Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s Human Nature? (I hope):

Our newest car has a key with buttons to lock and unlock it from a short distance. The key also has a button that unlocks the trunk, and a similar emergency button to make the car honk loud. These two buttons do nothing unless I press them for several seconds. In the dark it’s hard for me to remember which is which. (I wish the buttons had Braille markings.) Occasionally, I’ve had the traumatic experience of pressing the HONK button by mistake. I’ve developed a “protective” behavior because of that trauma: when I think I’m pressing the trunk-unlock button, to protect myself from an unexpected HONK, I hold the key as far from my body as I can.

There I am, right next to the car, holding the key away from me. I know that will have no effect on how loud the HONK is. But still ....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Prescient Lightbulb Joke:

I found on my PC, a file of fortune cookies that I collected in the late 1980's, intending (at that time) to add them to the Unix "fortune cookie" program. This light bulb joke was written WAY before the mortgage/banking crisis. Perhaps we didn't learn enough from the Savings and Loan disaster. (Someone should have listened to the author of this joke.)

Q: How many lightbulbs does it take a Savings & Loan disaster to change
four billion lightbulbs?

A: Just one. The federal government will take care of the other
3,999,999,999 lightbulbs.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Playlist for March 29, 2011, 2011 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm and WPRB.COM (streaming around the world):

This is the playlist for my radio program of March 29, 2011, 6:00 a.m. to 8:30 EDT.
My first such Classical Playlist (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for March 29, 2011
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Albeniz, Isaac, arr. ArbosIberia, parts 1 & 2Cincinnati Symphony OrchestraJesus Lopez-Cobosn/aTelarc 804706:01
Weiss, Sylvius LeopoldSonata XXIII, L'Infidelen/an/aJon Mendle (archGuitar)In a Circle Records ICR0046:44
Liszt, FranzMephisto Waltz: Dance in the Village Inn, S. 514n/an/aLise de la Salle (pno)naive V 50067:04
Bach, Johann SebastianToccata in D, BWV 912n/an/aLise de la Salle (pno)naive V 5006 7:20
Glass, PhilipString Quartet #1Brooklyn Ridern/an/aOrange Mountain Music 00747:34
Chopin, Frederic Ballade No. 2 in F, op. 38n/an/aClaudio Arrau (pno)lp: philips 9500 3937:51
Schubert, FranzLieder: Auf dem Wasser zu singen (Stolberg), D. 744; Die Junge Nonne (Craigher), D. 828; An Sylvia (Bauernfeld after Shakespeare), D. 891n/an/aArleen Auger (Sopr), Lambert Orkis (pno)Virgin classics 6285988:00
Wildhaber, MariaBulgarian Folk Love Songs: Wept my Sweetheart (Marin Goleminov) ; Kopanizzan/an/aMaria Jeleztcheva Wildhaber (bn), Tania Tachkova (pno)MSR 13638:17
Mozart, Wolfgang AmadeusCosi fan Tutte, overtureVienna PhilharmonicJames Levinen/aDG 427 6808:24:00

The way the mind works?

I was listening this morning, on my Streaming Radio, to (what I was sure was) the last movement of a piano concerto, one that I really like. The radio station was AOL’s Piano Virtuoso channel. I’m usually fiendishly good at recognizing classical music compositions, but I couldn’t place this one, perhaps because I’m not quite as young as I used to be.

Suddenly, I was convinced that if I read the identifying information on the radio’s tiny display, I could figure it out. Now I must explain that the Piano Virtuoso channel displays more information about the current composition than most. It lists the performer, the piece, the key, the opus, and even the tempo markings. But it never, ever, identifies the composer! Still, I was certain – and I couldn’t imagine why – that looking at its information, I would identify the composer. So I looked.

While I waited for the data to snail across the screen, I asked myself why I thought that it might help. I could easily think of several concertos whose identifying info would tell me nothing at all. Here’s what I read on the display:

Harnoncourt, Piano Concerto #1 in A minor, op. 54, allegro...
As soon as I saw “A minor”, I knew: Robert Schumann. Now comes the interesting part. (Interesting to me, anyway.) Why had I been so certain that the displayed info was all I needed? In the back of my mind, that place where we sift through our memories to find something relevant, I must have almost made the necessary connection. I just needed a hint to boost that data from the back of my mind to my conscious thoughts. Bing!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chin-lung Hu:

In the preseason, the Mets are playing Chin-lung Hu, a middle infielder whose defensive skills might help him make the team. I was listening to their Grapefruit League game today, and something happened that I think is very exciting. Just think: Hu hit a single.

