Playlist: Comes Love

Next up in the playlist is our first song from Robin McKelle. Born Robin McElhatten, she shortened her name for showbiz, but I have two tracks on the playlist from before she did that. I know that she changed her name for showbiz because one of my loyal followers here on the blog and over on Twitter actually knows Robin! I guess they grew up together.

This song is from her album Modern Antique, which is exactly what most of the playlist is: modern versions of antique songs. Here’s a very clever YouTube video someone made to go with the silly lyrics:

I can’t find anything about the origins of this song, other than it was penned in 1939 by some guy I’ve never heard of. This arrangement is heavy on big band horns, which is common in the playlist. The overall feel is Afro-Cuban, which makes it quite danceable. I found a version by Billie Holiday that is a bluesy swing, a version by Diana Krall that’s a funky shuffle, and a version by Norah Jones that’s a really slow, dirty groove. Clearly, this song works any way you want to do it.

And you can’t argue with the thesis of the piece: pretty much any problem you run into can be solved, except for love. Ain’t nothing you can do about love.

Best of Alfageeek: My Favorite Quote

I took my twelve-year-old daughter to my alma matter last night. The occasion was a jazz master class with Grace Kelly. If you haven’t heard of Grace, you should fix that. She was a prodigy when she was little, but now she’s a poised, funny, smart woman, and one of the best horn players I’ve ever heard. The class was with the college’s Jazz Ensemble, which is basically a rhythm section and a few horns. Similar to the instrumentation on most jazz albums.

She listened to these kids play, and then she gave them lots of great advice on how they could play better together, and how they could improve their own playing. And the whole time, you’re thinking “but she’s the same age as these kids!” (She is 22.) But despite her youth, it was like she had 40 years of experience as a professional musician under her belt. It was truly amazing, and I think my daughter did grasp what a cool thing she was witnessing.

One of the things she talked to the kids about was ear training, and the importance of listening to music. And that reminded me of this piece I wrote about My Favorite Quote.

Best of Alfageeek: The Writer’s Imperative

I woke up at my usual time this morning and realized that once again, I had completely forgotten to write a piece for this blog. I’ve been keeping a strict Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 7am pace since February. That’s over 100 blog posts. That’s a lot. This summer, I added “Best of” into the rotation, as an out for the times when I just didn’t have time to write 1000 words. And I’ve been leaning on that crutch for quite a while now.

So as I was walking the dog this morning, I was working over in my head whether it’s time to end the three-posts-a-week thing. It’s not like I’m really trying to build a readership. I have exactly the readership I want. So maybe it’s time to just drop the schedule and write when I feel like it.

But I’ve always been the type who writes on deadline. The schedule is the reason I’ve been able to generate so much content here. Perhaps if I drop the schedule, that really means I’ll stop writing altogether.

I’m not sure what to do. But all this reminds me of a piece I wrote that hasn’t been a Best of yet: The Writer’s Imperative. Enjoy.

The Connection Machine

Freedom of speech in the USA is a pretty well-misunderstood concept. The basic idea is that you should be able to say whatever you want and you won’t get in trouble. But of course, that’s not anywhere close to true. Mostly because it only applies to the government. Your employer can fire you for what you say. So you have freedom of speech, but only when it comes to what the government can do about your ranting. (But there are lots of limits on that freedom, even when it comes to the government. You can’t threaten people, for example. Calling in a bomb threat doesn’t get you a pass just because of the First Amendment.)

So you have to be a little careful what you say, because it can get you fired. And wrapping yourself in the First Amendment doesn’t help. But what if your employer is the government? Well, you get a little more leeway in that case. Particularly if you are doing the speaking on your own time. But still, there are limits. Except you will never be able to figure out what the limits are, because the courts have been extremely inconsistent over the years.

So suppose you are a pretty big deal tweeter who has built a following of thousands by being really funny. But funny in that “your comedy special can’t be on before 10PM” way. Lots of jokes about drinking and fucking and swearing and stuff. And suppose you are also a public school teacher. And suppose you don’t really do a very good job at staying anonymous. Say you put up selfies now and then that actually show your face. And you have an AVI that looks like you. But you go out of your way to avoid ever connecting to anyone you know in real life. What do you suppose is going to happen?

Well, it turns out that what’s going to happen is a parent is going to discover your account. And they are going to report you. And you will think you’re going to get fired. But then you get to the meeting and it turns out it’s an intervention. And they start reading your tweets out loud. And you start laughing because, let’s face it, you’re the funniest fucker you know. But they aren’t laughing. They think you are an unstable alcoholic who whores around and maybe even has a couple murders under your belt.

So that’s a fun way to spend a Thursday.

But let’s roll back a bit. How did that parent discover your account? You have location stuff turned off. You aren’t using your real name, or even your real city. There are hundreds of millions of users. Isn’t the probability of a parent stumbling onto you really, really, really small?

Nope. First, there are hundreds of millions of twitter users, but only 34 million users in the USA. And the number of parents in a big school district is, say, around 34,000. So given that about 1 in 10 US citizens is on twitter (really? that seems high), about 3,400 of those parents are on twitter. If each of them sees just one tweet, the chance of you being seen is one one-hundredth of one percent. But they see tweets from lots of people. If each of them saw tweets from 100 different people, and each of them saw a different 100, that brings the probability of you getting seen up to just 1%. One in a hundred. But remember, you’re a big deal funny fucker and people retweet you all the time. So it’s now starting to look like the chances of being detected are actually pretty good.

