Saturday, September 30, 2006

The big day

So yes, today was my big day. The day on which I became a US Citizen.

The process was much like air travel; hurry up and go slow. And that's just talking about todays proceedings at the US District Courthouse down on Washington Street, Central Phoenix. The route from foreigner to the courthouse is much slower. And I had it easy; about as easy as it's possible for anyone not an active member of the military.

The public ceremony was scheduled for 1:30 PM but we candidates were instructed to arrive no later than 11:45 AM. Arrived, we went through the usual security gauntlet though it's rather less restrictive than that required to board an aircraft.

Then some milling about waiting; Sonya and I played the 'pick the candidate' game. We guessed it was about one quarter to one third candidates and the remainder friends and relatives.

A few minutes late and they opened the doors for candidates only. Now we come to a curious oversight with a process that's usually highly efficient. You have to understand that we're inside a large modern court building architected on the 'awe the hell out of em' principle. Ie, the building is about ten times larger than it needs to be and nine tenths of the space is taken up with a huge hall with terrible acoustics. The poor bugger trying to instruct us has no electronic augmentation and I'd reckon most of us couldn't hear what she was trying to announce! Certainly I was having problems, and remember I'm the guy who can tell, at dinner, that Andrew's left his TV on when he shouldn't have!

So in we marched, candidates only, taking seats at the back of the courtroom. Then followed a long process of checking each of us in. Hand over our appointment letter, answer the litany of questions. I touched briefly on what questions here[^] but they surely did quiz every one of us. From there to another line where we handed over the letter and our green card (farewell old friend!) and thence to a third line where we were shown our naturalisation certificate, to verify that all the details were correct. Only then were we allowed to take our seats in the front of the courtroom, in the same order that our certificates were stacked.

That last part was amazing. Understand that we were processed in random order and yet there was no fumbling through a pile of certificates when it came time to examine them. They just had the right certificate waiting. I still can't imagine how they were able to pull that trick off!

Given that there were 99 of us (one candidate was a no show) you can imagine this all took some time. Fortunately we were provided with reading material to fill in the time; a rubber stamped welcome letter from President George W Bush, a map of the route from the court house to the US passport office over on West Jackson Street, an Arizona voter registration form and the words to The Star Spangled Banner.

Check in finished with about 20 minutes to spare and we were allowed a break after being enjoined to be certain we returned to the same seat; they really wanted us in the same order as our naturalisation certificates. Why will become clear later!

Of course I took the opportunity for a smoke! Two if the truth be told!

Back in the courtroom we were shown a patriotic video replete with images from Ellis Island fading in and out against a background of the flag flying proudly in the breeze and finishing on a long shot of Liberty in New York Harbour. Then an awkward gap. According to the programme (yes, they distribute a programme) the judge was supposed to start proceedings but she was a trifle late. *shrug*

The usual palaver when she did arrive. Respect for the court and all that. Then the USCIS (INS) officer made a motion that we candidates for citizenship be accepted. Which motion was graciously accepted by the court. Uh huh. As though, having got this far, the court is going to say no?? Yeah, I know it's ceremony but it did feel a trifle silly.

Then we're on our feet taking the Oath of Allegiance. Quite the emotional experience. Can't speak for anyone else but what starts out as an almost whispered response builds in volume as confidence increases.

Oath taken and suddenly we're citizens! We were told to sit and almost immediately we're on our feet again, to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. This blindsided me. The Oath of Allegiance, as the form of words which confers citizenship, is read out, piece by piece and we repeat it piece by piece. The Pledge wasn't read out; we were assumed to have learned it. Uh huh, I haven't memorised it yet.

Then came some welcoming comments and applause, followed by another video, this one featuring the President welcoming us. I have to admit, not being a fan of the current incumbent of the office, that I thought the speech was well done. Lots of inclusive commentary and many reiterations that we are now, officially, Americans.

