Hypothesis: while it is usually impossible to pick a precise genesis of any cultural movement, for the purposes of this exercise, R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” gave birth to “modern rock,” and Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” killed it. I slid in some obvious precursors to R.E.M. and covered the dénouement and fallout from OK Computer as well.
This one has been kicking around my head for a while, inspired by tapes teenage me made off of Philly’s own WDRE (RIP), late nights staying up for 120 Minutes (their 1993 year end best of episode was a foundational text), countless mixtapes, mix CDs and playlists made and received over the years, and Matthew Perpetua’s exhaustive work cataloging and curating the last 40+ years of music (here’s a thread of his playlists I referred to heavily while creating this playlist.)
Inspired by the announcement of REM’s “Up” reissue, I took a trip back to Fall ‘98, my first semester away at Penn State. Here’s the contemporaneous music that was spinning in my dorm room on the 4th floor of Beaver Hall.
When Delaware Governor John Carney announced that he would allow House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 to become law without his signature, he declared that it was “time to move on” from the debate around recreational marijuana. However, by appointing former Delaware State Trooper Robert Coupe to oversee the rollout of the recreational marijuana industry, Carney has proven that he has done anything but “move on.”
House Bill 2, enacted this past April, establishes and regulates the recreational marijuana industry in Delaware. Portions of the bill were specifically crafted to redress the racist war on drugs that has ravaged countless communities in Delaware. The bill gives those who reside in areas disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs preferential access to the legal marijuana market. The bill also earmarks tax revenue for the Justice Reinvestment Fund, “where it will be used for projects to improve quality of life for communities most impacted by the prohibition of marijuana and ‘war on drugs’ era policies.”
So what does that have to do with Robert Coupe?
Coupe spent nearly 28 years in the Delaware State Police, and has filled a number of administrative roles in the criminal justice system since retiring from the force. Governor Carney believed this professional experience makes Coupe an ideal candidate: “There are few people across our state who are more well-respected, and more committed to serving the people of Delaware, than Rob Coupe,” the governor said in a press release. “He’s exactly the right person to take on this new challenge.”
Unfortunately, the same experience that excites Governor Carney should have disqualified Coupe from consideration for the role of the Marijuana Commissioner. This is not an indictment of Coupe as an individual, but an acknowledgement that Coupe comes from the same criminal justice system whose harms he is tasked with remediating.
If the bill’s intent is to undo some of the harms caused by decades of racist war on drugs-era overpolicing, why is Governor Carney appointing someone with such a criminal justice-heavy background to oversee the bill’s implementation?
The answer: Governor Carney has not, in fact, “moved on.” Carney’s own draconian views on cannabis are well documented. Despite these views, he opted not to veto the bills, realizing that both chambers of the Legislature had the votes to override his veto and politically embarrass him. But, by choosing a commissioner with a decades-long background in law enforcement, Carney gets to save face while giving a slap in the face to everyone who advocated for the bill’s passage, who has been unfairly impacted by the war on drugs, who believes in restorative justice, and who just wants to get high. Carney could have opted for a commissioner who knows the industry, or someone who has been impacted by the War on Drugs to ensure the commission would work to remediate its harms.
Instead, he chose to appoint a cop. That’s not “moving on.”
A testament to the sheer power and grace of Janet Weiss. Featuring Sleater-Kinney and Quasi, along with her time in the Jicks and select guest appearances.
year in review
Lots of good stuff this year. Here’s a playlist:
My very favorites
Additionally, here are a few albums and singles I wanted to call special attention to. They’re presented alphabetically becasue I’ve choosen to ditch the “best of” framing I often go with; I’m not writing music criticism here, and I have no editor telling me what to do. I don’t even know how many things I called out, so this isn’t a top-ten list, either! It’s just What I Loved in 2023. Mostly captured for me, but if others get something out if it, all the better.
Album: Animal Collective: Time Skiffs ✅
Their best group of songs since MPP, for my money.
A rare double record that never overstays it’s welcome, but rather creates a world I want to live inside, not unlike the White Album or Wildflowers.
Album: Destroyer: Labyrinths ✅
After nearly two decades of dabbling, I have finally become fully Bejar-pilled.
Song: Gabriels: Remember Me
If you’re not moved when the full strings kick in at about 2:30, I don’t know what to tell you.
Song/Video: Ghost: Spillways
I have no commentary on this band or their schtick, but I do know a well-written sugary pop-metal jam when I hear it.
Song: Goose: Dripfield
The vapors of this song have seeped into my bones.
We all need a bit of classic Dischord sound in our lives, and this tune checks that box with authority.
Albums: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s entire 2022 output, specifically Omnium Gatherum and Changes
I am intimidated by this band. They are very Extra in the best sense of the word.
Song: Steve Lacy: Bad Habit
R&B from another planet. I dig. A lot.
John Darnielle is a national treasure.
Album: Aofie O’Donovan: Age of Apathy ✅
I’ve really been enjoying Aofie’s work since I fell down a deep Live From Here well several years ago. She truly brings all of her unique talents as a songwriter, vocalist, arranger and guitarist together on this record. (Related: this Tiny Desk concert is delightful.)
