Thursday, May 6 2010
My years-long effort to build the ultimate database visualizer usually makes its greatest progress when I have pressing web development work to do. Developing new functionalities for it often amounts to little more than procrastination, although often it is procrastination in service of the task being procrastinated. If, for example, I find myself procrastinating some tricky or repetitive task, often my visualizer-targeted procrastination will see me building tools for diagnosing or solving the most general version of that task. Today, though, I found myself actually working on refinements necessary for one of my least-pressing web projects. I came up with support for alternative representations of data related by a mapping table. From the beginning, I'd had support for representing such data, but I'd provided only one way to do this, and though useful, it had been awkward for representing, say, the fact that an article belongs to one or more of a limited list of categories.
When I adding such features, I've grown increasingly concerned about feature creep and the effect this has had on the code over time. Already the code contains "fossil remains" of past features whose functionality was either fleetingly used on just one project or was never really used anywhere at all. It's an open question whether or not such code still works given all the changes that have happened around it. I try to preserve the backwards-compatibility of my functions, but just the churn of opening and closing files can introduce occasional errors just from the rare asteroid-impacts of stray keypresses and mouse gestures.
For the first time this season, I finally got around to mowing the yard in earnest. I fired up the weed eater and systematically whipped the nearly-knee-high grass down to conformance with suburban conventions. Judging from the amount of podcast this allowed me to listen to, the job took me nearly two hours.
Months ago Gretchen had bought tickets tonight to see Taj Mahal at the Egg in Albany. She loves Taj Mahal and had wanted me to go. But I do not love Taj Mahal and don't even know if I would be able to sit through a whole Taj Mahal performance. He might be a great musician, but it's just not my thing. Blues is one of my least favorite forms of music. (I think I actually like Reggæ slightly more.)
So tonight was the night, and the plan was to see the New Pornographers in Bearsville with our friend Deborah. First, though, we'd be eating at the Garden Café, the only place where Gretchen is eager to eat in Woodstock.
There was a little bit of a snafu as I went to park the car (after letting Gretchen out so she could run an errand). I got stuck in traffic facing a blimplike minivan in the narrow driveway down to the parking lot where we always park near the Garden. And then some asshole behind me started honking a horn. Not once. Not twice. But like three times. My blood sugar was low, and I was suddenly flung into a rage. I got out of the car and made a rude gesture to the woman in the vehicle behind me. Gretchen witnessed this and said that I also called her a "fucking bitch." But then it turned out that that woman hadn't been the one who had been honking. Embarrassing! Gretchen was horrified, reminding me later that we live in a small community and one just can't go around doing shit like that. This was a valid point, but sometimes rage interferes with my ability to maintain self control.
At the Bearsville Theatre we hung out for a time with the couple most deeply involved in the BRAWL arm-wrestling league (he's the striped-shirted official who calls the games and she's often a mistress of ceremonies). Somehow in the conversation someone mentioned the Orthodox Jewish family whose baby was mauled by a black bear who was trying to get to its dirty diaper. I could tell these people were simpatico when they laughed uproariously to my statement that "a bear would dig right through a baby to get to a dirty diaper."
The opening act was Will Sheff of a band called Okkervil River, which, I'm told, is awesome. Unfortunately, Sheff himself was painful to listen to. Perhaps he's like a sharp spice that makes a complex dish taste wonderful but that is unbearable in isolation.
Then the New Pornographers took the stage. There were nine of them, and most of them had microphones. This number of musicians made it possible for deep dynamics. Just when you thought they'd kicked it up all the notches possible, they could punch in a couple more voices and, well, you'd be confronting a shimmering escarpment of sound. Aside from the classics I've heard on Indie Pop Rocks, I'm actually not especially familiar with the New Pornographers' back catalog. To my ear it sounds a lot like the Pixies, though this particular rock and roll stew was a bit richer from all those vocalists and a pair of keyboards. Today they even had a cellist who occasionally played a saxophone. The songs were often built on interplaying passages built on different rhythm patterns and there were also odd song structures such as meta choruses. Though there was a strong emphasis on rhythm, the music was also highly melodic. One wonders why a band like this plays smallish multi-hundred-person venues like Bearsville while the pop musicians showcased, say, on American Idol sell out stadiums. I think the difference is that stadium bands are not so wantonly odd and cerebral in their musical decisionmaking.
There was a good amount of between-song banter from and among the New Pornographers, and it made for an entertaining auditory break from the fatness of the songs. At one point A.C. Newman made some light-hearted Indie Rock smack talk about the Hold Steady (who had played this same venue a week or two before). Other times he'd rib Dan Bejar (the other main male vocalist) for his tendency to wander casually onto and off stage, usually with a plastic cup of beer in his hand (and often with the disoriented look of an addled homeless man). "I wish I could drink a beer now too," Newman said, "but I have to work." As for Neko Case, she was surprisingly potty-mouthed, often making a lazy choice of "fuck" or "fuckin'" when more descriptive adjectives and nouns would have better served the points she was trying to make.
Casting a bit of a pale over our enjoyment of the evening was a strong and offensive stink coming off the body of someone nearby. The identity of that stink was hard to determine; Gretchen thought it might be a foot smell, though Deborah was sure it was unwashed pants. Back in the day people could get away with wearing stinky trousers to a rock show. They might even get laid after wearing such clothes. But that was back when people still smoked indoors. These days, you have to be more careful to wear clean clothes, particularly when you're going to crowd together and get sweaty. The only saving grace for Mr. Stinkpants, whoever he might have been, was that the source of the smell was impossible to pinpoint with a margin of error of less than ten feet.
On the drive home Gretchen and I listened to the New Pornographers' just-released latest CD, which we'd bought for ten dollars. Who says you can't still sell music? And we're probably the biggest music pirates on Dug Hill Road.
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