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by Nikki Tranter

3 Sep 2008

Imagine if you got to do this at primary school!

The good teachers at Parkdale School in Edmonton gave their students $25 each and let them run wild at a Chapter’s bookstore this week to help replenish the school’s library. Students from kindergarten up to ninth grade selected dinosaur books, ca magazines, and even a few Stephen King paperbacks. All up, the kids nabbed 410 books.

The Edmonton Journal reports that Parkdale is an “inner-city school that puts extra emphasis on literacy and writing”. My favourite bit of the article is this: “The field trip ended up being part literature lesson, part math class. With a price limit, students had to figure out each book’s Canadian price and how much money they had left. Some, with a few dollars left over, opted to pool their money with a friend and get an extra book.”

Can’t you just see the kids getting together and working out what coins would buy which books, like they were swapping marbles in the playground?

 

by Jason Gross

2 Sep 2008

To follow-up on my post last month about the shrinking ranks of publication/newspapers writers….

One of the most trotted-out arguments about the decline and fall of the professional critic is that they’re not needed anymore since anyone can do their job online now.  The argument that anyone can write is only partially true, which is to say that knowledge of a certain skill doesn’t automatically make you an expert in the field. 

Think of these comparisons:

- If I have a driver’s license, should I clear out a place in my trophy case because I’ll automatically win the Indianapolis 500?
- If I can jog, does that alone mean that I have a good chance on winning the New York Marathon?
- If I learn how to swim, does that mean I’ll probably kick Michael Phelps’ butt in a race?

You might say that some of these set-up’s aren’t exact because they involve measurable skills- someone who is great in their field will win a race.  For writing, just like in any artistic profession, the results aren’t as tangible but you can set up other comparisons: if I’m able to draw a line on a piece of paper, should I then have gallery and museum exhibits devoted to me? You might snicker that if you sleep with enough gallery owners then the answer is yes, but you get the point.  If you want to go back to writing, try this out for a comparison- who would you want to work on your resume, a guidance counselor or Jessica Simpson?  Jess might be able to hire a counselor (if she figures out what it means) but again, you get the point.

Take McDonald’s as another example- you probably wouldn’t be too shocked to learn that the kid who’s flipping your burgers didn’t go to the Institute of Culinary Education.  You wouldn’t expect such a thing, partially because the staff there aren’t cooks per se but part of an assembly line.  If you go to a sit-down restaurant, you don’t know that the cook’s been to ICE either but the end result will speak for itself- whether you have a good meal or not.  Maybe the important distinction isn’t just having a degree or award but a show of expertise even if in the end, it’s still an aesthetic, subjective call which you make as the consumer or reader. 

A great piece of writing might not look the same to you as it does to me but even for a writer who doesn’t have a journalist’s degree, you can see the care, effort and thought that goes into a great piece of writing and appreciate the craft behind it.  That’s not to say that a blogger without a professional background can’t be a great writer but that everyone like ain’t necessarily gonna be a post-millennium Lester Bangs (which isn’t something to always aspire to anyway).

If you’d like to see a much more elegant way to say all of this, there’s a fine article on the decline of photo journalism, Alissa Quart’s “Flickring Out,” which expresses the same sentiment: “Anyone can take a decent photo, as the bromide goes, through talent or luck, but few can extend it into masterful narratives.”

by PopMatters Staff

2 Sep 2008

The Streets
Everything Is Borrowed [Video]

XX Teens
Darlin’ [MP3] (from Welcome to Goon Island releasing 30 September)
     

Joan Osbourne
Sweeter Than the Rest [MP3] (both songs from Little Wild One releasing 9 September)
     

Hallelujah in the City [MP3]
     

Portastatic
Some Small History [MP3] (from Some Small History releasing 9 September)
     

Foals
Olympic Airways [Video]

Stereolab
Three Women [MP3]
     

Jesse Malin
Russian Roulette [MP3] (from On Your Sleeve releasing 28 October)
     

Netherfriends
Tac Tac [MP3] (from Black and Greene EP releasing 9 September)
     

by Chris Catania

2 Sep 2008

Over the last 20 years Blues Traveler has gone from underground jam-band stalwarts to mainstream multi-platinum success including a Grammy for 1994’s single “Run Around”. In that two decade span, they’ve also founded a festival (H.O.A.R.D.), weathered the death of a band mate and battled other personal issues while still continuing to release music and tour. 

