How I’ll Spend My [Insert Title Here] Vacation

Originally published at Kickin’ the new Kuh-nowledge. You can comment here or there.

As I noted previously, I was shocked to find out that I had only used 4 vacation days this whole year.  Well, here’s how Liz and I will be using up the remaining 19 vacation days I have.

In mid-November we’re going to spend a few days in Salt Lake City.  We’re staying at a local hostel, and I expect it will be a nice change of pace for us.  It will definitely be nice to spend some time away together for the first time in a long time.

That will be followed by a “staycation” during the week of Thanksgiving.  I’ll be taking the whole week off, but it will largely be spent doing stuff around the house.  Cheap stuff that doesn’t cost a lot of money (because sometimes you need to be redundant).

Then the big finale…  we’re going on a trip to Brazil to visit my dad in mid-December.  He hasn’t been feeling well, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be coming back to the States anytime soon.  We’ll be staying in my dad’s condo for two weeks, and then we’ll finish out the trip with a week in Orlando.

I can’t wait for this vacation.  I’ve been so stressed out at work that today I actually yelled at someone, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of me.

–sam

What I’ve been up to…

I’ve been relatively quiet lately…  here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Working!  I tallied up the total number of vacation days I’ve used this year.  The total was 4.  That’s right, I’ve only had 4 days off of work this whole year.  How sick is that?  Well, I plan on remedying that over the next couple of months (more news to come).  Other than that, work itself, has been going relatively well.  Still lots of changes, but I feel relatively safe right now.  By safe I mean, that I have been busy as hell working a lot of different projects.
  • Commuting!  Up until last week I had been commuting to Chicago by train and bicycle.  It’s been great.  I feel less burnt out when I’m done with work.  I feel a little more motivated to actually go to work each week.  And that’s why winter has me worried.  The colder it gets, the less likely it is that I’ll be able to commute by bike.  Which means that I’ll need to start driving again.  Let’s just hope that gas prices stay low this winter (yeah right!).
  • Volunteering!  I have been volunteering time to two community organizations.  The Bike Project is a bike collective in Champaign-Urbana.  It gives people a chance to learn how to fix their own bikes and to build their own bikes from donated used bikes.  They also do things like give away bike lights, build bikes for underprivileged kids and other organizations.  I also volunteer a little time at WEFT, 90.1, a local community radio station.  Champaign-Urbana is blessed with several community radio stations.  My “job” at WEFT is to open the new Rock, Indie Rock and Pop music that comes into the station and get it ready for the on-air folks.  It’s a simple job, but it does afford me the opportunity to listen to a lot of new music (some of it actually decent).
  • Gaming!  I still play D&D every week.  I play in a game in Chicago and one in Champaign-Urbana.  I also play some board games here and there with Liz and her school friends.  I would love to play more board games, but oh well…  you can’t have everything.
  • Politics!  I’ve been really sucked into the elections and the campaigns.  I read a lot online and as I mentioned in a previous post I’ve done a little phone calling.  Go Obama Go!
  • Fostering!  Up until last week, Liz and I were fostering a rescued Bernese Mountain Dog.  Carly was adopted last week by a family in New Jersey.  I had to drive her up to Chicago so she could fly to New Jersey to meet her new family.  Carly was a real sweetheart, and I think both Liz and I will miss having her around.  If you’re wondering about Kiko.  He’s just fine.  🙂

And that should get you up to date on what’s been going on lately.  Watch for another post about what’s coming up!

–sam

I voted, and you can too!

This is just a reminder that if you didn’t get a chance to vote early…  you should exercise your right to vote on Tuesday, November 4th.  I won’t tell you how you should vote, but I will tell you how I voted.

I voted for Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States of America.  He wasn’t my first choice, but I’ve come to believe that Obama not only has what it takes to be President, he is smart enough to surround himself with people that actually know how to run a government.

As for John McCain…  there was a time when I respected him for more than the sacrifices he made for this country.  This campaign has revealed him to be a poor choice for President.  I still respect him, but I couldn’t vote for him.  Oh…  you thought I wasn’t going to mention Sarah Palin?  I believe she has proven herself to be unfit for any position outside of Alaska politics (and even that’s a stretch).

