You need to listen to Postmodern Jukebox. If you need a bit of convincing, read on.

I stumbled across PostModern Jukebox (aka “PMJ”) back around April on YouTube. And they have taken over my playlist since then. And I’m not exaggerating on the “taken over” part: According to my iTunes stats, between April and September I’d averaged listening to roughly 18-20 PMJ songs per day; and they have taken the #4 spot in most plays by artist even though I’ve owned music by the other top 10 artists for more than a decade!

How did this happen? It’s somewhat normal for me to listen to a new song or even a new artist a bit obsessively for a little while, but then things fade back into a more normal (for me) mix of artists and songs.

PMJ is not your typical group. Run by Scott Bradlee, they span a variety of musical styles, and are made up of a rotating roster of singers and musicians, with the net effect that instead of sounding like one group or one style of music, they “contain multitudes” — they’re like a bunch of bands with the same name. And many of the singers have been finalists on TV talent shows like The Voice.

Scott Bradlee often plays piano for the group, but his biggest role is in arranging the music compositions. He takes songs that have been popular at some point in the last 30 years, and recreates them in a musical style anywhere from 1920s rag time to 1970s funk. These arrangements are very original and engaging. And the artists covered also span the range, from Lady Gaga to Nine Inch Nails, Rick Astley to Nicki Minaj. They’ve been coming out with a new song almost once every week for the last 3-4 years, and the vast majority have been published as well-done videos on YouTube (in addition to the songs themselves being available on iTunes and the various streaming services). I think there are well over 200 songs available as of late 2017, and that’s another reason why it’s so easy to listen to nothing other than PMJ — it takes a while just to play through their entire repertoire even once!

By not being tied to a single band, PMJ is free to choose the right musicians and the right singer for any particular song. And at times, they’ve “remixed” their own covers and had a different set of personnel do the same song.

It’s hard for me to recommend where someone new to PMJ should start, because everyone brings their own biases to new music. Some people seem to have a hard time accepting covers of songs that are not effectively copies of the original. On the other hand, I seem to really enjoy very different styles of covers.

Some of the songs take harder edged songs and lighten them up, such as “Gangsta’s Paradise”. Others are just complete re-envisionings, such as “Straight Up.”

I’m not terribly up to date on pop artists and the top songs of the last decade, since I was a teen during the 1980s. But when the radio is on, I have very often been finding myself hearing a song and thinking, “hey, I think I know that song” even though I’d never heard it before. And of course it turns out that I first started enjoying the song in its PMJ cover, but now can enjoy the original.

For those of my friends from my ballroom dancing days, I’ll point out that a number of their songs are very danceable, with a mix of foxtrots, quicksteps, and swings.

I could go on and on (and on and on) about so many of my favorite songs (I literally have more than 60 of them ranked high that leads to frequent play even when I’m in my “general” category playlists). Let me try to keep this short by just listing a few I’ve picked not because they’re all my absolute tops, but because they represent the breadth and diversity of PMJ:

To file in the “Sad but true things you never expected as a parent,” I present this quote from Elizabeth (said after an interval without any of the semi-normal problems):

Parenting – it will send your bar lower than you ever thought possible!

Back in early 2006, I made a series of posts (1, 2, 3, and 4) wherein I used Filemaker to do a bit of analysis on my iTunes database (which includes syncing song play counts from my iPhone). I don’t have Filemaker anymore, so I’m trying to use Excel to do the data work.

The total number of times I’ve played any songs in iTunes: 54,562. The earliest I added songs was in November of 2001, so I’ve been using iTunes for 14 years. That averages out to 10.7 songs played per day (in the early years I’m sure my usage was much lower and spotty compared to the last 5-8 years).

Here are the top played songs as of November 25, 2015. There’s a lot of overlap with the list from 10 years ago, not just because I like the songs, but because the most common playlists I use are smart playlists that select songs I’ve played recently. So my earlier favorites get an “unfair” boost by staying on the regular playlists.

Song Artist Play Count
I Wish Stevie Wonder 145
Boogie Oogie Oogie M-Pact 142
Jack It Up The House Jacks 135
Harder to Breathe Maroon 5 132
Dance With Me Debelah Morgan 121
Waiting for You Seal 120
Girlfriend Matthew Sweet & *NSYNC 119
Kiss The Art Of Noise 118
Let’s Get It Started (Spike Mix) Black Eyed Peas 117
Hazy Shade of Winter Bangles 111

Next is the average number of days between playing a song, selected by the top 10 most frequent. Here you can see the more recent additions to my music library, since I’ve been playing those more recent additions more often lately. In some cases, they’re played more than I might all by myself because Howard requests some of them a lot.

Song Artist # Plays Avg. # days
between plays
Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars) Mark Ronson 25 8.8
Tacky Weird Al Yankovic 52 9.6
All About That Bass Meghan Trainor 38 10.4
Runaway Baby Bruno Mars 15 14.7
How You Like Me Now The Heavy 26 16.3
Sexy and I Know It LMFAO 54 21.0
Word Crimes Weird Al Yankovic 23 21.6
Love Is Blindness Jack White 58 21.9
Hooked On a Feeling Blue Swede 20 23.7
Count On Me Bruno Mars 9 24.6

Next I’m listing the most “popular” artists, as measured by the total number of plays over all their songs, and then listing the average number of plays per each of their songs:

Artist # Plays # Songs Plays/Song
M-Pact 2,303 64 36.0
The House Jacks 2,285 95 24.1
Ray Charles 1,848 125 14.8
Dave Matthews Band 1,309 62 21.1
Toxic Audio 1,106 50 22.1
Yo-Yo Ma 930 49 19.0
Rockapella 799 42 19.0
Da Vinci’s Notebook 795 45 17.7
The Blues Brothers 750 23 32.6
Moxy Früvous 746 38 19.6
Persuasions 652 31 21.0
Red Hot Chili Peppers 634 30 21.1
Duwende 564 36 15.7
Led Zeppelin 526 30 17.5

Finally, it’s very interesting to compare the histogram of song plays today against what it was 10 years ago:

The decaying line from 1-15 plays is still roughly the same, but after that things change. It’s not surprising, because I’ve been listening to songs for an entire decade, so the maximum number of plays for some songs is much higher. But it’s interesting that there’s such a broad, slow slope in play count from 15-50 plays.

So apparently the movie Tomorrowland didn’t have a good start at the box office (at least partially due to bad marketing), and therefore people are calling it a flop. Based on Frank Catalano’s review, “Ignore the critics: The world needs more Tomorrowlands,” Scott Meyer’s review (below the comic), and Howard Tayler’s review we decided to go see it today with the kids. Meyer wrote, “If, like me, you think that a can-do attitude is more productive than giving up, and that feeding on negativity might not actually be healthy, than please consider seeing it, preferably with your kids.”

I thought it was a perfectly fine film, and Dorothy loved it. (I think it was a little long for Howard.) I think the messages of perseverance and striving to improve the world are solid, important ones to tell our children, and movies avoid any problems with kids’ tendency towards, “I have to ignore what my parents tell me because they’re my parents.”

Never give up!

A little more than 10 years ago, we moved from Boston to Seattle. And 10 years ago today, we celebrated Dorothy’s first birthday.

For that first birthday (in early March), we had the party outdoors on a deck, because it was sunny and relatively warm in Seattle. Since it was our first year here, we’d thought that maybe everyone was lying about what weather in Seattle was like, because who would expect 60s and sunny in March? Sadly, that year was an exception, because just about every year since then has been cold, gray, and often rainy.

Until this year. It’s been sunny this week, with highs in the 50s, and the prediction for this weekend is sunny and highs in the low 60s. So apparently Dorothy can have an outdoor birthday party once per decade!

Also in birthday news, we sang “Happy Birthday” to Dorothy during breakfast this morning. Then I sang the teasing version I learned from my grandfather: “Happy birthday to you / you belong in the zoo / you look like a monkey / and you act like one too!

Right after that, Howard told Dorothy, “Don’t throw poo at us!”

