The Avett Brothers Love Pretty Girls

If there’s one thing true in life, it’s that the Avett Brothers love singing about Pretty Girls. If there’s one person in the world who is qualified to rank all the Avett Brothers songs, it would be my mom, who turns out is probably more of a fan girl of the Avett Brothers than I am of Tiger Woods. And you know that’s tough to do if you read any of the golf articles I write over at Golf on the Mind.

So here’s my mom on the Avett Brothers’ Pretty Girl songs (with a halftime section from me)

I’ve been given an assignment: to review and rank the Pretty Girl songs from the Avett Brothers. Those that know me know that, besides my wonderful family, I have two obsessions in my life: the Avett Brothers and Hamilton, the musical. Two weekends ago I almost combined these passions. I was in New York to see Hamilton on Saturday and the Avett Brothers were at Madison Square Garden on Friday. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well, so I had to pass on the Stubhub tickets for the Avett Brothers. I should mention that I don’t have a musical note in my body and I have no formal musical education. I cannot explain why I like something or why I don’t, but I can recognize what resonates with me.

I’m only going to talk about my top 5 Pretty Girl songs — well, that’s not true. I need to get this out of the way. I strongly dislike one of them. I love almost all of the Avett Brothers songs. Not just like, not just tolerate, but love. It is extremely rare for me to say I dislike one of theirs. However, I dislike Pretty Girl from Feltre. Buzz right past it if it comes up on my phone or iPod (yes I still use one). It is agonizingly slow and awful. I heard them play it in concert last year and you could feel them losing the audience. I could not figure out what I had done to deserve this. Usually everything sounds great live, right? No, no, no. Well, I’ve got that off my chest.

5. Pretty Girl from Raleigh — Carolina Jubilee

This is one of three Pretty Girl songs on this album. I read an interview with Seth Avett from 2011 and he was asked about the story behind the series of Pretty Girls. He said “initially, it was done out desire to not call a girl out by her name. The first one was actually called “A Song for…” and then her name. So we were like, “Let’s just call it ‘Pretty Girl from Matthews’ instead.” And then we started realizing that half of our sings were about relationship and girls. … We saw the opportunity to have a series as well.” That helps explains why there are three of these songs on this album which was released in 2003. What else do young men in their 20s think about?

The lyrics of this song – in a relationship, doesn’t mean anything to me, thanks for doing the dirty work and breaking up. Young guys, lots of girls. I like the speed of the song and the foot-tapping nature of it.

4. Pretty Girl from Matthews –- Country Was

I’m a lyrics kind of person. I think what I most like about this song is that even though the narrator sounds like it’s a relationship that wasn’t destined to work out, he’s happy with her and for her. I like the overall compliment that is paid to her in the chorus.

You’re rising like a sun
That pulled a curtain on the night
Coming through the window
To brighten up my life

I’d love that if someone said that to me.

3. Pretty Girl from San Diego – Emotionalism

I love the fast speed again, and then the dramatic slow down when you get to-

Far away I hear the rhythm of a song
Far away I get the feeling I belong, and so do you
And it goes like this

and the Latin sound the comes with it, or am I imagining that?

Of course, it’s another example of a relationship that he wants so desperately to work, but… not gonna happen –

And I will tell ya best I can
‘Bout how I know you love me
And how I want to love you back


I mentioned this write up to my sister, and she quickly made note of a new Dierks Bentley song about Pretty Girls, titled what else, “Pretty Girls”. So I thought I’d throw that in here.

Also of note here, feel like I have to push Dierks’ third album Long Trip Alone for being the best country album out there. While he’s shifted towards more pop country — and more money — with songs like the above, Long Trip Alone is great to listen all the way through. Alright, back to Girls the Avetts think are Pretty.

2. Pretty Girl from Michigan – The Carpenter

Ok, this exercise has just taught me that the Avett Brothers are kind of like Taylor Swift. They like to write songs about their past loves and/or one night stands. That’s ok with me – they are discreet and that’s what goes with the territory of youth. It takes a while to find that one.

Pretty Girl from Michigan is so honest. Honest about being afraid to be honest.

I made mistakes, and one was telling you that I’d be there,
When telling time had come,
I should’ve said I didn’t care.

