Monday, July 31, 2006

Death by a thousand cuts

Or as my wife put it, 'they're going to nickel and dime us to death'.

It was day two and time to head for Cleveland Ohio. We'd already budgeted something like seven hours to drive there, assuming side trips. We hadn't budgeted the extra hour just to get back to the supposed starting point! An interesting drive nonetheless. I quite enjoyed the feeling of driving through the Chicago morning peak[^] and actually coping with it. Even the roadworks were fine. Indeed, they made it easier. If navigating a strange city slower traffic is better; it gives you time to read the signs ahead and decide which lane you need to be in.

Given that we knew we needed to be on I80/I90 East it was just follow the signs and incur the occasional wrath of a local who we inadvertantly cut off. Somewhere in Southern Chicago we saw a sign pointing to a 'skyway' which would eventually bring us to the I80. Little did we know this was the start of an interminable series of tollways.

Yeah, each individual tollway might only be a couple of bucks but there are so many of them through Indiana and into Ohio!

Along the way I was edified to drive an elevated section of the highway, just outside of Gary Indiana. On either side we could see the sewage treatment tanks! Strangely enough, that wasn't the only sewage treatment plant the interstate passes through; I wish I could remember where the second one was.

I'm not sure I should count Indiana as a state I've visited. To be sure we stopped more than once for pee breaks and Starbucks (the two might be related) but if the only parts of Indiana we saw were the travel plazas and the highway itself I have my doubts. But I'll let it count for now. Andrew, he of the little travel, is adamant it counts!

It was almost a disappointment to drive around the edge of Toledo. I was half expecting to see Max Klinger lounging around! Ok, so I'm joking but even when I was a kid I'd heard of Toledo Ohio; all the scales at the butchers, the green grocers and the fish shops seemed to be Toledo branded!

Late that afternoon we arrived in Cleveland just in time to cope with peak hour. Fortunately they don't seem to have much of a peak hour; that or we were heading in toward the city centre while everyone else was heading out.

We parked the car in the hotel car park and headed out to wander the streets in the city centre. I quite enjoyed it. If there's one thing I miss in Phoenix it's a real downtown. We don't have one! Given that I'm an unrepentant city boy you can see what a loss that is.

On the other hand, it was quite the pleasure to be wandering the streets during a downpour! Sonya and Andrew both acted like it was the end of the world and spent what seemed like hours complaining, at the chophouse we ended up in, at such minor inconviences as trickles of water running down their backs! At least it was warm water! I'd like to see them cope with a Melbourne downpour in the middle of winter!

An unmemorable dinner consumed we wandered back the hotel, only to be caught in the rain again. Frantic scurrying for shelter whilst I, made of sterner stuff, :-) walked along at my comfortable pace.

Leek and Salmon pie

is the most excellent dinner I've just eaten at Fionn McCools Irish pub, corner of The Esplanade and Church Streets, Toronto.

Indeed, notwithstanding my passion for ribs US style, I reckon that, save for the fish and chips I had in Australia last year, this is the best meal I've had in the past four or so years. It was that good!

Of course, the fact that I was seated in just the right position to ogle the young (female) waiting staff as they bustled about might have contributed to the enjoyment; but no, I won't admit that! :-)

From all of the foregoing you'd be correct in inferring that we've reached Toronto. It's been an exhausting few days. I knew there was a reason why, when I'm on holiday, I prefer to go where fancy takes me at the time. This planning a holiday out to the minutest detail quite six months before starting isn't for me.

It doesn't help when Expedia tell us that our booking is made and paid for and when we turn up at the hotel fresh from the airport the hotel is both full and has no record of a reservation. The paid for part was certainly true; anyone will take your money willingly! So Sonya got on the phone (I use my accent as a convenient excuse to not have to deal with that stuff) and after some initial claims that the booking had been made Expedia eventually agreed to find us somewhere else in the Chicago area.

I reckon the call must have been routed to somewhere a *long* way from Chicago; they assured us the substitute hotel was close by. If you're sitting in a call centre in India I reckon Waukegan *is* close by but when you're driving it it's a powerful long drive! But let's be charitable; we made a turn South from O'Hare imagining that near Chicago meant thataway. Of course, half an hour later and a call to the hotel it turned out that we should have turned North, away from Chicago. An hour and a half later and we found the hotel; right out in the middle of woop woop.

Internet access? You're kidding of course. I reckon we found the only hotel chain in North America that charges twice what Motel 8 does yet doesn't have internet access. You understand that I'm talking the substitute hotel. Our original booking does have it; fat lot of good that did us.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Oh, the naivety of (not so young) youth

And there I was thinking I'd have time on this trip to write my usual quota of drivel. Truth is that, a mere day and a half in, time is lacking. I'm hoping things might simmer down once we get to Niagara Falls (I'm currently in Cleveland). Sorry for being such a tease but Sonya the slave-driver :-) is rousting us to finish packing so we can race off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

And we're off!

to Chicago and parts east of there tomorrow. Fortunately the flight is at a civilised hour; about noon. It'll be quite the novelty travelling for a holiday instead of for business.

I swear I thought the last three hours of the working day would never end! I'd reached the logical end of the current task and there was little incentive to jump into the next task; insufficient time to complete it today and who knows how priorities will have changed between now and August 7th when I return to the office?

Thus a couple of hours of faking it followed by another installment of the meeting from hell. Uh huh, Tuesday again!

Y'know, with any luck I might have something worth writing about soon. Meanwhile, 107 hours of recording space remains on the HTPC; I reckon it'll be up to the task of recording whilst I'm away. They're running about 8 Marx Brothers movies while I'm away. I'll be in pig heaven when I return!

Creeping Australianism

I'll admit it up front; I'm a bad influence at the office.

At first, a couple of years ago, they found my language 'interesting'. I think I'd have been the first person most of them had ever met who used such phrases as 'poor bastard' and 'happy as a dog with two dicks'. That last phrase still raises laughter but I maintain that I'm not ashamed of my working class origins and such phrases were common enough when and where I grew up.

I eschew the use of the well known four letter words. Anyone can say those but not everyone can describe a customer as a 'whinging bastard' and expect to get away with it :-)

Along the way other words used frequently enough in the rest of the English speaking world but quite unknown here in Phoenix creep in. The one that puzzled em the most is bloke[^]. I explained it once or twice a while ago and pretty much forgot about it.

Until today.

Today, after a smoke with Randy out the back door, Garry gestured at us as we scuttled back into the cool of the building. Neither Randy nor I knew which of us he was signalling so we opened the door to his office. Randy said, 'which bloke were you wanting to talk to?'. And then he realised what he'd said!

I imagine he had much the same feeling that I have when I come out with some phrase I'd never had used four years ago. 'Say what?' is the one that springs to mind as the most common. At least I haven't descended to the level of the imperative 'what!' in place of the, to me, much more polite, 'pardon?'.

The punchline, such as it is, is that Garry pointed at Randy and said 'that bloke'!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Old movies

In addition to obsessing about getting the metadata tags right in my music collection much of my time recently has been spent watching late 1940's and early 1950's film noir. Like that'd be a surprise given recent postings. These movies are even older than I am (though only just!).

As much as I can enjoy a Humphrey Bogart or a James Cagney film I reckon the more obscure titles from those ten or twelve years are 'better'. Better in the sense that, for the most part, they're better written than the 'star' vehicles, better performances, better lighting. Without the distraction of the studio image builders it feels as though everyone involved was concentrating on making movies.

I particularly enjoy the movies made by RKO Radio Pictures. Titles such as The Narrow Margin[^] and The Setup[^]. I sometimes find myself wondering if my father had seen these movies. Odds are that he did; they'd have been supporting features throughout the 1950's.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The blue gardenia

If you're not familiar with the world of classical music it's easy enough to imagine that much of the music used by Hollywood, particularly in days long gone by, is from that world. I certainly did up until about 1975. The fact that I'd been listening to classical music from about 1970 and still thought that merely indicates that I'm slow on the uptake and that I was still learning.

The problem is that a piece of music written as a stand alone composition rarely fits the action. Music has its own momentum as does film and trying to make the one fit the other only works if the one is tailored to the others rhythms.

Hence the existence of large multi CD libraries of 30 second or less 'stings'. When we were making our movie in 1990/1991 I was still vainly trying to think of ways to make the music I knew so well fit in the edit suite. An impossible task.

Thus it's a pleasure when someone manages to pull it off. Fritz Lang did in this[^] movie.

