Year Zero – An Addictive Tale of Galactic Intrigue and Copyright Infringement

covershotI recently read a review that Phil Plait, aka Bad Astronomer, posted about Year Zero by Rob Reid.  (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he founded which created the Rhapsody music service.  If it doesn’t sound familiar, then never mind.)  In it, there are countless alien civilizations in the Universe.  Most tend to self-destruct, but a few don’t.  These precious few (well, "few" percentage-wise is still many, many civilizations numbers-wise) get to join the Refined League.  By doing so, they gain access to the technological and, more importantly, the art that all of the other civilizations have.

For the longest time, Earth seemed to be a nothing world.  We were primitive nobodies, barely even worthy to be paid attention to.  Until, that is, Welcome Back Kotter aired.  Even this, however, was laughable to the aliens until the closing credits theme song played.

There’s this funny thing about aliens.  They are leaps and bounds ahead of us in every area known to man… er, sentient species, except for one: Music.  Here, we soar beyond any of their wildest aspirations.  In fact, our music is more than just "good" to them.  It has a certain drug-like effect on them.  Human music is like LSD on crack to aliens.  They shuffle wildly, approximating dancing – aliens stink at rhythm, and can even go into a trance-like state where they are aware of nothing but the wondrous sensation of the heavenly tones coming from those otherwise hopelessly backwards Homo Sapiens.

Now, like many music fans, they decided they needed to have copies of the songs.  Since landing in flying saucers en masse was out of the question (for one, they don’t interfere in non-Refined civilizations and secondly they don’t travel in flying saucers), they took the route that many human music fans take: they "downloaded" the music.  Every alien has a copy of every song released since about 1978.

Unfortunately, the aliens are also sticklers for the rules.  They have a law that they need to follow the laws of whatever planet the art form comes from.  And Earth (specifically, the United States) has this pesky copyright law.  When you add up the fines that would result from every alien pirating every song released since 1978, you get more money than the entire Universe.  Yes, thanks to copyright law, the entire Earth (except for North Korea) is now fabulously wealthy and the Universe is bankrupt.  And that’s a problem.  Especially since some aliens would like to see the debt wiped out by any means necessary.  Even if it means humanity is wiped out.  (Hard to collect on your debt when you’re kaput.)

Rob Reid takes this setup and runs with it in a way that alternates between hilarious and insightful.  (Often being both at once.)  His characters struggle against impossible odds to find a way out of this situation.  Their travels take them from New York City to the other side of the Universe and back again.

I found this book as addictive as the aliens in it found humanity’s music.  I couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes.  When I did, I found myself finding excuses to sneak off with the book just to read a few more pages.  A few times, I thought I had figured out how they would solve the problem.  I was even close once, but not close enough.  The actual resolution makes perfect sense and is one of those "why didn’t *I* think of that" situations.

The entire book is told from the main character’s point of view and, just to add to the fun of the book, there are footnotes scattered here where he adds background to sections, terms, or statements that characters make.  I was drawn into this world and it would not let go until I finished the very last page.  (Yes, I read all 357 pages in 2 days!)  The story was just too engrossing not to keep reading.  And even when you think everything is tied up in a nice little package, the author tosses a new wrinkle (albeit one he mentions earlier in the book but then gets conveniently "forgotten" about until the end) that not only adds an interesting twist, but also possibly sets up a sequel.

However, whether there is a sequel or not, Year Zero is a very interesting read and I would recommend it to any music or science fiction fan.  I would doubly recommend it to people who are fans of both music *and* science fiction.

What Do You Get When You Cross Cee Lo Green and Elmer Fudd?


There are days when my mind takes a weird turn.  Perhaps, I’m overtired or maybe just feeling silly, but my mental train jumps the tracks and decides to head for the hills.  There, the bumping around causes me to mash completely unrelated items.  Maybe, I’ll pit Papa Smurf against Voldemort or maybe I’ll ponder what drugs Dora might be on to make her think that a monkey is her best friend and that she needs to keep items away from a kleptomaniac fox.