UPDATE! Name corrected. My apologies for misspelling this fine player's name.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Bad Back and a Laundry Mesh Bag:

First, let me explain to the few of you who have never experienced back pain: a small stress from the wrong direction inflicts, upon those of us who suffer: a sharp twinge, or, unpredictably, the start of weeks of abject pain, or something in between. We poor victims try to avoid any awkward stress, so I was fascinated to discover that my daughter carries her laundry loads in a mesh bag, instead of a laundry basket.

Our washing machine is in the cellar. I carry full laundry baskets down two flights of stairs, and I have to cantilever the basket’s weight in the process. Dangling a mesh bag seemed like a wonderful improvement. I have just obtained one, and perhaps I can learn to deal with it. But the first time I hefted a few pounds of laundry in my new bag, I got a surprise.

It swung.

And it continued to swing while I carried it.

Since my back currently experiences a threatening degree of tightness, the last thing I want is for the bag to waft off at a wrong, unexpected angle; because the bag weighs a great deal more than the proverbial straw. I traversed the first flight of stairs while my back flared little warning twinges and pops at me. Then I stopped to think.

At least part of the way, I can drag the bag on the ground. But not when the laundry is clean! I handled the second flight of stairs very carefully. Perhaps, with much forethought, the bag can be persuaded to hang motionless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon, Too:

Now that my first novel is published in both book and eText forms (see for details), I can look back fondly upon my first attempt to get some feedback from a reader.

I only had a rough draft at the time. A librarian at the local library expressed an interest in reading my book. I suppressed the “What if it’s awful?” fears as best as I could, and deposited a copy on her doorstep.

The book was back on my front porch in less than twenty-four hours. My first thought was “She liked it so much, she read it non-stop!” (I’m an optimist.) Inside the draft, I found a note. She apologized that my novel was apparently going to be too violent for her, and she just didn’t read that sort of thing. Sorry.

She still works at our local library, but somehow, I never saw her in the four intervening years, until yesterday. She asked after my novel, and I told her I had self-published it.

She said, “I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo recently.”
I was aghast. I said, “If you read that, you could certainly have read my book.”
She responded, “I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I certainly didn’t like it.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting started on a Sleepy Morning:

In the relatively new building from which I broadcast my radio programs, there’s a room that was built for ballet practice. (The building is a residential dorm, with four stories above a cellar level for the radio station and many other activity rooms.) The ballet room has a long barre in front of a wall that’s all mirror from top to bottom, end to end. The room is rarely used for ballet practice, because the building’s designers (apparently) were unaware that ballet dancers sweat. There is no extra A/C in the room. The room contains no chairs or mattresses, but it does get used.

One summer, as I approached the radio station (about 6 a.m.) a pair of undergraduates passed me on their way to the ballet room. Arm-in-arm, they looked half-awake. He wore pajamas. She wore shorty pajamas. They both wore flip-flops on their feet. As they closed the door behind them, I thought about that immense mirror and wished them well.

Playlist for March 21, 2011 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm and WPRB.COM (streaming around the world):

This is the playlist for my radio program of March 21, 6:00 to 8:30 EDT.
My first such Classical Playlist (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, from 6 to 8:30.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for March 21
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Dvořák, Antonín Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in b, op.104Philadelphia OrchestraEugene OrmandyLeonard roseLP: Columbia MLS 67146:03
Mittler, FranzSonata for Violin and Piano in D (1909)n/an/aAlexander Meshibovsky (vln), diana Mittler (pno)Con Brio CBR210426:44
Mahler, GustavSymphony #4Philharmonia OrchestraBenjamin ZanderCamilla Tilling (sopr), Christopher Warren-Green (vln solo)Telarc 805557:08
Schubert, FranzLieder: An Grabe Anselmos (Claudius), D. 504; An Die Musik (Schober), D. 547; Die Forelle (Schubart), D. 550n/an/aArleen Auger (Sopr), Lambert Orkis (pno)Virgin classics 6285988:10
Wildhaber, MariaBulgarian Folk Love Songs: Wedding Ratchenizzan/an/a Maria Jeleztcheva Wildhaber (bn), Tania Tachkova (pno)MSR 13638:20
Liszt, FranzTranscendental Etude #10 in gn/an/aClaudio Arrau (pno)Philips 456 3398:25

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fred Wilpon and Muammar Khaddaffi:

I thought about writing a parody article, in which I described the Met’s owners’ situation as if reporting the news in Libya. The inspiration was tempting, because certain parallels do present themselves.