Considerably simplified, the story concerns a girl who, whilst drunk, fights off an unwanted advance by a bloke and thinks, the next day, that she killed him. Her last memory of the event is Nat King Cole singing a song 'The Blue Gardenia'.

We, the audience are treated to the sight of George Reeves (of TV Superman fame) the next morning listening, in the fatal apartment, to an entirely different record. Nothing less than the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde[^]!

Things for the girl go from bad to worse and the police are sure they have their villain. Until the newspaper guy remembers that she said she heard Nat King Cole and yet they found Wagner on the turntable! Thus follows some wierd stuff including a glimpse of a face we saw in the first 3 minutes of the movie and have totally forgotten; snap of the fingers and it all wraps up and the girl is innocent.

It was a pleasure not only to hear something I know so well as part of the story; it was also a pleasure the way that the music became integrated into the general soundtrack toward the end. Hey, I'm easily pleased!

Sunday, July 23, 2006


we hit 101 at midnight! Still 101 at 12:30 AM but we'd dropped to 100 at 1:00 AM.

Now that we've hit the magic number the weather is welcome to cool down! :-)


I've admitted before that sometimes I'm a trifle slow on the uptake. Strangely enough the latest manifestation of this phenomenon occurred in the same context; digital music[^].

The penny dropped the other day, when, having reached the end of CD1 of Iolanthe and been forced to switch to the second CD it suddenly occurred to me that whilst the limitations of the CD format required that a 2 hour work be split across two surfaces such a split was by no means set in concrete. 30 years ago the LP format split the same performance across four surfaces.

In the brave new world of WMA and MP3 and 60 gig music players such a surface split is unnecessary.

Hence an afternoon spent renumbering tracks, both in filename and in track number metadata. All done the hard way, by hand. Yeah, I could have written a quickie program to iterate over the filenames, parse out the track number (always at the start of the filename) and add an offset. With enough searching of open source I could probably have found an MP3/WMA tag library to do the same for the tags. But I decided to do it by hand.

A decision made without realising quite how many multi-CD sets I actually have! My library track count didn't drop by even 1 but the album count did; from (currently) 434 to 366. But it's done now, backed up to bigboy (my HTPC) and burned in ripped form to DVDs.

But boy does my RSI wish I hadn't done it!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A tenth of a turn

too little. Or, short story long, as is my wont :-)

A couple of weeks ago it was time for an oil change so I took the car to the local car repair joint. We've had reasonably good work from them over the last couple of years.

So yesterday whilst driving to work suddenly the car sounded different. A quick scan of the dash and the oil warning light was on! So I pulled over (thank god I wasn't trying to do that quick 'two lanes to the left' where SR143 joins I-10 just before the US60 exit; that's one dangerous manoeuvre to be trying on a daily basis!). Quick check of the dipstick (no, not a glance in the mirror!) and she's as dry as a bone!

Three hours later the tow truck finally arrives! As he's hooking the safety ties to keep my car on the back of the truck he notices the oil drain plug ain't there. Well, that explains the sudden loss of oil!

So we take it back to the oil change joint and, after some ducking and weaving in a vain attempt to not take responsibility they finally agree that yes, they didn't tighten the drain plug and they'll pay for the tow and fix it. I should think so! I couldn't persuade them to give me some kind of warranty in case of engine damage but they did agree to give me the next oil change for free. Great! Now I'll be checking that damn oil drain plug for the next n thousand miles.

LaMont lives

as we discovered last night at yet another get together of the 'boys'.

Our little Phoenix area bloggers group is growing. We're now up to four of us. I had, of course, already met LaMont[^] but for quite some time there he wasn't coming out to play. My theory was that he didn't like Vern; strangely enough Vern's theory was that he didn't like me! What does Vern know?

Perhaps, having read my initial report linked above wherein I drew certain inferences relating to the happenstance of the pair of them ambling off to the dunny simultaneously, he had reason for not wanting last nights meetup to take place at the gay bar[^] we ended up in last week! I couldn't possibly speculate!

So we gathered at Gallaghers over on 7th Street. Neither Vern nor I had been there before and because Vern isn't above asking me for a ride too and fro, casting me, the drinker, in the role of designated driver, we arrived together. Looked to both of us exactly like it could have been a suburban dentists office!

Doubtless worrying about the aforementioned impugning of his sexuality LaMont did evince considerable interest at the moment the barmaid, wearing no bra and a flimsy low cut top, bent toward him. Evince considerable interest? I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head! In all fairness, all four of us took an enthusiastic gander. I fear that my fellow bloggers are sadly out of touch though; the speculation was that she was 18; I reckon 25 if she's a day! Not that there's anything wrong with being 25; if I try hard enough I can remember back that far! :-)

I learned a new phrase. You'll remember that I learned to say 'Screw you buddy!' in place of the rather coarser expression I'd have used four years ago in Australia. I now know the extended version. 'Screw you and the horse you rode in on, buddy!'. I'm told that the buddy part is optional. I tried it out at the office today; worked a treat, if causing insane laughter is the gauge of success!

But I reckon I'm going to have to bankroll the next get together. For various reasons it's happened that I've paid very little cash at the last few and I fear the rumours will start about Rob being a cheeseparing bastard. Knowing full well the Australian traditions around the 'shouting of drinks' I can't possibly let this state of affairs continue.

Interesting note; I went looking for a link to illustrate the Australian traditions and found this[^]. Don't ya love the internet??

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A long weight

Monday, January 12th 1970. My first day at full-time work.

A very callow youth I was to be sure. But not, perhaps, as callow as my new workmates might have imagined.

As the first-year apprentice on his first day at work I was fair game. I don't argue with that proposition; the following year I was as hard on my successor as they'd been on me. Dog eat dog and all that.

The first hour or so of that day was spent in the bosses office being lectured on the importance of work. In one ear and out the other of course; what else would one expect of a 15 year old?

Lecture over and toolbox, workbench and mentor assigned I was left to the foremans mercy. His first question to me was, 'how old are you boy?'. I admitted my extreme youth. Some quick arithmetic and he informed me that I had 49 and a half years left until retirement. I thanked him for the information whilst privately thinking him a bastard. That opinion hasn't changed even if I'm a mere 13 years away from that formerly oh so distant date! I mean, what the hell? What was he trying to say? That I have 49 and a half years of misery ahead?

He assigned me a very important task indeed; that of going to the local hardware shop and purchasing, on account, some striped paint, a left handed screwdriver and a long weight.

Uh uh. He didn't fool me! He got his long weight! I caught the train to Flinders Street and spent a couple of hours in a bookshop long since gone, ferreting through Science Fiction novels. Followed by lunch.

Only in Phoenix

would the failure of air-conditioning in an apartment building rate a mention on radio news. Going by the fact that they were playing the news at 9 AM as I drove to work and they had the same report playing when I drove home we can draw one of two conclusions; either there's no other news or the failure of the air-conditioning was an important news story.

Yeah, I'm making light of it. The fact is that the heat here doesn't bother me much but as Steve Kaschimer[^] pointed out in response to this[^] post, I have the advantage of air-conditioning.

So far this year I haven't heard all that much on the radio about the deaths of homeless people; but I certainly remember hearing about the subject last year; something in the order of 50 died from heat exhaustion and, probably, thirst.

Now that I think about it; I can remember seeing precious few drinking fountains around...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The blue in the green

The blue in the green,
may never be seen,
and it's power is not of this world.
For the mark of your ticket,
shall capture the wicked,
and the mystery then shall unfold.

My god, such doggerel!

Written in haste one Sunday afternoon in, I think, July of 1990 as we were finalising the script[^] for our movie.

It tied all the elements together, if you were the scriptwriter. I imagine everyone in our audience who hadn't been present at the script writing totally missed the connections. (That means everyone except me, Heino, Garry and Robin).

The blue was a Black and Decker power drill encased in blue plastic, found by Scarless (me) in a bed of grass. Later dialog reveals that this isn't a standard power drill running on standard 240 Volt power, no sir. Nope, this is an 80 volt drill! (we chose 80 volts because I'd never heard of any country in the world with 80 volt mains).

Scarless, in a leap of intuition that would put the most dishonest clairvoyant to shame, realises that the criminal he's chasing has left his fingerprints on a railway ticket that he (Scarless) has just purchased.

But who would say such enigmatic words? Who indeed? Swami Muktunanda no less!

Ted played the role. He'd be at least 15 years my senior and he'd been one of the voices of sanity at Turtle Video committee meetings back in the 70's.

