Monday, December 18, 2006

Top 5 Albums of 2006

I bought few albums this year and listened to very little new music. What I heard I wasn't that impressed by. That said, I had 2 favorites and some other worthy albums and think I can come up with a decent list.

1 - Roman Candle - The Wee Hours Review. One day I will die and go to a place where they play Roman Candle all day long. I have been that good.
2 - Hem - Funnel Cloud - The music soars and the lead singer is an angel. I've heard them compared to Cowboy Junkies, but to me the music isn't that dark. It sounds like a perfect Sunday afternoon.
3 - Josh Ritter - The Animal Years - Just great singer/somgwriter stuff.
4 - The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed - Just good guitar pop/indie rock
5 - Jars of Clay - Good Monsters - A typical Jars album in that it falls short on a few tracks, but the lyrics combined with the fact they finally recorded am album with a drummer nudges them into the top 5.

Others considered: the fray: how to save a life, Guster: Ganging up on the Sun, Leeland: Sounds of Melodies, the Who: Endless Wire


So, yesterday was a true Sabbath for me in many ways. As a present day English speaker, I am at a disadvantage not being able to read my bible in Hebrew or Greek. Thus, I'm at a severe disadvantage when I try to understand what the Book is telling me. I'm reliant on translators to turn it into a language I can understand and then theologians to tell me what it means. What I've heard is the number of words in Hebrew is approximately one tenth of the number of English words. So when you try to translate, you have to chose which one of your approximately ten English words that may translate to the author's one Hebrew word is the one he wanted you to read. For most of my life, the Sabbath meant you dressed up, went to church and sang hymns and listened to preaching and maybe attended a class. Likely, you go to a cafeteria afterwards while still dressed up. Maybe you can catch an NFL game until it was time to go to prayer meeting or youth group or whatever. Hopefully you made it home in time to watch the Wonderful World of Disney, or later, the Simpsons. My life is much of the same now: one or (usually) two church services, catch Quizno's, dogs for a quick walk, back to help with youth group, maybe catch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

My understanding now is that Sabbath means simply "stop" or "rest" in Hebrew. It's a day to not work, to marvel at the wonder of God, to take care of yourself. Since we went to Saturday night service this weekend, I was able to: go to the gym, give the dogs a proper walk , finish reading a book ("A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren), do my reading for small group (2 chapters in "Abraham" by Bruce Feiler), balance the checkbook, and finally start a book that my Dad got me LAST Christmas ("The World is Flat" on Globalization), have a leisurely cup of coffee, eat leftover pizza for lunch, take a nap. All before Debbie made it home from church (she played violin all three services this weekend).

God gives us the Sabbath to remind us that work and progress and acheivement isn't all there is to life. There is also resting, enjoying, pondering, taking care of yourself. Realizing there is a world beyond what you experience during the rest of the week. Recoginizing the miracle that is that world and the wonder that is it's Creator. God grant me the wisdom to take more Sabbath.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Random Thoughts Again

  • This blog's content is very different than I anticipated. I thought it would be more of a travelog, but it's much more of a journal. Cool.

  • Great article on leadership and science and even faith a little bit this morning in the News and Observer. I'd like to meet this guy. He seems to have done really well at the things I struggle with.

  • The Hokie game sucked last night. The offensive line played terribly and the defensive line got no pressure on their QB. It is very rare that a VT football team gets out-efforted, but last night was one of them. We need some leadership from within the team to step up and straigten things out. (This is the kind of brillance I was expecting from this blog). However, I look forward to the game next weekend against Southern Miss. 7 pm kickoff leaves time for good tailgating, and Southern Miss is the type of team we need to play and beat. For the last 20 years, no one has played harder game in and game out than USM.

  • I'm really into the new Natasha Bedingfield song. It runs SO against my normal musical tastes to like this song, but the lyrics really strike a chord with me for some reason. Every once in a while, a pop song does this to me. The last one was Mmm..Bop by Hansen. Anyway, I first heard the song when a couple who sings at church every few months sang it. It's catchy and the lyrics really make me think and feel good. Which I need.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Little Things

Here is the "inspirational speech" I wrote for my leadership class a few weeks ago. I found this ridiculous cartoon on the web as an illustration for the blog. It cracks me up.

I'd like to talk to you about "the little things"

I struggle with little things. I like big ideas, the bigger the idea, the more I get excited. So as I wrestled with which of my big ideas to talk about with you today, I got a wake up call. On Monday morning, as I was rushing off to work, I stopped to give my wife a little kiss. She stopped me and said "No, I need a hug. What if something happens to you and you don't make it home today. This is important.

