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October 26, 2005: Requiem for a dead princess, dead couch, dead heavy metal genius

I spent a bunch of time last week, a couple of hours this weekend (because I was sick sick sick, otherwise it would have been more) and all day Monday (yes, really all day) practicing Pavane for a Dead Princess (a shortened piano duet arrangement, not the original [4.9MB MP3]) for school. Without a doubt, this is the hardest piece I've had to play on piano, mainly because it requires a lot of repositionings of both hands at the same time (leapin' without lookin'). Not having a classical background, my understanding going in was that you play what's written and interpret it via dynamics (volume), feel (subtle timing) and maybe vibrato or something like that if the instrument allows that. I ended up punting and taking out some notes that were doubled or tripled; I didn't change any rhythms or harmonies. Looking at the two parts of the duet I have to say that my part, the accompanist part, was quite a bit harder than the melodic, higher-register part. I felt like I was cutting corners by simplifying it in the very hardest parts, and somehow breaking some unwritten classical code that says that you have to play what's written and then some. My classical violinist friend and fellow student Toni clued me in:

istuckacelloupmy: well jamie.
istuckacelloupmy: all pianists do that
istuckacelloupmy: esp on accompaniment type pieces
istuckacelloupmy: john reduces it all the time
jamieflournoy: wtf, why didn't anybody tell me that before
istuckacelloupmy: are you serious
jamieflournoy: yeah
istuckacelloupmy: its like why play octaves
istuckacelloupmy: when you dont have to

I think this is the second piano duet assignment I've ever had, and I don't remember whether the previous one had me playing accompaniment or not, so maybe this is the first time I've played piano accompaniment ever. (The rest have been specific assignments that were designed to exercise a particular technique, so cutting corners on them would be essentially not doing the assigned work.) So that would explain why I didn't get the memo that it's OK to drop a doubled note here and there if that makes it tremendously easier to play a certain part as the accompanist. Good to know! Sheesh. Anyway I got an A+ on the damn thing, which counts for 6.8% of my grade in this 1-unit class. Did I mention that the hours to course units ratio as a music student is insane?

Also dead and in my universe this past week was the ugly black couch that we bought six years ago, used, when we were at a financial low point otherwise known as "welcome to the Bay Area where apartment security deposits cost as much as house down payments and house down payments cost as much as houses." We had sold our furniture before moving across the country so this was one of the first things we bought after getting here. Technically it's a loveseat, or maybe a futon, but it's a bit wider than the average loveseat so we call it a couch. Over time it slowly fell apart, and though I repaired it several times with redneck techniques like duct-taping a phone book and a copy of Mastering Delphi 5 to the underside to try and shore up the collapsing frame, which was originally made of cardboard stapled to wood for maximum load bearing ridigity, it just kept unraveling and looking generally diseased and deserving of a nice walk out back of the barn where it would then be shot in an act of overdue mercy.

Kim found a nice used loveseat on Craigslist which we bought and brought home via a CityCarShare pickup truck, and we moved the ugly black couch to the curb. She helped me move it downstairs but I was manhandling the thing down the last few steps, basically dragging it bouncing down the brick steps, when it bounced back at exactly the same time that she was catching up to me to help me carry it down. It landed so that her lower calf was pinned facing sideways between the couch and the edge of a step. Oh shit. Not good. We figured out that it squished muscle painfully but didn't actually do anything other than hurt a whole lot, since her foot was pointed sideways on the step and therefore her shin wasn't hit at all. Whew. It still hurt for days and has left a nice big purple-yellow bruise. In case you're wondering, no neither of us was blaming the other; it was just a stupid accident that happens when big heavy things get moved. The cats immediately accepted the new loveseat, which was surprising, but I guess they like to spend time playing with anything that's new.