Song: Angel Olsen: Go Home
Album: Beth Orton: Weather Alive
Haunting, but in a different way. So great to have new music from Beth Orton.
This record gave me a lot of reminders of my mom’s early-90s pop country radio phase. (I mean this as a compliment, obviously.)
Another single that grabbed me by the lapels and demanded my full attention from its first notes.
Album: Will Sheff: Nothing Special
I couldn’t describe this record better than Sheff himself did in this wonderful interview with Fluxblog’s Matthew Perpetua:
My experience of art is like the wind in the trees. You blink and you miss it. A little bit of it is like “Did you guys hear what I heard?” It’s a very quiet, subtle thing that gets under your skin.
Album: Sister Ray: Communion ✅
If I had to pick a “favorite” record of 2022, it would probably be this. Those that know me and my tastes will have no problem figuring out why.
Album: Soccer Mommy: Sometimes Forever ✅
A nearly perfect distillation of my late-90s record collection. I mean this as a high, high compliment. Truly another one of my absolute faves on the year.
Album: Spoon: Lucifer On The Sofa
Their best since probably 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. All killer, no filler.
Song: SRSQ: Winter, Slowly
The first time I heard that little whammy-bar vocal effect on the chorus (starts around 0:50), something in my brain slipped loose and my thoughts still aren’t thinking right.
Album: Bartees Strange: Farm to Table ✅
This is truly an Important Record, a call-to-arms, a statement of purpose.
Song: Tenci: Two Cups
Tenci came onto my radar after seeing them open for Hop Along in 2021, and I’m really glad they did.
Much like the Destroyer record, this was the one that converted me from “hey, SVE is pretty cool” to a full-fledged fan.
Album: Immanuel Wilkins: The 7th Hand ✅
A gifted arranger who can still layer sheets of sound with the best of them.
(✅ indicates that I’ve purchased the album on vinyl, for accountability’s sake. Support the musicians you love, folks!)
While cleaning a bunch of stuff out of the attic in preparation for our move, I found my first guitar. It was a Harmony classical guitar, almost unfrettable from the day I got it.
As you can see, I treated it with great reverence. In addition to the sticker “enhancements,” my dad recreated the bridge after the original cracked and pulled off of the guitar (probably too many weird Sonic Youth tunings?) He also added a knob to the heel for a guitar strap.
I wish I remembered why I put some of the tuning pegs on upside down?
There she is, in all her beauty. Thank you for everything, and safe travels.
year in review
Once again, I pushed myself to listen to lots of new music this year. A full six of my top ten records were by artists who are either new or new to me… seven if you count Aeon Station, who are technically a “new” band. That’s pretty good, I think!
I had foolishly dismissed The Wonder Years as kiddie emo that Wasn’t For Me (I was wrong!) until I read this piece on Campbell’s reasons for writing and releasing this record. Campbell has that rare gift for making the extremely specific feel universal.
I always have and probably will always have a soft spot for Ani DiFranco, and this record’s “Ani as funk bandleader” vibes really agree with me.
She still manages to bring the same level of emotional devastation, even with full band arrangements on many tracks and a more produced sound.
Right in my sweet spot: vaguely shoegazy indie with female lead vocals. (See also: Snarls from last year’s list.)
An absolute ripper of a rock-and-roll record from my favorite Wilmington, DE-based power trio, and a huge leap forward from their last record.
There’s no way a bunch of teenagers made this record, right? Either way, Geese have spent a bunch of time with their dad’s Talking Heads records and their older sister’s Strokes records and turned out this impossibly tight, ambitious and mature record.
I could write a book about this record, which I’ve been waiting for, in a roundabout way, for about 15 years. I hate that it came out under these circumstances but I’m glad this record is finally available to the public, because it is a triumph. (I am still very eager to hear the Charles Bissell portion of what was to be the follow-up to The Meadowlands, of course.)
An incredible Scottish swamp-blues record that sounds like a lot of things I love but also not quite like anything I’ve ever heard before.
Hard to overstate how much this record came out of nowhere and smacked me right between the eyes. It has an emotional resonance for me unlike any record since maybe Bark Your Head Off, Dog.
Reading Crying in H Mart this summer was… a lot, but it helped me understand this record for the celebratory masterpiece it truly is. If joy truly is an act of resistance, this record is as punk as it gets.
- Floatie: Voyage Out
- Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses
- Hiss Golden Messenger: Quietly Blowing It
- Olivia Kaplan: Tonight Turns to Nothing
- Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams
- Anna Fox Rochinski: Cherry
- Rosali: No Medium
- Snail Mail: Valentine
- Adia Victoria: A Southern Gothic
- Ryley Walker: Course In Fable
- The War On Drugs: I Don’t Live Here Anymore
- Yasmin Williams: Urban Driftwood
Because I’m lazy and get tired of writing bespoke answers to “What podcasts do you listen to?” I’ve captured my answers here.
I won’t miss a new episode of these shows.