I watched an early video of this song and Scott titled it on the fly, “Telling Time”. How many times in our lives have we not said something and realized that we missed the Telling Time and how much more difficult it would be to tell the truth later? Speak up at the Telling Time.

1. Pretty Girl from Chile – Emotionalism

What’s not to love about this song (other than possibly the voice message)? It has the beautiful banjo in the opening, great bass and then awesome guitar later on. It almost sounds like two or even three different songs.

I like the maturity in this song too. The self-awareness of his actions and regret for them is evident. At the same time, the acknowledgement of the impact the many relationships have had on him:

And my heart is like a mason’s
Hands of weathered skin
Each scar makes it harder
For me to hurt again

I don’t know the order of these songs as far as the actual writing of them, or when they met the Pretty Girls they are writing about, but I’d like to think this was the last chronologically.

One thing I’ve learned is that I think I like the later albums and the level of production that went into them compared to the early albums. I like the songs from all the albums equally when I hear them live of course. I understand that might not make me a “true” Avett Brothers fan, but hey, it’s Telling Time.

That’s it, other than this quote from Hamilton:

Love doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep loving anyway
We laugh and we cry
And we break
And we make our mistakes

Observations from Tokyo

I can’t remember how I came up with the idea to go to Tokyo. I hadn’t been out of the US in a while and Japan must have popped up somewhere in what I was reading. About a month later, my sister and I were on a plane bound for Asia.

One of the overall themes I got from Japan is that it’s stuck somewhere between leading innovation, and lagging way behind. 20 years ahead, and 20 years behind.

The streets were immaculately clean, but they put their bags of garbage right on the curb where everyone could see them blocking the way.

We saw a demonstration of Asimo, the human-acting robot, who is advanced enough to hop on one leg. But then pretty much every place only accepted cash. No credit cards and definitely none of this newfangled pay by phone we’re finally getting in the US.

There were “smoking only” areas on the streets in many neighborhoods, like Shibuya, as a way to corral and even shame smokers. And yet most places accommodated indoor smoking.

Smoking area at the Gingko  Festival
Smoking area at the Gingko Festival

We could go to restaurants and pre-order from a vending machine and give the ticket to the chefs, but in those same shops, along with most coffee shops (even the western ones), they didn’t have easy access wifi.

We were only there a week, and spent all but one day in a single city. Those thoughts and what follows are pretty much guaranteed to be generalizations. So, if anyone wants to refute some of my comments, or give some extra explanation, I’m more than glad to hear about.

Nighttime in Akasaka
Nighttime in Akasaka

On to more specific observations.


King Cash — When you go to Japan, you need stacks of cash. The only time we used a credit card was to buy train tickets to Kyoto, and to pay for our last meal on our way to the airport and the restaurant was distinctly western styled. Every other place was cash only.

This wasn’t an issue for us since we planned it perfectly and had all the money we needed before, but considering how much swiping we do in the US, it took a little getting used to.
Also fun when you’re carrying around bills with 10,000 printed on them.

Pay by vending machine — A common process at fast food type places was this giant vending machine type thing where we hit the buttons of what we wanted to eat, and the machine would spit out a ticket to give the waiter / cook. Love the efficiency.

More than a few times, we sat down in the restaurant only to be redirected back to the front where these machines are. Those machines were also really impressive in that it could give change in bills, something you don’t see very often over here. And who would have guessed, these machines took cash and not credit cards.

No tipping! — Turns out I’m a big fan of the “just do your job” idea, especially when it comes to tipping. And it’s super nice.
On a semi-unrelated note, I heard that Lyft still has tipping. That’s enough to stop me from ever trying Lyft instead of Uber. In case they’re reading this.

All About Food

With all this talk of restaurants, I figured it might be good to have a bigger section here where I list the notable food we ate. For the most part, we tried to stay away from US style food, except for the one breakfast of pancakes and french toast we had at Tully’s coffee shop.

Auto Sushi — Use a touchscreen, pick out the sushi you want, press the order button, wait a few minutes and the food comes shooting out of the kitchen riding on mini rail tracks and ends up right in front of you ready to eat. Gonna go ahead and guess it’s not the best quality, but who cares since it comes out on a conveyor belt! Overall, it seemed like sushi wasn’t too big of a thing in everyday Tokyo, but this place was absolutely packed, even for a Sunday night.