Kim posted a listing on Craigslist advertising the couch as free stuff. The first day the ugly black couch was outside at the curb, two kitchen trash bags full of clothes mysteriously appeared on it. Later that day they disappeared, with only a few articles of clothing remaining. Huh? The next day, I was on my way out to go to school (to practice Pavane, actually) and there was somebody sleeping there. I decided to let it slide since it was on the curb, though I would definitely have told that person to shove off if they were still there a couple of hours later when I got back. They weren't. I gave up hope on the Craigslist option and talked to my landlord about maybe storing the couch in the basement until the next bulky item trash pickup which is almost two weeks away, since we wouldn't want our curb couch to become a convenient homeless shelter. He said sure and that he'd help me move it. As we went downstairs to move it, we saw that it was gone! Go Craigslist! And hey, whoever grabbed it, maybe you wanna hit that thing with some Lysol before you get too comfy with it.

Finally, guitar genius Denis "Piggy" D'Amour (of the band Voivod) passed away a couple of months ago of colon cancer at the age of 45. As far as I know, I had the first Voivod web site online, in February of 1995 at the latest. They were and are still my favorite metal band, mostly because of Piggy's unique and creative guitar work. I made a Piggy Sampler (1.3MB MP3) that I hope will inspire folks to buy some of their albums and appreciate what has now been lost. The names of the songs in the sampler are Freedoom, The Lost Machine, Insect, Neutrino, Brain Scan, Nothingface, The Multiverse, Best Regards, Panorama, Twin Dummy, Wrong-Way Street, and Bacteria (in that order). I recommend Nothingface which is a musical masterpiece. If you're a prog-metal fan then also check out The Outer Limits, featuring the 17+ minute monsterpiece entitled Jack Luminous, named for the extraterrestrial harbinger of a coming interstellar conqueror named President X-D. Reportedly there is one more album coming out that was mostly completed at the time of Piggy's death. I can't wait. Sci fi prog fusion metal from beyond the grave!

October 23, 2005

Friday was a very good day. I had to go to Alameda to pick up my repaired Carvin bass amplifier, which weighs 42 pounds, so it's not possible to use BART + my bike to go get it. We're members of City Car Share so it was obvious that I should use one of their cars for the trip. But which one? Oh yes. This one. I forgot sunscreen so I had to buy that over in Alameda, after a worrisome 30 minutes or so of bumper to bumper traffic on 880 that was definitely making me feel like I was gonna get a major sunburn. Fortunately the sunscreen saved me and now I'm a teeny bit tan, which is uncharacteristic and strange. Huh? Why am I looking so... slightly orange today? Oh yeah.

I picked some pretty good driving music, too: Best Reason to Buy the Sun by the Benevento/Russo Duo. Very appropriate for a late-summer drive in a bright red convertible around the Bay.

Friday night, I finally came down with the same cold that Kim got from my niece Ella. On Saturday Kim and I went for a short walk to get out of the apartment (since we're both very ill now, and thus lethargic) and to reload on Wal-Phed Severe Cold medicine and I opened all the windows in the apartment. We felt a lot better for a while. Last night I was feverish and shivering. Somehow I forgot to eat dinner because it killed my appetite, and when the fog rolled in and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, suddenly I was freezing. I thought about it and realized I ought to be starving because I hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime. Tasty Bite to the rescue. These things are like vegetarian MRE's. Two minutes in the microwave, and you're eating it. After a few minutes I was feeling way, way better. I have to heartily endorse the Wal-phed Severe Cold tablets; they make a huge difference. I still feel achy and sore in my muscles a bit, and my brain is somewhat foggy, but at least I'm not sniffling sneezing coughing and hating life.

Now that everybody's finished beating up Micahel Brown, his opening statement on FEMA's handling of Katrina shows him making some interesting points about actually being qualified for the FEMA job, and explaining that FEMA isn't a first responder team. Nonetheless the anecdotal stories I've read about aid personnel being blocked from entering New Orleans for several days because it wasn't secure enough yet suggest that coordination, not availability of first responders and aid, was the real problem. "We've come to help." "You can't go in there, it's a real dangerous mess." "But we're here to help it be less of a dangerous mess." "Sorry, it's too dangerous and messy." When we're all just following orders and those orders lead to stupid outcomes, the order givers screwed up. Hmm how about an escort for aid personnel? Was that so hard to think of? No, we'll just try and pacify a huge disaster area with a few people with guns, and then let the aid people in. Not good. So maybe he was qualified, but the handling of the relief effort still sucked.