Three or four of our number gave short speeches. We all had the opportunity to volunteer but I'm not much of a one for public speaking so I gave it a miss. Besides, how could my story compare with that of the young lady from Kosovo who had passed through a refugee camp before being rescued by Lutheran volunteers? How compare with the Sudani escaping that conflict? Or the Tongan guy who'd been here 30 years and was finally, on his fourth try, successful at gaining citizenship?

Then it was time for the judge to give her speech. She started out by asking what countries were represented. In some ways it was like pulling teeth; most people seemed reluctant to volunteer any information. I was about the third to stand and announce my country of origin. She, the judge, seemed nonplussed when I said Australia and I (and Sonya) had the distinct impression that she really didn't know where Australia was!

And what countries were represented? Australia of course! Great Britain, Italy, Somalia, Sudan, Korea, The Philippines, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Kosovo, Bosnia, Norway and Congo.

Our judge, being from immigrant parents, was justly proud of how far she'd come and boy did she give a speech about it. Sonya, afterwards, said she wasn't sure of the relevance of the speech but I thought it was just right.

And now you're going to discover why it was important that we be seated in the correct order, for the conclusion was the judge coming down to the floor and handing us each our naturalisation certificate and shaking us by the hand. Actually the Sudanese guy wasn't content with a handshake; he wanted a full on hug. Good luck to him! And who knows, I may be the only Australian our judge has ever met. *shrug*

Naturalisation certificate safely in my possession we retired outside for a smoke. My friend Vern[^] had taken the trouble to attend the ceremony, something I greatly appreciated. We disappeared across the road for a coffee and some shyacking. I fear I'll never manage the American accent (which accent would that be anyway? California? Mississippi? New Jersey?) but Vern was forced to admit that I can say 'screw you!' with the best of them. He acknowledges that I also have a smooth technique with the middle finger 'bird'.

So now I'm a yank! Yeeehaaawwwwwwwww! :-)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The other Australian

Having worked here for a bit over two years my colleagues are proud of their ability to recognise an Australian accent when they hear one.

For months I've been hearing about the 'Australian Fedex driver' who makes deliveries early in the morning (way before I normally start). Everyone was adamant that he was an Aussie, peppering his conversation with 'mate' as he reputedly did. I had my doubts when he was also reported as saying 'shite' which is a word no self respecting Australian would ever use.

My doubts were confirmed this morning when I finally met him. As broad a Yorkshire accent as one could hope to find!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

13 days never spent in the US

You may remember, on the occasion of my 51st birthday[^] that I, rather optimistically, tried to set a personal tradition of never being in the US on the occasion of Andrews birthday. Alas, it hasn't happened that way and with my naturalisation ceremony a mere 4 days away I fear the entire block of 13 days in the aforementioned post are lost to the US.

Sonya and I did, briefly, consider the idea of doing a quick trip to Mexico so that I could count at least a few hours of the year never spent in the US but I suspect it's a losing game and, even with a freshly minted naturalisation certificate in hand I'm still wary of crossing the US Mexico border without a genuine US passport in my hot little hand.

Oh, Andrew *still* has no idea when my birthday is. He hasn't even committed it's Juneness to memory! When the subject came up a day or two before his birthday he was hazarding guesses in May, June, July and August!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Do not pass go!

Last week Andrew had his 15th birthday.

Little bastard's looking forward to learning to drive seven or so months from now but just between us I have grave doubts about the wisdom of putting him behind the controls of a ton of metal driven at speed.

The problem is that he's so vague about everything. I have to admit that sometimes I envy him his ability to ignore everything around him but that ability has its own dangers. All well and good now, when failing to notice something has, at worst, a stubbed toe or a banged elbow as the pay off.

I'm sure I need not elaborate on the possible consequences save to note that I think it extremely unlikely a judge would accept 'I didn't notice' as an adequate excuse to a charge of manslaughter.

As for how we get him out of this mode and into one in which he can survive in our world? I have no idea though I often play the bastard and grille him about what he has (and hasn't) noticed.