Fried Chicken Parts — Fried chicken in the US is either chicken breast, or, well, other stuff? Thinking about it now, I’m not sure what happens to the rest of the chickens in the US, other than becoming part of whatever a McNugget is. In Japan, there’s no stigma in eating the less-popular parts of animals. And this hip little fried chicken place we went to in Akasaka, Gaburi Chicken, fried all parts of the chicken. Nothing like fresh fried food, and I was a big fan of the chicken neck.

2015-11-30 05.27.21

Pig on Sticks — From what I could tell, meat on sticks (kababs really, but not sure the Japanese name) are a popular item. I got that multiple times, and saw it on menus all over. Oh, and remember when I mentioned how you can eat all parts of a chicken? Same goes for pigs apparently. I passed on eating the rectum, and I only went as far as eating pig diaphragm. Also pretty sure the skin never got taken off some of them.

2015-12-05 01.49.19

Octopus Balls — While in the food area of the Ginkgo Festival (yup, celebrating the tree), I was excited to see a cartoonish octopus on top of one of the tents. I’m much more inclined to try the more random food, so hell yeah I wanted to get some octopus. That idea was shot down right quick by my sister.

Uneaten Octopus Balls
Uneaten Octopus Balls

In the end, we agreed on these little fried ball things that some guy was turning over with chopsticks. They were still super hot, but when I finally was able to bite into one, the inside wasn’t rice as we expected, but rather some creamy flour based goo, along with… octopus tentacles! So in the end, I guess I won that food battle, and also was allowed to eat the majority of the Octopus Balls.

Rice + Egg + Soy Sauce — First time we ventured out for breakfast, not too many of the places near us were open. But after 10 minutes of wandering, we finally found a place with lights on and people inside. This was a vending machine place, so lining up in front and knowing that you could block people coming after you added to the pressure of ordering, which made me just click a random item from the section of the touchscreen labeled “breakfast”.

What came after we sat down was a bowl of rice, some seaweed for munching, and a raw egg. By sneaking looks at what the other diners were doing, I made the move to kind of scramble the egg with a chopstick and dump it on the hot rice, and added a little soy sauce on a whim. And damn was it good.

2015-12-01 16.58.52

I looked online when we got back and that’s a standard breakfast in Japan, where you’re able to consume raw eggs. If we had that option here, it’d be an everyday thing for me.

Suddenly Steak! — If I had money, and was ever going to open a restaurant, I’d model it after Suddenly Steak. Ikinari Steak, which is the Japanese translation of Suddenly Steak, is a mini chain of fast food steak places in Tokyo, on of which was on our walk from exit 2 at the Akasaka station to our apartment. We passed it every day of our trip before finally stopping in for one of our last dinners.

Outside a Suddenly Steak
Outside a Suddenly Steak

There were no seats, just long tables where diners stood (which earned the restaurant the nickname of “Standing Steak Place”). We ordered the steak by the gram with a few different cuts offered, put on this giant paper bib, and 10-15 minutes later, the steaks were brought out on sizzling platters on top of corn and onions. In and out quickly with fantastic steak, all for the price of around 20 bucks.
I did a little research and looks like they opened one of these in New York, but I still have to wait for it here in Chicago. But if anyone wants to go ahead an build one here, you’ve already got a loyal customer.

Shabu Shabu — Two things we realized from eating shabu shabu, which is the name for a type of meal we ate. 1) There are restaurants on the upper floors of buildings that we were missing out on because we couldn’t read the Japanese names, and 2) shabu shabu is named shabu shabu because that’s the sound made when you boil thin slices of meat / veggies at your table. Seeing the boiled and cooked meat tasted great along with veggies, and at the end they also brought out ramen noodles to boil with the now somewhat salty water.

Ramen in Kyoto — Turns out the distance from Tokyo to Kyoto was about Chicago to Louisville. Crazy to think that we could get there as simply as we did. Just a 2.5 hour train ride. Anyway, we ended up eating dinner at a ramen bar. We used the vending machine to order, and then the cooks behind the counter made the meal. I can’t say I have too much experience with ramen in the US (instant or otherwise), but it was pretty good.

