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For the Love of Short Books

March 14, 2017
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My love for big novels is longstanding and deep-seated. Friends’ eyes glaze over as I go on and on about my affinity for expansive works that plop a reader into a massive universe and–if I’m being honest–could use the help of a no-nonsense editor. My shelves are full of door stops and my plan for spring break (less than a week away!) is to shotgun a few volumes of The Familiar by Mark Z. Danielewski, but I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to short novels. Not too long ago I read Train Dreams by Denis Johnson on a flight and later polished off Loner by Teddy Wayne over a rainy weekend.

The sharpest work of short fiction I’ve encountered recently is The Vegetarian by Han Kang. It’s a gritty piece of literary fiction that–unlike much of my experience with fiction in translation–does not require a deep knowledge of its home culture to feel the impact. And at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick read that takes much longer to process. Kang presents a subtle violence throughout the novel that diminishes Yeong-hye (the main character) and leaves a mark on the reader.

After finishing The Vegetarian, I was pleased to see it on a list from Electric Lit of 18 (More) Amazing Novels You Can Read in a Day. (The first list of but seventeen is here.)

If you find yourself with a spare hour or four, check out some of the 35 novels linked above and give one a shot. Based on the few I’ve read from those lists, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Progress Report: January

February 7, 2017

We’re one month and some change into the new year. It’s time to give a progress report of my 2017 cycling goals.

  • Rode 289 miles in January. It’s not a crazy amount, but it is 31 more than necessary to be on target for my yearly goal.
  • Completed a metric century in the hardest rain I’ve ever experienced on the bike. I misjudged distance on the way back and would have been about 1.5 miles short of my goal so I puttered around the neighborhood to get exactly 100 km. It took much longer than it should have, but it felt good to be in the saddle over that distance.
  • Began a new TrainerRoad plan (Sweet Spot Low Volume), but it’s been so nice outside that I haven’t been able to convince myself to ride indoors. Eventually the weather will turn sour–I live in Arkansas after all–so I’m bound to find a reason to ride inside again.

So far so good. At least my mileage goals are (slightly) ahead of schedule. If the weather keeps up through February, I can see edging a little further ahead. Still, we’ll have a newborn in the house soon so this could all fall to shambles. Stay tuned for more!

We’ll end on a photo of my favorite street in Little Rock (Capitol Ave.) featuring some of my favorite people.

Ride Report: January Metric Century on MLK Day

January 18, 2017

Like many Americans, I had Monday off from work to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With fewer responsibilities than usual, I had ample time to revisit some of Dr. King’s work and get in a solid ride. Here’s the first ride report of 2017.

Stats

Distance: 62.4 miles (100.4 km)

Speed: 15.8 mph (25.4 kmh)

Moving time: 3 hr 57 min

Average power: 204 watts

Elevation: 772 ft (235 m)

Description

While I only set out to do about thirty miles, my legs felt good so I decided to not squander warm(ish) weather in January and complete my first metric century of the year. This was–by 12 miles–my longest ride since September of 2015 and it felt good. At mile 30 or so the rains came down and the floods threatened to come up but all was well. I misjudged the distance home so I got to my neighborhood with only 60 miles under my belt so I cruised around side streets in a torrential downpour to equal a solid 100 kilometers.

Reflection

  • Once you’re soaked, a little longer in the rain can’t do much damage.
  • A solid casquette does a lot to keep rain out of your eyes. I’m not shy about my love for cycling caps. Still, I’m overjoyed when they’re as useful as they are sartorially delightful.
  • A bike fit is in order. While my legs are fine, my neck and shoulders are a piece of work. I’ve never been fitted before so I’ll have to take the plunge eventually.
  • Relive.cc is remarkable. It’s a simple thing, but visualizing my rides like a stage of a pro race makes it all somehow grander.
  • I’m grateful for Strava Beacon so my wife could track my progress and ease her mind–especially since I was gone much longer than initially planned.

Spinning My Wheels: Specific Cycling Goals for 2017

January 12, 2017
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Ah! A fresh new year.

2016 was sub-optimal for many reasons. Here, I’m going to focus on cycling. I participated in only one formal event (Tour de Rock 50) and fell well short of my annual mileage goal. Still, it wasn’t all bad: I discovered TrainerRoad which makes indoor training not awful, found a few great cycling podcasts, and shared some fantastic rides with friends. This year taught me that the cycling scene in Little Rock is much richer than I had imagined that is only getting better.

2017, however, is starting out with a plan for me and the bike(s). I want to lay out my “race calendar” (I use quotation marks because the vast majority of these events are not races) and train according to that. Along with that, I’ve set a number of specific cycling goals for the year that will work to increase my fitness and make me spend more time on the bike.

Specific Cycling Goals:

Log 5000 km (3107 miles)

Raise my FTP to 3.1 watts/kg (currently 2.3 w/kg)

Complete a 100 km+ ride every month

Finish a full TrainerRoad indoor plan (Sweet Spot Base, General Build, Rolling Road Race)

Complete a road, crit, and cyclocross race. (CX may prove the most difficult because I currently do not own a bike that could complete such a race.)

My plan is to at least monthly write a progress update here. I have a well documented history of failing writing goals, but it’s a new year and a fresh chance to start again.

 

 

MLA 8 Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Citations

August 19, 2016
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(tl;dr: MLA 8 makes some major changes, but they’re great and you should love them.)

