Archive for October, 2010

Oxygen, Vicarious Pride, and a Fink

Monday, October 25th, 2010

This week was full of ups and downs, highs and lows, fun and “work.” We finished re-decorating a bathroom, entertained multiple sets of guests, visited a hospital, dined out several times with family and friends, split up for two gigs (Athens and Cumming), updated a parent’s DSL and computer set-up, assembled a fire pit, watched an emotional heist movie, and discovered a floor full of water. Relax – most of these will not be discussed today, although I would not be surprised to hear more about some of them later.

Oxygen

The hospital trip involved an 8-month old great niece who was in town for a medical procedure. I believe I can convey the thought for this section without going into personal details. At one point in the evening, I was given the opportunity to help out for a few seconds by holding a tiny oxygen mask in place. I can’t remember ever feeling so useful across such a small number of seconds. I am well aware that medical people do so much more on a regular basis, but that is not my field nor my experience, and I was glad to have even this small opportunity.

Vicarious Pride

Spock, Scully, Yang, and Sheldon represent a pop-culture trope of logical, emotionless characters, who are also generally possessed of extremely high intelligence. I am often tempted to place myself in this category except for the intelligence requirement. I regularly analyze myself in a fruitless attempt to understand why my emotional makeup seems to differ so much from most of my family and friends.

For example, when I tell people that one of my children is a doctor in residency, the response is often, “Oh, you must be so proud!” And I never know what to say, although I generally stumble on some socially acceptable response. I’m not that dense.

The fact is, I really am proud of all of my children, but not necessarily because of their accomplishments. It’s more because of who they are. I see their accomplishments as rational outcomes of their genetic and environmental influences, one of which is me. I hope that I have not screwed them up irrecoverably.

But I did have one of those “proud” experiences at the hospital. Although I have heard many fascinating stories from her residency, I have never had the opportunity to watch my daughter work. But I did have the opportunity to watch a pediatric resident at work Wednesday night, and the care he took, and the skill he exercised, and his overall thoughtfulness all made me think of my daughter, and I was, indeed, profoundly “proud” of her at that moment.

I have a much better response to that question now. And I’m still proud of all of my children. Not to mention my spouse, who made them the delightful people they are today, in part by providing them with a human habitat to grow up in, as a counterbalance to my rather cyborgian context.

A Fink

Wife and I were talking about people Sunday afternoon as we motored about, and I was reminded of one of my first employers, Mr. E. D. Fink, first name Elmer, but usually called Ed. While in my mid-teens, I cut and raked Mr. Fink’s yard and performed miscellaneous yard work.

Mr. Fink was a shop teacher at Jordan Vocational High School, the cross-town rivals of my alma mater, Columbus High. (That may well have been the beginning of my ambivalent attitude toward athletic rivalries. Who knows?) Mr. Fink was smart, literate, and inventive. He “invented,” designed and manufactured several steel yard devices, including a device to hold a hose spray nozzle in a fixed position so he didn’t have to stand there holding it himself, and a dibble. A dibble is a pointed device for planting seedlings.

One of my most memorable experiences with Mr. Fink was the removal of a huge eleagnus hedge in his back yard. This particular eleagnus consisted of a dozen or so plants at least 15 feet tall, with vegetation about 6 feet thick. To remove it, I had to crawl under the hedge and, carefully avoiding the two-inch long thorns, saw them off at ground level using a bow saw. Once each one was sawn, I wrapped a chain around the base and pulled it out with my Dad’s Bronco. We piled them into a huge pile and burned them. It took two Saturdays, probably about ten hours of work total.

Most of the time at Mr. Fink’s house I was busy working, but occasionally he would take a few minutes to impart some of his philosophical thoughts. They were mostly about a positive work ethic, doing a good job, that kind of thing. One random comment I remember was that he hated to pick up tissues that blew into his yard, because you “never know which end they used them on.”

But the comment that sticks with me the most is the one I recounted to Jayne on Sunday, as we discussed various events and personalities. Part of its charm is the incorrect grammar, which is frequently cute coming from a literate person, and part of it is the “What?” that goes through your mind if you think about it too much. But it works for me in plenty of situations.

Mr. Fink would pause, look me in the eye, grin, and say, “You know, there isn’t nothin’ funnier than folks.”

I need look no further than my own Spock-like reflection in the bathroom mirror to be convinced that he was right.

XXXV

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I was hoping we could keep pretending to be thirty-somethings, but one of our progeny who shall remain anonymous tweeted that we are celebrating the 35th anniversary of our wedding today, so that jig is up.

