Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Squeeky Holidays

From here.
Thanks to Torlando H. and David S. for the paperwork!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Joy of Ex(cel)*

Here comes a real nerd confession.

I hate to say it, but sometimes it feels really good to get a nice spreadsheet going. I've somehow become "the guy who knows a lot about Excel" among the Japanese 201 T.A.s, and honestly, I must say, it feels pretty good to known as a person with these skills.

We do some pretty cool stuff with our spreadsheet, not just tracking grades, but having it calculate percentages, and percentages of percentages of their total grades, having the spreadsheet automatically drop their lowest two scores, fun stuff like that. I like copying formulas. I like using "Paste Special." I like formatting the number of decimal places that are to be displayed. It's just fun. But I didn't always feel this way. Oh no.

I used to HATE Excel. Back when I worked at HappiCo, (now-defunct Indiana-based Japanese automotive parts supplier that had a horrible, ironic name) the Japanese guys I worked with loved Excel. They would brag about how they were black belts in Excel. They actually had cards they carried around showing that they had passed this certain level of Excel certification. I thought this was weird, and this is probably what initially made me weary of spreadsheets. I was all like "It's just a bunch of numbers, who cares?"

The thing is, for them, spreadsheets were for so much more than just numbers. Spreadsheets were a way of life. The Japanese guys at HappiCo would use Excel for things that had nothing to do with numbers. They would use it to make flowcharts, to make signs telling people not to do stuff, for birthday cards for their daughters, whatever. As a creative type, this annoyed/amused me to no end. In my mind I tried to develop theories as to how this related to Japanese culture.

"They like things that can fit into compartments." "They like the columns and rows because it reminds them of the small apartments they live in." "The compartments are regular, like the syllables** in their language." "They like rules that don't have exceptions, just like their language." "All of the cells react to each other in harmony, it fits in well with their notion of wa (和)."

Anyway, I carried this distant philosophical curiosity/actual disdain for spreadsheets with me up until I started teaching Japanese here at IU. A few years earlier, I had a few positive run-ins with numbers, such as using numbers to learn about acoustics in audio recording, using numbers in Max/MSP, using numbers to count how many bananas I had, etc. It was learning Max/MSP in particular that really turned me on to the power of number manipulation, there was something about it that jived with the way that I think. So when it came time to work with the spreadsheets, I decided to think of it as being like Max/MSP, and it kind of made it fun. Instead of patch cord lines, you would just refer to a cell's number to link it up. Instead of objects, you just write some formula that tells it what to do. Suddenly, I was starting to feel the magic of spreadsheets.

You know how when you learned math in high school and they told you that the parenthesis mean "do me first." And then everyone laughed because the teacher just said "do me." Well, it turns out that parenthesis stuff is actually important. You say "I'll never have to use this stuff in real life" but then it turns out that you do! It's totally classic.

So now I am left loving spreadsheets, partly because people tell me I'm good at them, and partly because I actually feel like I am good at them. They are quite handy. But does this mean that I have become one of them? Am I a total square? Luckily the answer to these questions has been manifest in several internet-famous forms in the last couple of months. Spreadsheets have been experiencing a real renaissance of cool (or is it just a naissance?). There's art made with Excel, an AC/DC video done in Excel, a Thanksgiving calculator spreadsheet, or you can even do cellular automata on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is really getting the rock star treatment. It's ok.

* And I use the word Excel to mean all spreadsheets, the same way that Kleenex refers to all facial tissue or ProTools is used to refer to all recording software.

** I know, I know, they're not syllables, they're mora.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Homecomings LP is Done Done Done


At long last, the covers for my LP platter are done. If you don't know, this is my solo jam, and it really jams. It's called Homecomings, both the project name and the record name. I'm proud of how this record looks and sounds. If you saw me play in Germany over the summer, then you may have purchased one that had a hand-drawn cover, in which case you win. The remaining 70 or so are screened in patriotic red, white, and blue. Thanks to Luke for doing those. (But not too much thanks, yet. Please do finish the rest, dude.) A lot of the records are already spoken for, but if you'd like to purchase one, you probably can. I'll probably put a few out at TD's and Landlocked if they are still letting people do that.

