Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Could B Necszry:

Movie and TV actors mumble a lot, so I really appreciate the closed caption texts you find in most movies and programs. (I do wish that in comedy programs, the punch lines would appear onscreen AFTER they're spoken, not before.) But Live TV poses a serious problem to me, and even more so to people who cannot hear. The texts tend to run WAY behind the spoken words, five, ten seconds. And then to "catch up", whole sentences are skipped and the typist starts falling behind again.

When I saw the closed caption phrase "may not be necszry" during a football game, I realized there's a better way. Realtime typists shld b using SMS abbrevs 2 catch up. In fact maybe the networks should hire young SMS virtuousi to do all the realtime closed captions. With their technique & abbreviations, they can type faster and more succinctly.

A word about Goto-less programming:

A word about Goto-less programming:

Not so fast.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Stealthy Blog Comments:

I just discovered that my other blog, RealIDSucks, has been polluted with computer comments. The comments are designed to pump my ego, but I'm going to delete them anyway. I can resist “Great blog! You've got a real knack for writing the Precision Blogger, keep on rockin! I will definitely be checking in here again soon.” AND, I can resist the link to another web site that follows that comment. I can also resist such blandishments as “Now you've got me thinking the Precision Blogger. I really enjoyed your post about 'this post' ...”

I've complained to blogspot that I deserve a better tool to remove these comments. (A computer can add them pretty fast, but I get to delete them carefully, one at a time.) And I did - with apologies to humans - add 'word recognition', to make it harder for a computer to add comments.

But what really gets me is that I did not know these comments were happening. All blog comments are supposed to be forwarded to my gmail email account. If you have a gmail account, you know that Google does a pretty good job of deleting SPAM so that you never see it. Including, apparently, those computer comments.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Turing Test, Ha!

If you believe in separate championships for women (in chess, golf, etc.) then this headline from the New York Times will warm your heart: “Pinter to Miss Nobel Prize”
But sad to say, the story explains how Pinter, battling esphageal cancer, must pace himself. He will pick up the (sexless) Nobel Prize for literature, but will not “stay for the festiities”, as the Times puts it.

(I've always been impressed by the concept of the Turing Test, but I think a better trial of whether computers understand the world around them is whether they can make sense of understandably brief, unpunctuated headlines.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The greatest actor (without a nose):

In the NYT review of the latest Harry Potter movie, Manohla Dargis announced that "Mr. Fiennes is an actor for whom a walk on the darker side is not just a pleasure, but liberation. His Voldemort may be the greatest screen performance ever delivered without the benefit of a nose." I mentioned this to one Avraham Yale, who responded, "Well, as long as Michael Jackson wasn't available..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Claybourne (podcast recommendation #2):

Claybourne is a radio drama set in a remote, rural community in North New Zealand. It is FULL of atmosphere and mysterious matters. Its website says: "Claybourne was a sci-fi / supernatural thriller / soap opera radio drama, recorded and broadcast nationwide in New Zealand in the late 1990s. This is the podcast revival of Claybourne - and quite possibly the first podcast drama serial."

There are 96 six minute episdoes, of which more than 50 are already online. Production values are excellent, it's rather spellbinding, and the NZ and Maori accents are not too hard to understand. You can read text about the drama's setting here, but I suggest you listen to the first two episodes first. The website has a separate page for each episode, with a link (near the upper right) to the next episode. (Go to the archives to hear them all in order.)

Text-only adventures:

Do you remember Zork? Once upon a time MOST computer games were text-only games. You typed a command, the computer made a text response, and so on. A recent note at Slashdot explains that this genre still lives. The item begins "You are at the edge of a clearing with an impressive view of the mountains. A trail splits off toward some standing stones to the southwest, while the main road emerges from the forest to the east and continues westward down the hill, via a series of switchbacks." Slashdot's text suggests there are some diehards keeping an old, outdated thing going, but I found something quite different. I looked into some current text games, primarily because:
  • I figured they must (as ever) be easy to learn to play.
  • I've aways thought of this type of game as 'worksafe", easy to hide on your computer screen. Not that I would ever do such a thing.
Well I got a bit of a shock. The devotees of text-only games have been evolving the genre. There are several fancy engines that operate these games for you, and they look fairly snazzy onscreen, with quite a bit of graphic content. They almost look like computer games! Then I started reading the notes to one of these games, in which the author explained he had added some custom verbs, such as the ability to tell your character to 'think' in case your character knows more about a situation than you do. I looked at the overall interface and realized that text-only adventures have even stepped gingerly into the realm of computer games with steep learning curves! (But I would like to try one of these games if I ever have time.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Goodnight, Cig...

