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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.

If anyone wants to know what I am thinking about when I set up a playlist for an event, here it is.

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Another in the line of Craigslist love-hate posts.

The post says-

iPHONES!

I have 2 iphones
Both in great condition
Have the screen protector and back covers.
Only had them for 3 weeks.
3g 16gig
Like to get 225 each.
Will negotiate a little.
Open For Trades.

517-FON-NMBR (OMITTED FOR SAFETY)


 

Choose the best option-

This ad is either:

A. A scam

B. Someone trying to sell hot goods

C. Someone legitimately trying to sell 2 iPhones that they only had for 3 weeks and that work perfectly well

D. None of the above

 

What do we think?

 

 

P.s. Shout out to Pete Nelson who has been tipping me off to some great Ads… sadly by the time I get to them they are deleted.

This is what Cragslist is for.

Edit:- The posting is gone. It was for pictures of cherubs kissing. Was not worth the $25 asking price.

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Over the past year I have gotten to know Fred Springborn. Fred is the extension agent for both Montcalm and Newaygo counties in the midwestern half of Michigan.

I am currently performing studies on some of his land and am working with him cooperatively on several projects.

When I first met Fred my immediate reaction was that he reminded me of a character out of The Adventures of Homer Price. Fred is a tall man, usually wearing a John Deere hat, cowboy boots, jeans and a striped cotton shirt. With the exception of the BlackBerry on his belt, he would be at home in the backdrop of a John Wayne movie, speaking in his measured Sanilac county drawl.

Every time I interact with Fred I am astounded by the array of information he carries around in his head. Fred is an expert and is passionate on the subject of manure and soils. Beyond this expertise Fred gives advice and wisdom to growers of wheat, corn, soybeans, dry edible beans, potatoes, oats, barley, as well as fruits, vegetables, and livestock. The area he serves provides most of the peas for the Gerber Baby Food company as well, providing millions of dollars to the Michigan economy. For each of these specialties Fred gives advice on equipment, fertilization, tillage and pest control, including nematodes, fungi, insects and diseases. The amount of information he is able to deliver is incredible. Fred is also a curious person. I have known him to carry a list of questions to ask when he sees us; questions he has been pondering and wants answers to.

Beyond the raw knowledge, Fred demonstrates one of extensions greatest strengths- connections. When any grower calls Fred with a question, he is one phone call away from the world renowned experts in the field. This last summer, an amish man found some cereal leaf beetles in his barley. Within an hour I was standing in that field looking at this fascinating pest with my professor. We were able to collect samples and give him advice and learn about the pest. This experience was vital for the grower, who learned how to deal with a pest and was also invaluable to us as researchers to view a rare and interesting pest.

The power of connection also travels in reverse. When I am in need of aphids or a location to erect a trap I am one phone call away from having a connection with some of the most diverse and economically important cropland in Michigan. Fred is largely responsible for a majority of the studies being performed by the Field Crops Lab this year. Without him we would not be able to do our jobs.

Michigan State University pioneered the concept of connecting the university with the landscape, providing growers with knowledge, enabling them to improve their practices and providing researchers an arena to seek discovery, test theories and run experiments.

In this state the money spent on extension and agriculture is an investment with tangible returns. By spending the money to connect growers and researchers, growers are placed in contact with the latest research and information on cutting edge agricultural practices. Researchers are also then given access to the practical knowledge of growers and are given the tools to research. Thus we have a state with burgeoning agriculture and cutting edge research. These combine to boost the economy, employ a large number of workers and feed children as far the the face of the Gerber baby travels.

All of this is done by men and women like Fred. Cruising the dusty roads of Michigan in their pickup trucks. Talking to anyone who has questions and seeking to learn themselves. Helping men and women to make money and protect their livelihoods.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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This is the first part of a series of posts I will be doing over the course of the summer cataloging the progress of my work researching the control of soybean aphids (Aphis glycines).

