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December 23, 2007

If you're a fan of the piano, or just great classical music in general, and you want a good deal, then you'd probably love this: The Chopin Collection Box Set. This is an 11-CD set of Chopin's work, showing his intimate understanding of the capabilities of the piano, played by Artur Rubinstein. Right now it's $27.99 plus shipping. I've been listening to it for days and it's fantastic.

In Chopin's time, the piano was still an evolving instrument, but had matured enough to be the central (or in this case, solo) instrument; Bach was certainly a keyboard virtuoso, but the great keyboard instruments of his time were pipe organs and harpsichords. As a result, Bach's writing is full of counterpoint and intertwining voices (be they voices of a choir or pipes of an organ) but there is not the echo-y, spacey quality that can be found in Chopin's work. Mozart appreciated the melodic voice of a piano (including the dynamics) and utilized it well, but because the instruments available to him lacked the sustain of modern pianos, his music doesn't focus as much on the resonance of the piano as on the attack (the beginning of notes), as though he were writing for a harpsichord with better dynamics. In Chopin's work you can really tell the difference; whereas Bach's music sometimes works equally well on strings as on harpsichord (he rearranged music he had written for one onto the other, depending on his performance needs), listening to Chopin's work you can tell that it would never work on anything but a piano. It wouldn't even work on a harpsichord.

There are a whole lot of different types of different compositions represented here, so you can choose from the gentle bubble bath / afternoon nap / sippin' port by the fireplace stuff, or the bouncy getting work done stuff, or just something to drop everything and listen to intently. I'm guilty of focusing to much on "think-y" music typically, but this collection includes some stuff that's just beautiful without being distracting or overpowering. And there ain't nobody better than Chopin for straight up gorgeous piano music. (If you want piano but with the melodramatic thunderstorm Romantic feel, check out Rachmaninoff; if you want the new agey Impressionistic flava' that almost sounds like the theme to an arty silent film, check out Debussy. But both are pretty think-y and hard to listen to while you're trying to concentrate on something else.)

December 22, 2007

I'm getting tired of having to become a goddamned food safety info junkie just to avoid food poisoning. OK, so a year ago there was a spinach problem, with E. coli. They screwed up, and recalled it. Fortunately that was well known and I avoided it. Now, store-bought spinach is "triple washed": observe the nice reassuring language on the label. "Triple washed - so you don't have to!" Unequivocally, they are telling you washing is not required. Safe! Yay!

Wrong. I got salmonellosis (colloquially known as "food poisoning") right after eating that spinach, and have been enjoying its delightful symptoms all week. Oh look, now that I do some searching, it turns out that there was another recent scare involving foodborne bacteria on spinach, this time involving Salmonella instead Of E. coli.

Kim asked me "oh you didn't know you had to wash it?" No, 'cuz the label said it was unnecessary. Had I bought a wad of random greens I would have, but the bag said it was taken care of. Thrice. And here is the issue. I didn't buy this bag of greens at the poison store, nor the bacteria store. I bought it at the grocery store. Had it said "warning: may contain poison" or even "potentially deadly bacteria may be present; washing before ingestion may reduce risk of fatality", I would have been alerted to its not safe for eating status. Should I have to do a Google search on everything on my grocery list before buying it just to make sure there's not a nationwide food scare on that item at the moment? Peanut butter was recently among the items tainted with Salmonella. This has to stop. We have a USDA for a reason.

From now on, I'm considering the poisoning risk inherent in raw food consumption to be a worthy justification for boiling the heck out of my spinach, even though that supposedly reduces its nutritional value. Cuz you know what else reduces nutrient intake? Five days of the digestive side effects of salmonellosis. (Picture a stuntman with VITAMIN written on his shirt, jumping out of a moving car.)

Also, this is another data point that makes me think that raw foodists are super duper wrong about nutrition and food safety.