I like The Large File Support Hall of Shame. It is really dumb that at this late date, lots of software can't handle files larger than 2GB or 4GB. The hall of shame is very incomplete but the idea is a good one: let's get everybody on the bandwagon of large file handling.

I've studied martial arts (Judo and Tai Chi) at various times in my life and the philosophy and meditation part is pretty thick, I agree. But is it rooted in the occult? Hmm, I guess on a scale of thousands of years, some forms are infused with religious tidbits from Buddhism. But is that "the occult"? When I think of the occult I think of Jimmy Page buying Aleister Crowley's former house and silly mystical stuff like that. I don't think of martial arts, and here's why: as far as I can tell, the purpose of the philosophical side of martial arts is to keep bullies and violent hotheads either out of the dojo or to try and reform them and calm them down. It has nothing to do whatsoever with denying Jesus in favor of equating evil with good. Anybody who thinks that that's the core message of Zen Buddhism is a clueless twit.

Funny stuff: Halliburton Gets Contract To Pry Gold Fillings From New Orleans Corpses' Teeth, PSP on a gold chain, Michael Jackson to reside in Persian Gulf.

October 22, 2005

It occured to me recently that Microsoft really hasn't done much in 2005 that matters to the IT industry or the computer-using world at large. For the biggest software company in the world, whose competitors tremble at the mention of their name as if they were Voldemort, who owns the desktop and the office productivity suite and the web browser market and the corporate LAN and email environment... what did they do that mattered this year?

They shipped some patches, maybe some developer tools, whatever. Assuming you use any Microsoft software: What version of Office are you using right now? Do you have to look to find out? What version of Windows are you on, and is it at the very latest service pack and patch level, or more like 3-4 years out of date with a smattering of security stuff? Is your copy of IE fully patched or do you not even use it anymore? Are you still using Outlook, and if so are you on the latest version or just leaving it as-is because it doesn't really matter?

A lot of these things are probably pinned to your workplace's current setup, which is almost certainly a few years out of date. I know of at least one person who still uses Entourage (the product Microsoft makes instead of Outlook for the Mac) because his former workplace used Outlook and Exchange Server, and it's not worth the trouble for him to switch off of it. It would probably take from 1 to 4 hours (in my estimation, based on experience migrating off of Outlook for Windows onto Mozilla Mail long ago) but what's the incentive?

My point is that just like hardware, which stagnated a couple of years ago at a point where the mainstream PC user was happy with a 1.5GHz Pentium 4 (desktop or mobile), Windows and Office reached their apex with Windows 2000 and Office 2000, perhaps even Office 97. The IT industry press has repeatedly covered Microsoft's "upgrade treadmill" tactics, which are the only reason people upgrade to XP or newer versions of Office anymore. Basically a company buys some new PCs which have the latest greatest Windows and Office on them, and of course the new Office version saves in the new format by default, which makes other people complain that they can't open the file, so the path of least resistance is just to upgrade everybody (score one big pile of cash for Microsoft). It's amazing how bitchy people get about not wanting to save in the older format. Just buy the new version you backwards loser! I shouldn't have to do anything extra, you should have to pay hundreds of dollars to make things easier for me. Of course large companies just force everybody to use the old version, and then one day Microsoft discontinues support for it, so they have to update. No new features make this sale happen, it's just a way to get you to pay for thousands of new licenses so that you can keep using your software. Typically support means patches, which means bugs that were always there that they are admitting they will never fix unless you buy the whole new version and commit to several years' worth of new bugs. IT managers hate this. They just want Word 95 minus all the bugs, and instead Microsoft tells them to buy the same thing five times... and what do they get? It's still something that they can't imagine using without having vendor support and patches. Most companies have gotten wise at this point, and are stretching whatever they have until its support is officially discontinued, and they have to leap to the latest version to get continuous vendor support.

