Ten Albums I (Really) Liked in 2010

I was inspired by a post over at Popgun Chaos to think about the albums I bought this year (the first full No-CD Year for me, ever, I think. Everything was downloaded). I won’t say how much music I bought this year. Suffice it to say that my iPod is loaded and on most of the time I am around the house (much to the sadness of my family.)

So, here, in alphabetical order, are ten albums (that’s not even a term anymore, is it?) that I kept listening to long after the download had gone cold and which came out in 2010:

1. American Slang, by The Gaslight Anthem.

I really liked their last album — That ’59 Sound — but it was the pure energy bolt that I get from listening to this band that I love so much. (I’d love to see them in concert but they haven’t come to my neck of the woods yet). Sure, there’s more than a bit of refurbished Bruce and others in their sound, style  and lyrics, but I find The Gaslight Anthem as a band that is propelling itself forward in an interesting way.

2. Contra, by Vampire Weekend.

There’s something about these guys that is just too … fake, and yet, I like the off-kilter groove they have going on some songs. Like The Gaslight Anthem, Vampire Weekend has a chance to make some creative strides in the future. Or they might just keep sounding the same. It’s a crap shoot on that one. I was playing this album the other day and my son checked out the title. I thought it was because he liked the song, but he said “that’s the song I keep hearing on that commercial.” Already, Vampire Weekend?

3. Croweology by The Black Crowes.

Many years ago, some friends and I went to go see ZZ Top in concert (yep, many many many years ago) and this scruffy band took the stage as the opening act and blew the audience away. It was The Black Crowes, right on the edge of releasing their first CD (or was it vinyl?). I haven’t always kept up with the band over the years, but this double CD of mostly in-studio acoustic songs is a real keeper, capturing the vitality of Southern blues and rock in a real way. The mix also allowed me time to hear the lyrics and realize, these guys were the real deal (“were” because this is supposed to be their last album before the final break-up, although with brothers, you never know.)

4. Heaven is Whenever, by The Hold Steady.

I’d heard about The Hold Steady for years but never got to listen to them. I finally did, downloading a few of their albums at once, and found the raw energy was just right for me (not for my family, though). They come across like a garage band that has been steeped in both rock and roll, and literature. I like that kind of mix.

5. Infinite Arms, by Band of Horses.

This is one of those critically-acclaimed bands that I took a chance on. At first, I wasn’t all that impressed. But (this seems to be happening more and more), when I plugged in my headphones to listen (as opposed to speakers in the house), I suddenly was transfixed by the aural elements of the songs, and the soaring range of the voice. I had missed that when it was just ambient sound. Up close, the music and lyrics really touched me.

6. The Pursuit by Jamie Cullum

I came to Jamie Cullum when I heard a pop song of his on the radio that caught my attention. What I didn’t quite expect (since I didn’t know anything about him) was his jazz background, and suddenly, this whole mix of fusing pop and jazz opened up to me. (And made me wonder: why don’t more bands do that?) He has a wonderfully rich voice, and his piano chops are great. He’s another one of those young artists on my radar screen for the future.

7. Record Collection by Mark Ronson and the Business International

Ronson was the Producer of the Moment a few years ago, and still has his hand in a lot of European pop and soul. He fuses that old Stax/Memphis/Motown sound with dance beats. That has the potential to be ridiculous, but it’s not. Ronson has some amazing ears and the ability to recruit some amazing talent. This album is sort of like a disco mix, revisited. That sound worse than it is. What it is is an album that will get your butt shaking. It deserves a spin tonight (New Year’s) in your dance mix.

8. Soulsville by Huey Lewis and the News

I know. I know. Huey Lewis? And the News? They’re still around? Yep, and this album of soul songs is a classic. The band has never sounded tighter, and Huey’s voice has held up nicely over the years. Even the originals here sound like classics, as if there had been some time warp into Detroit or Memphis in the 196o’s.

