Eugeology #17 – King Kobra’s Ready to Strike

After last week’s weirdness, this choice from Eugene was a welcome return to more standard ’80s hairband rock. Lots of guitar riffs, soaring lead vocals punctuated with backing vocals on the refrains – yep, that’s our ’80s hairband sound and we’re going to stick with it. And with a name like King Kobra, what else would you expect?

If we were using a 5 point scale I’d give these guys a solid 2.5. Didn’t love it, but it was about average. The lyrics and lead vocals were a little strained and more than a little than over the top at some points, but given the genre and the era, I don’t think you can hold that against them.

Of the ten tracks, I liked Shadow Rider and Dancing With Desire best, mainly because Mark Free’s vocals were, comparatively, more restrained and didn’t draw as much attention to themselves as on the other tracks. They also had less of the glam-band feel and fit what I’d consider a more traditional hard rock mold. Overall, the album wasn’t bad but it did have the feel of a debut, which it was.

Long story short – it wouldn’t hurt you to listen, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.

Update: Just read Tim’s take and he is going to disagree with my review wholeheartedly, and I’m pretty sure Eugene will too. The trend I’m noticing is that they enjoy the hallmark features of 80s hairbands more than I do. I agree with Tim that the guitar play is strong without being over the top – I should have mentioned that in my initial review – and that Free’s got a helluva voice. I just don’t think the style is in my wheelhouse.

Links & Notes

Ready to Strike Wikipedia Page

King Kobra’s Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #16 – Alice Cooper’s Special Forces

This is a review I struggled with because I just don’t know that I have the music-review chops to adequately describe what I think of this album, so let’s just make it simple: this album is weird. Why? Well, it just is. It doesn’t sound like other stuff I’ve heard from Alice Cooper, and it doesn’t really fit neatly any genre with which I’m familiar.

Just because it’s weird, though, doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are definitely some tracks I thought were kind of fun like You Want It, You Got It, You Look Good in Rags and Don’t Talk Old to Me, but I swear I couldn’t give you a single example of anything that it’s similar to in my experience. Hell, if I didn’t have the album’s Wikipedia page to reference I couldn’t even tell you the 5-year timeframe in which it was recorded. The year was 1981, by the way, and I challenge you to listen to it and say it really sounds like anything else coming out at that time.

Hate to be a broken record (insert pun groan here), but it’s just plain weird. I think I’ve decided I don’t overly like it, but I can’t really say I didn’t like it. I just don’t know what to do with it, or what to tell you about it, so give it a listen yourself and see what you think.

Links & Notes

Special Forces Wikipedia Page

Alice Cooper’s Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #15 – Starz’s Attention Shoppers!

From the opening note of the first song, I felt like I was sitting in my bedroom as a middle schooler rejoicing to the tunes emanating from my newly-acquired clock (FM!) radio. What I’m about to write might make Eugene and Tim vomit, or at least scratch their heads and say “Whaaaat?”, but my first impression was that I was hearing a long-lost Styx album. That didn’t last all the way through the album, but it was an early impression.

My comparison to Styx probably has something to do with the feel of this one. It just reeks of the late ’70s rock/pop smell – airier guitar riffs than what would follow in the ’80s and a very “happy music” tempo. The notable exception is the last track, Johnny All Alone, which is a seven minute, melodic and somber tune. Of course, it’s the one I liked the most.

Have to say that if you’re not a fan of ’70s pop-rock you’re not going to like this album, but if you are then this is a great choice. I’d never heard a single track from the album (that I can remember) and I enjoyed it enough that I gave it an extra listen. And as I mentioned I think Johnny All Alone truly leaves you with a good aftertaste (afterhear?) when you’re done.

Links & Notes

Attention Shoppers! Wikipedia Page

 Starz Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Eugeology #14 – Aerosmith’s Pump

In a stunning change of direction, Eugene picked a band and album with which I’m more than a little familiar. Aerosmith’s Pump has several songs that anyone around in the late 80s or early 90s would have heard on their favorite FM station or blasting from the tape deck while tooling around in their buddy’s ’83 Toyota, including Love in an Elevator, F.I.N.E., Janie’s Got a Gun, What it Takes and The Other Side.

