Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Albums I Bought in Brief:

I bought a bunch of albums this year. A whole bunch in a binge in the last month or so. I like lists of things. Occasionally I am snarky, though its not a lifestyle choice. There was a lot good music this year, and a lot of crappy music as well. These are just some quick opinions. You have the right to disagree. You have the right to think I'm wrong. But anyone who assigns too much importance to them really needs to get out more.
A bunch of these albums are also not stuff that was actually released this year, just stuff I wanted to own (hence a slew of early punk albums). It also does not include stuff I re-purchased when I lost my iPod or stuff I got for free from other people (Which is a whole other list, though for the record you should all get Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel...(long ass name):

2013 Albums I Bought in Brief:

Kanye West: Yeezus – As crazy as everyone says it is, and not nearly as good.
Janelle Monae: Electric Lady – Not as weird as you hope it is, but nearly as good as you hope it would be.
Lorde: Pure Herione – Way better than it has any business being for an album by a 16-year-old, which is exactly what everyone said.
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories – Just as good as everyone said, though I think Nile Rogers deserves like 85% of the credit.
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg – Like listening to something from Bob Dylan’s back catalog, in a good way. This would be really high praise if not for the fact I’m not a religious Dylan fan.
The Pacific Rim Soundtrack – If not for the kind of lame song at the end, a pretty cool score. I loved this movie and I am a nerd and you shut your mouth.
Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power – Do I really need to explain or review this. Do you like punk? Listen to this album.
The Velvet Underground : The Very Best of the Velvet Underground – Kind of a Ditto here, but also some folky Lou Reed goodness in there for good measure.
Wavves: Afraid of Heights – Like something from the mid-nineties, like Nirvana. Except, you know, without Kurt’s growl, and all the punk-influenced dirtiness that actually made it interesting. Speaking of which...
Nirvana: In Utero 20th Anniversary – The first part of this is just as good as you remember it to be. The second has some interesting alternate takes and demos/instrumentals of songs from a production standpoint but don't really add anything in my opinion to the effect of the original release. I am also not a Nirvana cultist music-wise so maybe I'm not the core audience for this.
Pearl Jam: Lightning Bolt – Is it as good as their old albums? No. Is it reminiscent of Eddie Veddie's solo efforts? Yes. Is it still a really good album? You betcha.
Best Coast: Fade Away – Everyone said this was a great kind of poppy So-Cal, beach kind of music. Considering what I usually do when I’m on the beach is leave, find a shady spot and take a nap, they were right, that’s exactly what this album makes me want to do.
Atoms for Peace: Amok – Such high expectations, such low payout. When will I learn? Maybe I just need to give it a few re-listens, but still. A lot of the recent Radiohead stuff makes me feel the same way. A big ole "meh".
Queens of the Stone Age: …Like Clockwork - Makes me feel like pounding whiskey, driving into the desert in a Cadillac and cooking some meth. So in other words: the perfect soundtrack to watch an episode of Breaking Bad on mute to.
Kyuss: Big Sky – Pretty much the same deal here.
Arcade Fire: Reflektor – Like all of Arcade Fire's albums in my opinion: really interesting and/or brilliant arrangements and musical choices. Really interesting lyrical content. Very little that grabs me in any primal emotional way.
The Lumineers: The Lumineers – Yeah it’s just as good and cheery and sad as you hoped it would be. Wish I had bought it at the beginning of the summer and not the end though.
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City – The album that makes you want to punch everyone close to thirty, hipsters, and lead singer Ezra Koening in the face.  I tried okay, I really did, but I still don't like this band.
Avett Brothers: I and Love and You – Not as good as I had hoped it would be. Somewhere between Mumford and Sons and Lumineers but not as good as either.
Churches: The Bones of What You Believe –This album was a bunch of things that musically I have no interest in. Catchy dance-pop, ugh. I should have known when the single was available free from Starbucks. Why did I buy it? Because it was $3.99, and I'm willing to take a risk on something I might not be into for $4.
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city -A lot like Dr.Dre's early stuff, and inasmuch he does a guest spot on the album, but there's a sense of self-awareness and introspection that was missing from Dre's stuff. Its really for this reason that it also has the distinction of being just about realest hip-hop album that has came out in a while.
Hans Zimmer: Man of Steel Original Movie Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition) - I like soundtracks. This happened to be one that was actually better than the movie itself. Go figure.
Black Flag: Damaged, Adolescents: Adolescents - Let's just go ahead and group these up with that Iggy and the Stooges album up there shall we?
The Germs: M.I.A: The Complete Germs, X: Los Angeles: Really variable quality here, but if you know anything about these two bands, that kind of makes a lot of sense.
The National: Trouble Will Find Me - Just as sad and morose as you expect it to be, but with some bright moments. Some of the songs will have a tendency to sit on your chest and weigh you down, but in a good way.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On the definition of a nerd and the permeation of nerd culture

