Sunday, April 22, 2007

Been Making My First Google Map Mash Up!

This weekend has been a lot of student writing so I haven't had much time to do any of my own thinking or reading. However, when I take breaks I have been on the web composing with, which is an online mapping tool. It's pretty easy and in a few hours of messing around I have made this map of pop music in Ohio in the 20th century. I have taken almost all of my info from Wikipedia and utilizing my skills have composed a good beginning map. I will be looking for some collaborators and I hope to expand on it. That said, I am pretty happy with the application and look forward to learning how to develop not only the map, but my own mapping and tagging skills. I have to say, personal geographies really are the s**t if you ask me. I think it has great potential for all kinds of academics, particularly those of us who do critical theoretical/historical work on mass media. For example, one of the things that is quite interesting already for me is mapping the famous funk scene of the Dayton/Miami Valley area: How is it that the Southwestern corner of Ohio got so much funk? Just looking at the bands in this area, you wonder why there isn't a solid book on this.

Ok, I need to get back to reading and grading, but I hope you enjoy it. You can always access the map through the button on the sidebar that says "My Maps". If you have any suggestions contact me and let's talk about making it better. Oh, and remember, Cleveland rocks!

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Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm Taking a Break, Will be Back Soon

It's the final three weeks of grading and my final weeks at Denison, so I have been blogging less. A number of issues have cropped up that I would love to comment on, but I don't get paid to do this. So, I am not gone, just distracted with deadlines. So, if you see fewer posts, that's what's up. Either that or I finally found a Wii.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

With College Kids Inflicting Violence on Each Other Let's Find a Way to Blame Rap Music

At one pm yesterday I wrote the following
somewhere in the rulebook of popular discourse it says, "Whenever there is a cultural crisis that indicts middle class Americans, you must point a finger at whatever popular music is lowest on the totem pole of culture capital to divert attention, see Columbine, etc."
Of course, that position today is occupied by hip hop, i.e. it gets no respect. And, of course, right after I signed off we got something worse than Columbine. And, yes, somehow, somewhere, someone is blaming rap music:
Casually flipping through the news networks last night, when little was known about the shootings and nothing was known about the shooter, I saw that those same conservatives are already using the Virginia Tech shootings as a way to lash out against culture they disapprove of. One particularly scattered conversation on CNN featured an anchor and a pundit using incident to suggest blame lies with a host of perceived societal ills: gun control, violent movies like Grindhouse, violent music, Don Imus. Yes, they somehow worked Don Imus into the conversation. The discussion made absolutely no sense, but it sure was spirited.

Eight years ago the post-Columbine debate sparked what some described as "a witch hunt" against shocking metal, goth and industrial music. If there's a similar witch hunt today, however, it won't be against metal, but rather violent rap music, which our panicky pundit was already chastising last night.

Rap is already in the crosshairs of cultural conservatives, who never succeeded in their effort to censor it years ago. This week they were already making a push against rap music after Imus stepped down: If he can't get away with using racist, sexist slang, they argued, why can rap artists? Now, in the wake of the deadliest shooting incident in U.S. history, they'll almost surely make a renewed call to censor rap on the basis of violence.

This anti-rap push probably won't make a lot of sense—based on the vague description of the shooter, who is described a loner born in South Korea, it's a safe bet that he probably wasn't a rap fan—but neither did the movement against Marilyn Manson. And, like Marilyn Manson in 1999, rap music has been slowly falling out of grace with listeners (sales have fallen steeply). With rap music already down, its longtime critics won't miss this opportunity to kick it.