No bars — Pretty much every restaurant in the US will have some sort of bar near the front, perfect if you’re waiting for your table to be ready, or you’re just trying to kill time. But except for one specifically western style restaurant we went to, I don’t remember seeing a single place with that type of layout. I’m wondering if going to a restaurant and not ordering food isn’t a thing, or if there was something I missed, some norm that I didn’t know about to explain this. But from what I saw, restaurants with bar areas weren’t a thing.

Eating Side by Side — Along with the lack of bar areas, these small restaurants all had a similar layout where people eating together would eat not at a table, but side by side. The sushi on conveyor belt place, the fried chicken place, the breakfast places, suddenly steak, and ramen all only had long tables where you’re next to the people you came with, rather than at a table.

Eating side by side at Suddenly Steak
Eating side by side, standing up, at Suddenly Steak

Beer, just beer — Go to pretty much any bar in the US and you’ll see a wide range of beer styles to choose from (except for this one bar a block north from where I live that only offers Bud Light, Bud Heavy, and 312). In Japan, there’s just “beer”.

Hoppy! — I got excited at one point when I saw “Hoppy” listed under the drink section. Finally, something that wasn’t just “Beer”! But when the waiter first came out with a glass filled with ice and half filled with this clear liquid.

2015-12-05 01.28.50

The waiters English was pretty bad, but he was able to communicate that Hoppy was making a comeback in popularity. Happy to know I was sipping on a hipster drink. I kind of wish I had tried a little of the non diluted Hoppy in the bottle alone so I could taste just that flavor, but I guess that’s for the next time I’m in Tokyo.


The time zones — Going there wasn’t too tough of a time zone change. 15 hours is decently long, and it took me until my last night to finally wake up past 6 (a little alcohol that night didn’t hurt either), but waking up around 6 is perfectly reasonable. Coming back on the other hand, oof. Days where I couldn’t sleep past 2 in the morning are not fun, and it took me two weeks to fully adjust back. I’m sure more expert travelers might be better at handling the change, but I was left in the lurch.

The App — Tokyo came with a really handy phone app to direct you through the metro system. Enter a starting and ending location, and it told us how to get there perfectly. Over the entire week we were there, we didn’t have any issues taking the wrong train.

The Double Tap — Different from the systems in the US I’ve travelled (specifically Chicago) where you tap and pay once at the beginning of a subway trip, in Tokyo, you pay for the distance you travel by tapping a card when you enter the subway and again when you exit. Also impressed with how quickly the system read your card.

The Walking — The subway stations where you can make connections are labeled really well with arrows noting where to go next and how far away they are. However those connections can be really long distances. I think the longest was 700ish meters, a little under a half a mile. Seeing 400m on a sign seemed normal.

The Transferring — Despite the distances between the connections, I don’t think we had to transfer more than once ever. The lines were very well related.

The Exits — The stations themselves covered a giant area under the ground and had a ton of numbered exits. Take the wrong exit and you could be a long way from where you were trying to go. But we also used the numbers to specify where we were coming from if we were meeting people, and guides used them in directions.

Quietness — The trains themselves were impressively quiet. Granted Japan is in general, but these were notably quiet. Kind of a shock to come back to Chicago and hear the secondhand music or people yelling on the phone.

Stand left, walk right — You’re leaving a train trying to get back to ground level? Stand left, walk right up the escalators. No exceptions. Then again, I’m not sure if anyone would say anything if you messed up the rule.

No Jaywalking — Traffic lights in Japan are synced to either be all green, or all red. Because of this, you’ll see seas of people crossing at once in every direction. But you’ll never see jaywalking, even at the smallest intersections. Amazing that a little light has that much power over a single person. I understand the issue with a car since it has mass, but if you’re alone and see nothing coming, just cross.

The Rest

How do you say “hello”? — As rude, stereotypical Americans who don’t learn anything about the culture and expect everything to be in English, I wanted to learn a few Japanese phrases to use. Perfect scenario would be to walk into a restaurant, you say hello to the host / hostess, and then they seat you at a table with the required two chairs. So how do you say “hello” to restaurant workers in Japan? Turns out you don’t.
Along the same lines..

