Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cleaning CDs

The saga of my CD rip continues. Once I'd ripped the entire set to hard disk I thought I was all but done. Foolish me! I'd used a combination of CDEX and WMP to do the rips. CDEX at the start because I'd used it before, WMP later because it downloads Album art if available. Very handy.

Listening to the results I was mostly happy though there were a few rips that just didn't sound all that good; stuttering and various artifacts that weren't there 20 years ago when I bought the CD's.

It didn't take long to establish that the years had taken their toll and there were all kinds of scratches and blemishes. It probably didn't help that for the last three and a half years the CD's have been sitting stacked 50 to a spindle instead of nestling safely within jewel cases.

After some investigation I found that Easy CD-DA Extractor (hereinafter to be known as ECDDA) does a pretty good job of correcting the errors. If I get a single read error in a track and I play the rip back over the affected area I'm damned if I can hear it. But don't forget you're reading the guy who rips in WMA format at 96 kbit/s because I can't hear any difference between that format and the higher ones. It sounds good to me!

Of course ECDDA couldn't cope with everything! Life couldn't be that simple could it? Nearly four hours into a rip of Karl Tennstedt's recording of Mahlers Second Symphony, at 10 percent ripped and a read speed of 0.004x, I gave it up and hit the cancel button.

Well bugger! I happen to like that particular performance and it's way out of print. A secondhand copy might be better than mine but who knows? So I did a bit of investigation and found a machine from Digital Innovations that purports to repair scratched and damaged CDs. They have two models; one is hand cranked, 'tother is battery operated. I chose the hand cranked model. When I get to the point that I can't wind a handle it'll be time to take me out behind the woodshed and shoot me.

I'll note that the battery operated model wants 6 AA cells. If the amount of effort the hand cranked model requires is anything to go by I reckon those cells would be exhausted at the end of a single repair cycle!

So I read the instructions, chose a suitably damaged and grubby CD (the aforementioned Mahler 2nd, disk 1), sprayed the solution liberally on and gave it a whirl. Felt quite silly doing it! But at the end of the process (it takes maybe 2 minutes) when I tried to rip the CD again it worked a charm!

Whilst most CDs in the first rip sounded just fine I decided it was well worth the trouble to redo the rip, using ECCDA and paying anal attention the MP3 tags. (Thanks Stuart)[^]. You were absolutely right! I now have album art for almost my entire collection (makes it much easier in WMP11 to find that CD you want to listen to right now!) and when I do a search for Camille Saint-Saens Wedding Cake Waltz I can find it within seconds by typing 'Cam' into the search box. Sure beats the heck out of going through a rack of CDs looking for it!

On the other hand, I could count on the thumbs of one foot the number of times in the last 15 years that I've wanted to find Camille Saint-Saens Wedding Cake Waltz!

Even with ECDDA and the CD scratch repairer there are one or two CDs stubborn enough to fail to rip correctly! Bastards! :-) So I tried the second level. Scrubbed the suckers with toothpaste! That rescued all but two; on one of em I could see the scratch from the label side meaning it's a deep scratch indeed and I suspect that CD is past redemption. I can't see any obvious reason why the second one failed to respond. *shrug*

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


My friend Laura at Sorrow at Sills Bend[^] has started, in conjunction with a few others, an Australian Literary Blog[^].

I'm probably pushing the definition of friend here but she did give me a virtual Christmas present last time around. I'll probably never meet her or even correspond with her but I enjoy reading her writings.

She asked for a plugarama for the new site and I'm delighted to give it one. I quite enjoyed the faux obituary for one 'Roger Saint-Douche', the noted French Philospher and manual self-stimulator!

She promises that From my point of view one of the many excellent things about having a blog like Sarsaparilla about is that I will no longer feel constrained to write half-sensible posts about books and movies here at Sills Bend and can turn it over entirely to fluffy dancing baby animals, food, Ken Russell, perfectly good stuff dug out of bins, the price of things, etc. Hooray!

Those are the kinds of blogs I enjoy the most and anyone who shares my enthusiasm for Ken Russell movies (even if she's too young to have seen them in first run) deserves the pathetic plugarama I can give!

Laura? Was that enthusiastic enough? Not too over the top? :-)

Arizona Voter Registration

Responding to yesterdays post about being badgered at the library Harold posted a link to Maricopa County Elections Department
Registration and Voting Information

Fascinating information that just *has* to be wrong! Following the New Voter Registration Information[^] link we discover that, as anticipated, one must be a citizen of the US in order to vote or to register to vote. Exactly as I'd expect.

The document goes on to define what constitutes satisfactory evidence of United States Citizenship. One must have one of the following (their emphasis). I'm not going to copy the entire list, just the one that leaps out as manifestly incorrect.

An Arizona driver’s license number (or copy of the license) or non-operating identification license number (or copy of the identification license), issued after 10/01/1996.

Guess what? I've got an Arizona driver's license, issued after 10/01/1996.

So I showed the page to my wife and she expressed similar incredulity. 'Oh' she said, grasping at a possible solution 'does the license show citizenship?'.

A reasonable question given that the second item on the list reads

A driver’s license or non-operating identification license from another state that identifies United States Citizenship..

But nope, the Arizona license doesn't. Just to be sure we compared licenses and the only things that differ are the things one would expect to differ between two different people; photo, height, age etc. There's nothing on Sonya's license to identify her as a US Citizen and nothing on mine to identify me as not being one.

Just to be sure I downloaded the voter registration form and there's the out. A requirement that one declares that one is indeed a US Citizen.

I suppose that if someone goes to the trouble of obtaining a valid Arizona drivers license they're unlikely to falsely declare US Citizenship merely in order to register to vote but it does seem as though there are some holes in the identification system. Does someone from the Maricopa County Recorder go back through DMV to get the Social Security number and then verify that with the Social Security Administration to be sure that person is a citizen?

Actually, this ties in with something else that I've wondered about for a while. I've been to Mexico a couple of times with my wife and when we return all she shows is her drivers license. The border people ask something along the lines of 'are you US citizens?' As a legal immigrant I'm not about to start lying to immigration people; that way deportation lies. So on both occasions I showed my passport and greencard. Fortunately that was before the great greencard debacle of 2005[^] and I was waved through after half a minute. Nowadays I wouldn't try crossing the US/Mexico border heading north for all the tea in China until I have a US passport and even then I'll be nervous about the outcome for the first half dozen times!

So why, I wonder, do federal employees enforcing federal law accept state identification? I reckon if I was prepared to keep my mouth shut and just present my license they'd let me cross no questions asked.


Once we'd half done with the script[^] and chosen the major locations it was time to think about the logistics. We'd thought about logistics as the script took shape but at that time it was more in the nature of 'can we shoot this?'. Now it was 'how can we shoot this?'.

I imagine if you're paying the big bucks to professional actors and film crews it's pretty simple to get them onto a location but since we hadn't the big bucks to spend it was a little more complicated. It wasn't that we had prima donnas to deal with. What we had to deal with was a bunch of friends who each had their own obligations to family.

Whilst, back in 1975, we might have been able to commit at a moments notice to a shoot things were somewhat different by 1990. The world might not have changed all that much but each individuals life had.

Thus much planning. If you've never worked on a movie you might imagine that it's shot in sequence. It isn't. All scenes at location A are shot the same day or week as required, no matter the order they appear in the final movie. A pretty obvious thing to point out I fear but it's amazing how many people don't realise it.

So Heino, Robin and I sat down and made some hard decisions. The first thing we needed was a firm committment from each actor and that meant we had to outline the worst possible case. There are insurance companies that make a good living by insuring film projects against actors who abandon a project half way through, or who die. Imagine the cost to the producers of 'The Lord of The Rings' if Elijah Wood had died halfway through!

We didn't have insurance but neither did we have many millions of dollars invested; nonetheless we wanted to be sure that if Dave played Festering Wound on the first day of shooting he'd be there to play the same role on the last day of the shoot.

The best way to ensure that was to fit in with his schedule. What holidays did he have planned for the next year? Then on to Annie, the girl who played the female lead; same considerations. By the time we'd factored everyone's schedules in (allowing for the Australian work year and public holidays) we had a pretty reasonable set of shooting dates. Not impossible by any means.

We had a few people drop out. My youngest sister Deb had wanted to play the female lead but she realised that she hadn't the time. As she said 'I thought it was going to be just like 1975' but it turned out not to be. She was pregnant with her daughter (the only child of my family in my generation). So if Deb couldn't be the female lead we found a role for her anyway; this movie was going to have as many of us from 1975 as we could accomodate. Deb did the studio introduction!

A Dave who had been in the original Scarless Movie[^] decided at the last minute that what he had been prepared to do in 1975 was no longer something he could do in 1990. A pity; he'd been a fun companion in 1975 but if he didn't want to then he didn't want to and that was the end of it.

We found new actors and the first shoot drew closer!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Visiting the library

is always fun. I've been visiting libraries all my life and indeed one regret I have is of having walked past the New York Public Library on 42nd Street one Sunday afternoon and NOT walking in. I hope I'll have the opportunity some time of correcting that particular lapse of judgement.