A hug - a small thing, but potentially hugely important.

We spend a lot of time chasing big things, ignoring the little things: stopping to say good morning to a coworker, promptly returning a call or e-mail from a customer or small vendor, helping a technician with a question...but maybe we should stop and think what we're doing.

In our last class together, I introduced a concept by Buckminster Fuller called the "trim tab". Fuller was a futurist famous for the geodesic dome, or "bucky-ball" amoung other things. He spend his time coming up with big ideas about how to insure the sustainability of the human race.

The trim-tab is a small rudder-like device placed on the corener of the main rudder of a plane or a ship. The main rudder is large and takes a lot of energy to turn. The trim tab is smaller, so it needs less energy to turn, but it leads the larger rudder around. It makes a hard task easier.

I like the idea of the trim tab. Fuller believed we should all be looking for "trim tabs" in the world around us: small actions that can bring about big change. So maybe, the little things are the ones that can make the most difference. Maybe saying good morning gives you and your coworker the perspective to carry through the day. Maybe you start a relationship with the small vendor that grows to be key for the company. Maybe the conversation with the coworker brings a key change to an important process.

Like I said, I'm into big ideas. I'll end with a story about grad school. Those who know me know I tell a lot of stories about grad school. I used to go see a friend in his lab to talk about our favorite things: baseball, beer, whatever. There were several sign in his lab that read "Lab Philosophy: Leav things a little better than you found them." This wasn't put their by a budding philospher, nor was it an official democratically approved lab mantra. THe person who put it up was a mentally unstable control freak. But maybe she had a point.

I believe we are here to make a positive impact on the earth and the people living on it. Maybe the best way we can do that is by paying attention to the little things.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Life's a Journey, not a Destination - Chris' version

As many of you know, I've been thinking a lot about what I want to be when I grow up. Today I had a couple of thoughts about it. I know what kind of things motivate me: working with people, hearing about their thoughts and dreams, teaching and mentoring, and seeing connections and the big picture. Science and engineering are my skills, but I only get satisfaction out of them when I can use them for these other things. You also may know about my affection for all things Rob Bell (Michigan preacher, see more below). Since I have a long commute, I listen to one of his sermons almost every morning. A couple things he said to me this morning (through my iPod and car stereo, paraphrased):

  • God made this earth and everything in it and empowered us to be creative and cultivate his creation. God, the creator, made us in his image, to create. He made this creation vast and wide and deep, loaded with possibility and potential, in order for us to all find our own we to create and thereby connect with him.

  • He quoted someone else saying to be bored ("to not stir oneself") is to say that God never created or redeemed anything of worth, including yourself. Wow.

Here is my big thought to bring it together: Life's a journey, not a destination. Familiar quote. But if you're stagnant (and/or bored?), how can you be on a journey? Hopefully, more to come.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blown Away

Last night, Debbie took me to see Nickel Creek at UNC Memorial Hall. For our 1st anniversary in June, her present to me was tickets to a show of my choosing. She also took me to my favorite restaurant for dinner before the show. I was completely blown away by the show. Now, understand, I've seen a lot of live in my life, but this was un-freakin-beleivable. They genre hopped from bluegrass to classical to pop to singer-songwriter to tap-dancing to clogging rock to jazz effortlessly and played every song with complete virtuousity (both instumentally and vocally), musicianship, and showmanship. Covers (that I recognized) included: Dylan, Tom Waits, Brittany Spears, Jimmy Rogers, Randy Newman, J.S. Bach. I'd say check them out if you ever get the chance, but unfotunately they are going on indefinate hiatus after they finish their tour this month.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Random thoughts

