Hot music on a dreary day

It’s finally warming up in Milwaukee. After 10 days under 32 degrees, it was a (relatively) warm day here in the mid-40s. Very cloudy, though. My wife said it was a great day to visit Milwaukee’s Holiday Folk Fair, so that’s what we did.

English: Samosa
Samosa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Folk Fair is a November institution in my home town, and now takes place at State Fair Park, a couple miles from home. This is where greater Milwaukee’s ethnic groups offer traditional crafts, costumes, dances — and food! Yes, food is really the star here. For lunch we had chicken paprikash and wonderful dumplings from Slovakia, Indian samosas, Ugandan sambusas, a Czech pork dish with a different sort of dumplings from the Slovak version, and a variety of cookies and desserts.

We also enjoyed a batch of ethnic music and dancing, from the Philippines, Mexico, China, the Czech Republic, and some pipers from Wales (I think). Wandered around all the exhibits, and chatted with folks from the Friendship Force. We don’t go here every year, but always have a good time in the process.

Seeing the creative process in action

Tonight, after watching the Wisconsin football team escape with a win at Iowa, we had a different sort of musical experience from earlier in the day. We watched the Showtime film Lost Songs: The New Basement Tapes.

Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 197...
Bob Dylan and The Band touring in Chicago, 1974 (Left to right: Rick Danko (bass), Robbie Robertson (guitar), Bob Dylan (guitar), Levon Helm(drums)) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you heard about this album? T-Bone Burnett was offered a box full of lyrics Bob Dylan had written while hunkered down with The Band at Big Pink in Woodstock, NY (a few years before Woodstock became iconic). The lyrics had never been set to music, but Dylan allowed Burnett to see what he could do with them. So he pulled together a fine collection of performing songwriters into the Capitol Records studio in Los Angeles to finish the songs.

The assembly was composed of Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (of & Sons), Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and (for a bit of variety) Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

The film offers a fascinating look at the creative, collaborative process among the musicians, that may have also mirrored the process that resulted in the original Basement Tapes, now also newly released. It’s great music, let me tell you. Go see this film if you can.

The film also reminded me of Door County’s Steel Bridge Songfest, where dozens of not-quite-so-well-known performers show up at the Holiday Music Motel on a Sunday night in Sturgeon Bay, are thrown together in a random fashion and expected to have at least one song ready to perform on Friday night. This resulted in one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever spent. You can hear some of the music at

So, as I type, the Wisconsin basketball team is having its way with Boise State, 44-29, early in the second half. Again, a good day.


Tonight’s Distraction: Jimi Hendrix

Here’s my story for this evening. I was planning to get a relatively early start on the blog post. Planning a quick check of email first (yeah, I know). Oh, a friend pointed me to a great deal on a book on Facebook (ooh, another time sink!). I bought a book, then spent a little while perusing the news feed. OK, time to get to work.


And then Workrave kicked in. If you spend a great deal of time at a keyboard staring at nearby screens, you should know about Workrave. This software forces you to take your hands off the keyboard a few times an hour; at the end of an hour of continuous typing, Workrave tells you to take a 10 minute break, and becomes annoying if you start typing too soon. Sure, it’s configurable, and you can tell it to buzz off if you’re on deadline, but it will save your fingers from repetitive stress injury (aka “carpal tunnel syndrome”). Did I mention it’s free, open source software? (See, I can stay on topic!)


So I was going to take a 10-minute break while I thought about something to write about. I went back to the living room, where I made my last mistake of the evening. She was watching PBS; American Masters. Tonight’s show featured the life of Jimi Hendrix, called Hear My Train A’Comin. As I walked into the room, Paul McCartney was talking about the first time Jimi played in London…and I was done for the night! This is a film well worth seeing, when it hits your TV screen. Especially if you have any interest in that (counter)cultural period. You’ll hear from Jimi’s friends, collaborators, other musicians, and hear an awful lot of Jimi’s guitar.


Jimi Hendrix NEW
Jimi Hendrix NEW (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It’s bedtime now. Much work to do tomorrow. Your discussion points: How do you keep your typing fingers nimble and uninjured? Have you seen or read any great musical biographies lately? Do you still miss Jimi Hendrix? I’m still not over Lou Reed.