Scarless, the hard bitten practical crime fighter, was also a spiritual being; he deferred to the Swami and sought his advice when the crime was otherwise impenetrable. Thus to Saturday October 6 1990 as we drove to the You Yangs[^] mountain range a few miles west of Melbourne.

Of all our shooting days on the project that's the one I enjoyed the most even though I forgot my jodhpurs and we had to repair to Werribee to buy a passable substitute (a pair of long johns). Yes, I appeared on camera clad in nothing below the waist but for a pair of longies! That's the price you pay for being sufficiently unprofessional that you forget a vital part of the costume. Fortunately no one not in the know has ever spotted it! Of course, very few not in the know have even seen the movie!

My scenes and Daves (Festering Wound) shot we turned to Ted. All he had to do was repeat the doggerel shown above whilst sitting in a fair wind wearing a kaftan I'd contributed to the production!

I reckon we did 50 takes! Ted could not get even a single line out without mistakes, let alone the entire doggerel. I remember once when he'd stumbled, yet again, over the 'and the mystery then shall unfold' line, at the 'and', Heino, cameraman extraordinaire said 'and and and what????'. We exploded in laughter. Fortunately Ted did too!

We even tried recording the dialogue in the van toward the end of the day. Ted, script in hand, stumbled!

But we managed to fix it 'in post'. An amazing feat of splice and cut.

I still have the power

to shock Morgan. Despite her veneer of 'sophistication' she's still really a very naive 18 year old.

We're having a holiday from each other this week. She moved out tonight to go share a flat with some friends. It's only for a week though; she's moving back in on Wednesday of next week.

It just so happens that Wednesday next week is when Sonya, Andrew and I jet off to Chicago for 11 days of swanning around the mid-west, starting at Chicago aforesaid, taking in Cleveland (no prizes for guessing why Cleveland) and thence to Niagara Falls and Toronto. We return to Chicago in time for another family wedding and then fly back to Phoenix.

So in total we're having about 18 days of not having to sleep under the same roof. Who knows? I might even miss her!

I got home during the climax of the packing; my wifes Kia Sportage was a couple of inches closer to the ground as the suspension bowed to the superior force of gravity. It was quite the surprise to walk into the kitchen and see that the sink was still there!

Seriously, I've never seen anyone pack so much for a weeks sojourn to an address about 2 miles away! Indeed, three years ago when we were about to embark on our east coast tour[^] and I observed that Morgan had three (count em, 3) suitcases, I decided that we needed a new rule. You pack it, you carry it! After some sotto voce swearing she whittled it down to two suitcases. I manage on one small suitcase. So does my wife!

Sportage packed she was ready to depart on her grand adventure but she couldn't leave it at that. Nope, she came down to announce that she was out of my hair for an entire week, with a flourish that told me she expected me to go down on bended knees and thank god!

Despite what I've written in the past about Morgan I'm not about to go twist the knife but, on the other hand, she did need some encouragement.

So I said 'Ah, so that means me and Mom can have sex again? You have no idea what a contraceptive effect you and Ryan (her son) being around can have!'.

Poor girl didn't know what to say!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The chewing gum scene

In our movie[^] we had a scene where Scarless (me) has vegemite on his hand. For the purpose of the script it was soot but we used vegemite for no better reason than we could.

The mechanics of the scene were simple; my sidekick and I are in the forensic lab with the Professor and his sidekick. We shake hands.
'Scarless, Professor' (Professor and I shake hands).

'Scarless, Beaker' (Beaker and I shake hands).

'Professor, Festering Wound' (The Professor and Festering Wound shake hands).

'Festering Wound, Beaker' (Festering Wound and Beaker shake hands).

You, the audience, are supposed to have seen that I start the scene with vegemite on my hand, it's transferred to the Professors hand, thence to Festering Wounds and finally to Beaker.

We stole the idea shamelessly from this movie[^] which, it should come as no surprise whatsoever, I watched tonight. First time I've seen it in probably 20 years which doubtless explains why it was that I could not, for the life of me, remember the movie from which we'd stolen the scene.

The source movie does it rather better than we did but then again, we condensed a five minute segment into somewhat less than a minute. In the source the 'heroine' takes her chewing gum out of her mouth and sticks it under a table in a cafe (disgusting habit). Then we get to see that chewing gum do the rounds of at least a dozen sets of fingers before it returns to under the table.

Of course, as the gang leave the cafe she reaches under the table to retrieve the gum and..... but no, if you want to know the punchline see the movie! :-)

This doesn't add up

But I'm not complaining!

The latest update on priority dates for the N400 Application for Naturalisation at the Phoenix Office of USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Service), issued on July 17th, indicates they're processing applications received on or before January 14th 2006.

So quite how it happens that my application, which has a priority date of May 18th 2006, has advanced to the point of interview is a source of considerable puzzlement.

Meantime I'm doing my rote learning over dinner. I think Andrew's enjoying being the questioner rather than the questioned though we often disagree and have to resort to our friend Google to prove that I'm right and he's wrong. Bastard did get me on the number of constitutional amendments though; I had 37 and he had 27. Confusion over whether the Bill of Rights were the first 10 or not...

The scariest question that may come up is to name the original 13 colonies. Let's see how I do (and I'm writing this from memory, no cheat sheet).

New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachussets, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

Easy enough to remember; think of the three News, then stick to the East Coast and work southward...

Now if only I can remember that it was the 18th amendment that ushered in Prohibition and the 19th that gave women the vote! (Yes, I did have to look those numbers up). Oh, and blessed be the 21st amendment!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gotta love the odd anachronism

A lazy sunday afternoon spent alternating between watching movies and napping. Dunno why but I seem to take a lot more short naps these days than I used to. Probably compensation for getting less than 6 hours sleep a night on average.

On the other hand, split sleep is nothing new to me; I used, back in 1976, to sleep for three or so hours in the early evening so I could be awake for the late night movies[^]. Back then I had the excuse that the technology to record the stuff was prohibitively expensive.

One of tonights movies was The Great Garrick[^]. A better movie than the precis would indicate but not great by any means. I note that one of the peripheral but still important to the plot actors was born in 1856! Man, that's a long time ago, even for me!

I have to admit that Hollywood did try. The movie is set in France in about the year 1750. Someone on the staff somewhere must have pointed out that in France they measure distance by the metric system, for there in closeup early in the movie is a sign pointing to Paris, 160 KM. Full points for trying but a deduction for not realising that in 1750 the metric system was still about half a century into the future. Uh huh, a Napoleonic era invention.

The other anachronism is a trifle more subtle. There's music in the soundtrack and music 'in' the action. I can go with the incidental music being of the wrong era but when the orchestra strikes up a tune to accompany David Garrick onto the stage and it's obvious that a 1750 orchestra is playing music that could not have been written earlier than 1800 I have to smile.

I enjoyed the movie. I'll probably watch it again sometime.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Not even close

Last night[^] I mentioned the possibility that we might hit 100 F at midnight.

It was looking likely; Friday we peaked at 113 and today I think the peak was 115. Certainly it was bloody hot about 1 PM when I went to the library to return some CD's and borrow some more.

But later in the afternoon my wife mentioned that it was 'spitting' outside. I'm not going to miss an expectoration and sure enough there were a few drops of rain falling. Lasted maybe 5 minutes and 5 minutes after that the pavement was dry again.

We went out for dinner and when we emerged from Chilis the temperature seemed to have dropped a trifle. Enough to encourage me to venture on a walk. It's been hot enough of late that I haven't done my nightly walk in nearly a week.

Thus, headphones on, music player churning out a piece of music I haven't heard for 30 years, Richard Strauss's 'Tod Und Verklärung'. I don't exaggerate when I say that at the climax I felt a chill running down my spine despite the perspiration!

Returned home, sweat pouring down my face and my ponytail saturated, it was time for a shower. I thought I'd never get the shirt off my back the way it was sticking!

Having soared the heights of late German Romantic music it was time to settle in for British Comedy Night on PBS. Watched in the comfort of air conditioning and my hair down to let it dry.

At midnight it was time to check the temperature. Unfortunately it was Saturday night and none of the channels I checked were displaying the temperature. Do they think we only care about the temperature on weeknights?

But I record that walking outside wasn't like stepping into pea soup. My wife commented that it was a lot cooler than 100; I'm guessing no more than 90. MSNBC localised to Phoenix reports, at the time of writing, that it's only 89.