  • My favorite coffee mug is dead. I dropped a coffee mug I won 12 years ago at a software class. The instructor was playing intro music and said he would give a mug to anyone who could name the artist. I quickly replied "The Dixie Dregs" and he was astonished. Evidently, he had played the same song for years at many similar demonstrations, and no one had ever answered correctly. I was very proud of my mug.
  • I think he'll be okay. Andy came down and we went to the VT/UNC game down here in NC. Oue passing game was horrid, but the defense looks as good as it's looked since 1999, and Brandon Ore is the man. He made plenty of 4,5,6 yard runs with no blocking. I can't remember a run the the left side, so the defense knew what was coming and they still couldn't stop him. He was also the leading receiver for the game. The game was a return to classic Hokie football: defense, special teams, run the ball, leave the opponent wondering how they lost the game so badly. Hokies win, 35-10.
  • Greatest Hits. I bought a CD last week of the greatest hits of a band that I saw, probably 8-10 years ago, and there were only 15 people there. Weird. Great band in my mind, but how do you ahve a greatest hits album if only 20 people like you? And what's so great about barrier reef?
  • I'm not good at poker. Twice, I've come in last in the World Tour of Nazarene Poker. I'm losing to a bunch of guys who grew up in a denomination where playing cards is not allowed. Maybe they're just better at lying.
  • Leadership. I spent two days this week at the second module of my company's leadership development course. This year, as last, I come away with a clearer picture of who I am capable of being. I was also able to combat my fear of heights on the high ropes course (although that was not the point). It is clear to me that I was able to do this because of the culture of support we create in the class in the first couple of hours (which was part of the point). One of our assignments was to deliver a motivational speech, which I did on the first day. I got a lot of positive feedback from the class, so I will post the text here later.
  • Love. Later this month we will attend the wedding of two of our favorite people I don't know if there is a single couple I've known that are so obviously best friends and obviously committed to each other. They asked us this week to be readers at the wedding (in Bryson City, NC in the mountains). We are obviously honored and excited. I'm even willing to skip a football game for this one.
  • Hope. Coming up in a few weeks, my favorite band is playing with a ton of other bands I like at the Carolina Hope Festival for a great cause. We may not make it, because we will be driving back from the wedding, but it looks like a great time.

What a week! Thoughts on how to deal...

Both Debbie and I have had a really rough week this week. I had a longtime friend tell me I wasn't a very good friend, we've both had difficulties with coworkers, and we've both had just busy workweeks. Monday, she made a point of getting up early to make it to work early. I left for work at 7:15, and she called me shortly their after. I didn't hear the cellphone ring, but saw she called and called back around 7:45. She was frantically looking for her keys (we only have one set for the Honda). I looked at my pocket and said "I'll call you back in a minute". Yep, they were in my pocket. I had to drive back home to give them back, but there was a wreck on the interstate, so I had to cut through RTP, which took some time. I had appointment to drop my car off at the body shop (one of the IT guys at work bumped into me in the parking lot week before last), so I called them to tell them I would be late. When I got there, they siad they didn't have an appointment scheduled so they didn't have the parts they needed. I left there and finally got to work at 9:20, over 2 hours after I left for work.

In both our weeks, people have doubted our motives. I can't think of a nicer, more genuine person than my wife, and I certainly try to be a good person. I got an e-mail from a co-worker in Denmark (of course it is someone whose motives I've doubted before), and his e-mail signature was a quote from Mother Teresa that helped put it in perspective (I mean, Jeez, who ever doubted Mother Teresa's motives):

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true friends; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Quick Summer Trip

Last week, Debbie and I were visited by her brother Tim, who lives in Seattle. We spent a few days on a quick summer trip while he was here. Wednesday, we travelled to Williamsburg, Va and spent the day at Bush Gardens. We had a good time, hitting up all the roller coasters despite long lines. At least the weather was pretty good, as it got cooler as the day progressed versus the upper 90s it had been the previous week or so. Thursday and Friday we spent at the Outer Banks, staying in Kill Devil Hills and visiting three light houses (Currituck Beach, Boide Island, Hatteras), Jockey's Ridge State Park, the Wright Brothers Memorial, and of course the beach. The highlight for me was being able to fly the kite that my neice and nephew bought me 6-7 years ago. I had tried several times, but had good success with the high winds at the outer banks. Other highlights included introducing my brother-in-law to the glorious expanse of Wings and the unmatched efficiency of Brew-Thru.

Jeff Tweedy at the NC Museum of Art

Sometime soon on this blog, I will write a series on albums that changed my life. There will be two albums featuring the talents of Jeff Tweedy, one by his previous band Uncle Tupelo and one by his current band Wilco, so last night was a treat for me. Mr. Tweedy played at the outdoor ampitheatre at the NC Museum of art, which is one of the nicest venues in the area (plus free parking and reasonably priced beer). It was a beautiful night to be outdoors, with a great bunch of guys in our crew (4 wives had tickets, but none made it) and the performance was great. He played a diverse set of mostly newer Wilco songs (heavy from "A Ghost is Born" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot") with a few Uncle Tupelo songs thrown in ("New Madrid" and "Acuff Rose" were highlights for me) and handled the hecklers in the crowd with grace and humor. He also performed quite a few songs I just didn't know, perhaps not recorded or from one of his other side bands (Loose Fur, Golden Smog, etc.) that I just don't have time to follow. Tweedy gave a shouout to NC native blues-woman Elizabeth Cotton and played a few bars from one of her songs. Overall, his part of the show was about an hour and a half. Jennifer O'Connor was the opening act.
As much as I like Wilco (which is a whole lot), sometimes their music is a little too "dense" for me. Seeing Tweedy perform these songs solo, his vocals accompanied only by his own guitar playing, makes the songs more accessible. I can then go back and listen to the layered, textured, sampled Wilco recordings and appreciate them much more. Tweedy's intensely personal songwriting, raw vocals, and able guitar playing is the americana/roots rock base on which increasingly progressive Wilco is built upon.
(Note: I stole this picture from someone else's website. I took the obligatory blurry picture with my new cellphone, but can't figure out how to get the pictures from the camera to my computer.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rob Bell Says Everything is Spiritual