Recently, my boys have gotten addicted to a certain song by Cee Lo Green: Forget You.  The original version of the song uses another F word in place of "Forget."  However, "Forget You" is the radio – and kid – friendly version.  If you haven’t heard it yet, here it is:

Now, my track-skipped mental train picked up this song and headed in a zig-zag manner across my mind’s landscape.  It collided head-on with another favorite song, albeit from a totally different genre.

Yes, I started combining Cee Lo Green and Elmer Fudd.  You’d think two such different lyrical sources wouldn’t mix.  However, as I got the kids ready for bed, I found myself singing the first few lyrics to the song.  I stopped, whipped out my phone, and typed them out lest they be lost when my mental train righted itself.  Later on, when I had some free time, I pulled the real lyrics to Forget You and wrote out the rest of the song.

Now, at one point, I considered filming myself singing this in my best Elmer Fudd impersonation.  Then, I remembered two things: First of all, I’m not a great singer.  I’m not horrible, just not great either.  Were I to try out for American Idol, I wouldn’t get passed to the next round, but I wouldn’t be one of those weird, horrible singers that they highlight either.  I’d be so boringly average that I wouldn’t even make it on air.  Second, my Elmer Fudd impression isn’t that great.  Sure, it amuses my kids, but that’s about it.

So I’ll leave it to the better Elmer Fudd-impersonating singers out there.  If you want to video this, link up to this blog post to let me know about it.  (Perhaps I’ll even feature your video here.)

And now, without further ado, here is Kill The Wabbit from the Wabbit Kiwwer album performed by E Fudd Green:

I see your footpwints in the woods as I twack you down,
and I say
Kill the wabbit!
I got my double bawweled shotgun and a cawwot twap,
and I say
Kill the wabbit!
Kill the wabbit!
If I wah smawter, I woulda got ya,
Now my gun’s all pwugged up (plugged up)
And though I still twy to bwast, it just bwows me up thanks to that,
Skewy wabbit!

I’m sowwy, but the duck told me
That it was wabbit season now.
You say to shoot him, the duck says to shoot you
And my bwain hurts, it just ain’t fair.
So I take my AAAAAim and fiwe away
(Such a loud blast)
(Duck bill’s spinning)
I hit the duck weal good
Yeah. Pwonouns just confwuse me.


Now you know, I had to twack you
Stick my gun in your wabbit howe
But you tied it, in a knot
Doncha ya know these guns ain’t cheap
I just want to shooooot, that waskily wabbit
(But he kissed ya)
(On the lips, ew!)
He dove into his howe
Ooooh, I hate that skewy wabbit!


Be vewy, vewy, vewy, quiet look hew are wabbit twacks
(Tracks, tracks, tracks)
I twied to chase ya thwew a wog but wound up fawwing off of a cwiff!
(A cliff, A cliff, a cliff)
Uh, Wabbits. Uh! Wabbits! Uh!
Oh! I hate them! Oh! I hate wabbits! Oooh!


Earworms of the Parental Kind

Anonymous_trble_clefIt used to be that I would find certain songs running through my head.  Tunes came from such artists as Billy Joel, Barenaked Ladies, and Bon Jovi.  They may have annoyed me slightly by climbing into my brain and refusing to leave, but at least I could rock out to them for awhile.

Then I had kids.

Joel and Jovi quickly were replaced with Wiggles and Laurie Berkner.  Don’t get me wrong, I like their music.  I’ll freely listen to them with my kids and will dance around the house with those songs blaring.  What I don’t want, though, is for their music to set up shop in my mind and continue running when no kids are around.  It’s a little embarrassing to find yourself humming Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car in the office.

The other day, I was going for some blood work.  As I walked into the building, I found myself humming a tune.  Only this tune wasn’t from a mere children’s singer.  No, this was one worse.  It was from a children’s TV show.

Yes, that was running through my head.  It would not leave.  I had no choice, but to counter it with the most powerful grown-up earworm that I could think of.

Mission accomplished.  The kiddie earworm was driven back.  But for how long?

Disclaimer: The "trble clef" graphic above is from

Rocking With The Laurie Berkner Band

Saturday mornings are usually lazy affairs.  Last Saturday, though, was different.  We needed to get up and moving quickly.  Why?  We had a concert to go to: The Laurie Berkner Band’s Animal Party at Proctors Theatre.


