September 2015

Catching Up – “Outside”

I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry about this song for a while. Unfortunately, life just has a tendency to happen and suck my blogging time away.

Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – Outside

Music videos have, as a general art form, seemed to have taken a nose dive since the mid 90’s. There were a handful of standouts here and there, but on the whole, watching them is an exception for me, not a rule. This video isn’t terribly notable (aside from its interesting time-stopping and CGI mirror effects), but the video isn’t the topic of this blog entry – the song is.

I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, and after a while, it got me thinking. As I get older, I find that “learning song lyrics” has been a task that now requires more formal effort and intent, rather that simply being the product of simply hearing the song enough. Perhaps it’s simply due to age, perhaps it’s simply due to some limit to the number of songs I can learn in that manner, and perhaps it has more to do with my focus being on knowing good in-points and out-points for DJ purposes, though most likely it’s a combination of them. Regardless, I did have to listen through the song once more – as well as read the lyrics directly – to ensure that I was accurate in my assessments.

What struck me wasn’t the lyrics – like I said, I had to look them up to tell you what they were. More poignant to me was the hook – the four bar synth melody that repeats a total of eighteen times in the radio edit. In the interminable debate regarding the level to which music itself can convey emotion (this question being the entrance to the rabbit hole regarding the nature of art itself),this purely synthetic loop, 7.5 seconds in length, to me, seems a bit of a paradox. I get a sense of both optimism and hopelessness, a sense of anticipation and letdown, a known cycle and a feeling that something isn’t going to stay the same.

Beyond the paradox, I am wondering why this particular song actually brought about an emotion to begin with. There have only been a handful of songs that have ever evoked a reaction, but they’ve almost invariably been based on lyrical content. Even the handful of others that stand out as a result of their instrumentation at least involved actual instrument-playing, rather than being the result of an evening in FL Studio. Regardless, why this song, and why not so many others? I just don’t get it.

Perhaps what I’m witnessing here is the difference between art and design, as described by my fellow CMN alum Len Wilson: Design answers a question, while art asks a question. Perhaps, in our world of synthetic music, designed to be popular just long enough to make it to the top of the iTunes charts for a week, Calvin and Ellie managed to do something notable: produce art.



Every trip to stop and shop is like pulling the lever on a shot machine – will they have the good guacamole mix this time??
I am setting myself up for disappointment.

Update: three different supermarkets, including one where Spanish is the primarily spoken language…No luck. I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment.

Update: personal accomplishment: going to Target, not finding what I was looking for, and leaving without buying something else.

L’Shana Tova!

Leviticus 23:23-24

Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.


A happy and blessed Rosh Hashanah to all of my Jewish friends and colleagues. I plan on trying apples and honey tonight, because it seems like a good idea.


Facebook expectations

Post an original, insightful thought or unique anecdote: three likes.

Share an unoriginal political half-truth Photoshopped on a picture of a presidential candidate: twelve likes, thirty comments.

Post the 2,000th picture of your children: 181 likes, 73 affirming comments.

…This is why my blog exists.

Awkwardness, redefined

For those of you who read this (approximately five of you), and know me personally (approximately four of you), you know that I can be a bit of an ‘acquired taste’ – I don’t always correctly follow social norms, I’m not the greatest at smalltalk, and my qualifications for the clothing I wear when I walk out the door is ‘basically fitting’ and ‘clean’. My “meta-perception” (i.e. ‘my perception of how other people perceive me’) is basically that most people can deal with my idiosyncrasies in small doses, and just ‘let me talk’ when I attempt to explain technical things, especially in a social context, retaining basically-none of it. When it comes to expressing empathy and other emotions, it can feel like it is, at best, a ‘learned skill’, where I’m attempting to mimic the things that other people do to express concern and compassion, but for me, it’s not a natural skill…and I generally feel that I have a tendency to make things worse when I attempt it.


This weekend, something happened.


Under very different sets of circumstances, three different people independently volunteered that I made them feel better and/or comfortable amidst uncomfortable situations. To say “it didn’t make any sense” is like saying, “platinum is a bit difficult to come by”. How could I, the acquired-taste computer tech who is terrible at expressing empathy, make other people feel better? Then, it hit me.

We live a world that thrives on optimization. Your cell phone is faster than your last one. Your car probably gets better gas mileage than the one you had before it. Your dryer is more energy efficient. Our soda cans have undergone a mesmerizing amount of optimization since their inception. Written messages went from ‘letters’ to ‘tweets’; the phrase “tl;dr” exists. You probably have to consciously think about the last picture you saw that wasn’t filtered or Photoshopped, or don’t have to because you’re thinking of a physical photo album whose contents predate digital imaging. Movies and TV compress a whole lot of human interaction to fit a 22m/44m/96m runtime, and thus, scripts are also heavily optimized – I myself am guilty of saying “too long; didn’t watch” for It’s a Wonderful Life, yet its depiction of human interaction is at a much more realistic pace than…basically any other movie involving a love story that’s been made in the last decade or so.

We live in a world so filled with optimization that imperfection stands out. An unretouched photo looks strange at first, but its genuine nature is itself notable.

When I attempted to express myself to these people, under these circumstances, in my mostly-awkward way, it was notable to them for being genuine – and their response, unexpected as it was, was a response to genuineness amidst a sea of highly optimized emotional expression. I owe the fact that, for a weekend, I was more-understood than I was attempting to be, to a culture where realness is derived from imperfection, because we are the first generation where perfection is the norm.

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