Influential Songs of My Childhood

On the way into work this morning, I heard The Logical Song by Supertramp on 98.9 Liberty. Every time I hear this song, it immediately transports me back to my childhood (c. age 10), so I thought I would start a new series of web articles entitled, “Influential Songs of My Childhood.” This is the first installment in a series of X articles (where 1 £ X £ ¥) where I will delve into the reasons why some songs have struck a particularly resonant chord with me for well over 20 years.

The Logical Song has such a unique sound, in my mind. It somehow manages to combine a circus atmosphere with immeasurable sadness. The words are mystical and Orwellian; the singer lives in a world that he calls both magical and clinical. Every word is evocative. Even as a child, I remember thinking (or perhaps just feeling) that there was something prophetic about this song, that my future could somehow be found in its depths. The singer sounded like he was describing the imminent death of my own childhood and my future life as an adult, and it was not a pretty picture. It was frightening. His words sounded like a plea, a desperate plea directly from my radio to me, to keep me from suffering his fate. The saxophone (or clarinet as I’ve recently heard it described, but it sure sounds like a sax to me) shrieks like fingernails on a chalkboard in the middle of the song. The end of the song is a cacophonous struggle against the iron fist of authority. When the singer recites, “one two three.. five!” I always feel like cheering, because I know his assimilation is not complete, and there is hope. He has kept a part of himself and flaunted it before what I imagine to be his captors, perhaps a boardroom full of power-suit-clad executives. Will his soul survive? Can he ever return to his former life where the birds sing happily and joyfully? Or will he be crushed under the cold, mechanized wheels of responsibility and remain a vegetable forever? It’s a great song. I’m captivated every time I hear it.

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

At night, when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Let There Be Lights

Friday our neighbors were at it again. You may remember from last year that these retired folk constructed a Christmas light extravaganza in their front yard that would blind most ordinary humans. Friday, merely one day after Thanksgiving, they were blasting Christmas music (we’re talking Bing Crosby here) and stringing up lights again. Presumably they were just supervising this event, since they themselves must have been paralyzed with ecstasy by those old-time classics we only get to hear continuously for 1/12th of the year. Plus they are pretty old and feeble. So I guess they took advantage of some kinfolk in this process.

Well, not to be outdone, we decided to put up some lights this year ourselves. Since our niece and nephew were visiting over the weekend, and one of them inexplicably didn’t bring a single thing to entertain himself, we figured Saturday morning would be the perfect time to get started on it. (When I say “we,” of course, I mean “Cynthia.”) So I got out the lights. First I noticed there was no electrical outlet anywhere on the front porch. Slight problem. But nothing a few well-placed holes in the side of the house and an extension cord through the attic couldn’t fix. Then I proceeded to string together an intricate pattern of lights that covered the entire porch. It was sort of fun – it reminded me of those puzzle problems where you’re supposed to trace a line from here to there without crossing over any previous lines, except this was three-dimensional. So after I had the last strand up, I plugged it all in. It was magnificent! Until a fuse blew a few milliseconds later. Then I decided to read the fine print in the directions where it said that each light strand contained 25 lamps and under no circumstances should you connect more than 60 lamps at a time. (Not 50 or 75, but 60.) This represented a major setback for the 175 lamp puzzle I had laid out. After sulking pointlessly for a while about the relative waste of the last 4 or 5 hours of my life, I realized that I didn’t personally care enough about Christmas lights to try to build a nuclear reactor to power them all. So I carefully unstrung all those painstakingly threaded lights from the porch again, and put two strands of lights along the top. It’s a minimalistic approach to Christmas decorating that I like to think of as “not crazy like the neighbors.” It’s somewhat satisfying to think of the irony that will come to the minds of sightseers* when they see the neighbors’s Las Vegas casino lights next to our quiet, unassuming lights.

(* Yes, I know Christmas light sightseers don’t get irony, but don’t squash my dream.)

Freedom No Longer Free

I tuned into 98.9 Liberty on the way home today, and there it was, like a grisly, glistening shape rising from the fetid waters of capitalism: a commercial. I gritted my teeth as I listened, knowing it would be but the first of many, for surely they would group 20 such commercials together like all the other radio stations, and I would have to begin station surfing in vain, for it is well known that all radio stations synchronize their commercial marathons for maximum annoyance. But wait! What’s this I hear? The commercial ended… and the music began anew! It was not but one of many, but just a single commercial. And the music continued unabated for the remainder of my 45 minute trip home.

