Friday, January 11, 2008

New Music: Vampire Weekend

The buzz band of the moment is Vampire Weekend, and their unique sound is a mix of indie rock and afro-pop. The band calls their music 'Upper Westside Soweto', which is a pretty accurate description, like an edgy version of Paul Simon's album Graceland. It's different and catchy stuff, so there's substance to go with the hype. You'll find yourself bobbing along to 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' and its offbeat lyrics "But this feels so unnatural / Peter Gabriel too".

The members met while attending Columbia university, and their Ivy League pedigree seems most apparent in the lyrics. I had to consult Wikipedia to find out what was a Mansard Roof or Oxford Comma, but I learned some neat things. For instance, a mansard roof has two slopes, with the lower slope steeper and the upper slope shallower. One example is the roof of a typical McDonald's restaurant. And an Oxford comma refers to the specifics of comma use before a conjunction in a list of three or more things (like in me, myself, and I).

Below are a few songs and videos from their self-titled album, which comes out January 29.
Interview and In-Studio Performance on KEXP

World Cafe Feature- Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and Mansard Roof

In this clip for "Mansard Roof", Vampire Weekend seems to play up its Ivy League stigma with footage of the band lounging on a yacht:

The band doesn't miss a beat in the jittery stop-action video for "A-Punk":

And on "Oxford Comma", Vampire Weekend shares their greatest wisdom- "Lil' Jon, he always tells the truth."

Friday, January 4, 2008

Brain Food

Want to improve your vocabulary and help end world hunger at the same time? This is the brilliant idea behind The non-profit website's addictive vocabulary game provides players with a word and choice of definitions. Choose the correct definition, and 20 grains of rice is donated to the UN World Food Programme. The rice donations are funded through advertisements, and so far enough rice has been earned to feed over 325,000 people.

Like some great ideas, Free Rice had an unlikely origin. Computer programmer John Breen was trying unsuccessfully to prepare his son for the SAT, and so he devised a computer game to improve his son's vocabulary. Breen runs the advocacy site, so he tied the two objectives together and came up with Free Rice.

The best feature of the game is that it adjusts to your vocabulary level, giving you harder words after correct answers or by dropping a difficulty level after incorrect ones. There are 50 levels of difficulty, which accordingly makes the game challenging for students of all ages and those learning English as well as the most knowledgeable wordsmiths.

I find that Free Rice is great to play during down time at work with a guilt-free conscience. And some teachers are using it in class with their students. I've made it up to Level 47 so far. Anyone up for some friendly competition? Bring it!

NPR Feature Story on

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa Caucus Yeahhh!

Remember the last Iowa caucus? That night in 2004 I'd just returned to my dorm for the spring semester and met up with Victoria in the deserted UC lobby to watch the caucus returns on the big screen. Thinking back on this elicited two reactions:
1. Thank god
it's been almost 4 years, and
2. Holy crap! It's been four years!

Besides that reminder of aging there were also fond memories, like the same "Is this really happening?" look Victoria and I had as Howard Dean roared off every state he planned to visit and promptly devour. And there was the Daily Show coverage (something we won't have this time), where Jon Stewart showed off the bumper sticker "Dated Dean, Married Kerry, Finger-banged Kucinich". This writer's strike needs to end soon or it will be a very unfunny election.

YouTube- Dean's Iowa Caucus Speech