Cleanliness — It’s tough to see the absence of something – usually you only notice the presence of something new. But in this case, it’s pretty obvious. There’s just no trash on the ground. We even saw workers sweeping leaves on the ground into trash. Coming back to the US was a little bit of a shock where there’s crap on the ground everywhere.

Bags of trash near the street — Despite the lack of garbage on the ground, the first thing I noticed when walking the streets the Sunday night we arrived was the bags of garbage just sitting on the sidewalk next to the street. For a city that needed every single piece of trash accounted for, residents were certainly nonchalant about the trash bags being out in the open. The city itself didn’t really have alleyways that garbage trucks could get through, so this was probably more out of necessity. But still a little odd seeing the bags everywhere in the open.

No public trash cans — Another oddity on the garbage front was the absolute lack of public garbage cans. We got Starbs one day on the way to the driving range, and while walking the couple miles to the park, we were stuck holding the empty cups for the entire walk. I kept assuming that we’d see a garbage can on the way, but no such luck. Finally we found a public bathroom … where there also weren’t garbage cans. (Turns out that every bathroom only hand dryers presumably to keep down on that dreaded garbage.)

Suits on suits — Let’s just say that my jeans / button down / New Balance combo didn’t exactly fit in with the other people on the subway trains in Tokyo.

The ~8 Second Game

I’ve been playing a new fun game this fall, that I’ve decided to name the “~8 Second Game”. For those who don’t know, I’m currently living about a block north of Wrigley Field which means I get the pleasure of hearing sounds from the Cubs home games. Usually it’s not a big deal since I’m either 1) sleeping with a giant fan on that drowns out the vast majority of the noise, or 2) watching some other sports event (usually the Brewers during the summer) and I don’t notice any of the sound from down the street.

But with the Cubs in the playoffs, I’ve watching the games on tv in combo with them being played in real life a block south of me. And because of the tape delay, I’m experiencing some 8 second delay between the actual play and it being shown on tv. And thus began the ~8 Second Game.

I first found out how fun this game is In the divisional series, when the Cubs played the Cardinals. The Wrigley semi-faithful made this sharp yell that grew into a roar, and then tailed off into a semi-groan. After a second of thought, I correctly guessed it was a pop up that the Cubs caught in foul territory, but with a few players banging into each other. An odd guess that was amazingly proven to be true.

Some of the plays are pretty easy to guess from the crowd noise. A roar followed by some music 100% means the opposing player at bat got out. A roar followed by sustained cheering means strike two on the other team, and the crowed amped up for a possible strike out.

But the other plays, the ones with different levels of cheering. Those are the interesting ones.

The top of the 6th inning in game 3 of the NLCS had Cespedes reaching third on a stolen base. With two strikes on the Met’s hitter, I heard a giant roar that almost certainly indicated the third strike. But just as quickly, and in an impressively linear fashion, the sound went silent. I admit that I didn’t win this round of the game. Turns out the Cubs catcher had dropped strike three allowing the batter to reach first and Cespedes to score the go ahead run from third.

Then the next Mets player, Wilmer Flores, ripped a ball to right that got past Cubs right fielder and made it all the way to the ivy. When Dexter Fowler got over to the ivy, his hands went up indicating a ground ruled double. According the rules, this meant that instead of scoring a run like he almost certainly would have, the runners would be on second and third. I wasn’t able to guess this since the crowd wasn’t exactly cheering for the Mets there.

Right after that, there were a few roars when the Mets manager was arguing with the umpire about how the runner on third would have certainly scored if it was a normal wall, but neither of the roars from the crowd were loud enough to mean that the manager was tossed.

Top of the next inning when a little bump in noise indicating a hit turned dead silent when Schwarber dropped Cespedes’ hit. Run scored, leaving men on second and third. Next play was partially drowned out from a passing red line train, but I could hear enough of the groan to know a run scored, though I couldn’t tell it was combined with an out at first.

Final time I played the ~8 Second Game tonight was with the first batter in the bottom of the 7th. A loud roar followed by quick silence I diagnosed as warning track fly ball. About 8 seconds later, Jorge Soler flew out to the warning track in right.