I won’t do it, it would be unfair.

I can suspect that Wilpon’s judgment about money management has often hurt my favorite baseball team.

I can suspect that if Fred Wilpon does manage to hold on to the Mets, his new money woes could haunt the team for years.

Otherwise, the Wilpons seem to be spinning out a sad story, not a crazy or a vengeful one. Hey you Wilpons! The team you own is the team that has never managed to win a no-hitter. Maybe you can’t play a perfect game either. Please consider trying some other avocation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where there’s a will, there might be a way:

I shall not name the website, but we needed to use it to print some tax forms about our savings. In Firefox, I clicked on a line that was supposed to run a Java Script to display the printable forms, and nothing happened. I could find nothing wrong, so I called the company and talked to their web people for a while. They had me loosen my security settings and load a different version of Adobe Reader, to no avail.

All through this trial, I had my own suspicion of what was wrong. Our Anti-Virus company (which I shall also not name) does not coexist with Firefox very well. I was certain that IE8 would be able to display these forms, but I could not use IE8 with this website.

I’m not blaming IE at all. When we set up the login to this financial website, we supplied security questions and answers that they could use to verify us. Like many banks, the website uses the security questions in addition to (not instead of) our password to verify us. Firefox already had a verification cookie, so that we could just enter the password and get to the forms page. But IE required me to answer a verification question. And I couldn’t remember the answers. (Why can’t browsers on the same computer share cookies and remember each other’s remembered passwords, by the way?)

After struggling with Firefox and Adobe for over an hour, I had a brainstorm. You’ll probably wonder why I didn’t think of this fifty minutes sooner. I logged in to the website with Firefox and changed all the security questions and answers. Then I used my knowledge of the changed security questions to log in with IE8, and of course I was able to print the forms. Whee!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Somebody did something about it:

My wife teases me about how interested I am in the weather. I complain that the major websites that report current weather and forecasts rely on a “local” weather site that is four miles away, separated from our town by a two-hundred-foot high hill. The so-called ‘current temperature’ over that hill can be five or six degrees different from what it is around our home. That’s a serious delta when worrying about whether water will freeze or melt on the ground.

I also complain that the major weather sites predict the weather, but they never tell you how good their predictions are. They look forward, not back. Well, I’ve got them now!

I discovered that Princeton University has several small Sensorscope weather stations scattered around town. These stations are on the web, and they record weather conditions for the previous 24 hours. I can get very accurate local readings, and I can see whether the predictions I foolishly trusted were accurate. Here’s the most detailed local weather station.

There’s a small catch of course. Temperature is in Centigrade. (I’m trying to get used to these numbers without converting to Fahrenheit.) Wind speed is in meters per second. (Double that number, to get a close approximation of mph.) And rainfall is measured in mm. Oh, I can handle that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Playlist for March 15, 2011 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm and WPRB.COM (streaming around the world):

This is the playlist for my radio program of March 15, 6:00 to 8:30 a.m., EDT.
My first such Classical Playlist (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, from 6 a.m. EDT, on.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for XXDATE
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Piston, WalterSymphony #2Seattle SymphonyGerard Schwarz n/aNaxos 5591616:02
Bartok, Belafourth string quartet (preceded by just the pizzicato movement) Sz91The Hagen Quartetn/an/aNewton 88020116:32
Wildhaber, MariaBulgarian Folk Love Songs: Hey, Stoyane; Gankino Horon/an/a Maria Jeleztcheva Wildhaber (bn), Tania Tachkova (pno)MSR 13637:02
Schumann, Robert /arr. Christian HommelQuintet, Op. 44 (originally piano & string quartet: now, piano & oboe, clar, horn, bassoon)n/an/aHommel (ob), walter Ifrim (cl), Wolfgang Rüdiger (bn), Volker Grewel (hn), Dorothea Eppendorf (pno)Ars Musici 2322257:08
Ibert, JacquesConcerto for Cello and WindsUSF (University of South Florida) WindsJames CroftAntony Cooke (vc)LP: Golden Crest CRS41897:39
Rameau, Jean-Philippefifth concertThe Boston Museum Trion/an/aCentaur CRC 29797:51
Schubert, Franz Lieder: Seligkeit (Hölty), D.433 ; An die Nachtigall (Hölty or? Claudius), D. 497 ; Wiegenlied (anon), D. 498n/an/aArleen Auger (Sopr), Lambert Orkis (pno)Virgin classics 6285988:03
Wildhaber, MariaBulgarian Folk Love Songs: Hey, Stoyane; Gankino Horon/an/a Maria Jeleztcheva Wildhaber (bn)MSR 13638:12
Sibelius, JeanFinlandia, op. 26, #7Atlanta Symphony OrchestraYoel Levin/aTelarc 803208:20