There's something about walking into a library, especially a familiar one, and smelling the books and knowing that over there are the dictionaries, over there the catalogue and thataway are the novels.

The first public library I joined was the Footscray one, located on Buckley Street Footscray, just up the road from the public baths and Harry Hanks pawnshop. I think I've already mentioned it but I faced the most incredible opposition to my joining from Misery Guts; he was concerned that I'd lose a book and he'd have to pay for it. Much pleading on my behalf by Mum and eventually he relented and I became a proud member. For the record I never lost a single book and the only cost he incurred by my being a member was the cost he incurred anyway by being a ratepayer!

I waited until my greencard arrived before joining the Phoenix Public Library. Not a long wait; the card was in my hot little hand two weeks after I arrived in the US. Got my social security card within 7 days of filling out the paperwork (and that was done the day after I arrived).

Libraries have changed a bit since I was a kid. Back then they dealt with books and newspapers and that was pretty much it. Not so these days! The Phoenix Public Library has about 9000 DVD's, an unchecked upon because I don't care number of VHS tapes and 15000 CD's in addition to the books and newspapers aforesaid! Add in the maps and directories and you're talking a pretty considerable body of catalogued knowledge!

The internet may be a great resource which I use frequently but there's still nothing quite like holding a real, bound, book in your hands! There's also the question of just which pages from a search can be relied upon.

There's one big difference I've noticed visiting the Phoenix library compared to my memories of Australian libraries. I'm assuming this isn't unique to the Phoenix library. Most days there are people sitting outside the entrance to my local branch with a card table set up, pushing either a petition or a voting register. As we approach the mid term elections in November it's going to get worse! :-)

For a while there I was badgered during each approach; was I registered voter? Uh no, I'm not even a citizen yet. I note that once or twice that objection has been brushed aside as irrelevant. One of the questions they ask in the naturalisation petition is 'Have you ever registered to vote in any Federal, state or local election in the United States?' (Part 10, A 2). Although I've seen some very vague references to non citizens being able to vote in local elections I've never been able to track down the specifics. If you think I'm silly enough to register to vote when I don't believe I'm eligible then let's talk financing for a cold fusion project!

As my hair grew longer the badgering decreased. This is a red state; should I draw an inference that Republicans don't like long haired middle aged men?


The world is full of isms. From Totalitarianism to Republicanism to Catholicism to Capitalism to Antidisestablishmentarianism. Most of em pretty public and the source of much angst in one way or another.

Fortunately there's another kind of ism. Andrewisms are the most common; this is when Andrew says something really really dumb and only realises it after we've laughed at him. Tonights was when he opened the freezer and noticed a frozen chicken.

He's off to Boy Scout camp in about 3 hours from now - at 5 AM! Hey, I told you I was a night owl!

So he glanced into the freezer and said 'you're having pork while I'm away? What's up with that?'

Given that I went to the supermarket with my wife this arvo and I knew we had purchased neither pork nor pork byproducts I was a trifle puzzled.

'Are you sure you're seeing pork?' I asked. He assured us he was!

So I took a look and was forced to admit that that was the most chicken like pork I'd ever seen. Sheepish grin;

'I thought it was pork!' he said.

'Uh huh' I replied. 'When was the last time you saw pork drumsticks? Pork wings? Pork thighs and pork breasts? Come to think of it, wouldn't buffalo rashers be a good idea? Indeed I'd posit that what we're looking at isn't pork at all'.

I can lay it on thick at times :-)

We also have Morganisms though those are rather rarer. The odd Shelbyism and even a Sonyaism or two. Naturally there's no such thing as a Robism! :-)

Gotta hand it to him though; as sheepish as he feels after the event he doesn't hold a grudge against us for the laughter!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Writing a script

A few weeks ago I mentioned the birth of a movie[^].

That was the high level view. Robin, Heino and I spent maybe 6 months on the script and argued for hours about the exact wording of a line. Since we had a limited budget we had to be sure that a location was available and 'looked' right; no money to build a set. Consequently we spent many a weekend afternoon driving around Melbourne championing this location over that; arguing and compromising, acting out scenes to see if they worked.

Heino was the professional working in the industry and I had little difficulty accepting his arguments for or against specific locations. In much the same way that I look at a programming problem and can 'see' the code in my head I imagine he looks at a location and 'sees' camera angles and sight lines and lighting.

I'll admit that I did relinquish the odd location with regrets but when it came time for the shoot it turned out that he was right.

We have some footage shot by Robin of our location scouting. One in particular that sticks in my head was shot on May 26 1990 at Angliss Park in West Footscray, less than a mile from where I eventually bought a house[^]. By coincidence this was the same park I ran through on the only occasion I ever won a race[^]! It wasn't a park then. It was waste ground!

The script at that point called for the villains to emerge from a drain, closely followed by Scarless and the gang. We had the drain so we wanted to see how it could be shot. Heino acted it out as he saw it, having placed us where he'd have placed the camera for a real shoot.

He emerged from the drain, clambered over some rocks and up a slope on the other side of the creek from us. At exactly the same moment two terriers sighted him and went for the attack. Loud buggers yapping and yelping as only that most annoying of dogs, the terrier, can, and completely unexpected. Heino turned and ran back, terriers snapping at his heels. Well it was funnier than that explanation makes it seem! :-)

I'd be lying if I said it was hard work. Well no, not lying, but not telling the complete truth either. It was hard work but it was also a lot of fun planning it all out and imagining how our movie would look.

We'd started planning in January. By the end of May we had enough of the script finalised that it was time to stop futzing around and start planning the shoot itself!

I must be getting acclimated

They say that you can easily pick the Arizonan; he's the one who will park half a mile away to be sure his car's in the shade.

Thus, today when parking at the local public library I, without even thinking about it automatically headed for the parking space under the tree.

Heck, it's not even all that warm today; a mere 92 F or so. That's almost chilly this time of year :-)

We've still got some time to go before we reach 'a hundred at midnight'. That's when you know it's warm!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

All good things must come to an end

I suppose :-)

Today I had to buy a carton of cigarettes. Nothing much remarkable in that if you're a smoker except that this is the first carton I've had to buy in about six months. To be sure, I have been smoking during all that time. As the Americans say, nobody likes a quitter which is enough reason not to quit :-)

But seriously, we've had a lot of people, most of them non-smokers, travelling to the Philippines so I asked them to bring me back cartons of smokes. It costs, in US dollars, roughly the same to buy a single pack here or a whole carton there. Thus I had a steady stream of ciggies coming in from overseas and all, so far as I can tell, completely legal.

Today I finally cracked the last pack in the last carton. Oh, the horror! All day I debated the question in even the most dedicated smokers mind; should I stop smoking? And, as all smokers do, I rationalised. The new baby (not mine) is due this week or the next. I even made it all the way home, knowing I had only a dozen smokes left, without buying the new carton.

I walked into chaos. Sometime this afternoon Morgan decided to rearrange her room; the reason given was to make it easier to cope with a baby living up there with her. But, being Morgan, nothing would do but she had to make it into the ultimate histrionic performance complete with fits of tears and the vomiting up of the entire contents of her room into the rest of the apartment.

Thus boxes and shoe racks and piles of clothing strewn throughout the kitchen and living room. That might not sound so bad until you learn that she'd blocked off all paths leading to anywhere but her own room!

I'm disinclined to be all that forgiving where she's concerned; she used up her credit with me years ago so maybe I'm being unreasonable, but when I have to move a dozen boxes full of assorted crap before I can safely essay the stairs down to our bedroom I think she's pushed her luck rather too far.

She pushed it a lot further. We went out to dinner, my wife and I. Cooking with the kitchen in the state it was would have been an exercise in living dangerously; you really do need a clear path from stove to sink.

All of which is a thin justification that I know doesn't pass muster for buying a carton of smokes. Thin or not the smokes were purchased and I'm half way through the second ciggy out of that carton as I type.

When we came home from an unhurried dinner it seemed no progress had been made.

Of course not; Morgan has no reason to consider the convenience of others. Thus it was that at midnight she was still moving furniture and boxes around. Mom had retired at 11 but was unable to sleep. Did she think it had anything to do with the noise coming from the room above ours?

I reckon you could more easily pull the teeth from the jaws of a conscious tiger than you could get Mom to admit that the little princess gets on her wick! And it would certainly be safer to attempt the dental work than to attempt the confession!

So I played hardball. If the couch I sit upon when I watch TV is piled high with the refuse of her room and she hasn't bothered to ask me ahead of time I'll make waves. Some stern words to the effect that if it wasn't cleared along with a path from the rest of the apartment to the couch by my usual time for settling in had their effect. She knows I'm perfectly capable of carrying her stuff to the rubbish bin! I've done it before and I'll do it again if need be.

Oh well, at least the little princess provides me with the perfect excuse to keep on smoking! Whatever shall I do when she finally moves out? Oh yeah, I know, I'll enjoy the peace and quiet and lack of drama. I may even need to watch some soap operas[^].

Friday, May 26, 2006

Life sentence

Sometime in 1958 or 1959 my mothers younger sister came down with a muscular disease. I was far too young at the time to be taken into the adults confidence even if they had known what it was.

