« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »

July 18, 2010

Tom Jones: Older, better

I listened to a lot of Tom Jones this weekend, most of the recordings from the last decade or so, the Welsh singer's voice in fine fettle. Then I came across the latest from the singer, a spare, stripped down album featuring raw, bluesy numbers, contemplative musings on mortality, faith, and the nature of man. It's very different from the pop tunes that Jones has spent most of his life performing, but it makes for compelling listening.

However, it seems at least one executive from his label was not impressed.

Here he's performing the old John Lee Hooker blues number, "Burning Hell" on Jools Hooland's TV show earlier this year.

Posted by Mike Lief at 10:06 PM

Morning flowers

Carnations and roses in the morning sun. I sit at the island, bleary eyed, sipping my coffee and gazing at the flowers, the sun moving slowly, creating blazing highlights and inky black shadows. I set my mug down and pick up my camera ....

Posted by Mike Lief at 07:48 AM

July 17, 2010

Tom Jones: Maybe older, but just as good as ever

Tom Jones performed this version of "Green, Green Grass of Home" back in 1968, when he was 28 years old. It's a great performance, but I think Jones is one of those rare performers; his voice seems as strong as ever, mellowing with age, but still capable of killing.

Here's Jones performing "Green, Green Grass of Home" on Jools Holland's New Years' Eve Special, from December of 2009.

I'd never seen this before: Tom Jones paired up with Nina Persson for a cover of the Talking Head's "Burning Down the House."

It's hard to believe Tom Jones was 69 years old when he rocked the stage with this performance of "Kiss" last year. Most '60s-era stars strike me as ridiculous when they strut and strike poses on stage (Rolling Stones? Aerosmith? The Who?), but this guy has the kind of stage presence that younger singers can only dream of.

Posted by Mike Lief at 01:12 PM

Something for the glass-is-half-full crowd


There must be something in the air -- economic disaster, car bombs overseas, class warfare -- that has me scanning the internet for advice on how to survive parlous and perilous times.

Popular Mechanics offers this second-by-second guide (or is that foot-by-foot?) to surviving a 36 thousand-foot plunge after your airplane disintegrates. Remarkably, 31 people have survived such a plunge, without the benefit of a parachute.

In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was traveling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it blew up. She fell 33,000 feet, wedged between her seat, a catering trolley, a section of aircraft and the body of another crew member, landing on—then sliding down—a snowy incline before coming to a stop, severely injured but alive.

Surviving a plunge surrounded by a semiprotective cocoon of debris is more common than surviving a pure free-fall, according to Hamilton’s statistics; 31 such confirmed or “plausible” incidents have occurred since the 1940s. Free-fallers constitute a much more exclusive club, with just 13 confirmed or plausible incidents, including perennial Ripley’s Believe It or Not superstar Alan Magee—blown from his B-17 on a 1943 mission over France. The New Jersey airman, more recently the subject of a MythBusters episode, fell 20,000 feet and crashed into a train station; he was subsequently captured by German troops, who were astonished at his survival.

The tone of the article is remarkably hopeful. Why not? What's the point of being a pessimist as you hurtle through the sky at terminal velocity, shrieking like a banshee?

You have a late night and an early flight. Not long after takeoff, you drift to sleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. There’s cold air rushing everywhere, and sound. Intense, horrible sound. Where am I?, you think. Where’s the plane?

You’re 6 miles up. You’re alone. You’re falling.

Things are bad. But now’s the time to focus on the good news. (Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your aircraft.) Although gravity is against you, another force is working in your favor: time. Believe it or not, you’re better off up here than if you’d slipped from the balcony of your high-rise hotel room after one too many drinks last night.

Or at least you will be. Oxygen is scarce at these heights. By now, hypoxia is starting to set in. You’ll be unconscious soon, and you’ll cannonball at least a mile before waking up again. When that happens, remember what you are about to read. The ground, after all, is your next destination.

Granted, the odds of surviving a 6-mile plummet are extra ordinarily slim, but at this point you’ve got nothing to lose by understanding your situation.



Whether you’re attached to crumpled fuselage or just plain falling, the concept you’ll be most interested in is terminal velocity. As gravity pulls you toward earth, you go faster. But like any moving object, you create drag—more as your speed increases. When downward force equals upward resistance, acceleration stops. You max out.

Depending on your size and weight, and factors such as air density, your speed at that moment will be about 120 mph—and you’ll get there after a surprisingly brief bit of falling: just 1500 feet, about the same height as Chicago’s Sears (now Willis) Tower. Equal speed means you hit the ground with equal force. The difference is the clock. Body meets Windy City sidewalk in 12 seconds. From an airplane’s cruising altitude, you’ll have almost enough time to read this entire article.

The author discusses the relative merits of a water landing (best to be avoided) and how best to "stick" the landing (head-first is not a good strategy).

Remind me to print this one out for my next flight.

Posted by Mike Lief at 08:56 AM

July 07, 2010

Is her dog a bit dim?

As the owner of one very smart dog -- and one not-so-smart pup -- I can both empathize with and feel smugly superior to this poor gal and her hilariously dim dog.

Very funny.

Posted by Mike Lief at 06:39 PM

July 02, 2010

Hummingbird Tales: We've got a bird down!

I arrived home from work yesterday afternoon and grabbed my camera, ready to see how the hummingbird chicks had fared since I last peeked into their nest.

Making my way through the garage, I opened the side door, which is about three feet away from the birds, and grabbed the six-foot stepladder. As I was about to step outside, I glanced down and saw something on the concrete, next to the doorway -- a tiny clump of frizzy fur and a beak.

What the hell?

It was one of the hummingbird chicks, feebly moving around, lifting its head, eyes still shut. I quickly climbed up the ladder and peered into the nest: Empty! Not a trace of the other chick.

I gathered up a couple of leaves from the trumpet vine and crouched down, trying to roll the chick onto one leaf without touching it with my hands (wanting to avoid having the mother reject the offspring 'cause it smelled of human).

Straining to reach the nest without dropping the chick, I placed it back into the nest, the concerned mother buzzing angrily overhead, then began looking around, trying to figure out what had happened.

There were bits of the nest -- chunks, really -- laying on the ground, but they seemed to have come off of the top lip; the bottom portion seemed intact. I carefully walked the area, looking for the missing chick, which was more difficult than you might think, as the trumpet vine dropped little husks that looked a lot like the baby birds, at least at a glance.

The search was futile; not a trace remained of the missing bird. I backed off and a few minutes later the mother had returned to the nest, sitting atop her remaining offspring.

When I checked on the nest this morning, the chick was laying in the nest, beak pointed up into the air, awaiting the return of it's mom with breakfast.

I'd initially thought that one of the neighborhood cats was responsible, perhaps making a leap for the nest and knocking it about enough to dislodge its occupants, but wouldn't that have caused more damage to the nest?

It's a mystery.

Posted by Mike Lief at 07:39 AM | Comments (1)