Updating openSUSE on the Weekend

Saturday morning is a great day for updating your system. You don’t have corporate systems dominating the servers, and new releases (and the subsequent server hammering) rarely come out on the weekends. It could just be an illusion, but I’ve just always found it just a tad speedier. This weekend, there is a bunch of new things to play with:

It also looks like progress is on the horizon for my once-favorite mail client, Mozilla Thunderbird. Here’s one guy who looks forward to hearing more from Mozilla Messaging.

And just for fun, the annual SXSW Showcasing Artists torrent is ready for 2008 (download link).

One tip on updating in openSUSE 10.3: Online Update really only gets you bug fixes for your installed applications. If you’re interested in keeping up with  the latest and greatest versions of your software, go to YaST Software Management. When the Search screen opens, go to the Package menu. Go to All Packages. You’ll see a pair of Update choices: “if newer version available” or “unconditionally.” Usually you’ll want to just get the newer version. YaST will then tell you how many packages will be updated, which can number in the hundreds, but don’t panic. You’ll get to review the list of updates, and deselect any packages you don’t want to update now. Click Accept, and the normal download/install process begins.

Happy updating!

First errata (already!)

Good news: November 1 represents the Publication Date of openSUSE Linux Unleashed, already cracking some of the charts at Amazon (wow!).

But this very evening I discovered the first big error in the book. It’s tragic, I know. There will be a more formal Errata page on the book’s site when it gets built, but I want to share this with you while the experience is fresh.

The book has a lengthy section describing openSUSE’s lack of out-of-the-box support for proprietary multimedia codecs (notably MP3 and encrypted DVDs), with instructions on getting MP3s to play on your system. Perfectly good instructions, if somewhat complicated. Tonight I found out it doesn’t have to be that hard. The openSUSE engineers have finally come up with a simple solution to this vexing problem.

I’ve been using the truly fabulous Amarok player for music and podcasts with a minimum of hassle. After a YaST update, I lined up some podcasts, clicked Play and got an unexpected error message, along with an unexpected solution. I don’t have the actual message here, but essentially it said “We can’t play this file — Would you like to get the proper codecs?” Clicking Yes opened a Konqueror web browser to the openSUSE Software site. There you get a choice between getting the commercial Fluendo codecs or the community supported free codecs. Visiting the Fluendo Webshop lets you purchase and download some reasonably-priced codecs, ranging from the free MP3 codec to the “complete set of playback plugins” for 28 Euros. The MP3 codec is a tarball you have to install yourself. For some users, this isn’t a problem, but newbies with a command-line phobia may have trouble.

For ease of use, just click Community Information from the openSUSE Software page. The openSUSE Community Multimedia site opens. Scrolling down past the information on Ogg Vorbis, one sees the Restricted Multimedia Formats section, along with the truly marvelous solution: The One-Click Install Wizard. Separate buttons for KDE (with Amarok) and GNOME (with Banshee) users, but basically the same sets of codecs.

Click the link and some minutes later, you have the proper support installed. I had to quit Amarok and reload, but thenceforward the previously loaded podcasts played just beautifully. Problem solved.

Tuesday’s Internet Radio Silence

As you may know, is organizing a Day of Silence
tomorrow to protest the possible permanent silence coming when federal license fees for radio streams skyrocket on July 15. Although (newly purchased by CBS) won’t be participating, just about every other net-based radio station will go dark, except for PSAs asking people to phone their Congress-creatures.

I’m especially thrilled that Radio Milwaukee, the newest and freshest addition to Milwaukee’s terrestrial radio scene, will also turn off their stream Tuesday. I’ve been meaning to write about them for awhile, but will tell you all about them when you have a chance to listen for yourself (although if you’re in SE Wisconsin, give a listen at 88.9FM for what a radio station with no musical boundaries can sound like).

If your local radio scene is dominated by corporate playlists, and you don’t want to be forced into buying into a satellite network, you need to support this action.

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