Andrews birthday was Tuesday last week but for one reason and another, the celebration was postponed until Thursday. We dined at Benihana[^], a not so good Japanese Tepanyaki restaurant and not my choice; for much the same money we could have dined at Sapporo[^], which is much the superior restaurant. Sonya however had promised Sapporo for his 16th birthday and one sometimes has to go with the flow.

So there we were, the three of us plus Morgan and Bill, his dad. Even without thinking about it (or perhaps Mom and Bill choreographed it so subtly we didn't notice) it ended up with Morgan and I as far apart as possible consistent with sitting at the same table. Suited us both!

Appetisers consumed it was time for some pressie giving. Various iPod accessories and iTunes gift cards plus $200 from Grandmother. The $200 was handed over as cash and, after an initial drool from the recipient, it was left on top of a pile of gift wrapping as Andrew tried to tear open the packaging on the iPod case we'd given him. Poor lad has much to learn about packaging; it was the hard plastic bubble type that needs heavy duty garden shears to cut open.

Not that he was about to let a little thing like that get in his way! Dad's pocket knife was pressed into inadequate service and a frantic sawing away at the plastic ensued. I saw my chance and in a moment the $200 had been snaffled and pocketed!

A couple of minutes later the floor show, in the form of the tepanyaki chef, started. So Andrew scooped up all the gifts and shoved em into one of those gift bags popular nowadays.

So we watched volcanos made out of onion rings and the spinning of an egg at high speed on a spatula. Big deal! :-) Followed by the consumption of steak and shrimp and fried rice and the whole nine yards. And Andrew didn't notice that he was $200 down!

Food consumed and the ritual singing of embarassing songs over the bill arrived. About $180 for the five of us. I reached into my pocket and said 'Andrew'll cover this' as I plunked his $200 down. With a panic stricken look he checked his gift bag; no cash to be seen! Bill clapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for buying dinner!

Yeah, we let him off :-) But maybe next time he won't take his eye off the cash!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Arse about

(shamelessly stolen from The Genealogue[^].)

The LaGrange Reporter desires to call the attention of the press of Georgia to the following matter: Within the last three months two or three well-known men in Georgia have been announced dead, and the newspapers have written eloquent obituaries over them. But these men, with a perversity as provoking as it is inexplicable, still live. Now, when a newspaper in good standing makes the solemn assertion that any man is dead, that man should die. For him to live, is a dangerous infringement on the liberty of the press. We hope the Press Association will petition the Legislature to pass a law that a man announced dead by the press must die.[The Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal of Jan. 17, 1874]

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Here I am patiently counting down the days until USCIS (INS) are out of my life forever (barring the possibility of losing my naturalisation certificate).

It was inevitable, then, that a summons for Jury Duty should arrive in todays mail, complete with instructions, in bold red type, to fill out the questionnaire and return it immediately!

Easy enough you'd reckon? Ah, but the gotcha is that as of today I'm not eligible to sit on a jury, but I will be on the day for which I'm summoned.

So do I fill out the form now, claiming ineligibility on the grounds that I'm not a US Citizen? Or do I delay returning the form until I've taken the oath?

Decisions decisions!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who says Americans have no sense of humour?

I have the proof at the office in the form of my new nickname. Captain America!

I kinda like it though of course etiquette requires that I act as though I don't. :-)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Doesn't time fly

when you're having fun.

Even 52 years into this life I find it hard, sometimes, to believe just how fast time passes. It seems incredible that it is, at the time of writing, exactly a year since I was last flying over the Pacific Ocean toward Sydney. That makes it 50 weeks or so since I last had fish and chips!

It's the little details that bring it home; remembrance of a very pleasant weekday morning spent in Fawkner Park.

Taking a photograph of the Flagstaff signage at the railway station of that name quite without knowing that it is now, and was then, illegal to take photographs in the Melbourne Underground Railway. Geeze the Bush legacy reaches far!

The early afternoon when I walked past the house I last lived in in Melbourne and, seeing my former neighbours car parked out the front, how I knocked on the door, got no answer and sat to enjoy a smoke. Emerging from the neighbours property I was confronted by the neighbour on the other side wondering whether I was casing the joint. Had to show the bastard my Victorian drivers license with my old address on it to calm him down.

