Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Yesterday I decided to pay a long overdue visit to the Exploratorium. Can you believe that the only time I'd been to the new incarnation of this museum was for a volunteer shift at SFIFF last April? I didn't get out of the map room and was working during that shift, obviously, but hello, map room. I knew I had to come back, but I'm lazy about going to museums in my own city. This seemed like the most "fun" option when I considered museums on Monday morning, though. And interactive!

Technically I think the Exploratorium is a children's museum, but that's a lot of baloney, or maybe it's just that I'm never going to grow up? I was so impressed with the new, much larger museum. It's absolutely huge. There is so much stuff to touch and read about and hear and see! A couple of sections seemed more geared toward smaller children, but everything else was great for kids of all ages (I saw several old people wandering around trying stuff out like I was. I loved that). And I took so many photos, you're probably all going to hate me, but  I don't care. :P

My favorite parts were:
1) The extensive exhibit on color
2) The plant ecosystems
3) Goldfish, of course!
4) The map room, I mean, really, the map room
5) Hermit crabs!!
6) Beautiful photographs of the natural landscape
7) The NSA-funded social psych exhibit about "the science of sharing"

Basically it was a really awesome way to spend a couple of hours.
I hope I never grow up.
Here are my photos from the trip:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Learning German

"Could you take a picture of me learning German on my phone?"
I've wanted to learn a second language my entire life. I've always really struggled with it, though, for various reasons. To spare you the details, I've recently concluded that learning a language in the traditional classroom environment is really not for me. Each time I've tried, it hasn't gone well at all, and I usually excel at anything academic. I think the methods for teaching language in a classroom setting aren't for everyone -- looking at giant lists of verbs and vocabulary and conjugations is a great way to learn a lot of words, but not context. And the social nature of classroom learning is a killer for me. Social anxiety and fear of screwing up in front of everyone? The worst. It's really not that surprising that I didn't learn easily in that environment.

In the past, I took a year of Japanese (sophomore year of high school) and the equivalent of 3 years of Italian (taken in three college quarters at UCLA during my senior year of high school). The Italian experience left me feeling incredibly defeated and humiliated, and I pretty much gave up after that point, doomed to never learn a foreign language, forever jealous of those who learned more easily than I, or were born in another country and knew several languages. Dutch people, I'm looking at you! If only I were so fortunate. But no. In the US, learning a second language is tolerated, but not really even encouraged, still. Anyway. So I gave up.

But you know me. Even if I say I've given up, I never really give up.

Last year, when I went to Germany, I didn't actually have to know German to get along fine. Pretty much all Germans know English, some fluently, and I got lazy about learning language-related things before or even during the trip. I'd never experienced anything like that before. And then you know the rest of that story: I fell in love with Germany, and I listen to a ton of German music, and I learned that German is a language much more my speed than a romance language like Italian or French. So much of English comes from German. German is an orderly language. You say what you mean and mean what you say (the opposite of a romance language, ha). I wanted to learn German. Badly.

Gabe told me to try out the Duolingo app about three months ago, after I expressed my desire to learn German for the eight billionth time. I took his advice and started learning. Since then, I've been extremely diligent about it. I realize that realistically I can't learn a language fluently from an app, of course. An app may have good marketing and try to convince us that it can move mountains, but in the end, it's just an app. One piece of the puzzle.

I recently read a post on Quora asking "Could one learn German in a year?"

Also on Quora is "How effective is Duolingo in learning a language?"

Note that the second post is actually answered by one of the creators of Duolingo, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, all of that is just to point out that I know what I'm getting into and I have realistic expectations. If I were actually speaking German to a person, I'm sure I'd totally screw it up. It would go so fast. I'd be scrambling to remember what I know.