I got to see Rob Bell's Eveything is Spiritual Tour thursday night at the Cat's Cradle. I loved it, of course. I won't recap the whole thing, because others have done that across the information superhighway, probably much better than I can. It was basically an almost two hour lecture (I wouldn't call it a sermon, it was more philosophy than preaching) on Genesis 1, examining it as an ancient, subversive, multilayered Hebrew poem (since it is). I thought I would just write about how Rob Bell's ministry affects me.
  • He makes me love the Bible. Despite being a Christian for basically my whole life, I don't really like the Bible that much. It's confusing and contradicts itself; it's old and hard to understand. Bell's passion for the Bible and his scholarly approach is infectious and leaves me wanting to know more.
  • He makes me understand my parents a little bit better. Growing up, they watched Billy Graham (one of Bell's heroes) on TV all the time, and I thought those crusades were the most boring thing ever. Maybe to them, Graham is like Bell is to me: they both gave Christianity a modern, progressive voice (but to different generations?). Maybe they're both revolutionary
  • He hold my attention. As much as I love my pastor, sometimes, If he speaks for more than 15-20 minutes, he loses me. I listened to Bell for 100 minutes, and would have stuck around for 100 more if I could.
  • He makes me believe. While he's speaking, the doubt melts away and it all makes sense.
  • He makes me want to act. He's very focused on the facts that we're God's plan for redemption of the world and that Jesus said the kingdom of God is here and now.
  • He makes me see the connections. Between the old and new testament. Between the words of the bible and what they call us to. Between God and man.
  • He makes me unashamed. He's not trying to pass off bad news as the Good News. He's not trying to convince people not to doubt something that no one can be sure of. He was very clear Thursday night that he thinks it is intellectually sound to look around and say "Yep, this is all there is." But it's equally sound to believe that there is more. That is the message of Genesis 1, and the message of Jesus. There is more to life than we see. God created us because that's what he does, he creates and loves and redeems. And to believe that gives us hope for this life, and maybe even something more.

Update 7/31: Here is another good article on the tour from the Detroit Free Press

Tyrod Taylor commits to the Hokies

The player that the VT coaches wanted most this year, Hampton QB Tyrod Taylor announced his intention to play for the Hokies following his senior season. Taylor is ranked the #2 high school quarterback in the nation by and his athletic skills have brought comparisons to former Hokie QB's Michael and Marcus Vick, who also played their high school football in the Penninsula District. The Hokies are having a great recruiting year this far, including two offensive linemen that are ranked as top 10 recruits from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Guster Review

I travelled to Cary last night to see Guster with my friends Laura and Tyson (Debbie is out of town taking the middle school kids at church to camp). I'm not sure why I like Guster, but I really do. Maybe they give me hope, because they don't sing that well and they don't play their instruments that well, and the production isn't that great, but they make pretty darn enjoyable music. They seem like regular guys. They put on a good show and were clever, however, asking the audience to boo them after their set ended. He promised to do an encore anyway, but wanted to know how it felt if the crowd booed. Good fun. They mostly played songs I knew, but I was also really impressed with their last song "Hold On" from their new album. I might have to pick it up.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Summer Fun

