Articles by " Adam"
9 Mar
2017

I know you think you have a favorite instrument, but you’re probably wrong.

Well, it's that time of the year again. March 10th marks International Bagpipes Day!  I know most of us are (obviously) great bagpipe lovers already, but for anyone out there who has ever thought, "Wow, bagpipes are totally amazing, but I wish I knew more about them!" this post is for you.

The Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band at a competition! (My dad isn't not in this photo...)

Let's start with some basic bagpipe facts.

Piper Bill Millin, badass extraordinaire of WWII

  • Bagpipes were invented in the Near/Middle East, evidence suggests some time before the Roman era.  The exact timeline is unknown, but references to bagpipes and bagpipers are made in ancient Greek plays and Roman writings. There are sporadic mentions of the instrument in earlier texts.
  • Although the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland is the most widely known bagpipe in the English-speaking world, bagpipes are actually fairly common across all Indo-European countries, with most every region sporting several examples.  In addition to the Great Highland Bagpipe, pipes from the British Isles include the Scottish Smallpipes, the Border Pipes, the Irish Uilleann Pipes, and others. In Europe, instruments include the zampogna of Italy, the biniou of France, and the Dudelsack (yes, really) of Germany.  There are also bagpipes indigenous to India, Iran, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Norway, Sweden, and pretty much every other European country you know.
  • Bagpipes were used on the battlefields of Scotland and England as early as the 16th century.  Bagpipes were used in a manner similar to the use of the bugle by the cavalries of Westerns, with different types of tunes to denote marching to battle, retreating, reveille, etc. The commonly known music of the Great Highland Bagpipes today comes mostly from the tradition of martial music; bagpipe competitions strongly emphasize marches specifically.
  • Gratuitously sexy bagpiper? Don't mind if I do!

    While different types of bagpipe vary greatly in their tones, the instruments have an underlying unity to their sound, which is due to the way they are played.  Almost all bagpipes consist of a chanter, which plays the melody, and at least one drone pipe, which plays a single note in the background (hence the name). The piper fills the bag with air, either blown in by mouth or pumped in by a bellows, and then squeezes the bag, which forces the air through reeds in the pipes, which produces the notes of the instrument.

    From Wikipedia (because I tried to say this as concisely and failed): "The chanter is usually open-ended, so there is no easy way for the player to stop the pipe from sounding. Thus most bagpipes share a constant, legato sound where there are no rests in the music. Primarily because of this inability to stop playing, technical movements are used to break up notes and to create the illusion of articulation and accents. Because of their importance, these embellishments (or 'ornaments') are often highly technical systems specific to each bagpipe, and take many years of study to master."

  • Bill Millin, personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, piped British soldiers ashore at Normandy like a total badass.  After the battle he asked some captured German snipers why they hadn't shot him and they told him it was because they thought he had gone insane.  What other instrument has a story like that?! None other.

That's about enough of the educational stuff!  Here are some bagpipes for you to listen to!  Enjoy!

Pipe Major Brian Donaldson and Willie MacCallum, two of the best pipers living (and two of the nicest people you'd ever hope to meet!)

The late Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies, last Pipe Major of the Queen's Own Highlanders, and possibly the greatest piper of the 20th Century.  (Also a fantastic person.)

Here's some Italian bagpipes!  Wtf?!

Russian Bagpipes!  Ah!

That's all from your favorite bagpipe lover for today!  Haste ye back! <3

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20 Feb
2017

Find Someone to Love You Unconditionally on National Love Your Pet Day!

February 20th is National Love Your Pet Day!  Aka the best and most beautiful day of the year!  We love pets.  They are cuddly and adorable and the actual best.  Pet ownership has been scientifically proven* to make your life better.  Taking care of a creature other than yourself not only imparts responsibility and makes you a less narcissistic crazypants, but it is also the essential ingredient for a perfect meet-cute.  Basically what I'm trying to say is that you should have a pet.  Because if you don't have a pet, you will get pregnant.  And die.

Nevermind that, though!  Let's look at pictures of the various and sundry pets of Kards Unlimited!

Pennyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Speck is so amazing and majestic.

 

Ate and Ursula! Cuddling kittens of DOOM!

Baby Ursula was the best Ursula.

 

Oh Watson. You goofball.

 

Ha, Sipper. Too cute. Look at her little crossed eyes.

