Thursday, June 26, 2014

Milwaukee GI: Toyota Emblem

I'm starting another new series for Like-em. Milwaukee GI (Google Investigator) is part of a writing development idea for me to get better at doing online research and sharing my findings. Tonight I'm sitting on my back porch, listening to Wisconsin's next big thing in music, PHOX's debut album, and drinking a Smith and Forge Hard Cider. #HenryDavidThroeaustyle. 

As I'm imbibing (speaking of PHOX, the cider is more like juice) and pondering things to research, Toyota pops into my head. They have one of those logos that looks like it's supposed to mean something - clearly a man in a sombrero - but with some double meaning that the general public will never be able to decipher. 

For any of you who have ever wondered along with me what exactly Toyota is trying to tell us with their cryptic logo, you already know that this is a relatively easy mission for a GI. In less than three quarters of a second Google returned some 13,400,000 results, the first being a collection of amateur answers on rival Yahoo!'s Answer forum. 

That seemed like a natural lead to follow, it was almost too easy. The most "thumbs up-ed" answer indicates that "The current Toyota Mark consists of three ovals: the two perpendicular center ovals represent a relationship of mutual trust between the customer and Toyota. These ovals combine to symbolize the letter "T" for Toyota. The space in the background implies a global expansion of Toyota's technology and unlimited potential for the future."  

Not satisfied with such a quick answer for my first real GI investigation, I dug deeper. On Toyota's official website I learned that Toyota introduced the logo in 1989 to commemorate their 50th anniversary. The site confirmed Yahoo!'s answer and added further symbolism - it's not only a "T", but also a steering wheel. Clearly that was an add on by some high ranking executive who cheered gleefully at the cleverness of the steering wheel being incorporated and, in compliance of some 80s Japanese social rule, was never corrected. On a more serious note, Toyota also indicates that each circle uses a different brushstroke thickness which is a nod to a "brush" art known to Japanese culture. Now that's clever!

That prompted my first spin off GI mission - just seconds after my very first mission! "Brush" art seemed to most closely tie to Sumi-e. It's a form of art practiced all over Asia, but in Japan it's called Sumi-e or Ink Wash Painting. The key to Sumi-e is not to try to closely replicate the physical traits of the object, but the spiritual ones. Now we're learning boys and girls! Several sources noted how artists would spend significant time in mediation to prepare themselves to truly understand an object and its spirit before setting to work.

The rabbit hole goes deeper. Sumi-e uses sumi ink. Naturally! Sumi ink is made by a process that generational wine makers would appreciate. Made from soot of pine branches from select Japanese forests the process often includes a few "secret" steps that make an individual artist's sumi ink its own unique art. It's done at certain times of the year and includes purification and aging before the ink is ready to use. 

The work is fantastic. I'm including only Japanese work here as the style more closely relates to the original GI mission. Knowing the spiritual intent and preparation that goes into this art sucked me into a whirlwind when looking at some of these pieces. 

So there you have it. Toyota is significantly more creative that just throwing a dude in a sombrero on their cars and calling it good.

I learned something there. No I'm going to surf Google images for a while.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Like-em June Playlist

It's time for my June Playlist. I started this series back in April and have worked each month to find fresh tunes to share with you. Even though I'm always trying out new artists and exploring new music, I have to say this monthly post has pushed me to do that even more. I love it. That said, June was an awesome month for music.

Jungle - "Busy Earnin'"

One way to measure a song is by the way it makes you dance. I had been working on this dance for a whole month before I even saw this awesome video. Yes... I dance just like this by myself at home...

We the Wild - "Electric Blue"

I loved the whole new EP from We the Wild and hope to hear more of it when they do a full release. "Electric Blue" is a great tune that I just never want to end. Also, what is up with the video?

Broken Bells - "Holding on for Life"

Another one of my favorite short releases from earlier this year, Broken Bells recently dropped the full album titled After the Disco. Your whole day will be awesome if you just play it over and over. Broken Bells is one of those bands right now for me that brings out some of those old sounds - this offering is BeeGees-esque - with a fresh feel.