Helen found herself confined first to a hospital bed and eventually to an iron lung at about age 22. To be honest I really don't know when Helen was born; the subject never came up. But if she was mum's younger sister I'm guessing that 22 or so is about the right age. Come to think of it, I don't know the ages let alone the birthdates of my mum's other siblings.

I don't remember Helen in health; my earliest memories of her are of taking the tram in the company of Mum and Gran to the city and thence to the hospital on a visit to 'poor Aunt Helen'. The really sad thing is I can't even remember the name of the hospital even though I do remember it's exact location, just south of the Yarra on St Kilda Road; it was decommissioned as a hospital about 15 years ago and remodelled into an upmarket apartment building. The Prince Albert rings a bell but I wouldn't swear to it.

It's a vivid memory to this day of sitting on a stairwell in that building in 1959. It must have been summertime; it was warm and Mum wanted to smoke a ciggy. I can see the fire doors that slammed slowly shut with a sound of finality. I can see Helen in her bed, pillows propping her up, tubes depending from her arms, another up her nose and I can see the aeroplane flying across the Melbourne sky that I spotted from the window and that captivated my interest more. Such is what a 5 year old notices!

After that not many memories of Helen until about 1964 when we would visit her most Sundays at Fairfield hospital. A row of people down both sides of the ward, each confined in their own iron lung. A strange sight! Overlarge coffins each with a head poking out the end. Mirrors positioned so that each person could see the single TV located in the ward. The wheeze of pumps doing the work that the diaphragm in a healthy person does without that person even noticing!

Helen didn't only live at Fairfield; in her better months she could go home. My grandparents had an iron lung installed and Helen would spend hours alternating between a semblance of our normal life and the confinement of the machine.

She had a metal thingy installed in her throat. I don't know the correct medical term (Keryn? Enlighten me?) to help her breath. If it was open so she could breath it was impossible to understand speech; if she blocked it with a finger as she often did to help her speak it made it merely difficult to understand. I hope you don't read that as badly as I feel about it now. But I was about 10 years old and didn't understand. I remember conversations that would have taken a minute without the disability that were prolonged to over ten minutes and I fear that I was impatient. She wasn't, she couldn't afford to be.

She died in September 1986. That would make her a little younger than I now am. I hadn't seen her for maybe 15 years at the time of her death and I didn't see her during the final crisis. I wish I had but regrets are easy. I'm told that she converted to the Roman Catholic faith in her later years.

I once saw a photograph of my aunt aged about 19. She was a beautiful girl.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A job interview

Today is the second anniversary of my interview with the company I still work for. Nothing much remarkable about that; I've worked for a few companies in my time but this is and was my first American job!

You know that I've worked for Hewlett Packard and Unisys, both American companies, but those were the Australian subsidiaries and no matter how much they may have disliked it they had to comply with Australian industrial law. I won't comment too much on the new Australian industrial legislation, Workchoices. All I know about it was read on Australian news websites plus some commentary from Heino but I have to say that it certainly sounds draconian!

The first impression wasn't good but, having been in the job market for a year and a half with nary a bite I wasn't in a position to be choosy. Maybe 3 months after I started with em I was sent on my second trip to The Philippines, on the usual 3 hour notice. So fast in fact that the travel advance cheque wasn't ready when I got on the plane. No biggie, my wife could drive down to Tempe and pick it up.

As she told me 40 or so days later, when they'd finally allowed me to come home; 'it's not a very impressive office'. All she'd seen was the reception area and I had to tell her that she'd seen the best of it! It went downhill from there. A month of so later she saw the rest of the office and she had to agree I'd been gentle in my comments.

That was the old building; we've been in the new one half a year.

So back to the interview. I'd applied online for the job and got back an email saying ring such and such a number. Talking to them they intimated that I could have the interview anytime I liked tomorrow. You've probably worked out that I'm a night owl so naturally I went for early afternoon. 2 PM with the hint that it'd probably take a half hour or so.

It took over 3 hours! A good sign; if the interview is prolonged to the point that they wheel you into the big bosses office for an impromptu (from his point of view) chat that means they reckon you're hot!

I've had interviews where they bounce you around between this low-level manager and that one. No one willing to bite the bullet and say yea or nay. But if a prolonged beyond endurance interview encompasses someone with real power that's a good sign!

Our big boss is Indian and he tried to sieze upon what he thought would be a common thread between me, the Australian in the US and he, the Indian in the US. What did I think of the chances for the Australian cricket team? I reckon I must have been the first Australian he'd met who couldn't have cared less. Certainly the expression on his face when I expressed that sentiment was comical in the extreme!

One of the other guys who interviewed me had apparently flown in the previous day from Korea and was on the plane back there the day after tomorrow, so I don't blame him for yawning all the way through the interview!

Two years down the track I reckon this could still become a reasonable job but I've had a lot of smoke blown up my skirt to say nothing of the grief caused by Ed. Fortunately Ed is in the past but the smoke remains.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It's official

I have now heard everything!

As I was driving home tonight I was listening to KFNX Phoenix. I prefer KTAR but this time of year they do baseball coverage every single night. Since I think I'd rather have the skin on my forearms removed with a heavy rasp than listen to baseball pre-game coverage I switched to my preferred comedy channel. Nope, not comedy central. I prefer my comedy heavily ironic and Michael Savage[^] is perfect. I can't take him seriously no matter how hard I try.

I note that I'd rather have the skin on my..., well we've done that mental image, rather than listen to ANY sports broadcast whether it be here in the US or in Australia or anywhere else in the world.

At 7PM Savage was muted for the news. Almost lost in the noise was this gem. It seems that someone or other has got up a petition for an amendment to the state constitution to be voted on during the November election. What is this amendment you ask?

For each statewide election, held each two years, every Arizona voter who actually bothers to vote will be entered into a lottery. The lottery will pick a single name and that person will win a million dollars!

Well I suppose that's one way to get people to the ballot!

You understand that having grown up in one of the few countries of the world where one has to attend a polling place on pain of a small fine for non attendance I'm well into the habit of voting. Of course, having had one's name marked off on the roll it's entirely up to one whether to record a valid vote or not. There's no one standing over your shoulder in an Australian polling booth watching who you vote for!

I won't have the vote by the November elections this year but I hope to have the vote for the next Presidential election. You can be assured that I will vote neither because I hope to win a million bucks (though that'd be nice) or because someone will fine me 50 bucks.

I will vote because I will (hopefully by then) have the right to vote. Maybe if a few more Americans took their democratic heritage seriously and truly understood it there'd be no need for a million dollar incentive.

Getting cocky ain't I! :-)


I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, mostly on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) though I have caught a few on American Movie Classics (AMC). They're both somewhat repetive - I despair of ever catching Robinson Crusoe on Mars[^] or The Adding Machine[^] on either yet they keep on playing 'The Silence of the Lambs' and 'Whatever happened to Baby Jane'. Both pretty good movies but is it possible to watch them a dozen times a year and not go insane?

Having two tuners in my HTPC (Home Theatre PC) means I've never yet had to resolve a conflict of desire about which program to record. I can have both whilst watching a third already recorded!

The move to an HTPC really changes the way one treats the idiot box. Instead of being a slave to it it becomes a slave to me! Some judicious keyword recording setup and suddenly it's serving up the James Cagney and Busby Berkely movies I want to see without me even having to check the program guide.

Heino uses his digital recorder to capture the news; it means he no longer has to push the envelope to get home in time and he can be relaxed when he does get home ten minutes after the news starts, knowing that he can catch up at leisure.

I have future recording settings in place in case a Byron Haskins movie ever crops up. If it ain't Robinson Crusoe on Mars I'll give it a five minute watch and either be drawn in or delete!

Life is good!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I apologise if recent posts seem to be fixated on classical music but I've been rediscovering it and naturally my thoughts are much on the subject.

Not only rediscovering however; also discovering. In this case a composer I'd heard of 30 years ago but had never investigated. Sounds a bit like FBI security clearances but it ain't. It just happens that Arnold Shoenberg wasn't much pushed by the World Record Club. Or if he was I didn't notice!

I recently discovered a long forgotten 2 CD purchase, a recording of Gurrelieder[^]. I must have given it at least one listen the night I brought it home but if I did it passed me by. How is it possible that I could have listened to this music and not remember it?

According to who you read on the net or in scholarly treatises this is either the start of the 'new music' or the last gasp of the 'old music'. Composed in 1900 in sketch but not completed in orchestration until 1911 it certainly occurs at about the right time for such hyperbole.

You're scratching your head about now; what the heck is he raving on about this time? New music in 1900? Uh huh. I'm sure you've heard of so and so's symphony in C major. Or a symphony in D Minor. All of which means that the music was written in a particular 'framework'[^] for lack of a better word.

Almost all rock and pop music can be said to be in a 'key' and you can tell if it is because you can almost always predict 'in your head' where a new and unfamiliar work is going to go.

Which isn't to say that such music is predictable; it needn't be. You just know that this particular chord is going to follow that one because it 'feels' right.

I remember when I was about 7 years old watching a movie whose name is long since forgotten, where people sat around listening to someone playing on the piano. It was the typical po faced representation of people listening to classical music; I think it was something by Chopin. I remember asking my grandmother if the people in the movie had memorised the music; they seemed so sure that each note played was the 'right' note.