- Maintenance Phase: As it says on the tin, “Wellness and weight loss, debunked and decoded.” (Start here: The Body Mass Index)
- Roderick on the Line: It’s an acquired taste. (Start here: Ep. 25: “Supertrain”)
- Citations Needed: Media criticism is my jam, and these two do it better (and lefter, and snarkier) than anyone. (Start here: Episode 95: The Hollow Vanity of Libertarian “Choice” Rhetoric)
- Highlands Bunker : Your only source for anti-Delaware Way news and spicy leftist insider info. (Start here: E127 - Where Are The Workers? (w/Jess Scarane))
- You Look Nice Today: Another acquired taste. (Start here: Episode 48: Schrodinger’s Conference Bag)
Sometimes I get behind on these and let them pile up, but I’ll always catch up.
- You’re Wrong About: Sarah and Michael bring a real curiosity and ability to empathize with their subjects to the “turns out” genre. (Start here: Kitty Genovese and “Bystander Apathy”)
- Back to Work: Merlin Mann has been one of the sanest voices in the ““productivity”” space for nearly two decades. (Start here, maybe: 249: A John Nash Moment)
Pick and choose
I subscribe to these, but only listen to episodes where the guest or topic is interesting.
- Object Of Sound: The best cultural critic of our time talks to some of his favorite artists about what makes them tick. (Start here: Redemption Songs (feat. Julien Baker))
- Song Exploder: Listening to musicians dismantle their songs and put them back together is fascinating to me, as a guy who has done some recording and is a process geek. Start here: The Long Winters - The Commander Thinks Aloud)
- My Favorite Elliott Smith Song: Musicians (like Phoebe Bridgers, Mary Lou Lord, and others) talking about what it says in the title. (Start here: S4EP1 Mike Doughty)
These are all series of podcasts that are not necessarily timely and hold up well to repeated listening and binging. You probably want to start at the beginning for most of these.
- Cocaine & Rhinestones: Country music fans are lucky to have someone like Tyler Mahan Coe, who cares so deeply about their history and their stories.
- Philosophize This!: A podcast that recounts the history of philosophy, trying to use modern examples as much as possible. Can be a bit white male-centric, but that’s says more about the recorded history of philosophy than the show.
- Web History: More like an audio book than a podcast, this is Jeremy Keith reading Jay Hoffman’s Web History series, as published on CSS-Tricks.
- Dolly Parton’s America: Dolly’s story is a fascinating one. Especially recommended if you enjoy Radiolab’s production style (Jad Abumrad is the host, so this makes sense).
- I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats: John Darnielle is a gifted songwriter and storyteller. The first season is John providing additional context for the writing and recording of his 2002 lo-fi masterpiece, “All Hail West Texas,” complete with guests covering the songs.
- Remaking Murdertown: My friend Zach created this podcast series in partnership with the Delaware Center for Justice. It’s one kid’s story of interactions with the “tough on crime” criminal justice system. Zach tells the story with compassion and grace, expertly knowing when to zoom in to the individual details and zoom out to the systemicatic failures that have led us here.
(NB: I listen to all my podcasts with Overcast, which is significantly better than any other podcast listening experience, in my opinion. I have been a paid subscriber since day one, largely because of one killer feature: Smart Speed. Smart Speed intelligently ducks silences in speech without altering pitch, which has saved me 217 hours of listening time as of this writing.)
Last updated: October 2, 2022
I’ve been taking part in community listening sessions for Delaware’s Senate Bill 149, which would amend the state’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
There’s another one today at 3 PM, but I can’t make it. You can (sign up here).
This is my public comment from the last session, published here for posterity:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening.
My name is Len Damico. I live in Claymont, I am a father, and I am also a reliable voter.
I’m here tonight because I believe it is imperative for Delaware to pass SB 149 as-is, without amendment. This is unambiguously what Delawareans want and deserve and the only way we will truly achieve justice in Delaware.
I’ve been part of a number of these stakeholder sessions, and a theme I’ve heard from the law enforcement officer side of things is a desire to rebuild a positive relationship, founded on trust, with the communities they serve. In my opinion, everything we are asking for in SB 149 is in the service of improving that relationship.
To build trust, we ask for visibility and access to police disciplinary records. Including substantiated and unsubstantiated claims. Transparency. That’s how you build trust!
To build trust, we need civilian review boards that have true power. Power to investigate claims and truly discipline any “bad apples” they may find. Power to investigate unsubstantiated claims, to determine potential patterns of misconduct. And power to conduct their business without current or former member of law enforcement as part of the board, in order to truly serve the purpose of maintaining justice in our community.
We believe that civilian review boards are worthless unless those three conditions are met.
In conclusion, it is imperative for Delaware to pass SB 149 as-is, without amendment. To repeat, for clarity’s sake: As-is. Without amendment. This is the only way we will truly achieve justice in Delaware.
articlesWednesday September 22, 2021
I am desperately trying to avoid weighing in on on the weirdo whose unhinged LiveJournal about Disney wokeness was published in the Orlando Sentinel this morning. For reasons that should be fairly obvious to anyone who follows me. However, it feels very important to me to address one specific point he makes in the piece, because it’s a point made over and over by conservatives and it’s really problematic so I want you to be on the lookout for it. It’s a hallmark of a bad-faith argument.
Read this sentence and tell me what it means: “The more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me.” Because I have takes.
Here’s where my mind immediately goes:
The founders never intended for Washington DC to become a state.