WHY

When style guides were created writers used print sources almost exclusively. As types of sources have increased, so has the complexity of style guides. The 7th edition of MLA Guide for Writers of Research Papers weighed in at nearly 300 pages and was—frankly—woefully inadequate for citing 21st century media.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication for MLA, puts it another way:

Writers need to know how to cite an ebook, how to cite a tweet, how to cite an Instagram image, how to cite — no, seriously, my office actually received this inquiry — a book that a player reads within the action of a video game. At some point, the process of developing and disseminating all of these citation formats runs the risk of creating a map that is larger and more complex than the terrain through which it attempts to guide writers and readers. And this is the point at which academic writers understandably begin to grumble about citations being outdated and unnecessary anyhow.

MLA 8 is a slim, trim 160 pages and takes a rather bold new approach to citation.

HOW

MLA 8 Core Elements

Core Elements of MLA 8

Instead of following a rigid formula, writers are asked to consider the source and apply a source-neutral method the MLA calls its “core elements” (“What’s New”).

The idea is that writers will be able to format any citation—regardless of the media source—for years to come. This allows some flexibility for authors and greater success for readers (and graders!) following citations and tracking down sources.

MAJOR KEYS IN MLA 8

🔑        One format for all sources–whether scholarly article or tweet.

🔑        URLs are back in. Where the 7th edition chopped the URL, MLA 8 asks for its inclusion.

🔑        No more city names for publishers.

🔑        You may cite an author’s pseudonym. This is especially important for social media sources.

WHY THIS IS EXCITING

This citation update requires more thinking from the writer. Rather than routinely following a prescribed formula in a book, students will be forced to wrestle with sources and—ideally—consider whether the “container” indicates that the source is reliable and scholarly.

FURTHER READING

MLA Style Center An excellent online resource for teachers and students alike

“MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different” from Purdue OWL

“Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty” by MLA

“What’s New in the Eighth Edition” by MLA

“Shifting into 8th (On MLA’s new edition)” by Joyce Valenza from School Library Journal 

“The Future of Academic Style: Why Citations Still Matter in the Age of Google” by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in Los Angeles Review of Books

“MLA 7 vs. MLA 8” from EasyBib

 

Enjoy Your Rabbit

February 19, 2015

It’s no secret that I love Sufjan Stevens. However, I have never been too sure about his second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit. It’s not at all like any of his early records and it hasn’t always been my favorite thing to listen to. The album is, frankly, noisy. It’s loud and brash and at time unsettling.

Still, it’s Sufjan so I’m a fan.

I was hesitant to dive into this album, but I was pleasantly surprised. As with all of his music, the best part of the album is his focus on a strong melodic presence. The first two tracks are pretty solid, but “Year of the Rat” has a strong hook that really sets the tone for the rest of the sounds.

While it will never be my favorite Sufjan record, it’s quite good and surprisingly adroit in a genre that isn’t necessarily his forte.

Favorite Tracks:

“Enjoy Your Rabbit” and “Year of the Snake”

A Sun Came!

February 3, 2015

A Sun Came finalI encountered Sufjan Stevens a little later that I wish were true. Sometime between the release of Seven Swans and Illinois a friend handed me a copy of a live Sufjan show and I was blown away. Most of the songs performed were from Michigan with a few from the recently released Seven Swans and the forthcoming Illinois. What I loved the most, though, were his awkward discussions between songs. The interludes were obviously rehearsed but they were halted and uncomfortable nonetheless.  He had such command during the songs and displayed such vulnerability in the moments before the guitars kicked in. I was already a committed fan.

The next day I spent all my eMusic credits for the month on his existing discography. (side note: Did you know that eMusic still exists?)

All that is to say that the next day was my first experience with A Sun Came. My initial reaction was that, compared to Michigan and Seven Swans, A Sun Came was an impressive first album that showed a promise that was realized in his later albums. The several listens I’ve had of this album over the last few days convinced me that this album is a gem in its own right. This record is quite good, even if it weren’t a precursor for better sounds to come.

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard the full Sufjan Stevens catalog, but this may be his most influenced recording. Nearly every song has touches of Celtic, Indian, Middle Eastern, and American folk tunes. Occasionally–like in “A Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”–the cacophonous musical origins work together to make a uniquely interesting and good track. More often than not, though, the songs seem to reach a bit too far. Still, the old Robert Browning chestnut holds true because this album’s overreaching turned into incredible tunes in his subsequent recordings.

Lastly, let’s talk about the recording method and the strange interludes dropped throughout the album. The production value is relatively low on A Sun Came and it was reportedly recorded on a four track machine a few years before its official release while Sufjan was a member of a band called Marzuki. It’s certainly not garage band lo-fi sounding, but the lower quality recording technique forces the listener to forgive a few songs for their imperfection. And those interludes! “Belly Button,” “Siamese Twins,” and “Godzuki” have me imagining that Sufjan was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan while mastering this album and making the track order. Could you imagine Sufjan Stevens providing an example in the torture introduction of “M.E.T.H.O.D Man” from 36 Chambers? (note: I doubt that there is any more NSFW audio available than the previous link so protect your little ears.)

If anything could be more awkward than live-Sufjan speaking between songs, a guest Wu-Tang verse would be it.

Favorite Tracks:

“Happy Birthday”

This has always been my favorite song from this album and its place remains. It’s the simplest song on this record and is the most Seven Swans like of the all. Sufjan’s simple vocal mannerisms shine here and the subtle vocal harmonies are to die for.

“Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”

The trem/reverb guitar intro is enough to send me over the moon. As mentioned above, it’s a heavily influenced song that works better than most on this record.

“Ya Leil”

Just listen to it. It’s unique and incredible. More chanting!

Check back next week for my take on Enjoy Your Rabbit. I’ve spent the least time with this recording so I’m mostly hesitant about it. Wish me luck.