The British Magazine, Q, has similar worries

So if rock bands will not be singled out for blame, who will? It’s far more likely to be hip-hop, a genre that still retains a frisson of danger and urban threat – even more so now that rap no longer dominates the mainstream. It’s easy to imagine ill-informed moral guardians denouncing the bleak, nihilistic worldview of “cocaine rap” stars such as Clipse and Young Jeezy.
The idea that somehow the violence that has befallen the most paradigmatic institution of "middle classness" in our society, the four year college, is somehow associated with hip hop is simply beyond me. Instead of looking to and blaming rappers, which I am certain people are doing and will continue to do at this very moment for this most heinous violence, we need to be honest: this was not the result of a violent hip hop culture. This was an act of violence that was committed by an English major in his fourth year at one of the top 100 colleges in America. I do not know what to blame; what culture or what attitudes. But I certainly know it isn't hip hop.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Songs I am Obsessing Over and other Stupid Stuff to Start the Week

Between Taxes and Grading, I haven't had much time to be smart. So, while I would like to blog about how the "Imus situation" is somehow turning into an indictment of rap, cause, you know, somewhere in the rulebook of popular discourse it says, "Whenever there is a cultural crisis that indicts middle class Americans, you must point a finger at whatever popular music is lowest on the totem pole of culture capital to divert attention, see Columbine, etc.", I don't have the time... yet.

Instead here's a quick list of songs I am obsessing over. I have had dreams about and/or played these songs out in the last month and a half. I don't know what my playing these over and over means.

  • "The Locomotion" - by Little Eva

  • "Runaway" - by Del Shannon

  • "Baby Hold On To Me" - by Eddie Money

  • "Young Folks" - Peter Bjorn and John

  • "Here's Your Future" - The Thermals

  • "I'm Not Down" - The Clash

  • "Rebellion (Lies)" - The Arcade Fire

  • "Karen" - The National

  • "God Gave Me Style" - 50 Cent

  • "Only the Lonely" - Roy Orbison

  • "You've Got What it Takes" - Dinah Washington and Brook Benton

  • "Bird Dog"- The Everly Brothers

  • "Roscoe"- Midlake

You figure it out and if you have any idea leave a comment.

And I after last night's episode of The Sopranos I was left asking, "what on earth was that song they played at the end?" I knew I had heard it at least once, but couldn't remember at all. Thanks to Idolator we get an answer and an MP3 link. It was John Cooper Clarke's "Evidently Chickentown". Bloody awesome way to end a bloody awesome episode!

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ozzy Goes Willy Wonka in Order to Boost CD Sales

As many of you most likely know, Ozzfest is going to be free this year. Sponsors are supposed to pick up the cost, but it is unclear if the level of talent will be as high as in years past. Nevertheless, it has kicked up some dust as another innovation by one of the more innovative people in the music entertainment business, Sharon Osbourne. In order to get some of that business kicked into high gear, Sharon and the Ozz have decided to go the route of "adding value" to their CDs. Somewhere down the line that decided to go the route of Willy Wonka and hide theire version of the "gold ticket" in their discs.
Though this summer's Ozzfest tour will cost fans nothing to attend, those who want to purchase Ozzy Osbourne's first new studio album in six years, "Black Rain," will now have a better shot at getting in the door, has learned. The initial pressings of "Black Rain" will contain a code that will give fans a first crack at scoring a ticket to Ozzfest.

As previously reported, "Black Rain" will arrive May 22 via Epic. Specially marked copies of the new set will be available at participating retailers. Fans will be able to use a code found within the album's packaging to redeem two Ozzfest tickets via starting June 8 -- four days before they're made available to the general public. Further details are available at
Now that's added value! It's also a perfect way to increase demand and stave off some illegal trading when it counts the most: the initial weeks of release. We'll see if it works.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Trend Continues: Music Biz Going South... and Not for Warmer Weather

You know you need to reconsider your business model when you get press press like this

The music business has to brace itself for more declines this year, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen warned in a research report.

Overall, the "music market appears headed in (the) wrong direction," she said Thursday, estimating that global music sales fell 2%-3% in 2006.

"The slow start to 2007 (U.S. down 10% year-to-date) suggests another down year is likely," Reif Cohen said. "With digital growth naturally decelerating over time and the decline in physical sales accelerating, an imminent return to growth for the industry no longer appears likely."

Together with her European colleague Julien Roch, Reif Cohen estimates that music retail sales will decline 3% -- globally and in the U.S. -- in 2007. "This is a significant deterioration from our previous forecast of 2% growth both in the U.S. and globally, but may still be optimistic given the weak state of the market," she said. "Sales have declined in nearly all the major markets year-to-date, with the decline in the U.S. particularly precipitous."