I don't think I need to explain the gentle, rhythmic, quieting allure of "Goodnight, Moon" to native English readers. The book jacket is undergoing a little surgery his year. The photograph of Hurd cheerily grasping a cigarette between the fingers of his right hand has been on the book for at least two decades, but now, due to the miracle of photo editing, the cigarette will disappear. You can make a case for this change:
Kate Jackson, the editor in chief of HarperCollins Children’s Books, said it only recently came to her attention, at a meeting to discuss how to publicize the book’s 60th anniversary in 2007. The company was about to reprint the hardcover and paperback editions, so "as a quick fix, we adjusted the photograph" to eliminate it, she said.

"It is potentially a harmful message to very young kids," Jackson said, "and it doesn’t need to be there."

Is it good to erase the cigarette? Here's what I think: George Santana said (something like this, the quote can be found with many variations): "Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it." I say, if we erase history, we'll ALL be condemned to repeat it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mor about Rotkits. Rootkits.

I started discussing the vicious DRM that Sony software installs with some of its audio CDs here, on November 7. In an update, I referred, with an inspired error, to Sony's "Rotkit". Since Rootkits do tend to rot your computer, I'm going to stand by my new word. Don't buy CDs that come with Rotkits! (They will likely have the letters "DRM" on the cover somewhere.)

Life in a Cervical Collar:

A "Cervical Collar" is worn around the neck. It limits head movement somewhat, and tends to make me feel like there's one more garment I really ought to take off, each time I remove my coat. I'm living with a pinched nerve, as it happens. I was suffering alone, getting through my usual work and responsibilities despite some remarkable shoulder pains, when I happened to remark to my wife that I was really okay as long as I remembered not to move my head in certain ways. "Then why don't you wear a collar?" she asked.

Now the collar has two benefits:
  1. It prevents me from getting into some pain.
  2. Better yet, the collar brings me loads of sympathy.
No one knew I was suffering! Since putting on the collar I've been offered much kindness and useful advice.

The next time I have an ingrown toenail, I plan to wear the cervical collar again. (Around my neck.)
"Were you in an accident?" people will ask.
"No," but I hope to feel better soon."
"Well good luck then, I hope you feel better."
And of course I will.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pointing the finger at Microsoft and the Antivirus companies:

A few days ago, I asked why Microsoft was not responding vigorously to the discovery that Sony was subverting their operating system to keep people from copying CDs. Bruce Schneier, security expert, has now written eloquently on this subject, also pinning the anti-virus companies to the mat. His article is a clear, non-technical summary of what Sony was up to and how the world is responding to it. And I think he raises all the right questions. (Here’s another source for the same article, from Schneier’s blog.)

If you’ve played recent CDs from any of the major music businesses on your computer lately, you may be at risk from this software. You can find instructions for checking this spyware here, in Ed Felton’s blog. In addition to leaving your computer open to all sorts of hack attacks, the Sony software won’t even let you copy a music CD that you own outright. It inserts noise during the copy process, even if you recorded your own composition and you’re now copying it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Time Flies:

This is not a post about who likes eating arrows. Rather, it's about a SkyScan Clock. The clock is billed as an "atomic" clock that sets itself to accurate time via a radio signal. The manufacturer's website points to a government web site where we learn that it's not really Atomic. An "Atomic" clock will keep incredibly accurate time based on an oscillating atom, Cesium maybe; such clocks do not need to check a radio time signal. Most radio-driven clocks are not also atomic. But there IS a radio signal that clocks can sync to, and that's what Skyscan does.

Clocks that keep such accurate time are less expensive than ever before, and also less necessary (your cell phone does the same thing, and will usually do it better). But the idea of the Skyscan is appealing, and I had the pleasure of relying on one in a building I often frequent. But I stopped relying on it when I saw another SkyScan clock - the same model - that had a different time, three minutes faster. And I felt like relying on it even less when I noticed that the hour hand pointed to the middle of the hour when the minute hand was on the twelve.

Now the manufacturer can explain all that. Low batteries, or a clock positioned such that it has trouble getting the radio signal, leads to inaccurate time. Unfortunately the clock doesn't TELL you it's having this trouble (I think it should display a bright red warning), so you better check it against (sigh) another clock. And of course the hands can get out of position, that just means they need an adjustment, which the manufacturer will do for you if you don't feel up to it.

