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Every year a new set of albums come out that change how we think about music and how our iPods are populated. It seems like I ran into some amazing albums this year. I thought I would post a list of the five albums that have made the biggest impact on me over the past year. In no way am I implying that these are the best albums, they are just the ones that have gotten stuck in my headphones. They are in no particular order.

The Suburbs-Arcade Fire


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Arcade Fire continue a run of amazing albums that seem to strike a chord and resonate with the zeitgiest. Both emotional and cutting, it feels like it could be the soundtrack for life in America. It walks a fine line between being an album mourning lost innocence of the past, brutal honesty about the present, and anticipation of what the future holds.

Beyond the music itself, I love everything they do, from mastering their album on vinyl then transferring them to digital, to making amazing HTML5 demos for music videos.

Oh, and bonus 500% Hipster cred if you listen to them.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-Kanye West


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Yes. Kanye is a total jerk. Yes. Yes he is. Anyone who tweets “I like me” has a real problem.

But I can’t get over this album. I have always loved Kanye’s use of melody in his music and this album is no exception. The songs stretch beyond trash-pop generic lyric and contain impressive orchestration and production. There is plenty of self-aggrandizing and boasting about the brand of handbags Kanye purchases for his conquests, but that is par for the course.  Many indie music fanatics will turn their noses up at this album based on… well… the very fact that it is Kanye. I can’t really blame them, but I know I would listen to way more hip-hop if I could find more stuff like this.

Just watch the music video for the album. The full length one is 34 minutes long, below is a snippet containing one of the standout songs of the album.

Gorilla Manor-Local Natives


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This is the first release for the Local Natives and I cannot wait to hear more. They are a described as an psychedelic version of the Fleet Foxes.

I love everything about this album. Each song is a soundscape between your ears. I am not really sure how to describe it any better than that. I love the literary references spread throughout the album. With panning guitars, etherial harmonies, overdriven bass, and complex driving drum parts this is an album that needs to be listened to with headphones. Better yet, go for a walk in the snowy woods while listening.

(For those sharp eyed viewers out there, this video was filmed before a certain Mumford and Sons music video.)

The Age of Adz- Sufjan Stevens


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I think we can all agree that Sufjan has taken the music scene by storm. If you do not agree, just go back to watching VH1. I will call you when I start talking about Lady Gaga. Which is hopefully never.

Where past Sufjan albums were mellow and could place you in a catatonic state, this album is surprisingly abrasive. It is an album that needs to be digested through headphones. I found myself disliking it initially, but then was humming and singing snippets later in the day.  As time has worn on I have become endeared to it.

This album signals a maturing in Stevens’ sound, a desire to be more creative, and the confidence to do it. I am excited to see where he takes his music.

The Wild Hunt- The Tallest Man on Earth

Great album. I already wrote on this album several months back, so I will let you read about it there.

Honorable Mention-

I figure I would be doing the world a disservice by not mentioning Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons.

I did not include them on this list because I first heard their album in 2009, when it was released in the UK. So I am categorizing their album as a 2009 release. I thought about adding it, but it would have meant getting rid of one of the others, which I did not want to do.


When I look on Facebook et cetera at people’s pictures for weddings and engagements I have seen a pattern develop. People associate a certain “look” with professional photography and they assume that whenever they see said “look” they are dealing with a pro. I like taking pictures. It’s true. Those who know me will be shocked. But 75% of the time I am cheating/slacking/being a bad photog and actually doing things that many purists would think are really dumb.

Let me show you how to make people think you are an amazing photographer even if you are actually bad in three easy steps.

1.) Take a decent photo.

This is the most important step. It does not have to be amazing, just decent.

(Tip- Take 100 photos of something. One is bound to turn out decent.)

Here is a decent photo of my family I took this last weekend. It is not the best of the set, but I chose a mediocre photo to prove my point.


We are family, my brother and my sister and me

I won’t get into how helpful a puppy or a tennis racket is in getting that “senior picture” look if so desired.

2.) Increase the saturation and contrast.

Use Picasa, iPhoto… even most cameras can do that.

Here it is… all contrasty and saturated! People love it when their faces are orange!


So green! James Cameron must have made it in a computer!

Step 3.) Add Vignette.

Nothing says professional like an amorphous black blob around the outside of the image!


Is it getting hazy in here?

Optional Step 4.)

Add the name of your fictitious photography studio to the corner. Preferably in a really obnoxious font. Papyrus, Comic Sans or Party will do.