Listening to the odd live performance since then where a clarinetists reed gives up the ghost at exactly the wrong time has taught me better. One just knows when the 'wrong' note has been played.

About 1900 the world of 'serious' music was turned on its head by many of my favourite composers because they stopped taking the obvious chord progressions; they started using tonal combinations that were against 'the rules'. I imagine bearded and bespectactled professors disapproving and marking down accordingly.

The really interesting thing about the 'new' music, that of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern et al, is that once you've listened to it a while it's pretty easy to predict 'in your head' where an unfamiliar piece in that style is going to go.

Which, I imagine, proves that even if one eschews the idea of 'key' it's still not easy to come up with something totally new.

A new kitten

A week or so ago the freeloader brought a kitten home with him. Geeze even I'm starting to use the word 'home' in conjunction with the freeloader. He and Morgan colluded to bring the kitten into the house without our knowledge.

Yeah right; so we're going to cast a kitten out when the freeloader is still abusing our hospitality? I know which I'd choose.

It's difficult to conceal a kitten; the little buggers are full of curiousity and you need vigilance far beyond Morgans powers to prevent em escaping into the rest of the house.

Morgan of course claimed proprietorship of the new kitten. Morgan has much to learn; you never own a cat.

Morgan is champing at the bit to move out into her own apartment and you'd better believe I'm all for that. The minor detail of who is going to pay the rent hasn't occurred to her yet. We, Morgan, Mum, Andrew and I, had a discussion a couple of months ago where we made it clear that the cats that live with us live with us. Morgan isn't going to be taking any of our cats with her; they know each other and they are happy here.

A week later and the newest member of our cat population has been accepted by Ginger (he's a remarkably placid cat), grudgingly accepted by Kitten (my cat) and as for Roo? She runs whenever the little one appears! What a wuss!

Last night we dined on roast beef sangers (sandwiches). A pound or so of very thinly sliced roast beef purchased at the local deli and some bread rolls. Add a little dijon mustard, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and you're talking a dish fit for a king! My wife insists on 'french dip' to accompany. Unfortunately, due to cultural differences, her idea of french dip and mine are not the same. What she means is 'a jus'; what I mean is a dip made of cream cheese, onions and garlic. I suspect that neither of us is thinking of anything even remotely french, especially when my wife's 'french dip' was made from a stock cube!

But if I've been married thrice and my wife four times and we're still happily married that means we've learned to let each other do the dietary things that feel right. Sonya can make 'french dip' as she wants and if I don't dip my roll in it that's ok with her!

Came midnight or thereabouts and I was feeling a trifle peckish. With a little left over roast beef in the fridge and a spare roll or two it was the work of a moment to make myself an encore meal.

The new kitten rushed up wanting to know what was happening. As one does I took a couple of pieces of roast beef out of the roll and fed em to her. 'Mmmmm' was her reaction; 'I like that'. Two mouthfuls of the roll left and an importunate kitten! Quite the moral dilemma. I compromised; the new kitten got two more mouthfuls of roast beef and I had two mouthfuls of roll with a little beef flavouring.

Last mouthful gone on both sides it was now time to convince new kitten that all good things come to an end. She wasn't convinced and the fact that my fingertips smelled of roast beef didn't help. She licked em at first but, lacking experience of the world, her enthusiasm got the better of her. Good thing I've had the tutelage of dozens of kittens in my time; her first attempt to bite my fingertips off was her last! :-)

If and when Morgan ever moves out I suspect that new kitten will be so firmly a part of our cat family that it would be cruel to allow her to accompany Morgan. A fight with Morgan will be nothing new!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The naivety of youth

On Friday we drove to Flagstaff.

A week ago my wife announced she'd be spending the night there; Shelby lives in Flagstaff and with her wedding a scant five weeks away there were a thousand details to be looked into and after.

I won't deny that the thought of spending a night in the same house as Morgan without my wife present filled me with horror but the idea that it'd be nice to get away from Phoenix with my wife was also quite attractive! The icing on the cake was the idea of taking a day away from the office without having to climb into a plane!

So we took my car. Heaven forbid that Morgan should find herself without transport and, given that I have steadfastly refused to let her drive mine, it happened that we took mine so that the little princess should have Mum's available.

My car is great for city driving but it wasn't designed for high speed interstate highways. We were doing 75 MPH up I17 and bowling along like there was no tomorrow, until we hit the uphill haul around Black Canyon City. A mile or so into that upward slope and we were down to 50 and slowing! A roadside sign warns the unwary driver to turn his air conditioning off for the next 5 miles to avoid overheating. If it's felt necessary to put such a sign up in Arizona you know we're talking serious uphill!

On the other hand, filling the tank costs about 22 bucks!

But we got there pretty much on time nonetheless. It probably helped that my wife knows a lot better than I do when she can afford to speed and when she can't. She claims not to have ever attracted a speeding ticket whilst showing a respect for the speed limit that borders on the negligent!

So we arrived in Flagstaff to spend a congenial weekend eating, drinking and preparing for the forthcoming wedding. As the lowly step-father I have no especial role save that of being the cheerful bastard with a funny accent and long hair who will smile and enjoy the evening I've helped pay for.

Matt, poor bastard, showed all the symptoms of a man drowning under a mountain of unexpected detail. Matt, is of course, the bridegroom and a helluva nice guy. 24ish and imagining that having proposed and been accepted it's a done deal. It is of course but he, having no siblings whatever to have preceded him through the process, had no idea what lay in store for him!

Hence the sight of a man chafing at the discussion of whether there should be 4 dozen roses or 6 dozen! By the time they'd spent three hours discussing the weighty question of whether the centrepiece on each table should sit on a mirror or not I reckon he was about fit to chew his own arm off! Perhaps I exaggerate the lapse of time but I don't exaggerate the reaction!

Then came the discussion of the timing immediately following the ceremony itself. Matt flatly refused to believe that the wedding photos could take as much as an hour to snap.

I've been there, done that and he knows it. Nonetheless, he still doesn't believe that he'll be posed and that infinite pains will be taken over getting just the right composition.

Not being the groom and having some little experience of this I took the precaution of taking along my reading glasses and a book. I got through 300 pages of 'The Pickwick Papers'!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

On the dangers of buying too much music

Nope; not a cautionary tale about allowing a teenager to use ones debit card to purchase music from iTunes. Not at all. Andrew's actually been very restrained; to the extent of asking 'is it better to spend 99 cents for one tune or 10 dollars for the album?'. To which the only sane answer is, well do you want just one tune from the album or do you want the whole album?

I'm told that it's common these days for an album to consist of the two good tunes that get airplay to tempt the listener and ten crappy ones; at least that's the common refrain that arises in any discussion about musical piracy from the pro camp. I wouldn't know. Most of the albums I buy are a complete symphony or whatever and it would defeat the purpose to think of a symphony as a collection of three, four, five or six tunes.

I'd note that here in Arizona the '99' cents for a download from iTunes actually costs $1.08 including tax but who apart from me even thinks of that?

In early December 1974, having just won a composition competition and with the prospect of not just hearing but conducting my first symphony less than a month away, I was working at a small radio/TV repair shop in St. Albans, an inner western suburb of Melbourne.

The boss was a pretty nice guy even if he did tip the local newspaper off; a reporter complete with photographer descended one afternoon and insisted on a shot of me reaching into the back of a TV set. The story ran with the caption (so far as I remember) 'Rob is a young genius'. The interview itself is mercifully forgotten; I fear I was rather more than somewhat full of myself. There are those who would, even to this day, opine that not a lot has changed!

As for why I was reaching into the back of the TV? I imagine the photographer was hard put to come up with any kind of relevant hook given the lack of musical instruments in the workshop.

Of course I bought ten copies of the local newspaper! So did Mum. I have no recollection of what happened to my copies of the front page article and photo but I know Mum's were lost in the 1983 bushfires. There's a distant possibility my youngest sister still has a yellowed copy but I doubt it.

The day after I was interviewed I was repairing a radio. Pretty easy work if you can get it and it didn't take long to track down the fault. I tuned it to 3AR Melbourne (now called Radio National) and heard the most wonderful violin concerto. As I've always done when I hear some new work that I like I listened to the end to discover who and what it was. I imagine we all have at one time or another and it doesn't sound like much if you're talking a 3 minute pop song but it's somewhat more difficult to manage if it's a 35 minute violin concerto, especially if you factor in the notorious unreliability of newspaper listings. Half the time they listed 'Concerto presented by Douglas Hofstaedter*' or some such generic listing.

Came the end and the all important credit; it was Aram Khachaturian's[^] Violin Concerto. Note made I went out and bought a copy. Enjoyed it immensely! What a pity that a few weeks later I found that I'd already purchased a copy at least a year earlier, as part of my World Record Club membership and had completely forgotten it. On the other hand, I enjoy hearing different performances of favourite works; I have three different performances of Mahlers 6th. Each has its merits and it's defects. Of course, in 1974 I still had to learn that little truth about music.