Yesterday I glanced at that clock and my brain had a hard time focusing on it. I looked again. Oh no! The minute hand was going round and round the clock very rapdily, faster than a normal second hand (the second hand did not move at all). The hour hand was moving in sync with the minute hand, and the clock appeared to be searching for a moment in time that simply did not exist, the "fifth of never" perhaps. We put the poor clock out of its misery by temporarily removing its batteries. I think I'll rely on my cell phone.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Another software war story: Good meeting notes.

In 1982 I was managing several software projects at an "office software" company. I worked closely with the (marketing) product manager for these products; we had a good relationship. At this time, one manager in corporate headquarters held life-or-death approval over many of our decisions, even micromanaging a lot of user interface issues. So one day Tom and I drove to HQ to meet wth her and see if we could persuade her to our point of view on at least a few matters.
She swept into the meeting wearing a beautful fur coat. When I commented on it, she said, "I bought it the moment I discovered my husband was cheating on me." Nonetheless she was in a good mood. We talked for two hours, went over all our projects, and she gave in on a number of points. Then we got back into my car and headed back to our office. "Tom," I said, "I'll send out a memo to you, to her and my management about her decisions."
"You'll do no such thing!" said Tom. I glanced at him in puzzlement.
"Didn't you notice?" he said, "During the meeting she took no notes of her own. She just shot from the hip. We're free to do absolutely anything we want now. Pretty soon she'll have no recollection what she ageed to."
So we did that, and we got away with it. Tom was right.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Really Bad Carmen:

We know, because we have over 100 years of recordings, that classical music technique has greatly improved over time. Ability and polish that we take for granted today was once unheard of. And orchestral performance is amazingly improved. Orchestras today play much familiar music, but in the past, most music was given few performances by musicians totally unfamilar with it.
In modern rehearsals, the conductor can direct the orchestra to start at "letter D" or at "measure 140", and everyone can start playing some difficult passage together. Rehearsal letters and measure numbering is a relatively recent invention. In Beethoven's time, there was no easy way to start everyone together in the middle, making rehearsal of any kind problematic. Which brings us, finally, to the Opera Carmen.

Bizet's opera, whose music is still so fresh and wonderful today, flopped miserably in its first two runs. Anytime you find yourself enjoying Carmen, ask yourself how those first French audiences failed to catch on to it.

Now it's true that the plot was shocking for its time. And the French were not used to such vigorous music. And maybe it opened in the wrong venue - the Opera Comique - a place for familiy-oriented entertainment. And a lot of the Carmen we enjoy was not present in the first runs. The "recitatives" that string the big numbers together, where a lot of the plot is gently and beautifully sung, were not composed by Bizet, but added later by a friend, Ernest Guiraud. At first those parts were merely spoken. (Today the use of this added music is somewhat controversial. See the wikpedia for lots more fascinating info about the first performances.)

But even after taking all that into account, I'm sure of one thing: those initial perfomances must have been awful. Really awful. I imagine rhythms obscured by instruments playing off the beat; thousands of wrong notes; hundreds of missed entrances; feeble sounds from timid singers. If you ever have a chance to attend, say, a middle school perfomance of Carmen, you'll probably be hearing something a lot better than was heard at the Opera Comique in 1875. Gosh, it must have been really, really bad.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Howard Stern's Worst Nightmare. Perhaps.

Howard Stern's struggles against limitations imposed by the FCC and broadcast radio have seemed like a Gulliver fighting Brobdingnagian giants. But now, moving to Sirius Satellite Radio, Stern is about to battle the Lilliputians. And there are a lot of them. And they might just tie him up.

Stern has demonstrated a remarkable ability to push the edge of the socially acceptable on Radio and TV, while retaining the interest of a large, almost main-stream audience. His new opportunity at Sirius Radio gives him a chance to push against a whole new set of rules, and some people feel that his new-found freedom will enable him to draw large audiences away from FCC-regulated conventional radio and TV.

But if Stern is looking back at his old competition, he's in for a shock. Much of his future competition will come from: Podcasting. (I'm using this currently hip term to refer to people who "broadcast" by making their own audio or video programs that people can download from the web.)