For the last couple of weeks, Liz and I have hosted calling parties to help mobilize Obama supporters in key swing states.  In 2004, I did a lot more for Kerry than I have done for Obama.  I wish I could have done even more both in 2004 and this year.  If you haven’t done much of anything thus far during this election cycle, please consider doing something… anything that might help:

  • If you haven’t already given money to the Obama campaign, please consider doing so.  Even $5 is helpful.
  • If you haven’t considered doing some phonebanking or canvassing, again, please consider doing so.  Getting one more person to vote… just one… can make a difference.
  • If you have some free time on Tuesday, November 4th, please consider volunteering your time and your car to help drive people to the polls.  Again… even one extra vote can make a difference.

You can find out about opportunities for donating, phonebanking and volunteering at http://www.barackobama.com.  But even if you can’t do any of that…  do the one thing that everyone can:  VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pinky Tuscadero

Originally published at Kickin’ the new Kuh-nowledge. You can comment here or there.

I’ve been having some problems with my bike lately.  My commute to work has been great, but the downside is that I fold and unfold the bike several times a day.  My current bike, a Giant Halfway, wasn’t really designed for this type of abuse.  It’s more of a keep in the trunk of your car and ride occasionally kind of bike.

The hinge on my current bike is starting to fail.  Basically, it will work itself loose every now and then.  I was on the sidewalk the first time it happened.  No injuries…  just embarassment.  It’s happened a couple of other times since.  I have a new hinge on order, but the issue goes beyond that…  while the bike is a snap to fold and unfold, it simply wasn’t designed to have that action performed multiple times per day.  A new hinge will just yield the same result eventually.

I started researching and searching for a new folding bike.  Most of the searching was done online, but I also made it out to a couple of different stores to test ride some bikes too.  I tested Dahons, a Brompton, a Bike Friday and a Birdy.  I thought about the Xootr Swift and the Strida.  For a moment there, I even considered going back to my car.

At some point I passed the threshold from researching, to actually shopping.  I started scouring eBay and Craigslist for a good deal.  I found several, but either I didn’t win the auction (eBay)… or the seller wasn’t willing to ship the bike (Craigslist).  One of the folks I contacted via Craigslist in Eugene, OR got back to me a week ago.  He hadn’t had any luck selling his Bike Friday Tikit locally, and wanted to know if I was still interested.  We agreed on a shipping price, and the bike was sent out to me on Tuesday.

It arrived yesterday.  Here are the pictures to prove it…

Whats in the box?

What's in the box?

Getting Warmer?

Getting Warmer?

That Cant Possibly Be a Pink Bike?

That Can't Possibly Be a Pink Bike?

Presenting Pinky Tuscadero!

Presenting Pinky Tuscadero!

Oil Is for Sissies!

Oil Is for Sissies!

Showing Off My Bling!

Showing Off My Bling!

Most likely, the Oil is for Sissies is going to be removed or replaced.  If you have a better slogan for Pinky, please let me know.  So far I’ve heard…  “Real Men Love Pink”, “Pink Panther”, and of course, “Pinky Tuscadero”.  I’ve also had some vulgar ones that I won’t repeat here because my dad reads this.  ;-)

Interesting tidbit on the name Pinky Tuscadero…  it appears that Happy Days has been out of syndication so long that people under 30 do not generally get the reference.  I’ve said it in mixed groups of people.  The under 30’s look puzzled, the over 30’s groan.  LOL

And the Lord Said, “Let The Sun Wash Down on Pitchfork.”

Sunday at Pitchfork was largely more of the same.  Main difference is that by this point Gus and I were dead tired.  We woke up late, ate late, left late.  Gus had wanted to see Mahjong, but our generally lack of punctuality on Sunday meant that we arrived at Union Park just after Mahjong finished their set.  Oh well.

One other difference.  The sun was out in full effect.  It was hot, humid and sweaty.  I want to personally thank each and every tree that provided shade for me on this day.  Thank you, it will not be forgotten.

A sidenote… Since Gus writes articles and reviews for video games and I hung out with several of his friends and acquaintances, I not only watched a lot of cool bands play, but I also received a top-notch education in video game lore.  I’ll be honest here, I haven’t really played video games much since the days of the Sega Genesis.  I owned a PS1 briefly, and I have certainly played a game here and there when it’s been made available to me.  I guess what I’m saying is… thanks Gus, because of you I might actually go out and buy a game system and start up again.  I guess I had forgotten how fun some of the games can be and your enthusiasm may have rubbed off on me a little.

Back to the music!

Times New Viking:  These guys were playing when we arrived.  Didn’t sound interesting enough to stay so we went for food and possibly a beer too, but I can’t remember.