Soybean aphids are pretty crazy little dudes that like to suck soybean plants dry and can cause farmers to lose up to 70% of their yield. That is a lot of money lost to this little green bug. The United Soybean Board collects a small amount of money from each grower through the Soybean Checkoff program, a little “soy tax” if you will. This money is referred to as “Checkoff dollars” and is spent on research to figure out ways of improving farmer’s incomes and yield. These funds create the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP). This is the program, in combination with the Michigan Soybean Board, that funds my research.

My research looks at ways of controlling these aphids through conservation biological control and host plant resistance (HPR). Hopefully this will help the bottom lines for farmers and will lead to more sustainable soybean production.

Biological control relies on the principal that in the environment exist biological entities that work to control and provide resistance to the personal and population growth of every living organism on the planet, being plant, bacteria, insect, anything. These forces help to control populations and create an equilibrium, gravitating towards the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. The steriotypical example of the wolves and the moose in Isle Royale is often used to show how one organism effects the population of another. In the case of soybean aphids, the forces that help to lower the populations of aphids are not present in the United States as they are in the aphid’s native lands in Asia.

Several types of biological control exist, such as classical biological control, where we go back to the foreign lands and find the natural enemies that prey on the the aphids. This is being attempted, but is historically not entirely successful, for many reasons. The natural enemies can be fickle and can have a difficult time adapting to new environs. natural enemies can also do too well, as is the case of the Asian Multicolored lady beetle. This is the lady beetle that little old ladies are always complaining about as they invade homes in the fall. Releasing anything into the environment is always a little scary.

There are other types of biological control, such as inundative biological control, but I will not get into those.

My research is with conservation biological control. This relies of figuring out ways of attracting natural enemies that are already in the environment to problem areas by creating amenable conditions for these organisms to feed, aestivate, live, breed, etc… My specific work looks at how variety selection effects the suites of predators that inhabit them.

These varieties are bred and are selected to be resistant to aphids. This is called host plant resistance. The varieties I am investigated have been developed to have lower populations of aphids. I am looking to see how these differences in population effect natural enemy populations.

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I will be executing 4 separate studies this summer, literally taking me from one end of the state to another. I have plots in Montcalm county and just north of Frankenmuth as well as plots I have on the campus research farm. I am planning on collecting aphids from one tip of the lower peninsula to the other. This means at some point I shall have to drive the length of our great state and crawl around in farmer’s fields looking for soybean aphids. I have all but one of my studies planted and am hoping to have it completed early this next week. After that he next two weeks consist of watching my plants grow and waiting for aphids to fly in.

It should be exciting, I am hoping to be done next May and am looking at many options, ranging from going directly to my PhD. or even the Peace Corps. I also reserve the right to just work at the local Apple Store.

I kid.

I intend to put updates here and let people know how things are going, this also serves as a little measuring stick for me to use to watch my progress and see where this all goes.

P.S.- Check out this info on Cereal Leaf Beetle, a rarely problematic insect that is become an annoyance

to many farmers this summer. It is a fascinating insect and it as been fun helping growers and extension agents figure out how to handle it.

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Seeing as everyone on the internet has to be weighing in on the series finale of Lost, I figure I might as well type out a few thoughts. This review is spoiler free- so have no fear- no major plot points are revealed.

In short- I was satisfied with the finale. In no way was it perfect. Those who watched it with me know that I did not want Lapidus to take off. Good Grief. I wish everyone could taxi and take off of a desert island in a large jet. I wanted them to crash, it all seemed way to convenient.

 

This brings me to the main point. Lost is a TV show. Think about that. It is a TV show. To believe that any TV show will change your life- fulfill you intellectually and fill the God-shaped void is just as crazy as thinking using Axe body spray will make super models make out with you. This is the same media as The Simpsons and Wanda at Large (Remember that one?). Once you view it as a piece of pop-culture media, getting mad about it seems stupid.