But that said, so far I've noticed a lot of really interesting things. I do have major retention, practicing every day. I love the way I learn vocabulary -- by what it's about, rather than giant sheets of verbs and nouns and conjugations. It's an intuitive way of learning sentence structure, which so far has worked far better for me than having parts of speech written on a board and having to think of that when constructing a sentence. In other words, I'm learning rules in a roundabout way, and my brain likes that so much more. Also, it's making me much more aware of how German is similar and different from English.  It's great that our languages are so closely related. And since I listen to a ton of German music, have many German friends, and watch a lot of television with references to German history, I've really had a chance to start using my newfound knowledge, and I've seen real increases in my comprehension. It's very motivating, and a ton of fun.

duolingo examples; why DO you like cats?; today, some big philosophy (what is a man?)
the men are eating vegetables (!)

In a lot of ways, my issues with learning language seems to be connected to my issues with learning math. The way math is typically taught in the US, it's shoved down your throat without any context or real world applicability. Context and reason is everything, when it comes to me and learning. If I don't understand the bigger picture, it's all over. But of course, my motivation is high to learn German right now, and that counts for a lot, too. And the fact that I get to practice every day reading German online and listening to music really helps.

Now, if I could just get back to Germany ....

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best of 2014: Film

When I was in high school, I used to see a lot of movies in general, but in particular, I used to see a lot of movies in the theater. Part of this was a natural byproduct of living in Los Angeles -- when you live in Los Angeles, you absorb a great deal more pop culture and knowledge about media than you do living in other places. It's everywhere. You know people who are involved with the industry. You know what movies are coming out because movie culture is all around you. But also, going to the movies was a way for me to get away from my parents and do something by myself, have my own experiences, my own feelings, form my own intellect and emotions. I took it very seriously. I found an independent theater in my local mall and saw every foreign/indie film it played. I saw great movies and then took my friends to see them again, hoping they'd see and feel what I did.

Anyway, after high school I moved away from Los Angeles, and my movie-watching habits basically died with that move. Since then, I've created almost every excuse possible to avoid movie theaters. I don't know why. I think I hate sitting still? Well, yes. But ultimately I think I just prioritized other things, and told myself seeing movies wasn't worth it. After all, I was fine without them.

But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to get back to seeing movies. And appreciating them. So this year I started hanging out with a guy who loves seeing movies, and sees a lot of them, and I decided to just go with it. And I also volunteered at two film festivals, hoping that being around "film nerds" again would jump-start my desire to rediscover that part of myself.

This plan worked exceedingly well. For the first time since high school, I feel I can write a "top 10 films" list for this year. That was the last time I saw more than 10 films in a given year. Crazy. Anyway, I feel passionately about this list, whether it be a movie that gave me a lot of feelings, or one that made me laugh, or one that made me appreciate cinema, or one that was just plain fun.

If you haven't seen these 2014 films, do it:

1. Boyhood —I was so fortunate to get to see Boyhood this May, at a special SF International Film Festival event honoring Richard Linklater at the Castro Theater. Even though this film breaks the biggest rule I have about seeing movies (it's 3 hours long), I was fully engaged after learning it was filmed over the course of 12 years. I loved this beautiful piece of cinema. Watching this cast evolve over the course of 12 years, this is a coming of age story unlike any other -- and yet, it is simultaneously a universal coming of age story. Families are never perfect. We all have our moments. We make good decisions and bad decisions. There are moments, and people, who help shape and define you. There isn't a huge crisis moment in this film, and there's not supposed to be. That's not how it works. Linklater is a genius and this is truly cutting edge cinema. If you didn't like Boyhood, then ultimately I don't really think we understand each other.

2. Interstellar — I first heard about Interstellar about a year ago. My mind was blown by the premise and the possibilities. I spent a year trying very very hard not to get too excited about it, and not to set unrealistic expectations. I wanted this movie to be incredible. Amazingly, I must have done a pretty good job, because it lived up to all of my expectations, hopes and dreams. An epic saga. Another 3 hour film that broke boundaries in filmmaking while paying homage to the past. Really fantastic. I can't believe Interstellar and Boyhood came out in the same year. They're both worthy of being #1.