— Rep. Mike Loychik (@MikeLoychik) April 22, 2021
As probably millions have quickly and correctly pointed out to Rep. Loychik, “the founders” did not intend for Black folks and women to vote either, yet those things are widely accepted as obviously good and appropriate.
“The founders” also did not necessarily expect the nation to grow beyond the initial 13 colonies, and yet here we are, standing with 50 states, on the precipice of adding another. Maybe.
So, back to our Disney friend. He holds up Disney’s attempts to modernize and update their theme parks as an example of “moving away from the values and vision of Walt Disney.” Hmmmm.
PUTTING ASIDE the, uhm, deeply problematic nature of many of Walt’s “values and vision,” why do we care about them? Why do we expect a company in 2021 to live by the values of a man who died over 50 years ago?
And PUTTING ASIDE the, uhm, deeply problematic nature of many of our Founding Fathers, including the fact that most of them enthusiastically owned slaves, why do we care about their notional intents for the nation they founded?
They’ve been dead for hundreds of years. The world we live in now is *unfathomably complex* compared to the one they inhabited. It’s implausible to think they could have had an answer to every issue we face today. Implausible.
Ultimately, it feels like an abdication, an excuse not to think for yourself. Or, more cynically, an excuse to continue to hold shitty, retrograde, anti-progress viewpoints just because Walt Disney or the Founding Fathers held them, too.
It’s garbage thinking, garbage rhetoric, and I hope this post made the case so we can all be more quick to call it out and publicly shame it.
year in review
I’ve done some sort of year end, “best of” list as long as I can remember. This probably hasn’t been the “best” year of music over that span, but it certainly has been the most important, to me. We’ve all had a trying year, to put it mildly. These are the albums that helped get me through it.
A delightfully tight, punk-adjacent indie rock record. Would have fit perfectly on Kill Rock Stars' mid-90s roster.
It takes a lot of work to make something so meticulously crafted sound so loose and “messy.”
A near-perfect singer/songwriter record.
As I noted on Twitter, this record stopped me in my tracks and lit my hair on fire.
The cover of “Weird Fishes” is perfect, and somehow better than the original, but this record deserves way more than to be remembered as “the one with Weird Fishes on it.”
This seems like it was grown in a lab specifically to check my boxes: dreamy, almost-shoegazy mid-90s indie vibes with wonderful female lead vocals.
This was a slow burn for me, but really worth the time… just a perfect record for Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, or almost any other time.
Was never a huge Cymbals Eat Guitars fan, but this gem from former CEG frontman Joseph D’Agostino’s new project is a pastoral masterpiece. It’s made waiting for that new Wrens record a liiiiiitle bit easier.
The Fleetwood Mac comparisons work for me, not not necessarily because of the sound (although there are plenty of late-70s Laurel Canyon vibes here); it’s more the sheer relentlessness of the quality of the hooks in every. single. song.
1. Hum: Inlet
Dropped out of nowhere in the middle of summer and swallowed me whole. I can’t do justice to describe this perfect soundscape of a record, but Sebastian Sterling can.
- The Beths: Jump Rope Gazers
- Phoebe Bridgers: Punisher
- Dogleg: Melee
- Fleet Foxes: Shore
- Frances Quinlan: Likewise
- Run The Jewels: RTJ4
- Soccer Mommy: color theory
- Spanish Love Songs: Brave Faces Everyone
- Taylor Swift: folklore
- Touché Amoré: Lament
year in review
- got laid off
- did the self-employment thing
- bought a house
- learned to code
- had another kid
- took a job
- ran a 5-miler
- took another job
- did a featured speaking thing
- got promoted to management
- made a blog
- Saquon Barkley cooked TJ Watt on a wheel route in the Big Ten Championship Game
- did another featured speaking thing
- became a Swim Dad
- filled my rings for 250 consecutive days
- started therapy
- turned 40
year in review
2019 was a rough year. I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way, for reasons personal, professional and/or political. In the intrest of focusing on the positive and shining a light towards more of what I want in 2020, here are two achievements that defined my 2019:
My first hires as a manager
Thanks to the largest single project we’ve ever tackled, we were able to add two full-time members to the Arcweb design team in 2019. These were my first two hires as a manager.
Hiring forced me to be thoughtful about what the roles actually required, rather than just defaulting to a number of years of experience or a list of design tools as prerequisites. It also gave me a chance to think about the existing team as an entity, and consider what it needed to thrive and grow.
It was of utmost importance to me to run a fair, inclusive hiring process. This meant not stopping once I had found a candidate who could do the job in question, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.
I was especially focused on not putting too much burden on the candidates with countless rounds of all-day interviews and design tests and such. To facilitate this, I needed to learn to trust my hiring team and take their counsel.
I am exceptionally proud of the hiring process as a whole in both cases, and I look forward to what Arcweb’s newly-augmented design team can accomplish in 2020.
“Hiring” a therapist
I’ve been seeing a therapist since early last year. For reasons that are not that interesting or relevant, I stopped seeing her early this year. To find a new therapist, I didn’t just pick a name out of an online listing and cross my fingers. Rather, I ran an interview process.