I say that was the rest of the plays I could figure out from the noise because the score was now 5-2, and the impending loss was starting to become a reality for the Cubs fans. And when you know your team is going to lose, it’s tough to make enough noise to travel the distance of a Chicago city block.

With the Cubs down three games to none, tomorrow’s game 4 might be the last time this season I get to play the ~8 Second Game. So I better enjoy it while I can.

Avoiding the Eye Rolls

How the hell do you write some sort of introspective / philosophical / self-betterment post without sounding like a douche? You know what I’m talking about. Some sort of blog post or video where the author just seems so self absorbed about this topic and makes it seem like they’ve found enlightenment and causes every reader / watcher to roll their eyes and close the tab. Like pretty much every TED talk ever.

I have a bunch of ideas when I’m sitting by myself browsing the internet. I think, “yeah, that seems like it would be a great post that could lead to a bunch of comments and discussion.” But I start writing and inevitably it just becomes another example of the type of crap I hate seeing on the internet. I don’t want to be one of those preachy writers.

But there’s gotta be a trick somewhere that people use that allows them to write about these topics, but not trigger readers’ douche radar. That seems like the promised land.

Bash Commands are Programming Too

I had a problem where I needed to get some files of fantasy golf names / salaries into a CSV file that I would be able to parse. I hadn’t downloaded them, and there was a guy on this chat room that we talk in who had, but he put them all 4 tournaments into one excel spreadsheet. When I tried to copy the necessary rows from google sheets to a text file, it copied them in a tab separated format, rather than the csv that I needed.

Despite it’s simplicity, there still is a little bit of overhead in writing a python script to read in the rows of the files, parse out the tabs, and then spit out a correctly formatted line. So I took a few minutes to see if I could find a way to do this from the command line. And turns out there is.

Thanks to the wonderful pipe operator, the following command

cat colonial/dk.tsv | tr "\\t" "," > draftkings.csv

spits out the input file, pipes that output over where the tabs into commas, then redirects the output into the csv file I want.

So before jumping straight to python or another scripting language, take a second and see if you can accomplish what you’re trying to do from the command line. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Big-ish Data

Got a new blog to mention. Big-ish Data. I wanted a separate place to talk about technical topics relating to data / stats. The name’s a play on words in that there probably isn’t going to be much talk about big data, and the fact that most people who claim they work with big data really aren’t doing that. Check back there for interesting articles!

What Does Moneyball Mean?

The Wikipedia article for Moneyball says that “[r]igorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A’s became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact.” While defending Wikipedia as a credible source is another issue entirely, but this sums up the idea of Moneyball: Players on base means more runs, no matter how they get on base. And more runs mean more wins.

And it’s my belief that as long as there’s initial talent, you can teach motivated players the “correct” way to play team baseball and win games.

After the A’s front office generated a team with great on base and slugging statistics who were undervalued on the market for some reason or another, the team started the season by losing, and losing often.

They’re way below .500 before Brad Pitt smashes a speaker with a bat, yells at the team about how losing isn’t fun, and the team turns around. The following montage shows Pitt and Jonah Hill teaching the players the art of getting on base — taking pitches to wear down the opposing pitchers and get walks, and waiting for pitches in areas of the strike zone where they already have a higher average. Assuming that the motivating music during the montage had nothing to do with the turnaround, I’ll put money on it being the players finally buying into the idea that getting on base means wins for the team.

But instead of teaching and motivation being integral parts of Moneyball, popular culture seems to think that Moneyball is purely data science / big data trumping a person’s intuition about a player. Scott Hatteberg, Chris Pratt’s character, has good on base stats. But what the stats don’t show are his determination to provide for his family and contribute to the team.

Data is a hugely popular theme for pretty much every industry in this day and age. Every company touts their data departments as the reason they’re having success. And if a company isn’t “leveraging the cloud and it’s data opportunities” they’re going to be left in the dust. Bullshit words aside, I believe data is important, but not necessarily more important than humans and what drives them. And no matter what light you shine on it, humans were the difference in making Moneyball work. So really, coaches make the difference. More on that to come.

Developer, Golf on the Mind writer, Packers, Brewers, Bucks fan