Ubuntu Installer!!!

One of the main struggles I have had with getting set up with any version of Linux has been the installation process. I know it reveals my true computer knowledge, but figuring out how to work around the partitioning is a pain in the you-know-what, especially from within Linux. And, inevitably, every time I am getting ready to install it, it’s from within Linux using the CD-boot option that’s included with the downloader. The eternal result is that I end up being stuck wanting to install it, but not badly enough to wipe one of my already-existing partitions.

Well, the whole process just got a whole lot easier for yours truly! Thanks again to Digg, I came across a brief article laying out how to go about installing Ubuntu (or any offshoot) the incredibly easy way. The key? An auto-installer!

The program is working great so far, with the obligatory overnight download involved to get the actual Linux package. It’s large, and with my current internet provider that’s a bad-case scenario. It’s also why I’m writing at 1 AM, of course… I’m too stupid to go to bed immediately, instead preferring to sit watching the bar climb towards its final goal. I expect I will retire after this post, however.

The nicest part (which I have already gotten past) is the fact that all you have to do is clear space on one of your partitions, and then tell it which one you want to use and how much space. I cleared about 13 Gb and told it to use 10, giving me a bit of room on the Windows side to keep it working efficiently, and allowing more than enough space for testing out the Linux. Because the partition I’m installing Linux on happens to be my gaming one, I may eventually begin deleting the Windows content and moving over to Linux for some more hefty tasks, but for now that space should be more than sufficient!

And so, after having tried out the CD boot multiple times, I am finally able to try out Ubuntu in all its glory. I was stuck between Ubuntu and its offshoot Kubuntu (both of which I have tried in CD mode), but decided to stick with the easier (but less pretty) interface.

Please note: I am not a Windows hater by any stretch of the imagination. I am not doing this because I want to rant against evil Microsoft or because I am a complete computer nerd. No, rather I approach this from the perspective of a knowledgeable-but-still-pretty-average guy who is simply looking for a bit of entertainment on the side. Learning is one of the gifts of life, and even though it’s learning something tech-oriented (rather than the much-hailed practical skills or wordly knowledge that I could be accumulating), it’s something more productive than playing video games, and has more potential for a big gain. After all, should I veritably learn Linux, it’s far cheaper to build a computer than to buy it from a major supplier! Windows’ price jacks the cost up to even higher, in many cases, but by learning Linux, possibilities open up!

Or, more likely, it simply provides some entertainment. Heh.

Instant Karma

A review of the new disc of John Lennon songs covered by various artists. It was produced by Amnesty International as a campaign against the carnage in Darfur.

(Click on the image to go to the Amnesty International web page.)

Long-time readers will know that Lennon pops up at intervals on my blog. I am a huge fan. Lennon’s solo recordings kept me sane during my troubled teenaged years:  not least, the Plastic Ono Band disc. But Plastic Ono Band is not for the faint of heart, for reasons that will be explained below. I was surprised to see how many of its songs were covered on Instant Karma.

I had low expectations for the disc, simply because my regard for the original recordings is so high. But this is the closest a fan like me can get to new Lennon material, so I had to have it despite my reservations. I figured that if it had a half dozen good performances, the money would be well spent. (And the proceeds go to a worthy cause anyway.)

Bottom line:  I’m better pleased than I expected. I got the half dozen solid recordings I had hoped for, and a few more. Here’s a track-by-track review.

Disc 1:

  1. Instant Karma — U2:
    This was one of Lennon’s best post-Beatles compositions, in my opinion. And I’m a U2 fan … so I’m a little disappointed by a performance that is rather uninspired. “Competent” is a fair assessment. I can’t rate it higher than that, because the Lennon original stands head and shoulders above it. (Precisely what I feared would happen with the whole disc.) That said, it’s still a decent opening track because it is a competent performance of a good song.

  2. #9 Dream — R.E.M.
    Lennon’s talent declined substantially over the course of his solo career. “#9 Dream” is one of the better compositions from his last several discs. Lennon managed to generate the dreamy ambience suggested by the song’s title. R.E.M. (did they choose this track because the band’s name comes from the dreaming process?) mimics Lennon’s version but they don’t manage to pull off the ambience. What’s left is a rote performance of a middling Lennon composition. Those who aren’t familiar with the original might find some pleasure in it nonetheless.