Spanish Gold - "Out on the Street"

It's going to kill me all year that these guys performed a live show in Radio Milwaukee's studio and I didn't call in sick to work. I did listen to the recording later where they shrugged off being called a super band - the members came from My Morning Jacket, City and Colour, and Grupo Fantasma. In my heart they're still a super band and this might be the album of the year for me. 

Benjamin Booker - "Violent Shiver"

Do you ever have that dream where your favorite steakhouse and favorite cheesecake joint become one restaurant and you get to eat there as often as you want? Benjamin Booker will be playing ahead of Jack White on tour this year... 

Foster the People - "Coming of Age"

From the band that put Pumped up Kicks in your head for like 12 months - their 2014 album has dropped. Supermodel overall is a better offering in my opinion with tracks like "Are you Who you Want to Be?" and "Best Friends." "Coming of Age" is a great single whether you like singing along or just air drumming.

Big Boi - "Mrs Vandebilt"

Comprised of half the Outkast crew, Big Boi remixed Paul McCartney's classic wonderfully. I'll share both just for you.

Vinyl Theatre - "Breaking Up My Bones"

A late entry for this month, I have to confess that I only discovered Vinyl Theatre last week. They are a local Milwaukee band and instantly impressed me with their clean, polished sound. They have a fair share of good tracks out over the past year, but "Breaking Up My Bones" has my most plays thus far. I get to see them live in two weeks so I'll be playing a lot more before then. They have a great Jack's Mannequin-type sound and I hope to hear some similarly timeless hits.

That's it for this month. Thank's for listening along.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

For Father's Day

Ah Father's Day - a day for new ties, BBQ, and a trip to the local golf course. On a day when all sorts of accolades will be shared on the interwebs, I'll chime in with a few of my own. Please note: the pics clearly have nothing to do with a golf course.

I'm happy to know my dad in a number of capacities. He's been a life coach and a professional mentor. He taught me how to pray and how to be a father. He's given me relationship advice and helped me fix less complicated things too. He picks up the phone when I need to lean on someone. He taught me to flip pancakes and how to care about how the lawn looks when I'm done cutting it. He plays in my fantasy baseball league and makes regular trips across the state and a half that separates us to share time in person. My 'sconnie fiancee tells me that my Minnesooootan is never so thick as when I'm talking to Dad. We've shared the hobbies of cycling, golf, camping, and hiking, as well as the fine arts of grilling and craft beer. If his title wasn't dad, he number among my best friends.

I've shared this story elsewhere before, but wanted to share it here at Like-Em as well. It's one of my personal favorite stories with Dad. It's the story of the first time I shot par while playing golf with Dad.

I had been playing the best golf of my short career and was enjoying the game like never before. I was working at the course and when I wasn't on the clock I was out playing. I was often at the course from sun up to sun down. I didn't get in a lot of rounds with Dad and when I did I put a lot of pressure on myself to show him just how good I had gotten that summer. Of course that meant my game collapsed every time we played together. I don't remember how many times we had played together already that year, but I remember that it was enough to make me edgy about the round that day. I guess in a way I was looking to validate myself and my game. I came home raving about scores that I hadn't been able to prove. It was and still is just a game, but as a teenager it somehow meant more than that.

I started out with horrific tee shot. That much might have been predictable. I swung over the top of the ball and watched it race up the middle of the fairway for about a 125 yard shot to open my day. I recovered with a long iron shot up around the green, a chip, and a couple putts to make a bogey. The next hole, a par five, offered redemption and I took advantage rocketing a tee shot up the middle, laying up, making a nice pitch shot, and the putt for birdie. Back to even par. Holes three, four, and five went smoothly and I was still even par headed to the sixth tee.

Another duffed tee shot. The most dependable part of my game had now tripped me up twice this round. Like the first hole, I played a long iron, chipped, and missed a putt to make bogey. We had three holes to play and I was back at plus one. It was already a victory. Dad had never seen me play even this well, but now I had a real chance to shoot even par for the round. The final three holes offered one good chance to get the stroke back with a short par five eighth. 

Seven is a 150 yard par three with sloped green that just never seemed to play nice with me. At that age, I had been prone to getting extra distance on my middle irons and too often played my second shot from behind the seventh green. I was also plenty jumpy coming off a bogey. To this day I can still walk on that green and tell you where the pin was placed that evening within about two feet. My tee shot stuck inside of that, just six inches left and back of the hole, and I was back to even par.

