Friday, December 30, 2011

Albums of the Year 2011

As most years, 2011 was a great year for new music if you know where to look. For me it was a year in which I discovered more new music than I had in previous years, as I kept expanding my horizon beyond my indie guitar rock roots. Below is a list of my top 5 favorite albums that were released in 2011.

Best Albums of 2011

1.  Wild Flag Wild Flag - Carrie Brownstein had a helluva 2011 with her new rock band and the popularity of her TV show Portlandia. After too many years of female vocalists trying to channel 1920s jazz singers, it's great to hear a group of women who want to rock. Of course they come from the prior generation of music, but nowadays rock musicians don't need to burn out by 30 to prove themselves. Thank God for that.

2.  The Roots Undun - You may know them as the house band on Jimmy Fallon's TV show, but they've been around for almost 20 years and are kickin' out the jams better than ever. This is the way albums are supposed to be made, a true piece of art that also includes a bunch of kickass tunes.

3.  Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi Rome - A modern day spaghetti western soundtrack featuring vocalists Norah Jones and Jack White in the best work they've ever done. Great for road trips across the American West or for a mellow evening on the couch (not that I'd know anything about either of those).

4.  Glenn Campbell Ghost on the Canvas - With a little help from Paul Westerberg and Bob Pollard on songwriting duties, Glenn Campbell records what feels like his farewell album. It's a beautiful, sad chronicle that makes one reflect on all the great music from the his era.

5. The Antlers Burst Apart - This is the one album on my list that best typifies the quality music being made in 2011 -- lush, beautiful, dense with falsetto vocals, keyboards and only a light touch of drums and guitar. It's what the kids are into and I appreciate it in doses. Here's a sample...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Broken Systems: Exhibit A

I'm seeing these signs next to road construction all over the great state of Montana:

The ratio of the 3 levels of government contributing is always basically the same:
  • 90% paid by the federal government
  • 10% paid by the state
  • 0% paid "locally"
Of course, it really makes one think about the definition of "local". For if the federal government is paying for 90% of the project, that means that this particular piece of road construction is being paid for by people from outside the state of Montana, people from Alabama, Texas, California, New Jersey, et al.

This sounds awesome if you're an 8-year old.

But for those of us who completed grade school, we are left wondering who is paying for the similar 90% of road construction costs in Alabama, Texas, California and New Jersey. Surely it isn't us!

As I reflect back on my life in Minnesota, I can't help but remember the absolutely horrible condition of many of the roads in the Twin Cities. Highly traveled asphalt roads in the northern climes face extra challenges due to the extreme temperatures and freezing of water in cracks, the expansion of which exaggerates weaknesses and forms potholes. Quickly. In particular, the 5th street off-ramp from I-94 westbound in Mpls looks like Dresden circa 1945, and has for 2+ years. Despite the fact that it saw massive traffic every day there just weren't the funds to repair it. (See Strong Towns if you're interested in more elegant detail of how we're building our cities and why cities are going broke).

So who is really paying for the maintenance to our infrastructure? The feds? But wait a minute...aren't "the feds" simply American citizens just like me (but who don't live in my city/state) who are clearly charging me for the exact same things in their cities?

And why does our system work in such a way that we use "other people's money" to pay for our infrastructure? There's no way 90% of the people traveling on the above photographed road live and pay taxes outside the state of Montana.

For more perspective, read this Strong Towns story about the financial dealings of the newly proposed Stillwater bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bike Hack - Wine Bottle Water Bottle

There's been so much talk recently about the long-term side effects of plastics that every cyclist is looking for a better water bottle. Metal bottles are becoming popular, but many of them are lined with dangerous BPA and they cost $20 +$5 for the suckable lid adapter. So what's a healthy, thrifty cyclist to do?

It turns out that bottles of all sorts are actually already quite prevalent in our society, and that we don't necessarily need a unique bottle design for every different type of liquid we consume.

Glass recycling is limited in Bozeman -- you actually have to take bottles inside the local Target store where they collect and recycle them. With bottles piling up in my kitchen, I realized that perhaps there was an alternate use for them. After all, "reduce" and "reuse" come before "recycle", right?

I'll share with you my secrets of...

How To Make A Bicycle-Ready Water Bottle From A Wine Bottle

What you'll need:
* bottle of wine
* corkscrew
* receptacle in which to place the wine
* fingernails
* water

First, buy a cheap bottle of wine. This one cost me $3.99 at the co-op.

Next, we need to empty the wine from the bottle so it can be replaced with water. Take the corkscrew and remove the cork from the bottle. I choose to pour the wine into a wine glass and drink it, but you can do with it whatever you please. 

It'll actually take 3-4 glasses of wine to empty your bottle. Invite a friend, if you like, but sometimes I just like to keep it all to myself.

When the bottle is empty, rinse it out and remove the label. To do this, run warm (not too hot!) water over the outside of the bottle and use your fingernails to scrape off the label as if you were scraping them on a chalkboard. 

Now you have an empty bottle, into which can be placed virtually any liquid, including water! How exciting! 

Fill the bottle with water.

Finally, insert the full bottle into your water bottle holder. Notice how the neck extension naturally prevents spillage.

Voila! Enjoy your new BPA-free water bottle and watch the ladies' heads turn when you ride by in style.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Welcome, Winter

Winter has come to Bozeman (in the MT) so I decided it was time to seasonally update the blog background and title image. Whaddya think? Alas, I don't have a lot of great BZN winter images yet, so I'll have to get on top of that.

These ones are from a few weeks ago, though. I've been doing lots of winter bike riding and really liking it. Riding on the snow, especially at night, is so quiet and peaceful. I put studded tires on the bike and have been testing them out in different conditions, still not exactly sure how much to trust them. The helmet goes on my head 100% of rides in these conditions (I'd gotten away from using it during casual summertime rides around town). And a balaclava underneath is a must to keep the windchill out.

I love the sound of snow, too --  that quiet squeak when you roll over it. The balaclava also covers my ears so it slightly muffles the sound, adding to the mellow pleasure of the experience.

This pic is from a ride around town about a month ago after our first snow...

These next 3 are from a trip to a nature preserve near Great Falls 2 weeks ago. I had the place to myself, riding along the 7-mile snow covered gravel road loop. I'd never seen a group (flock?) of 15+ pheasants at one time until that day.

Just me and the critters...rollin'.