So, while Microsoft is spending all this money developing features nobody wants so that they can justify the upgrade treadmill, companies are stretching their upgrade spending cycle from an every-2-years thing to an every-5-years sort of thing. Ouch. Microsoft is taking an incredibly long time to get Vista out the door and it's still going to be a whole lot less than they originally promised, and I haven't heard anything about it that seems remotely compelling. If you're an XP user, go read Microsoft's Vista marketing site and notice how ho-hum all these things sound. Tabbed web browsing? Icon previews? It can connect to a digital camera? It can read RSS feeds? Laptop power management? Seriously, thousands of developers will have been working on this for at least five years by the time it ships in 2006 or so. It's worse if you're a Windows 2000 user because that means it's been six years and they've hardly accomplished anything. Are you ready to pony up $200 for stuff that you can already get for free?

Microsoft has jumped the shark. They're just not interesting anymore. I remember when, in 1998, one of my co-workers at Viant berated me for not seeing the plain truth, which was that IE 5 + IIS + Windows NT Server + ASP + Microsoft Java were technically superior in terms of performance and stability (which was true at that time) and that I'd better get used to developing for a proprietary Microsoft world because the war was over and Microsoft owned the internet. Forget about that silly open standards open source nonsense! Nowadays all I see in large companies and startups alike is Java on Linux (or maybe Java on Solaris or Windows) and open standards-based development, and the new rage is the pseudo-standard AJAX architecture as most obviously seen in Google Maps. Blogs, podcasting, and RSS, all of which are the new rage on the internet, were not only not invented by Microsoft, but Microsoft has no shipping product that does any of these. While they were busy ripping out what seemed like hot features in 2001 and starting over from the XP code base, the rest of the world was making new stuff. Windows is the new IBM PC AT. It's dull, it's outdated, it's taking them longer to add less and less interesting enhancements, and it's expensive. Where is the Compaq going to come from in this metahpor? Probably from Linux and the rest of the open source crowd, and to a lesser degree Apple.

Of course, Microsoft is huge and powerful and rich and huge companies and banks and governments have standardized on Windows and Office so they're guaranteed to be around for another 10 years at least. And, Bill Gates is very smart and has a knack for turning the company around just when things start to look like they've finally lost their grip on the market. I don't see how they're going to do that this time, though, since they can't cut off the air supply to the worldwide open source movement and since Apple seems to be doing OK with its extremely profitable portable computers. (They can run Linux and have a 90MHz CPU, 32MB RAM, and up to 60GB hard disk, even if most people choose to use it as a portable music appliance. Those specs are similar to the specs for a PC that could Windows 95 comfortably.) So, it'll be very interesting to see whether Microsoft can yet again turn on a dime and overcome its inner chaos and complacency to lead the industry again.

October 21, 2005

About eight years ago (when we still lived in Northern Virginia) my musician friend and former bandmate Jay mentioned to me that there was a weekly open-mic night at Iota Club and Cafe, and invited me to maybe sit in with the closing pseudo-band led by the organizer of the open mic event. I did, and it was terrifying at first, but eventually I got used to the routine. It was terrifying because I was never a fan of the Grateful Dead nor many of the other bands whose songs were in these guys' shared repertoire, so I had never even heard how these songs went. I definitely had no idea how to play them. Literally, there wasn't even a cocktail napkin containing the chord names; it was 100% verbal. "The verse goes G, A, D, and the chorus is C, F. There's a bridge that goes like this..." That's the level of information I had, 10 seconds before the guys turned around and started playing. How many repeats? How many beats or measures of each chord? Fake it. I did it because I wasn't doing anything else at the time and it was so obviously something that I needed to work on. Week after week we played pretty much the same songs, and after a while I got to the point where I was improvising a lot more confidently, outlining chords instead of just playing the root, adding passing tones, developing rhythmic figures, and so on. I bought my Alembic bass because I realized that my Kawai bass (a Spector copy, as far as I could tell) had too much of a modern 'clicky' tone, and the neck shape was too thick and made my left hand cramp up quickly when playing for more than about 20 minutes at a time. The Alembic bass totally changed that; its tone is warm and throaty and the thing plays like buttah (even better since I got it refretted recently). It rewards noodling by sounding great and being easy to play, so risky playing pays off.