But, in fact, that analysis greatly understates the reality. Because behind the scenes, there is actually a twitter machine that is trying to make that parent find you. Let’s call it the connection machine. And what that machine does is try to figure out who knows whom.

In general population twitter, people actually think this is a good thing. They import their list of contacts to see if they can find and follow people they know in real life. And from there, the connection machine makes recommendations and tries to help them find even more people they know. Because to the general population, Twitter is just another Facebook.

But if you have an anonymous account, location features turned off, no hashtags about local teams or events, or anything obvious, how can twitter make the connections to people around you? Well, there are lots of ways, actually. I don’t know which of these twitter actually uses, but I’d guess all of them.

Location, location, location! When you turn off location services, that prevents those stalker-enabling tags on all your tweets, and it keeps your phone from telling twitter exactly which bathroom you are in, but it doesn’t keep twitter from knowing your location. The messages between your device and twitter have an internet address, which is just a big number that tells the network how to get messages to you. That network is a collection of physical things in physical places, so there are big tables of addresses that let the equipment get the bits where they need to go. So although your internet address doesn’t locate you like a GPS does, it certainly reveals your city, and if you are tweeting at work on company Wi-Fi, probably your employer’s address.

So twitter knows where you are. And that’s certainly something it can use to match people up.

You probably also connect from a variety of places. So it can even make stronger connections between people who, for example, go to the same gym or wait in line at the same Starbucks.

It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. The next obvious place to look for connections is in the follower graph. Twitter clearly leans on this database heavily for recommendations. It often tells me I should be following people who follow me. It also tells me to follow people that a lot of the people I follow follow. (Yeah, I just said follow follow. I’m leaving it.)

Spooky stuff. How about other, more subtle connections? For example, I bet most of general population twitter follow a lot more blue-check-verified accounts than people in funny, sexy, weird, or poetic twitter. So you could cleave the population into groups who like verified accounts, and those who don’t.

You can cleave the population into those who use lots of hashtags, and those who think hashtags are so last year.

People who @ celebrities, and those who are not idiots.

People who RT news stories, and those who are not annoying.

People who live-tweet sporting events, and those who mute them.

Build up enough of these discriminators and you will create a fingerprint. And that fingerprint is probably what drives Twitter’s “similar to” recommendations.

The ways we are all connected are sometimes so subtle and obscure that you can’t even explain them. But a computer can see them. When you read the hype about “big data,” particularly in marketing, this is what they are talking about. Algorithms that let the connection machine match people who are otherwise not obviously connected. For example, not too long ago, Facebook started suggesting twitter people to me. My Facebook life and my twitter life could not be more separate. There are not any connections between these accounts, and only a couple of people from twitter have become close enough friends to justify subjecting them to the banality of my Facebook account. Yet Facebook was able to focus in on these people find connections between them, and boom, all sorts of twitter people started popping up in my “People you may Know.” Big data = spoooooky data.

So my friend, the public school teacher, has shut down her old account and started over. And she is being more careful. Keeping it anonymous. But I told her—there is no way you are going to avoid having yet another parent find the account. It’s virtually guaranteed to happen eventually. What you can do is make it impossible to prove that is your account. And that will have to be good enough. Because freedom of speech only goes so far. And for teachers, that isn’t very far at all.

My Bliss

My bliss is in the connection to her
In watching her
In touching her
In texting her

My bliss is making her smile
Making her shiver
Making her exhale
Making her moan

Resisting one’s bliss requires effort
Like fighting addiction
Like running uphill
Like hiding from your pain

But she needs space
She needs me to let her be
So she can recharge
So she can love me the way I love her

And so I do that

But giving her space
Is resisting my bliss
And resisting my bliss
Is exhausting

When it comes to her
The hardest thing
I will ever do
Is nothing


“See?” she asked.
“Wasn’t it nice to just cuddle this morning?”

Wasn’t it nice?
To press our bodies together,
To share our warmth,
To match our breathing,
To connect our chakras

Wasn’t it nice?
To rest my lips against her neck,
To taste her skin,
To smell her hair,
To hear her pulse

Wasn’t it nice?
To nestle my hand between her breasts,
To feel the curve of her flesh in my fingers,
To feel the hot, wet cleavage against my thumb,
To feel the weight of her femininity against the back of my hand

Wasn’t it nice?
To press my thighs against hers,
To feel myself tumescent, pinched in a crevasse,
To sense each tiny tremor as though it were an earthquake,
To slowly bleed in anticipation

Wasn’t it nice?
To raise an army,
To set the front,
To plan the battle,
To turn, and walk away

“Yes, dear,” I reply.
“It was lovely.”

Love is Anesthesia

We all have pain
Pain from the past
Pain from the present
Internal pain

And sometimes we need to deal with the pain
Root out the cause
Fix it

But sometimes you can’t

Sometimes it is what it is
You are doing your best
But the pain is just going to be there

Maybe the fix is worse than the pain

And when that is the case
You can use love as anesthesia

Just losing yourself in love
Feeling it throughout
Reveling in it

When all you feel is love
It is impossible to feel pain
The two feelings are incompatible
And love will always dominate

The love comes from within you
Like endorphins, you can conjure the anesthesia on your own
But if you can be bathed in the love of another
That is like a double dose

But the problem with anesthesia
Is it isn’t a fix
And you must not forget that
Because the love is what keeps the pain at bay

It isn’t a fix
But perhaps it can be a solution
Because feeling love
Losing yourself in love
Reveling in love

That’s always something you can do