Interesting: Landing on an Aircraft Carrier describes how the aircraft carrier "meatball" fresnel lens system works. I've heard about the "meatball" system but only recently was I researching the Fresnel type of stage lights and stumbled across this. Cool! And of course the "meatball" nickname is historical, referring to the thing that the Fresnel lens system replaced, so you have to actually know the full history to understand that at one point the old system looked more or less like a meatball.

Funny: Scissors beat paper, Vista to XP upgrade report (via Tero). Vista parody ad. Borg is getting desperate on Vista.

December 3, 2007

My HP PSC 1610 all-in-one inkjet printer / scanner / fax / copier died recently. A small arm that has a roller on the end of it is responsible for moving the top sheet of blank paper into position so that the main paper feed rollers can grab it. This arm and its lonely roller do not move at all, and so the printer part of this gizmo is completely unusable. The printer thinks it is out of paper and cannot be convinced otherwise. (If you shove it in manually, it says there's a paper jam and makes you clear it.)

HP's web site will not tell me how to get an RMA, or parts. Their online chat app works (even though it says it won't work on a Mac, it does) but the human support person takes >30 seconds to reply. I told "Loreta" I wanted to repair or replace the printer ASAP and that I had already cleaned the rollers and she sent me a link telling me how to get a special HP roller cleaning kit which costs over $35. I called their 800 number, spent about 5 minutes telling the automated system what I wanted and the exact model of my printer, and "Manoosh" made me tell him the exact same stuff over a noisy phone line all over again, with lots of repeating and re-spelling. "Can I read you the serial number? Um, does it matter? It's a broken PSC 1610, can I have a new one?" He then told me he needed to find my customer record and put me on hold; I waited 5 minutes and hung up.

The chat person emailed me to apologize for the incomplete chat session in which she had pasted a link to a web site article I had already read which wasn't relevant to my problem. Here's the interesting bit: Note: Please do not reply to this email. If you need further assistance, please return to our chat website for further support.

I'm always baffled by this. Can HP support really not cope with email? Chat, phone call, snail mail, that's OK, but email is just too hard for them to track. They can track a series of audio and IM conversations, but not emails? And this is not unique to HP. What is it about email that makes support organizations so terrified?

This being a $99 printer, I had hoped to quickly find a way to decide whether it was fixable for no more than $99, or if there was some way to have a 99% working device that was purchased less than 2 years ago not end up in a landfill. I would have been fine with spending $99 again, and getting the exact same model of a refurbished service replacement unit sent to me, so that they would then have the opportunity of refurbishing mine and putting all those still-working parts to use somewhere. No such luck - consumer support at HP's printer division is clearly awful, and out-of-warranty support (even for those wishing to pay) is worse still. So, I've ordered a Canon PIXMA MX310 to replace it, and I'll donate the carcass of my HP thing to ACCRC, or Green Citizen (which is closer) if they promise they won't just smash it up and recycle the scrap material. (It's still a decent scanner, and I'm sure some school or nonprofit would love to have it.) The Canon unit will most likely incorporate the same level of repair-resistant design, but at least I won't be rewarding HP for their crappy service.

Interesting: MareNostrum, the most powerful supercomputer in Europe, is situated in possibly the best looking building that houses a supercomputer.

December 2, 2007

We had a veggie Thanksgiving potluck again this year. It went really well; there were at least 28 people here at the peak and about 35 or 40 total over the course of the afternoon. One of the folks who came made a video: Thanksgiving 2007 - San Francisco Bay Area Vegetarian Society by Stacy Alexander.

Funny: You probably already know about Cute Overload and I Can Has Cheezburger?, but have you seen LOLBritney? (NSFW!) Yeah, it's what you think it is.

The Long Johns - The Last Laugh - George Parr - Subprime makes fun of the finance wizards who came up with subprime loan investments. It's funny, though racist, in a strangely incidental way. (They make a point of repeatedly describing a stereotypical bad mortgage customer as being black, which has nothing to do with the investors, who are the intended target of the skit's ridicule. WTF?)

The Many Ways a Project Can Screw Up, Illustrated.