Magma iss de Hundin!!!

OK, I don’t actually know what “iss de Hundin” means, but it’s a phrase that seems to come up a lot in Kobaian. At any rate, Magma is a legendary French prog rock/avant garde jazz band, led by drummer Christian Vander, who made up his own language for the band’s Coltrane-meets-Wagner post-apocalyptic jazz-rock-opera concept. (And now I’ve reached my per-post hyphen limit.) They beat Coheed and Cambria to it by three decades, and did it in an incomprehensible Germanic Esperanto to boot.

I used to have a Magma tribute website, back in the days before blogs and Wikipedia and YouTube. I took it down years ago, but fortunately the band has kept up playing. I saw them in Chicago in 1999 and it was a highlight of my musical life. They’re still going strong, as evidenced by this 2006 video. Check it out!

Of course, the truly indoctrinated will probably prefer this clip from 1970. Lip syncing on French TV, “American Bandstand”-style. “Stoah” of all things. Imagine the trauma of an unsuspecting viewer, just tuning in for the supersonic screeching at the beginning. The world’s collective tolerance for the bizarre was certainly much higher back then.

Bats in the belfry… I mean closet

Bat in the ClosetIt all began a couple of weeks ago. Lying in bed at night, SLP and I both heard a strange rustling sound in the ceiling. Unable to do anything about it, and uncertain if it even was anything to be concerned about, we listened for a few minutes and then, when it stopped, went back to sleep.

Then we went away for a week. We’ve been back for three or four days. Last night around 10 PM we were lying in bed, each watching our respective iPods. (Me, Curb Your Enthusiasm; she, 30 Rock; the fact that we were both isolated in the worlds of our pocket-sized cocoons rather than interacting with each other or even watching the same show, a sign of the times. We’ve also been known to sit side-by-side, each competing against an AI opponent in computer Scrabble, rather than just busting out the board and playing the game together.)

And then it happened. We both jolted up at the sound of a thud and some frantic rustling in the cheap economical IKEA wardrobe at the foot of the bed.

What transpired next was a scene worthy of the sitcoms we were watching.

“Did you hear that?”

“Yeah… was it… in the closet???”

“I think so.”

“What should we do?”


“Maybe it was just some clothes falling down.”

“Yeah…” And then I went for it. Foolish, perhaps, but I opened the door. The next 1/8 of a second happened in slow motion. Something dark writhed slowly in the air and landed, stunned, on the floor.

“IT’S A BAT!” I shrieked, channeling my inner 7-year-old girl.

We both leapt from the bed and danced around on tiptoes, arms flailing, for a few seconds.

“Cover it!”

“With what???”

“Find something!!!!”

I grabbed an empty toy bin and nervously inched towards the still-still bat. I frantically threw the bin over it, hoping it was covered.

“Now what?”

“Is it dead?”

“I don’t know. I think I hear it rustling around in there.”

After consulting the Interwebs, we determined a course of action: SLP went down to the basement to get a large piece of cardboard to slide under the bin, trapping the bat in a makeshift cage, while I continued the tiptoe dance upstairs. (Miraculously our 4 1/2-year-old son slept peacefully, feet away, through it all.)

Eventually she returned with the cardboard, which I gingerly slid under the bin. I peeked around to the back, where I discovered (with more shrieks and cringing) that part of one of the bat’s wings was protruding… but it appeared secure.

My wife sprinted down to the kitchen as I carefully made my way, holding the cardboard in place and somehow controlling my natural clumsiness adequately to keep from bumping against a door frame and prematurely freeing the beast, until I made it to the back door.

While she held the door open, I stepped out into the snow in my bare feet, shouted, “Here we go!” and with much haste hurled the lot as far out onto the driveway as possible.

It took several hours to come down from the trauma, but eventually I fell asleep. I saw this morning that our driveway-sharing neighbor had moved it off to the side, and it did not appear that anyone had needed to be taken to the hospital for rabies shots, so I am assuming the bat escaped.

The question remains, how exactly did it get into the roof (assuming it was what we heard a few weeks ago), and furthermore how it got from the rafters down into the bedroom and then, unnoticed, into the wardrobe. I blame shoddy work by the roofers who probably did not adequately vent our bathroom fan two years ago. For now, though, I am simply glad that there are (as far as we know) no longer any non-human mammals dwelling in our home.


The FuturamaIn honor of the pending release of the first of four new feature-length Futurama DVDs, Wired magazine has an extensive feature about the past and, erm, future of the show. But it also has a feature on the original “Futurama” of the 1939 World’s Fair.

I’ve read a bit about the 1939 World’s Fair, about the eager anticipation of emerging from the Great Depression into a brighter and better “World of Tomorrow” (circa 1960), laughably naive from today’s perspective. But until now I’d never actually seen the film of the Futurama exhibit, with its swelling, dramatic score and overwrought narration. In some ways it felt like I was back in high school, watching the long-outdated science films our district had elected not to replace, devoting the precious funds instead (and to little avail) to our perpetually mediocre sports teams. But my response was deeper, and more disturbed.

It’s true that in many ways they got things right, though it may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: the “world of tomorrow” is dominated by controlled-access superhighways teeming with (free-flowing) traffic. It’s easy now to forget that back then, freeways didn’t exist. The idea that they would relieve congestion is laughable (or lamentable) however, especially considering that they also envisioned a megalopolis where residential, commercial, and industrial districts (I feel like I’m playing SimCity) are separated, for “greater efficiency and convenience.” (Ha! Good one, GM!) The current trend of revitalization (and gentrification) of depressed and/or abandoned inner-city industrial areas as mixed-use residential/commercial developments (such as the “North Loop” neighborhood of lofts and coffee houses comprised of converted warehouses and new-construction-designed-to-look-like-old-converted-warehouses here in Minneapolis) would suggest we’ve learned the error of that particular vision. And yet, the ominous portent of elimination of “undesirable slum areas” in the relentless march forward remains. (Just ask the former residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects… wherever they’ve been dispersed to today. It’s not that slums — and the side effects of concentrated marginalization of the economic and/or ethnic “Other” — are a good thing, it’s just that you can’t simply displace all of those people and expect their problems to magically vanish.)