  3. Mother — Christina Aguilera:
    I have mixed feelings about this track. “Mother” is the opening track on Plastic Ono Band and it is a tour de force. Lennon’s mum, Julia, left him to be raised by an aunt. There doesn’t appear to be any real reason for it — she lived nearby and visited with him from time to time — she simply wasn’t up to raising a child, I suppose. When Lennon sings, “Mother, you had me / But I never had you / I wanted you / You didn’t want me”, it means something. When he recorded “Mother”, he was undergoing a form of therapy which utilized screaming for cathartic purposes. So Lennon’s singing turns into throat-tearing screams by the end of the song. (The screaming was faded early on the version released for radio play; you only get the full Monty on the album version.)

    Thus it was extremely bold of Aguilera to tackle this song. And she sort of pulls it off, but not quite. The arrangement is lifted straight from the original:  minimalist piano, bass, and drums. Aguilera doesn’t scream like Lennon did. She aims to generate a different kind of intensity by vocal runs that range up and down the scale in a gospel-bluesy manner. But technical proficiency is a poor substitute for existential angst. So I admire Aguilera for risking this song; and it’s a good showcase for her voice; but ultimately, her effort is a near miss.

    This is an appropriate place to offer a general observation:  Lennon was an extraordinarily radical artist. Even the best songs on Instant Karma hold something back by comparison to Lennon, whose performances were often so raw that it made me self-conscious to be caught listening to them. We shan’t see the likes of him again any time soon.

  4. Give Peace A Chance — Aerosmith with Sierra Leone Refuge All-Stars:
    A reggae version of Lennon’s composition, with a humorous vocal. It works pretty well. My main criticism is that it goes on too long, so I faded it out early before putting it on my iPod.

  5. Cold Turkey — Lenny Kravitz:
    Another risky choice:  the song is about quitting heroin “cold turkey”, and Lennon groans and screams to convey the agonies of withdrawal. Kravitz predictably, if understandably, tones things down. In fact, he turns “Cold Turkey” into a funk song, but it works better than one might expect. I think Kravitz’s tough, growly voice fits the subject matter. The thing I really miss from the original is not Lennon’s screaming, but the blistering guitar riff that seemingly would cut through tempered steel. The original is better, but I like this performance well enough.

  6. Whatever Gets You Through the Night — Los Lonely Boys:
    I think I like this performance better than Lennon’s version. It was never one of my favourite Lennon songs (even though Elton John sang the vocals with him). This composition is in the playful / humorous vein of “Nobody Told Me” (see below) and therefore presents a more manageable challenge than some of Lennon’s other compositions.

  7. I’m Losing You — Corinne Bailey Rae:
    An odd performance; solo synthesized keyboard plus vocals. Can’t say that it worked for me.

  8. Gimme Some Truth — Jakob Dylan, featuring Dhani Harrison (George’s son):
    One of two versions of this song on Instant Karma (see below). This is the more innovative of the two. Dylan and Harrison took the risk of toning down the explicitly angry, hard-bitten rock edge of the original. It therefore relies heavily on the strength of Lennon’s song-writing skills, and demonstrates what a strong composition “Gimme Some Truth” really is. I don’t know whether Harrison played rhythm or lead guitar, but someone supplies some potent lead guitar at the solo breaks. Stylistically, it sounds a lot like George Harrison himself (he played lead guitar for Lennon on some tracks on the Imagine disc).

  9. Oh, My Love — Jackson Browne:
    Arguably the most beautiful song of Lennon’s solo career:  even “Imagine” doesn’t surpass it. Browne’s performance follows the original version virtually note for note (except that Lennon added colour with some surprisingly lively little runs on the piano that Browne doesn’t replicate). In this case, I think following the original was the right approach:  why try to improve on perfection? There’s great pleasure in listening to a fresh recording of this song.

  10. Imagine — Avril Lavigne:
    I suppose there had to be a version of “Imagine” on Instant Karma. (Regrettably, there are in fact two!) But really, the song is so identified with Lennon, and the original performance is so transcendent, as to make it untouchable. Lavigne makes the smart decision to echo the original instead of trying vainly to improve on it. It will probably succeed with Lavigne fans:  and perhaps with listeners who, unlike me, don’t worship at Lennon’s feet.

  11. Nobody Told Me — Big & Rich:
    This performance (including the banjo and the New Yawk accent) is a lot of fun. I like it better than Lennon’s original. It must be easier to tackle a playful piece like this composition than one of Lennon’s intensely personal songs (e.g. “Mother”). In any event, Big & Rich capture the spirit of “Nobody Told Me” perfectly.