So yeah, I’d heard every one of these tracks at some point in my hazy past – a first for any of Eugene’s selections – and so I wasn’t expecting to learn a whole lot when I sat down to listen. Of course, I was wrong.

I was wrong because I forgot that I’ve never really before done what I’m doing with Eugene’s list: I’m reading about the band and the album as I listen. Because I haven’t spent any time around the music business, whether it be working at a record store, a radio station, bar or concert venue, I’ve never really spent any time learning what goes into the making of an album or getting it released. So what did I learn? Well…

  • They recorded in the same studio that Bon Jovi recorded Slippery When Wet
  • They didn’t include lyrics in the album booklet because they were worried that the Parents Music Resource Center (remember those tools?) would protest the sex and drug references in the lyrics. Go figure.
  • F.I.N.E. is an acronym for “Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”

“So enough with the history lesson,” you’re saying. “How’d you like it?” you’re wondering. Well, I’ve always liked this album, but even for someone who doesn’t mind hearing a 40-song rotation over and over at the store, many of these tunes were overplayed. Janie’s Got a Gun was a song, that by the end of 1990, I thought I never wanted to hear again. Since it’s been a while since I’d heard any of the tracks from the album (except for What it Takes) I found myself enjoying them all again, and I also rediscovered some deeper tracks that I’d forgotten about and really liked – Hoodoo/Voodoo Medicine Man being the best example.

All in all, this is a great album and I recommend it for anyone who likes some good old fashioned hard rock with a tinge of blues.

Links & Notes

Pump Wikipedia Page

 Aerosmith Wikipedia page

Eugene’s Take at Wheeler’s Dog

Tim’s Take at Useless Things Need Love Too

Video Power

My better half and I are trying to sell the house we lived in for our first 12 years in North Carolina, and let’s just say the process is different than our past house sales have been in the past. Probably the biggest change has been that there are far more things we, as owners, can do to help market the house. Among them is cultivating our house’s Zillow listing.

Our realtor set up the listing, but once it was set up we ended up writing a lot of the copy and adding some of the unique selling points for the house and neighborhood. When we bought the house the online tool all the realtors were using was Listingbook, which was pretty cool for that time, but we were completely dependent on the realtor to make any changes we felt were needed. With Zillow we’re able to do it ourselves, which is great because we’re the party with the greatest interest in getting everything right.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been any takers on the house, but this last weekend we learned exactly how powerful video can be. Zillow allows you to post a video on your listing and we had a video we’d shot a while back, but you have to use Zillow’s app to actually record the video so we didn’t have a video on our listing for quite a while. This past Saturday we were at the house and I took a few minutes to walk around the house shooting the two minutes of video that Zillow’s app allows, and then uploaded it while we were still there. The result? Views and saves of our house listing spiked big time.

The result? Views and saves of our house listing spiked big time.  Here’s a graphic showing the daily numbers going back a month:

170425 Zillowstats30Day

The traffic on our listing is represented by the green bars, the average traffic for houses like ours is represented by the blue line chart behind the green bars. The second highest day is the fourth bar from the right, which was last Saturday when I uploaded the video in the afternoon. The highest day was the next day, Sunday, which is also one of the very few days our listing exceeded the average.

We’ve had some small traffic increases in the past when we logged in to edit some text, but as a rule we were getting between 6-12 views a day with one or two saves a week – a save is when someone saves the listing in the Zillow app so they can come back later or get alerts when a listing changes – and nothing really moved the needle much until we posted the video. As you can see from this graph showing the last week the video made a massive difference, and keep in mind that the video was shot using my phone in about 15 minutes with no editing.

170425 ZillowStats

Now, if only we could convert that traffic into buyers!

Can Poverty Change You Genetically?

This is a fascinating article, written by a former investment manager and current Truman National Security Fellow, who escaped abject poverty in Appalachia, that looks at the early (as of now) research showing the potential link between poverty and genetics. Basically, the stress of poverty might change your body in a way that can be passed to your children and grandchildren.