So in this corner we have a famous personality/actor/producer backed by tons of publicity, with a big following and a big audience. In the other corner we have what seems to be annoying static – thousands of amateurs, many of whom have no idea what they're doing, and no easy way to advertise and connect with their potential audience, IF such audience is out there. Here's why these people will give Stern competition:

  1. Just as IBM could not compete with the hundreds of companies that tried out thousands of creative ways to improve on the original IBM PC, so Stern will not be able to compete with thousands of competitors. While Stern has time to try a few ideas, they will try out everything. (By "Everything", I do not mean that they will just out-smut Stern. I expect creative people to try out innuendo-ish ideas at every point of the spectrum, finding all sorts of new explicity-points that large audiences find they can enjoy.)
  2. Podcasters will gradually connect with their relatively mainstream audiences. It took just a few years to connect people whose blogs a hundred thousand want to read with hundreds of thousands of readers, and the Web will figure out how to make similar connections for the upcoming audio and video auteurs. There are already many Podcast directories trying to fill this need.
  3. None of the Podcasters has to "beat" Stern to become his nightmare. As a group, they threaten to splinter and diminish his audience. And if listeners get bored with some of these competitors, there will always be new fresh voices to take their place.

Look out, Howard! Something new and awful is gaining on you...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Spam Poetry:

I just received an Email that slipped through my spam filter by including a lot of almost reasonable text. After telling me to go to a web site I would never touch, the email continued (not quite poetry, not quite totally hypnotic):

I don't miss jumping for three or four weeks..
Doesn't Sarah remember shouting slowly?.

Then came THE PARENT. (Now, you need to know, I love the parents of the children I teach.) This parent arrived on the scene with her son who had Down's Syndrome. She wanted a piece of software with REAL photos, one on each screen with the word in text and the word spoken aloud. I looked at her and thought to myself, 'B-O-R-I-N-G. The child will NEVER respond to that.'

John was enjoying sleeping near the tree.. i need to get a pedicure. my feet smell and itch. She has disliked cooking for a day or two.. tomorrow i will wash my hair and go to the salon. Those janitors aren't missing sleeping right now.. They have loved dancing.. Wasn't Dick missing talking on the street?. Were those pilots practicing praying?. Bye,

(These texts are probably cribbed from fairly random web sites. I found the original of the paragraph about the PARENT here.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A technical Writer who Read Minds:

I once managed a group of writers and support people for a large, vaporware computer system. (In the software biz, "vaporware" refers to software that simply does not exist, despite claims, demonstrations, schedules, delivery notices, reviews, progress reports and even sales to the contrary.) At one point when it seemed possible the developers where actually going to write some code, I was authorized to hire another technical writer for a desperately needed user manual. One engaging middle-aged man I interviewed addressed a common concern. Since the developers had written nothing down, he might have to spend hours talking to them to figure out how the system might work, to document it.

Now you might think that's a good idea. In fact sometimes the user manual is written first, and no code is designed until the user manual makes good sense. But in this more common case, the development mamagers were very jealous of their developers' time, and would begrudge very little of it to any writer for any reason.

"But that's Okay," my interviewee explained, "I can read their minds and figure out what they're doing without talking to them!" It won't surprise you to know that I reacted to this statement by thinking: (if he can read people's minds, why can't he read my total disbelief at what he's saying?) Well in fact he launched into an explanation of how his mind-reading might work. In the process he drew similes from classical music, religion and humor, mentioning ideas I agreed with in just about all my main areas of interest. And he'd never met me before. I was quite impressed.

I did not hire him for that job. My feeling was that on a totally chaotic vaporware project, with most people acting quite irrationally already, if he COULD read what the developers were thinking he'd go crazy. A few years later I was on a different project where I really wanted to give this guy's skills a try, but unfortunately I was no longer able to find him.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Psssst! Microsoft!

Why hasn't Microsoft issued a statement about Sony's DRM software? Do they think it's acceptable or not? Why isn’t every techy reporter in the country hounding MS for a statement? MS's silence has been defeaning.

I'd like to hear them say that such software should be removed at once, but perhaps MS is too deeply involved with enforcing DRM to take that position.

Microsoft has NEWS pages, where such a statement might appear. Check out their main web page, or their security & privacy news page, or their legal news page ... NOTHING ( as of November 7).

(Background, if you’re not familiar with this story. The above link explains in great technical detail how, when you place a Sony CD in your Windows computer that enforces control over copying audio, software is loaded that takes partial control of your machine and is very difficult to remove. The software is said to create security holes, and Sony does not really explain to you what it’s installing. A number of virus and hack attacks on computers use software techniques similar to this software. Alex Haberman has a somewhat less technical explanation in Ed Felton’s blog, here.)