3. Birdman — This is very much a "typical" Amber Movie. Independent, quirky, funny, sad, dark comedy, slightly surreal with an amazing cast. It did not disappoint. I'd been looking forward to this for most of the year and I'm happy it's getting the attention it deserves. From a filmmaking perspective, this was just so fantastic: shot in a month, mostly in one building, with very few shots. A lot of talent is required to shine in a situation like that, and that's what really makes Birdman a great film. Emma Stone stood out in multiple movies I saw this year, but this one more than any other.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel — AKA the most beautiful, twee movie ever made, am I right? I just loved this movie, especially because it lacked conflict. Secret confession: I love movies that don't have a lot of conflict in them. This was basically just an incredible study in design, and oh my. I want to live there. Also: weird Eastern European stuff. You know I'm into that. I'm not always into Wes Anderson movies, but this one, swoon. 

5. Guardians of the Galaxy — I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy a couple weeks ago. It came out in August and I was going through a rough time and never got around to it. I think I'd lowered my expectations a lot by the time I saw it, but I really loved this movie a lot more than I thought I would. Adorable, fun, surprisingly funny. It was hard for me seeing Karen Gillan as a bad guy, but she played it well. The rest of the cast, which I thought I'd find annoying, was actually quite good. I just wish I'd gotten to see it in 3d. It was perfect for 3d. 

6. Godzilla — Oh gee, getting to see San Francisco destroyed by a giant monster and a giant lizard??? SIGN ME UP. I don't understand why people didn't like this movie. I thought it was hilarious and awesome. What were people expecting? It's Godzilla! From a b-movie empire. I mean come on. This was great fun, especially in 3d. I absolutely loved the alternate universe San Francisco with the cheesy b-movie touches. If you were offended by the alternative BART logo, then we probably shouldn't be friends anymore. And oh also GIANT LIZARD. 

7. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 — I think the Hunger Games movies keep getting better as they go along. Which is great, because I was really incensed about the first movie. Of course I saw it right after finishing the books, so I'd probably be upset no matter what. Overall, though, I also think they've gotten better at making these movies over time. And Jennifer Lawrence never gets old to me. She's actually making me like this series more than I did when I read it -- another near-miracle. 

8. The Green Prince — I saw this truly incredible documentary while volunteering this summer at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It's the story of a Palestinian man who spied against his own people for Israeli intelligence, and the Shin Bet handler who became his friend. It's truly astounding -- you keep wondering, "Wait, is this really a documentary?!" It is. And it even has a happy ending. 

9. Death Metal Angola —This is a documentary about the rise of death metal in war-ravaged Angola. I bet you don't know much about what Angola has been through, or that there are metal bands there, or that they stage their own music festival to showcase their music -- but they do. Every person should watch this documentary, even if they don't care about metal. Humanity is the same everywhere. Angola has so much to recover from, but the people are the same as they are anywhere else. It's an important thing to understand. 

10. Under the Skin —A truly surreal movie with very few words spoken. Scarlett Johansson is basically an alien trying to experience human things like love. Love and sex. And she has a great deal of trouble figuring it all out. Hard to explain, but absolutely worth seeing. I'm allowed to say that you should see this movie because Scarlett Johansson takes her clothes off, right? Right. I never said I was a good person or anything. 

And because this is my blog, I'm going to complain about movies! I consider myself really easy to please, and I am not a film snob at all, but these rubbed me the wrong way, are still stuck in my craw, and deserve to be called out:

1. Snowpiercer — I don't know what on earth any of you are thinking. This movie was a disaster, it was marketed wrong, Sony cut a bunch of stuff out of the movie that probably was the stuff that made the movie meaningful or make sense ... it was just not good. I hate gratuitous violence, and since this film was marketed in part as "science fiction" I wasn't expecting a full-on action movie. I'm also rarely interested in straight up action movies, because gratuitous violence is gratuitous, basically. And action without context is boring. The characters are all unlikeable and that never changes throughout the course of the movie. The worst part is that Snowpiercer enjoys a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Wait. What? Really?! Are you serious? I give up.