Monday, March 14, 2011

Special Playlist for Pi day, March 14, 2011 at 7:58 a.m. EDT, Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

Special Playlist for Pi day, March 14, 2011 at 7:58 a.m. EDT, Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world): The first playlist in my blog (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, Monday morning up to 11:00 a.m. EDT.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for March 14, 2011
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Bach, J.S.three of his six little preludes, BWV 939/940/941n/an/aPieter-Jan Belder (harps)Brilliant CD94 (99372/11)7:58
Schumann, RobertKreisleriana, Op. 16n/an/aBurkard SchliessmannMSR MS 13618:05
Lansky, PaulSmalltalkComputer Generated Soundn/an/aNew Albion NA 030CD8:44
Mittler, FranzCello Sonata in G (1910)n/an/aAndré Emilianoff (vc), diana Mittler-Battipaglia (pno)Con Brio CBR210429:00
Janáček, LeošSinfonietta, Op. 60Czech State PhilharmonicJosé
lots of extra trompetsReference RR-65CD8:34
Grainger, Percey / arr. for and by Maud powellMolly on the Shoren/an/aRachel Barton Pine (vln), Matthew Hagle (pno)Cedille 90000 0979:56
Stravinsky, IgorPetrushkaDetroit Symphony OrchestraAntal Doratin/aLondon 417 75810:02
Hindemith, PaulSymphonic Metamorphosis on little-known themes by WeberThe Philadephia OrchestraWolfgang Sawallischn/aLondon 421 52310:38

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Awful! Japan,we wish you the very best luck from now on:

As Japan faces the possibility of reactor meltdown and dirty radiation, I can't help remembering how the "experts" sold the safety of nuclear reactors, back in the 1950's and '60s and '70s. They offered expert analyses proving that an accident at a nucler reactor was unlikely to happen for 10,000 years. Let me guess at a few things those "analyses" failed to consider: Operators accidentally setting a control room on fire (actually happened in Georgia, US); Chernobyl; Three Mile Island; and oh, a really powerful offshore earthquake.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Manual is online:

The Internet is a mixed blessing, but one of its great achievements is placing almost every manual for almost everything online. If you can’t remember where you put the manual for any of your machines or accessories, or if you’ve inherited or purchased something that lacks a manual: the user instructions are a search and a few clicks away.

Or look at it this way: throw away all those manuals that are clogging up a few drawers in your home. You probably don’t need to keep them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wade-Giles, or Pinyin?

I'm about to start working with a guy who was born in China, whose last name begins with a 't'. I'm looking forward to learning how to pronounce it.

The Pinyin system of Chinese transliteration (adopted around 1979) is probably more consistent and easier to handle than the older Wade-Giles method, but it's really hard to guess whether the name of a person of Chinese descent uses the old system or the new one. You just have to ask and listen carefully.

Once upon a time, I was barely aware of Wade-Giles.

I worked in the late 1960's at a company that employed a good computer programmer named Helen Tu. (We pronounced the 't' as a 't' sound.) I was her manager for a while. After some years, her husband got a job far away and she resigned. She asked a few of us to come to her home to help with a little packing, and we happily agreed.

She was proud of her five year old son Eugene. She had pictures of him in her office, but we had never met him. When we got to her home, he came barreling out with his mother to meet us.

"So this is the marvelous Eugene Tu, that I've heard so much about," I said.