The memory of standing on the inbound platform of Yarraville Station and seeing the slogan moulded into the facade of a circa 1880 building; 'Suum Quique'. My first thought, on seeing the slogan nearly four decades ago, was that it read just as 'sue em quick' and a Google search on the term, whilst not providing a definitive definition of the term does seem to confirm that first impressions were on the right track! The building houses a lawyers office!

Ah nostalgia, where would we be without you, sweet goddess!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Leave the dust!

This morning I received an email from someone I met at Unisys Australia on my first day there. Bob, the office manager, took me on the whirlwind three hour tour. Deliberate sarcasm; I wasn't going to remember every face and name, nor would they remember mine.

After the first five or six stops I was introduced to Terri. Given that I included a link to the blog in my reply I expect her to read this which is half the reason I'm writing about it. She always chides me when I relate this story.

Bob did the usual 'Terri, this is Rob the new guy. Rob, this is Terri'. Then he added that she was the single most important person in the office. Get on her right side and all will go well.

Terri always blusters about what arrant nonsense that is but I think it's pretty close to the truth. Terri had and has her finger on the pulse; she knows what's going on and who to watch out for.

Along the way Bob also introduced me to the young lady at the reception desk and as we moved on to the next intro he took the opportunity of putting me on warning that she was his daughter! Warning heeded!

Over the course of a couple of years Terri and I became friends. I suspect it was my purchase of chips at the fast food joint out the back of the building that started it. It became quite the ritual during the second half of 1989 to swing by Terri's desk and offer her some chips. She was always gracious in accepting. Good times.

Whatever the process we became friends and the propinquity of my ending up living a ten minute walk away cemented things. I met her husband Greg and I reckon it took no more than a year for us (Greg and I) to become comfortable with each other. :-)

Whenever I return to Australia Terri and Greg are on my 'must' visit list.

In September 1994 we, my then wife Peta and I, and a few others including Terri and Greg went on a wine tour of the Coonawarra[^] region in South Australia. Unisys were paying accomodation and meals but we were expected to pay for whatever wine we carried home. Seemed fair enough; we still had a good weekend together.

The email that sparked this trip down nostalgia lane asked me what year that was. Like I'd forget! Though, truth be told, hit with the question 3 minutes after waking up I got it wrong; I thought it was 1993 but later reflection tells me it was 1994. Two years to the day after my attending the Melbourne premiere of Einstein on the Beach[^].

I took the opportunity of buying a couple of bottles of St George 1987 (but alas I can't remember if it was Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot) on that trip. Wonderful drop. If I'm remembering rightly 1987 was one of 'the' years for Australian red wine. It seems that Terri and Greg drank a bottle of the St George '87 last night and Greg pronounced it 'bloody fantastic'. I heartily agree with that assessment.

Sometime in 1995 I found a couple of bottles of the St George '87 for sale at Yarraville Cellars[^]. They were marked down as 'old' stock! I think I paid about ten bucks a bottle when the cellar door price was about 20 bucks.

After I set the bottles down on the counter the saleslady whipped out a rag and wiped the dust off! I was mortified! I wanted that 8 year dust on the bottle; it increased the enjoyment of an already great drink!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Corned Beef

As far back as I can remember I've been a fan of corned beef. Easily prepared, tasty, as good cold as it is hot. What more could one ask of a meal?

Sonya likes a bit of mustard on the side and I swear one of these days I'm going to convince her that mustard can be more than that insipid stuff that comes in a yellow plastic bottle and is squeezed onto the plate like so much toothpaste.

I prefer my corned beef with real Aussie Tomato sauce. Rosella[^] no less!

Alas, my carefully guarded stash of Tomato Sauce ran out a couple of weeks ago and when Sonya asked what I wanted for dinner one Sunday I first suggested corned beef and then remembered a lack of sauce. We deferred the corned beef until the order arrived.