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past — I think this franchise has reached the level of trying too hard. This movie was two and a half hours long, and yes we know Jennifer Lawrence is in this franchise now, yadda yadda yadda. I was just ... tired of it? Where are all the characters I enjoy seeing? Did this movie really need to be made? Maybe we've reached X-Men saturation point at last. I mean, this wasn't a bad movie, it just wasn't 92% freshness rating fantastic. I was disappointed -- and it has Jennifer Lawrence in it, so usually that means I like the movie no matter the content. It should have been better, and could have been better. Maybe next time?

3. Gone Girl — This was a well made film, and the score was excellent (truly excellent!), but my problem with this movie ultimately has to do with the plot.  And that isn't the movie's fault. It's the book's fault. I realize it's supposed to be disturbing, I just ... really, really didn't like it. I really hated every single character in this movie, and they weren't "complicated" characters, they were unlikeable and unredeemable. I felt far worse leaving the theater than I had going in. Maybe that's the point, but I just can't say this is a great movie, because it reflects the worst of us. And I feel a little weird about how this was the first film produced by Reese Witherspoon's production company, whose mission it is to feature "strong female roles" -- this certainly is a strong female role, but it kind of reinforces terrible things that people already think about women ... I realize many feel differently, but maybe I'm just not the target audience for this kind of thing?


There were some other good movies I saw this year that didn't make it on the list: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Horns, Chinese Puzzle, The Signal, Video Games: The Movie, Particle Fever, Jodorowsky's Dune; and a few comically bad movies that don't warrant discussion here (I'll give you a hint: Michael Bay is responsible for both).

Next year I want to see more independent and foreign films. Here's to 2015.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Books I've read this fall

One of my fall 2014 goals has been to read five books between the first day of fall and the first day of winter. I achieved this goal (!) and I am really proud of myself. It's actually kind of sad, because when I was a kid I was a voracious reader. I was always reading a book. I got so lost inside of books, and it was wonderful. After I graduated from high school I didn't read quite as much, but it really was my years at Berkeley that stripped me of my desire to read. When I graduated from college, lets put it this way -- burnout is a kind way to describe how I felt about the previous two years. I couldn't imagine reading something for pleasure. What was reading for pleasure? What? I'd forgotten. Entirely. And the child inside me is so sad about that.

So that was really sad. I did read a bunch of books after college, but over time, and I never made it a priority. I also focused almost entirely on nonfiction, because I really love it, and it's easier for me to read. That said, this year I'd read absolutely nothing, and that shouldn't be a surprise, considering I haven't been at my best. That's why I craved goals back in September, and why reading in particular appealed to me. I knew it would require prioritizing, but maybe I'd be on my phone less, right?

Yes. I definitely was on my phone less.

I found that I definitely had less time for other hobbies, though. Like playing the clarinet, or watching TV, or blogging (seriously) or playing games on my phone. I was very often lost in whichever book I was reading, and that felt really great. People felt like I was ignoring them, but hey, sorry, I was just reading and reading is for cool kids!

At the same time, I'm enjoying a little break right now, so I can practice clarinet, blog, other stuff.


Here are the books I read between September - December:

1. The Thinking Fan's Guide to the College Football Playoff —This fall, I found myself ridiculously uninformed about the new college football playoff. My life had been falling apart all year, and I'd been working to right the ship again. There wasn't really room in my brain to deal with the huge changes going on in college football. Once the season started, though, I had to catch up. Thankfully, my favorite college football writer, Stewart Mandel, wrote a book for people like me. It was concise, humorous and contained many layers of context/history about college football in general, along with the history of the discussion of a playoff. I'm really glad I read this book, because otherwise I'd still be overwhelmed with the complicated nature of the playoff. I feel informed enough now to ignore it this year, since I don't like any of the teams who made it. Success?