*Deliberate malattribution.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Political music

If such a thing really exists. It's always struck me that we humans put far too much energy into politics and if we were to divert that energy to really useful things we might be a trifle better off. But that's a classic 'motherhood and apple pie' statement and about as useful an observation as that the sky is blue. It may be true but it doesn't move us any further toward 'the ideal society'.

As a statement it also contains the seeds of it's own politics. 'Really useful things'? What are those? Can you and I agree or do we play politics?

And so it is that how the taxpayers dollar is spent becomes the object of a tug of war. Does it get spent on defence? Or on health care? How many dollars should be extracted from each taxpayer.

Do we invest in the future and if the future which future? The next election or the next generation? What if I'm the voter and I'm old enough that I won't be around in the next generations time?

Or do we go to war on some other country for whatever expedient reason presents itself at the time?

Wow, deepish philosphy from someone who usually writes about the superficial detail of life! :-)

All thoughts brought about by listening, after a gap of nearly 30 years, to Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, 'The Leningrad'.

Overtly political music; it was written during the siege of Leningrad and touted to the world as the Triumph of Soviet Spirit in the face of terrible opposition[^].

The first Shostakovich I heard was his 5th Symphony in 1971. I well remember buying a second hand RCA recording at a trash and treasure market in Flemington, reading the cover notes and listening intently. Among other things the cover notes quoted Shostakovich as having written, in 1937, that this symphony was 'A Soviet artist's reply to just criticism'[^]. You understand that at that time I had no idea of the significance of the year 1937[^] in Soviet Politics.

Nope, all I heard in the safety of 1971 Melbourne, a time when the Gulag system was dragging it's weary way to an end, to be replaced by 'committment to mental insitutions', was some rousing music. You'll recall that in Solzhenitsyn's 'Gulag Archipelago' he writes of an occasion during 1950 when he was present at a roll call of new prisoners; in addition to name and number they had to call out their release date. 1971, 1973, 1975, each with a 'quarter' instead of the 'tenner' he'd been 'pasted' with.

I remember reading that passage in 1973, just after the book had been published, wondering if the unfortunate prisoner was still just that, a prisoner. At 19 the idea of being in the Gulag was unimaginable and at nearly 52 it still is.

Without wanting to ever have been a part of the Soviet system I've always found it immensely interesting. Just as I can name every US president since about 1920 I can also name every Soviet leader and enumerate the years of their power. Heck, I even remember the story about how the Soviet Encyclopedia commissioned a longer article about the Bering Strait, just long enough to be pasted over the article about Lavrenti Beria following his fall at the death of Stalin.

Do I believe that story? I'd need to see the proof that there was no article in the Soviet Encyclopedia that sorted, in the Russian alphabet, between Beria and Bering.

Of the symphony itself; the Shostakovich 7th. At the time it was a short term favourite but that was merely in the context of so many symphonies, so little time to listen to it all. I went off it after a few months; it seemed so bombastic and even though I kept the LP until I moved to the US 3 and a half years go I don't think I played it even once for at least a quarter of a century. The 5th and the 8th, for me, had much longer longevity and, even though they weren't in the regular playlist I'd have listened to them at least once a year.

But tonight, on my way home, I stopped at the Phoenix Public Library and there was a CD recording of it. Gave it a listen. It was much better than I remembered.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I downloaded[^] and installed the beta of Windows Media Player 11 today.

Early days yet but I like what I see. The thing I particularly like compared with WMP10 is the search functionality; it narrows the range keystroke by keystroke. Type in a composer name and there are the tracks almost instantly. I found that missing 3rd movement of Scriabin's 3rd Symphony within about 5 seconds. I know it may not work for everyone but it surely does for me and my style of listening.

It also shows you the album cover (if known) in each view against the tracks. Very handy if you're used to handling the physical media; with WMP10 you had to click on the 'More Info' button to display it and half the time it'd take you to an MSN web page that attempted to sell you on music only vaguely related to the item being viewed.

If you're in Artist view and have multiple albums from the one artist it shows not only how many albums but the (approximate) total playing time. You don't want to see the stats[^] against Philip Glass! (But I bet you click anyway) :-)

And they added volume control to the toolbar view! Almost worth the upgrade for that alone!

So, in short, I think WMP11 is a pretty good upgrade from WMP10. It adds some nice new stuff and hasn't, so far as I've discovered with an evenings playing with it, removed anything.

They still insist on calling each track a song but I imagine I'm going to be pretty much in the minority on that point.

The upgrade was painless but strangely, at the office, it wanted to reboot at the end; here at home it didn't. *shrug* The upgrade does what every good upgrade should do; it imports all settings from the previous version that make sense in the context of the new version and it correctly imported my media.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Setting up an alibi

In late 1987 Rod and I, sharing an interest in MIDI music, started spending some time together out of hours. We both worked for Hewlett Packard at the time; I have a vague recollection that he may have been the guy who maintained our servers.

Our interest in MIDI music was mostly shared over the odd beer at a local pub. I was still trying, in vain, to make a synthesiser sound like even a dismal attempt at orchestral string music whilst he was into techno.

After a few nights I was invited over to his place to meet his girlfriend and hear (and play with) his synthesiser setup. Not quite as good as mine was, the synthesiser setup that is. I had no girlfriend at the time and Sue and I had just separated. My synthesiser was a Yamaha DX5[^] which was, given my keyboarding skills, considerable overkill. I could just about manage to play the first movement of Beethovens Moonlight Sonata but that was my apogee! Made no matter; I wrote my scores using a PC editor and played em through the MIDI connection!

I fancy the built in AC3 sound in the PC I'm typing on right now is better for my purposes than that DX5!

So I met his girlfriend. Nice girl as I recall though I couldn't tell you her name to save my life.

A month or so later I met Peta and as might have been expected my focus shifted somewhat and I spent more time with her and less with friends. So much so that I didn't meet Rod's girlfriend a second time.

Half a year or so after that I left Hewlett Packard. Nope, not quite true; they sacked me. One can only tell ones boss[^] to go and have sex with himself so many times before he retaliates!

After a short period of unemployment I started working at Unisys. By now it was early 1989 and Rod and I hadn't seen each other for maybe a third of a year. So it was quite the surprise when the phone at my desk rang and his girlfriend asked me if I'd enjoyed last night with Rod. I had no idea what she was talking about, which was way more than enough for her.

A couple of hours later Rod rang wanting to know why I hadn't backed up his alibi?

Well duh! If you want me to lie to save your sorry arse then the least you can do is make sure I know which set of lies I'm supposed to tell!

Am i

a Wiggle[^]?

One of my colleagues brought her 3 year old daughter to the office last week. Have to admit I didn't notice but she told me a story about myself today. It seems that the daughter heard me talking to someone or other and she asked her mum 'is that a Wiggle?'.

I wish! :-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What was behind the fifth tree??

Fair warning to Colin Mac, you might find the punchline disappointing :-)

In addition to nightly trivia games our trivia web/chat site held a monthly tournament. Each players score accumulated over a month and the top 30 players were privileged to compete in the tournament game. In our early days as an independent site we even had prizes! I think we mailed em out the first few months and afterward it slipped. The prize was a rather fine glass trophy engraved with the players name and the month/year. The prizes were supplied by a player who lived in Hawaii. She mailed em parcel post to me in Melbourne and I mailed em by parcel post to whichever country the winner lived in.

Truth be told I was never really happy with the tournament idea; I've always felt that trivia games should be fun and dignifying the concept with a monthly competition injected way too much competition. It certainly led to some acrimonious disputes over a hosts answer to a question. But we added tournaments because a competing site had them. Never a good idea to let the competition force your hand.

One acrimonious dispute that led to some threats against yours truly, threats I never took seriously, involved a question I wrote. The question was, what's the most common rock eaten by humans? My answer was salt. Perhaps an ambiguous question but most people understood it. Not so Cosi. His answer was Castlemaine (maybe it was Brighton) Rock, meaning a hard sugar candy. I disallowed the answer and you'd have thought I'd insulted the purity of his mothers character! I kid you not; a year later he was STILL coming into the chat room when I was hosting and indulging in the ultimate lose lose game; that of baiting the host.

By that time we'd long since migrated away from MSN and were running on an IRCX server in my living room. We had the ability to kick players off the server and ban them for varying periods of time.

You don't last long as a host if you exercise that power arbitrarily. Even though it was a free service from the players point of view if not mine it was still necessary to adhere to a standard procedure no matter how irksome the taunter. Thus, each time Cosi appeared, he'd go into his standard routine and I'd go through the three steps. Warn, warn, warn, bang! It got so that most of the regulars, most of whom had never hosted, wondered why I didn't ban on sight!

In addition to hosting I played. As the author of both the game software and the chat client I felt it advisable to play so I could see how it looked from that side of the fence. And, given that all our hosts were unpaid volunteers, how would it have looked if I hadn't played games?

Who am I kidding? I enjoyed the games and the banter as much as the next player!

I had an unfair advantage that no player ever suspected. Nope, not a backdoor into the game software so I could see the question and answer even before it went to the chat room. Nope, my advantage was that I was 4 feet of cable away from the server and so I saw the question a split second before anyone else, connected through dial up modems halfway around the world, did.