We order the sauce from a small company located in San Antonio, Texas. Go figure! They also sell Cherry Ripes[^] and as much as I miss the odd Cherry Ripe I'm not really prepared to spend 80 bucks on a box of the buggers. Some pleasures are most economically remembered!

Sauce arrived it was time for some corned beef but what is it with the modern world and its obsession with salt? Time was you had to boil the buggery out of the beef, drain the water, start over again and it'd still be too salty! Indeed, I remember one Sunday evening in 1968 when a friends mother had roasted a piece of corned beef (don't ask me how she could have made *that* mistake) and it turned out so salty as to be inedible.

These days the 'corning' process seems not to involve salt at all. I'm sorry but it just seems unnatural to be obliged to resort to the salt cellar when sitting down to a plate of corned beef!

It's not just corned beef though. Bacon, at least here in the US, needs to be salted after cooking! What's up with that? (As Andrew would say). Take a vacuum sealed pack of bacon, open it, stick it in the fridge and how long does it last before putrefaction sets in? Maybe a month max. Time was when bacon would last years unsealed if chilled.

Introduce wonderful digital technology to make it possible to carry a thousand CD's worth of music around in a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes by all means but don't mess with corned beef and bacon. If God had meant them to lack salt He wouldn't have created bacteria!

Monday, September 11, 2006

You can blame Heino for this one! *

This guy walks into a bar. The bartender sees that he has a big bulge in his pants. So the bartender says, 'Hey, it looks like you have a steering wheel in your pants.' And the guy says, 'Yeah, and it's driving me nuts.'

*of course, I *did* choose to post it... :-)

They've got this law in America

Toward the end of my time with Unisys Australia I shared an office with five or six others; we were all part of the Enterprise NT group.

Roy was our resident American and a helluva nice guy. He'd been in Australia a decade or so by then; by sheerest coincidence he returned to the US a few years ago and lives in Phoenix! What are the odds?

Another of the guys was Peter. Peter could be 'strange' at times. He'd get an idea in his head and nothing could dislodge it, no matter how outré it might be.

One afternoon the subject of Harry S. Truman[^] came up and Peter volunteered the information that he'd been born Harry Truman and had added the S. due to a law that had been passed in the US when he (Truman) was a boy.

Never one to miss a chance I chimed in. 'Yeah, and Roy has Y. as his middle name for the same reason!'. Roy concurred and I fear that to this day Peter believes there's this law in America mandating middle initials!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Two years

For the last three months or so I've really been hoping Michael didn't change the WDevs[^] home page.

A year ago these words appeared there and they've been there ever since.

A year of blogging
Congratulations to Rob Manderson on reaching the one-year blogging milestone. Thanks for a year of entertaining stories and other interesting blog entries. We look forward to reading more in the future.

Well I'm now at two years and I've written an amazing amount of rubbish in the two years. According to my word counter program (not counting this post) I've written 327,577 words. Guy seems to think[^] I'm writing about the right amount per day! Phew, what would constitute overdoing it?

I don't mind admitting that there have been a few times of late when I think that I'm overdoing it; I've deliberately scaled back on writing about Morgan. Indeed, last December at dinner with Chris A[^] we talked about what should and should not be blog material and, at the time, I felt that what was going on with Morgan was off-limits. We've all suffered since then!

I'm not entirely convinced that all my posts about music are worthwhile either but you can convince me otherwise! :-)

But for the rest I still enjoy getting an idea and writing it up. And I still enjoy the feedback. The rate of posts may vary according to mood but I don't plan to stop anytime soon. Third anniversary here I come!

So much for pessimism

Back in April[^] I rather pessimistically concluded that I was more than a year away from even being interviewed for my suitability as a candidate for US Citizenship.

As you already know, that pessimism turned out to be unfounded; I had the interview at the end of August and was waiting for the oath ceremony. I was checking the mailbox daily.

Sonya felt I was being a trifle optimistic but, as I pointed out to her, it's in their interest to minimise the gap between interview and oath; the longer the gap the greater the chance of a circumstance changing that would increase their workload.

