orbital + david gray = warmth in an alien world

Orbital 20

Orbital 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never followed Orbital’s career that closely. The electronic dance music band, consisting of brothers Phil and Paul Hartnell, have put together quite an extensive catalog of music over the last quarter century. I have a  compilation of their releases called Orbital 20.  Their music is sometimes harsh and almost always futuristic. While I don’t listen to them very much, I recently stumbled across a video of a 2001 song called “Illuminate” which I find myself watching repeatedly. It’s a very sweet song featuring David Gray singing vocals.  Gray is actually a brother-in-law to the Hartnells–his wife Olivia is the sister of Phil Hartnell’s wife Rachel.  A David Gray-Orbital combination would have never occurred to me since Gray is more of a folk singer and Orbital tends more towards techno and other types of electronica, but the pairing works beautifully in this case.  The song makes me think about warmth in a world that often feels alien, and it always puts me in a good mood. I hope you enjoy it.



ef2 tornado strikes madison, ef3 tornado strikes verona

Tornado warning

Tornado warning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around midnight Tuesday morning, a number of us discovered that our mobile phones were producing sounds that we’d never before heard.  They sounded either like the horn on an ambulance, or a high-pitched noise accompanying a TV test pattern.  The tone lasted not even a second but it caught our attention–just as an unfamiliar sound coming from your pet or R2D2 android would.  I unlocked the phone and got the message, “Tornado Warning in this area til 12:15 am CDT. Take shelter now.  Check local media. –NWS”  So began our rendezvous with the tornadoes–an EF2 tornado that struck Madison and a an EF3 that struck nearby Verona.

My habit up until this point has been to check the local media to see if the tornado is really headed this way. Since I live on Madison’s Isthmus, I’ve learned that the presence of the lakes on either side of us tend to divert storms either to the north or south of us, so I wanted to check. Since the only TVs in the house are used for DVDs and video games, the TV station as a source was out of the question.  Which is problematic because I’ve found that local TV stations have the most up to date information  Radio stations, I’ve found, usually don’t like to interrupt their broadcasts with weather information, which is deeply disappointing because legally, the airwaves (in case the frequency spectra for AM and FM radio) are owned by the public. The public, through the Federal Communications Commission, licenses private entities to use the airwaves and there are expectations of serving the public accompanying those licenses.

So I checked the websites of the local TV stations.  One of them didn’t even have the warning on my phone.  The other had a warning, but no more specific information.  I chose to stay in my bedroom where I was. Eventually, I got the word that the tornado was going to the south of us, expected to be near the villages of Verona, Brooklyn, Oregon and Stoughton. So I stayed in my bedroom and started to get ready for bed.

Around 12:30 or so, I heard TWO of those tones, and at the same exact second, the power went off.  It was almost as if my phone was telling me not just “Get downstairs,” but “Get the f*** downstairs, idiot!” My still-stubborn self was thinking, “Do I hafta?” but the tone produced by the phone was matched a minute later by a tone produced by a human in the form of a knock on the door, and a corresponding voice telling me that we have a tornado warning and that we should go downstairs.  So I joined them.  As I entered the basement, I heard something that sounded like a distant freight train.

I learned that mobile phones come in handy in the case of blackouts as they make for pretty good flashlights.  Unfortunately, that’s about all they were good for in this case, as several of us tapped our devices for more information, but to no avail.  When I was learning journalism in high school, we were taught that new stories should answer the questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. We knew the What (a tornado warning), Who (the National Weather Services telling us to get our tushes into the basement pronto), the Why and How (high humidity plus heat make for volatile weather systems), but were still vague on the Where (somewhere in Dane County).  Finally, someone managed to get a TV station broadcasting in real time, and they spoke about a storm headed northeast towards Sun Prairie.

After it was clear that we were “all clear,” I headed up to my room.  Since the power was still out, lack of fans and A/C made it quite hot in my room and I struggled to get to sleep in a way that was comfortable.  I sleep better when hooked up to my CPAP, but I was so hot and sweaty that even if  could power the machine, the CPAP mask would have likely started hydroplaning on my face and creating more Bronx cheers than a big beef and bean burrito consumed at the previous meal.  Desperate for comfort, I cradled around an open window that touched the foot of my bed, and I eventually fell asleep that way.  I was wakened up at 4:30 a.m. by the power suddenly going on, so I wiped off my sweat, hooked myself to the machine, and somehow slept through my phone alarm, not waking up until 35 minutes before it was time to leave for work.

Normally, I bike the two miles to work, but decided not to in this case because predictions of more thunderstorms could make my commute home more difficult. Once I stepped outside and walked the one block to the bus stop, I realized there was another good reason not to bike to work–debris that would have turned my commute into an obstacle course.



It was kind of strange and surreal to see the damage on the next block, as I’d seen very little on my block.  It was as if I’d walked into a completely different world.  Near the bus stop, a tree with a six-inch trunk had snapped in half and fell on the car below it, crushing the rear half of it as if it were an aluminum can.  Street and forestry crews were everywhere and the street was closed off–I had to walk one more block to the north to catch my bus.