And then I took a few years off to get caught up in the new economy dot-com internet boom, almost completely ignoring music until joining a weird experimental post-punk band in 2002. That, plus lessons with Stu Hamm really helped me wake up to the fact that I really didn't know the formal basics of music very well and that I needed to learn a whole lot before I could really get anything meaningful from someone as learned as Stu. I wanted to know how to write songs and I wanted to know enough to be able to make it worthwhile to study with Stu as opposed to the hundreds of other bass teachers in the Bay Area. As it was I was wasting my money - there's only so much you can get from a teacher; a lot of it depends on you doing the reading and practicing yourself. So off to school I went.

Over the last few years I've been really studying music a lot more diligently, and my technique and soloing ability is better than it's ever been. I have to consciously rein myself in and listen to the overall sound in order to play in a band now, which is probably good. I'm re-learning the art of playing good accompaniment instead of just playing solo parts at home all the time. Example: the 2005-09-23 jam track (8MB MP3) that I posted previously. So, I think after a few years of working on not being deathly afraid that someone will shout "bass solo!" I think I'm fine. Obviously the sky's the limit but I'm OK in that area now.

The new challenge is in the rapid music theory knowledge and sightreading department. It's hard to explain to someone who isn't a musician what the difference between knowing something, and knowing it cold means. If you give me a single page of intermediate-difficulty classical piano sheet music, in a couple of hours I can play one hand or the other perfectly. That's really slow. To get both hands together with the damper pedal and dynamics is more like 8 or 9 hours. A half page of bass guitar sheet music (from a bass sightreading practice book, so it's deliberately harder than a typical repetitive bass part in a song) takes me about a half hour to an hour. That is also really, really slow. I have to get better at this. Professionals (and intermediate classical music students) sightread in real time.

The skill of sightreading is really a two-stage thing (although I'm told that it should really become a single flow when you know it). First you look at the page and figure out what the next few notes are (your eyes look at dots and lines and your brain figures out that's an eighth note E, and eighth note D, etc.), and then your brain tells your hand where to go. The first skill is itself made up of two skills: pitch identification and rhythm reading. For some reason I'm pretty good at the rhythm part and not good at all at the pitch ID part. The second skill (playing the notes) consists of putting your fingers down at the right place (in the right way) at the right time. I'm pretty good at both of these, except on bass I've discovered that my fretboard knowledge is a lot worse than I thought it was. I'm very pattern oriented, which works great when you're improvising over really simple changes. We're in G? OK, I know where all the G's are. I can connect them, I can work in the chord tones and pentatonic scales and modes around them. That doesn't work when your brain needs to play a stream of specific notes. You need really good fretboard (or keyboard) knowledge, because you may need to instantly adapt your hand position or fingering to what the composer intended, and you may find that you painted yourself into a corner and need to remember to move to a certain place every time you reach that spot in the music.

So, I know all of this stuff. I can look at one note on a staff and tell you what it is, no problem. I can read rhythm and tap it out on a table or clap it or poke a key on a keyboard or play a single note, in real time. I can find every instance of a particular note on a fretboard, and find any note on a keyboard. That's so far from being able to sightread in real time. I can't be thinking really hard about six or eight things all at the same time. So, I need to work on these things, a lot, practicing them to death, to the point where it's brain-dead easy for me to do them.

