Radio David Byrne

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When it came to music, I was an old fogie. I had a shelf full of Bob Dylan, Allman Brothers, Brian Eno, and more Bob Dylan. You know, old guy’s music. I actually liked a lot of the new popular music I overheard, I was just not up on it. Didn’t know what was what. Recently I’ve found two tools to keep me current with great contemporary music that wasn’t just top 40. My iPod is now full of some pretty hip music, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Here’s what works for me. At my birthday or Christmas, I request as my only present that my kids, nieces and nephews burn me a disc of their favorite music in the last year, or so. It is an easy gift for them to make, and a great learning experience for me. The few tracks I can’t stand, I just delete. The stuff I love I seek out on iTunes to purchase more of. From this I get the fashionable tunes.

This trick actually works even better with kids not your own. When I am traveling overseas I ask students who befriend me to burn me a CD of their favorite local tunes, and boy does this beckon forth some great unknown stuff. I landed some lovely Polish rock this way. I’ve learned to not be bashful asking because everyone loves to share their favorites. The main thing is to not ask your friends; they think too much like you. Instead you want the “other-ness” from fans in other lands and other generations. In my experience this method works better than following random play lists on iTunes, or random recommendations on Amazon. The winnowing process to burn to a CD is more selective, and perhaps because it is being made for a specific person — me — it is, well, more personalized.

My second method is a more automatic version of “what’s on your iPod?”, yet brings me a wider range of songs. For one or two days a month I queue up David Byrne’s Radio Station on the web and listen to his two-hour loop of new, wonderful, delicious tunes. Rock-star Byrne is a professional musical pioneer, admirably eclectic in his taste, yet astutely discriminating at the same time. Over years of listening to all kinds of music — experimental, indie, international, fringe, classical, pop — he’s heard enough to make some great recommendations. Given his reputation he is constantly asked what he is listening to. In answer he has generously turned his play list into a streaming audio station. When you tune in, you are hearing the music he plays in his office.

Each Radio David Byrne playlist runs a few hours long before it repeats; it keeps cycling the whole month. It’s kind of like listening to a 2-hour album over and over again.This gives you a chance to “master” the new music you are hearing. Past playlists have focused on “Icelandic Pop,” “Movie sound tracks,” “Opera highlights,” or, my favorite, “Eclectic Stuff.” This month (Feb 08) the theme is “African Fusion Pop” — Byrne’s favorites from two decades of exploring modern African hits.

I listen to each list for a few days as I work, slowly accumulating my favorites. There is a handy Amazon link near the tunes available for download, which makes adding a new song to your own collection a no-brainer. Or you can copy the metadata and hunt for it on iTunes or E-Music, etc. Byrne earns a few cents for each download, which keeps his bandwidth going. Over several years of listening a few hours per month I’ve gotten a great education in contemporary music. I know Dylan has a satellite radio show, but really, more legends should do this — stream what you love.

Besides the fact that Byrne’s Radio station has introduced me to fantastic artists (sometimes preempting my kids!), I also like the fact that it is demonstrating a workable, legal (at the moment) model for music exploration: Expert + Sharing + Purchase.

-- KK  



SteriPEN

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I took a SteriPEN to Africa for 3 months this summer and the verdict is in: it’s the best water purifier you can carry without a tractor-trailer. It’s basically a UV ray flashlight you submerge into your glass. The water stays cool and it doesn’t change the water, except to kill all the living things in it, viruses included. It is expensive, but pays for itself quickly, as you don’t have to buy bottled water. On my trip, often when I asked a waiter for a glass of tap water, my request would elicit a smile or a laugh. In some cases, they simply would not bring me a glass of water. Most of the time, though, I convinced them — and then, to their amazement, I would take out the SteriPEN, push a button, and stir the water with the glowing purple UV light that always brought stares from other diners. After less than 60 seconds, I would take out the SteriPEN and drink the water, occasionally hearing gasps from other tables. Then I’d mention that UV light is how certain towns and companies now sterilize water.

In the 3 months I used it while abroad, I never got sick and the recommended CR123 batteries lasted all summer. Of course, it doesn’t make Uganda’s water taste any better, and often buying a plastic bottle and tossing it in the car is more convenient, but the SteriPEN will save you if you need it and it will save you money if you use it. For backpacking, it’s what we call a disruptive technology — no other water purifier comes close. I haven’t tried the MIOX, but it seems like a hassle in comparison. You have to make a kind of concentrate that you pour into your water and you need salts for it. I would bet on the SteriPEN because you treat the water 100 percent, there are NO consumables, and there aren’t any follow-up steps, which you might screw up. I have tried pills and filters in the past, but I think the SteriPEN is the best solution in all circumstances. I would take one on an extended wilderness trek with no hesitation. It will become a permanent travel companion.

I bought the lightweight Traveler version (picture above), and my only complaint is that the silver coating disintegrated after a while somehow. It works fine, but now it looks more like a Star Trek prop than it did when I bought it. Since the Traveler and Adventurer models are the same product, just different colors, I would recommend the Adventurer. Quick aside: SteriPEN’s solar charger is way too heavy at this point.

-- David Siegel  

SteriPEN
$77
Manufactured by Hydo-Photon, Inc.

