2011 in review

Well, it’s the 2nd to last day of 2011 and I have been thinking that it would be a good idea to post my favourite new musical discoveries of 2011 before Pitchfork comes out with their “Best of 2011” list, to see if there is any cross-over.

I must stress that this list is not restricted only to songs released in 2011, but rather songs I discovered in 2011.  So, it’s completely personal and not a remotely objective attempt to summarise this year in music on a general level.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Nicole, this list has a lot of similarities to NPR’s All Songs Considered Listeners’ Picks of 2011 show.”  It’s true.  I don’t claim to be original in any way.  I have to find out about new music like everyone else.  And, it’s easier to let other people with similar taste to mine put the effort into weeding through all the shit and identifying what is actually good.

So, without further ado, here is the list of my 2011 musical discoveries, and, if you want to download the songs, you can do so here.

I suppose for the title of this post to be accurate, I should discuss the rest of 2011, rather than just music that was new to me.

As far as other entertainment, I have really enjoyed discovering the following TV programs as well:

  • Parks & Recreation
  • Game of Thrones
  • Downton Abbey
  • Mildred Pierce
  • The Crimson Petal & the White

And, George R. R. Martin’s fiction.  I wasn’t crazy about Freedom by Jonathan Franzen or A Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Sheytngart, which, to be honest, are probably the only other novels I have read this year.  Oh wait, I also read Alias Grace by Margret Atwood, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and the Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill.  Sadly, that may have been everything, though I think I am forgetting a few.  8 books isn’t epic, but maybe better than some?  Especially considering at one point I had more than 37 books on loan from the VUW library for school related reading.  Honestly, for most of this year the last thing I wanted to do was come home and night and do more reading.  Hence my interest in TV the last 12 months.

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A very Merry un-Christmas, to you.

There was absolutely nothing Christmassy about December 25th this year.  It was a beautiful day in Wellington, hot and sunny, and amazingly wind-free.  I spent it at the beach, with friends, but it felt nothing like Christmas.

I tried playing my Reggae Christmas album on my iPod but then I was asked to play something different.  There was no gift exchanging, no snow, no Santa, no family dinner, no carols, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no jack frost nipping at my nose.

The Un-Christmas
Bubbles on the beach

Here are more photos from the holiday season.

more sewing adventures

I put away the chiffon for the time being and am instead trying to use up some my more wild prints.  The fabrics themselves inspired these two new dresses I made this week:

This print reminded me of something vaguely southwestern and Mexican.  So my first idea was a kind of poncho-like dress, but, that looked terrible on me, so I gathered the shoulders and put some pleats in the front and back at the waist, and voilà!  I didn’t use any kind of pattern for this dress… I just cut out a neck hole, sewed up the sides, and then added the pleats & gathers.

This print is so awesome and big and beautiful that I realised it needed to be showcased in a large format.  I haven’t really gotten on board with the maxi dress trend, though I do have one I bought in Laos that is a pretty Thai floral cotton print, but I usually just wear it for pyjamas.  However after watching Project Runway I decided I should go for a maxi with this amazing 70’s print.  I looked at a few tutorials, like Made By Lex’s Maxi Dress Tutorial, and the SoHo Maxi Dress tutorial and just started cutting.  I was limited by the amount of fabric I had… and the top turned out a bit skimpy, so I have to wear something under it if I want it to be office-appropriate, even with a cardigan.  Again, I didn’t use a pattern, but instead cut out the skirt based on my measurements, and then made 4 triangles for the top.  I used the twisty-strap idea from Lex’s tutorial, but did an empire waist rather than break up the print with a lower waist or waistband.  Both of these dresses came together in… under 2 or 3 hours each, and hopefully will get a lot of wear this summer! Unfortunately I still have a massive pile of fabric waiting to be turned into something fabulous, but, like my thesis, slowly and surely I am getting through it.

Also recently I knitted an iPod/iPhone cozy that I quite like.  In fact, I liked it so much, I knitted another one.  I may even start on a 3rd soon.

personal correspondence: planned obsolescence?

I generally use Mac Mail (.app) for most of my correspondence requirements, however I also have been known to correspond via the archaic handwritten letter or postcard method form time to time.  However, when I am in my office, something about the VUW firewall or servers blocks my Gmail SMTP server, so I can’t send mail from my personal account.  Often I will just use my VUW staff e-mail and gmail accounts interchangeably, however if I want to send e-mail from my gmail account while in my office, I must use the gmail web interface. I have actually spoken to University ITS about this and they seem to fix it so I can use the outgoing Gmail server for a day, and then it doesn’t work again the following day.  So, I use gmail.com, which has recently undergone some kind of redesign.  The gmail.com redesign doesn’t irritate me quite so much as the new version of Exchange Webmail, which I abhor yet am forced to use to check my University mail away from my laptop or iMac, however, there is one feature of the new gmail web interface which disquiets me.