At the same time there are some really painful theory things that I need to work on. Quick, spell a Db half diminished chord. Can you? How fast? Can you play that as a 16th note arpeggio in 4/4 time at 120 bpm with only a beat of warning before you have to be in the right place playing the right notes at the right time? I can't (on piano; I can on bass because I know the pattern and I know where Db is, but I can't spell it quickly at all). OK, here's a 16 measure piano execerpt from a Mozart piece. Can you figure out what all the chords are? How fast? How long does it take you to take a provided melody and harmonize it using a particular set of allowed chords? The speed at which you can do this determines whether a given homework assignment in a composition class takes 45 minutes or 4 hours. Seriously, Damien and I used to sit at my living room table for three hours working on a single Counterpoint homework assignment, barely even talking because we were so focused on the task at hand, and when our time was up we were only about 3/4 of the way done. That class was held three times a week at 8:10 A.M.

This fast/slow knowledge problem can make a huge difference. It's kicking my ass. I dropped two classes this semester because, although I was "getting it", the amount of time I was spending to demonstrate that I "got it" was ridiculous. I think I must be in the low 5% of sightreaders in the music department. I have to fall back on time consuming things like memorizing something start to finish where other students can just sightread it with a couple of tricky parts that they actually had to practice a couple of times. So, when I say I'm taking 4 credits this semester and had to back off from 9 credits, understand that this doesn't equal the usual 1 hour in class = 1.5 hours out of class. It's way more than that for me because of skill gaps that I need to fix this semester. I've got some software and some books and I'm working on my own. Hopefully in a semester or two this will pay off and I'll be able to ramp up to 12 or 15 hours a semester like I thought I was going to this semester.

That said, so far my grades are pretty good. I think I rocked out on the midterm in Music of the World's Peoples thanks to my handy dandy Excel study sheet and my study session with Toni, Nina, and Faraz. And so far, all A's in piano class (I remind myself that I'm a performer so I should be kicking ass at all performance oriented classes regardless of whether I care for that particular exercise or song or not). 15 quizzes in 15 weeks is kind of a bitch. (Remember how I said that it takes anywhere from 5-10 hours to learn each song? Yeah.) I think my duet with Faraz is going to be pretty good. He's better than I would have expected for someone whose primary instrument is not a Western instrument and whose musical background doesn't include reading Western music notation.

So, school is going pretty well but it's also going very slowly, and I have to take some no-credit time on my own to fix these skill gaps / speed issues before I just throw myself into a bunch of classes. I think that pushes my graduation date back at least a semester Argh.

October 10, 2005

On Saturday I saw the Blue Angels air show; I took some pictures and movies with the wee new camera we bought for the Italy trip back in June.

On the way up to the Marina the bus driver told me all about a conspiracy theory he had read about on the internet that said that Army Corps of Engineers divers had found explosive residue on chunks of concrete underwater and that there was this big cover-up. I said that I had worked for the government myself, just as he was now, and wasn't it easier to believe that cronyism and incompetence and good old corruption and stupidity made more sense than some mysterious conspiracy to flood New Orleans for unspecified reasons? Apparently there are many alternative theories. The problem is that there are no motives except for terrorism, and no evidence. "It's out there, man, it's on the internet," he said, as if that proved it was true. That's exactly the same argument someone else made to me several years ago, about Chemtrails. Yeah I watched the X-Files too and it was all entertaining and stuff but it was fiction.

I wish I had decided to bring my bike (which you are allowed to bring on MUNI buses, all of which feature bike racks) because traffic was, not surprisingly, nuts. A couple of weeks ago I rode my bike to school which is about 7 miles each way, with hills. There is one particular hill that basically kicked my ass but I managed to keep going the whole way, only stopping once on the way back (up the same hill from the opposite direction). At one point I found that shifting into the low front gear ring got really hard and in fact I had to shift up in the back gears to nudge the chain so that the front gears would switch. Argh. Not fun: you need to go down to an easier gear, from the easiest middle gear, but to do that you have to go up to the hardest middle gear and suddenly down a bunch. Try doing that while pedaling uphill slowly.

