Every spring, something amazing happens on the UW campus: cherry blossoms. These thirty Yoshino cherry trees have graced the Quad since the sixties after being transplanted from the Arboretum. (I myself have graced the Quad since only 2003.) I don’t believe such a display can be seen anywhere else in Seattle, and each year crowds gather with cameras. I decided to take some pictures too, as the cherries seem particularly spectacular right now.
The Arcade Fire – Funeral
Perhaps I’m not extraordinary amongst music lovers in our year 2004 when I place The Arcade Fire here, at the top of my list. But if ever there was a more deserving recording, I am not aware of it. The Arcade Fire’s album is every bit the epiphanic, monstrous achievement of genius that it’s been claimed to be. And hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to see this band live, at which point your limbs will quiver with joy and your jaw will hang slack, because these Canadians may know how to write songs, but they were fucking born to perform on stage.
• One great track: “Rebellion (Lies)”
Snow Patrol – Final Straw
A very solid piece of work is Snow Patrol’s offering. They have given us a whole album’s worth of melodies that stick with you paired with fairly intriguing lyrics, and enhanced it all with great production. I never became especially enthralled with any of their earlier stuff, but looking back it seems like they’ve been working towards this, and it’s nigh perfect. But — question: After achieving the goal, where to go from here? It’ll be interesting to see if Gary Lightbody can top Final Straw.
• One great track: “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking”
The Plastic Constellations – Mazatlan
While it can’t claim much substance, Mazatlan is certainly the most fun of all the albums who’ve lined up for and been awarded a spot on my 2004 Top Ten. Catchy guitars, vapid lyrics, and a definite college alt-rock feel may not appeal to everyone but I think there’s always a place for simplicity and lightness in my musical world.
• One great track: “Mazatlan”
Mono – Walking Cloud and Deep Red Sky, Flag Fluttered and the Sun Shined
Requires the modifier “(from Japan)” in all references. These guys obviously pilfered a few sheets out of Mogwai’s book of tricks when they were coming up with a signature sound. But since Mono (from Japan) do the Mogwai thing as well as Mogwai themselves do it, I shan’t complain. In fact, Walking Cloud is a more interesting and consistent listen than Mogwai’s latest, anyway. Thus it is all good.
• One great track: “Ode”
Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill
Poor Elliott — you are dead, and your survivors squabble relentlessly over the pieces you left behind. Yet it’s a grand testament to your songwriting skills that this album is so strong regardless of everything. Simply put, it’s a fine listen, and while it’s playing one can pretend for a short while that Elliott Smith is still living and breathing and writing his tortured songs. (Meanwhile, I know who killed Elliott! It’s all so obvious, you see…)
• One great track: “Shooting Star”
M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts
M83 somehow manage to bring an epic warmth to electronica. That’s not to say Dead Cities lacks its share of creepy moments and alien beeps, but it all adds up to something more than just electronica. And it’s lovely.
• One great track: “Noise”
Drive-By Truckers – The Dirty South
Are these ‘billies for real? Or are they just a bunch of crazy poets who have the appropriate accents and have read the appropriate books and can therefore fake it? I don’t really get it but I do enjoy it.
• One great track: “Tornadoes”
The Legends – Up Against the Legends
This band of Scandanavian mystery musicians has given the world a nice present. The songs are a bit raw and garagey but contain an undeniable grace that just pleases me.
• One great track: “Nothing to Be Done”
Adem – Homesongs
It’s an introspective record, sure, and it does lack some of the energy and catchiness of the other records on my list this year, but Homesongs has dug itself deep into my skull and it won’t budge.
• One great track: “These are Your Friends”
The Killers – Hot Fuss
The Killers are definitely somewhat cheesy, but I can’t lie. This album rocks! It makes me bop my head and sing along with artificial emo, just like the lead singer does.
• One great track: “Mr. Brightside”
Wiltshire, England, is seemingly the crop circle capitol of the world. It is perhaps the only place one can visit on any random summer day and see at least one crop circle on a hillside or in a vale. Wiltshire is also quite close to the town in the Southwest of England where my mother’s family lives. So during my recent trip to Great Britain we hopped into the car, my aunt in the driver’s seat, with no particular plan or agenda other than to see some crop circles.