We got there early, picked up our tickets and, before taking our seats, got each of the boys a souvenir.


That’s a shaky egg – a small wooden egg that makes noise when you shake it like a maracca.

As we took our seats, I marveled at how close we were to the stage.


We also marveled at what a great looking venue Proctors is.  We really should go to more shows there!


NHL, being a drum player, liked the drum set on the stage.


JSL, meanwhile was prepared for one of the later songs with his monkey.


Before long, out came Bob (who plays the drums), Suzie (keyboard), Adam (bass guitar), and, of course, Laurie.  The boys went crazy as she sang song after song.  Meanwhile, I alternated between taking a ton of photos, taking videos, and rocking out with my kids.

Here are some selected photos from the concert.


Remember JSL’s monkey from before?  Well, at one point, he had to put it on his head.  After all, Laurie had a pig on her head…

In addition to having a pig on her head, her toolbox was invaded by a mouse intent on building a home for itself.

For fans of Jack’s Big Music Show, where her band is often featured, Laurie broke out into a medley of songs.

Finally, what concert would be complete without a groupie crashing the stage.  Of course, Laurie Berkner groupies are a bit shorter than some other band’s have.

We just love how the band worked her into the show.  They showed that not only do they play great music for children, but they know how to play WITH children too.  (At the time, I wondered if I’d be able to tell the mother of the little girl about this video.  It turned out that she posted on Facebook and B got in touch with her.)

All too soon, the concert was over.  It was time to take bows and head home.


Thanks to the Laurie Berkner Band for such a magical concert!

Disclaimer: We received complementary tickets to the “Animal Party” concert thanks to The Laurie Berkner Band. The opinions expressed above, however, are my own and this post was done because we had a great time, not in return for the tickets.

Concert Memories

This year, NHL was able to join his school’s band and choose an instrument.  He decided to select the drums.  Last night, he had his first concert.  The days preceding it were filled with him getting more and more anxious about the big day.

I tried to calm him down with a tale about one of my concerts when I was growing up.  I quickly realized why this wasn’t a good story and shortened it.  I told NHL that I was very nervous and my orchestra teacher gave me the option of not going onstage.  I decided to go through with it and had a great concert.  All this is true, but (for NHL’s sake), I left out the part where my nerves overwhelmed my stomach and I hurled in the hallway.  I don’t think that detail would have helped him any.

Even NHL’s fortune cookies seemed to be telling him to push through.


In any event, the big day came and NHL went off to his band.  Up first was the orchestra.  While they played, memories began flooding back.  As I mentioned above, I was in the orchestra.  I played violin for many years.  I was actually kind of coerced into playing.  My orchestra teacher at the time seemed overly anxious to get me to join.  He asked me how I would respond if, in a future job interview, I was asked what instrument I played.  Naive kid that I was, I didn’t want to risk my future employment by not being able to play a violin.  (You’d be surprised how rarely that question came up in my job interviews, though.  It’s almost as if employers don’t care whether their web master can play a violin!)

In any event, the orchestra at NHL’s school began to play a tune pizzicato.  This means that they didn’t use bows, but instead plucked the strings during the songs.  Suddenly, my fingers began tingling.  I could almost feel those thin, metal strings digging into my index finger with each note played.

Then, watching the kids’ fingers move, I remembered the anxiety I felt over my finger placement.  There are about 8 different places your fingers could rest on the strings (including one position with no fingers on the strings).  Each finger-string placement results in a different note.  There are also 4 strings.  Which string to play and which finger placement to use is represented by one note.  Just one.  When you look at the sheet music you need to see the note, remember that this means to play this particular string with these fingers in place, get them in place, play the note, and then move on to the next note.  I was never very good at this.  I just could not do all this fast enough.

NHL, luckily, chose the drums.  Although this entails playing the bells (aka the xylophone), for which he does need to hit certain keys at certain points, the drums mainly require him to keep a steady beat.

When his time came, NHL went up with 2 of his drumming classmates and played Mary Had A Little Lamb.  He did a fantastic job and we were all very proud.  NHL realized that his nervousness before the concert faded away and he had a blast.

When you were in school, did you play an instrument? If so, were you nervous before performances?

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