Even at this stage, then, we can take a few things away from the science. First, that the stresses of being poor have a biological effect that can last a lifetime. Second, that there is evidence suggesting that these effects may be inheritable, whether it is through impact on the fetus, epigenetic effects, cell subtype effects, or something else.

This science challenges us to re-evaluate a cornerstone of American mythology, and of our social policies for the poor: the bootstrap. The story of the self-made, inspirational individual transcending his or her circumstances by sweat and hard work. A pillar of the framework of meritocracy, where rewards are supposedly justly distributed to those who deserve them most.

What kind of a bootstrap or merit-based game can we be left with if poverty cripples the contestants? Especially if it has intergenerational effects? The uglier converse of the bootstrap hypothesis—that those who fail to transcend their circumstances deserve them—makes even less sense in the face of poverty epigenetics. When the firing gun goes off, the poor are well behind the start line. Despite my success, I certainly was…

Why do so few make it out of poverty? I can tell you from experience it is not because some have more merit than others. It is because being poor is a high-risk gamble. The asymmetry of outcomes for the poor is so enormous because it is so expensive to be poor. Imagine losing a job because your phone was cut off, or blowing off an exam because you spent the day in the ER dealing with something that preventative care would have avoided completely. Something as simple as that can spark a spiral of adversity almost impossible to recover from. The reality is that when you’re poor, if you make one mistake, you’re done. Everything becomes a sudden-death gamble.

Now imagine that, on top of that, your brain is wired to multiply the subjective experience of stress by 10. The result is a profound focus on short-term thinking. To those outsiders who, by fortune of birth, have never known the calculus of poverty, the poor seem to make sub-optimal decisions time and time again. But the choices made by the poor are supremely rational choices under the circumstances. Pondering optimal, long-term decisions is a liability when you have 48 hours of food left. Stress takes on a whole new meaning—and try as you might, it’s hard to shake.

As the author points out, this research calls into question the whole concept of poverty as choice, or poverty as the result of laziness, and asks us to reconsider how we address poverty. One thing’s certain: whether or not you agree that poverty has a biological impact, you have to acknowledge that the programs we’ve depended on to fight poverty until now have not worked. Whether it’s because the programs are misguided, or there was a lack of political will to follow through on those programs that exhibited promising results, or some combination of those factors and more, we’ve failed to pull a huge chunk of our population out of poverty and if we want to change that then we’re going to have to make substantial changes. Soon.

Google PhotoScan and Google Books

One of the mobile apps I’ve had the most fun with lately is Google’s PhotoScan. Basically, it lets you use your phone’s camera to scan printed pictures rather than take a picture of a picture. Here’s how it’s described on the app page:

Don’t just take a picture of a picture. Create enhanced digital scans, wherever your photos are.

– Get glare-free scans with an easy step-by-step capture flow

– Automatic cropping based on edge detection

– Straight, rectangular scans with perspective correction

– Smart rotation, so your photos stay right-side-up no matter which way you scan them

Scan in seconds

Capture your favorite printed photos quickly and easily, so you can spend less time editing and more time looking at your bad childhood haircut.

The way it works is you fire up the app, make sure the picture you’re scanning is in the “frame” you see on your screen, and then when you tap the shutter button four dots appear on the picture and the app instructs you to move a circle from dot to dot in a certain order. I wondered why the app requires this action, but not enough to acturally research it, but I think I might have stumbled on the answer in this article about Google’s massive book scanning project:

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust to the spine, locking it in place. Above, there was an array of lights and at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, and a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick and gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, and flattened, before taking a photo, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed to de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to artificially bend the text back into straight lines.

I don’t know for sure, but it sure sounds like the technology developed for the book scanning project translated nicely to an app that could be used by average people armed with smartphones to scan gazillions of old photos into the great Googleshpere in the sky. Amazing.

Oh, and you should read that article on the book scanning project. It’s a fascinating exploration of a copyright conflict that has resulted in Google having a database of 25 million scanned books that no one is allowed to read.