This is Rick. She clearly takes after her owner Dale

And this is Clover! I love her so much and I haven't even met her yet!

*I don't really think that science has proven anything of the kind, but it sounds reasonable.  Pets are the best.  Just trust me.
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6 Feb
2017

Learn to steal like Neil Gaiman!

I read a book a while ago called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  The book isn't really about stealing, of course, but about how to go about capitalizing on inspiration and understanding the differences between emulating a style because you appreciate it and straight up copying someone else's work.

When I heard Neil Gaiman was going to publish a book of Norse mythology (inventively entitled, Norse Mythology), I immediately thought of Steal Like an Artist because one of the things Kleon talks about in the book is getting to know the influences of your influences.  If you want to paint like Van Gogh, find out not only all you can about him, find out all you can about the painters that he admired and that influenced him.

Gaiman's appreciation for Norse myth is very obvious when you read his novel American Gods, since several characters directly from Norse mythology are transformed into main characters of the novel.  However, I'm excited to read the Norse myths retold by Gaiman himself, since they are such a significant influence on his writing.

Norse mythology is not nearly as well known in America as its Southern European counterparts.  Indeed, the word mythology in and of itself generally gets people thinking of Olympus and Hercules and the rest of the Greek pantheon.  Norse mythology is quite different.  The gods are more heroic and human, their enemies are much more diverse and, frankly, weird, and the nine worlds that make up the Norse universe provide a multitude of paths a departed soul can take from life instead of a simple trip across a river to the Underworld of the Greeks and Romans.

Anyone who has asked for book recommendations at Kards Unlimited has undoubtedly been pointed in the direction of Neil Gaiman.  All of his books have been picked as favorites of at least a few of the staff and the KU Book Club has read three of his novels over the course of our meetings.  I'm certainly not alone in being excited for Gaiman's newest book, and I think you will be too.  Come pick up a signed copy, on sale tomorrow, 2/7/17!

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22 Sep
2015

It’s Tolkien Week and you know what that means!

Gandalf has questions that need answering!

Gandalf has questions that need answering!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

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20 Aug
2015

I Sing the Body Fantastic: an Appreciation of Ray Bradbury

Look at that punim.

Look at that punim.

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."

fahren451

I admit from the outset that I am not a very good Bradbury fan.  Bradbury, born 22 August 1920, published at least 27 novels and over 600 short stories (and likely wrote a ton more-he wrote religiously every day for almost 70 years) and I've only ever read one of his books, Fahrenheit, 451 and I only thought it was ok.  One of his works that has stuck with me since I first saw it, though, is the made-for-TV movie The Electric Grandmother written by Bradbury and based on his short story I Sing the Body Electric (named for a Walt Whitman poem).

The movie tells the story of a widower and his three children who obtain an android grandmother to help assuage the loss of their wife/mother.  It's a lovely and heart-wrenching story and it affected me very strongly as a kid.  Ray really knew how to hit you right in the feels, man.

Despite not having a great grounding in his works, I do really love Ray Bradbury for his love of and commitment to the art and craft of writing.  Aspiring writers now have so much discouraging them (us) from pursuing our goals that it's great to have the moral support of someone so influential in the field.

Thanks, Ray.

"I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it."

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20 Jul
2015

Who Said That? A Guide to Ventriloquism Week

The late, great Edgar Bergen and his pal Charlie McCarthy

The late, great Edgar Bergen and his pal Charlie McCarthy

Pretty much everyone knows what ventriloquism is, but in case you don't, ventriloquism is the art of throwing one's voice.  The ability to speak while appearing not to speak.  Great ventriloquists can have full conversations with thin air!  Can give life to otherwise inert objects!  (Usually a puppet of some kind, but it's fun when it's something else too!)  Ventriloquists, in short, make boring (and, depending on the puppet, sometimes creepy) things fun!

National Ventriloquism Week is coordinated through the Vent Haven Museum in Cincinnati.  William Berger, a Cincinnati industrialist, founded the museum using his large collection of ventriloquist's dummies that he had accumulated over many years and business trips.  The week is celebrated on the third week of July every year (that's the 19th through the 25th this year).

Even if you can't make it out to Cincinnati for the celebration, appreciate the fine art of ventriloquism by seeing a show or watching one on Netflix if there isn't a live one convenient.  Or practice some ventriloquism of your own!  You never know when it might come in handy!