High Places:  This guys were playing while we were eating.  We were talking and they didn’t make an impression on me.  I know this entry and the first one for Sunday have no music notes in them really.  I blame the tired.  I also blame the fact that we were really just waiting for Boris to start their set at 2pm.

Dirty Projectors:  These guys and gals were playing while we were waiting for Boris to start.  They weren’t half bad in a wannabe Talking Heads sort of way.  But bring on the Boris already!

Boris:  Oh yes.  Boris.  Japanese Metal at its finest.  These guys and gal swaggered on stage.  They were rocking from the first note.  My head was bobbing.  I gave them the international sign of metal m/!  Fuck yeah.  And then 30 minutes into the set, they stop.  Something about the electricity being wrong.  What the fuck!?!  I expressly did not listen to any other bands until this point and then they cut out early?  Bastards!  But the little bit I did hear was pretty darn good.

HEALTH:  I liked these guys.  They sounded like another band I’ve seen The Oxes, but perhaps a little more experimental.  Essentially it’s instrumental metal.  Very good too.  After the disappointment of a shortened Boris show, HEALTH delivered the metal goods in spades.

King Khan & The Shrines:  We could have gone to the main stage to see The Apples in Stereo, but who cares about that brand of pop music when King Khan & The Shrines are playing?  Seriously.  This band is not that technically proficient.  I’ve seen much better blues/r&b acts in my life.  However, King Khan delivers when it comes to showmanship.  The music was fun and lively, but not nearly as much as what was happening on stage.  I would love to see this band again.

Les Savy Fav: I thought King Khan was fun to watch on stage, but then I was bowled over by Les Savy Fav’s frontman.  He came out on stage in hot pants and no shirt.  And this guy was pushing the same bald headed beer belly look I’ve been pushing the last couple of years.  The music was somewhat typical indie rock / party rock.  Honestly though… the music was just an excuse to get this guy up in front of a crowd of people so they could be dazzled by him.  If Les Savy Fav is coming to your town… check them out.  Interesting tidbit, the rest of the band was a much less flamboyant which made for an interesting interplay.

Ghostface Killah & Raekwon:  Last year it was the GZA from the Wu Tang Clan.  I was underwhelmed by his performance.  He seemed to just phone it in.  This year’s performance by Ghostface Killah & Raekwon was better, but only slightly so.  Honestly, I have yet to see a good performance from any of the Wu Tang Clan.  Sure, they have a lot of cool stuff to pick from, but it’s not so cool that I just want to hear it at the concert.  I want to be engaged with the performance too… and these guys fail at that.

Dinosaur Jr.:  Somehow I had missed out on seeing Dinosaur Jr. live in the late 80s or early 90s.  That injustice has now been rectified.  The set was flawless.  Jay doesn’t have a lot of stage presence, but the combination of him and the other guys made for an enjoyable show… and honestly, the music sounded better than ever.

Spoon:  I like these guys.  There music is interesting and fun to listen to.  However, they give bad show.  The lead singer was emoting somewhat, but there was absolutely no interplay amongst the band members.  In fact, they didn’t even look out at the audience.  It was as if they were just playing in the studio.  Sure, they sounded decent, but they looked bored and left me feeling bored too.  Decent music… bad show.  If Spoon come to your town… just listen to the CD instead and save the money.

Spoon was the final act of the festival and what a downer they were.  The promise of good beer and better conversation kept Gus and I going as we walked over to the Bottom Lounge once again.  We hung out once again with some Pitchfork writers.  Drained some beers and ate some bar food.  Unfortunately, we had to leave early.  Gus had to catch a flight and I had to work in the morning.  We made our way back to the Longwell House and slept well.

For some reason I missed a number of bands on Sunday (including the first few that I didn’t really listen to).  I wanted to catch M. Ward, Bon Iver and Cut Copy.  I sorta kinda listened to Spiritualized and The Dodos.  Nothing there that got me excited though.

–sam

It was a wet and rainy day at Pitchfork

Originally published at Kickin’ the new Kuh-nowledge. You can comment here or there.

Saturday at Pitchfork would prove to be a sad day for people without umbrellas and galoshes.  That there…  that’s what they call foreshadowing in the business.  ;)

Gus and I ate a fine breakfast at the Longwell House.  Neil makes some great food and Saturday morning was no exception.  Mixed fruits, scrambled egg, bagel and coffee.  A nice couple ate breakfast with us.  Well, at least the husband was a kindred spirit.  He’s an older architect that is way into sci-fi and whatnot.  We don’t share the same politics though.  Whatevs.