We have celebrated over the last few days with an appropriately peculiar combination, refinishing a bathroom plus a long weekend of mostly eating out. The bathroom refinishing details are mundane, so I’ll instead focus on the eating. Thursday night was Taqueria Los Hermanos, Friday night it was Greek delicacies at Mykonos Taverna, Saturday morning was one of my spouse’s delicious omelets, and Saturday night was her unique take on a salmon croquette dinner, enhanced by moonlight, candlelight, and cool fall air on the back deck. Sunday morning it was pancakes at the IHOP, Sunday night Italian with our children (including electronic participation from Chicago) at Bambinelli’s, and a final repast Monday morning at R. Thomas’ Grill, one of the cooler and stranger places to eat in Atlanta.

We conspired together to come up with mutually satisfactory gifts, the details of which will have to wait for another time. And she surprised me with a basket of goodies at my office today.

All in all, a most pleasant (and highly caloric) celebration.

MyPad

Monday, October 11th, 2010

A few weeks ago I bought an iPad. This came as a shock to my spouse, who had suggested one as a gift several months ago, and which I declined. I guess it felt too soon. As much as I appreciate the appropriate use of technology, I’m not an early adopter. My wife has a Macbook, and I have a Mac Mini as my personal machine, stashed in an out-of-the-way room that serves as my office and music space. Most of the action in our house happens in the kitchen and den which form one long room. The TV lives there, and it’s where my wife’s laptop spends most of its time.

I thought the iPad would allow me to spend more time in the main living area, rather than having to retreat to my hideaway anytime I wanted to check e-mail or look up an obscure Internet factoid. So the main requirement was that I could type on it, and move the typed information from the iPad to the rest of the world. I also wanted to know whether it would serve as a replacement for a laptop, for example, for my mother-in-law, who is similarly tethered to her iMac.

Before I bought it, I tried one at work to see if I could even type on the soft-keyboard. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked. I have an odd, multiple-finger, hunt-and-peck style developed over years of desperation, but it works fine, thanks in part to the auto-correct function in Notes.

As far as the second question, I decided pretty quickly that it wouldn’t work very well as a laptop replacement. The first thing you see when you power it up is “Connect me to iTunes!” It really is designed to sync with a mother ship. Plus, there are some things the browser just won’t do, like play Flash-based content, or certain transactions involving pop-up windows. There are lots of reasons even a non-techie user needs a main computer. But if your spouse, significant other, roommate, or co-worker has a “real computer” they don’t mind sharing, you might pull it off.

My initial assessment was that the iPad was going to be primarily a content-consuming device. Although I could get my typed text out of the device two different ways (both involving copy-and-paste), there just didn’t seem to be much in the way of creation tools and mechanisms. I mean, the thing doesn’t even expose its file system!

But in short order, I found some tools that allow drawing, crude music creation, and other types of content generation, and I’ve now concluded that, though it will never take the place of a full-fledged computer, I can find plenty of useful things to do with it.

In addition to text-based functions (note-taking, blogging, web site updating), I’ve used it as sheet music (really simplifies page-turning), designed a shelf with it, and created, edited and posted several blogs (including this one). Not to mention worked far too many crosswords (the interface compares favorably with my previous preference, pen and newsprint), seen some amazing pictures, and done very poorly on a racing game (turning the iPad to steer is not my favorite interface, although it seemed really cool the first time or two.)

The day I tossed it into Maybelle for a trip to Athens was the day I realized that I have started thinking of it as a tool rather than a “computer.” It feels more rugged than a laptop, and I can use it for several days without worrying about power. Even though I bought the cheapest model, it is still a little pricey for the average consumer, but, like the other iDevices, I suspect the price will come down and the functionality will go up.

Since I primarily purchased it as a text input device, I have not really been an app hound. Even so, I have already accumulated 17 applications, three of which I paid for. I’ll close by listing the apps more or less in order of how much I use or value them. I’ve included Apple iPad apps (marked with “@”), and the paid ones are marked with their prices. I’ve added a brief comment, explanation, or example where appropriate. If you are not interested in iPad apps, this is a good place to find something more interesting to read, perhaps in my archives 🙂