And in 2008 the New Jersey quintet is on a new label (Verve Forecast) and has recorded their latest album in a different way than previous albums. This time the plan on their ninth studio album North Hollywood Shootout released August 26th was to capture what rose the band up from the East Coast underground jam-band scene back when guitarist Chan Kinchla and John Topper (vocals/harmonica) founded the group in 1991. As the title suggests, the effort to harness Blues Traveler’s live ferocious mixing of improvosational blues, rock and singer-songwriter swagger was a new kind of challenge that forced the band to adapt a songwriting style they hadn’t explored before.
 
An hour before their Lollapalooza set on August 3rd, I had a brief chat with Chan Kinchla who took me on a tour through the new album, as he explained the difficulties of working with the new recording and touring approach, what it was like having Bruce Willis contribute and how it feels to play Lollapalooza 2008 as one of the few jammier bands on the bill.

We sat down at a table in the artist lounge backstage with the Chicago skyline as our backdrop as Chan took a swig from his drink, told me that he was excited, smiled a big hearty grin and unexpectedly offered up the interview’s first question jokingly asking who had been my most annoying interview so far over the festival weekend.

I dodged the question for obvious reasons. Kinchla smiled again and confidently assured me that I “hadn’t seen nothing yet.”

Luckily, he didn’t keep up his promise. And our chat was far from annoying.

How does North Hollywood Shootout capture the live show more than previous albums?
Well, with North Hollywood Shootout we wanted to try something different since last couple of records we kind of got in this singer songwriter mentality where we really worked on arrangements, trying to get the songs in a very tight form and then go in the studio and record them like that.

Then we realized that when we play live there’s so many things we sort of stumble on that we weren’t really getting on to our albums. So we decided to switch it up and try to do a lot more jamming which we did in the beginning of the record. Just playing, having some drinks and getting these cool little grooves going. Basically, we kept the parts that we liked, and sometimes we would take that part and make it the foundation for the a song or stretch it out and groove longer on it.

It took a lot of listening back for a long time and [producer] Dave Bianco (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger and Teenage Fanclub) helped us find what was really good.  We ended up having a lot more grooving on an album that we’ve ever had before and the recording process was really different for us, too.

How hard was it trying to capture that live element?
In the past we had really tried to separate playing live from recording in the studio. When you’re playing live you’re improvising, there’s people there in front of you and so much is going on onstage and in the crowd and new things happen every night. When you recording in the studio you’re going for a more precise goal, trying to get things exactly the way you want them. I think we were really trying to wed those two ideas together and I think we did a really good job and I’m looking forward to doing the same thing on the next record.  We had a lot of fun recording like this album because songs would come out of thin air and we could play in a stream of conscience. The technology we have today also allows us to record like this. You couldn’t really do this in the past.

What’s most exciting for you guys about the new album and playing live this summer?
Since we’ve recorded it with a live focus all the songs are really playing great live and the crowds are loving them. People are getting up and cheering for new songs they’ve never even heard before. That’s really exciting because sometimes when you make a record, release it and then six months down the road there’s only like one or two songs that make it into the live set rotation. With this album we already have six or seven. I can’t wait until people have the album and they actually recognize them.

What are some of your favorites so far?
I’ve really been enjoying “How I Remember It”, and the first single “You, Me and Everything” and (pauses) “Beacons”. Sorry about that, I’m having a hard time remember the names of the songs because we always call them something stupid in the studio when we’re recoding them.

You have Bruce Willis on the album doing a spoken word blues rant on the last track “Free Willis”. How’d that come together?
Bruce has been a friend of ours for a long time and he sat in with us. John Topper and [Bruce] are good friends.  They’re were hanging out and joking around and came up with this idea.  That song is a live blues jam. We just played for 20 minutes and then Dave took all the best pieces and college them all together. Then Bruce came down, smoked a lot of pot, and then free-formed over the our jams. It was a fun experiment to try something a little different.

Is Bruce going to be a part of the live show?
Hey, if Bruce ever shows up, you bet your ass we’ll do it!

You guys have had some lineup changes over the years. How has it been working with those changes?
Well, since Bobby died we’ve had Tad in the band, my brother for eight years and the first five years of that was really learning how to build the band back up again and how to stay out of the way. We really feel we’re hitting our stride with this lineup. We’re able to relax and just play. It’s a lot of fun.

This is your second time playing Lollapalooza since you played in 2006.
Festivals are just a total crap shoot. You don’t have any sound check. You don’t know how you line up is going to play with the crowd, so you have to just throw your hands up and see what happens. It’s kind of nerve racking because you don’t have control over your own show. The most important thing is just to go up there and have fun, because the reality is that something will go wrong. You have to just roll with the punches. 