9. Symphonicities by Sting.

I closed my eyes and hoped for the best when I bought this one, since I had not heard any of it. I was doing a purchased based on a music review, which is always an iffy proposition. Here, Sting reworked his and the Police songs into symphonic pop. And you know, it doesn’t always work as well as it should (strings can do that to you) but mostly, the orchestral arrangements give another layer of depth to some old familiar songs. Of course, there is a part of me that remembers listening to The Police back when it was sort of underground and snarked at (in my neighborhood, where the Beatles and Led Zep were kings of the musical heap). That part me — that kid who used to groove on the offbeat drummings, firework guitar and amazing bass —  sort of recoils at this purchase. Still, maybe my old tired ears need some soothing sounds now and then. (ha)

10. Wake Up, by John Legend and the Roots.

I haven’t had time to completely digest this one, since I only recently bought it. But … wow … what a partnership between Legend and the Roots, as they tackle some classic protest soul songs in their own way.

There you go. Some albums of mine. What about you?

Peace (in the songs),

We’re All Experts in the Instructional Age

The other day, my 10 year old son said he wanted to learn how to make an Origami crane. He was thinking of his cousin, who recently had surgery and is having a painful recuperation. He wanted to give her a Christmas present of a paper crane. (He had also just read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, so he was inspired a bit).

He didn’t bother to ask me if I knew how to make a crane. His first impulse was to ask if he could use the computer to find a video tutorial on how to make the crane. (And then later, it was to ask if I could run out and get him some Origami paper).

In a matter of minutes, he was watching someone’s  hands folding paper into a crane, step by step. He was then cutting up paper and trying his hand at it. Later, he needed the help of his uncle, who knows how to do Origami, but the video tutorial led him on his way.

Which had me thinking of the session that I was part of in Orlando with the National Writing Project and Make Magazine, and how we talked about the ways in which the Internet is spreading knowledge so quickly, and how regular users are now becoming the experts in any number of ideas, no matter how small, strange or arcane. My son knew where to turn. He knew where the experts were, and it was on the Internet.

In the most recent edition of Wired Magazine, TED Curator Chris Anderson poses the argument that we are now in the era of Crowd Accelerated Innovation, spurred on in part by the ease of video production and publishing. Those small pockets of unknown experts are suddenly visible and available, and inspiring others to become experts, too. Anderson uses the example of a six year old child who learned to dance like a star by watching moves on YouTube, and then he got noticed by (his parents, I assume) posting his own dance moves on YouTube.

Anderson notes that the world is awash in instructional videos these days, and he’s right (I wrote a few weeks ago about the use of a video that helped me with my designing of a video game). He notes that a community of learners needs some key players in order to bring the video or idea into the public consciousness:

  • The Trend Spotter, who notices an innovation early on;
  • The Evangelist, who makes the case for that innovation;
  • The Superspreader, who broadcasts the innovation widely;
  • The Skeptic, who keeps the conversation honest;
  • The General Public, who become the participants.

This list has me wondering how it might translate into the classroom. But it is more likely these kids are already there; they are just working under our radar screen. It reminds me of when I introduce a new technology, and how discovery by one student gets fed to the whole room — usually by the second person to learn about it. The discoverer is not often the one who broadcasts it to everyone. It’s usually their friend, who realizes the social cache of sharing something cool.

So who is most often the skeptic? You got it. The teacher.

Peace (in the instructions),

Considering ‘The Folding Story’

foldingstoryThe other day, I came across a link to a collaborative story writing site called The Folding Story. It’s a clever  online variation of the activity in which one person starts a story, folding the paper just so the next person only sees one or two lines of what has been written. The second person continues the story, folds the paper and passes it on to the third person. Repeat. In essence, the writer never sees the entire story, so they are inspired by only a small part. The result is a very odd, and usually funny, story that goes off in all sorts of directions.

The Folding Story website is like that, too, only now the audience is potentially vast and even odder than the people in the room with you. Trust me. Thanks to a bunch of friends on Twitter, we’ve been experimenting a bit with the site. I have started three different stories, which are still open for collaboration. Not one of them even remotely has gone in a planned trajectory.