One block down, a co-worker got on the bus and told the story of more mayhem in the neighborhood. A printing facility about sixty feet wide had its roof ripped off.  Multiple cars had gotten crushed on his block and he ended up calling 911 (after not being able to get through on the police emergency line) because he knew that homeless people would often sleep in their cars on that block.

Eventually, the word had gotten out that an EF3 tornado had touched down in Verona and that an EF2 had touched down had touched down on the southwest side of Madison on Friar Lane and Schroeder Road.  Apparently, it didn’t touch down on the Isthmus, but passed over closely. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

I think I’d often considered myself immune to tornadoes because of all the years I’d lived in the city.  In the Chicago area, tornadoes rarely ventured into the city limits. I have memory of one passing over a campsite when I was a kid, and it took one of the tent poles and threw it through the canvas wall of the tent as if it were a javelin. But I think differently now.  Seeing the debris made me think about what could have happened in our basement, and I think we will need to do some cleaning out in order to make a safe room down there.

And finally, I’ve resolved to stop arguing with my phone. If it tells me to get downstairs, I’ll get downstairs.


new internet discovery: noosa, “walk on by”



A new internet discovery has given me a new favorite song. At some point while on YouTube, I stumbled across this video showing time-lapse scenes of life in Madison.  The time-lapse filming is incredible in and of itself but what blew me away was the song that accompanied it.  The closing credits of the video told me that the song was by Noosa and the title of the song was “Walk On By (Sound Remedy Remix).”  The video is below:

This video always makes me proud of living in Madison, even if the non-campus areas of Madison are given scant attention. The complex rhythm of the vocals backed by the synth arpeggios evoke Enya in the late 80’s, except with a beat that can be danced to. This complexity set against the time-lapse imagery makes me imagine the lifeblood of Madison flowing through the corridors of the city, and captures the vibrance that drew me here more than a decade ago. It captures the livelihood of the city now that the warm months are here

As always happens for me, once I hear a song I love, I want to hear more from the artist. I discovered that this song, which I downloaded for free from Sound Remedy’s Facebook page, was actually a re-mix of the original song.

The video for the original song is below and it is powerful in its own right. The beat is minimized and more appropriate to the subject of the song, which seems to be about a relationship breaking up. Both the song and the video capture the sadness of the subject, but in a beautiful way, with metaphors that capture in a remarkable way the cascade of feelings associated with the decline of a relationship.

The free download from Sound Remedy’s Facebook page probably generates business for this remix artist, who seems to be quite good. That free download and seeing the original video on YouTube made me want to learn more about Noosa. I probably would not have heard of Noosa were it not for the fact that it was used as the soundtrack for a Madison timelapse video. Ultimately, I bought and downloaded Noosa’s “Wonderland” from eMusic.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Placing an artist’s work online in a reasonably liberal way draws attention to the artist and then more sales of their music can result. In this case, Noosa released this debut album on her own label, which more and more artists are doing so that they can control how their music is being marketed. I think many artists choose this option because some record companies are so stringent about making sure that their music isn’t pirated that they end up cutting themselves off from potential customers–to the detriment of both potential customers and the artists.

Unfortunately, many Internet service providers are advocating for a two-tiered internet in which websites and companies unable to pay a high premium for accessibility would be relegated to the “slow lane” of the Internet. Given the slowness and inconsistency of Internet service in the U.S. compared to other countries, such sites would be effectively blocked. One possible side effect of this is that record companies might once again be able to exert tight control over what music listeners might hear, as they did when radio was the primary way we learned about music.  This would be a sad development if this did happen.

take back your online privacy without asking

Has the NSA spying gone too far?

(Photo credit: Greg Lilly Photos)

Today, on the first anniversary of the first article about NSA mass spying, a number of organizations and Internet companies are promoting ways to take back your online privacy *now,* without asking the government.  The idea–many security tools exist to limit and frustrate the ability of the NSA to collect your personal information.  More details can be found here.


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lyft and uber: 20% tech, 80% talk, and 100% invasive species

English: Looking south from Madison Avenue at ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How would you feel if a new company set up shop in your town and immediately proceeded to start breaking the city’s laws? And when threatened with enforcement of such laws declared that your laws were outdated and needed to be changed?  Now imagine a company whose very business plan involved deliberately breaking such laws in city after city.

The frightening thing is that such companies exist and a couple of them are trying to barge their way into Madison’s markets. Their names are Lyft and Uber and they intend to enter in Madison’s taxicab market–but on their own terms, rather than the terms established by officials elected by the citizens of Madison.

Their first tactic was to deny that they were, in fact, taxicab businesses at all, but something different.  They used techspeak such as “peer-to-peer,” “next generation” and “community-building.” Yet they also posted ads looking to hire drivers. Doesn’t sound very “peer-to-peer” to me.

Upon failing to convince people locally that they were anything but a taxi service,  they turned around and claimed that the city’s regulations were hopelessly 20th century and needed to be updated or eliminated.