2. The Magicians — I had bought this triology of books before my trip to Germany in August; you know, the trip that didn't end up happening. I didn't feel very into reading them through August, but I'm sure this was part of why I wanted to read more in the fall. These books came highly recommended to me as "adult Harry Potter meets Narnia" and I think this is a really good descriptor. I loved the first book the most. It was really magical. Also, this is the only part that really feels like Harry Potter in any real way. My favorite part of Grossman's writing style is how he manages to create a fantastical universe with normal, present-day people in it. People who make jokes about Harry Potter, and reality television, and live in our world, use our swear words, etc. This was something that Harry Potter was missing, and it's what I think really divides the two series between "young adult" and "adult" fiction. Well, that and all the sex.

3. The Magician King —A solid second book. This, of course, is where I began to meet characters I really didn't like, and during those sections I felt like I wasn't having fun reading anymore. This happens in most epic sagas, so I wasn't too upset. It happened a lot in Game of Thrones as the books progressed, particularly in the last two books, and this wasn't nearly as big of a problem. For the most part, the twists and turns continued, and the story didn't feel tired. I enjoyed it a lot.

4. The Magician's Land — Unlike the third book in many triologies, I didn't think The Magician's Land was a disappointment, and that's quite a success. Seriously, how difficult must it be to bring a truly epic story to a satisfying conclusion? Almost zero authors navigate this successfully. Lev Grossman did a good enough job to satisfy me, anyway. Basically, if I'm not pissed off about the ending of a book (His Dark Materials? Hello!), then I'm all good. Grossman did a great job throughout the book of tying little things together from the previous books, and making sure your mind got blown a few more times. I was really happy with this series.

5. How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain — I got this book as part of a $1.99 Amazon Kindle deal, on a whim. I've been really interested in dogs lately, and how the relationship between humans and dogs differs from the relationship between humans and cats, or humans and other humans. I know it's an extremely special relationship, but not from personal experience. This book also appealed to me because I have a Psychology degree, and science isn't hyperbole, it's highly controlled and designed to reveal facts. After reading this book, I can't say I learned anything I hadn't felt before, but most pet owners would say the same thing. What I did learn is a lot of methodology and really, the book is about a single experiment. It goes through, in great detail, how the experiment came about, the complete protocol, and the findings. It's really great, and a quick read, so if you're looking to verify what you already feel -- that your dog loves you -- or if you're into psychology/neuroscience, then definitely check this out.


In conclusion: reading is for cool kids, even if you have an e-reader and your friends say you've sold out and you're not legit anymore. If you have book recommendations for me, please leave a comment. I love fantasy/science fiction, nonfiction books about food, history, art, etc.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Best of 2014: Songs

Putting together this list was a lot harder this year. I had a feeling this would be the case, as the year continued to develop and I just wasn't that excited about any new music. There were a couple of bright spots, but mostly I was underwhelmed by releases in 2014. It was a combination of these two issues: first, fewer bands I like released albums in 2014, compared to 2013; and second, those who did release albums tended to release albums that didn't resonate with me. That's just the way it happened this year, and that's fine. On the other hand, I listened to and discovered a lot of old music this year that has greatly enriched my life, directly related to not having a lot of new releases to be excited about. So there's good to be found in either situation, for sure.

But in the end, with a lot of listening and thought, and with a bit of creative thinking, I was able to put together a list. So here they are, without further ado, my top 10 songs of 2014:

1. Seabound - Black Feathers

It's so weird to me that my #1 song of the year is a slow song!  I can't quite get over that. It completely makes sense that I would like a band called Seabound, who makes albums that are called things like Speak in Storms, though, right? Anyway. I started off listening to the more dance-y songs on the album first, but when I heard "Black Feathers" I had that feeling. You know the one, the one where your heart feels like it's about to break, but not from sadness, from beauty. It's that beautiful. And the lyrics depict a sorrow that really resonates with me - the idea of shutting off who you are because society kills your spirit, and your spirit ends up lonely and afraid.

I knew for most of the year that one of the songs from this album would be on my top 10 list, but I never would have guessed it would be this song, until it kept creeping up on me, in my mind, and in my heart. I was also thinking last night about how polar opposite this song is from last year's number one song. Kind of like how this year has been polar opposite from last year.