Oh, and just my two cents-worth: if you think it might be reasonable for Sony to install software on your computer to monitor your actions in order to prevent you from misusing their CDs, please imagine what your computer would be like if fifteen different companies each loaded software on your PC to do something similar. Would there be any CPU cycles left over for you?

Update, Nov 10: Yesterday Microsoft issued a statement. I don't know how to find it at their website, but here's a report by Paul F. Roberts at eWeek, brought to my attention by Mike Masnick of Tech dirt. The title of this piece is "Microsoft 'Concerned' by Sony DRM," and clearly MS is temporizing, although they do say (according to Roberts) that the security of its customers' information is a "top priority".

Update, Nov 14:Well, they did it. MS announced their anti-spyware tool will remove rotkits. Good for them!

That's Unheard Of:

Are you familiar with: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” If you are, you've enjoyed the pendantry of trying to "fix" a sentence with a trailing preposition. (By the way, the original may not have been coined by Churchill, and the original form is uncertain, as discussed in a web page called Churchill on Prepositions). Also, I believe pedants will agree that 'will' is correct in the above epigram, not 'shall'. Anyway, here's a sentence that might be fascinatingly hard to fix:
That's unheard of.

Let's start with the Yoda-ese:
Unheard of, is that.

Obviously we've made no improvement. The "of" governs nothing and still hangs at the end of a clause. Our next attempt should get you thrown out of any Writer's Seminar:
Of that, is unheard.

Now here's a real fix, but we have to abandon "unheard":
Of that, nothing's been heard.

The crux of the matter, I believe, is that "unheard" is an unusual word. It doesn't mean quite the same as "not heard". It can be used in some, but not all of the contexts where "not heard" works. "Unheard" is just one step up from an unword.

In search of Podcasts, first recommendations:

The term "Podcasting" refers losely to making one's own radio broadcasts, in the form of audio files that we can download. At least a few thousand people are creating podcasts in English. You can search for them by category, and there are several podcast directory sites to help you find what you might possibly want, such as Podcast Alley and Podcast.com (which is actually a directory of podcast directories). Some of the music services, and some podcast sites, make it particularly easy for you to get their programs. In some cases you can "subscribe" and then you'll get weekly or daily downloads to your mp3 player.

Initially I thought that looking into podcasts would be a terrific waste of time. When I want to find a new blog to read, I quickly scan random blogs (or everything on somebody's blogroll), maybe a hundred of them. I can't see doing that with audio, you really have to LISTEN and it would take far too long to scan many podcasts.

But on the other hand I like to listen to audio books as well as music. I recently found a website called IT Conversations, whose rather modest goal is to place audio recordings of all (I'm not kidding) conferences online. They also record many interviews, and they've recorded conversations with many of my heroes in the software business, including
Larry Lessig, Bruce Schneier, Paul Graham and Joel Spolsky. That whetted my apetite, so I started browsing the directories and looking for things I might enjoy. Quite by accident I quickly found a remarkably good humorist, Cayenne Chris Conroy, whose weekly half hour show, Teknikal Diffikulties, I really enjoy. It's clear that a decent script is written before recording begins; the production values are good; the humor is amusing and delivered, in a variety of voices, with excellent timing. Conroy is whimsical, which - I'm afraid - particularly appeals to me.

I now have a false feeling that it will NOT take long to find some more enjoyable shows. We'll see how long it takes me to get disillusioned. Meanwhile I'm adding a Podcast Roll to this blog (You'll see it at left above the blogroll). IT Conversations and Teknikal Diffikulties are its first two members. (I'll only recommend podcasts that we can download free and play on any old mp3 player.) Although I'm not ready to recommend any more podcasts yet, I have definitely enjoyed sampling some others. For some unknown reason, most of the ones I like are produced in the midwest.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Unexpected Implications of Software:

In about 1990 I was shocked to discover that Intel ships software products with no warrantee. They do not even warrant that a program will work if used in the routinely expected way. Their position is that there is no "expected way" to use a software product, and what one person thinks is a natural use, a team of 100 testers may never have noticed. And when several software products interact (by plan or accident) there's no telling how they might affect each other.

It took me awhile to see it, but I believe Intel was right. Which brings us to two of this week's remarkable news stories.