And I was right to be optimistic! The appointment letter arrived today and I am summonned to the US District Courthouse for the District of Arizona, 401 W Washington Street on September 29th for the oath.

Some USCIS district offices offer same day oath ceremonies but apparently the bulk of district offices don't. Certainly Phoenix doesn't.

As you'd expect, if the interview digs into one's past with particular reference to criminal history and offences of moral turpitude that would render one ineligible for citizenship it then follows that there's a requirement that the candidate not have become unsuitable in the gap between interview and oath! (Phew, I thought that sentence would never end!).

Thus my appointment letter has a list of questions on the back; have I committed a crime since the interview for which I have not been arrested? Have I been convicted of an offence? Have I had a speeding ticket? Yes, you read that right. Even a speeding ticket can have an effect. I imagine they're looking for a pattern in that particular instance rather than a single offence.

And the two I love. Have I become a member of the communist party? They're really really paranoid about that spent force! The other? Have I engaged in polygamy or been a prostitute? I reckon that if I relied on prostitution as my source of income I'd have starved to death years ago!

Oh, I also have to indicate if I've been outside the US - there are physical presence requirements.

I hope that my writing here about the process can help to convince just one American that it's not as easy as it sounds! There's quite an onus of proof on any candidate; that 'free' route to citizenship that gets bandied about is anything but trivial.

And if you think not then go back three or four paragraphs and reread the question list. Have I committed a crime since the interview for which I have not been arrested? That's the out; the method by which any naturalised person can lose citizenship.

But there I go being pessimistic again. Let's be optimistic instead. 19 and a bit days at the time of writing until I become a US Citizen. And, as Iain Clarke pointed out in response to my Approved![^] post, I'll lose half my blogging material. Bummer! :-)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Keep your dirty hands off my music!

You mightn't have thought I'd be candidate material to be a Lovin' Spoonful[^] fan but I am. Man, the confessions are coming out lately[^]!

Even though they were a late 60's band I didn't discover them until about 1970; I was definitely working when I bought my first Spoonful Album.

Courtesy of Napster I downloaded one of their classic (I thought) albums from 1968, Everything Playing. I remember buying my first copy of the album at Big W, corner of Swanston Street and Bourke Street, mid 1970, back when it was still Woolworths. This was during my transition from bubblegum to classical and whilst I wouldn't swear to it I reckon I probably bought a 'Best of Beethoven' album at the same time!

The Napster download tracks are labelled with the original song title followed by (2003 remaster). That usually means they digitised the original analog audio.

I wish! Nope, some smarmy young bastard record company executive, having heard the music of his parents and decided it won't go over these days, has decided that it has to be updated! Hence an overlay of extra bass throbs, high pitched tings, a horn part that wasn't there in the original and so on.

Unfortunately for the smarmy young bastard I have a CD of the spoonful I bought in the early 90's; so I *know* that 'She is still a mystery' didn't have all that extra crap.

I want to hear it as it was way back then; not a modern update. It's not as though I listen to the spoonful these days for their musical merit; nope, I listen to them for the time machine.

Keep your dirty hands off my music!!!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Point and shoot

Personnel Person (PP) sent out an email to all a few weeks ago. Not the typical corporate email however; this was to threaten dismissal to the miserable individual who was pissing on the dunny floor instead of into the urinal!

Uh huh. So they want me to believe someone is deliberately doing that? Yeah right; like I'd believe that. All the people I work with are 'professionals'.

As of yesterday I'm a believer. When it was my turn to use the facilities I couldn't believe quite how much urine was on the floor. It reminded me of that scene in Repo Man[^] where the Emilio Estevez character pours his beer onto the floor and a few seconds later one of the repomen walks in and says, 'Oh man, did someone piss on the floor *again*'.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The scene: An office Christmas party quite some years ago.

This was in the days before frivolous lawsuits holding employers responsible for the irresponsibility of employees drinking at a company sponsored function and, as a result, the alcohol had flowed freely.