Notes @ This is my main workhorse. I take meeting notes, jot down ideas, keep a TBD list, just about anything involving text except coding.
Safari @ Despite its shortcomings when I try to do something complex, the Safari browser works well enough to answer most of my inane queries, and occasional crossword cheats.
Mail @ For years I have used the Mac Mail client, and I have it set up to sort mail by sender and type: people in my address book, businesses, organizations, newsletters, etc. The rest go into a folder called “possible spam.” Despite the absence of a similar sorting mechanism on the iPad, I frequently use it to check mail and send replies. Its primary shortcoming is the inability to attach “files” to an e-mail I am sending. (It keeps asking, “What’s a file?”) Other applications, however, do use Mail to send files, such as Adobe Ideas, which sends drawings as PDFs.
Stanza I started using Stanza as a free e-reader on an iPod Touch I used at work. Even though Stanza was bought by Amazon, they have pretty much left it alone. It offers multiple sources for paid and free content, but my favorite function is that I can drag multiple PDF files into it while connected to iTunes. If not connected, I can still e-mail PDFs to myself and open them in Stanza. I have already used it to replace sheet music at a gig, and to display electronic pay stubs and bank statements while balancing accounts in Quicken. The screen resolution is sufficient that it is almost as good as printing them out, without killing so many trees.
NYT Crosswords Note that this free crossword app includes a good sampling of puzzles, but a paid subscription (about $17 annually) gets you access to all puzzles back to October, 1996.
Settings @ I find myself tweaking the brightness at least twice daily – I turn it to minimum so I can read or work puzzles in bed with minimal disturbance of others. Ok, other. Note: if you plan to complete a NYT puzzle in bed, turn down the sound – else your otherwise silent experience (and your domestic tranquility) will be shattered by a raucous victory tune.
Calendar @ I have a method of uploading my personal calendar to our family web site, but it is a multiple-step process, and so I don’t do it regularly. By syncing my iPad calendar (still manual’ but fewer steps) I am more likely to keep current.
FTPOnTheGo $9.99 This is obviously the most expensive app I have purchased, but it is worth it. I maintain several web sites (none for profit, by the way) and this allows me to update them any time I have WiFi coverage. I can also create html pages from scratch, and it has a great keyboard layout, featuring all of the letters and numbers, plus most of the critical special characters, all visible at once.
Contacts @ Unlike my calendar, I have never figured out a good way to manage addresses and phone numbers. I have a Great Idea for an address book, but haven’t built it yet. Someday. Meanwhile, being able to sync contacts from my Mini to my iPad has proven to be a useful substitute.
InCode $2.99 There are times when you don’t want auto-correction. InCode is clean and untarnished. It reminds me of PFE, an ancient Windows Notepad replacement that I put on every computer I use at work. Plus it has its own file system, including folders, and, like Stanza, I can drag and e-mail files into and out of it.
App Store @ Although I’ve only acquired 17 apps, I have searched for scores more, just to see if a particular app exists. In fact that’s my main use of the App Store. It’s like geek window-shopping.
Adobe Ideas shelfThis freebie app is a cool introduction to tablet-based drawing. You can start with a blank canvas, or with a photo, particularly useful if you didn’t get your fill of drawing moustaches on people in elementary school. I actually used this to sketch out a shelf idea I had using some old doors (see image). I used the drawing to make up a materials list, and then built the shelves (see other imagePhoto100). Only this morning did I discover that the limited number of colors it displays is simply a preset palette – I suppose it supports “millions” of colors, although I haven’t actually counted them to make sure.
Guardian Eyewitness This photo stream from the British newspaper is sponsored by Canon. It features 100 striking news photos, a new one every day, and includes the original caption and a photo tip for each picture. Great app.
WordPress My postings live on an instance of WordPress hosted on my wife’s web server, so this is a natural. I don’t use it a lot, but it is nice to have the option.
GTRacing Free I saw this game in the Apple store, and thought it was cool. I play around with it occasionally, but it suffers from the same problem as most video racing games: I can drive a real car without crashing into things – why can’t I drive a video car equally well?
iTunes @ Like the App store, I use this more to look stuff up than to actually purchase, although I do succumb occasionally.
SailX Trainer This is actually an iPhone app. It’s a live sailing strategy game in which you compete against other on-line players. It’s interesting and fun, but I don’t know much about racing strategy, so I mostly watch.
Virtuoso This is the piano application shown on some iPad commercials. I features a duet mode, where two players can play at once. Jayne and I have been practicing Chopsticks in case we are ever called on to play in public.
3D Drum Kit $2.99 I don’t have a drum set at the house, so I thought this would fill that void. Not quite, although when run through headphones or a sound system, it sounds pretty good. I have a minor goal to create a sample jazz duet using the iPad piano, drum kit, and my Mini version of ProTools. Should really rock the house.
C Aquarium Lite This was a “wild hair” acquisition in the middle of a brainstorming session. It took me a couple of hours to figure out how to add fish. (Hint – the fish menu slides up from the bottom.) Mildly amusing.
Picture Frame @ The “Origami” option provides a cool display of selected photos stored on the iPad. Password (if you have set one) not required.
Photos @ Synced from iPhoto; can group by albums, events, or view entire library. No editing functions. Allows more slide show flexibility than the picture frame function.
Planets A cool sky map that uses your location to display what you can see right now. Too bad Atlanta has so much light pollution.
iPod @ I mostly listen to music while donating platelets, for which my old iPod nano is more suited. The iPad speaker is as good as most laptops, but hardly high-fidelity.
Maps @ Works ok, but with only WiFi connectivity, the Map capability is really not available when I might need it, namely lost on some lonely highway. I plan to have a backup map.
Videos @ I loaded a couple of QuickTime movies I created. They work. The video resolution is actually pretty good – 1024 by 768, if memory serves.
YouTube @ I got lost the first time I tried to play a YouTube video and it threw me into this app.
U-verse Since I don’t have U-verse at home yet, I loaded this to try one of our lab installations. Works. Would presumably be more valuable on my own personal account.
iBook @ I haven’t loaded any books into iBook, I guess because Stanza works so well for me. It’s not obvious how I load PDFs into iBook, assuming it is possible.
VLC Video LAN Client is an iPad version of a tool we use regularly at work to convert between, and explore, different video formats. This app just plays video clips loaded through iTunes. I have yet to find much benefit, but that could change, I suppose.
NYorkerAC Plays 20-second animated versions of New Yorker cartoons. Also mildly amusing.