We had some formidable players; Leigh for one, Bruce, Maree, Ewe, Brenda for others. One month, I think it was January 2001, I qualified for the tournament. Bruce volunteered to host the game.

Now the thing you have to understand about Bruce is that he's a dag. I know exactly what I mean by that expression as would most of my Australian friends but it's very hard to define. Try this quote 'Dag, daggy: Dirty lump of wool at the back end of a sheep, also an affectionate or mildly abusive term for a socially inept person.'. You're no wiser huh?

Being a dag Bruce could be relied upon to come up with a wildly tangential game. Where most people, approaching the writing of a trivia game, would come up with questions such as 'In what year was Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame born?' Bruce was perfectly capable of asking how many cents he was holding! Any answer was pure guesswork and the awarding of points similarly haphazard.

To be fair to Bruce, he did stick pretty much to formula for his tournament game except for one category, Trees. Perhaps that innocent word referred to tree species; or perhaps to famous trees in Melbourne, or to trees from which celebrated outlaws dangled?

Not a bit of it! First question in that category was something along the lines of, where was the Drop bear[^].

We all puzzled over this as the clock ticked down (a typical round lasted 30 seconds). Came the answer, 'behind the first tree' and I imagine many a palm slapped against the forehead as we all, on our computers spread around the world, said 'Doh!'.

On went the game.

As we got toward the end of the game it became a competition between Leigh and I. After round 34 of 35 we were still matched with one question to go. First correct got 10 points, second and subsequent correct a mere 7. So the margin was going to be slim.

The last question was from the Tree category. Almost unfair to Leigh because by the fourth question I had seen the pattern. The answer was always 'behind the (question number)th tree'! So when that final question ran I was poised to type 5th! First answer and I won!

I think that was the only MindProbes tournament I won. *shrug* it was hardly sporting for one of the creators of the site to win anyway!

So what was behind the fifth tree? I have no idea; I don't remember.

Monday, May 15, 2006


As a recent convert to digital music (digital in the sense of storing it on the computer or streaming it across a network connection) you'll understand that I didn't take a lot of notice of Napster back in the day. Didn't much notice Kazaa either unless you count the hours wasted ridding the kids computer of the viruses and spyware that seemed to accompany that software.

iMesh was no better and you'll understand that living in the land of the RIAA and infringement notices sent to grannies who've never owned computers I have considerable incentive in discouraging the kids from downloading pirated music. We both know who they're going to target if they decide to target our IP address don't we!

Want to know one thing that really annoys me about Windows Media Player? They call a 'track' a 'song'. You have no idea how silly it is to see WMP refer to the fourth movement of Mahlers 6th symphony as a 'song'. I'm not sure I know what word I'd have used but it surely wouldn't have been 'song'.

So lately Napster have changed their site a trifle; we can listen to 2 million 'tracks' 5 times each for free. For a trifle under ten bucks a month (though who knows what they'll add as tax) one can get unlimited listening in non stored form and for a further 5 bucks a month you get the option to store to portable devices. I'm still waiting for MY portable device! :-)

Sounds good so I gave it a try. Without considering the question of breadth of coverage I checked first for what would be 'popular'. Of course my idea of popular isn't really. But Pink Floyd should be a safe choice as indeed it proved to be. Gave it a listen for tracks that I'm very very familiar with. Sounded good.

No Beatles but then again no one has Beatles; they haven't yet allowed internet usage of their catalogue. Reaching back into ancient memories of the 60's I tried 'The Small Faces'. Yup, but they don't have Itchykoo Park? You're kidding right?

Whenever Andrew does the 'you're kidding right' thang I say, yep, we're testing your credulity. He still doesn't understand that comment but it'll come with time!

Tried Richard Harris[^] next. They have his 1968 album 'A Tramp Shining' which does include the magnificent 'MacArthur Park'. I don't much care if he'll never have the recipe again; he needed it only the once to record such a wonderful song!

But these are albums I have and on the PC no less. How about the stuff I once had on vinyl? I tried a search for Scriabin[^]; Prometheus, the Poem of Fire. Yup, they had it but it sounded like a mono recording of the premiere performance from 1910. Somehow I could never get it to play more than about 3 minutes before something interrupted the music. This on a 5 Mbits/S downward connection!

So whilst I think Napster at ten bucks or so a month could be a good idea I'm not yet prepared to shell out; heck, I have more than enough music to last a lifetime and their classical music side has to sound a whole lot better and be more reliable before I'll become a subscriber!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

North to Alaska

Was a 'pop' song on the hit parade in 1960. I quote 'pop' because it certainly wasn't rock and I'm not sure it even fit the description for 1960 pop. But then again, what do I really know about the matter? I was 6 at the time and one tends, at that age, to uncritically accept whatever comes spouting out of the radio. It's not as though the adults consult the tastes of 6 year olds when deciding which station to tune to.

You have to remember that this was back in a time when there might be only one radio in the whole house. CD's and MP3 players and the whole rigamarole were not even imagined. Car radios were extremely expensive, consequently relatively rare and based on unbelievably primitive[^] technology!

In our house in 1960 we had an Astor 'Mickey' radio. A decade or so later I was intimately familiar with that kind of technology.

When my wife and I visited the Arizona Historical Society Museum last weekend they had a display I instantly recognised though I doubt Andrew would have recognised it. It was a leather arm chair pulled up beside a (fake) fireplace, with an old fashioned wireless in a wooden case made up to look like a substantial piece of furniture. A card on the wall above the chair invited us to be seated and press the button. I did and heard one of Franklin Delano Roosevelts 'fireside' chats. FDR had an instantly recognisable voice!

One summer afternoon in 1960 - I don't remember if it was the first or the second summer of that year - I was on a visit to my grandparents house in Black Rock, Melbourne. Uncle Ian, the youngest of the uncles, was polishing his Vespa and Uncle Donald was polishing his VW Beetle. Ian on the left hand side of the house; Donald in the carport on the right hand side of the house. Both with radios playing.

I couldn't believe my ears! Uncle Ian's radio was playing North to Alaska but so was Uncle Donalds! I ran breathlessly back and forth between the two sides of the house, hoping to catch em out and discover one radio playing a different song. But nope, try as I might, run as fast as I could, I couldn't find a discrepancy. What a revelation! Two radios could play the exact same song!

Adventures in ADL

ADL[^] is, of course, Adventure Definition Language, a freeware language you can use to write Adventure games similar to the Zork[^] series.

Zork was, if you've never seen the game, the best text game ever! None of those fancy graphics! The graphics were in your head as you read the text descriptions and built your own vision of the Great Underground Empire. A pretty good description of reading any novel of the last 500 years I'd reckon!

I have wonderful memories of playing Zork in the mid 80's; of spending hours trying various combinations of button pressing to solve the dam puzzle; of learning to save early and often! Thus a game teaches us survival patterns for the real world!

In 1987 the internet was a different place; there were no web sites. Everything was either ftp or gopher or usenet. I saw a post in an email about some new C program available on usenet, distributed as encoded chunks within the emails. As I remember, it was distributed as a bunch of ksh self describing scripts which, when run, created a source directory containing the source code. I still have the output of those scripts; it's part of my standard 'burn to DVD when rebuilding' sequence.

The program was ADL and I used it to write a game based on the characters I met at Hewlett Packard.

What game would be complete without a monster? My monster was the memory leak! My game included some examples of leaking source code and the solution to the puzzle was the repairing of the bug!

The game had a description of our office where each 'room' was a desk. One of the desks had a collection of Playboy magazines and if one of the characters, Theo, picked one up and went to the toilet the game would send me email. The surprising thing is that I received many more than one email from that source.

Since I didn't tie the action of taking a playboy to the dunny to a specfic user ID I suspect that Theo was much maligned!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Observations of the fairer sex

which title itself would pretty much date me.

I've written a couple of times about the meeting from hell that occurs each Tuesday. It seems to be my fate to sit through it even though, of late, my involvement has been limited to a single line item or two of the list of 40 or so for discussion. My line item arises about half way through the meeting and I could disappear if I chose to after mine was done but nowadays, in the post Ed[^] age, I choose to stay to the bitter end.

In part it's because of a running joke about how I choose to attend the meeting because it feels so good when the meeting is over. And in part because it never hurts to know what's going on.

This week there was a most welcome distraction in the form of a very shapely young lady marching up and down outside the building with a mobile phone stuck to her ear. I say young but she would have been 30. She caught my eye and, compared to the specimens sitting around the table talking into the phone, she was quite the visual relief! Ain't nothing wrong with noticing an attractive woman!

About two minutes later one of my colleagues, let's call him Dave, came bustling in, laptop computer tucked under one arm, a sheaf of manila folders under the other. As he took the turn into the room he glanced out the window and did a double take; sure enough he'd noticed her.

For the next ten minutes I was amused to see his eyes swivelling left to right to left as he followed her progress.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Unknown album

I'm still working my way through the ripped music collection, getting it organised etc.