  What is a nerd exactly in today's world? This a question I think has been floating around a lot now that nerd culture has become essentially mainstream. I've given this a lot of thought lately (as well as to the concept of a "nerd girl" and "love among nerds," but more on that in a later post). There is also this idea among some of the more old school nerds that the "new nerd" culture is kind of bullshit, I'm not sure if I entirely agree with this idea. I think what it ultimately comes down is the idea of feeling like the "other."
   It used to be that when you were a so-called "geek" or "nerd" it was a title of derision by people who were the popular kids. For a long time too, and not to get too heady, this was also considered a predominately "white" trait as well. Which is why so many minorities who were also considered nerds were also put down with the stigma of "acting white." So not only were these unfortunate souls outcasts in mainstream culture, but there was an undercurrent of racism running through it as well. They were in effect, double cast as the "other." Homosexuals were also tapped with the "nerd" or "geek" tag as well for a while, if not explicitly then generally grouped into the same "other" category. There was a time when being any of these things would have considered a negative by mainstream society, especially for pre-teens or teens.
  Middle school was generally the time period where the social dynamics started to play out of your favor. In fact most nerd obsessions start in the teen years as a sort of escape from the harsh reality of your days at school. At least that is the way it was for me.
  So what is a "nerd" or "geek" anyway? Well back in the day, generally speaking, even though the terms can and have been used interchangeably, a "nerd" tended to be someone who was really good at academics, and a "geek" was someone who tended to have a vast knowledge or some obscure thing or things in pop culture. Nowadays the term "nerd" tends to apply to both groups, and both groups aren't necessarily independent of each other. The word nerd tends to be applied to anyone who has an obsessive or extensive knowledge or something. Like really into the minutiae, and it doesn't even have to be something obscure anymore, though that still exists.
   But what about this so-called "otherness"? Does it still exist in today's world? And now that being a "nerd" and "geek" are points of pride, and so many people claiming nerdiness, who are the real nerds in today's world? Can someone rightfully claim to be say, a "sports nerd"?
   I swear when I started to write this I thought I knew the answers to these questions. And that was like a month ago. Now I'm not even sure what the words are supposed to mean. I mean I see myself as a nerd, I know I have a lot of friends who consider themselves likewise, but as far a what it means in culture at large? I think the way we use terms to define things like "nerd" has become so fluid that the word itself, like so many other words, does not mean anything on its own. The only meaning comes from the context in which it is used.
  I know I like to a certain extent the way nerd culture as become more accepted. I also know that I don't necessarily like the way certain aspects of nerdom have been appropriated to make money. I also know that in spite of our "otherness" nerds are some of the most judgmental people I know. So I'm throwing it to you folk. What is a nerd?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mourning a part of the community