We ceased to ask
the most important things
conditioned into silence
we learned to shut our wings

let go
the humble spiral
from tiny to immense
let go
black feathers
and not a single friend

2. Solitary Experiments - Trial and Error

Oh, this song. Oh, Solitary Experiments. This is a band I only discovered this year, and only found out about in Germany last year. When I heard this song, off of their late-2013 release Phenomena, it quickly became one of those songs I listened to over and over and over again. It was on my running playlist, but more than that, it helped me through a really tough early part of the year. I've spent a great deal of time this year seeing time pass me by and wondering if life has any meaning at all -- and if it does: how do I find it? How can I figure out what life means to me, and what do I need to go through to find out? This song, more than any other song I've listened to this year, echoed my fear and cynicism, and that was of great comfort to me.

Time passes by and you are afraid
Everything seems lost and it's much too late
Maybe this life has nothing more to offer

You reached the goal but can't deny
You are not really satisfied

But in the end you must learn to suffer

3. Aesthetic Perfection - Oh! Gloria

Another song that is rooted in a specific period of time for me. This entire album is, actually. I can't listen to any song on it without thinking of last winter. And while 'Til Death is a fantastic album, there wasn't any question that "Oh! Gloria" is my favorite from it. When I listen to it, I remember countless afternoons riding my bike down the Embarcadero after work, belting out the lyrics without a single care about who could hear me. I always timed my daily album listen so that I'd get to this song after I could put in both ear buds (ie, on the Embarcadero, a glorified sidewalk where bikes are allowed, aka, it's safe for me to put both ear buds in). It's a perfect song on a perfect album and I can't really say anything more than go listen to it, there's something for you there.

Why don't you come along with me,
We can erase our history

Oh no, Gloria, why are you so far away?
Oh no, Gloria, was it supposed to be this way?
Set up our foreign watchers,
Set down on shallow hell
The seas are getting rougher,

How long until we drown?

4. Maximo Park - Midnight on the Hill

Mäximo Park has held the title of "favorite band of all time" for me since 2012. This year they released their most mature and beautiful album yet, Too Much Information. I immediately was able to pick out the best track on the album. The best thing about Mäximo Park is their lyrics, and of course Paul Smith's Geordie accent (YES PLEASE READ ME THE PHONE BOOK OR DICTIONARY, THAT'S FINE, YES, JUST KEEP TALKING). Uh. Anyway ... erm. This song is a tale of youthful freedom, of the kind of nights we all remember from when we were young. This is a song that makes you feel like you're actually back there, and that's why it's so incredible. Also: this band. They are so great. If you're into British indie rock and aren't listening to them, you really should.  I'm talking to you, Arctic Monkeys fans.

I tell my secrets to a perfect stranger
It was midnight on the hill
A sudden silence; too much information 
We were struggling with our will

What happened next? I would like to know
Funny how the moments come and go

5. Melotron - Stuck in the Mirror

Confession: I only heard this song for the first time last week. And oh my gosh, it just came on Sanctuary Radio right now, it's on right now you guys!!! Anyway, Melotron is a band I've vaguely had on my radar this year, but it wasn't until last week, when I saw they had a new music video for another great song, "Du bist es nicht wert" that I realized they had a relatively new album. As it turns out, it's a greatest hits compilation, with 22 tracks on it. I got so excited, thinking that maybe one of these songs could solve my dilemma of not having enough songs for a top ten songs list. The moment I heard "Stuck in the Mirror," which is located about halfway through the 22 songs, I knew. Sometimes you just know. This song is so beautiful. It's one of the few songs on the album that's in English, and the beauty of the chorus stops me in my tracks every.single.time. So not only is it on the list, but it shot up to #5 without much inner debate.