(For those not in the know, 98.9 Liberty is a new radio station here in Richmond that plays “anything you want” without any commercials. “Anything we want” so far seems to include only upbeat chart-topping songs, however, but that’s another story.)

Mediocrity Taking Over The Web

Nicolas Carr’s blog article, The amorality of Web 2.0, rocks. (There’s some technical mumbo-jumbo, but there’s also a bunch of regular English words I didn’t know, either. :) There has always been something about Open Source that has made me uneasy, but I’ve never really been able to put my finger on exactly what it was. Nicolas Carr is able to put “it” into words and apply it to Open Source, the Blogosphere, Wikipedia, and everything else. And the word is: Mediocrity. He calls it the “Cult of the Amateur.” He writes, after citing some example Wikipedia entries:

Remember, this emanation of collective intelligence is not just a couple of months old. It’s been around for nearly five years and has been worked over by many thousands of diligent contributors. At this point, it seems fair to ask exactly when the intelligence in “collective intelligence” will begin to manifest itself. When will the great Wikipedia get good? Or is “good” an old-fashioned concept that doesn’t apply to emergent phenomena like communal on-line encyclopedias?

Water Squelched

Front yard flooding fixed. Water guy replaced the old decrepit meter with a new-fangled electronic thingy. Gushing water is gone. Time for bed.

Big Water

Neat. Our water main is currently spewing water into our front yard. If it weren’t for Cynthia going outside to check for mail, we wouldn’t have even known about it until the morning, when it would have been a BIG problem. As it is, it is just a Big problem. But have no fear, the water guy is on his way here. Hope he brings a big sponge.

I must admit that I’m rather annoyed I just sent the county utilities bill payment in this morning. It’s like something breaking right after the warranty period expires.

Tuesday Night Was Okay For Fighting, Too

Since my computer at work is more-or-less frozen up while it performs a weekly virus scan, this seems like a good time to write something.

Cynthia and I went with some friends to the Elton John concert at the Coliseum last night. Normally, neither one of us would have gone, but since we were invited we thought it might be fun. As it turned out, it was pretty dern cool. EJ played for almost 3 hours non-stop, a rather amazing feat for a rocker of such advancing years. And it wasn’t all slow stuff, either. He played a handful of tunes from his new album, and then launched into hit after hit for the rest of the night.

I was struck by two things during the concert: 1) for a person of EJ’s stature, I thought he had a very minimalist stage setup. The band was pretty basic: besides EJ himself, there was a keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, percussionist, and a backup vocal group (which wasn’t even on stage for half the show). Talented bunch of folks, too. He had a nice lighting rig which I found to be visually interesting without being distracting and over-the-top. A few videos on the projection screens, but mostly just closeup video of him and the band. In other words, he was letting the music do most of the talking rather than hiding behind a bunch of flash and glitz.

2) The other thing that struck me, which strikes me at every live event I attend, was how much more vibrant and colorful the lighting is in person. I found it interesting to compare the lighting shown on the video projections versus the real thing. On the screen, the lights looked bland and uninteresting. On the stage, they just leaped out at the eye. Makes me think that video has a long way to go before it truly captures the full spectrum of light that the human eye can perceive.

Anyway, a good time was had by all. Now to see if I can use my computer yet.

Technical News Returns

This category had originally been for technical news about the web site. At some point, I realized nobody gave a crap about that, and I stopped adding to it.

But now the category has been reborn under a new name: The Programming Blog. This is where I will write down all of my wonderfully insightful comments about software development in today’s world.

You might be wondering why I choose to put these insights here instead of on the regular blog. The answer is simple: Nobody gives a crap about this stuff. So by putting it in a separate category, you, the humble reader, can easily choose the items of interest to you.

English Ancestors Found!

Thanks to a chance encounter with, the LDS genealogy web site, I was able to document some more of my ancestors. This particular branch of ancestors comes from my great-grandmother Matilda Gray’s branch. (Individual I469 on my genealogy page.) I located a bunch of previously unknown information on the ancestry of her father’s parents, Joseph P. Gray and Martha Elizabeth Baker. The Grays appear to have originated in London, England before boating over to Virginia sometime around 1750-1770. At least I assume they used a boat. You never know with those Grays, though.