    I got up Sunday in kind of a weird depressive funk I couldn't quite place the cause of. It was a lovely day so I decided to put on my skates for the first time in while. I hit up the skateparks down by the Hudson as was wondering where everyone was on such a nice day. I then pulled up the I Roll NY website to see if there was any event I was missing. There was. It was for a memorial fundraiser session in Flushing, Queens for a rollerblader named Alex Nunez.
   After reading it I decided it was too late for me to head out there and I was just going to roll home. Somewhere rolling up Park Place I had to sit down. Before I knew it tears started to form in my eyes. I texted a rolling buddy of mine just kind of dumbfounded.
   Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea, Alex and I were not friends. We weren't even crew buddies. We had a couple of mutual friends/acquaintances so I had skated with him a few times. I wasn't sure why learning of his death hit me so hard. It kind of sat in my head for the rest of the day stewing. As sometimes happens when I have a strong emotional reaction to something kind of tangential to my immediate life my brain starts looking for the real cause. It got a stuck on another person I knew and started to loop. Because this can sometimes also be the result of a cognitive misfire I didn't really trust it too much either. So I rode it out.
   I wrote a blogpost about "brain looping" hoping the process would get me to some root cause, and also hoping if it was a cognitive misfire it would distract me long enough for it to pass. The loop passed but the emotional pain did not. I racked my brain a little to try and come up for a reason a "stranger's" death would hit me so hard. Then it occurred to me he wasn't really a "stranger."
   Alex was in a bunch of video edits I had so I was pretty familiar with him. I felt like I knew him a little because of this. He also won the East Coast Real Street Contest the year I really, really got into skating. It occurred to me that Alex was a part of our community, this little subculture we call aggressive rollerblading or whatever you might call it. More than that he was part of the New York scene, and even more than that he was really close to me in age. We don't talk about it much, and sometimes we don't act like it, but this little community is a family, and we'd just lost one of our own. Now, we were all getting together to mourn, as a community, in the only way we really know how, by skating.
   On top of that I realized that a part of my life was now done too. That competition was one of the last times I was really into skating, with a crew of friends to back me up. What I was mourning was a part of my life that was now gone. Suddenly I was very aware of my own mortality, and all the things I hadn't gotten done, and in particular, all the people I felt I hadn't told I cared properly. And then I freaked out. I think I may have texted/Facebook messaged three or four of my friends that night asking when I was going to see them again. I panicked a little when not all of them replied right away.
   Then, as often happens, some more time passed, and so did the dread. But if you are out there and you didn't hear from me: Know I still care, a lot, even if I haven't said it in while. And if you knew Alex, were his friend, are a member of his family, or just some random person who rolled with him, know that I'm there with you too. Don't be afraid to tell someone you care about them, that you are sad or in pain at this loss. Care for yourself, care for others.
   Be a family to each other.

There are donations be taken for the family here:
"Paypal at Seriously, ANY contribution will help. Also, if you do decide to donate, make sure you send it as a “gift” so paypal doesn’t take a percentage of it."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Looping and Obsessive Thoughts

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets these, but one of the more irritating little side things I've noticed of my post-head injury life is what I like to call "looping." Looping is when a few thoughts, or more often one line of thought, starts to repeat itself over and over in your head. I'm sure everyone has had a version of this. A song gets stuck in your head, an event that happened to you gets replayed over and over.
    This is of course one of those lovely qualities those of us who tend to over-think things have had to deal with throughout our lives of mental disorder/disfunction. I have at least one friend whose habit of doing this borders on the pathological. I am also pretty sure (in fact I have a few pre-injury friends who can probably attest to this) that this is something I did before my injury and I only really became aware of it post-head injury.
   That doesn't make it any less frustrating or problematic when it happens, especially when bouts of it also can, and often do, involve strong emotions. The issue here is that when it happens, the brain tends to fixate on whatever that train of thought is, and can't navigate its way out of it. No matter how much I may want it to, or how inane the thought is, my brain will remain in that state until a) it is distracted or b) the cause of the thought resolves itself.
   Some of the more fun results of this "condition":
- inability to fall or stay asleep, which is great, because lack of rest really improves this condition (no, it actually doesn't, for those of you bereft of the skill of detecting the sarcasm in the word "fun")
- compulsive and/or obsessive social media checking, which usually starts as a attempt at distraction, and then all of the sudden its 2am and you are arguing with someone in Vancouver about alternate side of the street parking rules. This is especially a bad idea when said cause of train of thought is a person. Most especially when that person is someone you may or may not be romantically interested in/involved with (Wait, what was that? It sounded like the collective painful sigh of several of my friends who relate. Awww... you're shaddup)
- compulsive and/or obsessive texting to friends (see above)
- compulsive and/or obsessive blogging about your "problem" (okay, so I'm guilty of that one right now, sue me)
- combination with a cognitive misfire, a most dangerous mixture