This is one of those sites that has value for me as a writer, but I would not bring my students there, given the language and content of the writing added by the various users. Stories can instantly veer into inappropriate directions, and even the creator of the story has no way to edit or change what someone else has added to your story. You write something and hope for the best. I can live with that, but not as a teacher. (The Folding Story folks say that they are developing private rooms for stories that might have applications for the classroom. We’ll see.)

The basics of the site are:

  • Each story needs to have ten entries before it is “done.”
  • Each user can only add one entry per story (so once you start a story, you can’t add to it anymore).
  • Each entry has a limited character count (180 characters) and a time limit (four minutes).
  • When a story is done, the entire fold then gets published on the site, where folks “vote” on individual strands of the story. This apparently gives the story a total score, which then ranks the story for its prominence in publishing at the site (I don’t have a good handle on this).

Care to join in? Here are links to my three stories, which still need a few folds to be complete. I am including the first line of the story I created, which you won’t see because you will be working beneath the fold.

Peace (in the writing),

Supporting the Funny Pages

Image: DailyINK app for the iPhone

from DailyINK

The other day, I received an email newsletter from a friend of mine, Hilary Price, who writes and draws the Rhymes with Orange syndicated comic strip that I just adore. (I think I can call her my friend, since she has visited my webcomic camp a few times, and I have loaned her a few graphic novels, and she returns my email and phone calls. We don’t hang out or anything. I guess in this day and age, friends are people with connections.)

Anyway, Hilary noted that, among other interesting endeavors, her comic strip is now part of the DailyINK site, a digital home for a slew of syndicated comics. She noted that there is now an App on iTunes for DailyINK and urged us to at least consider supporting comics by purchasing the DailyINK subscription (it’s $19.99 for the entire year or $1.99 a month).

I jumped right in, as much to support Hilary as to get access to some cool comics. While I wish there were even more choices for content than there is, I do like the span of offerings and how you can set up your own Daily Comic Feed for the web or for your mobile device (I use an iTouch but I bet the comics look so much better on an iPad).

Here are some things I like about DailyINK:

  • I am directly supporting comic artists like Hilary. More and more newspapers are cutting out comics, so it feels like a good gesture from a loyal reader;
  • I like that the comics are in full color, and not reduced to the black and white of the daily newspaper;
  • I like that I can scroll back through an entire year of archives of my comics, anytime I want;
  • I like that each morning, I have new comics sitting for me to read;
  • I found old favorites (Rhymes with Orange, Zits, Baby Blues) but also discovered some new comics that are not available in newspapers that I get (Arctic Circle, The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee, Ollie and Quentin);
  • I like that I can add an array of editorial comics, too, if I want. I haven’t wanted but it is an option;
  • I like that I can miss a few days and get back into the flow of story lines;
  • I can set up my own comics to “follow” but I still have access to everything else.

What I don’t quite like:

  • I wish there were more comics to add and I am hopeful in the future, there will be. There is a long list, but many of the comics on the list are not much interest to me;
  • I wish I had an iPad to read them on (that’s my problem, though, not DailyINK’s).

Peace (in the support),

from Hilary Price’s Rhymes with Orange comic:

Some Lines about Writing, Art, Music by Jay-Z

As I am reading through Jay-Z’s book Decoded, I am making some notes about his articulation of music, art and writing. He is very insightful in seeing rap and hip-hop through the lens of appropriation of traditions, I think, and how many rap artists saw hip-hop as a way to tell their story. I’m not sure if that is still the case, given the commercialization of the genre and the global reach, but it was true at the start: rapping and rhyming gave voice to many of the urban musicians’ world that was mostly forgotten about or ignored by mainstream America.

Here are a few quotes from Jay-Z:

In poetry, the meter is abstract, but in rap, the meter is something you literally hear: it’s the beat.” (p10)

The flow isn’t like time, it’s like life. It’s like a heartbeat, or the way you breathe ...” (p12)

(I love) … the challenge of moving around couplets and triplets, stacking double entrendes, speed rapping.” (p17)

Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it.” (p54)

A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.” (p54)

(Poets and rappers) …bend language, improvise, and invent new ways of speaking the truth.” (p56)

Everything that hip hop touches is transformed by the encounter, especially things like language and brands, which leave themselves open to constant redefinition.” (p84)

I’m only about halfway through the book and yesterday, I was posting these on Twitter with the hashtag of #JayZsez and it sparked a number of people’s interest in the book.