So, I made a point of educating myself a bit on bike maintenance. Lubricating chains? Hmm. Chain wear? Hmmmm. This page says under "Measuring Chain Wear" that when the chain stretches from 1' to 1' 1/16" (from rivet to rivet, 12 links should be 1' exactly on a new chain), it's time to replace the chain. Mine is more like 1' 3/16" which is, um, bad. Lots of daylight between the sprocket and chain. So, it's (well past) time to replace the chain and sprockets. I kinda don't like the brakes, shifters, and seat too, so I'm just gonna replace it. I got it pretty cheap several years ago and I've used it to ride to work dozens of times and taken plenty of leisure rides in the 10-20 mile range, so I got a lot of use out of it, but when I bought it I didn't really know what I was looking for. I followed my time-tested uneducated consumer strategy: when you don't know what you're talking about and educating yourself is too time consuming or just plain not working, buy the cheapest used thing you can. That way you don't waste lots of money on bells and whistles you don't need, and you learn from firsthand experience what matters and what doesn't. So, now I need to apply that and get a new(er) bike.

Apparently I'm not the only one: Bicycle sales boom in US amid rising gas prices. "The sharp increase in gas prices has made them a practical alternative," says the article. Um, no. They're just as practical an alternative as they always were; people are just noticing that now. Somewhere between obesity and stress and life/work balance and oil prices, people are noticing that maybe cycling is a decent idea.

I checked out the rec.bicycles.misc newsgroup, but it's apparently dominated by three topics:

So, that's a totally useless newsgroup. rec.martial-arts is also pretty useless. I remember newsgroups had assholes and spam and off-topic nonsense but there's so much crap in there it's not worth the time. I can't understand why it's not divided into subgroups either. Whatever. Not worth the time. Maybe there's some other forum now but it's sad how bad usenet news has gotten.

One good forum I found recently was Automatic Litterbox Central. Why? Because scooping and cleaning litterboxes sucks utterly. On the advice from that forum we got a Litter Robot (from eBay, of course). So far Ash has accepted it but Turbo is still scared of this odd spherical "cat shit death star" (as a friend of Kim's refers to hers) that has replaced the back bathroom litterbox. We're still trying some of the recommended strategies for getting her to start using it because it would be totally sweet not to have to deal with scooping icky litterboxes ever again. Totally.

October 8, 2005

(via Kathy) Palm bets its future on Microsoft's OS. Well that's not a surprise; they spun off the OS division which is in the process of being acquired, ostensibly to save it from running out of money while trying to port PalmOS to Linux. Apparently PalmSource's acquisition of Be and subsequent incorporation of BeOS into the PalmOS didn't fly with device makers. I suspect that driver development was the real hurdle; everyone I know who has played with BeOS loved it and was sad that the BeBox failed so utterly in the marketplace (which was partly due to Microsoft's illegal anticompetitive practices). Making the application layer be PalmOS and/or BeOS compatible while inheriting the huge existing base of hardware drivers from Linux sounds like a really good play, since that means that a device maker can write the drivers themself (or modify existing similar drivers as needed) and put together a minimal Linux distro that will run on their device during development, and can simply opt to license PalmOS later if they decide that it's worth it. The barrier to getting PalmOS on any given device would be dramatically lower. But that will take a while, so for now Palm is smart to play both sides and make Treos that run PalmOS or Windows Mobile (or whatever WinCE is called this week) and see what the market actually wants.

Between my bass rack and learning Logic Express, I've found that I need to understand the low level details of MIDI better. So I found a really good MIDI spec site that has been helpful.

Speaking of which... Logic is a beast. The reference manual is good but it's 522 pages long. The user interface is not made to be easy to learn, and I must say that the samplers and synths are, just like the consumer electronics they emulate, designed to look cool but not to be easy to figure out. A picture of teeny knobs and faders with abbreviated words in minuscule fonts all arranged so they look nice and symmetrical and kewl but also so it's really hard to figure out what settings are grouped together and what the signal chain looks like... not very easy to use at all. So, this is taking some time to figure out. I went to an Apple Store Logic Express Workshop and learned a bit, but not much for the 2 hours I spent there. The trainer wasn't a musician as far as I could tell and said that she had just been taught this stuff over the past few weeks. She was really nice but her choices of loops and effects were so grating and dissonant that it was almost painful for me to sit there and endure the din of her endlessly looping example song clip. I went home disappointed but I did spend the rest of the day with Logic and so I made a lot of progress anyway. Then I stayed up until like 5:30 AM playing with a song I had previously recorded, redoing a placeholder solo I had played sloppily on keyboard (to show where a guitar solo should go) again and again and again, messing with the sound and the pitch bend settings and all that until it sounded kind of decent and I couldn't stay up anymore.

