Sunday, January 31, 2016

Workout Megamix Liner Notes - Part II


NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language and coarse humor.

Introduction

In my last post I described my decades-long project of creating the best collection of rock & rap songs to listen to while riding my indoor bike trainer or rollers.  Not all music is suitable for hammering away all winter, and music is a bare necessity for this activity.  (Note the inconspicuous, but all-important, headphone cord in this photo.)


I’m aware that some people watch movies or cycling videos while riding indoors.  I suppose this could be somewhat diverting—but that’s kind of the problem.  You can’t be diverted from the suffering at hand, if you’re going to do this right.  You need music with a driving beat, and it never hurts if it has some attitude, so you can find the proper frame of mind (which is somewhere between excitement and rage).  Oh, and the music has to be sophisticated enough that you don’t get sick of it after repeated listening.  There are pop songs I was already sick of before I’d finished hearing them the first time.

As I mentioned before, my Ultimate Workout Megamix has 165 tracks, which is about 11 hours of music, all in alphabetical order by track.  In my last post I was able to cover A thru G.  Tonight I provide the list—replete with liner notes on selected songs—for H thru M.

Liner notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix Part II

Happiness is a Warm Gun - The Breeders
            Perhaps you’re familiar with the original Beatles version of this.  That wouldn’t be lively enough for the trainer.  The Breeders add a snarling guitar to it and it works great.  A college roommate of mine expressed astonishment that this was an all-female band despite the low voice of one of the singers.  Turns out my roommate was fooled by some photo where the guy was in drag.  That’s about all I know about the Breeders other than it was started by Kim Deal, formerly of the Pixies.

Head Down – Soundgarden
            This song helpfully reminds you to put your head down, which is useful while hammering, at least on the indoor trainer.  As the grammar coach of the UC Berkeley road team, I explained to everybody that “head down” is a figure of speech; while racing you really need to watch the road.  A former teammate of mine was once time trialing with his head down and rode right into the back of a parked car.  DAAAAAAAAAMN!

Heart In a Cage - The Strokes
            Good, fast tempo, the relentless driving beat so characteristic of the Strokes (it’s called a “triplet” according to my daughter, who knows something about music), and even some grumbling about how “I’m stuck in a city but I belong in a field” which captures that trapped feeling you get riding indoors for the third month in a row … this song has it all!  This is from “First Impressions of Earth,” an underrated Strokes album (all their others are overrated).

Heart Shaped Box – Nirvana
            Like “Black Hole Sun,” this song had quite the video.  It creeped me out big time when I first saw it.  At that time I was living in a literally flea-ridden apartment with a roommate who got baked like five times a day and had all the cable channels.  Just now I checked the video out again and probably the creepiest part is Kurt Cobain’s artificially blue eyes.  I once had an office job where the copier broke down constantly and I got to know the repairman, who had these dazzling blue contact lenses and a huge Swatch watch selection.  Nobody photocopies anymore … I wonder what that guy’s up to.  Maybe he’s in a band.

Heartbeat - Ice-T
            One of the best workout songs ever, as it reminds you to keep your heart rate up.  Plus it’s just a jammin’ song anyway.  “Listen to my heartbeat, it’s beatin’ like a wild man/ But that’s natural, ‘cause you know that I am/ No punk, no chump, no fool, no toy/ Try to get ill and I’ll serve you, boy!”  I sing along until I’m gasping for breath.

Hustlers - Nas
            This guy started rapping when he was just a pup, and was basically brilliant right out of the gate.  His quality control takes a bit of a hit because he produces albums almost constantly.  He’s kind of the Woody Allen of rap in that regard:  prolific but oddly willing to put out mediocre stuff now and then.  (He released two albums in one year, 1999; one went double platinum and the other fizzled.) This track is from “Hip Hop Is Dead,” which is my favorite of his albums.  An odd fact about Nas:  though he’s gotta be pretty wealthy, having sold over 15 million records in the U.S. alone, he also owns a shoe store.  I guess he just really likes shoes.

Hypnotize - The White Stripes

I Am A God - Kanye West
            Again, I cannot quite describe how I feel about Kanye West.  Actually, if I paraphrase the writer Adam Gopnik, maybe I can:  I don’t like Kanye West, but I like to listen to him.  (Gopnik was quoting his 6-year old talking about Barney, the purple dinosaur.)  This song is the epitome of braggadocio, but it’s got a good, weird, dark atmosphere and some great lines:  “I am a god/ So hurry up with my damn massage/ In a French-ass restaurant/ Hurry up with my damn croissants.”

I Am Not a Human Being - Lil Wayne
            What a great segue, from “I Am a God” right into “I Am Not a Human Being.”  This is one of my favorite Lil Wayne songs.  It has more effective guitar than any other rap song I can think of except maybe “The Girl Tried to Kill Me” by Ice-T or “Sing For the Moment” by Eminem.  I challenge you to listen to this on the trainer without starting to pedal harder.  I’m playing it right now to help with this commentary, and damn it, where’s my bike?!  LET’S ROLL, YOU AND ME, RIGHT NOW MUTHAFUCKA!

I Could Have Lied - Red Hot Chili Peppers

I Go To Work - Kool Moe Dee
            This is the rare nap song you can sing to your kids.  Did I really just type “nap song”?  Elton John would be a nap song.  I meant to say, this is the rare rap song you can sing to your kids.  There’s no profanity at all.  I was surprised the other day when my older daughter suddenly busted out with the whole first verse (which is a lot—237 words).  I started rapping this at my mom’s house at Thanksgiving recently, pleasantly camouflaged against the chatter of a bunch of kids, nieces and nephews, but suddenly they all went silent so they could hear.  It was a little scary, like suddenly being on stage.

I'm Back - Eminem
            Good, solid stuff.  I don’t know what this guy has against Christopher Reeves.  Maybe he’s just reminding us listeners that he’s the most tasteless rapper alive.  But good!

I'm Your Pusher - Ice-T

If I Had - Eminem
            My favorite line?  “If I had one wish, I would ask for a big enough ass for the whole world to kiss.”  This is funny all by itself, but even funnier for people my age who remember that corny Coke ad he’s mocking, from 1971:  “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love.”

It Takes a Muscle - M.I.A.

Jack My Dick - Obie Trice
            This song might not work for your trainer ride the first few times you hear it because you’ll be laughing so hard your legs might turn to jelly.  Here, Obie presents the only convincing case for abstinence I’ve ever heard.  Not that this is the kind of song the Religious Right would ever embrace, and I can’t see it being put into service as a Public Service Announcement.