The question is why they deserve such special consideration.  Is Uber finally providing the jetpacks we were promised would arrive in the 21st century?  Does Lyft’s name indicate that their drivers are piloting hovercraft able to leap over a traffic jam in a single bound? No, it turns out that what makes them different is that they have a phone app.

A phone app? That is sooooo 2009.  Furthermore, Madison-based Green Cab beat them to the punch by providing mobile-based services before Lyft and Uber came knocking.  Union Cab sends text messages to passengers three minutes prior to arrival and, like Green Cab, offers online ordering and fare estimation.  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop a couple of Madison newspaper pundits from taking the San Fransisco-based companies hook, line, and sinker and declaring that a “trendy” Madison deserved a “trendy” service like these San Francisco companies.  Funny–I didn’t think that the former Madison mayor and the Wisconsin State Journal columnist were fashionistas.

One person unswayed by the hype was Madison’s current mayor Paul Soglin. He eloquently defended the city’s current regulations in his blog. He and other city officials insisted that they would enforce Madison’s laws regarding taxicab registration. Lyft and Uber insisted that they would continue to operate, Madison’s laws be damned.
Finally, the city of Madison made good on its word by conducting a sting operation.  Undercover cops used the apps to order one ride each from Lyft and Uber. At the end of each ride,  the drivers each charged the undercover cops somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 for the ride (oddly enough, it was as much or more than other taxi services in Madison). The cops in turn handed the drivers citations for over $1,000 each for operating cabs without licenses. Lyft immediately pledged to compensate the affected employees for the fines. I guess fines for breaking the law are considered a business expense.
You would think that this way of of doing business would make government officials wary of giving these companies any special consideration.  Certainly Mayor Soglin has made it clear that Lyft and Uber need to get in line like the other cab companies have done and go through the appropriate permitting process.  In some ways, I think even that is generous–if a company enters a city with the intention of breaking its laws, it would seem to me that city officials should give the companies a one-way bus ticket back to where the sun doesn’t shine.  (Or San Francisco.)
Incredibly, some people think that such behavior merits not the boot, but red-carpet treatment from the city. Not surprisingly, one such person is an Assembly Republican who suggested cutting state aid to Madison for standing up to these bullies. But even more surprising are such claims from Madisonians who claim to love the city.

Madison Ald. Scott Resnick is actually introducing legislation to give these companies the right to do business in town largely on their own terms.  One critical plum being offered Lyft and Uber is a waiver of the requirement that cab companies serve all areas of the city 24/7 rather than picking and choosing the plum times and the wealthiest customers.

The city has good reasons for requiring 24/7 operation. The buses don’t run 24/7 and don’t cover all parts of the city.  What about third-shift employees or others who must get to or from work in the middle of the night? Outside of the bicycle (which the vast majority of Madisonians won’t use in cold winters or heavy downpours) the taxicab is the only way to go. Taxicab companies lose money on third shifts, and so the city decided that in order to ensure have an even playing field, it would require cab companies to run 24/7.  This hasn’t served as a barrier to entry for new cab companies–indeed, Green Cab just opened up for business within the past decade.

I refer to Lyft and Uber as “invasive species,” because, by their very definition, they are not native to an area but end up disrupting an ecosystem and dominating it, to the detriment of other species living in the area. If Lyft and Uber are allowed to cherry-pick the best times and locations of the day, the companies who take on the losses for 24/7 operation will find it harder to maintain those operations.  If these cab companies close down due to losing money, no one will be left to provide 24/7 service to all areas of the city.  Result: net loss for Madison’s citizens, as they lose the ability to get from point A to point B whenever they need to.

What concerns me the most about Lyft and Uber’s business models is that this scofflaw mentality and insistence on special treatment regardless of the needs of the city could set a very dangerous precedent. If Lyft and Uber are allowed to operate on their own terms in Madison, what’s to stop other out-of-town companies from doing the same?  What if a “food-sharing” company came in and had people run “restaurants” out of their own homes that violated health department regulations?  What if an out-of-town construction company came in and started deliberately ignoring city laws that restrict construction activity between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.  What if someone decided to just go ahead and open a peaker coal plant next door to you without seeking permission because they thought that air quality regulations were silly. Laws exist to protect the rights and legitimate interests of citizens.

What Lyft and Uber represent is an ideology that has quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) established itself in many parts of the world.  It is an ideology that essentially says that government regulations are inherently bad, regardless of the circumstances.  And it is a means by which citizens lose more and more control over what happens in their communities, as out-of-town companies skirt accountability, act with impunity and operate with little regard for the quality of life in the communities where they set up shop.

If these companies continue to insist on “my way or the highway,” the City of Madison should do the sensible thing and show them the highway out of town.  It’s not hard to find–simply take Interstate 39 south about 80 miles to Interstate 80, turn right and follow the road about 2,000 miles west–all the way back to San Fransisco where they came from.  And once they reach the ocean they should keep on driving west.

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