Peace (in the writing),

Musical Reads: Jay Z, Keith Richards, and beyond

Like most Christmas seasons, I found a bunch of books under the tree with my name on it. I love that. This year, there were two musical related books that seem at first to have very little in common: Jay Z’s Decoded and Keith Richard’s Life, and yet, I have some sneaking suspicion that there may be some common themes to emerge as I read them.


I have started with Jay Z, whom I sort of know musically but not so much. I’ve glimmered pieces of his life and musical vision from Rolling Stone Magazine, and heard some of his music over the years. My sons were quite surprised I got a Jay Z book (from my own father, that hip dude), but I am finding Decoded to be quite interesting. I’ve read a lot about the history of Hip Hip Culture before, and Jay Z’s tales of the streets and the importance of music on his life — music to tell his story — is a pretty detailed look at how the surroundings influence the music. The book is called Decoded because he literally decodes phrases, references and words inside his lyric charts, bringing us into the mind of the songwriter. As someone who is interested in the construction of songs, that pinpointing of influences in lyrics is an incredible view of the songwriter deconstructing their work.

So, yeah, interesting.

I haven’t cracked the Keith Richards’ book yet, but I know from reading about it that it will bring me right into the mess of The Rolling Stones. I’ve always been a fan of the messy Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street) more than the glossy Rolling Stones.

Actually, one of the books I want to get is Just Kids, by Patti Smith (it won the National Book Award, I believe), which chronicles her time in New York City as an emerging punk rocker in the art scene. It has gotten rave reviews.

But I still need to finish an interesting history of the saxophone that I am reading, entitled The Devil’s Horn, which tracks the invention of the saxophone right back to Adolphe Sax (crazy, crazy visionary man) through the modern times of my favorite instrument (sorry, guitar, you don’t come close).

Peace (in the reads),

Tech with Intention: a graph

This is useful. I stumbled on it at the Billings Beta site, which won first place in the class blog category at the Edublog Awards. The chart is a nice way of showing the “why” of using technology for learning, I think. And the whole thrust of “intention” is crucial, I think.

Technology with intentionTechnology with intention

Creative Commons License
Technology with intention by Jac de Haan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Peace (in the intersections),

Book Review: The Lost Hero

When The Lightning Thief first came out, I devoured it, and then introduced it to my students, who devoured it, too.  My sons loved it, too, as we read each book as a read aloud.

I thought writer  Rick Riordan’s use of Greek Mythology mixed with action and adventure — along with liberal humor told from the view of a spunky, impulsive protagonist — was a fun, lively twist to most of the books we read, so we began to read it as a class book. I have mixed feelings about the movie version (see my review) and the graphic novel version (see my review), and not all of the other books in the series were as strong as the first.

But many of my students were bummed out when that series ended.

This past year, Riordan came storming back with a new series (The Heroes of Olympus) that introduced new characters and a pretty impressive story arc. The Lost Hero pits three new demigod friends together to save the day as Gaea (yes, Mother Earth, but not the kind gentle one we know but the vindictive mother of the Titans and other monsters) is coming out of her slumber of eons and wants revenge against the Gods of Olympus for defeating her children.

Jason, the son of Jupiter (the Roman version of Zeus); Piper, the daughter of Aphrodite; and Leo, the son of Hephaestus must join forces. They do, with plenty of plot turns and character development. Riordan spends a lot of time with the back stories of Piper and Leo (not so much Jason, who has lost his memories) and it is time well-spent.

I read The Lost Hero aloud to my six year old, but my older sons also dove right into the book and seemed to like it, too. (I know, because they fought over the book and hid it from each other).