There are a couple big events for me coming up in the next few weeks that I'm looking forward to. Tomorrow night is the Guster concert at Regency Park in Cary. Ticketmaster is charging me way to much for the show (I'm sorry, but the $8 convenience fee is not convenient to me), but a show that starts before 11 pm is too good for this 36 year old wannabe to pass up. I used to be cool enough to stay up that late, but not anymore.
Thursday night, Rob Bell is coming to the Cat's Cradle in Carboro. He is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. It's a sold out show, and I'm the only one I know who got tickets. My brother-in-law has a hypothesis that one of the bigger churches in town bought up all the tickets in a block, which is probably a good bet. Anyway, I'm really excited because Bell is a great preacher who brings a positive, activist message to my generation and younger generations (Bell himself is 35). He has a passion for the bible, but has a very different take on it than most who claim a passion for the bible. He really links the words of the new testament to the traditions of Rabbinic Judaism that were the setting of the life of Christ. If you're interested, you can download his sermons online at the Mars Hill website. I listened to his "So, Anyway, Who Wants To Change The World?" sermon from May 14th this morning (driving to work) and it blew me away. I promise to post a review of the event here.
In August, Debbie's brother Tim is coming to visit for a week, and we are heading to Busch Gardens for a day and Nags Head for 2 days during his visit. Also, I have a ticket to see Jeff Tweedy at the NC Museum of Art on August 16.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Trip to NoVa and DC, and Washington Nationals thoughts

Debbie and I visited my friends Andy and Brooke the weekend before July 4th. We were able to go to the International Spy Museum (which was fun-we recommend it) and also a Washington Nationals game (pictured here is Holmes and I at RFK stadium).
For those who don't know, for some reason I was always a big Montreal Expos fan, and now the Expos have moved to DC they are much closer to being my hometown team. Last week they made a pretty good trade, getting two young everday position players for some middle relievers and minor leaguers. Even though they lost 2 decent pitchers, they got some young bats and middle relief pitchers are only worth something if you're in a pennant race. They're in rebuilding mode and you need to build with starters and position players.
The rumor is that they may trade Alfonso Soriano may go to the Angels for a package including former Hokie Joe Saunders. Saunders is a left hander and former first rounder (#12 in 2002) who is 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 19 starts in AAA, and would give the Nats a Hokie, which would make my day. The only knocks are he doesn't strike out a lot of guys and he missed 2004 with a torn muscle in his chest. As much as I would hate for Soriano to go, it's inevitable and the right thing to do, and if they can get a couple of young pitchers, the team might look good when they're ready to move to their new stadium in a couple of years.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Album Review...The Wee Hours Review by Roman Candle

A hour long commute from Durham to Franklinton is completely worthless unless you can use it to give a first listen and formulate a review to the new Roman Candle album. I bought the album yesterday evening (June 20th) at Barnes and Noble at Briar Creek for way too much money. The B&N guy was very friendly until I insisted that he put this album up on the "employees recommend" rack.

Anyway, the way I would summarize this album is: Chris Stamey (the album's producer) is just like the rest of us - he puts his pants legs on one at a time. Except, once his pant are on, he makes (what should be) gold records.

I've been listening to local music for 14 years now, and this is by far my favorite act to come out of the triangle in that time. I still remember being excited to see my friend Tyson play with Thad Cockrell,who was already one off my favorites, only to be blown away by the opening act (Tyson was certainly right about them). We've all loved their live shows, and Says Pop! was a nice collections of the songs we heard there. The Wee Hours Revue, however,is a brilliant remaster/remix/re-recording/re-engineer/re-whatever of those same songs. I can clearly make out Skip's vocals (I always wondered why patients wereon the savings and loan and thought watching commas in the air was just plain silly)and every layer of instrumentation is audible (keyboards and guitar tracks are eitheradded or brought up to a more appropriate level) . There are a few tracks wherethe tinniness of the original vocals is evident (particularly Help Me if You Can).While the relative rockers (You Don't belong to This World, I Got a Reason) are still my favorites, the ballads (Sookie and Merciful Man were not compelling on Says Pop! but shine here in my opinion) are the songs that pay off from the new sound the most, including the quasi-bonus track (Driving at Morning is listed inthe liner but not on the back of the CD case).

All-in-all a fine recording that lives up to the wonderfully crafted songs of the Matheny's et al. I look forward to the release party Thursday and hopefully don'thave to wait as long for a recording of RC's other fine songs (Waiting for June,Modern Radio). I also hope the outside world will take to this band as much as I have, so that we are able to hear RC's music for many years to come.

Update after CD release party on June 22nd: The show was brilliant with a great turnout, and lots of my friends were there. My brother-in-law Dave (a mighty fine musician in his own right) was able to come and compared them to a cross between Oasis (definately a strong pop element)and the Rolling Stones, not a bad description, but I added "if they were from Wilkesboro, NC" because if that wasn't added you would miss the American/Southern sensibility that is also key to the RC sound. They are my favorite band, and if you like music, you should buy their album and tell your friends. I got to talk to the band a bit after the show, and they are as nice of people as they are compelling musicians.