I made a list of candidates using Psychology Today’s wonderful website. I made some exploratory phone calls and, armed with what I had learned from my first therapy experience, I scheduled three in-person sessions. I treated these sessions as interviews (I was transparent about my process with each candidate), and used them to determine whether they were right for me and my specific therapeutic goals.
This was… scary as hell. It’s hard enough to open up once, but to three different people, not knowing whether you’ll continue the relationship? But the results were worth it. Committing to a process led me to finding the perfect therapist for me, rather than satisficed with an earlier candidate who was “good enough.”
NB: I am very lucky and privileged to be able to access mental health care. Many are not. If you believe therapy is out of reach for you, take a look at this calculator. The help you need may be more in reach than you think.
Y’know how the YouTube algorithm is an awful garbage fire but sometimes it serves you a gem that feels like a piece of yourself in a time capsule? That’s what this video is for me.
Sunny Day Real Estate may have spent a combined $27 on their wardrobe for their big MTV debut. This isn’t even an early-90s post-grunge thrift store vibe; this is TJ Maxx proto-normcore and it speaks to me.
Nate Mendel looks like he put down his bass after filming this and hopped in the minivan to pick up the kids from soccer practice.
My wrists hurt from watching William Goldsmith pound those drums so expertly.
And the interplay between Dan Hoerner and Jeremey Enigk’s guitars and voice is often too much to bear for me.
I worshiped this band. I loved them so much. So, so much.
year in review,
My 2018 in music can be best summed up in five words: “Bark Your Head Off, Dog.”
Hop Along’s third album took a moment to get lodged in my brain, but once it did, it was a force of nature. I can’t recall the last time a new record took over my life like this, standing up to repeated plays for hours, weeks, months on end, refusing to wear out its welcome. Every spin revealed a new favorite song, a nuance somehow unnoticed in the hundreds of previous plays.
I’d be quite surprised if this record doesn’t end up occupying a place of pride in my Favorite Records of the Decade list.
(Playlist also available on Apple Music.)
How my listening habits changed in 2018
Two new developments changed the way I listen to music in 2018:
In March, I ditched Apple Music (which I had subscribed to from day one) and signed up for Spotify.
Why? For years, I had believed that Apple Music’s integration into the OS was worth putting up with its decidedly less polished UX and lack of any meaningful social of curation features. I had also dabbled with Spotify before and remembered not loving it.
But with the gentle encouragement of Merlin Mann, I took another look at Spotify and was hooked. The curated playlists are wonderful and meet a lot of my “I’m not exactly sure what to listen to” use cases. The Amazon Echo integration rules, and has allowed me to create an ersatz Sonos multi-room speaker setup.
The only drawback to Spotify is the nascent state of their Apple Watch app. Specifically, it’s really just a controller, and does not allow you to download music to listen to without your phone. But minus this one feature, Spotify wins for me in every conceivable way.
I know, I know. I’m That Guy. I am every stereotypical middle-aged dad. I am an extra from High Fidelity. I know. It’s fine.
I got a record player last year and have spent much of 2018 filling out my record collection. I won’t bore you too much with how It’s Different and There’s Just Something Warmer About Vinyl, but it’s all true. It also scratches my long-ignored collector itch; the buzz I got when I found original pressings of both Chronic Town and Hatful of Hollow in my local record store’s bins was indescribable.
I know. I’m sorry.
Most year-end reviews tend to focus on things that are were newly released in that year, but I’d like to note a few old wells I fell down this year.
All Hail West Texas
I stumbled across the wonderful I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats podcast sometime early this year. I had been familiar with “All Hail West Texas” prior to this podcast, but the cover versions (and John’s thoughtful commentary on the genesis and meaning of the songs) led me back to the original artifact.
I’ve dabbled before, but I hate, hate, hate that it took Scott Hutchinson’s tragic death for me to finally get all the way into Frightened Rabbit.
Joni Mitchell is arguably the coolest person to ever be born on this planet and this is the Most Joni Mitchell record in her expansive catalog. While plumbing the depths of this record, I found a bunch of early- to mid-80s performances of this material and they somehow made me love it even more.
The Last Waltz
Speaking of Hejira-era Joni Mitchell, I watched The Last Waltz for the first time this yea, thanks to urgings by the Celebration Rock podcast and Hanif Abdurraqib. Putting aside whatever contention may exist around the making of the film itself, the performances strike the perfect balance between ragged looseness and turn-on-a-dime tightness that The Band were know for their entire career.
We visited Vermont for my 40th birthday. Burlington is a wonderful town, and the local beer is pretty amazing, too.
The first destination, before even heading to our AirBNB in Burlington, was heading east towards Stowe and The Alchemist. Real hopheads know why we wanted to start here, and the beer did not disappoint.
Here I am taking my first sip of Heady Topper. I can honestly say I’ve tasted nothing like it, before or since. (📸: JoAnne Damico)
(Focal Banger might be better, though.)
The town itself is extremely cute. It has a part college town (Go Catamounts!), part Main Street, USA vibe that really works for me.