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7 Jul
2015

Adam’s Picks!

The following books have relatively little in common with one another with regard to plot, setting, writing style, or really any literary criterion.  Some are short, some long, some sweet, some grave, most are fiction, one isn't.  One thing common to all of them is that I am absolutely in love with them.  I could pick up any of these books at the drop of a hat and not stir until I had finished it.  They are some of my very favorite things to read and I hope you'll enjoy them if you try any.

geek love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn:  I read this book in a post-modern literature class in college.  I went into the class not really like post-modern lit.  I found it overwrought and vacuous and largely completely uninteresting.  There were several books over the course of the class that changed my mind and this was one of the first and best.  If you like stories of freak shows and weird cults, this book is definitely for you.

secret history

The Secret History by Donna Tartt:  I had never heard of Donna Tartt before a good friend Jody handed me this book, told me that it was one of her favorite things she'd ever read, and told me to read it.  This book interested me from the outset because the main character goes to college and majors in Classics and if a book about a Classics major in college sounds boring to you, just trust me that the tip of this iceberg does not begin to do justice to the remainder.  This piece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Goldfinch is absolutely a must read.

jungbooks

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling:  The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book were originally published separately, but are frequently printed and sold as one volume now.  This is one of those books that no film adaptation has ever even come close to touching, so if you've seen any or many of the myriad film versions of Kipling's classic work(s), just completely forget about them and pick up the book.  It's fun, a great story to share with kids, and one of the most surprisingly emotional stories I've ever read.  As an added bonus, the book is actually a collection of short stories, which makes it perfect as a bedtime story option or commute book!

hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien:  It is (hopefully) glaringly obvious to anyone who's read this blog even a bit (or talked to me in person) that I absolutely love Tolkien.  He is basically a deity to me.  The Hobbit is a great Summer Reading option because it's light and fun and about a trip, which makes it the perfect vacation book!  Plus when the vacationing is done and you're ready for something with a little more gravitas you can graduate to The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, or even Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth!

fantastic fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl:  First of all, everyone should have at least one Dahl book under their belt.  He's a classic children's/young adult author for a reason, folks.  Fantastic Mr. Fox is my favorite Roald Dahl book because stories about crafty animals outsmarting humans are pretty much my life blood.  Plus, one of the characters subsists on nothing but hard cider, which is how I aspire to live my life.

window

The Widow Clicquot by Tilar Mazzeo:  I'm not a huge oenophile (though I like wine a lot) nor am I an especially eager reader of non-fiction, but this book hooked me.  The story of how Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin not only handled her husband's company like a boss after he died but also completely revolutionized the champagne business, ran blockades to sell her luxury wine, and basically was an all-around hero for, like 60 years until Death finally showed up and was like, "Come on, lady, you're making me look bad here," is one that I can read over and over again.  She was OG, man.

littlebig

Little, Big by John Crowley:  The novel picked for the inaugural meeting of the KU Book Club (and also the second meeting when we showed up and discovered that none of us had finished it) has stuck with me in a huge way since then.  This book got me into reading tarot cards.  It also uses the ubiquitous idea of Faerie in a supremely fascinating way and basically is everything you could possibly want in a book.  I've never really been able to verbalize this until right now, but you know what Little, Big is?  It's a Neil Gaiman novel from before Neil Gaiman was writing novels.  I don't know if Gaiman was directly influenced by Crowley's book, but I have to say, I'd kinda bet on it.

Iloveyoubethcooper

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle:  I'll be honest with you, I read this book because I saw the movie and really liked it.  I saw the movie because Hayden Panettiere was in it and I really like her.  My motivations notwithstanding, though, this book is excellent.  Anyone who has ever gone to high school will find something to relate to here.  It's funny, heartfelt, and makes you glad you graduated years and years ago.

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13 Jun
2015

Tread softly because you tread on his dreams. An Appreciation of William Butler Yeats

June 13th marks the birthday of one of the greats of Modernist poetry, William Butler Yeats.  To really understand an appreciation of Yeats, all you need is an example of his work.  The Second Coming is a fantastic example of the Modernists' attempts to couch the post WWI malaise in their various art forms and is, in my not really very humble opinion, one of the best poems of all time.

yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

--

If that doesn't hit you right where it hurts, I don't really know what to do with you.

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