Jesus Christ Pose - Soundgarden

Just Lose It – Eminem
            Another song from the least of Eminem’s albums, “Encore,” but good for the trainer.  I think this is supposed to be a dance track.  It’s got a good beat, I could dance to it (if I could dance, but I can’t, so I ride rollers instead) … I give it a 7!

Killing Lies - The Strokes

Knives Out – Radiohead
            “If you’d been a dog they would have drowned you at birth.”  Nuff said.

Know It Ain't Right - M.I.A.

Last Nite - The Strokes

Legacy - Eminem

Like Suicide – Soundgarden
            Look, I know I have a lot of Soundgarden on this list.  I can’t help it.  I’m not saying they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread (and I’m not actually even that fond of sliced bread), but the drumming in this song, particularly toward the end, makes me want to ride to death.

Little Acorns - The White Stripes

Loco-Motive - Nas

Lollipop - Lil Wayne
            Some critic got all hot and bothered because this or that masterpiece of songcraft lost out to “Lollipop” for the Grammy in 2009.  The reader was expected to share this outrage, and I must say, “Lollipop” is just a bunch of gutter talk, very sophomoric, absolutely the kind of music you only listen to via headphones.  But none of this matters.  If you listen to this during exercise, you will get a better workout.

Longview - Green Day

Look In My Eyes - Obie Trice

Lose Yourself - Eminem

Love Me - 50 Cent
            I guess this is technically an Eminem song, but for some reason I think of it as 50 Cent.  I know nothing about 50 Cent.  My favorite line on this song is actually by Obie Trice.  It goes like this:  “Show me love … bitch.”  That just cracks me up every time.  I mean, it’s pretty bad when you have to tell your woman to love you.  I mean, you’re already on the wrong foot there, like people can just love on command.  But to make matters worse (perhaps out of reflex?) the speaker shows emphasis by calling her “bitch.” Yeah, dude, that will win her over.  It’s just funny.  Perhaps a feminist wouldn’t find this funny at all.  But think about it:  the funny part is how lame the guy is.  Feminists should use this as a case study for one of the many things wrong with men!  Who knows, maybe they do.

Love Me or Hate Me - Lady Sovereign
            Really, really great song, and I think this genre—grime—is generally a very good one for the trainer.  It’s fast, lots of wacky sounds, plenty to hook your bored brain on.  And the chorus here is good advice for the kind of person who tries so hard to be reasonable and likable, she just can’t cut herself any slack.  (Or he/himself … whatever.)  That advice is, “If you like me then thank you/ If you hate me, than fuck you.”  I sometimes play this one on speakers (rather than headphones), and whenever the f-word comes around I cough really loudly to drown it out, for the kids’ sake.  Today I finally let Alexa (age 14) hear the whole thing.  “I’d been wondering why this song always made you cough so much,” she said.

Love the Way You Lie - Eminem

Matangi - M.I.A.

Mockingbird - Eminem

Money Over Bullsh*t - Nas

Mother - Pink Floyd
            Okay, this isn’t actually ideal trainer music, but it’s just such a great song.  And actually, the guitar solo is pretty rousing.  If you’re into the movie “Pink Floyd The Wall,” you should check out my exegesis, in which I put forth this song as the key to understanding the entire movie.  Click here.

Mr. Carter - Lil Wayne

Mrs. Officer - Bobby Valentino/Lil Wayne

My Dad's Gone Crazy - Eminem

My England - Lady Sovereign
            One of my favorites.  If I understand this one right, it’s making fun of Anglophiles who think they know something about England because they read Bridget Jones’ Diary or saw the movie.  Meanwhile, Lady Sovereign both celebrates and denigrates her homeland in a way that never fails to amuse me.  Check it out!

My Mom - Eminem
            This is the best workout song I know of concerning Munchausen syndrome by proxy.  If you’re aware of other rousing rap or rock songs on this topic, please let me know.  If I gather enough of these, perhaps I’ll create a Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy Workout Megamix.  Actually, that might end up being kind of depressing, but it would still beat going to the gym.

My Name Is - Eminem

My Wave - Soundgarden

Stay tuned

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve focused on a relatively small number of bands/singers in this list.  Well duh, that’s to help you!  Not everybody consumes music by buying one MP3 at a time.  You could actually buy a few CDs, perhaps used, to take a gamble on this music.  Or just keep listening to that Sting album you bought back in college … see if I care.

Tune in next time for the penultimate installment (probably N thru S).  Click here for Part III, and enjoy your turbo-training!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Workout Megamix Liner Notes - Part I


NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language.

Introduction

A couple friends asked me for recommendations for music to listen to while riding the stationary bike or indoor trainer.  I’ve been crafting the all-time #1 ultimate Workout Megamix for about two decades.  My quest began back in the mid-‘90s when I tried to ride the trainer while listening to The Cranberries.  Nothing against them, but it wasn’t helping me get that heart rate up.

Around this time I e-mailed all my friends for recommendations and was shocked at the dearth of fast, hard, rockin’ good stuff.  People were suggesting albums like “Buena Vista Social Club” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”  As you can see, I really needed to find some cool friends, but that’s hard to do, so I started experimenting with different music and I think that’s gone pretty well.

So in compiling my Workout Megamix, I thought to myself, Why stop at a mere list when I could be describing the song and/or the band and/or the reason I think it belongs in the list?  And so my Liner Notes idea was born.  Because this is a lot of work, I’m extending the distribution of these notes from 2 persons to 3.17 billion (the number of souls on this planet with Internet access).

The full list comprises 165 tracks, which at roughly 4 minutes per track gives about 11 hours of music, which should last for about 15 indoor workouts.  If you do 3 workouts a week this will last you 5 weeks before you get your first rerun.  That ain’t so bad.  These tracks are in alphabetical order by title because that’s the order they play on my MP3 player.  This post covers A-G and I’ll get to the rest in subsequent posts.

Before I begin, a quick caveat:  I’m not saying I know anything about music.  Whenever I find myself in the position of expounding in detail on a thorny subject (i.e., most of the time), I find myself winging it.  I hope that’s good enough for you.

One last thing:  particularly if your trainer is on the loud side (or even your rollers—mine have aluminum drums that tend to “sing” at high speed), please do yourself a favor and spring for noise-canceling headphones.  Indoor cycling is supposed to be good for you—don’t slowly deafen yourself in the process!


Liner Notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix

'Till I Collapse – Eminem
            This is a perfect one for the trainer, thematically.  It even talks about your legs getting tired:  “Till the roof comes off, till the lights go out, Till my legs give out, can’t shut my mouth.”  And you can’t ride the trainer with your mouth shut, either.  How true that is.