Anyway, Gus and I headed out on this fine drippy, humid summer morning.  We made it to Union Park without any hassles.  We arrived in time to catch Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar

Without further silliness…  the bands of Pitchfork Saturday…

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: We set our chairs down to watch this brass band.  What we heard for the first 10 minutes was band practice or sound check.  At some point Gus and I joked that it would be awesome if their whole performance was just an extended sound check.  While there, i caught a glimpse of one of Liz’s old roommates from Orlando.  I didn’t bother getting up to say hello.  I probably should have though.  I guess I’m lazy.  Finally, the band starts playing what sounds like Oompapa, Marching Band, Brass Craziness.  So gus quips…  “This is the music I hear in my head when I have sex!”  ’nuff said.

Titus Andronicus: Didn’t get to hear the whole set because of rain, but what I heard wasn’t bad.  Not exactly something I would go break down the doors at the local record shop for, but I liked it OK.  Sloppy in parts, but in a good way.  The lead singer had a very thick beard for such a small man.  A couple of songs in it began to rain.  We thought we were slick with our fold-up transformer camp chairs.  Mother Nature taught us a lesson instead.  If it looks rainy, get an umbrella, fool!  In other news, an older chap had a fold-up chair as well, but his had the added feature of including a rain canopy of sorts.  How cool is that?!?

Caribou:  This guy came to Champaign-Urbana earlier this year, but I didn’t get to see him then, but I was intrigued by the music then… and watching it performed live was definitely a treat.  Two drummers that layered each other well.  Lots of interesting sounds all around.  Very mellow.  Something I need to find at my local independent music retailer.

Fleet Foxes:  I didn’t get to watch this band, but I heard it from a distance as I bought food and drank beer.  What’s a music festival without beer?  Seriously though.  The music sounded nice.  I think it’s something Liz would like more than me.  I can also see my buddy Jesse Dean digging these guys if the lyrics are good.

Fuck Buttons:  I really liked these guys.  Kinda drony elecronic stuff, but not annoyingly so.  There is no crescendo with this type of music… it just continues on building wavelets that feel like they will break over the cliff, but never quite do.  It’s the kind of music you can sleep to without much effort.  In fact, Gus did just that.  That’s not to say it’s boring though.

Dizzee Rascal:  What can I say, this guy was a lot of fun.  I had only really heard the one song from him before.  I think overall he has a good rapid fire delivery.  He doesn’t mumble… and the beats and samples were very good.  He also doesn’t take himself too seriously which made his performance very fun to watch.  Can anyone say running man?  ;)

Vampire Weekend:  Here’s a band that I want to like, but I just can’t wrap my ears around their appeal.  People keep telling me that they use these world music rhythms and sounds…  but that’s not what I hear.  I hear some minimal homage to world music and a lot of bad lyrics with goofy delivery.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been a fan of goofy delivery and bad lyrics don’t often bother me… but for some reason Vampire Weekend’s version just doesn’t work for me.  Hearing them live didn’t change my mind at all.

Elf Power:  Boring

!!!: These guys are great performers.  The entire band was having a blast up there and you could really tell.  I felt that energy despite the fact that I was pretty far back from the stage.  Overall, !!!’s music is hit and miss.  However, the live performance overcame some of that.  These guys know how to bring the party.  I would definitely go see them again in a smaller venue.

Extra Golden:  This is for all intents and purposes and Kenyan rock band.  Kenyan vocal style and rhythms mixed with rock flavoring.  The end result is excellent.  If Vampire Weekend could imbue their music with this kind of energy maybe I would dig them.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for this disc.  I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Atlas Sound:  Last year at Pitchfork the band Deerhunter played.  Liz loved them.  Atlas Sound is just the frontman from Deerhunter.  I thought Deerhunter was OK, but this Atlas Sound stuff is excellent.  Personally, it’s a must-buy if and when it is available.  Cool soundscapes.  Mellow with enjoyably surprising things mixed in.

No Age:  Fast, loud and kick ass.  Is there anything else to say?  No, I didn’t think so.  This isn’t the kind of stuff I run out and buy, but man is it refreshing on a hot, muggy, rainy summer day.