Available from Amazon



Sahara Overland

The Sahara is a desert as large as the United States filled with emptiness, ancient cultures, and natural wonders. America has its own recreational deserts in the west, but for Africa and Europe, the Sahara is where you go to test yourself. This book, now in its second edition, has emerged as THE source for getting into the deep Sahara and back, alive and in good spirits. It is uncommonly thorough and immensely practical. It covers the kinds of vehicles and supplies you need, runs along possible itineraries and dangers, and anticipates most of the questions you might have. No stone is left unanswered. The book is a brick — a great big fat bible stuffed with precious overland Sahara lore, hard won by hundreds of trips and mistakes of others. There are not many travel books (or destinations) quite like this one. (more…)

-- KK  

Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide
Chris Scott
2005, 688 pages
$32

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

A final word about guides: you need them, but do not rely on them. They will tell you that lots of things are impossible. That generally means that they cannot be bothered to do them. They tend to be highly conservative people, who resent being diverted from their usual routes and routines. Do not trust their navigation. If you leave your compass and GPS at home because you are in the hands of a local, you are being very foolish. Try to use guides who have been recommended to you by previous expeditions. And (of course) on no account pay them everything up front.

*
An old adage advises that you should never camp in a oued because flash floods from distant rains could rip through your camp causing havoc. Some sources have even claimed that ‘more people have drowned in the Sahara than died of thirst’ – about as likely as more people dying of thirst than drowning at sea, or freezing to death in the Antarctic. In Morocco, where run-off from the Atlas can be frequent, steep and fast, this warning is valid in certain seasons but in the deep Sahara, oueds often offer some welcome tree shade or vegetated wind breaks, as well as soft sand rather than gravel. Obviously if there are dark clouds in the sky keep to the high ground wherever you are, but dangerous flash floods are only a real danger in mountain areas, and by the time they get to the plain they’re all but spent.

*
People get nervous about carrying a wad of money abroad but good old-fashioned cash is a readily changeable and local currency is what talks loudest in the Sahara. Unless you expect to be visiting large cities or capitals, travellers’ cheques are of little use. Despite what you’re told, the promise of speedy replacement of stolen cheques requires a phone call – itself a rather tall order in most of the Sahara. Don’t rely on cashing travellers’ cheques in the Sahara.

It may look drastic, but the only way is to drag this car down to more level ground where it can be pulled back onto its wheels. Within an hour it was running just as before.




African Adventure Atlas

The vastness of Africa is vastly rural. Driving a car or van is the best way to get around. But African road maps are as scarce and inadequate as the mostly unpaved roads themselves. This heavy, oversized, and humungous 336-page atlas (definitely not backpackable) contains the best — and sometimes only — road maps for the entire continent.

Crafted by the cartographic gnomes at National Geographic, this set of maps is meant to be more of an adventure guide. It succeeds as both. These maps indicate the exact information you need while on the road: known ferry crossings, known border posts, known park entrances, local airfields, ruins, mileage markers, as well as the major African towns and national parks interiors. I can’t think of any other maps anywhere else in the developing world that provide this kind of vital information ahead of time. And to top it off, this full-color atlas concludes with 80 good itineraries (with maps!) for creative explorations on the continent. It’s a remarkable achievement; I wish there was one for Asia and South America as well.

-- KK [recommended by Stephen Balbach]  

African Adventure Atlas
National Geographic
2003, 336 pages
$6 (used)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:



African Ceremonies

One doesn’t read this; one falls into it, like an experience. Printed in lavish color in large format, this two-volume celebration of contemporary ritual in Africa is shocking in its lushness. It seems to explode with possibilities–of what ritual and ceremony could be, of how many different ways there are to find meaning in life. It also presents the best argument for why Africa should not be written off: it has difference, and difference is the engine behind innovation. Although expensive, this box set is cheaper than a rocket ship to another galaxy–which is the only other thing I can imagine having similar effect of this work.

Two remarkable women, who first started photographing the jewelry of Africa, developed these books over decades of fieldwork. Some of their work has been published in National Geographic and their other books. Beside eye-popping photos, there is outstanding text on what is pictured. This is spectacle with intelligence. To offset the pricey cost of this magnum opus, their publisher has recently issued a paperback selection called Passages: Photographs in Africa, which presents highlights from Ceremonies. But this abridgement has only one-tenth the 850 images in Ceremonies, and I feel it misses the point of the larger work: glorious, extravagant diversity.

-- KK  

African Ceremonies
Carol Beckwith, Angela Fisher
1999, 744 pages (two volumes)
$102
Harry N. Abrams

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Wearing costumes fashioned from hibiscus fibers and cowerie shells, and with coconut shells as breasts, dancers on stilts rest before performing. Their teetering dance and flapping arm movements imitate a long-legged water bird, but it is also mischievously said that their antics mimic their neighbors, the tall, pointy-breasted Fulani women.

Katjambia summons all her powers to draw the lion spirit out of the woman. Her eyes roll back and she enters a trance, absorbing the evil force into her own body. Forced into Katjambia’s body, the lion spirit remains so powerful that she is unable to expel it no matter how she tries. Barely able to speak, she whispers that she must retreat to her family village to call on the help of ancestral spirits contained in the sacred fire.




 

Africa

Another grand video survey of the African continent worth tracking down. Created by National Geographic, this ambitious series deals with the vastness of Africa by following eight contemporary Africans in their ordinary lives and ordinary dreams. One is a Tulerag camel boy, another is a soccer-playing fisherman, and another is a female gold miner. Each vignette is a one-hour mini-story compressing a year or so at a different corner of Africa, and each story is able to connect you to Africa now. Taken together, they deliver as honest a portrait of a continent as one could hope to get in a 9-hour feast.

-- KK  

Africa
2001, 540 min
$16
Produced by Andrew Jackson
(VHS)

Available from Amazon

Or on DVD via Netflix