8 Miles & Runnin' - Freeway/Jay-Z
            This is from the soundtrack to “8 Mile,” which was the movie that got me back into rap after more than a decade of nothing … the wilderness years, if you will.  “The New Yorker” gave “8 Mile”  a good review, which I hadn’t expected.  When that movie came out I knew almost nothing about Eminem, other than what I’d gleaned from an outraged editorial quoting some of his crude lyrics.  I remember thinking, “Man, this guy is really foul ... for him to be popular, he must have talent or something.”  The movie convinced me.  Go see it if you haven’t, or even if you have.

911 Is a Joke - Public Enemy
            Public Enemy was one of the first rap groups I ever got into.  I kind of burned out on them eventually, but that’s not their fault.  Chuck D is the main guy, with Flavor Flav kind of his court jester.  Nice combo.

A Punchup at a Wedding – Radiohead
            This is the only song I know of that’s about a fistfight breaking out at a wedding.  Fortunately, my wedding was free of fisticuffs, though I did consider beating down an attendee.  It was an outdoor wedding in an amphitheater, and some douchebag college kid took the liberty of sitting down to watch.  It would be one thing if it were a giant wedding, but I only had like 12 or 13 guests—plus him.  Meanwhile, the guy’s dog was getting a bit too close to the wedding cake.  Lucky for him I didn’t want to fight while wearing my nice suit.

A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T - The Hives
            The Hives is a band I discovered through the music review section of “The New Yorker.”  They hail from the Swedish industrial city of Fagersta.  As the magazine described it, “The Hives quickly became huge in Sweden, which is sort of like being the strongest person in your house.”  They have a fast, angry sound perfect for the indoor trainer.

Adrenaline Rush - Obie Trice
            I was introduced to Obie Trice by the “8 Mile” soundtrack.  Like Eminem, he’s from Detroit.  Here’s a crazy biographical detail:  he was shot in the head back in 2005 and is still carrying around the bullet in his skull.  This doesn’t seem to affect his brain—his rap is kickass.  “Adrenaline Rush” is not actually one of his best songs, but it’s a good one for the trainer.  I call it as “the motherfucka song” because he says “motherfucka” about 3 dozen times.  It’ll grow on you, trust me.

Airbag – Radiohead
            This song was inspired by a British insurance company magazine (like what you might get from AAA here) and the headline, “An airbag saved my life.”  The lead singer gave this commentary on the song:  “Has an airbag saved my life? Nah…but I tell you something, every time you have a near accident, instead of just sighing and carrying on, you should pull over, get out of the car and run down the street screaming, ‘I’m BACK! I’m ALIVE! My life has started again today!’  In fact, you should do that every time you get out of a car.”  Awesome guitar on this track.  Actually I think it’s two dueling guitars, but as I said I’m not very knowledgeable about music.

Ass Like That – Eminem
            This song has an unfortunate chorus:  “I ain't never seen an ass like that/ The way you move it, you make my pee pee go / Doing, doing, doing.”  (The “doing” rhymes with “boing,” not with the gerund form of “to do.”  I have just realized this is a heteronym I never noticed before ... but I digress.)  This song is from the weakest of Eminem’s albums, “Encore,” and I really had to ask myself, “Can I listen to, much less enjoy, a song that includes “make my pee pee go doing, doing, doing?”  After much deliberation, the answer is yes, I can and do.  If you can get past this bit, it’s really a great track ... very funny.  It has held up well.  Listen for Eminem’s impersonation of Triumph, the puppet dog, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Average Man - Obie Trice
            This one is badass.  Lots of gun-related sounds, which can so often be embarrassing, like in action flicks where cocking the gun is almost as loud as shooting it.  But Obie Trice pulls it off. 

Bad Girls - M.I.A.
            I stumbled on M.I.A. quite by accident.  M.I.A. stands for “Missing In Acton” (not “Action” as Wikipedia erroneously reports).  Acton is a part of London I know about from taking the Underground.  M.I.A. (full name Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam) is British/Sri Lankan and I’d say her genre is a hybrid of dance, grime, hip-hop, and world music.  I first learned of her through a magazine I randomly started getting in the mail called “Complex.”  I never did gather whether this was COM-plex, like the psychological conflict, or com-PLEX, as in complicated.  (Another heteronym!)  It was a weird magazine.  Not quite white, not quite black, not quite about music, just a hodgepodge.  I kind of liked it because it was so random, and featured babes.  “Complex” did a profile of M.I.A., and I bought a disc on a whim, and it turns out she’s tot’ly wicked.  This song has become one of my favorites, though I didn’t much like it at first.  Be sure to check out the YouTube video too.

Bad Guy – Eminem
            This song is fricking brilliant.  But you have to listen to “Stan” first or it won’t make much sense.  If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a rapper, and he’d envy Eminem.  I know that sounds crazy but trust me on this ... I was an English major.

Be Somebody - Kings of Leon
            Way back in like 2002, a friend randomly sent me a Kings of Leon a disc in the hope that I’d like it.  I did, and do.  I like their newer stuff better; originally the lead singer kind of mumbled because he was afraid his mom would hear the lyrics and be offended.  Nowadays I hear Kings of Leon on the radio, which makes me think I’m cool because I knew [of] them back in the day, man.

Beautiful – Eminem
            This song, though quite good, is admittedly just a little cheesy.  But, as the father of daughters, I can’t help but admire it, and hope that if anybody ever insults my daughter’s looks, she can remember this song and say, “You can go get f*cked.”

Beautiful Pain - Eminem w/ Sia
            This song follows what’s becoming a pretty established motif for Eminem:  he does the rapping, but the chorus is sung by some popular female singer with a great voice.  I guess there are purists who don’t like the obvious commercial motivation behind this format, but why the hell would I care?  Is it really a problem if Eminem somebody has more money than some robber baron or advertising exec?  I think the snarling rapper and great singer go well together.

Best Rapper Alive - Lil Wayne
            I’m not very familiar with all the hip-hop acts out there, much less pop, but at some point I became vaguely aware there was a rapper called Lil Wayne, so on a lark I bought a CD of his at Target.  Turns out he’s rather good and occasionally brilliant.  This isn’t his best song but it’s got the driving beat, and sometimes you gotta bulk out the megamix or those crème-de-la-crème tracks will get old.

Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
            I thought the video for this was mind-blowing back in 1994.  I watched it more recently and it hasn’t aged well.  The song, though, is still great.  These guys are from Seattle which means they probably drink a lot of coffee and like to take the elevator up inside the Space Needle.  (Can you tell I did extensive research for these liner notes?)

Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy
            One of the best PE tracks they is.  Sing along!  Perform it for your kids!