We love playing in Chicago because we have a lot of fans here and I’m really looking forward to playing. Lolla has an alternative slant and the line-up especially. We’re one of the only jammier bands, which might actually work for us because it’ll be something different for the fans.  There are probably a lot of alterny kids out there who have never heard us so it should be fun. We’ll be sure to bring the rock for them.

Now that was a promise that Kinchla and Blues Traveler kept as they fired rapid fire shots from Shootout while slipping in a few crowd favorites and multiplatinum hits.

by L.B. Jeffries

1 Sep 2008

Level 70. Xbox Achievements. Leaderboards. These are common terms in the gamer lexicon and for many they signify something far greater than their digital existence. They have value. Something that exists in no other place but the virtual world has significance and meaning in the real one. Ray Kurzweil, a noted…I’m not actually sure what his official description would be but let’s just say he made a very lucrative business out of predicting technologies just before they came into existence, Kurzweil once commented that it will actually get to a point in society where the virtual and real world merge. That people will stop considering them different and think of them as the same thing. He also predicts that the place where this overlap will begin to occur is in video games. What does that mean? What are the signs that our fantasies in video games are becoming real?

Sadly, the first real indicators of the two worlds merging are when a traumatic event in the virtual world affects the life of someone in reality. An article in the Boston Globe highlights the growing field of therapy for people who have lost their virtual lives. The doctor interviewed, Dr. Block, proposes that the therapy needed goes far beyond mere remedies for addiction. He suggests that much of the problem is that the person has trouble just finding someone who will take their loss seriously. The subject often won’t be able to find an outlet until they are able to talk with someone who understands the game itself and the magnitude of the loss within those boundaries. Take the EVE Online player in the article. That was a part of his identity. He spent years deriving self-worth and personal esteem from being one of the most powerful people in that game. Should he be ashamed of that? Should he not feel loss when his entire digital empire gets taken from him? We all get self-worth and esteem from goofy things. Hell, you’re reading one of mine. That’s just what people to do to make themselves feel better. Why should someone’s prized armor collection be of any less value just because it’s virtual rather than destroying their garden if both prizes took the same amount of time to accrue?

Another sign is that people are starting to believe their interactions with real people in the virtual world have value. They are having have real debates online, far beyond just chatting in the comments. Academics long ago realized MMORPG’s gave them insights into how people would behave in real world conditions, but now they’re holding conferences there as well. The most interesting thing in that article about running an academic conference in World of Warcraft is that the people conducted themselves as if they were at a real academic meeting. Certain people run the forum, insights are noted, and the entire exchange is recorded for analysis later. They were able to do something in the Virtual World that would’ve taken months of planning and huge expenses in the real one. And it doesn’t stop there, businesses have started training their employees and holding meetings in digital environments. Whether it’s having people show the appropriate reactions to an oil rig fire or holding private gatherings on secluded islands, companies have embraced virtual reality for the low costs and the value the experience still provides in application to the real world. As one manager notes, people still bond even though they’re meeting online.

But perhaps the greatest sign that the boundaries have begun to blur is the fact that the real world has begun to spill back into the virtual. A place that was once reserved for acting out our fantasies and creating sense of accomplishment has finally begun to reflect back. There are now video games about real world events. There’s the groundbreaking Super Columbine Massacre RPG that forces the player to experience an intense documentary-like game and uses actual writings from the two killers to recreate the event. Or the unflattering McDonald’s simulation that doesn’t just show you how to run a successful fast food joint, it forces you to realize that the only way these companies can make money is through corruption. Or Audiosurf, which takes the music in the real world and converts it into a virtual level for the player to navigate. The fact that we’re starting to take virtual reality seriously is exciting and somewhat frightening. The fact that virtual reality has begun to reflect back at reality is where the real shift begins to occur.

I had a really interesting chat with a friend of mine who researches on lab rats about virtual reality a while back. The guy literally kills rats by suffocating them, gauges their heart status, the efficacy of the chemical he’s injected them with, and does this for months on end. He’s testing a medication that would save people’s lives if they were having a heart attack and were able to take it in time. What’s ironic is that he gets offended by violence in video games. His complaint is that the violence is totally meaningless. You gun down hundreds of people, yet there’s no meaning to that death. No value given to all that destruction beyond a score or reward. When I pointed out that his occupation involved a pretty horrific amount of violence as well, he disagreed. To him, killing the rats had purpose and utility for a greater good, while in video games it all just seems kind of senseless. Issues of game violence aside, perhaps the best way to create meaning and purpose in video games is if the player provides them on their own. Perhaps by blurring the lines between the virtual and the real, we can go beyond just dragging our fantasies into reality. We can do more than just brag that our Level 70 Paladin runs their own guild. We can say that they did something important there as well.

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