Here’s Church Street, the main drag, all lit up for Christmas. (📸: JoAnne Damico)
The Burlington Earth Clock, just a few miles south of downtown, is also quite a scene. (📸: JoAnne Damico)
We also took a quick day trip up to Montréal. It’s a bit over 2 hours from Burlington. We went on a Sunday, so there wasn’t a ton to see or do, but the view from Mont Royal alone was worth the trip. (📸: JoAnne Damico)
- Foam Brewers: Holy hell, these cats took the hazy/New England IPA genrea and ran with it. Some of the best beer I’ve ever had. Great location (right on the banks of Lake Champlain), great can art and releases mostly named after iconic indie rock bands and records. Really, everything about this place speaks to me.
- Farmhouse Tap & Grill: We didn’t make it out to Hill Farmstead, but plenty of places in town had it on tap, including Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Really cool basement bar area, too.
- Juniper Bar & Restaurant: Another Hill Farmstead honeypot. Way better/nicer than any hotel restaurant needs to be. Neat firepit area outside, which we were able to enjoy for roughly 5 minutes due to the cold.
- Fiddlehead Brewing: Unfortunately their tasting room was under construction when we visited. Their standard, base Fiddlehead IPA is just so unbelieveably good.
I can’t wait to get back.
It’s been a while since a song grabbed me out of nowhere and refused to let go. But that happened last week, about 15 feet from my desk at Arcweb, no less.
REC Philly turned my office into a concert space, and brought the incredible Max Swan to perform as part of their inaugural Tech Tour event. (Earlier in the day, I was part of a panel discussing Big Data.)
Max’s whole set, clocking in just under an hour, was something to behold. But it was the closer, “Steady,” that made me drop what I was doing and pay attention.
I saved his most recent album, The Fisherman to my phone to listen to on the drive home. While the live version of “Steady” is propulsive, the recorded version is much more patient, leading with a very “Songs In The Key Of Life”-era Stevie Wonder vibe.
Either way, I’m honored to have shared a “stage” with Max and his band, and can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Soundgarden was never my “favorite band.”
I was always a Pearl Jam guy, at least in high school. Others were Nirvana People, or Nine Inch Nails People. But Soundgarden was always a band that was just there. Always on the periphery, always high quality, but never The Band That Could Be Your Life.
I never stood in line for Soundgarden tickets. I never went to a midnight sale for a new Soundgarden CD release. I never bought a magazine just for the Chris Cornell interview like I did for Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan, or Thom Yorke. There was no obvious outward showing of love, or fandom.
Which makes my reaction to the news of Chris Cornell’s passing feel… not quite fake, but perhaps not earned? Inauthentic? I’ll probably cry when Vedder dies. I’ll take a week off work when the first member of R.E.M. goes. But Cornell? I’ve been trying not to dive too deep into my feelings about it, to be honest, because I’m not quite sure what I’ll find.
And yet… I still remember the take-my-breath-away feeling of hearing “Hunger Strike” for the first time. It’s still just as arresting to this day. Cornell and Vedder sound like they’d been bandmates for a decade or more… yet they’d only met for the first time during the Temple of The Dog sessions.
I still remember the countless hours spent alone in my room, playing “Seasons” on repeat, trying to figure out what the hell open tuning it was written in, never mind how to play it. (I learned today that it’s
FFCCcc, because of course it is.)
And it’s impossible not to think of the Summer of 1994 without thinking of “Black Hole Sun” and it’s subversively trippy video.
“Black Hole Sun” is by no means a great Soundgarden song. It’s not even the best song on Side A of the Superunknown tape. But that shit was ubiquitous, friends. You couldn’t turn on MTV without seeing that creepy, melty-face girl grinning sadistically at you. It was everywhere, always, woven into the fabric of that time.
And maybe that’s what’s so jarring about the fact that he’s gone. Cornell’s music was an institution, one I thought we could count on for another few solid decades of reunions with Soundgarden, occasional solo records and sporadic other projects. But nothing lasts forever, and the seasons roll on by.
I’m so jealous of Ohio State fans this week.
Not because of their team’s success, recent or historical. It has nothing to do with their head coach, or their quarterback, or any of the monstrous playmakers and future NFLers that make up their secondary.
No, I’m jealous of Ohio State fans because they wake up in the morning and never wonder who their rival is.
They know it from birth. They know it before they even know how to verbalize it. They know it at a molecular level.
They know they love Ohio State, and hate Michigan, not necessarily in that order.
I feel similar pangs when I meet fans of Alabama or Auburn, USC or Notre Dame, Washington or Washington State, Florida or Florida State. They never have to wonder what their goals are, or who they need to measure themselves against. That’s a feeling that Penn State fans just can’t understand in 2016.
“Unrivaled” has become a buzzword during Coach James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State, but it’s been an overarching theme since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten: We don’t have a true rival.
It’s partly due to history. Penn State was an independent for 104 years, and didn’t consistently play the same teams every year as they would have with a conference schedule. Familiarity breeds contempt, and while Penn State did manage to build up some mutual disdain for a few programs, most of that momentum was lost when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and went from eleven games to schedule at its discretion to three.
Who is Penn State’s one true rival in 2016?
A rival is someone you play every year. A rival is someone you’re evenly matched with, in the fullness of time. A rival is someone you hate. And, most importantly, your rival has to hate you back. Who ticks all those boxes for Penn State?