Sing Homecomings. This is the website.

Now let's suppose you don't have a record player. Or you want it on the portable mp3 format. You can download it here.

Here are a few sneakz:

"Towers and Trash"

"There's Still Steam"

"Oh, And I Thought I Was a Warrior But Without You I Feel So Defeated"

"White Lines"


Also, thanks to Brigid Hallahan née Hendricks for the shirt I am wearing in the picture above. It's still a fave.

Did I use née correctly? I'm kind of nervous, it's my first time.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Winter Warmth House Shows

Played a show last night, here's 30 seconds of it, taken from this guy's camera phone. If you like seeing things in the normal way, tilt your head to the right. If not, watch as is.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Come Back! We Can't Let This Vending Machine Defeat You

Down in the vending lounge of Ballantine Hall, I'm waiting behind this fellow who is buying something from the candy machine. I am here to spend one of my last two dollars from my $21 allotment I have allowed myself for attempting the Food Stamp Challenge this week. I forgot to bring my candy that I bought from the grocery store, so I figured what the heck, I still have two dollars, why not spend 80 cents of this fortune on a candy bar.

So the man in front of me makes his selection and then makes a frustrated moan, because an unfortunate-but-not-completely-unavoidable scenario in the vending machine world has just taken place. Yep.

The coil didn't spin enough to make his Skittles drop down.

But here's what is totally weird - the guy just gives up. He starts to walk away, with his Skittles just hanging there on the coil. It looks pretty shakable to me. I've certainly shaken my share of vending machines (but more about that later*).

This guy appears to be a grad student (I'm guessing the English dept.) in his late-to-mid-30's or so. Not your typical Skittles buyer.

He seems to have ceded defeat. The man has given up. He throws his arms up in disgust, and is about to walk away.

Now, I don't feel like a man's man very often. I rarely feel like a proactive dude's dude, but the way this guy was giving up was just really not okay to me. Unacceptable. This was a perfectly good pack of Skittles. I had to step in. You can't just leave those Skittles there. Someone could just come and take them!

"Hey, wait, I think we can get those Skittles" I said to the man as he tried to escape the scene.

I put my hands on the machine. I sized up the beast, assessing the vending machine's height, width, and girth. This was very doable. I shook it. The bag of Skittles were already pretty much hanging by a thread. I shook like a violent soccer hooligan. And down they came. Victory.

The man reached in, grabbed his Skittles, and then just kind of walked away. He didn't say thank you, and it turns out he really didn't have to. I didn't have too much time to think it was weird of him, because this time feeling like a total warrior was its own reward.

For those of you who know my history well, you probably saw this footnote coming from a mile away:
*The act of shaking a vending machine to get a lodged item loose is something that occupies considerable cognitive real estate in my mind, because my high school friend Fumiko Chino was trapped under a vending machine before school one day. She was trying to help someone get their candy out, and she shook the machine too hard, it fell on her, she was not seriously injured. Naturally, stories like this are the things that American high school** gossip gold are made of, and this incident was propagated to mythical proportions within about an hour of its taking place. If my highly selective memory serves me, the machine tipped over onto her, and Amber VonErdmannsdorf (sp?) ran to Mr. Meister's room, and Mr. Meister came back and lifted the machine off of her. The next day there were large brackets affixed to the vending machine that held it to the wall behind it. It was now unshakable. If your candy didn't spin out, you were screwed.

Surprisingly enough, Fumiko's incident has not deterred me from fighting for my vending machine purchases. It actually made me more interested in shaking vending machines. Odd, I know. Maybe it's because it's the closest I ever actually get to Raging Against the Machine.

** I have gradually come to the conclusion that American high school is about the closest most of us will come to an actual battlefield in our lifetimes. And my high school wasn't even that bad! It was mostly brainy Asian and Indian kids. Apparently, it's not actually as much like a battlefield at highs schools in other countries.