Week in review

What I’ve been doing this week – on and offline.

Getting older

I went to see Paul Baribeau this week.  It was one of the more crowded house shows I’ve been to in Chicago.  The feeling between Baribeau and the audience as pretty strange.  He writes songs that are explicitly personal, so it’s strange to hear a whole room singing along (not to mention singing along slightly off-time and off-key).  Maybe it speaks to the real need that people have to understand or process the kind of things Baribeau writes about: relationships and growing into adulthood.  There was this one guy in front who kept demanding certain songs and he and Baribeau got into this kind of weird, mostly-joking but strangely confrontational back-and-forth.  Though I love the participatory aspect of DIY punk, it’s frustrating when it seems like the show means more about you singing along to a song you love than listening to what someone else has to say or how he says it.  At best, I think it’s a compromise between these things, a perfect balance arrived upon organically by the performer and the crowd.  But, there’s a distinct difference between having a collective experience with music and a room full of individual experiences.  Maybe the show felt like more of the latter because people didn’t really know each other. It seemed like the crowd was a mixture of people from Chicago, the suburbs and folks from out of town and people from the suburbs.  Everyone seemed pretty young which might have contributed to the dynamic as well.  Chiara referenced research about “millenials” being more selfish than past generations.

Being off of school (mostly, I’ve still got some loose ends to tie up with my independent study) is great.  For one, I finally had time to go to the library.  I picked up Harvey Pekar’s Best of American Splendor and I feel like I have a different reading of it a few years after the last time I read some of Pekar’s comics.  Pekar writes about his life making underground media in a really unglamorous way, which is refreshing.  You can’t dispute that he loves what he does or makes compelling and at times really beautiful work, but there’s nothing glamorous about working for decades as a file clerk or the anxiety of failing health or trying to figure out how to make ends meet.  As I get older, I’m less interested in finding optimistic ideas to buoy me through tough times and more interested in how people persist, even through tough questions or challenges.

Pekar is also pretty unapologetic about his mercenary intentions with his art, which is also refreshing.  DIY punk spends so much time demonizing making money, or rationalizing it, but doesn’t provide a lot of examples of working-class people finding complex, sustainable lives while still basing what they do on some core values.  A few weeks ago I read an interview I liked with the hip hop group Das Racist that touched on authenticity, punk and class:

Suri: That’s the whole thing. Punk bands have never had the question of authenticity because authenticity was about how broke you were. The whole break between punk and hip-hop in the 80s was because hip-hop kids were like, I will rap about having money because I grew up with none of it. White kids were like, I will not sing songs about having money.

Vazquez: I think it’s complicated in both circles. There was like broke punk kids and rich kids and broke rappers and rich rappers.

Suri: But a lot of punk kids choose to be broke and rap kids, we don’t choose to be broke. I grew up wanting to make money at every opportunity to. I wouldn’t shun my money. I’d buy a $200 pair of sneakers.

Kondabolu: And my mom wouldn’t let me go to vintage clothing stores. She’d be like, “Why are you going to buy someone’s old clothes?”

Vazquez: It’s also easier—you know, the idea of rejecting privilege comes with the fact that you have it in the first place.

I also went to Quimby’s, the first time I made it there since I’ve been a Chicago resident, and in a total impulse buy, I picked up Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement Again, as I get older, I’m interested in how people iterate their ideas and reconcile them with new experiences.



Pekar and Joe Sacco also have a nice comic about gentrification in the American Splendor compilation. I like how, in just a few frames it captures the ambivalence around neighborhood change. There’s the fear of people getting pushed out, some hope for seeing resources come into a neglected neighborhood and folks just having other concerns.

I went to dinner one night this week at a good, but slightly fancy place in Logan Square. Driving north on Kedzie from Humboldt Park, you could see a demarcation between different neighborhood residents as we got closer to the square.  Teenage Latino girls with these fabulous neon hoop earrings gave way to 20-30-year-old white people walking their dogs.  The restaurant was pretty terrific, but the patrons didn’t look like the neighborhood as a whole, which is always a little disarming.  It’s a good reality check though, to recognize where I stand, despite a consciousness of issues that affect communities in Chicago.

Restoring dialog

The “Restoring Honor” Rally was big news and a big site for meta-analysis this week.  I heard this segment on WBEZ’s Worldview and thought commentator Frank Schaeffer did a pretty good job of pinpointing the way that some Americans responded in the wake of Obama’s election.  They looked around and realized the country they lived in and realized it wasn’t the country they thought it was and freaked out.  But Schaeffer also articulates a certain contempt for people who react fearfully to a changing country and to feelings of using power in the culture.  I’d like to see someone speak frankly about this fear and across the divide of those who feel more comfortable in a country perceived as less homogeneous and those who fear it.  I felt like some of this was going on during Obama’s campaign, but once he was elected it sort of dropped off and we’re all left with crazy polarization and taking potshots across the divide.  I don’t agree with the rhetoric or the values of those like Glenn Beck but I think the fear they exploit is a pretty human response that has to be taken seriously and acknowledged, even while trying to move away from that fear.