Resuming coverage of Warner Music Group with a "neutral" rating Thursday, Reif Cohen said "the outlook for 2007 appears difficult given a weak start to the year, continued market weakness and more challenging comparisons."

Overall, she said she does not find WMG's valuation "to be attractive at these levels and continue to prefer entertainment names with a clearer growth outlook and/or company specific catalysts."

Nonetheless, Reif Cohen said music shares should get support from likely continued merger talk. "The worse the fundamentals, the more likely a merger with EMI becomes," she said.

However, the analyst also said she is "skeptical that there will be meaningful growth in fiscal-year 2008" for WMG.
Yes, we all know that we are ripping and burning you to death, but the only thing consumers are killing is the way you do business, not the music business in general. Note to record companies: think about achieving lower price points for downloads. Cheap will never beat free, but it will go a long way to getting your business back on board.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Narrative Justice and the Sopranos

I caught this ditty and hope to make it a meme of sorts: How should the Soprano's end? James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation has this to say in Esquire
"That's easy. Everybody should die. It's just like any Shakespearean tragedy -- Macbeth or Hamlet. When everybody has, in a sense, been tainted by evil, it's not feasible to let people live and therefore be redeemed. So what you do is just kill everybody off. Watch a Kurosawa film or go see Curse of the Golden Flower. Tony's got to be the last to die, of course. But they all need to go down in flames -- the kid, the wife, Meadow's fiance -- everybody. Nobody is safe."
Given that Carafano is aligned with an institute devoted to cheerleading our imperial moves into Iraq as well as helping to solidify the term The Long War of the 21st Century as a long-term military strategy, advocating that everyone "should die" who has been "tainted by evil" either proves this guy is A) a true believer or B) does not understand the irony of his off-the-cuff judgment.

So how should the Sopranos end? A question of normative narratives, good guys must beat bad guys, right prevails over wrong, i.e. writing straight from the pen of the Church Lady? Let me say this, I would hope that David Chase and his writers avoid this kind of easy-way-out morality play. The Sopranos has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been about how bad guys always get theirs. For me, if Tony gets killed or crushed it should come from the hands of another mobster like Paulie Walnuts or other crews from New York.

Better yet, I would like to see Tony live. I don't think it will happen. Too many forces have their resentments and are willing to damage an already-damaged man. But I say this since, at moments, The Sopranos has been one of the best critiques of American excess I have seen in years, Like the characters in HBOs Big Love, these characters live well-beyond their means (multiple wives, multiple lovers, etc) in tasteless, suburban McMansions where happiness seemingly never exists but multiple car garages proliferate. And despite their sins, the characters in each of these shows seem steeped in a misery that they could extricate themselves from if only they decided to give up their poor habits and make life choices that simplified their worlds. But, alas, they don't and they continue to struggle with how their good intentions beget miserable consequences.

Indeed, if there is any justice, it would be in the liberation of Dr. Melfi, whose death I fear most of all.

So, how should The Sopranos end?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Idolator asks the Obvious Question: Why Free Music?

While I love cheap music, I am in tune with Idolator's query about totally free music
why the rush to make so much music free, anyway? Sure, we've engaged in our fair share of shady downloading and guest-list wheedling, but the "all music should be free!" cries that have been growing steadily louder are making us wonder if there's been a fundamental shift in the way people value music, or at least a little bit of self-loathing on the part of people charged with leading music-related chatter. We can understand a backlash against the Cribs/Fabulous Life Of... bling-flaunting--heck, we're probably near its forefront--but what about allowing people to quit their day jobs and devote themselves to their craft on a fuller-time basis? Yes, the economics of the music business are currently shaking themselves out, and there's a fair amount of carnage as a result, but saying "well, no one will pay for this, so let's make everything free" is not only short-sighted, it sends out a message to consumers that music isn't worth money--or, one could argue, time.
My basic philosophy is that the music should be purchased at least once. I know that there are many counterexamples in my own collection, for example I have no idea how many "promo copies" I have purchased at used stores, but it is guiding philosophy and one I try to follow myself. Remember, you get what you pay for. And if you pay little, don't be disappointed if the quality of the music you get begins to suffer.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Busy Busy Busy, Stuff