As a side note the MP3 player I ordered 2 months ago using frequent flyer points still hasn't arrived; United Airlines keep on predicting delivery dates and Toshiba keep on missing em. UA's most recent communication, 3 weeks ago, says it 'should be shipped by May 12'. No sign of it. But I can't blame UA for this; the Gigabeat S series has been delayed and delayed and most online retailers are now predicting a June 1 release. It was released in Japan on April 28th but hasn't hit the US yet. Sigh... :-)

So there's a bunch of tracks at the bottom of the Album view in WMP 10. All of em 'unknown album'. It bothers me that I've paid good money for each of those CD's yet I can't positively identify em. Remember, I'm the bloke who can pick which Mahler symphony it is within the first 3 seconds.

I'm pretty sure the first one is the Patrick Hadley/Philip Stainton 'The trees so high' album. Excellent music. And the second one is surely the finale to Scriabins 2nd symphony plus the first two movements of the third symphony. As for where the third movement of the Scriabin 3rd is? No idea. I know it's hiding there on the hard disk somewhere; just have to winkle the bastard out!

In real life

I didn't only sit there before a computer in a dimly lit room with cigarette smoke curling around my head, cat asleep in my lap, as I chatted and moderated away. Nope; we also arranged to meet 'IRL', in real life.

It's difficult to describe the IRL experience to a non-chatter, especially with all those stories doing the rounds about meeting nuts online. Had my share[^] of those!

With just one exception I was never silly enough to meet up with someone for the first time in private; nope, always in public spaces with plenty of witnesses around. I'm not yet willing to talk much about that sole exception; it took place in Dallas a decade ago and I've so managed to suppress it in my memory that I cannot remember even a street name related to the experience despite having been back to Dallas a dozen or so times within the last two years.

Later experiences were much better. Three girlfriends and a wife ain't a bad outcome! :-) For the most part, however, IRL meetings were a group of four or five us living in the same city who decided to go have dinner together at some restaurant in the city and share all the in jokes that only an online community can generate!

Quite an instructive experience. I don't think a single person I met in that way, online first and then in person, ever matched the mental image I'd formed. I'm sure I didn't match their image either!

Occasionally there'd be interstate people and on rarer occasions someone from overseas. One forum I was involved with, Chatgames[^] even staged an annual meetup in Las Vegas.

One of the interstate people was Alice[^], of whom I wrote last night. Freckle faced, painfully thin and 16. A group of us met at Pat O'Briens (sic?) pub at Southgate in Melbourne for dinner and some fun. I reckon I was the oldest by quite a margin; most of em were early 20's.

After dinner we decided to go to Crown Casino[^] and maybe waste 20 bucks on blackjack. Of course Alice posed a problem; at 16 she was too young to be allowed in. But we weren't daunted by a little problem like that; we'd smuggle her in past the bouncers and everything would be allright.

Approached the first entrance. It was a given I'd get in so we tried the idea of Alice holding my arm as we marched in. It didn't work. Ok, regroup and rethink. We moved to a second entrance and tried again. Failed again but we'd worked out why; she made eye contact with the bouncer and smiled. Braces gave her extreme youth away. So we repaired to a third entrance and tried again, this time with admonishments to look either straight ahead or toward the floor. Success!

A year or two later my wife and I started our own online games site, Mindprobes[^] and Alice became one of our 'kids' games hosts. If I was 45 at the time what chance had I of writing a trivia game tuned into 1999 pop or rap? At 18 by then Alice was an ideal choice.

Did I contribute to the corruption of a minor? I doubt it. Alice was glad to have some adults the age of her parents take her seriously and treat her as an equal. Perhaps there's a lesson in there for me with regard to Morgan.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The joys of hosting

Last time I wrote about being a chat host for moderated chat rooms. Interesting job though I can't believe how much time I wasted on it. That's a perspective from 10 years later and it took me a while to get worn down by the (mostly) unpaid job.

I find it significant that the charm of hosting waned about the time that internet access became affordable. Remember that I'm talking Australian ISP's in 1995/1997 when it was charged by the hour at significant dollars per hour. If all you're doing with the internet is a bit of random surfing plus some email 5 or 6 bucks an hour isn't a lot. If you're doing much more than that then it can really add up.

MSN took it pretty seriously. I imagine they were concerned with legal liabilities as much as anything else but they required new hosts to undergo training. They provided us with numbers to call all around the world to alert emergency services and we were given guidance on how to handle, for example, the person who threatened suicide online. I know of at least one case (I wasn't involved) where a suicide attempt was thwarted by the timely intervention of emergency services in Perth, Australia.

At the end of each shift we were required to save a transcript of the chat and post it on a private message board. I very much doubt anyone had either the time or the inclination to read those; they were there to back up our decisions in case some specced malefactor complained.

To put this into perspective, in 2000 I hosted my own chat server in my living room and whilst I could have saved complete transcripts automatically (the technology had improved) I didn't bother. Why would I want to spend hours offline reading endless lol's and gmta's and ;-) posts? As the chat server operator I needed hosts but if I couldn't trust my choices to exercise good judgement then it became an exercise in futility.

We also hosted in pairs at a minimum, with a senior host, usually an MSN employee sitting in a private chat room. We'd be in both the public chat room and the private one trading impressions of where TotalHottie's conversation was going whilst keeping an eye on SouthCalGuy, a known troublemaker!

I've hosted four chatrooms simultaneously and let me tell you that's a CPU bound job indeed. I can context switch with the best of them but keeping an eye on up to 200 conversations is quite the task. Fortunately you get to know the regulars and you can rely on Arfur's commonsense; he's never going to be a troublemaker. Lucy211 however, needs to be watched.

I had my own suicide scare one evening. Alice came on and started acting somewhat strangely (as much as anyone in a chat room can be said to act but you know what I mean). This is 10 years ago so I don't remember the exact details but something about what she was typing rang an alarm bell so I 'whispered' to her. She responded, fortunately, and I got the whole story.

As to how much of the story I believed form your own opinion. The measure of my belief isn't all that important. But let me tell you, when you're trying to handle someone who's threatening to slit their wrists the amount of your belief doesn't really matter; what's important at that moment is the attempt to elicit, without being seen to elicit it, the whereabouts of the person whilst persuading them that perhaps life is more attractive than it seems at that moment!

Whether you believe it's a serious attempt or someone jerking your chain you have to behave as if it were real! If it's a jerk, well, so what, so you wasted an hour of your life. If it's real there's the possibility that you may have saved a life.

It was quite the relief the next evening when Alice came into the chat room again; it was quite obviously the same person rather than a coincidence of nicks.

It wasn't always serious stuff though. There was one woman from Houston who came into the chat room nightly (my time, it must have been 6 AM her time) to flirt and brag about how beautiful, sexy, desirable she was. I don't even remember her nick but I started watching for her arrival. When she arrived I'd type,

'Houston, the ego has landed!'. I do believe she looked forward to that comment!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The considerate host

A decade ago I was much into IRC chat, of a sort. The first network I encountered happened to be MSN and that was a side effect of installing a beta of Windows 95 in April of 1995. They included free access to their network for the duration of the beta. Given that the average dial up access was about 6 bucks an hour at the time it was hardly surprising that I opted for the freebie.

Of course, come the big release day, Thursday August 24th 1995, when it all became chargeable, at 5 bucks an hour, there was considerable incentive to become a host on MSN and get the free account!

As a host it was my task to monitor the chat in real time and keep an eye on 'troublemakers'. Some were easy; anyone who used certain proscribed four letter words. Not that I mind those words all that much in context; I use them myself when appropriate. For example, yesterday when biting into a mouthful of steak with a tiny piece of unexpected bone. When I bit down and that 'crunching' sound exploded inside my head I fear that the WTF phrase escaped my lips.

On the other hand, I imagine we've all known the kind of person who seems incapable of holding a conversation without dropping an 'expletive deleted' every third word. I don't know if it's unique to Australia or not but there are people who take a word, split it down the middle and insert an expletive in between. Inbloodycredible!

Morgan does it with our old friend the F word. She was doing it when I arrived here in the family and a gentle remonstrance along the lines of 'if you keep saying it you'll make it a habit and after a while you won't even know you're doing it; but everyone else will notice' didn't dissuade her. Guess what? I'm certain she doesn't even know she's using the word; for her it's become the 'ah um' of conversation.

As for why I don't spell it out? Not sure. On the one hand it feels a trifle disingenous to say 'the F word' but on the other do you really want to see me write fuck? There, I did it! Won't do it again I promise!

Back in the MSN world the users of profanity were relatively easy to deal with. Unfortunately the MSN chat world, not based on IRC, lacked the ability to kick or ban. The best we could do was impose the 'specs', which meant they could not send chat into the room. They were still there but the icon changed from 'chat' to 'spectacles'. The other thing that MSN chat lacked was any kind of control on how often you could enter a chat room. Once we'd specced a malefactor there was nothing to stop said malefactor joining a second time. At least the second, and third, and fourth, inherited the attributes of the first which is to say that once specced, always specced, until the host lifted em! The specs endured for a number of hours; disconnecting and reconnecting didn't return the victim to 20/20 vision!

Thus, an early DOS attack! If the specced party felt sufficiently aggrieved they'd fill the room with chat connections and keep others out.