Blow Up the Outside World – Soundgarden
            This is the best song Soundgarden ever recorded.  I’ll confess it seemed pointless at first, but at some point its brilliance dawned on me, and I’ve now adopted it as my credo, my mantra, and my mission statement.  If you’re riding hard enough on the trainer or the rollers, and the music is doing its job, you’ll feel something kind of like excitement, kind of like fight-or-flight, and kind of like anger, as you thrash away, ensconced in your headphones and your private pain cave.  In this state it seems completely reasonable to blow up the outside world.

Born Free - M.I.A
            A workout megamix needs to include either this song or the John Barry song  written for the 1966 movie, about lions, called “Born Free.”  In the end this one won out, because a) the other one sucks, and b) if I get the other one in my head, I always substitute my brother’s lyrics, which went, “Born dead/ The baby had no head.”

Brain Stew - Green Day
            I saw these guys in concert at one of those music festivals in Golden Gate Park (WOMAD, I think) and didn’t think they were that good.  Over the next two decades my wife kept asking me to get her an album by these guys and finally I relented.  Turns out plenty of the songs I’d enjoyed on our local alternative (i.e., mainstream) rock station are by Green Day.  (I didn’t realize this because modern deejays are far too cool to ever provide the name of a song or whom it’s by, and they never use the word “whom” either.)  Green Day is not a great band—one song sounds too much like another IMHO—but the two guys who started it are from Rodeo, a godforsaken little cow town I have to ride through on some bike rides, and I applaud them for transcending such humble roots.  Plus they got their start playing at a little punk club that’s walking distance from my house (though I’m not cool enough to go there).  “Brain Stew” has a very simple but thrashable guitar line.  Can I say “guitar line”?  Does that even mean anything?

Bucky Done Gun - M.I.A.
            “Done” and “Gun” don’t look like they should rhyme, but they do.  I don’t really know what (if anything) this song is “about,” and I don’t care.

Burden in My Hand – Soundgarden
            “Burden in my hand” is just one of those phrases that sound cool.  Don’t overthink it.  That’s my advice for lots of this music.  Riding the trainer isn’t like going to a poetry reading, okay?

Cash Money Millionaires - Lil Wayne
            This song is pretty dumb, in the best possible way.  Go Weezy!

Cha Ching (Cheq 1-2 Remix) - Lady Sovereign
            This is off “Run the Road,” a grime compilation.  Grime is kind of like hip-hop, but British, and maybe a bit faster.  Lady Sovereign is a very short person and has one of those ponytails that sticks out of the side of her head like the girl in “Napoleon Dynamite.”  I wish Lady Sovereign would come to a party at my house.  If she turned out to be a smoker, I’d even let her smoke in the house—that’s how cool she is.  I hope she doesn’t smoke, though.  It’s gross and bad for you.

Charmer - Kings of Leon
            Everyone I know hates this song.  What’s wrong with everybody?  If you hate it, I don’t want to hear about it.  I like it.  Obviously.

Cheers - Obie Trice
            This is a great track.  I sometimes sing along, though that gets awkward because he uses the n-word.  He’s allowed to, of course.  It’s okay because I’m usually too out of breath to sing anyway.

Closer - Kings of Leon
            You know how with some bands all the songs sound alike?  Not so with Kings of Leon.  This one is way cool and a good track to hammer to as you fight to become a King of Lean.

Come As You Are – Nirvana
            I’m not actually sure Nirvana is a good band for working out to … the tempo might be a bit wrong.  But you can set your brakes to drag and stand up.  I kind of feel like supporting this band since as everybody knows their lead singer killed himself.  It would be such a shame if he were forgotten, like Men At Work.  At least those guys are still alive and kicking, as far as I know.

Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
            Clearly this song needs no introduction.  By the way, I’m sick of people saying “Dark Side of the Moon” is Pink Floyd’s best album.  Of course that’s a great album but “The Wall” is better.  This Roman Meal bakery thought you’d like to know.

Cool Cats - Obie Trice
            My favorite part?  When Obie says “blaow!”

Creep – Radiohead
            Of course you heard this on the radio all the time back in the ‘90s.  This isn’t quite as strong as the other stuff on this list, but you might as well re-familiarize yourself with it so you can sing it in the shower.

Cry Now - Obie Trice

Desperation - Eminem

Diamonds From Sierra Leone - Kanye West
            I don’t know what to make of Kanye West.  On the one hand, several of his songs, such as this one, seem pretty cool.  On the other hand, somebody showed me the video of “Bound 2” and I almost vomited into my soup.  And I wasn’t even eating soup!  That video would be a crime against humanity even without Kim Kardashian in it.  But I liked “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” before I saw the “Bound 2” video; why should that change?  

Don't Shoot (I'm a Man) - Devo
            It was a little frightening buying Devo’s first album in two decades.  I really liked Devo back in the day and didn’t want to hear them embarrass themselves.  But this album, “Something for Everybody,” is great!  As is this song!

Drive Slow - Kanye West
I like this song a lot.  More than it deserves, probably.  It always reminds me of a “New Yorker” story from July 10, 2000 called “The Saturday Morning Car Wash Club” by James Ellis Thomas.  Somehow I get the pleasure of that story just by hearing this song … all while training indoors!  It’s like alchemy or something!

Déjà Vu – Eminem deja
            This song is about overdosing in front of your kids.  Pretty heavy.  But it’s a kickass song and the only rap song I know with two different French accent marks in its title.

Easy to Crash – Cake
            Cake is from Sacramento and used to play the coffeehouse circuit there.  Did you know Sacramento had a coffeehouse circuit?   Me neither.  This song is not about crashing while riding rollers, but I did do that the other day.  I was riding out of the saddle and made the mistake of shifting up and accelerating.  I rode right off the front of the rollers, hit the carpet, went flying (surfing my bike at this point), hit the fan, knocked it ass-over-teakettle right into my main road bike (which was leaning against the wall), tipping it over.  I managed to dismount my rain bike and catch my other bike by the handlebar just before it would have hit the floor.  Alexa saw the whole thing and was duly impressed.

Enter Sandman – Metallica
            I became aware of Metallica all the way back in high school when this stoner kid used to talk about them.  He had super long fluffy white hair and puffy red eyes and was oddly chummy with me.  “Dude, it’s my birthday and my dad’s throwin’ me a party.  I’m not talkin’ no birthday cake and candles either … we’re gonna get drunk!”  This dialogue didn’t involve Metallica per se, but I always associated them with that kid.  Anyhow, fast forward a few decades to when I watched “Some Kind of Monster,” a documentary about Metallica hiring a consultant to help them get along while cutting an album.  Fascinated, and dimly aware that Metallica had made music with the SF symphony, I bought their eponymous album and guess what?  It R4WKs!  It’s kind of silly as well, I have to say.  These guys are a bit on the earnest side, but heavy metal shouldn’t be tongue in cheek or ironic.  Just roll with it.  Belt out “We’re off to never never land” in front of your kids and watch them cringe.

