wolf Trap, minus a couple of lyrical lapses (more on that below). The musical arrangements were polished and the song selection fit the venue and audience very well. The performers seemed to be in good spirits as well. Relief may have been the key word; roughly 500 of the 600 seats were sold, which I believe outpaced any of their previous Raleigh gigs (at the smaller Lincoln Theatre) after a couple years' layoff.
  • "Second lead" singer Sean McCann met his Waterloo. The band members have been rotating solo songs during the current tour, with the stipulation that no song be repeated. McCann chose the Napoleon Bonaparte-themed shanty "Warlike Lads of Russia" (lyrics at the top of this page, which he played unmiked on the stage apron. After explaining he had only learned the song that day, he started strongly then forgot his lyrics with authority, improvising on the fly, then finished strong. It truly could be considered an "epic" fail, as the kids say, but he never gave up and the audience was entertained. Frontman Alan Doyle was quite entertained, predictably, but karma returned when his own lyrical blunder made "Scolding Wife" skid off the road during the following set.
  • Back to the venue: moving to Fletcher was a very good choice. Raleigh's GBS crowds tend to try to usurp the performance, and easy access to the Lincoln's bar makes it worse. Especially during the first set, the classier and more constrained setting (and Doyle's rapport with the audience) kept things enthusiastic but under control.
  • But this is a Raleigh GBS crowd, after all. The second set, after drinks had been refreshed, featured more shouted requests at inopportune times and it seemed to my (admittedly plugged) ears that while enthusiasm was maintained, attentiveness was faltering. And then a young lady (Lord, I feel so old invoking those words) who had climbed the Lincoln stage five years ago clambered onto the Fletcher stage tonight to relive the memory of professing her love to her now-husband and thanked Great Big Sea for "making it possible" from Doyle's mike. A ridiculous distraction. Here's a life suggestion: if you want to make your mark in the world, find your own stage. Don't take someone else's.

I'd be more articulate if I weren't so tired, and it's a work night, so I'll wrap this up. But despite those bewildering moments it was a good show, definitely their best of four in Raleigh, in a venue that fit the music and audience. That audience was multigenerational -- quite older than I was accustomed to seeing, but also some young kids -- but they all stayed on their feet. GBS needs to come back, and this is the place for it.

Set list after the cut.


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For the stuff too trivial even for Wikipedia.

Mohgborr is a young bugbear in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign played by the Northland Preparatory Academy Games Club.

Hat tip: Tekzilla

That's No Moon.

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Watching my son watch Great Big Sea at Wolf Trap

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Sorry it's been so long -- if any of you are still out there, of course. My old friend TJ mentioned in comments that were devoured by my spam filter that he's running for the General Assembly. Consider it reposted. If you can vote for a Libertarian, I can vouch for his character as long as we're not talking about dorm room games of Earl Weaver Baseball.

...What? Oh, yeah, the subject! Great Big Sea! Wolf Trap!

I'm sitting in a Courtyard by Marriott. An exhausted, unconscious six-year-old in a hide-a-bed told me this morning that this is the most amazing place ever. He's worn out from a great deal of jumping up and down and socializing in rows C and D at the Filene Center, his closest vantage point ever for GBS. Watching him dance in place -- as I sometimes danced with him -- I felt inexpressable joy, such happiness generated from his own. Great Big Sea is not kids' music. Certain innuendo flies over his head (for now, thankfully), and I'm finding little ways to remind him that their drinking songs are not exactly role model moments. But the melodies and beat are so accessible, it's hard not to get swept away by them. The family of four behind me -- the elder son eagerly showing mine his parents' iPhone lightsaber -- seemed to have a similar experience.

All that is to explain that I spent most of the time watching Will watch the concert, and not focusing as much on the stage as I otherwise would have. That and my despised-but-necessary ear plugs probably reduced the impact of the show. That aside....

Much like their current album Fortune's Favour, the Wolf Trap gig presented a band in transition: uneven, but undeniably powerful. The between-song rambles revealed some fatigue, and that plus the gigantic album-cover backdrop made them seem oddly smaller on that Filene Center stage than I'd ever seen them before. Their mailing list just sent an e-mail breathlessly reporting that "The boys are performing in Vienna, VA right now and are making an important announcement to the audience.... Great Big Sea will be at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore, MD on October 25." Someone should have reminded "the boys" to announce it.

Their new music was potent and drew a positive response, however, particularly "Love Me Tonight," "England," "Here and Now," and "Walk on the Moon." The latter thrilled my son, who a few hours earlier stood in awe at Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's actual space suits at the Smithsonian. Several of the classics were represented as well. Typifying the night, Sean McCann began "General Taylor" strongly, then wandered the stage without an apparent plan, before reasserting himself, sitting on the edge and blowing the roof off.

It wasn't a perfect night. Then again, it didn't have to be. I was there with my son, wolfing down hummus, veggies and flatbread after having danced and sung with him. I'm better than content. I'm happy.

What Gaiman Said

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May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

The Inadvertent Mac Switcher

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Two nights ago, at the (hopeful) nadir of several difficult weeks -- my desktop PC died.

Bricked. Kaput.

Fortunately the data survived, and I've begun migrating it to my trusty PowerBook G4 Titanium. For a five year-old, merely 1 gigahertz machine, I love it. It does everything I ask of it, it will probably run the new Mac OS X upgrade somewhat decently, and it can even boot into OS 9 if I'm feeling nostalgic.

Unfortunately, I'm an inveterate gamer and the laptop is more sluggish than I'd like. So while I'll be a Mac-only guy for the next month or so, ultimately a new machine is going to have to come into the household.