Animal Collective:  I’ve never really heard any of their stuff before.  These guys give good lightshow, good music and good performance.  Gus was pretty excited to see these guys and I can see why.  Great stuff which hits me right at the heart of my odd bleeps and bloops meter.

I missed out on Jarvis Cocker.  I wish I had taken a moment to check him out.  I also missed out on A Hawk and a Hacksaw which I think Liz would have really enjoyed.  Oh well.  Maybe these folks will be touring into Champaign-Urbana soon (NOT!).

After the show, Gus and I headed over to The Bottom Lounge (?).  Gus’ friend Chris invited us there for a Pitchfork staff after party.  I should note here that Gus knew a number of people at the festival.  Chris is also a freelance writer and we hung out with him for a lot of the festival.  Great guy.

Anyway, we headed over there.  Chatted with Chris and some other Pitchfork writers.  Ate some food.  Drank some beer.  Rode the L home late.

And it was around this time that I had a senior moment.  We’re waiting for the Green line train to Oak Park.  A train comes into the station and we board.  About six stops later I realize that we’re on the Pink line.  Gah!  Poor Gus.  I could tell he was ready to crash right then and there.  We eventually made it home safe…  though tired and wet from the rain.

All in all, day two of Pitchfork was great.  Lots of good music.  I felt that good kind of tired where you know you will sleep well.  I should also note here that the beds at Longwell Hall were very comfy.  They have a nice way of inducing sleep within mere moments of laying your head down on the pillow.

–sam

The IRS Sent Me Letter…

Originally published at Kickin’ the new Kuh-nowledge. You can comment here or there.

The title of this post should be sung to the music of the famous Box Tops song “The Letter”.  Seriously.

Got a letter in the mail from the IRS stating that we owe an extra $1000 from our 2006 taxes.  It’s entirely possible that I missed something, but I doubt it.  I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to taxes.

That said, it was the first year we filed together, and it’s also the year we moved to Illinois.  So there were a lot of bits of paper that year, and the discrepancy is apparently some income Liz had from the university.

As you can imagine, having to pay an extra $1K out of the blue isn’t exactly a welcome thought.  Here’s to hoping the IRS made a mistake.  Otherwise, there are some trips later this year that aren’t gonna happen.  :(

–sam

My Friday at Pitchfork

Originally published at Kickin’ the new Kuh-nowledge. You can comment here or there.

I’ll do this in three installments.  This first one is for Friday.

I was late meeting Gus, but we finally got together.  Gus had flown in from LA where he was attending the E3 conference.  We made our way to Longwell Hall, the B&B in Oak Park.  Dropped our stuff off and then we went exploring.

What did we find…  why we found a movie theater playing The Dark Knight.  SCORE!  We bought some tickets for $5.50 each (gotta love matinee pricing) and watched the best Joker/Two-Face movie ever made.  Now I just need to go check out Hellboy.  I think I’ll go see it tonight.

We still had some time to kill so we did some shopping (foldable camp chairs are essential for a good festival experience) before heading off to Union Park for Pitchfork.  And off we go…

For those of you that don’t know.  Friday night only had three acts.  Each one was to perform one of their albums front to back all the way through.

Mission To Burma:  I was actually really impressed by how good these guys were.  I’m sure I’ve heard a song of their’s at some point, but I honestly don’t know.  What I do know is they rocked it out and left me wondering why I hadn’t ever really listened to them before.  Good stuff… must go find and listen more.

Sebadoh:  Now here’s a band that has some interesting guys that have made some cool music.  Unfortunately, they blew.  Their performance was understated and boring.  According to my buddy Jerome, he couldn’t get past the fact that all their instruments were out of tune.

Public Enemy:  Kicked All Available Ass…  and when another ass showed up to talk smack, they kicked it too!  It’s possible that Public Enemy benefited from lowered expectations on my part, but I don’t think so.  I’ve seen a lot of rap shows and these guys were energetic, funny, educational and just plain awesome.  Not only did they perform the entire album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, but then they extended their set and performed a long medley of all of their other stuff.  One sorta sad, sorta funny part was when at the end… Flavor Flav didn’t want to leave the stage.  He just kept talking on the mic…  and finally people just started leaving while he continued talking.  Oh yeah…  and people booed Flav when he mentioned his TV show…  and no… the irony was not lost on me when they did their song “Channel Zero”.

I’m fairly certain that when the show was over, Gus and I headed home.  We got a bite to eat at Bar Louie in Oak Park.  Food was good, but sleep was better.

–sam