Fell In Love With a Girl - The White Stripes
            I didn’t expect to like the White Stripes because so many people bagged on them.  But oddly, the biggest complaint I heard was that they’re overrated.  How can they be overrated when everybody bags on them?  And anyway, who cares?  They’re quite good, if a bit sloppy.  This song has a video with cats playing guitars, which I showed to my kids when they were tiny, and to this day they love this song.  Since I love them, it’s just a big love-in whenever I hear this.

Fell On Black Days - Soundgarden

Fight the Power - Public Enemy

Follow My Life - Obie Trice

Fresh - Devo

Galang - M.I.A.

Girls LGBNAF - Ice-T
            You absolutely mustn’t play this song on the hi-fi when your kids are around.  The lyrics are filthy, at least by ‘80s standards.  Also, don’t play it on your boom box out in the driveway unless you’re ready to silence it very quickly.  I was working on my bike, playing this, and a famous writer/illustrator of children’s books came walking down the sidewalk with her dog.  I had to scramble to prevent an embarrassing episode!  Ice-T is from L.A. and was one of my early favorites.  He’s held up well!

Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
            Another band from L.A.  One of my college roommates, a rich kid with over 400 CDs in his collection (yes, I counted them once) used to play this song almost constantly, along with “Down In It” by Nine Inch Nails.  They were the only two songs I ever heard him play.  I didn’t realize I liked this song (and band) until years later when I’d recovered from that roommate.  A colleague of mine once encountered this band’s bass player, Flea, on an airplane.  They were both flying first class to Europe.  Flea seemed to be on drugs and decided to climb up into the overhead bin to sleep.  (He’s not a very big guy.)  This caused a major altercation with the flight attendant.

Got Hungry - Obie Trice
             Obie hit a long dry spell (from 2006 to 2012) between his second and third studio albums.  I started anticipating his third album in 2008 and was getting mighty impatient when in 2009 he decided, probably just to pay the bills, to release a compilation of old stuff, which he called “Special Reserve.”  It was kind of unpolished, but full of highly energetic stuff like this song.  Perfect with a lactic acid chaser!

Stay tuned

Obviously I still have H thru Z to go.  I hope you like this topic because it'll be the next 4 or 5 posts at this rate. Click here for Part II.

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For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

AI Smackdown - Moto vs. Cortana vs. Siri


NOTE:  This post is rated R for mild strong language.

Introduction

I already blogged about my Android phone—not the way a professional critic would, but in terms of what’s actually interesting about it, which to me is the Artificial Intelligence angle.  Actually, “artificial stupidity” was the point:  a phone playing dumb so it can play favorites.  I’ve also blogged a bit about AI in general, with Apple’s Siri agent as a case study, but that was before I had an iOS device.  Now, I own all three platforms:  Moto/Android; Siri; and Microsoft’s Cortana.  In this post I compare and contrast them: not because I’m going to help you choose, but to try to make you laugh.  And you might have something interesting to scratch your head about later.

(I’m not going to try to differentiate between the terms Google Now, Android, and Moto.  They all meld in my mind.  If somebody protests that there are massive differences, I won’t be offended if you go read his or her blog instead.)


Cortana

I’ll start with Cortana because it can be dispatched very quickly.  If you type something into the Cortana field in Windows 10, it does a Bing search.  Bing is a little bit like using a Curad bandage instead of a Band-Aid, or using Hunts ketchup instead of Heinz, or wearing Sears Toughskins jeans instead of Levi’s.  It just isn’t done.  I don’t actually care if Bing works just fine.  It’s Bing, which means it’s not Google. “Let me Bing that for you.”  Give me a break.

Moreover, before you can get into the voice recognition stuff, you have to deal with this frightening disclaimer:


Yes, I know all this meddlesome snooping is just to “tailor the experience,” but it’s the online equivalent of your tailor saying, “To get the fit right on these trousers, I’ll have to reach in and fondle your balls.”  The explicit information Windows wants to use is bad enough, but that wide-open phrase “and other information” is just over the top.

Besides, “Cortana” sounds like a new model of Hyundai.  You know what Microsoft?  It’s over.  You lost.  You’re just a PC software company.  Stop trying to act “mobile.”

Android/Moto

I won’t go into a lot of detail about how well my Android phone responds to voice commands, because a) I already did that, here; and b) as I describe the Siri experience, I’ll compare it to Android/Moto as I go.

The really lame thing about Siri

Imagine if, before engaging with a person, you had to go push a button on the person’s chest.  In most cases, this would be absurd.  (With my kids, who never hear my commands, it would actually be an improvement.)

I think it almost goes without saying that voice response is a minimum requirement for any kind of AI.  The Siri demo I watched way back in 2012 did feature voice activation on the iPhone.  But oddly enough, for the Siri voice response to work on the iPad, the iPad has to be plugged in to an electrical outlet.  That is just so bizarre!  I mean, the iPad’s portability is the whole point, isn’t it?  What’s next for Apple:  an iPhone you plug into an RJ-11 jack?  This is ridiculous.  If I’m sitting at a desk next to an electrical outlet, I might as well be using a laptop.

There’s something else really lame about the iPad:  a limitation that hasn’t existed on an Apple product since the Apple II computer.  But I’ll get into that later.  Better to keep you in suspense.

Siri voice response:  up to snuff?

In general, Siri tries to have a bit more personality than Moto.  For example, if I ask my Droid, “Do you love me?” it shows me a song called “Do you love me?” by the Contours.  (My younger daughter, who has not seen “Her,” put me up to asking this question.)  When I asked Siri if she loved me, she responded, “I respect you.”  And when (again at my daughter’s behest) I asked Siri, “Have you ever gone to the bathroom?” she replied, “Who, me?”

Is this cheekiness a good thing?  Well, Siri’s responses may strike you as funnier that Moto’s.  On the other hand, when I asked my Droid about using the bathroom, I got a list of hits pertaining to using the wrong restroom (i.e., the one intended for the opposite sex).  It was a very funny list, linking to some amusing sites.  (You may be wondering:  have I ever used the wrong restroom?  Well, yes, once, purely by accident.  I was in there doing my business and thinking, “What kind of public restroom doesn’t have urinals?”  When the answer suddenly came to me, I hightailed it right on out of there.)

Sometimes Siri’s personality gets in the way.  For example, I asked Siri, “What time is it?” and she responded, “At the third stroke, it will be 16:26.  Beep.  Beep. Beep.”  This was more confusing than amusing, and besides, it was inaccurate:  the actual time was like 4:25:30.  I would rather Siri have a more reliable connection to the NIST Internet time servers than a zingy response.