Half a dozen or so of us were lurking in the basement car park smoking. Smoking done we waited for the lift so we could get back to the booze.

The lift arrived, the doors opened and there was one of the bosses, back to the wall, and one of the secretaries on her knees! It didn't take a genius to work out what was going on and I fear a certain amount of nervous laughter was heard!

But the boss was equal to it; with perfect composure he leaned over and hit the door close button!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Impressing em

Writing in my last post about Ralph Vaughan Williams[^] reminded me of an afternoon in 1979. I'd just met Sue, who later became my first wife (Hi Sue!) and she'd taken me around to meet her best friend, who later became Robins wife.

As part of meeting Rosemary it was obligatory to meet her mother. Gwen was a well meaning woman but perhaps a trifle strait laced. She certainly didn't seem to appreciate meeting a long haired lower class geek.

As luck would have it her kitchen radio was tuned to 3AR, which in those days was still pumping out classical music on AM. ABC FM has long since taken over that responsibility and, as far as I can remember, being nearly four years removed from Australia, 3AR (Radio National) does religious programs and critical analysis. I miss 3AR!

But on that wintry day in 1979 they were playing classical music. A piece I didn't know but it had all the fingerprints of early 20th century British music.

So if Rosemary's mum notices that I'm listening to the kind of music she would never have thought I'd listen to it's time to play it up. As for why it's time to play it up I have no idea. It really wasn't important that I impress Gwen. Let's chalk it up to ego and a chance to take an example of smug middle class down a peg or two! Whatever.

A few educated guesses and some wankerspeak and I'd decided, out loud, that it was most probably Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis[^].

You could have knocked me down with a feather when the music ended and the announcer confirmed my educated guess!

Gwen struggled mightily with her middle class prejudices after that; somehow she could never get over the fact that I 'knew' classical music!

I don't think I'm their target demographic

I finally gave in and subscribed to Napster. To be honest, the reason I chose them is that I got a free months Napster-to-go coupon in the box with my music player. Pricewise they're not too bad at $14.95 a month unlimited including download to my player.

And, as I've noted before, the idea of all you can eat music for a fairly low monthly sum is quite attractive; they can maintain a much larger library than I ever could. That assumes they have the music I want to listen to of course.

All the usual suspects are there; Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky. If you want the complete symphonies of any of the first three you're catered for; they only have the final three Tchaikovsky symphonies but that's an oversight shared by MSN Music and URGE. Interestingly enough, none of the music services I've checked have Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony either. Or if they do I can't find it! Makes no matter; I have my own copy on CD. And who knows, maybe Yahoo or Rhapsody have Tchaikovsky's 2nd symphony. *shrug*

The Napster search interface sucks! Someone there got the fixed idea that the Artist name is the only search term worth having. That's true enough if you're talking Rock or Pop; if I'm searching for 'While my Guitar Gently Weeps' it's highly likely I want the Beatles performance rather than some obscure cover by a Peruvian band. Hence the focus on artist name.

Unfortunately that doesn't work when you cross genre boundaries. If I'm searching for Elgars Second Symphony I'm going to search on Elgar, not on the name of any of a hundred conductors who may or may not have recorded that symphony in the past fifty years.

I solved that little problem in my own music collection by deciding that, for the most part, Album Artist, Artist and Composer are synonymous terms. Yep, I've skewed the tags in my personal collection in terms of how I think of music but it works for me.

And of course, for the Rock and Pop section of my collection I do differentiate the meanings of Artist, Album Artist and Composer.

Both MSN Music and URGE, whilst not doing it exactly the way I'd do it, seem to be much closer to my ideas of classification.

But that's just the finding of music through their WMP (Windows Media Player) interface!

I have a little over 400 albums (many of them multi-cd). Mixing my permanent rips with downloads that have expiry dates after which they won't play meant I needed a way to separate the two whilst maintaining a single library (because that's the way WMP and my music player want to do it). Easy enough; create a subdirectory called DRM and set that as the download location.