This has been easily one of the busiest weeks of the year so far. Besides about 2 hours that I spent with my friend Yury on Tuesday and my date with the Fiance to seeBlades of Glory (standard dumb fun), that was about it for personal time this week. I'm not complaining, just explainig why blogging has slacked off. I need to finish off this semester and get a job, so that is high priority as well. A few leads here and there, but no offers so far. I think that will change soon. Don't ask me why. It's just a feeling.

Yesterday was an all-day field trip for one of my classes. We brought the students from Denison to downtown Columbus. I will blog about it when my students send me some pictures. Will be interesting.

On a media studies tip, I am just got my copy of The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia yesterday. I have a small entry on the disc jockey in the Midwest, but I wasn't given a comp copy. Given the numbers of contributors and the cost of production it would have bankrupt the press for sure. The book is beautiful. Hardbound and close to 1900 pages, the encyclopedia is a wonderful achievement. And I don't say that just because I am in it . As someone who has come to the Midwest late in life, a book like this is simply a wonderful education in the depth and varieties of the region. Hopefully your library will pick it up. Its got a $75 cover price, but I picked mine up for around $45, new, on Amazon. And it has wonderful entires on Midwestern media topics such as the Mutual Broadcasting Network, the television talk show as a genre, record labels, Essanay Studios, etc. Placed in a geographical framework, reading these genres imbues these media entities with another cultural facet that so many American media scholars simply ignore in their rush to the coasts. Like I said, get to your library and check it out!

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Let's Run The Numbers... Downloads Up, CDs Down!

Kids, it's called a trend. The Q1 numbers are out and plastic is losing to digital

Album sales are down 16.6% to 117.1 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, for the period running from January 1 through April 2. The consensus around the music business is that declines are mainly due to a weak release schedule, the consumer's loss of confidence in the CD and a reduction in store space for the format.

While CD sales were down 20.5%, digital track sales totaled 281.7 millions, outpacing album sales by more than 100 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. When those digital track sales are factored as a track equivalency to albums, album sales are only down 10.3%.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Listening for "The Game" in The Sound of Young America

Killer Mike of Adamsville, GA and leader of Grind Time Official

In hip hop "The Game" refers to two issues that every contemporary performer from poor, urban American realities must negotiate: the hip hop scene and the underground business of illegal drug distribution. Knowing "The Game" is not only essential to success as a rapper (often to demonstrate one's authenticity that is part of the perpetual task of all hip hop and rock performers), but to making it in the day-to-day lives of so many poor young men and women who live in America's cities. To my mind there are only two shows in the US that have dealt with "The Game" with any sense humanity and compassion. The first is the much-celebrated HBO series, The Wire, whose fourth season, with it's depiction of how four young boys must handle the shattered social and political infrastructure of Baltimore, will go down as one of the most compelling seasons on television drama in American history. The other exists in a handful of interviews by a young, educated and ambitious radio host by the name of Jesse Thorn. While his excellent public radio show, The Sound of Young America, claims only eight over-the-air stations, his online efforts as a podcaster make the show a must-listen for anyone with broadband and an interest in American popular culture. More importantly it is the only show available on public radio that seems to have a set of ears that are intelligent and sensitive to the many issues surrounding hip hop aesthetics and culture.

Indeed, when The Sound of Young American deals with hip hop right it gets it right because of Thorn's talent as a compassionate interlocutor who loves and respects his subjects. One can hear how in recent interviews with hip hop expert, Jeff Chang , Atlanta-based rapper, Killer Mike and Philadelphia's own Peedi Crack, aka, Peedi Peedi, Thorn isolates the cultural importance of "The Game", particularly as it relates to the emergence of the hip hop subgenre of "crack rap". The result is that he is able to get his interviewees to open up speak about the many psychic and emotional aspects that "grinding" and "slinging" that bare upon their lives and hip hop in the early 21st century.