Much was made of the Penn State resurrecting its historic rivalry with Pitt earlier this year. But, the Keystone Classic is a four-year engagement, with no extension in sight. Michigan and Ohio State are clearly off the table, since they’re obsessed with each other. Maryland and Rutgers can’t honestly say they’ve been consistently competitive with Penn State.
So that leaves us with… Michigan State? They’re in a similar situation: A late-comer to the Big Ten, struggling to find their partner for the Rivalry Week dance. So, the Big Ten, with all the tact and consideration of a married couple setting up two long-single friends, waved its hands and said “Ta-Da! You’re rivals!” We’ve had some laughs at the expense of the Land-Grand Trophy, but you can’t just declare a rivalry by fiat. You have to earn it.
So, back to “Unrivaled.”
Whether he meant it or not, Coach Franklin tapped into over a century of history in Happy Valley. He’s declared that every game on the schedule matters equally, and that the only goal is to go “1–0 this week.” You don’t need One True Rival, you just need to handle your business each and every week.
“Unrivaled” doesn’t satisfy my wish for laser-focused hate, but does it get results? Has “Unrivaled” given a young team with limited preseason expectations a fighting chance at a Big Ten division championship, and maybe more? If so, can we as a fan base sustain it? Will we be content with “Indiana Indiana Indiana,” or do we want to hate? Do we need to hate? Is it possible to forget about Pitt or Michigan or Ohio State or anyone else until it’s their turn on the schedule?
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it’s your turn this week, Sparty.
(Originally published at Roar Lions Roar)
They might not work for you, though, and that’s okay!
Sketching remains a vital part of the design process here at Arcweb Technologies, and has been incredibly transformative for me, personally:
I can honestly say that buying into a process that includes both sketching and prototyping has exponentially leveled up my game this year. — Len Damico (@lendamico) on December 11, 2014
Any old writing instrument and paper can work for sketching. It’s an incredibly open-ended discipline, and that’s part of the beauty of it! But as I’ve sketched more and more, these three simple things have made my the time I spend on it much more productive.
Dots, Not Grids
Graph paper can help make your layouts feel more like precision documents than rough doodles, but not all graph paper is created equal. Some variants have lines so dark that you struggle to see your sketches on it.
The secret: find dotted graph paper rather than lined. The dots allow for some precision and alignment, but don’t compete with your sketches. (I personally love these hard-backed notebooks from Baron Fig, which are available with dotted pages.)
Commit to the Pen
Typically, sketching happens with a pencil. In fact, every designer gets a beautiful Alvin mechanical pencil when they start at Arcweb Technologies. But while pencil has its place, consider giving pen a shot for your next sketch session. In my experience, the fact that pencil sketches are erasable becomes more bug than feature. A pen forces me to always keep moving, not stopping to erase mistakes. Plus, a pen’s indelibility makes for a good reminder to move forward and save all ideas, instead of erasing as you go.
Invest in a Date Stamp
As I look back through my sketching journal, the days often run together. I’ve tried dating pages by hand, but those hand-written dates tended to blend with the actual sketches on the page. The solution, borrowed from Philadelphia artist Mike Jackson, was to invest in a tiny date stamper. The stamps feel official and important but its true value is that it stand out from everything else on the page. Plus, there’s a certain Zen-like quality to the process of stamping today’s date at the top of a blank page.
To Each Their Own
These hacks came from spending lots of time sketching, finding out where my own friction points were, and removing them as simply as I could. They may or may not work for you, and that’s okay! If you’ve got your own sketching tricks, tweet them at me and I’ll share them around. Good luck, and happy sketching!
Let’s start our discussion of Penn State’s new academic logo with critiquing the work itself, before we dive into critiquing the process.
The mark itself? It’s… boring. Corporate. Safe. Could be a bank, could be a hospital. The rendition of the lion itself is fine. I don’t love the 2-Color approach, and that’s going to be a real pain to embroider, but it’s fine. The type itself is also fine. Very contemporary, and again, very safe.
The move to a more neutral, middle-of-the-road shade of blue is disheartening. Again, could be a hospital, could be a bank.
I get why the existing mark needed some time in the shop, but compared to this new mark, it feels even more timeless.
Maybe my comments on the new mark being corporate and safe are off the mark. Maybe that was a stated goal in the brief. I don’t know! Penn State is among the largest research institutions in the nation. Maybe a boring, corporate brand will serve them better in the long run.
But as an alumni, this new mark leaves me full of… meh. Just, meh. No visceral reaction whatsoever.
And maybe I feel so positively about the old mark because I’ve been seeing that thing since I was born. But, if you take away the Lion statue, you take away 1855, you take away that beautiful type that looks carved in stone… you better give me something really, really good in return.
To be clear, I’m laying the blame for this squarely at the University’s feet. I’m sure the firm did some great work that died in committee. For example, this is a recipe for disaster: “More than 300 members of various faculty, staff and administrative groups were engaged during the process.“ And seriously, please miss me with “they spent $128k on THIS?!??!” That’s a drop in the bucket for a rebrand effort of this scale. (If we really want to get Nit-picky (see what I did there?), I think it’s fair to ask why the University couldn’t find a PA firm qualified to do this.)