Singing on the phone

wouldn't be recommended for the best singer in the world, given the quality of the average phone line. For the rest of us it's something best eschewed completely.

It was, nonetheless, a pleasure when the phone rang a couple of weeks ago. Unknown number in the display and I damn near didn't pick up. Fortunately I did, to hear Heino singing 'Happy Birthday to you' as unmelodiously as that tune is always sung. A day late my time, two days late his time, but who am I to complain?

One returns a favour when one can. Thus it was my pleasure to call Heino today (Saturday) two days late my time, three days late his, and sing 'Happy Birthday to you' right back at him!

Laughter and the obligatory mmmmaaaaaaaatttttteeeeeeeee! :-)

And so the conversation proceeded. We have a 'schtick' we go through. How's it hanging? All the way to the ground! Leaving furrows? And so on... It really doesn't matter who asks the questions or who gives the answers :-)

It works for us!

That out of the way we got down to more serious stuff. It was about this time that I became aware of some strange sounds in the background. I didn't have to wait long for an explanation.

You see, I'd called during that time in Heino's morning when certain functions must be performed and, rather than do the polite thing and leave me hanging on a silent phone for five minutes he'd taken it with him to the smallest room in the house!

Much laughter a couple of minutes later when his wife yelled 'Heino! That's disgusting!' after she realised what was happening.

You know you're talking with a best mate when a little thing like the need to take a crap doesn't get in the way. That said, next time I'm in Australia I'm definitely not accompanying him to the smallest room! He's on his own!

Am I cheating?

with this post which, at the time of writing, will show 15 of the 25 posts on the Wdevs front page as being written by me? Of course I am!

Not the first time[^] though! :-)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Visual Studio 2005 launch

Even though I've pretty much lost interest in new releases of any development environment as such I still work in the industry and I do try to keep up with the news as it relates to my area of specialisation.

'Twasn't always so of course; I was one of the very first purchasers of Visual Basic 1 and I used to pay extortionate international dial up rates to download the latest release of Zortech C++ (both events of 1991).

I've been using Visual Studio since before it was even called that! Visual C in early 1992. MSVC in various versions, most long forgotten, including MFC 1.0 which, as I recall it, came on 20 floppies and took more than ten hours to install if you didn't have smartdrv installed. Installing smartdrv cut the install time to about 2 hours.

I attended the Phoenix VS2005 launch which happened the day after the product was officially released. A free event; all one had to do was register ahead of time, print out the form with a bar code and front up on the day.

I've never really enjoyed the Microsoft events; too much time to impart too little information. The bait that got me to go to the VS2005 launch was that they were giving away a full copy, not time limited, of VS2005 professional. Always nice to have the latest.

Microsoft have learned a thing or two over the years; at previous launches they'd give out the freebies first and then do the presentations; but not this time. If we wanted the freebie we had to sit through the entire lecture. Bite the arm off at the shoulder time!

So up I fronted, at a movie theatre complex over near the 101 on Indian School Road. Microsoft had booked two theatres for the day; one live, the other for the overflow crowd who would get to see the live theatre presentation on video.

Once we'd checked in we were each handed a coupon good for popcorn and a soft drink.

There are few sadder sights in the world than the sight of a thousand overweight bearded developers, each clutching a 46 ounce bucket of popcorn in one hand and a 16 ounce drink in the other!

Not a surprise

You scored as atheism. You are... an atheist, though you probably already knew this. Also, you probably have several people praying daily for your soul.

Instead of simply being "nonreligious," atheists strongly believe in the lack of existence of a higher being, or God.



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
created with

Close, oh so close

But not, so far, a cigar.

I've been keeping an eye on the temperature reported at midnight in the lower right hand corner on KSAZ-TV Phoenix.

I used, a while ago, before I had my HTPC, to watch KSAZ in the 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM timeframe a lot. Nowadays I usually have anything up to 70 hours of recorded movies waiting in the queue so watching the sixth repeat of M*A*S*H doesn't cut it anymore.

KSAZ however remains my reference for the midnight temperature. Not that I believe KSAZ has an accuracy unavailable to other sources; it's merely so that I'm comparing apples with apples.

I also don't believe that what they show necessarily matches the temperature right here. It's merely a convenient approximate resource.

I've been watching the midnight temperature edge ever so closer to the magic 100 F at midnight. Got damn close tonight - 99! Warmish though that may be it's not the magical century!

Maybe tomorrow night - they're predicting 115 at Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Well, that was a lot sooner than I expected

When I arrived home tonight it was to find another letter from the Department of Homeland Security, summoning me to a naturalisation interview at the end of August.

Considering that the Phoenix USCIS website[^] is still quoting, at the time of writing, priority dates of June 30th 2005 for naturalisation applications and further considering that my priority date is May 18th 2006 I'm more than a little surprised the interview is so soon.

Do they run the security and background check in parallel with the other processing? Seems unlikely. So, much to the surprise of my closer friends and aquaintances, it would seem that the FBI found nothing against me. This is no surprise; I've never been arrested.

I guess it's time I brushed up on my US History and form of Government, to say nothing of the names of Representatives and Senators for Arizona.

As prolific as I am

I just can't seem to get more than 12 posts appearing on the Wdevs[^] front page.

I'm pretty sure this is a good thing.

Conference calls

If you don't already know it, I hate using the phone. I was 23 or so before I lived in a house with a phone so I never got into the habit of having one handy. Even though I carry a mobile with a 400 minute a month plan I'd be lucky if I used as many as 10 minutes a month.

As you already know I find myself attending a number of teleconferences; always an opportunity to discover just how slowly time can seem to pass. My current count of regular conferences is now two per week. Doesn't sound like a lot but when you add in the ad hoc ones on three minutes notice it can add up to a reasonable portion of ones working week.

Of course I don't attend quite as many as the managers do; but isn't that the purpose of a manager? To stroke the customer in teleconferences so the rest of us can get some work done?

It happens that the second of my regular conferences commences at 8 AM on Thursday. Given that I'm a night owl and it's a 40 minute drive to the office and given that I prefer to have a coffee and review the minutes of the previous conference *before* the next one starts, that means I'm leaving home at sparrows fart Thursday mornings.

So today I took the opportunity of disappearing a trifle earlier than usual. I might have known it wouldn't be that simple, for who should ring me at home but *the* boss. Am I able to participate in an ad hoc conference connecting Dallas, the Tempe office, my home and Baguio? What am I going to say?

Now this would not be worth relating if the story went this far and no farther but of course it does.

We have the call originating in the Tempe Office aforesaid. Me calling in from Scottsdale. Someone calling in from Dallas and two more people calling in from The Philippines. Assuming those last two gather around a speaker phone that means we have a total of three outside lines coming in to the conference.

The genius who set up the move to the new building had them install a phone system that can cope with just two outside lines in a conference. Of course they forgot about that little limitation and I was treated to the sound of them, gathered about the phone, puzzling over why The Philippines couldn't connect. Every so often a yell 'Rob, are you still there?'. I'd affirm and then another yell 'Kevin, are you still there?'. Another affirmation.

Eventually I remembered the limit; some doubt was expressed but the explanation did cover the observed facts. A bright idea. *The* boss has a mobile phone without the 2 line limitation. So we all hang up and wait for him to dial us one by one. Eventually we're all on line at the end of a process that had me wanting to bite my arm off at the shoulder so's I could beat one of em to death with the wet end!

And you wonder why I hate the telephone!

Another night out with the boys

Now that I'm not travelling nearly as much as I used to I'm finding it easy to catch up with Vern[^] and Guy[^].

We got together again tonight for some beer and yack. This time it was I who sent out the emails to get the ball rolling and, since Vern's a country music loving redneck liberal and Guy is Guy I suggested a venue. It just happened to be the same venue where I met Vern and LaMont more than a year ago.

What I didn't know is that it had changed hands in the intervening year and a bit.

Arrived at the bar I was pleased to see Vern's van parked outside (yeah yeah Vern, I know, you call it a truck but for me it's a van). Parked around the back and took the back entrance.

Beer poured and enjoyed, as much as one *can* enjoy Budweiser, we started in on the yacking. Introduced to the guy on my other side; nice guy going by the nickname of AJ.

The conversation turned on the usual staples of male bonding; Nascar (whatever that is), gadgets, sports and significant others. Gradually I became aware that AJ was gay. Perhaps the fact that the TV's were tuned to programs discussing the gay/lesbian lifestyle rather than ESPN should have tipped me off but I only remembered that detail as I write this. Sometimes I can be so unobservant!