If your desk is as cluttered as mine, being able to summon your phone by voice is very handy.  When I call out my keyphrase for my Droid, it makes a pretty loud two-tone beep to let me know it’s listening.  The iPad beep is much quieter.  Neither device responds in any useful way to the question, “Where are you?”  Siri says, “Wherever you are, that’s where I am.”  This isn’t that funny, and for most people wouldn’t even be true.  (I bring my iPad, Droid, silverware, and all other valuables with me wherever I go, so don’t bother burglarizing my house.)

 This is where these devices are inconsistent.  Their programmers need to decide if the device should have a sense of self or not.  Siri speaks in the first person (e.g., “Who, me?” and “I respect you”), but when I say, “Hey Siri, how’s your battery doing?” she has no idea what “your” means.  She replies, “My apologies ... I couldn’t find those stocks.”  Pretty useless.

When I tell my Droid, “Find my phone,” it makes this cool sonar sound continuously until I find and silence it.  When I tell Siri “Find my iPad,” she tries to make me turn on Location Services.  Look, Siri, if I could do that, I’d know where you are, and I wouldn’t be asking.

I’ve often thought that one of the most useful features of voice response would be getting help configuring the device.  So I said, “Hey Siri, turn on your flash.”  She replied,  “Who, me?”  I decided some context might help, so within the camera app I said to turn on the flash.  Siri replied, “It doesn’t look like you have an app named ‘flash.’  If you’d like, I can help you look for it on the App Store.”  I just don’t think this is that difficult a concept.  You have a camera.  It has a flash.  Turn it on.

The Droid does respond to “Take a selfie.”  It ought to say, “I can’t,” because its camera is basically its face.  But its reaction, which is to launch the camera, put it in selfie mode, and set a self-timer, is actually fairly useful, at least for the hands-free breed of narcissist.  When I tell Siri “take a selfie,” she says, “You’ll need to unlock your iPad first.”  This isn’t very helpful, and in fact isn’t even true.  As my older daughter discovered, the iPad can be used as a camera even by somebody who lacks my fingerprint and passcode.  And when I follow Siri’s instructions and unlock the iPad, it does go into camera mode, but not selfie mode.  As regards this command, Siri is fairly incompetent.

Something that bothers me about my Droid’s AI is a certain lack of resourcefulness.  When I ask it, “How do I look?” I think it should activate the camera in selfie mode, to use as a mirror.  Or It could really wow me by saying, “Your hair is a mess.”  (When you consider modern digital camera technology, which can tell if a subject’s eyes are closed, this hairdo check actually seems quite doable.) 

I asked Siri, “How do I look?” and she really stumbled.  She kept hearing, “How do I luck,” which she should have automatically revised because it just doesn’t make any sense.  One time, she thought I asked, “How do I lurk?” and replied, “I found something on the web about ‘how do I lurk.’ Check it out.”  That’s really unfortunate.  I wonder what kind of banner ads and spam I’ll get now that the Internet thinks I’m a stalker.

Finally Siri heard me right and replied, “Judging by your voice, I’d say you must be fairly attractive.”  Clever, but also kind of patronizing.  I mean, it’s bad enough asking an inanimate object such a personal question, but to be damned with faint praise ... that’s pretty pathetic.  I think Siri should be generous and say, “I would so go to bed with you.”

At least Siri respects my privacy.  When I said, “Get me home,” she replied, “I don’t know your home address.  In fact, I don’t know anything about you.”  I found this really reassuring, especially after Cortana’s attempted shakedown earlier.  (Yes, Siri did ask me to go into settings and identify myself, but didn’t require it.)

I have to say, though, there’s something a bit creepy about Siri.  When I ask something complicated, such as a question regarding navigation, there’s this little blurry light that bounces back and forth along the bottom edge of the screen, which reminded me of something sinister.  After racking my brain for awhile I realized what:  the single roving eye of a Cylon from “Battlestar Galactica.”  Is Siri some kind of kindred spirit to the AI powering the Cylons?  If so, that doesn’t reflect well ... the Cylons were really pretty stupid.  They always went down like bowling pins.

Another creepy thing:  when I said, “Hey Siri, lock my iPad,” she replied, “I’d like to, but I cannot.  My apologies.”  This almost gave me chills.  It brought me right back to the HAL 9000 in “2001 – A Space Odyssey,” when Dave says, “Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” and HAL replies, “I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”  Who is Siri’s master:  me, or Apple?

Feature parity with Moto?

If I were designing Siri, or working on an update package, I’d pay close attention to what the competition is doing.  I’d make sure, for example, that anything Moto could do, Siri could do better.  This evidently hasn’t occurred to Apple, because there are all kinds of commands Moto can handle that Siri cannot.  For example, if you ask Moto, “What’s up?” it will trawl through your appointments, e-mails, etc. and give you an update.  I asked Siri “What’s up?” and she said, “I’m thinking about pie.  Mmmmmm.” 

If you tell Moto, “Talk to me,” it will announce incoming calls and texts for the next 30 minutes.  This doesn’t occur to Siri, who responds, “I’d really prefer it if you talked to me.  Tell me your hopes, your dreams, where you’d like to make a dinner reservation.”  So I told Siri, “I hope my dinner is yummy tonight.”  She replied, “I don’t know what you mean by ‘I hope my dinner is yummy tonight.’  How about a web search for it?”  Not a very good listener, since she specifically asked me to tell her my hopes!  Just lip service.  I said, “I dream of being rich and famous one day,” and got the same “I don’t know what you mean” response.

I said, “Hey Siri, play Beethoven on YouTube.”  She replied, “You don’t seem to have an app named ‘YouTube.’ We could see if the App Store has it.”  Don’t play dumb with me, Siri!

I asked Siri to zap my screen (which is how Moto is told to take a screen snapshot).  Siri kept hearing “zapped my screen” (which resulted in a web search) and then eventually heard “zap ice cream,” and—bizarrely—pulled up a Dairy Queen in Beulah, North Dakota.  I’m not kidding.

Since screen snapshots are really useful to bloggers, I kept trying:  “Hey Siri, take a screen snapshot.”  To my great surprise, Siri didn’t play dumb, but simply refused:  “That’s beyond my abilities at the moment.”  Huh?  No way is this beyond her abilities.  I managed to learn (no thanks to Siri) how to get a snapshot (pressing two far-flung buttons at once).  So it can be done.  Why can’t Siri do it?  Is she a bit ... simple?

You may be wondering how I know so many cool Moto commands.  It’s because you can say, “Get a list of commands,” and Moto provides one.  I told Siri, “Get a list of commands” and though—as you can see—she did hear me right, she decided just to show me a map of the nearest Coast Guard station.  WTF!?