Overall, the whole thing is boring, corporate and safe. Underwhelming. I expected better from something like this, but maybe that’s my fault. Thanks for listening. We are Penn State.
(One last thing: You can change the chipmunk logo after you pry it from my cold, dead hands.)
I’m about halfway through Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. So far, it’s a good read. It portrays Ive as someone with exquisite taste who was in the right place at the right time, willing to work harder and care more than his competitors. It never descends into hagiography (in spite of the sub-title), as many tech bios tend to do.
Author Leander Kahney goes to great lengths throughout to express Jony’s distaste for “skinning” a product (applying surface-level design to something engineering had already created). In Ive’s design-centric mind, the “inside-out” method lead to compromised products.
But let’s square that with this tale from the design of the original Mac Mini:
The decision about the size of the case might seem trivial, but it would influence what kind of hard drive the Mini could contain. If the case were large enough, the computer could be given a 3.5-inch drive, commonly used in desktop machines and relatively inexpensive. If Jony chose a small case, it would have to use a much more expensive 2.5-inch laptop drive.
Jony and the VPs selected an enclosure that was just 2 mm too small to use a less expensive 3.5-inch drive. “They picked it based on what it looks like, not on the hard drive, which will save money,” [former Apple product design engineer Gautam] Baksi said. He said Jony didn’t even bring up the issue of the hard drive; it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Even if we provided that feedback, it’s rare they would change the original intent,” he said. “They went with a purely aesthetic form of what it should look like and how big it should be.”
This is… well, it’s not design.
Design is solving problems within constraints. The characteristics of components, including price, are constraints. Without having a damn good reason to make the case 2 mm too small to fit a much less expensive 3.5-inch hard drive, you’re just decorating and playing artist, not designer. This is even more surprising, given that Ive is notorious for knowing and waxing rhapsodic about every last detail of his materials.
Outside-in product development is just as problematic as the inside-out approach that Ive despised. In this case, it may have led to a product that was more expensive (or less profitable) than it needed to be. Given that one of the Mac Mini’s core benefits as an entry-level Mac was its low cost, this is baffling.
Great product development is a true partnership between engineering and design.
(Yes, I know. Jony Ive is perhaps the most celebrated industrial designer in the history of the field, and rightly so. And Apple has a track record of ignoring practical decisions in the pursuit of a product’s true essence. That doesn’t mean we can’t examine a particular design challenge they faced and learn from it.)
Here at Arcweb, we’ve been spending more time using analog methods of exploring and communicating our ideas and we’ve augmented our UI design process with Sketch.app. The next piece of the Arcweb design process that we’ll explore is prototyping.
What is Prototyping?
In our context, prototyping is the process of efficiently creating a representation of a digital product that reflects our current vision of it. Prototypes are meant for learning and communicating, not perfection. They can vary in fidelity from simple, ad-hoc paper prototypes to complex, clickable versions that are almost indistinguishable from real, working software. Efficiency is key here; we create the prototype to learn more about our assumptions and how a piece of software might work before actually building the software.
Prototyping helps us build customer value from the day we begin the Discovery process on a project. More specifically, it facilitates three types of communication that contribute to building the right product for the problem at hand:
The Designer’s Inner Monologue
The closer something is to “real,” the easier it is to evaluate. Consequently, that’s not the case for what’s in a designer’s head. What’s in a designer’s head is, in fact, the furthest thing from “real” there is. But a prototype changes all that. By prototyping, we are able to iterate quickly through ideas that won’t work without sending other departments (like development) on missions built to fail. Said differently, rapid, iterative prototyping allows the design team to fail fast which in turn will bolster confidence because everything’s been considered.
Prototyping also facilitates more effective designer-developer collaboration. With prototypes, the design team is able to show the development team what’s to be built rather than simply telling them. (This is valuable for both practical and interpersonal reasons.) Some prototyping tools even allow developers to pull snippets of code that they can use to get started or in production.
By prototyping, we reduce the frustration and ambiguity that can occur when designer and dev terms don’t make sense to the other. For example, when the design team prototypes, devs don’t have to guess at what a phrase like “the sidebar dances in” means. Instead they see it. (By now it should be abundantly obvious that prototyping minimizes engineer grumpiness.) And when they see it, developers can provide rich, insightful feedback, assess technical feasibility and system design and cut excess scope earlier in the process.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings. Prototyping allows us to build consensus with our customers earlier in the life of a project. As much as a customer can say they “get it” from reviewing flat comps, prototypes that look and feel like real software allow for deeper, richer understanding. Throughout the life of a project, that means fewer surprises and the less-than-comfortable conversations you have to have when they spring up.
Finally, customers tend to be more vocal when it comes to raising issues when they’re looking at a prototype versus live software. And this makes sense: no matter if it’s a small modification or a complete pivot, change requests after multiple dev sprints are expensive. They are far less so in the prototyping stage. (Think hours instead of weeks or months.)
So that’s why we prototype. It improves how designers communicate their visions. It aligns designer-developer relationships and workflows. And it helps customers better understand what will be built before it’s built.