For your listening pleasure: 1) In the first clip one can hear the inner conflict that colors Peedi Crack's gratitude for his career as well as the sorrow has suffered in his time in prison and in experience many losses of peers and friends who are still imprisoned or have passed on. 2) In the second, lengthier clip, Killer Mike explains how the theme of drugs in hip hop demands an understanding of the recent social history of black, urban American that is all but unacknowledged and why "grind time", his label, has more to do with a work ethic than it does with drugs. 3) In the final clip, I draw from a recent interview I had with Mr. Thorn in February, 2007, wherein he explains that all one needs to get at these larger truths about culture is respect, an appreciation for the culture, and a willingness to listen.

Peedi Peedi interview segment from The Sound of Young America

Killer Mike interview segment from The Sound of Young America.

Segments from my interview with Jesse Thorn on February 22, 2007

Ed.Note: This is also crossposted at In Media Res.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

And The Wait for More Major Labels to do the Right Thing Begins... Drop DRM and Make Songs Available Even Cheaper Than They Are Today!

The much ballyhooed announcement of EMI ditching of DRM is great news. But record companies are stubborn so we should be prepared to wait a while, no matter how much Steve Jobs claims that it is the right thing to do
"The right thing for the customer going forward is to tear down the walls that preclude interoperability by going DRM-free," says Jobs.

EMI's move was met with a string of no comments from reps for the other major labels. But privately, sources at rival major labels are expressing annoyance that EMI is "recklessly" jumping head first into a DRM-free environment without what they view as adequate research and testing about the impact on sales, piracy or consumer demand.

The other major labels remain concerned that selling music sans DRM will cannibalize sales. And some label sources are also expressing dismay that EMI's effort undercuts the industry's ability to correct the security problems that have plagued the CD format by creating a completely secure commercial environment for digital music.

"They're completely wrong," says Barney Wragg, head of digital for EMI Music worldwide. "This is about creating more opportunity in commercialized music by providing the right product to people who are prepared to pay for it...We think it's going to significantly increase the size of the market."

EMI is adopting DRM-free formats after Norah Jones's "Thinking About You", Relient K's "Must've Done Something Right", and Lily Allen's "Littlest Things" were all made available for sale in the MP3 format in trials held at the end of last year.

The other three majors have tinkered with selling DRM-free music in limited tests. The results of those trials have been largely viewed to be inconclusive.

But market observers say that its only a matter of time before the other majors ditch DRM. "This breaks the logjam," says David Pakman, president/CEO of eMusic, one retailer lobbying the majors for DRM-free content. “This is the beginning of the end of DRM in music."
I agree, however how quickly this happens will be interesting. Interoperability has always been a key issue for all forms of popular music. In the 1940s and 50s the question was could you get a player that ran at 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpms? In the 1970s did you go for 8-Track or Cassette? In the 1980s did you buy Beta or VHS (yes, I know, that was TV, but same thing... in a way).

Now, one thing that does burn me is the cost per song: 99 cents seems to be high, particularly for catalogue items. I always loved the fact that catalogue items have been, traditionally, around 30% to 40% cheaper than new. So, in the 1980s you may have bought a new record for $10 but an older record that had been around for five years or so would be $5.99. Heck, sometimes you could get them 3 for 12 bucks, if not cheaper. The whole point was to get more music in the hands of listeners after the initial demand for these items had waned and build loyal consumers who felt compelled to investigate catalogue. True, I may have made tapes and bought used records, but I also dropped lots of coin on new catalogue. Lots! So, why not sell these items at half the cost? You have already made your initial profits and you want to encourage people to buy your product and make them interested in legal downloads. right? Right?

Echoing my point with a megaphone and cuss words Bob Lefsetz simply goes off on this announcement that EMI's DRM free cuts will cost $1.29 per song:
Why the fuck should they cost more?