A little later, after AJ had left, we adjourned to the outside tables and Guy arrived. By this time I was wondering if this was a gay bar and Vern asked me if I had noticed the rainbow flag outside. No, I had not. Indeed, I still haven't seen it. And, to be honest, had I noticed it I'd probably have been puzzled; why a rainbow flag? Certainly the fact that it was a gay bar bothered me not one whit.

We were joined, a little later, by Harold, a Microsoft blogger who specialises in Exchange. Vern was heard more than once to admit that he's a Microsoft Whore. I wonder when that product will be released :-)

He and Vern geeked away in a manner to warm the cockles of the heart. It was a hundred after sunset so the cockles really didn't need warming. There are few sadder sights than two techno geeks comparing PDA's!

Thus to a discussion of the merits of Starbucks as an alternate venue. I'm cool with that though I think we should keep tonights bar on the backburner; I did enjoy the disco mixes they played at something less than earsplitting volume!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

And another year goes by

And once again Heino has a birthday[^]. Bastard is still a trifle over six years younger than me and no amount of persuasion will make him get older than I!

I lied a little in last years notice of ageing; I do have one slightly embarassing story about him but I hadn't prepared ahead of time and hadn't obtained his permission to relate it. Robin may be fair game but Heino's me best mate!

It's not much of a story but here it is.

Back in 1975 we'd just joined Turtle Video[^]. One of the people who hung around was a young lady by the name of Jackie!

They'd have been about the same age, 14 going on 15 though in her case it was more like 14 going on 20. Which isn't to say she was mature beyond her years so much as it is to say that she *thought* she was.

Heino admired her from afar and wanted to ask her out on a date but couldn't quite pluck up the courage. Been there done that and I have the T shirt to prove it.

He'd dither around alternately convincing himself she'd glanced encouragement or that he hadn't a chance. I seem to remember another young lady, confidant of the first, and the pair of them giggling and exchanging commentary behind raised hands. On the other hand, I could be confusing a thousand other memories with this particular one! It's not like that kind of behaviour among teenage girls is unusual.

This went on for a week or so and Heino had advanced to the stage where he could converse on the phone with her but he still couldn't quite bring himself to the point. He'd make the run direct and shy away at the last moment, or he'd try the subtlety that only a 14 year old can muster, and shy away at the last moment.

After a week of that I could stand it no longer. When he was on the phone once again to Jackie I grabbed it and said 'Heinos got the hots for you; how about you?'.

I record this as the only time I've ever seen Heino truly embarassed.

Phone sex

ain't what it used to be. Not that I'd know of course; I'm going by what I've heard. (boom boom, cymbal tap).

Nope, these days, with picture phones and such like, one can dispense with all that $4.99 a minute heavy breathing and get images beamed across the ether straight into your palm.

Quite why is another question. Not that I've gone looking in years but they do still print paper magazines with those images don't they? Certainly if you have a computer and an internet connection you can find all the imagery you want.

The latest set of late night ads on TV here in Phoenix are for the 'Aussie Babe' phone line. Curvaceous young things wearing scanty bikinis with the Australian Flag printed on the fabric. Guess what the 7 pointed star covers in the bikini top?

The voice over is almost authentic. There are a couple of words that don't sound right; revealing the voice actor as an imitation but I'm sure it'd fool all the locals, or at least those of the locals who know what an Australian is supposed to sound like!

The punchline is original! 'Come see what's really downunder'.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The diamond fades

Yes, alas, Syd Barrett[^] passed away this week. One of the founders of Pink Floyd (I don't buy the story running around on most of the web news sites that he was 'the' founder).

As a card carrying Floyd fan since 1969 I can honestly claim that I enjoy their first two albums every bit as much as their later work. I've already told the story of my introduction[^] to Pink Floyd.

When I discovered classical music in 1970 Pink Floyd was the only Rock band I continued listening to. Hard to explain why now; I'm not sure even I know just why Rock totally fell off my radar let alone why they were the only band who didn't, but I do know that the inspired lunacy of songs such as 'Lucifer Sam' and 'Bike' and the almost autumnal wistfulness of 'Jugband Blues' stayed with me.

I'm listening to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn[^] as I write this. Brilliant music; it has the feel of endurance.

Strangely enough, I didn't read Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows[^] until years after buying and wearing out my first copy of that album. Reading the chapter of the book from which the album took its name I knew instantly that this was no coincidence.

`It's gone!' sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. `So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!' he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.

'Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,' he said presently. `O Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear, happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.'

The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed. `I hear nothing myself,' he said, `but the wind playing in the reeds and rushes and osiers.'

The Rat never answered, if indeed he heard. Rapt, transported, trembling, he was possessed in all his senses by this new divine thing that caught up his helpless soul and swung and dandled it, a powerless but happy infant in a strong sustaining grasp.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Some people ought not to be out in public without a keeper

So there we were last Tuesday[^] at Steele Indian School Park, in the queue for some Indian Fry Bread.

Indian Fry Bread is good stuff! So good in fact that the lines at the booths selling it were even longer than the lines leading to cold drinks and hot dogs.

They serve it hot and fresh from the fryer; sprinkled with icing sugar or honey or, for the more daring, with chili and various salads.

So there we were, as aforesaid, in the line. It moved slowly enough to make chilled honey seem fast by comparison. A group of 18 somethings ahead of us.

I'm sure you can imagine what happened when they became the head of the line. Uh huh. Having had at least ten minutes to peruse the price list/menu and decide what they wanted they had no idea. Thus a longish discussion taking account of that idiots aversion to honey whilst trying to accomdate the other idiots aversion to powdered sugar followed by an attempt to reconcile the third idiots desire for chili with the first two idiots desire for something of a dessert nature.

I felt like knocking their heads together, to see if I could hear their brains rattling around inside.

But now we know why the Indian Fry Bread line moves so slowly!


When we lived in Seddon, in the early to mid 60's this middle-aged bloke lived two or three doors away. He might have been 40 or he might have been 50; I couldn't tell. To a ten year old anyone over 15 seems incredibly ancient! Heck, he could have been 30 for all I knew.

He was in the habit of playing the genial host and inviting us into the bungalow he occupied behind the house. You know, I've only just realised that I have no recollection whatsoever of the people who occupied the house. We'd, the three of us, myself and my younger sisters, sprawl on his bed as he gave us lollies (sweets, candy) and he'd talk about his job.

Now let's take that little memory from 1964 or thereabouts and drag it forward forty or so years. Middle aged bloke inviting three kids, the oldest ten or so, into his bedroom. There ain't enough money in the world to induce me to perform so foolhardy an act even if my intentions are completely innocent!

It was pretty enjoyable listening to him telling stories about life in a railway signal box whilst wolfing down chocolates, so enjoyable that we made a visit a regular thing.

One afternoon during the school holidays we traipsed down the side of the house hoping for another visit with our friend. Of course it was a weekday and he was at work.

As we stuck our heads around the gate at the end of the sideway we saw the flames blistering the paint on the bungalow and, in a panic, we ran back out to the street. The old man (Misery Guts) worked just up the street on the opposite side; that's where we went to raise the alarm.

Pretty soon the fire truck was there and they made short work of the flames.

It was our misfortune that we'd been seen going in and running back out; some nosy bastards across the road accused us of setting the fire. Protestations of innocence fell upon deaf ears and Misery Guts treated me, as the supposed ringleader (being the eldest has its penalties), to the most ferocious application of the strap I'd yet experienced.

Of course, the fact that I had, half a year earlier, deliberately set a fire in the wasteground near Stoney Creek counted against me. A miserable sin of extreme youth done so I could see the fire trucks take care of business. It took Misery Guts maybe a minute to see through my excitement on that occasion and smell a causal link.

Our middle-aged friend was arrested some years later for interfering with little girls but I honestly don't remember any hanky panky during our visits.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Politics and music

At first glance it might seem that politics and music are as similar as chalk and cheese. To think that, of course, you'd have to never have heard 'Hail to the Chief' or one of Elgars Pomp and Circumstance Marches.

Even to an Aussie, hearing 'Hail to the Chief' leads, if in the appropriate setting, to a glance around to see if perhaps Bush the Younger is in the offing. It's always a relief when it proves to be a false alarm! My wife wasn't so fortunate one evening at a concert in Los Angeles when Nixon walked in!