A couple of miles outside Avebury, we spied a line of people trudging up a hillside wheat field across from Silbury Hill. We knew right away there must be a crop circle up at the top of that hill, although it wasn’t visible from the road below. And so, cameras in hand, we joined the procession, an interesting mixture of new age types, hikers, and tourists. Sure enough, when we got to the hilltop we found ourselves standing inside a crop circle. The wheat stalks were just taller than waist-level and had been neatly bent at the ground into a shape that was quite beautiful to behold, even from close up. It was roughly 50 yards across with a circular perimeter and a multitude of different patterns inside. Parts of the circle were crisscrossed into a sort of maze, while elsewhere there were circles within circles. It seemed to be exactly symmetric, and the precision of the craftsmanship (or would that be craftsalienship?) was simply phenomenal. We spent nearly half an hour wandering through the circles and pathways, and my cousin struck up a conversation with a hippie woman who gave her a four-leafed clover and directions to the Crop Circle Cafe, where we were told we could find more information about the “freshest” crop circles. More recently-flattened circles are less trampled and, according to this woman, that’s where visitors are most likely to “feel” things. On our way out of the field, we dropped a couple quid into the donations barrel set out by the owner of the field in an attempt to recoup losses caused by the appearance of the crop circle.
At the Crop Circle Cafe, we examined a wall of photos from the 2004 summer crop circle season. Many of the circles featured complex geometrical patterns, but some were simple solid circles. All appeared to be of high quality. Also in the Cafe was a map of the Southwest, pins stuck in where crop circles had appeared. About 95% were within the boundaries of Wiltshire County. Why? Explanations range from the skeptical (the farmers and crop-circle makers have an agreement to share profits from tourism) to the mystical (the area has sacred powers, thus the ancient Avebury stone circle, barrows, white horses, and, today, crop circles).
Despite the fact that we didn’t purchase anything, the kind proprietors of the Crop Circle Cafe directed us to another site where we could get a view of some circles from above. We followed her directions to a hill with a public right-of-way leading up its side. From the top we were able to see two distinct crop circles in the fields below. These were just as beautifully made as the circle we’d seen up close, and from a distant vantage point it was even easier to appreciate the symmetry of the circle designs. Looking at these circles, we came to a consensus that we’d consider the crop circles “unexplained.” In other words, they could be otherworldly, or they could be the artistic product of a group of talented people — we’d accept either explanation but are meanwhile just happy to revel in the mystery of the whole thing.
My photos of the crop circle tour are here.
My standard walk is one that takes me from my home in Admiral down into cool, damp Fairmount Canyon where the moss absorbs noise as trees filter light. Out of the ravine, I find myself on the Elliott Bay/Puget Sound waterfront. Click here for some representative views along the 2-mile stretch of Harbor and Alki Avenues that I walk. I end up at the storied Alki Beach, where I usually then bus back to avoid hillclimbs or fit into time constraints. However, I could easily take a circular route using information recently discovered: from Alki Playground, walk the entire length of the paved path through Schmitz Park and exit at SW Stevens Street, which can be followed up a torturously steep couple of blocks and then along to the starting point. This will be a project for another day.
Below is another extended text summarizing the talks from the second and last day of the Summit. Some interesting stuff here, to be sure. Unfortunately I was compelled to sign an NDA before the most interesting talk of all, so my notes from that one are not included. It may come later if I remember in a few months.
I took home a somewhat surprising impression of many of the Microsoft employees presenting the material. They seemed unabashedly humble at times, saying things like “We really don’t have any idea what the best way to do this is.” It was almost as though they were admitting that they’re learning how to write operating systems as they go. Perhaps that’s why Longhorn’s release is still so far out on the horizon. Anyway, I found this candidness oddly charming and really appreciated it.
I’m attending a Microsoft Security event in Redmond and actually finding that a lot of good, useful, nonbiased information is being offered. For those who are interested, and for personal archival purposes, I’ve posted my notes here. Beware: it’s quite a lengthy tome.
To view photos I took on Memorial Day, 2004, along the Number 22 Lake trail, click here.
You’ll find the trailhead along the Mountain Loop. The lake itself is the obvious star of this trail. It’s a glacier-carved lake about 50 feet deep and surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs. In spring, these cliffs are dotted with small waterfalls of snowmelt which feed the lake and in turn the creek. Apparently, this area of land was set aside during the 1920’s for research. Back then a large amount of logging was taking place in this area of the Cascades, and it seems that people were beginning to worry about its effects on wildlife and water sources. So the imaginatively-named Number 22 Lake was reserved for study, along with a swath of land below the lake containing old-growth forest, the Number 22 Creek, and a large talus. (Sidebar: a talus is an area of a mountainside that has been covered with a layer of rock debris. Now we both know.) These days it is quite heavily traveled but still offers amazing scenery.
Length: 2.7 miles each way
Elevation gain: 1500 feet
Ending elevation: 2500 feet
Journey time: about 3 hours