What is love when I love to hate you?
We're still the same

We're stuck in the mirror

6. The Birthday Massacre - The Other Side

The Birthday Massacre just doesn't make missteps in their career. It's really amazing how they continue to top themselves with every album release. I waited so patiently (not patiently) all year to hear Superstition, which I backed on Kickstarter a year ago, and I tried so hard not to hype it up to myself too much beforehand. Well, there was nothing to worry about. It's a beautiful album. And as I listened over and over that first day, I immediately latched on to The Other Side. It's almost at the end of the album, and it's a slow song -- what is wrong with me, right? I should get my temperature checked, with multiple slow songs on my top 10 songs list. But it's clearly a massive, powerful song, guitars and more guitars and oh yeah, the lyrics:

In summer I drowned you 
In winter I found you 
As the world falls apart around me, 
the serpent is dreaming
I don't know this feeling

As we break through the other side

7. Surveillance - I Was There (feat. Carolyn Powers)

Surveillance is a side project of Assemblage 23's Tom Shear, and Tom Shear is amazing, and everything he does is amazing, but this is really powerful music, darker, EBM-ish, kind of reminds me of really great electronic music from the old days. That's what first drew me to this album.Also: both "Surveillance" and "Oceania" are references to Orwell's 1984 and the police state. Therefore, and quite obviously (once you listen to it) this album is a concept album about the police state we're currently living in. It's an extremely powerful collection of music. My favorite track is the first one, and the one that most reminds me of my days dancing to house music in dark, smokey warehouses, though the subject matter of the song is anything but carefree. It's important, and particularly given current events in the last couple of months, it feels more salient than ever.

I was there when cells slammed shut
Gathered up and caged like beasts
But freedom isn't lucrative 
There's money to be made

 I was there when the fuse was lit
A thunderclap of heaven's wrath
A million voices crying out
But I never did a thing 

I was there for the awful end
Bodies strewn in ashen piles
They told us they'd keep us safe
And they never learned a thing

8. Painted Palms - Spinning Signs

Painted Palms are one of the most popular local bands in the bay area right now (though I heard they're not really an SF band anymore, as of recently, that's beside the point). Their shows are sometimes notoriously difficult to get into around here. I first saw them with Gabe last February at a Noise Pop show, and it was a really special show, though we were laughing at them at the time because they're hipsters. But truth be told -- there's just something about them, and we kept coming back to them, time and again. And they've really stepped up their game as the year has progressed. Gabe and I have seen them a couple more times since then (I actually consider them "our band" though I don't think I've told him this yet) and each time has been better than the last. They sounded truly fantastic the last time, at Treasure Island in October. And "Spinning Signs" has always been my favorite of their songs. It's perfect sun-drenched Beatles-inspired surf-pop. and it has that wistful, heartbreaking feeling to it, like "the good days are over now... </3"

Girl you got it inside out
Those liquid days
They never change
Riding through the river waters
with that look still on my face

Why can't any other words get past my mouth?
Can't ever seem to let my mind out
I'm just talkin' to the things in side my head

Gettin' further away

9. Lucius - Turn It Around

I dislike every other song Lucius has ever made. There. I said it. It's way too folky for me and really, it's the type of music I really hate these days. But somehow they managed this song, too, and from the first time I heard it, I knew it would be this year's random song of the year. I really wish I liked more female vocalists, but I don't, so I'm going to take it where I can get it. This song hits every sweet spot for me, and the lyrics resonate, and the video is all 60's Mod ... perfection. Pop perfection.

She closed the door with the intention of not looking back
But missed her step because she didn't have a steady track
She can't be bothered by the mistakes she's made
But she's forgetting that's what guides you to the rightful path

She's looking through the wrong end
She's looking through the wrong end
She's looking through the wrong end of the telescope

Turn it around, turn it around

10. Combichrist - From My Cold Dead Hands

I hemmed and hawed for weeks about whether I really waned this song to be on my top 10 list. I love Combichrist, but their most recent album just hasn't done it for me, overall. "From My Cold Dead Hands" is the best song on it, and really the only song I like. Just because it factored heavily into the first part of 2014 for me doesn't mean it deserves a spot on the list, right?