I've found their are really only a few real solutions to "looping".
 - Distraction. Aside from the more dangerous forms listed above, comfort can often be found in watching television, a movie, listening to music and/or reading a book to get the brain working on something else. Be wary of movies, television, or music that reinforce your train of thought however, especially is said train of thought is a person. Also be wary of comfort eating, as a) it doesn't really work for this particular problem and b) is probably unhealthy either way. Exercise can also work pretty well too. And hey also, look at this, writing can also help. Unless of course you keep writing the words "all work and no play make Jack a dull boy," in which case please put the axe down and leave your wife and child in peace.
- Meditation. Meditation can help you clear your head but it takes discipline to do it correctly, and oh boy, can it take a while to do. Which leads me to my next point-
- Riding that shit out. Its miserable, it can stress you out, and even if you are meditating you still need to do it. Sometimes the only solution to "looping" is time. Sucks I know but thems the breaks. In fact, its best to ride it out a while especially if it lasts more than a day and you are forced to do the following step.
- Dealing with the loop's cause. This is generally only necessary if said cause is person and/or the loop is a recurring problem but I'm including it because its important. You need to deal with whatever issue is causing you to obsessively think about it. Since this usually involves a person you need to communicate with that person, preferably in person. Most often in my experience the thing you were obsessing over is actually not that big of a deal, and you are dumb. Every once and while however, it is actually a major issue and the sooner you deal with it the better.

   I have had this sequence of events (i.e. it's not a big deal and I am dumb) play out so often I beginning to suspect I might actually be a profoundly stupid person. Which is strangely comforting, actually, as it reminds me I'm still human. Also, I'm not sure when this blog somehow morphed into some sort of mental health self-help type thing, but here we are. Hopefully next time I will be back to ranting about Walking Dead, or giant robots or some such other nerdy nonsense, or (SHAMELESS SELF-PLUG INCOMING!!!) shall I direct you to my podcast:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On the CitiBike bike sharing program and bike lanes in general in NYC

The central problem with bike lanes, particularly in Manhattan, is that they DON'T ACTUALLY EXIST. Painting a line on the asphalt does not a bike lane make. Especially when anyone can walk or hail a cab, turn into that lane willy-nilly with no consequence. And completely and utterly ignored every, I MEAN EVERY TIME, one of these articles comes out is that bicyclers are NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE ON WHEELS USING A BIKE LANE. As someone who skates all over the city, I can say without dispute that bike lanes are infinitely more dangerous for me to navigate now since the implementation of the bike sharing. The lanes were painted on, but nearly none of the asphalt was fixed. In order to avoid potholes, I have to skate on the sidewalk, where I am in danger not only of hitting pedestrians, but of being ticketed for violating a law that was designed to keep bikes off the sidewalk. For some reason, this law applies to everyone with wheels under them without any consideration to whether it was realistic or practical to enforce. The same is true with the bike sharing and bike lanes. They were implemented seemingly without any thought to how they would actually be used.