I know you have almost as good a recollection of what I write as I do so you'll remember that I've already written once about Dmitri Shostakovich[^] who is, for me, the ultimate example of a composer of talent skewered on politics.

Much, much more than flashes of genius but an uneven output marred by the exigiencies of surviving Stalinsm. Dunno about you but what from what I've read about life in the Soviet Union in the late 1930's I think I'd have tread a careful line too! Indeed, I think the only thing that saved Shostakovich from the Gulag was his fame in the west. He certainly seems, from the evidence, to have pissed Josef Vissarionivich Dzughazhvili off more than once!

But what can one make of the Twelfth Symphony? Way back in 1971 this was one of my favourites. Written in 1960 it is subtitled 'Of the year 1917' and purports to illustrate The Revolution.

The first movement is titled 'Revolutionary Petrograd' - one can easily imagine this music accompanying any newsreel footage showing Lenin haranguing the workers, fist in the air. Not a lot different, having been there, to the way fans at a Pink Floyd concert shake their fists in the air when the band plays 'We don't need no educashon!'.

The second movement, 'Razliv', is nondescript. Lenin spent time at Razliv during the middle of 1917 following the establishment of the provisional government and before the Bolsheviks did the second revolution. Given that the Kerensky[^] administration had already deposed Tsarism in February of 1917 and much of the impetus for revolution had cooled I can see why the music is nondescript. Lenin really had to work hard to discredit the first revolution and turn it into a communist revolution. Even as late as 1960 I take this as evidence that the regime had not managed to rise to Orwellian heights of history falsification.

The third and fourth movments are merged. The third is subtitled 'Aurora' which is the name of a battleship which purported to bombard the Winter Palace in St Petersburg (later known as Leningrad). Appropriately bombastic music; much percussion including some devastating Tam Tam slams!

Now I can go with this; up to and including the third movement. Music can't really show history unless the listener supplies some images from his own head and those images, whilst necessarily unique to the individual will tend to be 'guided' by everything one has seen before. Thus, when I hear the music I can see scenes of Lenin, bald head and beard unmistakeable, shaking his fist as he denounces whatever evil it is for his today. I can see the maggots infesting the meat on The Battleship Potemkin[^]. Not the truth and perhaps not even a part of the truth but those are the images that I associate with the Soviet Union.

But the fourth movement is where it all falls apart for this child of the western world. For this movement is subtitled 'The Dawn of Humanity'. Rousing music to be sure but if one knows anything of the history of the time and the place a blatant lie.

As an organic whole the symphony fails but it has its good moments.

A long gestation

You remember that I visited Australia nearly 10 months ago. Is it really that long since I've enjoyed fish and chips? Sadly, yes.

Heino and I have a long tradition of visiting the Sunday Computer Markets[^] in Melbourne and that most recent trip was no exception. This time we had a goal, which was to get some wireless network cards, a wireless router and a USB 2.0 card.

I wrote about our adventure with the wireless networking[^].

Somehow, in the alternation of despondency at the blue screens and the delighted flush of success the USB 2.0 card was forgotten and it was still sitting on top of Heinos computer when I left.

A couple of times since then I've asked him if the card had ever been installed and the answer was always no. But I forgot all about it until today when, just before I rang him for the semi weekly chewing of the fat, it popped into my head.

It seems that it finally made its way into the computer, a month ago! I make that 9 months from purchase to installation. Surely a record??

Just playing around

Nothing to see here; move along.

Well, ok, if this works there *IS* something to see here. I've decided that where possible I'll try and embed images directly within the text as well as providing a link to a larger external source.

I'm not, however, much of a hand at HTML even if I *do* write all posts in Notepad and manually embed the links. Thus this mucking around to see how it's done.

Fingers crossed!


And it bloody well worked! I took this photo a week or so ago as we descended into the Prescott Valley in Central Arizona. I'm a bit of a sunset fan and this is one of maybe 50 photos I took that evening. Gotta love digital cameras!

Semantics or sales pitch?

Whilst driving this afternoon I had the radio tuned to one of those hour long programs that are not much more than thinly disguised commercials. This one was for real estate. What got me about it is that they kept referring to houses as homes.

I've always thought the distinction was clear; one purchases a house and turns it into a home. Once it goes back on the market it ceases being a home until the next occupant takes over.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

In an evil moment

the idea of this post came to me. But this is the first time I've had the opportunity to use the idea. You understand that I'd much rather not have the opportunity but one copes as one must.

The idea? Thought you'd never ask!

I can't think of a damn thing to write about :-)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

I mentioned my Fourth Form English Teacher[^] over a year ago. I didn't say it then but she was my favourite teacher that year. Being totally honest, she was my favourite because she had a very pleasing face and form and she was the subject of more than one nocturnal fantasy.

But practicality when one is an inexperienced fifteen year old faced with the calm assurance of a twenty something woman usually saves one from going too far. Let's face it; even though I knew the theory by then I'd have probably totally screwed up any attempt at the practice.

One of my friends of the time had more guts, or perhaps more desperation, than most of us; he tried to transition from fantasy to reality by exposing himself one afternoon as we laboured over essays. Our teacher was making her way from one desk to another, offering hints and suggestions; when she reached his desk and leaned over, glancing downward, she probably saw more than she was expecting!

'Oh put it away!' she said.

Poor bastards nickname for the rest of the year was 'put it away'. We ragged him unmercifully though I have to admit to a fleeting admiration.

I have no recollection whatsoever of his name.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pushing my luck

As we were driving to Steele Indian School Park last night the conversation passed on to the subject of minor bingles (car accidents), triggered by the sight of a car parked way over on the right of the 51 with one side of the bumper hanging to the ground.

Sonya wondered how it had got that way. I opined that someone had sideswiped him on the corner of the car and that reminded her of how, when she was 16 and newly licensed, she'd sideswiped a brick wall but had lied about it to her mother, saying that another driver had sideswiped her and driven off. (Phew, I thought that sentence was never going to end!).

I thought a moment and asked...

'Did it damage the running board?'

The look I got in reply wasn't as kind as it could have been. :-)

My first Fourth of July at home

It was Marc Clifton[^] who once remarked that it takes up to three years to feel at home. I've been here three and a half years and it finally feels like home.

It never took that long in the past but then again, that was moving from one suburb of Melbourne to another; the radio stations were the same as were the newspapers, the accents didn't change and of course one drove on the correct side of the road.

The move to Phoenix took a lot longer to get used to and if you read back over my ravings for the last nearly two years you'll see that my attitude to Phoenix has changed for the good.

Thus tonight to my first Fourth of July actually spent in Phoenix. Previous years living in the US I was either in Boston, The Philippines or Flagstaff.

We had quite a large choice of places to go see fireworks; Tempe Town Lake, Chandler, Rawhide are the ones I remember in addition to the one we chose, Fabulous Phoenix 4th[^] at Steele Indian School Park.

A well managed event and if we'd bothered to search for the website before the event rather than after we'd have saved ourselves even the minimal grief we had in finding a parking spot.

Thus to wandering around in the dusk looking first for food, for who could attend a Fourth of July without extra sustenance! We settled for a cup of ribs each. I kid you not, they were served in the kind of polystyrene cup usually used for hot coffee. Good ribs though and I confess I had to eat them in the manner adopted by the locals; a knife and fork were hardly practical!

Food taken care of for the nonce we then sought the best place to view the fireworks. We had no idea where they'd be launched but happy inspiration and the proximity of the Phoenix Fire Department truck led us to ask them; if they didn't know where the fireworks would be then no one would.

As luck would have it we were in just about the perfect location to view them, right beside the flagpole. This ain't yo mamma's flagpole either, no sir! Biggest flagpole I've ever seen and a flag on top that looks big enough to cover a car park! It even manages to dwarf the flags one sees[^] flying over used car dealerships!

Came the big moment and almost all lights were doused throughout the park. Not the four large floodlights illuminating the flag; to douse those whilst the flag was flying at night would be a breach of etiquette[^] and, after all, the entire occasion was a celebration of that very flag!

Then half an hour of fireworks with musical accompaniement. Should I admit a moment of chill down the spine at the climax of 'The Star Spangled Banner?'. Yes, I should!

Does no one check this stuff?

The best anomaly in pricing I've yet found on MSN Music.

I did a search for In C[^] aka Plink Plink[^]. Obviously I already have the CD but I was curious about the coverage available in MSN Music.

As you'll see from the first link the CD has just the one 'track', all of 76 or so minutes long.