Except, I realized, after taking an extra two weeks to consider it, that's exactly why it deserves a spot on the list. It isn't my favorite song that came out this year. It doesn't light a huge fire under me. But I've spent a lot of time listening to it, and it brings back memories of 2014, and that's what this list is all about. So, you bastards, even though you're basically a metal band now, you still made the list. ;)

They will enslave us
My mind is free
A new world order
Where we'll be slaves
Under a system
Control our lives

Where we'll be punished
For how we live
Free will is killed
From my cold dead hands


So there you have it, my top 10 songs of 2014. Please give these songs a listen, and please share this with anybody you know who might want to find some new music. I hope that 2015 is a more inspiring year, though really, if I was able to come up with 10 songs on a down year, I'm feeling pretty good about my chances.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Before the storm

Tomorrow there's going to be Actual Weather here in the bay area, something we haven't seen in years and years and years. I'm pretty sure even I have forgotten what Actual Weather is like at this point, let alone the people who have moved here in the years we've had drought weather. I've been waiting for a long time to show people the way it was, though, and remember it myself. I'm both excited for and dreading the event to come.

The incoming storm also means today is probably the last day to appreciate fall foliage, so I went looking for some after work. I found it, boy did I find it. Goodbye, fall. You were pretty.

Here, have some more gratuitous fall/bike photos:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fall + Bicycle Love

I've been feeling guilty recently because I haven't been publicly discussing how much I still absolutely love my bicycle. I've been commuting by bike (well, and BART) for more than a year now, and I've really gotten into a comfortable groove with her (she does not have a name, though -- naming her proved too difficult). Since my hip injury in September I've not gotten to ride it as much outside of my work commute -- I've been focusing on aggravating my injury as little as possible to allow it to heal, obviously -- and since the injury has been varying degrees of extremely painful, but always painful to some degree, it's become painful for me to carry my bike down or up stairs, or to ride it too strenuously, or to brake suddenly to avoid an obstacle. I'm sure this has something to do with my relative silence about cycling in general this fall.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a party at my former department at work (ie, on campus). I worked on campus all day, which meant I left my bike at home and took the campus shuttle up the hill to work. This was an eye-opening experience for me. I spent years making this exact commute, give or take, without a bike, and after doing it for one day two weeks ago, I immediately realized how lucky I am to have a commute that allows me to ride a bike now. First -- the commute takes far longer without a bicycle! Walking to BART takes longer than riding there, especially with my current limp. Waiting for the shuttle takes extra time. Second -- I don't get the amazing feeling of exerting myself early in the morning and breathing in the morning air, hearing the stillness of a world still just waking up. There's a lot to be said for a pre-work bike ride. It helps me clear my head before arrival. It helps me shake out the cobwebs. Third, the physical benefits: it gets the blood pumping, even if I'm coasting downhill the entire way to my office. Fourth: I have far more control over my own schedule when I'm riding around on my vehicle, rather than relying on my feet or transit. Fifth: riding a bike is just one of life's greatest pleasures, period. 

Two days ago I went to my bike shop to fill my tires before a big storm. Just being at the store, filling my tires with air, was enough to get me waxing poetic about being a cyclist. And since then I've been getting in touch with all of the great ways riding my perfect-for-me bike makes me feel. Even in the rain, which is love/hate, except I have fenders, so it could be a lot worse, understatement.

Anyway. This leads me to today. I've been on the lookout for fall-related locations on my commute route for a couple of weeks now so I could take some photos of my bike (well, and of fall). I have almost always been in a rush to get home, so I never planned ahead well enough until today. I also had a better opportunity than previous days because of the large storms we've had this week. The leaves actually look like we have seasons around here now! I also knew I had to get to them before they were all blown away or raked up or otherwise destroyed.

I selected this street in North Berkeley (Cornell, off of Virginia) because it always looks unusually lush, and this fall has stood out as the most "fall-like" street:

And it was all just kinda perfect (other than the quality of the road, which was ... ahem ... very Berkeley and could cause all kinds of serious injuries due to potholes!):

“Your bike is discovery; your bike is freedom. It doesn't matter where you are, when you're on the saddle, you're taken away.”
― Doug Donaldson
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