Monday, June 3, 2013

How Losing my iPod was like ending a 3-year long relationship

  So a couple of months ago I lost/someone stole my iPod classic after going to see Star Trek, Into Darkness (great movie by the way, despite what the critics say, but more on that at some other time). As with many things that happen in my life, this was after a particularly amazing two days. And life doesn't ever seem to allow me to have a really nice time without subsequently kicking me in the balls somehow. I realize this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent, but you shut your damn mouth, little voice in my head.
  Like the ending of many relationships, this one was the result of carelessness and/or sheer stupidity, possibly both. I was so focused on sharing my joy in my movie-going experience I wasn't focused enough on checking to make sure I had everything until after I left the theater. Now to be clear, I was miffed, but after several trips back to the theater and costumer service, I finally just shrugged and kind of accepted it. It wasn't until a few days later it started to sink in how much the content on that iPod had become an integral part of my life. The more psychoanalytical of you might see this as a crude metaphor for a lot of my relationships. That thought has not escaped me, but I've found dwelling on it just makes me sink into a cycle of questioning myself, which I do enough on my own, thank you very much. Also incidentally, it make me miss the damn iPod more, so I decided to let it go.
  For one thing, there was an accumulation of about three years worth of music and podcasts on that thing. Some of which is not backed up because it was essentially stolen from other people and will now have to be purchased. Proof that sometimes I am both lazy and a bad person. I also didn't realize how much of my daily routines, and therefore, a certain extant of my mental stability, was based around playlists on that thing. It's like living with a significant other and waking up the next morning after breaking up to find your whole daily routine now has to change. I realize that's a over-exaggeration, but a lot times you don't realize how important all the little things are until they are gone. Obvious? Yes, but it never fails to surprise you when it actually happens.
  To get into some specifics, here are some playlists that I had and the reasoning as to why not having them actually became a issue for me.

On the Go: Basically a playlist of all my favorite songs. Like a giant blueprint of the randomness that is my brain, and a profound comfort blanket whenever or wherever I am.

Wake-Up: Music that helps me get out of bed in the morning, and adding to this, a couple of educational podcasts I listen to get my brain moving on groggy days. This was the first one I didn't realize how integral it was to my morning routine until it was gone.

Aesop to Sollila: A carefully curated mix that could be started at the beginning of the day skating and ended on the way home at night.

Battlestar Meditation: I ostensibly stopped meditating for a period of time without it. I initially panicked then I realized that I only really used a couple songs on it to actually meditate. This was one of those moments where I realized having an abundance of choice wasn't necessarily a good thing.

I am a Superhero: Have we not established that I am massive nerd? Another one I didn't realize its importance until it was gone.

Skating: A comprehensive playlist of all the music I like to skate to/gets me amped. And holy shit that was a lot of goddamn music...

Other playlists I created were not as important, but are still missed.

  I have since been using my smart phone, which only has 4gigs of storage. This has been a interesting exercise in paring my musical life down to the most important things. It's weird how much you take all that space on an iPod for granted. It kind of makes you lazy when it comes to music. I often found myself using it on shuffle. And I am almost certain there are albums I have put on there that I have not given a true chance because they have been lost in the sheer amount of choice on the damn thing.
  Maybe there is some epiphany that should happen here about how limiting your options actually improves your life. Maybe. But I'm still going to buy a new iPod classic.