The mysteries of LOST were not solved. There were many small mysteries that I believed were never going to be answered, but I did think that there are two huge questions that should have been answered. It is probable that even the writers, Damion Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse have no clue what these are. Maybe if we think and watch everything again we will come to our own conclusions.

1.) What is the island?

I know it is a physical entity, but knowing why only certain people can get there or why leaving is difficult would have been nice. It could be that leaving the island has always been possible, but fate locks people in. Maybe fate, not physics is what binds people to the island. Still, the question is unanswered.

 

2.) What is the Dharma initiative?

We have had little nuggets of answers through the past two seasons, but there was no solid answer. We have been told it was a big psychology experiment. We have also been told it was an attempt to tweak the fabric of the universe. We have no clue.

 

On the other side of the coin- what made Lost amazing was the development of characters and the time spent on the personal struggles and stories of each of them. It is a show about the search for meaning and purpose in life. The role of family- how parents impact their children and how children can cause parents to do whatever it takes for their children’s sake.

 

While the Lost finale was not entirely intellectually stimulating. It was emotionally fulfilling. Good art will fulfill emotionally. That is what Lost did. It speaks to our desire to find purpose and connection- that is what the island did. It connected these characters in ways they would have never expected and it gave them all purposes. Purposes that they had all been destroying their pre-island life searching for.

The finale lacked the big “Oh my gosh” moments. But it did create closure and did end the personal and emotional stories of the castaways.

Lost was about the characters, not the mystery. The finale demonstrated that.

(Image courtesy of dantheman12 of gizmodo commenting fame.)

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Adobe just posted a open letter to Apple saying they want the internet to be free again. They want Apple to stop trying to overthrow the internet by getting rid of all the Flash.

Flash is what all the crappy games on the internet and what most YouTube videos are played through. Flash is the de facto standard for interactive content on the internet. Apple is trying to push this technology aside to move toward HTML 5. HTML 5 is the next step in internet coding language and in all honesty can probably do just as much as Flash.

Flash is a great program and has been responsible for a majority of the growth that has happened on the internet in the past five years. Just look at YouTube, Hulu, etc… But just because something is ubiquitous and was once helpful does not mean it should never be abandoned. If that was the case we would still be riding around in trains and tying up horses when we go into Sears. Technology changes. Flash is in many cases the cause of poor performance and security breaches on computers, both Macs and PCs. It has served its purpose and has lived longer and done more than any technology could ever be wanted to. But it is time to move on.

Adobe is getting mad because their product is being rejected by Apple. The iPhone and the iPad do not allow one to watch videos or play these games unless you use another video player, optimized to play the video in an HTML 5 appropriate manner.  Many websites are changing over to HTML 5 or creating flash-free versions because they want their websites to be usable on these devices. (Oh, and P.S… Currently no mobile OS officially supports Flash. Apple gets targeted because Steve Jobs is the only one gutsy enough to say that is on purpose.)

Adobe claims that Apple is inhibiting the freedom of the internet by not supporting Flash.

To use HTML 5, all anybody needs to do is use the correct tags and language in the website and encode media in the proper formats.

Cost- $0.00

To develop a Flash element for your website- you need to buy Adobe’s software.

Cost- $660.99

Which one is more “free”?

The Adobe family is complaining that nobody is coming to play in their pool and that the city pool is getting more people. Some parents will only let their kids swim in the city pool. It is cheaper, cleaner, and they like being able to watch their own kids. They don’t want their kid’s being watched by somebody else.

 

What does the Adobe family do? They write a letter to those parents telling them they are hurt and that they are restricting their kid’s freedom and fun ability. If they wanted their kids to be free and have fun, they would bring them over to the Adobe family pool.

 

Here is the solution-

Clean up your pool and stop charging 660.99 for kids to swim in it.

Adobe. It’s that simple.

It has to be a crime to make people study for a statistics exam on a day like today.

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