I knew that the longish uphill ninth was a threat to finish so I didn't hold back on the eighth, but ended up with a tap-out par after reaching the green in three. The final hole did not provide a challenge that night and I wrapped up with an even thirty-six at the turn. I've faced more adversity on the course and I've overcome more than a pair of bogies to get back to even, but never had two bogies been in my head as much as that night. For that reason I still consider it one of the best rounds I've ever played.

I would say that it was special to share that round with dad, but really it was special because I shared it with him. The role that he plays in my life led me to seek his approval in something as trivial as that round of golf. He'll tell you that I shouldn't need that, but I say that it shows the great impact that he has on me. 

Cheers to you Dad!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One Year with Google Play Music

I'm approaching one year with Google Play Music All Access (it's also approaching its one year anniversary). I switched the week it was launched from an Rdio service that I loved for one that I quickly felt offered a similar experience at a better value. I think I'm probably a power user. I've listened to 115 songs 20 times or more (196 hours), another 286 songs 10-20 times (241 hours) and 1446 songs less than 10 times. Those only count the songs that "made the cut" to be added to my library. For someone who doesn't even have streaming access during my 9-5 I think that qualifies me as something of a power user.

Before I run through my wish list, I'd like to say that I love the service. I seldom have issues with playback. I feel the quality is good. I think the layout both on the web and on my Android app are great. I'm a big proponent of subscription music services (see playback hours above) and think that Google has built a great overall product with Play Music. 

That said, here are a few things I would like to see from the service as it heads into its second year:

Link Devices Better

Nearly every morning I use Play Music on my Chromebook while I have my morning coffee, peruse the news, and get ready for work. When I leave the house I often fire up Play Music in my car, but there is no way to just pick up where I left off. This was something that Rdio did well. Another impact of the failed linking is that my "Listen Now" tab is completely independent between my phone and computer - recent plays are remembered by device rather than by account. 

Better Music Discovery

Google Now tells me daily travel times to things through an incredibly intuitive process, but Play Music regularly misses when artists I listen to release new stuff. I often hear about new releases on blogs or even from the Rdio "New Music From Artists You Listen To" email before Google recommends it. The "I'm Lucky Radio" is often a good place for discovery, but direct recommendations are lacking. 

Better Recognition of Subscribers

I'm a paying monthly subscriber of All Access. So is my fiance. But when I share music with her, Google only manages to share a preview and link to buy the song/album. A better sharing experience would encourage more people to get on board with subscriptions. Sharing is social, and if sharing was better for subscribers it would make the All Access more social and generate more music sharing and discovery. The lacking feature makes it pretty clear that Google makes more money via selling music than subscriptions. I get that, but an increase in the volume of subscribers has some value too.

Dream Idea

Dear Google - You make a lot of money via advertising and local search and events get more and more prominence via Search and Now. Instead of recommending 4 "radio stations" to me (I've never once clicked on one) please recommend bands that are coming to my area and then, when I play them, make sure they show up in Now. You will help me discover more music and I'll probably buy the occasional ticket. For example - Jack White is coming to Milwaukee in July, I listen to a bunch of Jack White, bands he's been a part of, and numerous, similar artists. If you are going to recommend anything to me it aught to be Jack White a little more often for the next couple months and then make sure I know I can click your link to buy tickets.

Some people might say they don't want Google to "doctor" the results that much - that they want recommendations to be purely driven by some algorithm that has identified the perfect music for their tastes. I think this is the type of example that blows that out of the water. I already listen to plenty of Jack White and similar music and it would improve my experience to get recommendations for more of him (both his new album and some old things I may not be familiar with) as the concert nears and to complete that experience with a live concert by a band that I enjoy. If Google just partnered highly powered marketed bands and recommended Miley Cyrus to me before she came to town that would be bad as I have never played her or a similar artist via Play Music.

Further, since Google shows that selling music is more profitable than subscriptions, this would be a way to improve profitability from the subscription service and ensure the long-term offering of the product.

Just my two cents, but as a daily user of the service these would definitely be welcome additions.