Is Siri the best at anything?

Okay, I’ve been pretty harsh on Siri here.  Is she better than Moto at anything?  Well, yes.  I think her navigation is better.  I just asked Moto, “Where is the nearest pizza place?” Moto replied, “Here are the listings for ‘nearest pizza place’ within zero point eight miles.”  The nearest place—Gioia Pizzeria—was listed first among non-paid entries, but at the top of the screen was an ad for Little Caesars $5 Pizza, which a) isn’t nearby, and b) isn’t even pizza.  (I don’t know what that stuff is, but it ain’t pizza.)  Meanwhile, if I were trying to get this answer without having to look at my phone—like, if I were driving—this written response would be useless.  (At least Moto did better than when I first blogged about this, when it lied and said Zachary’s Pizza was the closest.)

Here, Siri did better.  She replied, aloud, “The nearest one I found is Gioia in Berkeley, which averages 4½ stars and is inexpensive.  Would you like to try it?”  Presumably if I’d said yes, she’d have navigated there.  Instead I said, “Actually, Siri, it’s pretty expensive.”  To which she replied, “I’m sorry.”  Well played, Sir[i]!

It’s in the realm of a more specific request where Siri really shines.  I asked, “Where’s the nearest deep dish Chicago style pizza place?”  She showed me Zachary’s, which is correct.  I’m pretty impressed, especially since when I asked Moto the same question, it showed me Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s, both of which are in Chicago.  As you can see, Moto clearly heard “nearest” correctly, but somehow missed my meaning.


The second really lame thing about iPads

Earlier I complained about how you have to plug in the iPad to get voice activation, and promised to reveal another huge shortcoming.  I doubt you’ll immediately grasp how lame this next one is, but here goes:  Apple iOS doesn’t support the Dvorak keyboard layout, which is  more efficient than QWERTY and has been supported by Apple since the Apple IIc.  According to Wikipedia, the IIc  “had a mechanical switch above the keyboard whereby the user could switch back and forth between the QWERTY layout and the Dvorak layout.... The IIc Dvorak layout was even mentioned in 1984 ads, which stated that the World’s Fastest Typist, Barbara Blackburn, had set a record on an Apple IIc with the Dvorak layout.”
                                                               
I haven’t been able to find anything on the Internet about why Apple decided not to support Dvorak on the iPad.  I guess the default answer for their product choices—“Because we’re gods, and we can do whatever we want!”—will have to do.  It’s so frustrating, since this has got to be really simple to do in software.  It would probably take some Apple developer about five minutes.

But why should you care, since you type on QWERTY anyway?  Well, consider the security ramifications of encouraging third party developers to create such fundamental utilities as keyboard software.  After installing Fleksy, a free Dvorak-enabled app, I messed about with the iPad a little, wandered off to do something more useful, and then realized, “Duh, I’ve just done something really stupid.”  What better way to steal somebody’s keystrokes than to create an app that quite obviously has access to everything I type?

At first I told myself this was no big deal.  After all, I’m mainly using the iPad to browse the web, and I don’t kid myself that my every move on the Internet isn’t already tracked, and not just by the NSA.  (By the way, keep up the good work, guys!  Thanks for keeping me safe!)

But of course, there’s the little matter of passwords.  I felt like I’d just given away the keys to the kingdom, or at least to the two websites I’d logged into (my bank and my e-mail).  I was all set to go change those two passwords, but first decided to see how hard it is to switch iPad keyboards on the fly, so going forward I could type passwords with the native Apple iOS keyboard.  Perhaps there would be a function key right on the soft Fleksy keyboard to simplify this switch?  And then I noticed this:



It might be hard to tell, but in the first snapshot above, the cursor is in the Username field.  In the second snapshot, the cursor is in the Password field.  The same flag that tells the OS to obscure the password (i.e., showing ******* instead of what’s typed) tells the iPad to switch to the standard Apple iOS keyboard.  So those passwords I typed before? I’d typed them on the standard QWERTY  keyboard without even realizing it.  Those passwords weren’t at risk of being intercepted by the Fleksy keyboard app after all.  That’s pretty clever of Apple, isn’t it?

Of course, when your cleverness only serves the mitigate the downside of your pointless shortcoming, it’s actually a lot less impressive.  Hey Apple, why not support the Dvorak layout to begin with, like you did with the Apple IIe, the Apple III, the Macintosh, the Quadra, the PowerBook, the Performa, the iMac, the iBook, and the MacBook?

At the time of this writing, Apple is sitting on over $200 billion in cash.  Couldn’t they spend a few bucks to match the features of their own earlier products?  Hell, they could probably get an unpaid intern to do it.  I, for one, am not feeling the love ... even if Siri does claim to respect me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

From the Archives - The Paperboy


Introduction

I’m running out of archival stuff to recycle on slow news days.  So today I’m going way, way back and posting something I have only in hardcopy, from 1986.  Since I don’t feel like retyping a lot of text, or messing with a scanner and OCR software, I’m posting an old poem.

As a bonus, I’m going to provide all-new end notes on this poem.  Pretend you found this in your Norton Anthology of American Teen Poetry.



The Paperboy – April 28, 1986

Is it worthwhile to get up every morn
And lug myself so slowly out of bed, ooooooooooooooooo2
To go and work in any kind of storm,
To earn myself a little bit of bread?

I have to fold so many newspapers,
And put a rubber band of red on each. ooooooooooooooio6
And plastic bag ‘em when a rainstorm stirs,
And throw them on those porches I can’t reach.

I tell ya, though, it really ain’t that bad
To watch the morning sun come rising up;oooooooooooo10
To know how many people will be glad
To have their paper with their coffee cup.

oooThough other jobs may get me better pay,
oooI like my paper route more every day. oooooooooooo14

Footnotes & Commentary

Line 1:  get up every morn’

This line is pretty absurd.  I mean, everybody gets up every morn.  The point I was trying to make is how fricking early I had to get up.  But the poem doesn’t say anything about that.  The reader has no idea.  It’s a good thing I went easy on myself as a teenager, or I wouldn’t have written anything.

For the record, I had to get up at 5:50.  The route had to be done by 6:30.  This was not a crunch.  Folding the papers—there were about 30 of them on weekdays, 45 on Sundays—generally only took a few minutes.  My record was well under 3 minutes.  As far as the delivery, it was also really fast because this was a condominium complex so all the porches were really close together.  I figured out the optimum path through them, which in some cases meant throwing the newspaper onto a subscriber’s back deck (which confused people at first, but they caught on).  I did the route on my bike and could hit every porch without even putting my foot down.  My record for the whole route was around five minutes.