On a lighter note, the enthusiastic prediction of a floating dirigible hangar in the city’s river brings some comic relief to an otherwise suffocating, earnest yet ultimately soulless and hollow, view of a future of “penetrating new horizons in the spirit of individual enterprise in the great American way.” For some, anyway. Women and slum dwellers need not apply. Freudians welcome.

Is this a joke?

Yesterday, contrary to all expectations, I fell in love with the new iPod nano.

I had never even considered a nano before, because I just felt I needed more capacity. But the other day I was looking at my 30 GB iPod and I discovered that I had over 3600 songs on it that I had never played and that was when I realized I didn’t really need to carry my entire music collection (or, to be honest, 1/3 of my entire collection, because that’s all 30 GB could hold) around with me. That opened the window of opportunity for the nano to win me over, but I still wasn’t really considering it. I was too in love with the idea of the giant screen and Internet access available on the iPhone or the iPod touch.

But yesterday, all of the pieces seemed to fit into place. My wife and I had planned a little weekend trip to Stillwater, MN and we were going to stay at the “historic” Lowell Inn. That logo should have told me everything I needed to know (mainly, that the place has been on a steady decline since the 1970s), but I overlooked it. We arrived in Stillwater and had a fine afternoon checking out the antique shops and vintage bookstores, and having lunch at the Freight House. But then at 3 we headed over to the Lowell to check in. I immediately sensed that the place wasn’t quite as luxurious as it appeared in the tiny photos on their website. Oh, sure, with your glasses off or squinting, everything looked really nice, but there were little details that said otherwise: paint chipping in places, the Post-It note by the front door indicating the location of the door bell, the bent vent grates, the loose stairway railings. But it was when we got to our room that our hearts really sank. We were expecting a suite, or at least a reasonably large room, or, well, let’s be honest, a bathroom that actually had walls and a door and not just a big curtain draped across it, that was too narrow to afford the user of the bathroom total privacy. (It was impossible for the curtain to be closed in such a way that a person sitting on the couch couldn’t see a person sitting on the toilet, either directly or in the mirror.) I also noticed more loose grates, and the headboard of the bed was barely attached, and other weirdness about the room, and was left in a bit of a funk. I probably wouldn’t have cared if the room hadn’t cost $168, but I just kept thinking of all of the other things I could’ve spent that money on.

So, after mulling it over for about 20 minutes, I mustered up the courage to do something I rarely ever do: we decided to go down and ask for our money back, and leave. The proprietor was a bit flustered at this, but he offered to cancel out the room and, if he was able to sell it to someone else, to refund our money. About a half hour later as we were leaving the Stillwater area to head back to Minneapolis, he called and let us know he had been successful. In the end I have to say I was extremely appreciative of the service we got, and I suppose the room’s antique charms might win over some guests, but in the end there is no way I will ever consider staying at the Lowell Inn again.

As we headed back we made our revised plans for the night. We were now flush with cash that we had intended to spend on the hotel and a nice (and commensurately expensive) meal at the Bayport Cookery. So we decided to go to Southdale instead so we could do some shopping and then head over to the Galleria for dinner at Big Bowl.

And so it was that I came to know and love the iPod nano. While SLP was visiting various clothing stores, I headed down to the Apple Store to play with the iPod touch. I had already seen a friend’s iPhone, but since I have less than zero interest in switching to AT&T, I know that particular gadget will remain elusively out-of-reach for me. So, the iPod touch. I was really enjoying looking at it, but then I happened to go over and check out the new nano. It was just a curiosity, nothing else, but I fell in love instantly. The screen, though small, is unbelievably sharp; I love the new user interface; and it is so small! It’s the first iPod I’ve seen (aside from the useless iPod shuffle) that I could actually imagine carrying around in my pocket most or all of the time.

I didn’t buy it immediately, although I wanted to. But the rock solid logic of this basically being the amount of money we saved by not being stuck in the Lowell Inn for a night convinced SLP as well, and on our way back home from Southdale we stopped at the new Super Target that just opened in Richfield, and that’s where I got it.

Now, on to the actual topic of this post. This morning I was checking out Apple’s website for carrying case options for the new iPod nano. I was a little disappointed that the new models don’t come with the little faux-leather slip sleeve that my previous, 5th generation iPod came with. And as I perused the options I discovered the iPod nano swimbelt. Yes, it’s real. Apple doesn’t joke when there’s money to be had. But do people actually swim with their iPods? Apparently at least one person does, because there is one (and only one) superlative review of this product there on the site.

Science explains my madness, at last

If anyone has been bothering to read my rants for the past five-plus years, you may recall that one of my earliest blog posts was a tirade against the evils of cords.

Finally, while it may not be much solace, science as at least touched upon an explanation for why cords suck.

It’s kind of funny now, looking back at what I wrote in 2002. I was speaking in awed and reverent tones of the mystical wonders that awaited us in the future, these things called “AirPort” (I’m not even sure the term “Wi-Fi” was in use yet back then), and “Bluetooth” — things so new and wondrous that I put them in quotes when I referred to them, without a trace of irony.

Now I am pretty much taking for granted the fact that I’m sitting on my bed typing this on my laptop, connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi link to the router downstairs, and I’m controlling the cursor with a Bluetooth wireless mouse. Frankly, I’m more surprised by the fact that as of last Sunday my Mac is now set up in a triple boot configuration, with Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux.