In the Land of the Cute

I take walks in the small Pennsylvania town where I’m currently living. I’ve noticed that this town has something I had not seen in years, little figures, lawn ornaments, nestled on people’s property, on their lawns, in their gardens, on a step. The figures are positioned so they can be seen from the street. The intent, I believe, is to be charming, sometimes cute. You do get the cuteness, but you also get effects that are sometimes strange.

These are my favorite pieces. I describe the piece and then show you the picture.

This is an assertively perky figure, all bushy tail, alert posture, slightly startled pose. It’s also very worn and needs paint. The combination make the figure somewhat unsettling, as if the creature was trying to keep up that perkiness, no matter what the cost. I thought it was more interesting to see the figure from a distance, so I didn’t zoom in.

Squirrel, Pennsylvania, October 2009

This is one of my favorite pieces. I like the look of the angel, the lines, the sweep of the wings, the angle of the folded hands. The tipped flower pot nicely frames the angel. The shape of the plant complements the shape of the angel. The green and white colors provide a nice contrast. But you have to ask yourself, who is the angel praying to?

Praying Angel, Pennsylvania, September 2009

This little bunny is worn, but still cute, in a genuinely nice way. I think it works well in the space.

Rabbit, Pennsylvania, October 2009

I thought that I would see more figures in birdbaths and water fountains, but this is the only birdbath sculpture I found on my walks. This work is on the sweet side, and appears to be influenced by Disney, though it’s nicely done. The fairy is easier to see if you click to get the big picture.

Fairy and Frog, Pennsylvania, August 2009

The frog is chipped and needs some paint, giving it a “don’t mess with me, I’ve been around” look. This is a scary frog.

Frog, Pennsylvania, October 2009

Although this picture is flawed, I wanted to include it. I think the frog, though hard to see in this photo, works very well in the space. The frog is a little scary looking, but not as scary looking as the other frog.

Frog under a Tree, Pennsylvania, October 2009

There’s a lot going on here. We’ve got a kitty, a little house, a flag, a bent tree, and two people (elves?) clasping each other. While somewhat odd, even for the Land of the Cute, it has its own charm.

Kitty, surrounded by many things, October 2009

This is an advertisement for a garage. It’s a wonderful piece, perhaps crafted by the owner, funny and engaging. It’s more a work of folk art than a lawn ornament.

Person sculpture, advertising a garage, Pennsylvania, October 2009

Lest you think there is no such thing as an animal sculpture in an outdoor space that isn’t “cute”, look at this wonderful frog sculpture in Rittenhouse Square, Center City, Philadelphia. There’s something interesting and wonderful about the size, shape and look of that frog. This frog is not a resident in the Land of the Cute.

Frog Sculpture, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, November 2009

It doesn’t get any better than this – Slate Magazine’s Interactive Dan Brown Plot Generator

Here you go –

The interactive Dan Brown plot generator, By Chris Wilson, Slate Magazine –

I picked the city of Los Angeles and the group Sierra Club. (Note: be sure to click the refresh button as there can be more than one plot for each selection!)

This is what I got:

A mysterious cipher whose key is somewhere in Los Angeles.
A shadowy cult determined to protect it.
A frantic race to uncover the Sierra Club’s darkest secret.

The Forgotten Temple

When celebrated Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Santa Monica boardwalk to analyze a mysterious rune—imprinted on a gold ring lying next to the mangled body of the head docent—he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Destinati, a secret branch of the Sierra Club that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Vatican.

Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed when a messenger from the Destinati appears at Olvera Street to deliver a fateful ultimatum: Deposit $1 billion in the Sierra Club’s off-shore bank accounts or the exclusive clothier of the Swiss Guards will be bankrupted. Racing against the clock, Langdon joins forces with the nervy and quick-witted daughter of the murdered docent in a desperate bid to crack the code that will reveal the cult’s secret plan.

Embarking on a frantic hunt, Langdon and his companion follow a 500-year-old trail through Los Angeles’s most exalted statues and historic monuments, pursued by a Romanian assassin the cult has sent to thwart them. What they discover threatens to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way back to John Muir and the very founding of the Sierra Club.

It doesn’t get any better than that – does it?

My Avatar

mszv – amarez

American Idol Season 8 – my pick didn’t win

The interesting thing about American Idol is that you end up caring about who will win – at least I did.  I thought Kris Allen was quite good (I tend to like singer songwriter types) but I thought Adam Lambert was astounding.  I wanted Adam Lambert to win.

Here’s a neat article I found, about one person’s opinion on how to win on American Idol –

I think the above article is a nice complement to my previous blog post –

American Idol has this thing where people root for the person who is getting better, who is becoming the American Idol, not for the person who is there already.  It makes sense – you can identify with people who don’t start out perfect, but they work at it and they get better, and then they win.  It’s a very American story.

I think this hurt both Adam Lambert, and in previous years, from what I saw on the web (didn’t watch season 5) Chris Daughtry.  When you are already so good, so compelling, in how you sound, how you move, how you present yourself – it’s not exactly rewarding the underdog, rewarding the person who fights the odds and gets better, is it?   Of course – what are you going to do,  if you are already so good – not be good?

I think that’s one reason Adam Lambert didn’t win.  I’m sure there are other reasons, some that may resonate with you, some not.   Some people may simply not like glam rocker types.  Ordinarily, not my type of performer – but darn, I thought he should have won.

My radio station went away

From the website

May 18, 2009

Today marks the end of an era. KKSF-FM is no longer the Bay Area’s home for Smooth Jazz.

Everyone at KKSF would like to thank all the loyal fans of our station and the years of support you’ve given us. Over our 20 year history, you have always been there for us, and we truly appreciate it. You’ve traveled to our hundreds of KKSF listener parties and concerts, celebrated at our Sunday Brunches, helped raise over 4 million dollars for Bay Area AIDS organizations by purchasing Samplers for AIDS Relief, and you’ve listened to countless hours of Smooth Jazz music and artists. That unwavering support is reflected in a rich and successful track record at 103.7 KKSF.

The spirit of KKSF isn’t going away, however. will continue to thrive as your source for Smooth Jazz including a digital audio stream of the Smooth Jazz Network as well as videos on demand, concert listings and other features. We hope you’ll choose to continue to support the artists and the music online.

So the radio station now has a different format.  I understand that the owners of KKSF may have needed to do this for commercial reasons, but I don’t like it.

I’m glad I can still listen to my KKSF over the web.

American Idol – Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert

I don’t usually write about popular culture, except when I talk about MMOs, which are as “popular culture” as it’s possible to be!  Today’s post is an exception.  American Idol is nothing if not popular culture.

I rarely watch American Idol, but I got interested, so I went on the American Idol Site and I watched the performance videos for this season, season 8.  I think all the top singers are quite good, but my pick for season 8 is Adam Lambert.   After picking my favorite for this season, I got curious about previous years.  I read about a previous contestant from Season 5, Chris Daughtry, so I watched the videos of some of his performances on YouTube.  

Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert both have great voices which they use well.  I thought they were excellent at the performing part, being in front of a live audience.   You don’t see that with all the contestants.

What I find interesting about Adam Lambert, aside from the phenomenal voice and vocal control, is his performance sensibilities.  On the voice – you don’t see a lot of trained countertenors in pop music.  On the performance – he knows how to move on stage in a way that keeps you interested.   I enjoy his theatricality.  During “Rat Pack” week, he dressed like a rat packer, very sharp suit.  Other times he’s a glam rocker, a classic rock star, a 50s “boy next door”, or a simple soulful singer.  I like his connection to the audience.   I know that you can’t get into a performer’s head, but his performances appear emotionally sincere to me.  He appears to love performing and wants to share that joy with the audience.  The theatrics and the costumes were fun, but I didn’t feel as if they were jokey or campy, or retro.  They seemed like ways for Adam to express himself and get people into the performance.  The performances felt “real” to me.  Some of the song interpretations were daring, which I suspect is something you don’t see all that much in American Idol land.

Chris Daughtry was the upset of American Idol Season 5, when he didn’t win.  He’s since moved on to a very successful music career.  Understandably, from the video I saw, he looked disbelieving and upset when he didn’t get enough votes to continue to the next round.  From what I’ve read, most of the people covering the show (Entertainment weekly, as an example) thought he was the proverbial “shoe in”.  When I saw his performances I couldn’t understand how anyone could have been better.  He looked and sounded like a fully formed rock singer to me, a good one, with charisma, vocal control, and a sense of who he is, oddly enough, like Adam Lambert.  His performances were emotional and intense and assured, with a strong physical presence.

I think the emotionality and intensity and self confidence and physical presence is something he shares with Adam Lambert.  I thought he seemed nice, but who knows, perhaps the voters thought he was too cocky.  He’s a different sort of performer from Adam Lambert.  I like his acoustic performances very much (I like the timbre of his voice), but his voice and the way he performs – it’s made for fronting a rock band.   He’s got the controlled intensity and emotionality down.  I still don’t understand how he (or anyone) can sing in a loud band and you can hear him and also understand every word – a very clear vocal performance.  I know he’s worked at it, but it has to be something about his voice, something that can penetrate all that sound.

From what I’ve read, Chris Daughtry is not a trained singer (no voice lessons), unlike Adam Lambert.  Unless Chris Daughtry does something about training, I wonder if he’ll be singing with his full range into his 40s.  That rock singing has got to take a toll on your voice.

If you are interested in the American Idol contestants’ vocal ranges, here’s a great website –

Of all the contestants so far, Adam Lambert (not a surprise) and Chris Daughtry (a surprise) have the widest ranges on the songs they performed.  They may have wider ranges (I’ve read estimates of Adam’s range as at least 3 octaves), but this is the range of the songs they sang on the program.

If you are interested in learning more about their singing, Master Class Lady has a great site –  Rosanne Simunovic , a voice instructor, analyses the American Idol performances in a kind and generous but technical way.  Her blog is easy to read but written to inform.  I learned a few things about the technical aspects of singing.  There’s an interesting post about Adam Lambert’s performance of “Crying” by Aerosmith.  You can see the “Crying” video on the American Idol site.  Rosanne wrote about how a performer can recover from something that isn’t right, in this case a backup singer that was off key.  She pointed out that Adam took the earphone out of his ear during his performance.  It was so subtle that I had to watch the video several times to even see it.  I think he did this so he wouldn’t be thrown off by the off key backup singing.  That’s so interesting!  

Here’s the post –


amarez – mszv

My Avatar