I want my photos to have obnoxious watermarks on them. Then people will know I paid way too much to get photos taken!

I hope I don’t offend any one with this little bit of satire… but I don’t like it when photographers do this and charge people tons of money for photos.

I am just as guilty of this type of thing ( look at my flickr… I’m always adjusting contrast and saturation.)… But I am not charging money for my work. If I did… So help me. Vignettes are a last resort, not the first.

_DSC0027, originally uploaded by MikeKates.

Practicing antiquating photos. I’m pretty happy with this one.

Hey all,
A couple pictures that I took today, hard to get away from bird pictures and no lomo effects allowed for at least a week.

Flying Shamita
Little Big Red

Seeing as this week is apparently bird/Lomo week, I have a picture I took several weeks ago in Holland near the harbor light.
I promise I will try to get another theme, but I like birds, so this may be a permanent theme, unless people want to see tree-bark pictures. I have lots of those.


I took these photos yesterday and I have been trying out some Lomo simulation methods.
I love how they look and I’m hoping I can keep improving.

As always check out more photos on my flickr –

Info on Fenner Nature center where I took the photos-

I’m trying to get my Adobe legs…
Here are some pictures that I have been messing with. It takes a while but I think i can maybe think about looking into trying to see if it would be possible to know what I am doing.
Yeah. It’s crazy.

Originals available on my flickr.

So today I am sitting in my lab running some statistics on a whole pile of data I have had sitting in a forgotten corner of my hard drive since the summer.
Im using SAS which is a decrepit dinosaur of an application with its own manual input of code to get it to work. It reminds me of the days when I had to use DOS to pull up Oregon trail. But this is 2010. I feel as if the programers have not come out of there labs since the first and less hated George Bush was president.The program is fantastic, but it is as unwieldily as all get out. In this situation it’s like having the entire cast of Iron Chef make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It CAN do it and so much more, but it is a waste of time.

For the life of me I can’t get it to work. It’s not entirely hard (in theory) but it seems like it is an insurmountable challenge to get a computer to do what you want it to. I am not trying to get it to do anything complicated. All I want it to do is accept a dataset and tell me if the trap catches between locations in a field are statistically different using ANNOVA.
This is not a hard process. Heck, I can use a myriad of Java applets on the interweb that will do the same thing, I need to use the “trusted standard.”

But it does not work.

Why does it seem like we correlate power with confusion in software design?
It occurs to me that there is a rule that the more your software can do the more overwhelming it has to be. There seems to be two camps of software design. I shall call one MS Paint and the other Adobe Photoshop.
Both are great programs and both of them are some of the worst programs ever made. Now, I have heard that the new Paint on Win 7 is tolerable; I am thinking of the days when I sat at my HP running Win 95 while watching Power Rangers and listening to the Backstreet Boys. Those were the days when I had to uninstall everything on my computer to give Mech Warrior 2 the 500 megabytes needed run.

It was great. I could make as many lines as I wanted. All I had to do was drag the mouse from one side of the screen to the other. Circles. Squares. Blotches. In high school we made duplicates of the desktop with hundreds of clones of the documents folder to flummox our IT guy, who also happened to be our physics teacher. He would start stories like “Back in the seventies, when I went into this casino in Lebanon…”

On the other hand we have Photoshop. I have a love hate relationship with it. In theory it is like driving a stick shift. You are in touch with the image, you can make it go where you want it to. You are fully in control to the limit of the image and your computer. But what has happened is it now feels like you are shifting gears while changing the oil and cleaning the carburetor. It is awful. I know I can get some great stuff out of it, but I am too busy trying to find the correct tab and pressing undo.

There are two values to any tool. These values, combined with the time available to master the tool determine, its functional value.
A tools total value= (Quality of product/Difficulty of use) x Time Available

If we use this thought process we realize that both Paint and Photoshop are roughly equally valuable tools as long as the operator has the ability to invest time.

I just downloaded RapidWeaver today as a part of the MacHeist bundle. Overall I have been very impressed with it. It seems to me like it is a perfect little piece of software.

But I don’t like it.
For the life of me I cant get it to do what I want it to. I am not trying to get it to do anything complicated. All I want to do is change an image in the template. That is all. I know I can change images in templates in iWeb, but what is the point of buying a new software when I can use the free one bundled with my computer.

From what I can tell I need to buy and download a plug in, but that is another $15. And the plug in is not even made by the manufacturer.

So, I am trying to do simple things, with both the powerful and the gimped software.

And I can’t.

Things I like

Flickr Photos