If I had unfinished homework, I’d do that as soon as I got back home.  If I didn’t, I often went back to bed.  During the summer, I always went back to bed.  Sometimes I’d wake up around 9 and panic, having no memory of delivering the papers.  I’d run out on the back deck and check the patio of the downstairs neighbor, which was always my last delivery.  The paper would be there and I’d breathe a sigh of relief.

Line 4:  any kind of storm

Considering that all paperboys, back in the day, were children, it’s amazing how stringent subscribers’ standards were.  It could be pouring rain, or gusting at 50 mph, or there could be two feet of snow, and if I was five minutes late finishing my route, at least one customer would call and complain.  Imagine, grown adults sitting there impatiently, staring at the clock, phone in hand, waiting for 6:30 to come and go so they could dial up the Daily Camera circulation desk and rat me out.

The complaints were taken very seriously and reported back to me on the computer printout at the top of the stack of the next day’s papers.  Complaints were called “kicks” and if you got more than like one a month, you’d get docked.  Paperboys prided themselves on going months and months without a kick.

Once, before I had my own paper route, I was subbing for my brother and hadn’t gotten the hang of throwing the papers yet.  I missed a porch by a mile and broke a garage door window.  This caused a big scandal, with my dad getting an angry phone call, and he had to go replace the window himself.  All the adults involved seemed not only disgusted but outraged, as though I’d cut the subscriber’s dog’s head off and stuffed it in the mailbox.

Line 5:  so many newspapers

I shudder to read this line.  The meter is all screwed up.  The word “newspaper” is dactylic—that is, it has one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed.  For that reason, it cannot be used (no dactyl can) in a line of iambic pentameter.  Obviously as a lad of 16 I didn’t grasp this.  In my defense, I didn’t have access to a handy blog post explaining how to write a sonnet (the World Wide Web didn’t even exist), and I didn’t get to take a private sonnet class.  I just had to wing it.

Line 6:  rubber band of red

Geez, this is embarrassing.  “Rubber band of red” ... how poetic, in the worst possible way.  If I were to yield to temptation and fix this sonnet up, I’d change the line to, “And put a fricking rubber band on each.”

Line 8:  those porches I can’t reach

Man, kids are so stupid, even the ones who write sonnets!  Well, at least I was.  In truth there were only a couple of porches (those in my condo quadrangle) I could drop the paper on.  The vast majority I had to throw.  Everybody knows that.  Well, everybody except modern people who may not even know what a paperboy is, or was.  I think it’s silly for adults to deliver newspapers using their cars.  I see them out when I do really early bike rides.  But then, I guess it’s a sign of the times ... there are so few subscribers, the routes have to be really long, etc.  I had no idea, when I was a paperboy, that I was an endangered breed.

Line 10:  to watch the morning sun come rising up

First of all, “morning” is needless here, since the evening sun doesn’t come rising up.  I should have put “watch the egg-yolk sun come rising up.”  But the line would still be flawed, as the whole idea is fanciful, if not downright sentimental.  Think about it:  I’d do the whole route in 5 or 6 minutes, so what are the odds I’d catch a sunrise?  I guess I could have seen them for brief periods during the spring and fall, but I doubt I paid much attention.  There’s something almost cynical about how I trotted out this old cliché about enjoying a sunrise.

I suppose I should mention that I really didn’t try very hard, or take much time, on these sonnets.  This was one of four sonnets I wrote on 4/28/86.  (I may have written all four in class.)  The fact that there’s no grade on this one suggests I didn’t even bother to turn it in.  These were for  Mr. Kroop’s 10th grade creative writing class at Fairview High.  He was a groovy guy who wore Jams and tie-dye shirts, and played weird music (perhaps involving whales?) in the classroom.

Line 12:  have their paper with their coffee cup

Considering how important the morning paper is to people’s daily rituals, it’s kind of surprising to look back and consider how ungrateful my subscribers were.  How do I know they were ungrateful?  Well, I already mentioned how often they’d complain.  On top of that, they never tipped.  There was a holiday tradition of paperboys putting handwritten cards in each subscriber’s newspaper, as kind of a hint-hint gesture.  I can’t remember what the tipping mechanism was, but there was one, and I always enclosed the cards, but I almost never got tips.

The better way to get tips was to deliver the Denver Post instead of the Daily Camera.  With the Post, you had to go door-to-door collecting the subscribers’ payments.  (This ritual is parodied in “Better Off Dead,” with the paperboy hounding the hero throughout the movie for his “two dollars!”)

The downside of “collecting,” as it was known in the trade, was that there were a whole lot of deadbeat grownups out there who were either never home, always pretending not to be home, or not able to cobble together the cash to pay the paperboy.  The paperboy, meanwhile, had to pay his employer (i.e., the newspaper), regardless.  This is how two of my older brothers managed to lose money on their paper routes.  Imagine doing all that work, and ending up in the red!  Those poor bastards.

On the flip side, my best friend delivered the Post, and took the liberty of jacking up the subscription rates when he collected.  He was practically printing his own money!  I challenged him on this, and he said, “The way I see it, I’m buying the papers from the Post.  I should be able to sell them for whatever the market will bear.”

The Camera didn’t require paperboys to collect.  My boss told me, rather bitterly, that I was the highest-paid paperboy they had.  I made six cents a paper—about $1.80 a day, and $2.70 on Sundays, for a total of about $55 a month.  The going rate was about five cents a paper.  And the guys who delivered to single-family dwellings needed more like 15 minutes to do the whole route.  Suckers!

Line 14:  like my paper route more every day

My mom loved this sonnet.  I was working at the same hospital she worked at, typing lab manuals into the computer.  That paid like $8/hour, which was a fortune to any teenager in the mid-‘80s.  We both reported to the same manager, who was a real jerk.  My mom actually showed him this sonnet, to try to scare him when he balked at giving me a raise.  I’m sure I took that threat even less seriously than he did.  (As I recounted at the end of another post, I made a serious career-limiting move with that boss, so it’s a good thing I had my paper route to fall back on.)

It strikes me that there was something noble about the paperboy.  Today, it’s hard even to find an adult with such an unfailing work ethic.  We were responsible for our route 365 days a year.  If we went on vacation, that was never the newspaper’s problem—we were required to get a substitute.  In my case this meant having somebody all trained up on how to do my route, which was difficult because the condominium complex’s address scheme was truly byzantine.  (There’s a reason I was the highest paid paperboy at the Camera.)  Imagine trying to motivate somebody to learn your route just so he’d have the opportunity to earn $1.80 a day while you were on vacation.  Honestly, I don’t know how I did it.

So, are modern teens willing to do this kind of work, for similar wages?  Don’t make me laugh.  These days there are probably more teenagers writing sonnets than delivering the paper.