  12. Jealous Guy — Youssou N’Dour:
    A standout track for me. Lennon’s original was loved by many, but I always found it a little maudlin. N’Dour makes it his own by performing it on acoustic guitar (interesting fills between each line of the vocals), with a bongo-drum rhythm(!). He sings the verses in an African language. Bottom line: I like his take better than Lennon’s.

Disc 2:

  1. Working Class Hero — Green Day:
    An iconic Lennon composition from Plastic Ono Band. The original, which consists only of acoustic guitar and Lennon’s world-weary vocal, seethes with understated rage. Green Day ramps it up with rock drumming and electric guitar in the latter half of the song:  an understandable editorial decision that will probably succeed very well with many listeners. (Give me Lennon’s original hands down.) The best bit here is the conclusion, when Green Day fades out and Lennon’s original vocal crossfades in (in a different key). “If you want to be a hero / Well just follow me” — sung with bitter ambivalence. Green Day rightly understood that they couldn’t appropriate Lennon’s voice for that last line.

  2. Power to the People — Black Eyed Peas:
    This track begins with an excerpt from Lennon’s original. (The little sax lick that pops up at intervals in the background is also sampled from the original recording.) The Black Eyed Peas do a pretty good job of putting their own stamp on the song, supplying some hip-hop sensibilities. But I was never overly fond of the original; nor am I a hip-hop fan. Listeners who have a different taste in music may appreciate the track more than I do.

  3. Imagine — Jack Johnson:
    Meh. Johnson simply shouldn’t have gone there.

  4. Beautiful Boy — Ben Harper:
    The Lennon compositions on Double Fantasy were very near to being elevator music / commercial pap. This song might have crossed the line with its overt sentimentality, but it achieved a certain poignancy after Lennon’s murder left Sean fatherless. Harper’s recording sticks close to the original, but lacks its poignancy. Filler material at best.

  5. Isolation — Snow Patrol:
    Another surprising pick from Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band disc. Snow Patrol rearranges the piano track and successfully makes the song their own, while preserving the mood of the original. (Actually, Lennon breaks the mood with an angry verse in the middle, while Snow Patrol retains the one mood throughout.) As the title suggests, the song is about someone who has withdrawn from the world, scared (“People say we got it made / Don’t they know we’re so afraid?”) and hurt (“The world is just a little town / Everybody trying to put us down”). Snow Patrol’s take is rather hypnotic: a strong performance.

  6. Watching the Wheels — Matisyahu:
    An OK recording. A little too square on the beat for my tastes; it doesn’t quite swing. On the other hand, there are more instrumental layers to it, successfully distinguishing it from Lennon’s simple piano and vocal arrangement.

  7. Grow Old With Me — Postal Service:
    Lennon left behind only a demo of this song at his death. Mary Chapin Carpenter did a nice (country) version of it on an earlier Lennon tribute disc. Postal Service’s version doesn’t work for me.

  8. Gimme Me Some Truth — Jaguares:
    Oddly, there are two versions of “Gimme Some Truth” on Instant Karma. I suspect the explanation is found in the lyrics: a critique of political propaganda (“All I want is the truth / Just gimme some truth!”) and inhumane agendas, readily transferable from Richard Nixon (“No short-haired, yellow-bellied son of Tricky Dickie’s gonna Mother Hubbard soft soap me”) to the Bush Administration or the failure to act in Darfur. So far, I’m enjoying both of versions of the song. Where Jakob Dylan’s version breaks new ground, this performance hews closely to Lennon’s slashing guitar-driven original.

  9. (Just Like) Starting Over — The Flaming Lips:
    I was never much enamoured with the Lennon original. I like this performance even less.

  10. God — Jack’s Mannequin, featuring Mick Fleetwood:
    Whatever were they thinking?! This is another Plastic Ono Band song, so intensely personal to Lennon that no one in their right mind would try to appropriate it. At the climax of the song, Lennon sings, “I don’t believe in Beatles / I just believe in me / Yoko and me”. And a few lines later, “I was the Walrus / But now I’m John”. In other words, it was a shocking repudiation of his past — a real kick in the gut to Beatles fans around the globe. Now imagine Mick Fleetwood delivering the same lyrics, parrotting Lennon’s original recording note for note. You don’t have to hear it:  you know it can’t possibly succeed, and it doesn’t.