One night someone came in with the nickname of '1800-BlowJob'. I had to admit it was creative even as I followed the routine. First ask em to change the nick or moderate the language. Three tries and if they didn't change fit em for eyewear! Naturally, they didn't change the nick so I specced. And you guessed it, I found myself presiding over a chat room containing 43 instances of '1800-BlowJob'! :-)

Early in my career as a host I encountered Chris, the chatter from hell. As far as I can guess I'd say he was a teen though he could just as easily have been the prototypical boiler maker in his 50's. Who can tell across the net?

Chris loved to push the envelope. I'd go so far as to say that he was the most talked about subject between hosts which was probably one of his goals. He seemed to take particular umbrage at the fact that I, an Australian, would presume to tell an American, on an American network, what constituted acceptable behaviour and so I became his especial target.

Not much of a problem; I had the tools and the hosting passwords, he didn't. Nonetheless, in such a public environment a host must be seen to be playing fair. So Chris would push at the edges and I'd push back. If I'd known then what I know now I wouldn't have played his game, but I didn't know it. And so every night, as I started my shift, I'd find Chris ready to bait. And every night, 15 minutes into the shift, Chris would be specced. 20 minutes into the shift there'd be as many instances of Chris as there were empty slots (most chat rooms on the part of MSN that I worked in had a limit of 50 participants).

After a couple of months I had a web site dedicated to me. It was called the 'UltraMaroon is an asshole' site. Quite the compliment. You understand that I'm talking mid 1996 and it's long gone. I've done the odd search recently in hopes that it exists in some google cache but I can't find it. A pity. The level of invective aimed at me was almost poetic in it's vehemence!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Changing goals

As you well know I'm a step-dad to three kids. Well, two really, the third at 21 and about to be married is hardly a kid! And, as I've said more than once, I get on very well with her indeed, most likely because we've never actually lived under the same roof.

If you go into this step-dad thing as I did, with little or no experience, it can be a daunting experience. I don't have any kids of my own. I'll resist the jokes about 'that I know of'. Given the complete lack of pregnancy scares in my life I have to assume that I'm not terribly fecund.

Thus, thrust by choice into a new family, I found myself at a loss; how to communicate with those irrational beings called teenagers? You understand that the most recent experience I had with 15 year old girls was when I was myself 15 and my goal at that time was diametrically opposed to my goal as the step-dad.

Morgan has been the cause of considerable domestic friction of late. Not because she's pregnant; once that horse had bolted and she had decided that this time she would go full term we had little choice but to go along with it. Not only can we not insist on either an abortion or adoption; I don't think we should be able to. Some things must be left to the individual to decide.

But am I wrong in wanting to see some consistency in that decision? Or am I expecting someone to grow up too fast? Morgan, at 8 months pregnant, still imagines that she can shrug off her responsibilities and expect her mother to pick up the pieces behind her. Just this week I've heard her shrieking four letter words and insisting on her 'right to rebel'. I'd have thought she'd pretty much given up that right about the time she decided to go full term.

Nope, the domestic friction arises from the fact that I don't want to find my wife taking on the role of mother to her grandson. If it's Morgans child let Morgan take on all the hard lifting!

This is Morgans third pregnancy; during her second Mum came up with the idea that she and I would adopt the child as our own. I was willing to agree to that provided we also agreed that this would be 'our' child and Morgan would have no contact whatsoever. You think that was unreasonable? Why should I invest 10 or 15 years of my life only to have her come in when it was convenient to her and steal 'my' child away?

Ye gods, I'm starting to sound like a republican. Put down the torch Harold! I promise I'll check the spelling of McDowell Road on the way to the office tomorrow!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A tender kiss

So as I was writing the last blog entry, at about 3:30 AM my time and perhaps a trifle in my cups who should appear, bright eyed, bushy tailed and in thumb pain but my wife? She doesn't mind that I drink given that I do it when she's asleep and if she's going to arise at the ungodly hour of 3:30 AM, just before I go to bed on her own head be it :-)

A brief explanation from my wife; her thumb hurts! It was wrapped in rags and ice but I was insistent. Let me kiss it! Did it feel better after the kiss? My wife knows me somewhat better than you do; she lied, of course it does!

I live and learn

I'd never realised that POW's during WW2 were transported from Europse to the USA, let alone to Arizona. Today we went to the Arizona Historical Society Museum near Papago Park. Fascinating museum and I know I'm going to return more than once. Much too much stuff to see in just one afternoon and it's a good museum; you never feel as though the curator who wrote the captions is talking down at you.

Thus I learned that there was a line drawn through Arizona during the first few months of the American involvement in WW2, roughly following US89 and US60. If you were of Japanese descent and lived north of the line you were ok so long as you didn't cross the line. If you lived south of the line it was internment time.

I've driven a few times east along MacDowell from the Hohokam Expressway toward Scottsdale road; that route takes you through some very scenic countryside with a couple of impressive red rock outcrops (called Buttes here and pronounced Bewtes though I can't resist reading that as Butts :-) ). Just before the first Butte (Barnes BUtte) on the left heading east there's what is obviously Federal land. I've often wondered about it given that it's pretty much empty.

The mystery was solved today; it was the site of a POW[^] camp.

The second Butte is a trifle further along on the right heading east. There's an amphitheatre there; google earth shows it quite clearly and it doesn't look natural. Neither I nor my wife can find any information whatsoever on the amphiteatre.

The birth of a movie

I mentioned[^] way back in December that we held a 'roast Robin' night in January 1990. What I didn't tell you then, because I hadn't written about the background, is that we decided that night, Heino, Robin and I, to make a movie.

What movie would we make? We didn't spend much time debating; the choice was obvious. We'd make a Scarless Pumpernickel[^] movie but this time we'd finish it!

I could say that I argued against that decision, given that it would involve me playing the title role but I'd be lying if I made that claim. :-) If there's one thing you can be sure of, having read the blog so far, it is that I have an ego!

So we went into a phase of arguing about story lines. Robin, ever the impractical dreamer, wanted to do a story involving airplanes and skyscrapers. Yes, more than a decade before 11/9, Robin had visions of us filming the crash of an airliner into a building. I bet the people behind Fight Club[^] were very very glad they got it to theatres before that particular atrocity. Would they have dared release a film with that ending in the months and years since?

While we'd have loved to do something that ambitious Heino and I argued, successfully, against such an ambitious storyline. We were more interested in scoping things down to what we could achieve within a very small budget with the acting talent we could call upon. You understand that the budget was what the three of us were willing to fork out and the acting talent was going to be those friends we could coerce, hoodwink and generally decieve into appearing!

We were very lucky. Heino worked at the time for the National Australia Bank in their long since disbanded video production unit; he had access to broadcast quality equipment and, just as importantly, his boss was willing to let him borrow it on weekends. He was also willing to let us use the edit suites and the studio out of hours.

We once calculated what it would have cost us to use the equipment if we'd paid commercial rates; it worked out at considerably north of a quarter million dollars!

Our script was an eclectic collection of ideas; we wanted to pay tribute to all the Turtle Video Centre productions that had made it as far as at least a few seconds of video. So we stole scenes shamelessly. Fun with Maths, for example, a production by one of Heino's schoolteachers in 1975, which described polygons. 'A polygon is a plane figure bound by straight lines'. We put those exact words into the mouth of The Professor, as he explained that soot sometimes feels smooth and sometimes it's gritty!

Of course Scarless still wore a silly outfit. The panty hose hadn't worked in the 1976 attempt so we decided I'd wear a pair of my girlfriend Peta's jodhpurs and some riding boots. My tailcoat and fake top hat had longs since gone the way of the dinosaur and whilst it was still possible to track down a tailcoat a top hat was impossible. We compromised with Peta's grandfathers hat.

We spent countless hours at my place or Heinos and occasionally at Robins nutting out the knottier points of the screenplay. Since we were trying to be true to the spirit of the original concept we just had to have a dream scene. Our dream scene was a mixture of a scene from Gary's movie Why me[^] and our original sequence from 1976 involving my beheading. I remember one afternoon (we have the discussion on video) at Heino's house where we acted out the scene. I said 'the chief swings his sword, a real sword' pause as Robin play acts a little 'and you gotta stop!'. Followed by the comment that the body wriggles a little 'but not too much!'. Maybe you had to be there!

My sister Debra would play the female lead; she'd been heavily involved in Turtle Video during the 1970's.

Robin would play the police chief, Orville C Fudpucker. That's a real name! In 1980 I bought my first floppy disk drive, A$750 for 143 K of storage! The purchase of a floppy disk drive in those days included floppys containing an operating system (M-DOS, short for Micropolis Disk Operating System) and a copy of Bill Gates MS-BASIC. I joined the M-DOS Users Group in 1981 and received, as part of the membership package, a floppy containing the complete members list. And there he was, Orville C Fudpucker of Alabama. The name just stuck in my head and when it came time to give the chief a name that was the obvious one!

One of the Daves agreed to play my trusty sidekick, Festering Wound; the other Dave was happy to play the professor. Sue would play Backup. Heino, in a cameo role, played Roger aka VK, the voice of Victoria police. The names of the characters should tell you something :-)

So, with the main plotlines in place; most of the actors decided, we went into production.