There was a good post a month ago in the Seattle-area tech site GeekWire titled, “Scientific literacy: Buried under tech’s trappings.” The author, Frank Catalano, says, “We are living in the era of artificial scientific literacy.” By that he means that people are mistaking a wide public interest in the results of science and engineering as the same thing as scientific literacy. He writes,

My recognition of the pervasiveness of the façade began when a reporter asked me, in a discussion about education technology, if I thought the battle for scientific literacy had been won since science was so prevalent in our society.

My inarticulate “huh?” led to examples like the long-term popularity of the “The Big Bang Theory” on television, superhero-and-scientist inspired blockbuster films, and smartphones pressed into all of our faces. Not to mention the high-profile push for STEM education in our schools.

To that I say all that glitters is not gold. Nor is the ability to use the results of scientific discovery the same as understanding the science that fueled the discovery.

Put simply, to be scientifically literate you just need to understand the scientific method.

This conversation was not a bit frustrating:

Me: Howard, you need to take down the bucket that you hung from the catwalk exactly at my eye level.
Howard: OK, can I use your scissors?
Me: OK.

We go downstairs and get the scissors, then come back upstairs

Me: Pull up the bucket before you cut the string.
Howard: What bucket?
Me pause: OK, pull up whatever is on the other end of that string before you cut it.
Howard condescending tone: That’s a bucket, Mom.

I’ve been watching The Penguins of Madagascar TV series with Howard and Dorothy this year. There are some funny quotes in some episodes. My favorite by far, though, is:

If you need to find me, I’ll be on the cutting edge of science!

To fully appreciate it, you have to say it in a B-movie style purposeful baritone voice!

Here is more research on the health problems from sitting too long (whether or not you exercise). The interesting question is whether improved health is from taking activity breaks, or simply being vertical. I have a standing desk, but I do not have a treadmill with it. I move more than if I were sitting just because it’s hard to stand perfectly still for long periods of time. But I don’t know if the standing or the walking around every half hour is what really helps.

An analogy to medicine might help when considering security surveillance. At a recent physical, my doctor pointed out that they used to do much more screening on men my age but eventually they found out that they were getting a lot of false positives which led to unnecessary procedures which often caused harm (or at least financial expense) for no reason.

Similarly, when the president or others say “we’re responsible for the security of Americans” as a reason to use every surveillance technique possible, we should instead ask what does it cost, what harm does it do, and is it worth it? We might like to say that every human life is priceless, but no one is really going to directly spend a billion dollars to save one life. Similarly, when looking at all the surveillance in the US, especially given reports that in many cases they never stopped a single attack, is it worth the expense and the intangible costs (especially degraded freedoms and self-censorship of the populace) to be that aggressive? Medicine is learning that the answer is “no” and hopefully the security world will learn the same balance.

With wonderful support from Elizabeth, I took the last 24 hours to disconnect from everything. I went to a bed & breakfast in the area all by myself, and turned off email accounts on my phone. I did not bring my laptop, or a movie, or any great fiction books with me. I wanted to be as alone as reasonable, and I succeeded.

I’m an introvert by nature, although not an extreme one. That means that I gain energy by being alone, or at least away from people. And I realized recently that I’m spending a lot of time at work talking with people, and at home I’m dealing with kids and trying to spend a bit of time with my wife, and after everyone is in bed I might do more work or read or watch a movie, but it felt like that was scrounging for alone time and those solutions weren’t really working. So on this break, I spent time sitting in a chair and gazing at nature, doing a bit of doodling, meditating, trying out the miniature (2″ x 3″) Zen Gardening kit I got for Xmas, and relaxing.

I’m feeling recharged and energized after this one-day break. It says something about where I am mentally, though, that by noon today (around 21 hours into my break) I was itching to get back to work. For the near term, I’m going to try to be better about taking short mental meditation breaks at night. Looking out longer term, I want to figure out a way to get day-long breaks like this more frequently than once every five years.

Just said by Elizabeth: “Dorothy, don’t force cucumber soda on your brother!”

Then said by Dorothy to me, while shaking her fist at me: “Get off my lawn, you adult!”

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