MSN Music's pricing? $8.91 for the entire album, or $1.39 for the only track.

Go figure.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July Fourth

On July 4 2003 I was with the family in Boston, part of our east coast tour. Preparations building for fireworks and a huge party on the banks of the Charles River. That was the second time I'd been to Boston; the first was in 1996 and I took the opportunity to have some time to myself by taking the T across the river into Cambridge. The rest of em wanted to spend time in a shopping mall.

Hmmm, we have malls right here in Phoenix and, as I've noted before[^], one mall is pretty much like another. Perhaps they wanted to convince themselves of that fact! *shrug*

On the way back I got into conversation with someone. The accent always seems to charm and they wanted to know where I was. Having given that tidbit of information I was asked

'Do you have July Fourth in Australia?'

I confirmed that we did indeed, adding that we also had a July third and a July fifth. Blank look of incomprehension but, as it was a special day to my interlocutor I left it at that.

Ikea's moved

Geeze I dunno. I go away for a few years and they start shuffling things around. Suddenly Ikea is no longer on the Nepean Highway at Mordialloc; apparently it's moved to somewhere in Richmond.

You understand that I'm not a fan of Ikea by any means; their furniture, such as it is, is a trifle too spartan for my tastes. My lack of enthusiasm for Ikea might also have something to do with a former wife's enthusiasm for it, who can tell?

But I fear that if this keeps up I won't recognise Melbourne next time I'm there. Heck, they've even renamed Spencer Street Station (it's now Southern Cross).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Oh, the audacity

I can't believe that other people blindly accept that MP3 players insert audible gaps between tracks. Mine does and an internet search indicates that apparently most MP3 players do. Given that I can play the same set of tracks on my main computer using WMP11 and it smoothly transitions from one track to the next I suspect it's related to the CPU power available.

Obviously I'm talking the sort of album that breaks a continuous track into a set of shorter tracks whilst expecting the playback hardware to output a continuous stream. I'm not sure why they do that.

Possibly the worst example I have is Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony. CD 1 of the set contains the first, second and third movements and, whilst I haven't consulted the score to see if rests are inserted every minute or so I'm pretty sure, based on listening to the music, that he didn't intend a 2 second gap be inserted between one chord and the next. I'm also pretty sure that dividing those three movements into 25 separate chunks wasn't his intention. It doesn't even make commercial sense if the entire 2 CD set can be downloaded for $1.98 and each of the 25 chunks costs 99 cents!

It so happens that I don't have a genuine pressed CD of that particular symphony. My copy is legal to be sure; I downloaded it some time ago from MSN music and when I play the DRM copy in WMP11 it plays smoothly despite those first three movments being divided into so many chunks. Does it play smoothly on the MP3 player? No, it does not. Does a pressed CD copy divide it up the way that the MSNMusic download does? I have no idea but it seems unlikely.

Having paid for the download I have the right to burn it to CD, which I did. I'm not sure how many burns I'm allowed because I don't keep the DRM copies around in WMP11. They're on the hard disk of course but I choose to segregate DRM and non DRM once I've created the non DRMed CD copy and ripped that one back to the library. For the nonce I only need the one burn.

The CD copy inserts those damn 2 second gaps between 'tracks'. I suspect a conspiracy to prevent people doing exactly what I want to do which is to pay for a DRM copy, burn it to CD and then rip the CD back so that DRM is removed. Given that I've already paid for the copy this can only lead to a suspicion that they imagine I know someone who actually wants to listen to Brian's Gothic Symphony. If so they've shot me in the foot for no good reason!

I'm not unaware that I'm hardly the target demographic of any music download service and I accept that perhaps they do what they do to discourage sharing.

Well that's the download side of the story. Now let's consider Michael Nymans String Quartet No 1. I have it on CD (two copies as it happens, both genuine pressed CD's). Played in any CD player tracks 9 to 20 flow with nary a gap. Ripped on a track by track basis you guessed it - 2 second gaps on the MP3 player.

Hmmmm, so my conspiracy theory is flying on a wing and a prayer given that evidence. It's just the way that MP3 players work. Not a convincing answer but one accepts the real world when one must.

Yeah right. There's nothing that one mind can create that another cannot subvert given enough will. The Nyman String Quartet was easy enough; just rip it again but this time around create one track instead of 11. Worked well. No gaps.

Not so for the legally created CD burned from the DRM copy of Brian's Gothic Symphony. Rip as individual tracks or as a single track per movement I still have those damned gaps because they're inserted by the burn process. Time for sterner measures. Rip once more from the CD copy but this time as single file per movment wav files. I still have the gap but now it's in an editable format. Enter Audacity[^] which let me find and delete those gaps. A few experiments as I learned to use the program; a few clicks where the gaps were incompetently deleted, undo and redo and I now have a perfect copy!

Of course the real solution is for an MP3 player to play tracks just as our desktop players can play them. Windows PlaysForSure forsooth! Didn't play for sure in my case! God I hate hacks and workarounds!

Unwarranted assumptions

A few years ago a girlfriend of mine had occasion to enter a clinic for a period of weeks. Nope, it wasn't a rehab clinic; if anyone's a candidate for that kind of clinic it's me.

She was a dozen years my junior and her mother was a dozen years my senior; I was about midway in age between the pair of them.

We'd been living together a couple of years at the time so of course I was there when she went into the clinic; her mother was there too. The clinic staff showed us around the premises and into the 'ward' where she'd be living for the next few weeks. We sat, the three of us, in the ward. It looked not unlike an average motel, right in the heart of Melbourne. Nice place; I've stayed in hotel rooms that were worse!

About five minutes later the nurse came in and intimated that perhaps it was time the visitors left the patient. She, the nurse, looked at my girlfriends mother, at me and then at my girlfriend.

'It's time your parents left' she said.

How mortifying!

Lost in translation

I've just been watching, for the umpteenth time, Ivan The Terrible, Part 1[^]. Excellent movie; I've been watching it ever since I first recorded it on Beta way back in 1983. I almost wore that tape out over 19 years until I discovered the DVD (yeah, I was as slow discovering DVD's as I was digital music).

The 1983 copy had subtitles created in house by SBS[^]. The DVD copy, released by Criterion[^] has, of course, a different translation. For the most part they're pretty much the same and these days, with neither the Beta tape nor the ability to play it back I'd be hard pressed to point to most phrases in the subtitles and say with any certainty that it differed from the one I used to see.

All but one that is. During the wedding early in the movie the guests frequently yell a word which is, as far as I can tell, 'boite' (sp)? The DVD translates this as 'kiss' in the imperative and Tsar Ivan and his bride Anastasia oblige by kissing.

The SBS translation had a much more puzzling but ultimately more satisfying translation. They translated it as 'the wine is bitter'. Had me scratching my head a bit until I found a friend with an eastern European background who was able to explain that they'd abbreviated it a trifle; what the guests were yelling was 'the wine is bitter; sweeten it with a kiss'. Aha, that made much more sense.

Somehow I like the SBS translation a lot more despite the initial puzzlement. You have no idea how tempted I was to yell it at Shelbys wedding last week; but no one else would have understood and one does not spoil another persons wedding.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Singing in the rain

After we dropped Andrew off at Lake Pleasant we headed north to Sedona. Sonya wanted to go to an estate sale held at the home of Donald O'Connor[^].

Along the way we stopped in Black Canyon City for lunch; we went for the second time to Bylers Amish Cafe. I now know just why Americans put so much stuff on their burgers! It's to hide the vile flavour of undercooked ground beef. I sent the patty back to the cook for a second cooking! Don't get me wrong; I enjoy a medium rare steak but the idea doesn't extend all that well to ground 'beef'. When you buy a steak it's obvious at a glance whether what is delivered is a steak or not. Not so easy when you're dealing with arseholes and lips!

Thus North to Sedona and the former home of Donald O'Connor. Stunning location; the view[^] is wonderful.

The sale had been going two days by the time we got there and it had been picked pretty clean! We settled for an unsigned but framed movie poster which, but for the fact of having been apparently in the posession of the aforementioned movie star, would be totally unremarkable.

We went through a stack of books; Sonya picked up and discarded without examination a book that grabbed my attention; a photo history of Santa Monica. Fascinating photographs from a century or more ago. Reminded me of a book I once owned showing the early history of Melbourne in photographs. We bought that one as well, once Sonya realised what it was; she grew up in Santa Monica.

Leaving the sale came the choice, back to Phoenix directly via I17 or a side trip to Prescott, former capital of Arizona before statehood? Easy choice; the day was youngish and I like Prescott.