First, a systems internals guru named Mark Russinovich carefully analyzed what happens when you insert a Digital-Rights-Management Sony audio CD into your computer. These CDs intend to restrict you from making what Sony regards as illegal uses of the music. He found that the CDs install what some might call "malware" often used by hackers to control systems. You can read about his discoveries here, in detail. In brief, the software modifies the Windows operating system at a low level in order to conceal files on disk and programs that are running, from all but the most astute users. Sony's not the only music publisher doing this kind of thing, and it's going to be a big story, expecially since Sony apparently does not get your permission to modify your system this way (possibly publishable in California by $10,000 per infraction). Worse, their software apparently makes it easier for others to add their own "cloaked" software to your system, once the Sony software's in place. But that's not important now.

Second, there's the company Blizzard, which operates the massively online multi-player World of Warcraft game (aka "WoW"). Blizzard also puts software on your computer to watch and possibly control what you're doing. Their software may fall into the category of Spyware. Blizzard insists its "Warden" software is a good thing. They are trying to prevent you from cheating at WoW by running programs to give you an unfair advantage over people playing manually. You can read about that here. It's not clear whether Blizzard is wearing a white hat or a black hat, but that's not important now.

So what happens if you play Sony's DRM music AND go online to play WoW? Well the Sony software makes it easy for you to cloak your "unfair" programs that give you a gaming advantage so that WoW's Warden software can't see them. There's your unexpected consequence.

Just for a moment, please try to imagine every computer in your home and company running cloaked software like this from fifteen different companies at once to make sure you do nothing illegal. You'd have only a few cycles of CPU time left for yourself. You'd have to buy MUCH more powerful computers. Now that's important.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Laser Printer Color Dots, and Publius, the thief:

When I was living in a college dorm - way before the invention of the word processor - we appreciated the communal pencil sharpener in the hall near the bulletin board. One day the sharpener disappeared, replaced by a type-written note. (There were electric typewriters in those days, but most people, including this thief, did not have one.) The note explained that the thief had stolen the sharpener for his private use and had no intention of giving it back. It was signed: Publius.

I added a note below his, in which I pointed out all the irregularities in his typewriter. The 'e' printed slightly below the line, there was a bit missing in every 't', and so on. I suggested that we keep an eye on any local typescript and we would soon identify Publius. The Pencil sharpener returned to its place the next day.

Today we have have incredibly high quality, accurately machined laser printers, mass-produced by the million. Surely, if Publius had printed his note on a modern color laser printer, he could have rejoiced in his anonymity while even adding a small naughty picture to his signature. Yet it turns out his printout would not be as anonymous as he thought. Read all about it here at the EFF website. Many color printers sneakily print their serial number (and more) in microdots on both sides of every page they print. Quote:
The U.S. Secret Service admitted that the tracking information is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers, ostensibly to identify counterfeiters. However, the nature of the private information encoded in each document was not previously known. "We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer," said EFF Staff Technologist Seth David Schoen.
I can imagine George Orwell shaking his head and saying "Wish I'd thought of that."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I love my aural memories:

My memory doesn't work terribly well, or at least my personal memories are poorly organized. I'm not much for visual memory either. But there are sounds that evoke entire persons to me, and I love it when those sounds drop into my mind. Sometimes I remember a particular not-quite-right pronunciation of my name, and then the beloved uncle, whose first language was not English and who pronounced it that way, comes vividly to mind, his looks, his speech rhythms, things he said, things about him I then proceed to remember.

When we're singing at religious services, we get to one word every week that one old man always, always mispronounced, singing confidently and loud: an incorrect consonant, producing a striking effect. He passed away more than thirty years ago but with that word, he left me a message. And remember how he talked, an issue he cared about, how he usually looked.

When I'm thinking, if my thoughts utilise a word beginning with Y, "yellow" perhaps, I'll mentally change the sound to a J (as in Jellow) and my thoughts detour to the two Cuban emigrees, both very interesting people (here's one of them), whom I worked with in 1970's.

I look foward to my aural memories.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Coffee Loves Crevices (2):

I blogged here about my frustration trying to clean all the bits of coffee out of my simple Italian espresso-maker. Recently I visited an Italian friend who had exactly what I wanted sitting on his stove: a similar coffee-maker that was round, not octagonal. I told him I knew I could get that shape really clean.

“You’re not supposed to clean your octagonal espresso maker, “ he said, “You’re only supposed to wipe it. Coffee residue builds up over the years, giving the coffee a deeper, more sophisticated flavor.

“My machine is round because it makes cappuccino, and the milk has to be cleaned out. In fact the manufacturer’s instructions say ‘this machine has to be cleaned carefully, unlike our other products.’”

So now I’m not frustrated by my octagonal coffee-maker anymore. But my wife scoffs. She’s sure this “sophistication” junk is just an excuse to be lazy.