"Eugene Du," she replied, and I had an "Oh, my God" moment. I realized that for years, everyone at work had mis-pronounced her last name. She must have felt that it would be impolite to correct us, but she had every right to make sure we pronounced her son's name correctly. And she did.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Playlist for March, 8, 2011 , 2011 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm and WPRB.COM (streaming around the world):

This is the playlist for my radio program of March, 8, 2011 ,6 a.m. to 8:30 EST .
My first such Classical Playlist (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, on March, 8, starting at 6:00.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for March, 8, 2011
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Noblet, CharlesPremiere Suite n/an/aCharlotte Mattax Moersch (harpsic)Centaur CRC 30056:02
Sibelius, JeanSymphony No.7 in C, Op. 105New York PhilharmonicLeonard Bernsteinn/aSony SM2K 476226:26
Ysaÿe, EugèneSonate, Op. 27, #5 (solo violin)n/an/aMatitiahu Braun (vln)Musicians MS10686:48
Mozart, Wolfgang AmadeusQuintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K. 581Ballard Quartetn/aSean Osborn (cl)TROY10337:02
Ravel, MauriceGaspard de la Nuitn/an/aDavid Korevaar (pno)MSR 11257:37
Schubert, Franz Lieder: Sei mir Gegrüsst (Rückert), D. 741 , Du bist die Ruh (Rückert), D. 776, Lachen und Weinen (Rückert), D. 777n/an/aArleen Auger (Sopr), Lambert Orkis (pno)Virgin classics 6285988:03:00
Prokofiev, SergeiVisions Fugitives ##16-20n/an/aJerry Wong (pno)MSR 13578:21

I should have posted a "HOLD BUTTON" sign:

We returned home from a lovely three-day trip to elsewhere. It was about seven pm when I brought our stuff in and started to unpack. It was a lovely evening, except that: our house was COLD. And it seemed to get colder and colder. At eleven pm, while dressing for bed, I remembered lowering the thermostat before we left on our trip.

We have a mildly programmable thermostat. The easy way to save fuel is to pick some number, say, 62 degrees, and click the HOLD button. You click HOLD again to return to your normal program.
I rushed downstairs, clicked HOLD, and went to bed. Next time we go away on a trip, I will leave a sign in the kitchen that says: PRESS THE HOLD BUTTON!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Recipe: Apple Cardamom Ginger drink:

Inspired by a NYT story about a new company that is inventing unusual sodas, such as a ginger cardamom apple soda, I concocted a delicious drink:
2/3 cup apple juice
2/3 cup water
6 thin ginger slices
6 cardamom pods.

Some cardamom pods are easy to break open. Open these, and drop the pods and slices into the liquid. Bring to an almost-boil and simmer for ten minutes. Delicious! (I believe the drink would be delicious cold, as well. If you have the patience to chill it.)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Net Neutrality: Perhaps I’m suffering without it:

Let me say right off that I connect to the Internet via Verizon. I use a DSL modem, not FIOS. And I can only speculate about my problem.

We bought a CC Crane Internet radio that gives me access to hundreds of classical music stations. It also gives my wife a clear signal from her favorite public radio station. When we first got the radio, I left it on a lot, as one does with radios in general. You don’t have to listen, but they provide a great background for daily life.

Except for the ten and twenty second silences.

Before the radio can play any stream, it must buffer some seconds of audio. Then, despite the vagaries of internet transmission, it can play continuously. A severe delay in the delivery of audio causes the radio to stop playing and buffer data again. Meanwhile it displays “buffering” on its little screen. And while it is buffering, we are losing some of the radio station's talk, or its music.

There are many issues that can cause buffering problems. For example, the radio stream station may be overloaded and falling behind while delivering its audio. But I tried a simple experiment, and it raised my suspicions. I’m now careful to turn the radio off unless I’m listening to it. I play it a lot less. And I rarely have buffering problems. Consequently, it feels as if my internet provider was punishing me for trying to keep a stream of one million bits per second going. (That stream is far less than the rated capacity of my DSL connection.)

I can’t help wondering whether Verizon is capable of noticing that I am enjoying an audio stream, and it is giving me a gentle hint that I might do better to upgrade to FIOS and get all my entertainment direct from them. I’m not accusing Verizon, I’m just wondering. Because, given the lack of Net Neutrality, Verizon is free to punish me in this way, if it chooses to do so.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Experience Everyday Life...

A half-page ad in the New York Times screams:

Experience Everyday Life in Ancient Pompeii

Before signing up, I want to know which day it is.

(Back to Net Neutrality in my next entry.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Keep the pocket closed:

I wear a small Lowepro case on my belt that can hold two Flash Memory sticks. Sometimes I carry only one. When there are memories in the case, I am careful to keep it zipped up.

After some heart-stopping moments, I learned that I must also keep the case zipped up when it is empty. If I don't, sooner or later I notice the case is open and empty, and then I think: Oh, no! Did I drop a flash memory somewhere?