  11. Real Love — Regina Spektor:
    A good choice for the closing track; arguably the highlight of the two disc set. “Real Love” is a song that existed only as an incomplete demo when John died. The other three Beatles made a recording of it, using Lennon’s vocals and piano (which were poorly recorded), as part of their Anthology series. This version of “Real Love” is better. It’s a sparse arrangement, just vocals over piano chords, but it works. Why? First, because I hadn’t noticed how interesting the chords are. In the intervals between verses, Spektor performs it as an almost-classical piece of music. The chorus is a little on the simple side, but Spektor adds colour by utilizing a little flutter in her phrasing, and by landing some notes just off the beat. The simple presentation also focuses attention on the lyrics: “All my little plans and schemes / Lost like some forgotten dreams” — abandoned for what really counts, real love. A quiet, bravura performance of a song that hadn’t been properly captured before. I’m pleased to add it to my music library.

Geeky Ice…

…but Cool, that’s for sure!

Just thought I would share this cool video that I came across on Digg!


David and Bathsheba

Over at Emerging From Babel, I have a new post up.

The last purr

This morning we took our aged cat to the veterinarian to have it put down. Coincidentally, our page-a-day (Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader) calendar for today’s date says,

The average house cat will spend 10,950 hours of its lifetime purring.

Patches with Moses

At rest.

Our cat’s kidneys had been failing for some time (we hadn’t figured it out yet when I published this photo over a year ago) and he took a dramatic turn for the worst yesterday. He was pretty devoted to me, for a cat, and I’ve shed more than a few tears in the past 24 hours. Not merely for my loss, but because he was clearly suffering at the end.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere:

Jamie recently lost a cat to kidney disease, too. She used the experience as a springboard for some theological reflections on death.

Addofio recently posted three compelling dog stories. Here she tells how she ended up adding a fourth(!) dog to her household (complete with photos). Here she describes losing one of the four dogs in the woods while camping. And here — well, you just have to read the post to find out what happens next in Addofio’s crazy, overrun-with-dogs world.

"Subliminal" Messaging

Well, the author of this post uses the term incorrectly (since subliminal messaging has to register subliminally, while this invisible ink won’t at all, I presume), but that’s okay, because it’s still a really funky concept that he introduces!

The graphic contained in the post is a little beyond me (anyone explain it?), but the commentary underneath it where the author suggests this as a preventative measure against piracy is intriguing. The battle between pirates and producers (the new cowboys and Indians?) has raged furiously for more than a decade, during which pirates have generally speaking won. While that doesn’t mean that this invisible coloring will single-handedly wipe out piracy, it could be a step towards it.

One of the loopholes in such a prevention is mentioned below, by one of the commenters who remarked that the picture is taken by a camera — so why is it that it only shows up on the iPhone, not the whole photograph. Another person later responds:

digital SLRs have pretty efficient hotmirrors in front of them, but the cheaper P/S cameras dont*. so the larger picture would have been taken by your garden variety dSLR while the iphone was taking the picture of the babe.

*this is easily tested: take any remote control you have and point it into your digicam lens while pressing buttons. usually you can see the IR LED light up on the live preview itself.

for this reason, almost any cheap P/S can be used for digital IR photography, provided you can access aperture and shutter manually. just stick a big piece of unexposed, but developed slide film and bam! an IR taking machine

With this in mind, it’s pretty easy to see that this would not serve as the sole piracy prevention required. Nonetheless, to sneak a hefty digital SLR into the theater is a lot tougher than carrying in your phone, so combined with regular security measures, this “Kameraflage” could contribute a lot to the cause of the producer!

Mutiny in the beehive

Beekeeper Rodney Dillinger is looking for a swarm of 40,000 honeybees, according to today’s Globe and Mail. They flew away after a mutiny:

Some of Mr. Dillinger’s bees are suspected of having become dissatisfied with their queen, tricking her into giving birth to a replacement and then sending her into exile.

The deposed queen left in the past few days, followed by about half the bees in the southwestern Nova Scotia colony.

The revolutionaries feed a new queen while starving the old one:

When [the rejected queen] is slimmed down from her usual large physique and can fly again, she leaves the hive with her followers. She exits a colony now headed by one of the daughters she was tricked into birthing.

I tell you, it’s just like that movie! — the one where Mel Gibson seizes the ship and Anthony Hopkins is cast adrift with a few loyal crew members.

The new queen is utterly ruthless in dealing with potential competitors — no sisterly solidarity here.

“Usually the first daughter-queen will go around and kill her sisters and become the colony head,” Mr. Phillips explained.

Now I’m reminded of a book in the Hebrew scriptures. I’ve been reading Kings recently. It’s the same story, except it’s usually men who resort to murder to gain power. The hapless beekeeper is God, I suppose.

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