Modern Macs can dual-boot into Windows, of course, but to turn them into a truly modern gaming machine may be more than I can afford. (F'r instance, I don't think the current iMac has a powerful enough video card to support modern 3D gaming at its LCD panel's native resolution.)

I'm enjoying being in a Mac environment full time. However, for all of Apple's John Hodgman-driven marketing success in attracting PC users, there's that one category of user out there -- the gamer -- who isn't being served by their current mix of products. A comparatively cheap, scratch-built gaming PC may be in my future, sitting next to the PowerBook just as the dead one did.

Macworld Expo is coming up soon. Will Steve Jobs offer me a new reason to switch for good?

A Few Words about Harry Potter 7

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J.K. Rowling is clearly not the most disciplined writer in the world, from a grammar and syntax perspective. But that doesn't matter.

Her supporting characters sometimes have uneven characterization, or at least are not fleshed out as much as some readers would prefer. But that doesn't matter.

She is absolutely gifted at plot. Her lead characters are three dimensional. And -- usually without beating you over the head with it -- she has a message.

The message is about love, in all its forms. Love of life. Love of family. Love of friends. Romantic love. And the message is about the responsibility goes with that love -- how love extracts a cost even as it enriches the soul, and how ultimately love and grief are intertwined.

Chapter 24 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the story of Harry Potter, and of Harry Potter, in its purest form.

And, at the end, Harry must make the greatest choice of them all -- as Dumbledore put it, between what is right and easy -- in a moment when fear and duty collide in his heart.

It's almost embarrassing to say (especially since my better half had a completely opposite reaction to the sixth book), but I think this book changed me in its reading. And, when Will is old enough, I'll be proud to share it with him.

So there's this guy you may have -- should have -- heard of. Jonathan Coulton. Musician. Sidekick. Troubadour. (No, really; he's the official troubadour for both I'm-a-PC-Areas-of-my-Expertise John Hodgman and Popular Science.) He made his claim to fame with songs like "Code Monkey" and his white-boy acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." His complete catalog of music is here, while there's also a less intimidating page of listening suggestions.

Popular Science recently held a make-your-own-video contest for Coulton's song, "I Feel Fantastic," an ode to our over-medicated society -- embedded here for your entertainment (and to break up the page). I'll be back after the song to talk about one of his songs about parenthood (yes, parenthood again).

Very lovely, very lovely. Golf claps for Mr. Coulton and Ms. Crain all around.

I first encountered Coulton through his December 10 interview on Morning Edition with Andrea Seabrook. They played his biggest "hits," "Code Monkey" and "Re: Your Brains" (smug corporate zombies in cubicles for the win!), but the song that captured me was "You Ruined Everything." It's a love song to a child. Yes, I mean it:

I was fine
I pulled myself together
Just in time
To throw myself away
Once my perfect world was gone I knew
You ruined everything
In the nicest way

Coulton writes in the liner notes:

I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling - I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.

In the interview, Coulton and Seabrook talked about the way new parenthood strips you down -- you find yourself inhabiting clichés such as "it's all for you." Hearing their conversation brought it all back -- the panic I felt before his birth because I knew I was going to screw it all up, the claustrophobia I felt as our social world (necessarily) shrank due to our new responsibilities, the mutual aggravation when Shannon and I contend(ed) with a child who knew better but misbehaved anyway, dammit!, and the love and pride when he gets it right.

In this song, as well as his ode to the suburban nightmare "Shop-Vac," Coulton brings the candy-coated Harsh to his music -- but finishes with heart. He may please the geeks like me with songs like "Code Monkey," but songs like "You Ruined Everything" show that he's more than a gimmick songwriter. Much more.

Jumping Monkeys

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A new podcast dedicated to parenting in the digital age: Jumping Monkeys, hosted by former TechTV personalities Leo Laporte and Megan Morrone. Having started drinking from a podcasting firehose ever since I got an iPod, this podcast scratches a completely different itch. I'm not in the tech industry, but the hosts' observation that parenting and family issues are something of a taboo there rings true. So Jumping Monkeys feels pretty fresh: the first full podcast is an intriguing look at how current Web2.0(TM) technologies such as Twitter and Flickr can intersect with parenthood.

Shannon and I are both listening to this one, and she's finding it a lot more enjoyable than Star Wars Galaxies with Yivvits and MrBubble. Hard to believe.

(Oh, yeah. I'm back.)

Auto Assault: Four Flats and a Dropped Transmission

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In my mailbox today: the NCSoft newsletter. NCSoft publishes massively multiplayer games, including the popular City of Heroes. The MMO market is a scary place right now, with World of Warcraft serving more than 5.5 million subscribers and all of the other publishers wishing they could have a tenth that many.

I'm amazed at the flameout of NCSoft and NetDevil's Auto Assault, however. As a Mad Max-like fast action car shoot-em-up, the concept should have been bulletproof. But the gameplay was lackluster, to put it mildly. Not only did they merge all of their game servers into a single entity, but now I find that they're offering a free month of play as bounty for every friend you recruit to the game.

MMO players may like to play the games by themselves, but if they think that no one else is playing then the neighborhood turns over and they head to another game. If they're this desperate to boost the server population, I wouldn't be surprised if the engine drops out of Auto Assault by the end of the summer.

Department of Not Terribly Reassuring Experiments

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I've been quite busy and stressed, hence the radio silence.

This isn't helping, all right?

(Hat tip: Scott Jennings.)

PSA: New Carbon Leaf Album

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What I've heard is really good...

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