What I found interesting is that while Riordan confined his vision to Greek Mythology in The Lightning Thief, here he is moving into the conflicts between Greek and Roman Mythologies, and the only way to save the Gods is for demigod heroes of both mythological backgrounds to work together. The Giants who were created by Gaea to destroy the Olympian Gods are rising and only the demigods, working with the Gods, can destroy the giants. But, the Gods have mostly abandoned their children. (Mostly, but not completely)  It only through a plot and ploy by a jealous Hera, who has been captured by Gaea, that a foretold prophesy can begin to take shape with Jason, Piper and Leo at the heart of it.

The book ends with plenty of foreshadowing for what is to come, including mentions of our old friend, Percy Jackson (from The Lightning Thief), who has gone missing from Camp Half-Blood. By the end of this book, the three heroes have a good idea of where Percy is and how to save him. If there is time …

Peace (in the story),

A Few More Puppet Show ‘Elevator Pitches’

Yesterday, I shared out some of the “elevator pitch” summaries my sixth grade students are doing as they summarize the story ideas of their puppet show scripts, now in the process of being written. The original plays will eventually be performed live before younger students in our school (lessons on “audience” and plot design and genre are at the heart of the writing objectives here).

Here are a few more that caught my eye:

Our play is about four friends named Daisy the Elephant, Tiny Tim the penguin, Ruby the Bunny, and Jedidia the Polar Bear. Every year on January 23rd it snows enough that everyone will be able to snowboard and ski. The only problem is Yogi the Bear tries to ruin Mt. Snow by melting it all because he hates skiing and snowboarding from past experience. So far Yogi has failed to complete his plans to ruin melting the snow so nobody can ski and snowboard. This time Yogi finally has a plan to ruin Mt. Snow. To find out what happens next read A Day In Mt. Snow!

Our play is called “Sock Day” and it’s about a girl named Victoria that has a rotten twin brother named Victor. Victor puts crazy glue in her favorite boots and she puts them on to go to the mall and shop for crazy socks for Sock Day at school tomorrow. They have to find a way to take her boots off by the next day. They put jelly in her boots and they come off.

The name of our play is Mucho Taco Day. It is about a monster that eats all the food for the Tacos. Danielle and Kristine have to figure out a way to get the Tacos out of his stomach by pressing the open button on the back of his ear. Once they safely get it, they chase the monster off the edge of the mountain forever and everyone has a great Taco Day.

It was a important day in Monopoly Land (monopoly game board). The ship is trying to get to the boardwalk but the Thimble, car and Boston Terrier are trying to show the Ship a lesson of helping each other and trying to get to the boardwalk as well . In that time they go through some trouble with the Ship and the Jail guard. In the end, they all stay in a hotel at the boardwalk.

This play is about Bright Light Day where everybody hangs up lights.There is a boy named Gus and a mad scientist turns him into a shadow. Gus hates light day. So he destroys all the lights that TOM (who loves Light Day)was hanging up. The shadow flies away with Tom chasing him. Tom shoots his mini light gun into the shadows mouth. The shadow turns back into Gus.

Our play is about teamwork. It is called Fluff Day. It’s about three marshmallows, Fluff, Jiffy, and Fluffenutter who get captured by the evil s’more. The s’more’s plan is to get them in his body to make him a s’more.The reason is that a s’more is invincible and without marshmallow the s’more is just a cracker with chocolate. They fix there problem by working together to stop the s’more from taking them and becoming invincible.

One thing we notice is that the class I have right before lunch often writes a lot about food when it comes to creative writing. I find that funny, and so do they. The Light Day play is going to be interesting, because they want to use flashlights in a darkened room at times in the play. I’m not sure they can pull off their vision but we’ll see. And the Monopoly group has been so funny to watch, as they try to replicate parts of the game while developing their idea into a story.

All in all, the stories are coming along nicely and the groups are working better than most years. My job at this time is to be the “audience,” asking question about stories and characters, and offering some feedback. Mostly, though, I am just the advisor and they are doing what they need to do to get their plays done (we’ll pick it up again after holiday break, which starts tomorrow).

Peace (in the plays),