Fixed width layout widths

I’ve been working on a cleaner version of The Max Levine Ensemble website and a basic theme for Toby Foster’s website.  Because of the artwork that David and Nick gave me, I have to use a fixed-width design.  I was curious what a good width for modern browsers/users should be, and the best example I found was in this  2-Column, Center-aligned Fixed Width Layout with CSS tutorial.  The tutorial author says:

I’m adding a wrapper division around the entire body html we have so far, and in the CSS, I’m giving this wrapper division a background color just for demonstration purposes – and a width. The width is based on current trends per W3Schools Browser Trends. According to this information, the vast majority of all surfers views at resolutions of 1280 or higher, so I’ll shoot for 1280px. To allow room for the scroll bar and a bit of the (white) body background to show, I’ll set the width of my wrapper at 1200px.

Mike Gibson of Love Has No Logic had this to say:

I usually work with a 960 grid. And set up the following column groupings inside it that’ll float around and shift.
3 columns of 300 px with 30 px padding between them.
2 columns of 465 px with 30 px padding (sometimes I’ll altar this to 450 px columns with 60 px padding to let the larger columns breathe)
3 columns with the outer columns both being 200px and the inner column being 500px, 30 px padding, though this is also nice with 45 px padding between each and a 470px middle column
4 columns of 140px with 40px padding
With those basic column constructs I can pretty much start working with any sort of modular design I need.


I’ve been listening to a lot of the bands we’ll be playing with on the upcoming Defiance, Ohio tour.  In particular, I’ve been into The Sidekicks from Cleveland who play melodic punk in the vein of Built to Spill.  I also gave Shellshag a good listen for the first time and I love how they’re poppy but also noisy and weird.

I feel like as I have less time to practice with Defiance, Ohio, I’m more self-conscious about how well we play.  I feel like how comfortable we are playing really effects the quality of the performance, so I decided to get my guitar set up.  I’ve always played acoustic guitars with pretty high action, but after playing Theo’s hollow-body electric guitar and realizing how much more easy and fun it is to play an instrument with lower action, I took it to a guitar tech.  He told me something interesting about acoustic guitars and action:  instrument makers usually leave the action high from the factory because they’re worried about the neck shifting, creating fret buzz in the showroom.

WordPress file uploads

I was setting up a new WordPress instance for Ryan Woods’ painting website, ryanwoods.org and he was having problems uploading files, getting a cryptic error message.  It turns out that the Network upload size limits were set to only 300 KB.  It took a while to find this limit, but it’s at Super Admin > Options in the left hand menus in the administration pages.  Then scroll all the way down and look for the Upload Settings section.

Cooking as consensus

Florence and Sushi

I’ve spent this week hanging out with Florence and Oona since Chiara had school and work all week and they don’t start school until next week.  One of the hardest things has been building consensus about how we’re going to spend our day.  Oona’s down to play music, but Florence doesn’t want to.  Florence likes the idea of riding bikes to the zoo, but Oona neither wants to ride bikes or go to the zoo.  Flash games on the internet seem mutually captivating, but the end-of-the-summer weather is too nice to spend completely indoors.  The consensus activity today was to think of something we want to eat, walk to the store to get the ingredients and make it.  We ended up making sushi and Dora-yaki (red bean pancakes), though the pancakes came out a little weird.

Link Roundup

GAMBIT Summer 2010 Prototype Games – I’ve disliked video games since I was young and didn’t have a console and had to spend hours watching other people play after I died quickly.  But some people are really doing some interesting things with games right now.  I was out of town playing a show when the 3G Summit went down, but from what I learned about it when I wrote a preview piece in the spring, it seemed pretty awesome.  These game prototypes from the Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab are all pretty interesting and have some interesting mechanics, visuals or ways of conveying information about the real world.

The Tummy Project – I only met Jamie recently when she offered to give me a ride back from Milwaukee that I ended up not needing, but I found out she has a blog that uses reader-contributed photos of tummies to think about body image.

2009 Illinois School Report Cards – The Tribune Apps Team made this useful news app to navigate Chicago schools and compare them by features like class size, ISAT scores and percent of students who receive free or reduced lunch.

How to Solder – If tour is a good way to lose equipment, playing individual shows is an even better way for me to lose stuff.  At least it gave me the impetus to fix a bunch of old instrument cables I had lying around.  I solder so infrequently that I didn’t realize I wasn’t tinning my wires properly.  This video helped.  Also, the number one tip I have for soldering things is to make a jig.  This video has one simple example, but I often just tape the wires to my desk so everything gets held where I need it.

Acoustic Guitar Amplification – This is the guide I’ve always been looking for.

technology and activism

Here are two new instances of technology (both via boingboing) that seem to really aid social justice movements.

Cause Caller is a VOIP tool that lets you define a cause and contacts related to that cause (for instance, congressional representatives on a panel investigating a particular issue).  Users can then enter their phone number and the application will call them back and connect them with the different contacts.

ICED (I Can End Deportation) is a video game made by the human rights group Breakthrough that, according to Breakthrough’s website:

puts you in the shoes of an immigrant to illustrate how unfair immigration laws deny due process and violate human rights. These laws affect all immigrants: legal residents, those fleeing persecution, students and undocumented people.