Now, whenever I type an e-mail to, for example, my mother, or my sweetie, or my best pal, gmail suggests including several other people in the e-mail.   I feel as if this is some kind of subliminal push from Google to end personal correspondence between two individuals.  It’s as if Google is implying that sending a message to one individual person is a waste of time, that instead you should include 10 other people in your communication.  While I suppose the engineers and whatnot at Google simply intended this feature to be a useful organisational tool for users of Gmail, I find it has disturbing implications for the future of personal correspondence.  Gone are the days when it was normal to communicate with one person at a time, corresponding back and forth with sweet intimate letters like Vladimir and Véra Nabokov or Napoleon and Josephine.  I can just imagine Napoleon logging into his gmail account, writing “Je reviens en trois jours, ne te laves pas” and gmail suggesting he include 20 of his closest buddies in the e-mail, and then sharing it on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ as well.

Poor Josephine would have been mortified.  Or perhaps she would have been turned on?  Who knows, maybe she was a narcissistic exhibitionist…not that I’m saying everybody who uses Twitter or Facebook is.  But I think a certain expert did said something about these types of social networking tools as encouraging shallow interactions and dehumanizing communication.  And now Gmail is also on the obsolescence of personal communication bandwagon as well.

Occupy, and what not.

To be honest, I haven’t really been following the Occupy movement very closely.  This is for a number of reasons.  Firstly, living in New Zealand, you don’t so much notice the disparity between the rich and the poor.  That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but it’s not as noticeable.  Maybe because of NZ’s close economic ties to Asia, the recession hasn’t hit as hard here as it has elsewhere.  Whatever the reason, most people don’t really have a reason to complain here.  Tertiary education is affordable, students get paid to study, people can live on unemployment benefits, and get healthcare.  I’m not saying it’s perfect here, and the current recently re-elected government is a centre-right majority, in favour of cutting many social welfare programmes. However, overall, I would say the people who are bad off here, are still a lot better off than the bad off are in other places, like the USA.

Regardless, the Occupy movement does exist here, and the Occupy Wellington movement is located right behind the library near Civic Square.  I passed by it on my way to a kayaking lesson on Sunday and was surprised to see all the tents, which I somehow hadn’t managed to notice before.

Perhaps part of the reason why I don’t feel implicated in the Occupy movement is simply because I feel so politically powerless.  I live in New Zealand, but can’t vote here.  The only place I can vote, the USA, I haven’t actually lived for more than a decade.  So, I don’t particularly feel engaged in politics or economics on any level.  I know this is a self-imposed ignorance, but I feel so overwhelmed trying to understand the situation, I just want to avoid information overload and bewilderment and the feelings of angst and helplessness I have when I try to understand.

However, that being said, I hold very liberal political views, and would even in some ways consider myself a “left-wing progressive” or whatever pejorative term conservatives like to use for people who believe that things like human rights and the environment are important.  Therefore, naturally, I support the Occupy movement.  In addition, several of the Occupy sites have libraries, so clearly I am in favour of them.

I like to let people like Greg Proops inform my political opinions, since I think in general I agree with him on most points, certainly regarding the decriminalisation of Marijuana, and a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body.  So, I usually just ascribe to whatever political sentiments he shares via his entertaining and informing Smartest Man in the World Podcast.

Recently he described a situation in which an Occupy protester handed Barack Obama a note.  The message can be clearly read in the following photo:

Which, surprisingly, seemed to go under the radar for most news sources.

I have already admitted to a fear of information overload, however, I do try to follow the news.  On my Google homepage I have, in the following order, the headlines from BBC Asia Pacific, Montreal Gazette, Chicago Tribune, Stuff.co.nz, and BBC world news.  I read the headlines everyday, and usually 2 or 3 different stories, if anything piques my interest.  I also listen to the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast, which research has shown, is better than not reading any kind of news, so it’s not like I live in a vacuum.  I try to stay at least some what informed about current events.  So, I was surprised to have completed missed hearing about this event. I wanted to share this image and say that I found it strangely moving, and found myself really identifying with the language used to describe how “99%” of people are feeling.  What I found even more moving was the fact, pointed out by Mr. Proops, that the police had/have no right to arrest peaceful protesters in the USA, as it is clearly part of the first amendment’s right to assembly.  The text of which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I found that the Cornell University’s Law School provides the full text of the constitution with detailed annotations.  In my opinion, the protesters involved with the Occupy movement are doing exactly what is protected under their first amendment rights – peaceably assembling and petitioning the Government for a redress of grievances.  Therefore, the fact that they are being arrested, libraries being destroyed and books being thrown away (umm… Nazi Germany?) is just one step away from some Orwellian nightmare.  The reality is that we we cannot peaceably assemble or petition the government to address our grievances, and our freedom is only freedom in the sense that we are free to continue participating and consuming within our global capitalist economy.  However,  I can only hope that sooner or later, people won’t be content with new pieces of shiny plastic or cars to drive us back and forth to the mall, and will wake up from the catatonic stupor of materialism and realise shit has to change.