Friday, May 24, 2013

AJ and EP

( A lot of this is lifted/inspired by “Remember This,” Joshua Foer, National Geographic, November 2007)
                There is a woman known in medical literature as “AJ.” She remembers almost every day in her life since she was eleven.  There is also a man known as “EP,” who remembers only his most recent thought. “My memory flows like a movie –nonstop and incontrollable” – says AJ. Her “inexhaustible memory for autobiographical details is so unprecedented and poorly understood” new medical term had to be coined for it: hyperthymestic syndrome.  EP’s memory loss was caused by the herpes simplex virus, which left two walnut size holes in his medial temporal lobes.
                There is one medial temporal lobe on each side of the brain. This space includes the hippocampus and several other regions responsible for turning our perceptions into long-term memories.  The memories are not actually stored in the hippocampus, they are located an outer layer called the neocortex, but the hippocampus is what makes them stick. EP’s hippocampus was destroyed, which means that he can perceive things, but not store them. My brain works a little differently. I perceive things and also store them, but this stored information is mixed with invented things from my subconscious. I am sure this happens with other people as well, but I believe in my brain they are more pronounced.
                There are two types of amnesia:
Anterograde - which means you can’t form new memories.
Retrograde – which means you can’t store old memories either.
                Most of us exist in a nebulous realm in between the two.  That three pound or so of wrinkled flesh attached to our spines is a weird goddamn thing. You remember useless TV trivia but can’t remember where you put your keys. What is memory? The best neuroscientists have been able to come up with is that “memory is a stored pattern of connections between neurons in the brain.” Real poetic isn’t it? There are about a hundred billion neurons, each making maybe 5,000 – 10,000 synaptic  connections with the other neurons, which makes about five hundred trillion to a thousand trillion synapses in the average adult brain. You got all that? Here’s more. Synapses are strengthened, weakened, or formed anew constantly, even when we sleep. The very physical substance of us is always changing.  Do you have a headache yet? Me too.
                Damaged memory can profoundly affect your sense of time. EP has both kinds of amnesia. He does not remember he has a memory problem. He forgets that he forgets which makes every causal slip just an annoyance. He has no real sense of time, trapped in an eternal present. He is a happy all the time presumably because there is nothing in his life that can cause him stress.  With my own memory affected, I am often struck with the perception that time is flowing way too fast around me. I am aware this is also something that everyone feels from time to time. But with me its effects past events as well – I can remember details from events in my life but not precisely when they happened. I go to bed some nights and wake up some mornings feeling as if several days have passed without my knowledge. That the memory of them is a blurry illusion my brain has cooked up for itself.
                You can also learn things unconsciously without knowing you are learning them. This is because there are two kinds of memory- declarative and non-declarative – sometimes referred to as explicit and implicit. Declarative memory is things you actually remember, like what you ate for breakfast this morning. Non-declarative memory is things you know without consciously thinking about them, like knowing how to ride a bike. Those memories don’t rely on the hippocampus to be put together and stored, they occur in completely different parts of the brain. Motor skills are learned in the cerebellum, at the base of the brain, perceptual skills in the neocortex, habit learning in the brain’s center.
                Most of the metaphors we use to describe memory suggest mechanical accuracy, but memory doesn’t really work that way. If you were to use an electrical probe to touch parts of the temporal lobe in a person, that person would describe vivid experiences that would resemble recollections, but they are actually closer to fantasies or hallucinations than to memories.
                AJ’s memory would seem to embody the sort humans have idealized since ancient times. But your memories exist the way they do to protect you. Remembering everything is maddening and lonely for AJ. Like the Jorge Luis Borges story, if you remember everything, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the important and the trivial. You remember good things and bad things with equal clarity. Our modern technology has been quickly replacing our internal memories with external ones, and in the process something has been lost. The whole point of our brains and by extension our whole nervous system is to absorb present information and apply it to future events so we can react to it in the best possible way. Memory is  our brain as a prediction machine, and a consistently crappy one at that.
                EP takes the same walk virtually every day; he meets the same neighbors but reacts as if meeting for the same time. He responds to them in a friendly way because he’s learned through habit that these are people he should feel comfortable around. In other words, an unconscious learned feeling of comfort can trump your memory. I find this comforting. I have emotional connections to memories I am not sure actually happened. Many of these “memories” influence fundamental ways in which I interact with the world around me.  In this way my emotional connection trumps my desire to know the objective truth about these events, particularly because some are virtually impossible to trace. They have become defining characteristics of who I am as a person.