Along the way to Prescott from Sedona one passes through Cottonwood which is perilously close to the Tuzigoot National Monument[^]. I'd never heard of it but Sonya wanted to go see it. I quite enjoyed it. A storm was brewing away to the west, the wind was blowing something approaching a gale and we saw some awesome lightning. As we walked back to the car a few drops of rain fell; I felt like singing in the rain!

The angst of youth

I mentioned yesterday that we were about to become an Andrew free zone. Like most things worth having, that entailed a little work on our side.

Not an enormous amount of work as it happened; we had to deliver him to the campsite at noon. He's somewhere on Lake Pleasant which is a trifle under an hours drive away.

I've finally realised what my real problem is. I'm too bloody reasonable. Tell me that I need to be somewhere at noon and it's about an hours drive away and I'll expect to leave somewhere around 10:45 AM. That expectation naturally carries an obligation, which is to be ready at 10:45 AM.

And, you guessed it, he wasn't nearly ready. I have no idea what the holdup was; I was too busy enjoying my new music download whilst keeping an eye on the clock.

At maybe 11:15 AM he was finally ready and truculent to boot! All decked out in his boy scouts uniform and slamming doors just like he was Morgan.

I reckon Morgan is beyond any help I could give her but he's salvagable.

So we took off and Mom asked if he was hungry. A grunt or two from the back seat.

'Pardon?' I said.

Another grunt or two.

'Hmmm', I said. 'I thought we'd progressed a little beyond grunts. Is that a yes or a no?'

Reluctantly he admitted it was a yes. Mom suggested we stop at the In'n'out at Desert Ridge. Vile hamburgers. I said fine, but you're not bringing the burgers into the car, it'll take hours to get rid of the smell.

Thus ensued an argument (and you have to understand that this all took place in a 3 mile drive) the gist of which was that he didn't want to be seen in public wearing his boy scout uniform.

Impasse! I don't want the burgers in the car and he doesn't want to get out of the car.

'Ok' I said, 'go hungry'. I've got the power and sometimes I abuse it. 'Nuff said!

At which point he used THAT word!

'Andrew', I said, 'I don't care how often your sister uses that word, I don't want to hear you using it!'

'I use it less than you do!' he countered.

'Well let's just keep it that way shall we?' I said.

Discussing this whole thing afterward with Sonya she says I hesitated a second. She thought it was because I didn't know quite how to respond. I maintain that I was trying to remember just how often we do use that word - it'd be maybe twice a year in general household conversation. She reckoned my response was perfect.


I'm listening as I write to Raff's Fifth symphony which, if you've been paying attention, means I finally got the download to work.

When I say I got it working I'm, of course, glossing over a few minor details. Things like deleting registry keys as instructed in a very long and detailed email received from MSN Music in response to yesterdays final cry for help.

They had me disable BITS for MSN Music which seems to be the crucial thing.

It turns out that they don't officially support WMP11 yet and they're saying that's the problem. Gotta admit that had me scratching my head a trifle. MSN Music is in the list of 'supported' music sites for WMP11 so what's the problem?

I loved this extract from the email:

'After downloading you may try to play your new purchases.'

Gee, ya reckon???

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The thin end of the wedge

We're looking forward to an Andrew free week. Well, let's be honest here; I am :-) Frankly I'd much rather it was a Morgan free week but we can't always have what we want so I'll go with the next best thing. Which isn't to say that living with Andrew around is any kind of hardship; we're getting along just fine nowadays.

He's off to some boy scout related thing. I wasn't in the boy scouts so I have no idea what it's all about. I do know that when I asked him how he felt about showing off his woggle in public he totally missed the joke!

So when I came home tonight he approached diffidently; would I record one program for him on my HTPC while he was away.

Now you have to understand that as the Johnny-come-lately in this particular family group I've had to carve out my own niche and I do feel the need to defend it. Give either of them half a chance and they'll exploit me to death. Maybe I'm overly cynical but my experience with Morgan certainly reinforces that view of things.

So I was somewhat guarded in my response. What program? When? He was going to watch it while I was at work wasn't he?

Oh, he assured me, he'd much rather have me transfer it to DVD so he can watch it on his own set. Uh huh.

Initial agreement reached it was time for the first whammy. 'Well, it's not one program, it's three'.

A bit more digging and it turns out that those three programs consist each of two one hour programs. So now we're up to six programs.

And then came the second whammy. 'Oh, and could you record them the following week as well?'. So now I'm recording twelve hours of video that he wants transferred to DVD. He expressed considerable surprise when I intimated it wasn't going to fit on one DVD. Thus a short discussion of the average length of movies and hadn't he ever thought that perhaps the DVD format was designed for an average movie length of two hours plus or minus a bit? Nope he hadn't. How foolish of me to think he had!

So, having made him very aware of how I saw through his attempt (successful as it happens) at using the wedge I asked him channel and time. He rattled off a list. 'Nope' I said 'write it down!'. Much moaning, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Now you'd reckon, wouldn't you, that the easiest way would be to take a sheet of paper and a pencil and jot it down? Nope, that'd make too much sense. Nope, he just had to open Word and then fuss around with much calling for help from Mom, to create a three column document containing the requested data. He printed it out and closed the document without saving.

Channel was straightforward enough. Day also though he didn't specify the date as well. But the time column was 9:00-11:00. 'Uh Andrew? AM or PM?' More wailing and gnashing of teeth as he reopened Word, yelled for the same help he'd had a mere five minutes earlier and recreated the document.

Yeah I could have told him to add the extra information by hand using a pen but I thought it better to let him suffer. I'm sure that if I wait long enough (though I might not have enough life left) he'll finally realise that 2 + 2 does equal 4.

The never ending download

MSN Music is still bravely trying to download Raff's Fifth Symphony to my computer. I've been keeping a running total whilst deleting superfluous copies; it's currently at 2819 copies with nary a sign of an end let alone a license to play it!

Part of me wants to let it keep going, possibly forever, to see just how long they'll take to notice. But then the practical side kicks in and points out just how unimportant, in the scheme of things, a single stalled 99 cent download would be to MSN Music.

Thus a search through MSN pages today to find a contact number or link. No such thing as a phone number, for which I'm almost grateful. The thought of dealing with a script monkey has little appeal. But I did find a page where I can submit a problem report. Filled it out and it's disappeared into the maw of the beast.

They promise a reply via email within 24 hours; let's see what happens.

Oh, it's 2820 copies now!

One of my more unusual teachers

40 years ago I was in my first year at Footscray Technical College, which was the blue collar equivalent of High School. The only languages taught were English and Filth and the curriculum focussed on turning us into tradesmen.

Not a bad school as it happened; I learned a lot about the practical side of the world and natural curiousity taught me the 'softer' side of things.

We Form 1 students in our first year at Tech were all about 11 or 12 years old and, as I've hinted (and downright said) in previous posts, more than somewhat fascinated by the grand mystery of the opposite sex.

Indeed, I remember during my first week at that school, during the time when the new school year is lumbering into gear and no one from students to teachers is quite sure what to do, our Form 1 class was combined with a Form 3 class in a large classroom under the supervision of a new teacher. An exercise in having to do something with us to fill an hour.

New teacher tried to pal up by not pulling the discipline thing and tried to get conversation going by intimating that we could talk about anything on our minds.

One of the 3rd Formers piped up. 'Let's talk about girls!'. Giggles from we 1st Formers. But I have to hand it to the new teacher. He handled it well.

'Ok', he said, 'what about girls?' And no one had a word to say!

Thus it was our delight to have Miss F as our art teacher.

Yes, even in a trade oriented school we had 'art' classes. Not at all what I'd call art these days but it must have struck someone as useful to have a bunch of spotty herberts alternate between sloshing clay around and disfiguring perfectly innocent pieces of art paper with hideous 'paintings'.

The thing about Miss F, who I imagine might have been 22 or 23 years old, that delighted us was that she wore neither underwear nor a bra. For 1966 that was quite daring. Ah, but you're asking, how did we know she wore no underwear?

Well, she made no effort to hide the fact; to the contrary she seemed determined to show off what she had and we desired. Or maybe she got a kick out of knowing she had thirty 11 year olds all standing to attention!

*shrug* I wasn't alone in enthusiastically boasting that I had seen 'it'.

The name Miss F isn't a subtle dig; her name really did start with F but as she might still be alive I choose not to be more specific about her name.