Questions welcome!

Downbeat takeoff, idea festival

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Downbeat takeoff

Yesterday I sat in as substitute bass player for a First church in a nearby town. The leader was a competent young man, obviously trained not only in music, but also in the mechanics of leading a band for a worship service. There were 10 pieces in the band, plus background vocals and a choir, a rather large weekly undertaking. It’s been a while since I played in that context, and a couple of things surprised me. The first was the level of organization. They use a planning web site which includes a complete timetable and an event list for the entire program. The song titles in the list were actually links to a content collection. The collection included an mp3 of the song, and PDF files of all of the arrangements for all parts – keys, guitars, drums and percussion, horns, background vocals, lead sheet, and a complete conductor’s score. No more scratching guitar chords out on a legal pad, or arranging on the fly.

The second thing that amazed me was the level of technology on stage. I sat near the leader’s left hand, with my own digital monitor console to the left, a Bass Floor Pod between my feet, headphones on my head, and an electronic pad displaying the music on a stand in front of me. I was surrounded by sliders, knobs, buttons, and glowing red lights everywhere. There were wireless mikes and in-ear monitors, remote controls and heads-up displays. I felt like a pilot trying to fly a bass guitar.

It all went surprisingly well. I think we made some pretty good music, and I never had to make an emergency landing, although I did have to depend on the autopilot a couple of times.

Idea Festival Redux

In 2004 I attended the third bi-annual Idea Festival in Lexington, KY. It was a fun and intellectually stimulating trip. When I returned, I captured my 100+ pages of notes in a web site that still occasionally comes in handy for personal inspiration. Last Tuesday night my friend Trey loaned me a book he had bought after reading about it on my site. The book is called Extraordinary Knowing, and I’m pretty sure I will have more to say about it when I finish reading. Meanwhile, Trey’s loaning it to me reminded me of the Festival, so I thought I would mention it here. My notes from the festival are at http://iideaco.com/if2004. I was experimenting with web page formatting at the time, so it’s a bit of an odd format. But I think there’s still some cool stuff there for the patient seeker. For a little hint about the book Trey loaned me, see the Saturday entry labeled “The Unconscious, the Uncanny and Coincidence !!”

And if you are at all interested in music, recording, the Beatles, or EMI, don’t miss the George Martin notes. In between the blather of my usual loquacious style are some interesting and fun facts.

I have often been tempted to return to the Idea Festival, which is now held in Louisville. Turns out I just missed this year’s – it ended October 2. Maybe in 2012. Anybody game?

A different gig

It’s now late Monday night, and I meant to finish this posting this morning, but various and sundry events took priority. I just got home from a gig that was the antithesis of the Sunday morning gig. Three-fifths of One Tree Hill played at the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter this evening. (We were missing Bryan and Coby on lead guitar and drums, respectively.) We’ve played there three or four times over the years, and it’s always hard for me to warm up to this gig. The load-in is uncomfortable, there are about 300 homeless guys just sitting around, and lots of (rightfully) suspicious security-type people there managing to maintain order. Sometimes (like tonight) a church will bring food for the guys; other times they just sit. It’s culturally uncomfortable, and the normal difficulties of trying to set up a sound system were amplified (no pun intended) by the darkness, both literal and metaphorical.

But once we got set up and started playing it was a blessed experience, and that is not a term I use lightly. Unlike most of our audiences, the guys had helped us unload the trailer and schlep in the gear, watched us plug in all the wires, go through sound check, troubleshoot the feedback, and then they sat and listened to Patrick’s story and our music. So they have a pretty good picture of the effort we exert to be there. And they seemed to really appreciate it. They clapped, sometimes shouted encouragement, and many of them came up afterwards to thank us.

I always leave tired but energized. Night all.