Funny: Hey look! Krista found a total wingnut! Teh has its own page in the Wikipedia now. WARNING: use of the 200GB ipod nano with the armband might cause loss of limb due to loss of circulation. Not caring is the new caring. Google Buys San Francisco. Many actually funny star wars parody type things (I especially like the one in which Obi Wan goes used car shopping).

October 7, 2005

Last night I went with musician friend Elliott to see the Benevento/Russo Duo perform at, yes you guessed it, The Independent. I suppose that makes it my favorite venue now since I've been there three times in the last month. I had to leave Kim and her mom at the resurrected Ba-Da-Bingo charity bingo game, which was fun enough even before I won $35. I'm not a gambler really so I donated $25 back to the charity and saved $10 for drinks at the club. I forgot my earplugs but as usual they sell them so that was not a problem.

Anyway it was a great show, one of the better times I've had. I think it was because I was in Independent George (91K MP3) mode so I ended up being more social and meeting and talking to people including several of Elliott's friends and a photographer called WildLupin whose pictures I've admired for a while. Elliott knows someone who works at the Independent so we got to go upstairs to the VIP area and watch from there, where the view was much better. Check out this clip: Best Reason to Buy the Sun (MP3), from their 2005-09-04 show. I've been a fan of the power trio format for a while but who knew there was such a thing as a power duo? Distorted electric piano with the right hand, Hammond B3 with a Leslie speaker with the left hand, and bass pedals. Wow. And of course the drummer is a monster, so together there's no sense of sonic emptiness. They fill up all that space and rock it. The place was packed, and the audience was totally into the show, which helped me enjoy it that much more. Good times. Good times.

October 3, 2005

I finally posted my ID3 tag rant in my Digital Music page. Maybe you'll find it entertaining, or informative, or edutaining, or something.

I also added a half-dozen quotes to the quote file.

A look back to an old story in The Onion: Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'.

I was all set to get a copy of this book that explains in detail how Stradivari made his famous Stradivarius violins. Except it costs €235 and it's written in French. Merde.

If you use a Mac and use SSH a lot, did you ever wonder why the heck there's that cool Keychain feature (one which Windows still lacks, in favor of the horrible Active Directory / Kerberos kludge of doom) but SSH doesn't let you use the Mac OS X Keychain to store your SSH passwords or key file passphrases? Hey me too! Problem solved with the appropriately named SSHKeychain. Now you can have the benefits of a blank key file passphrase (instant login with no password prompt, which lets you attach all sorts of automation to remote command line invocations with a minimum of effort) but with the ability to lock things down instantly, such as when you go to lunch or put your laptop to sleep. Nice!

Robert Novak hilariously blames the Democrats for Republican politicians' criminality in Dems have criminalized politics, characterizing the recent outbreak of indictments as a sign of desperation. Don't they know that politicians are above the law? What I find funny about this is that campaign finance laws are famously loose and, even if they were enforced, represent a system that's inherently corrupt and is rapidly ruining our nation. But these guys somehow managed to break even these laws. And Novak falls in with the mobster mindset, calling anyone who would advocate upholding the law a rat fink, a snitch, and a sore loser. He also falls into the "he's a crook but he's our crook" trap that has kept people like Marion Barry in office. (He has his own quote file.)

Bush makes Slick Willie look like an amateur. We all know it's Karl Rove teaching him how to tapdance, but why did Katrina finally stick? PUNI Dan explains.