One small step for mankind, and one half-step back. It would be like Neil Armstrong getting to the moon and not getting out. I mean if you’re going to go all that way…

This is the kind of bullshit pussyfooting that got the labels into hot water to begin with. If anything, tracks should cost LESS!

Oh, if you buy the complete album, you get the old price. But who the fuck wants a complete album of dreck by lame acts like the Good, the Bad & the Ugly that played this press conference?

You want to sell more tracks at the iTunes Store? Make them a quarter. Or fifteen cents or a dime. Then watch sales go through the roof.

Do you see cell phone prices rising? Do you see T-Mobile canceling family plans or making you include every last living relative to get them?

You don’t make half steps. You go all the way, or not at all. If you’re not willing to bet the company, then you’re not willing to win.

Take the case of Compaq. State of the art computers, using the highest quality many times tested parts, for a high price. Good plan for a while. But then Dell sold hardly tested parts in machines at a low price. So did Compaq lower their prices A LITTLE? No, they changed their business plan, and sold what Dell did at similar prices. And the company ultimately merged with HP to survive. And HP was doing badly against Dell until computers became commodity items and people preferred to buy them at their local retailer rather than call Dell and wait for a shipment. In other words, business conditions change, and you have to adjust.

This is not a new movie. It started unspooling in 1999. People can download music from the Internet. And then they started owning hand-held players en masse. Where’s the mystery? CD sales have dropped since the turn of the decade. Now they’re in free-fall and you RAISE THE PRICE??? Shit, if you’re gonna buy the whole album you might as well purchase the CD, you can rip it at ANY BIT RATE YOU WANT, and there’s NO copy protection!

Unbelievable bullshit. EMI deserves to go out of business. As for its lame competitors, they’re so paralyzed that they won’t even make a move. Edgar Bronfman, Jr. wants higher prices WITH the DRM. And Sony BMG is just trying to stay afloat, with an internal war aflame, with the Sony half fighting for its life. And Universal is so arrogant, it somehow believes since it’s got the largest market share with the biggest selling acts, it’s somehow immune. RIDICULOUS!

Start with the publishers. They’ve got to go to a percentage rate.

Go to the deals. Give the artists a fair shake, or soon none except for the most vapid no-talents will sign with major labels.

Then rejigger the economics so you can sell tracks at a cheap price.

Or, wake up to the future and realize more people want more music at a cheaper price and sell it to them this way. In quantity. Probably as licensed P2P. But not track by track, even album by album, this is even LESS than the labels had before.

Record labels? Your business model has changed forever. Why don’t you wake up and acknowledge this. If you don’t give the people what they want at what THEY feel is a fair price, they’re just gonna continue to steal. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Yeah, what he said without the swear words...

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sunday Fun(nies)

It's Sunday and in Columbus it is sunny with the right mix of clouds and spring showers. It's also the day before another Championship Game Storm with Florida. We saw this game back in January and, well, it wasn't that nice for Buckeye Nation. Heck, the b-ball teams played earlier this year and Florida absolutely waxed OSU. This could get ugly, but I hope it doesn't... go Bucks!

On the fun note, that is Fun 2.0, we have the following...
  • Clancy Ratliff has hepped me to two wonderful sites that make it even easier to share and construct knowledge. Both SlideShare and JumpCut are pretty solid. SlideShare allows you to easily share PowerPoint and OpenOffice docs (not Keynote, but that app exports to PPT with relative ease) and JumpCut allows you to upload and edit video. That's amazing, just amazing!

  • Been listening to a number of new acquisitions, including a download from iTunes of Two of Us by Dinah Washington and Brook Benton. As good as pop music has ever been! Also notable in my mix of late is the soundtrack to Broken Flowers, Fugazi's End Hits and Steve Cropper's With a Little Help from My Friends.

  • I am working on a number of longer blog entries about why every researcher in the world should go with Firefox, the decline of the album as a music industry staple, and 10 top ten things that I thought about in March. And, finally, between job ap after job ap, I promise an submission to In Media Res about Hip Hop and The Sound of Young America.
Now Back to Grading! Woo hoo!

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