Then select an album and download. What could be easier? What could go wrong? Certainly it downloaded. There it was in WMP but do you imagine Elgars Symphonies were classified under Elgar? Not a bit of it. Nope, they were under Sir Colin Davies. Both in WMP and on the hard disk. It probably doesn't matter what the hard disk classification is; I care about how WMP and my music player find things; not how the filesystem organises em.

A few seconds with MP3Tag[^] (thanks Stuart) and that problem was solved.

All went well and I added maybe 30 albums to my collection and then I discovered 'Sir Adrian Boults Complete Symphonies and Orchestral Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams'. Not, hitherto, a composer I've extensively collected though I've certainly heard of him and had one or two works.

It looked good. 9 new Symphonies and quite a considerable body of other music; I'd be in pig heaven for the rest of the months trial. I downloaded the lot!

In WMP, before doing any editing, it was obvious I had a problem. 6 (count em, 6) tracks all numbered 1. 6 tracks numbered 2. And 6 tracks numbered 3. Yep, you guessed it, someone at Napster imported a 6 CD set and didn't number the tracks sequentially. Perhaps not the end of the world; I could manually renumber them. Well I could, if the track titles identified which symphony each belonged to. They don't! 72 tracks of unfamiliar music that needs to be listened to in particular sets and particular orders and the tags don't help! Nor, unfortunately, does a search of the internet help since not all track titles, containing such time honoured musical terms as 'Sostenuto', 'Allegro' match, unambiguously, with the listings I could find for Vaughan Williams!

In the end I deleted the lot. That way madness lay! I really don't think I'm Napster material and I shall, in all likelihood, cancel at the end of the free trial period!

Monday, September 04, 2006


Nope, not a discussion of SOAP (Service Oriented whatever). I'm a software developer but, for the most part, I don't write about it because it doesn't interest me much these days.

A few nights ago I had occasion to visit the upstairs bathroom. I use the word bathroom in the Australian sense; it really does contain a bath and a shower. If, incidentally, it also contains a 'throne' that's serendipity.

This was Morgan and Andrews bathroom and pretty much their own territory. Because it contains the only bath in the house Sonya might occasionally visit but I usually never do save to turn off the light. What is it about teenagers and a congenital inability to turn off the damn light???

It's now solely Andrews bathroom due to the most fortunate circumstance of Morgan not living here anymore.

So I was up there the other night as aforesaid and I couldn't help but notice that there was nary a sign of soap. Not even soap residue. Hmmm, this needed investigation.

Andrew admitted, under deep interrogation, that he's been showering for the past three weeks without soap. Why? It seems that he can't be bothered coming downstairs and asking for some. *shrug* I didn't think I was quite *that* unapproachable!

Of course this does explain why his showers take 20 minutes! And there I was thinking of other explanations! :-)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Not quite there, yet

When I posted the other night about being approved[^] as a suitable candidate for US Citizenship I may have left the impression that I am now a US Citizen.

Not so! I very much doubt that USCIS[^] is reading my blog but nonetheless they take a very dim view of anyone claiming to be a USC who isn't one.

No, I am now waiting (impatiently) for another notice from USCIS requesting that I attend an oath ceremony. At the end of the interview this week the guy who interviewed me intimated that if I hadn't heard from them within 3 months I should request an InfoPass[^] appointment to follow up. Methinks, given the speed with which everything else has happened, I'll get the notice in a couple of weeks. I'm already checking the mailbox on a daily basis!

At which point I'll be requested to attend at such and such a place on such and such a date with other immigrants to take the oath and only then do I cease to be an alien and become a US Citizen.

If'n you think I won't blog about that day you have rocks in your head! :-)

The DVD burner

We have four DVD burners in this house. Two of em are in my computer, the one I'm writing on right now. I don't actually need two DVD burners any more than I need two heads but that's how it fell out.

The third DVD burner is in my Home Theatre PC (HTPC) and it's never actually been used to burn a DVD. It was used as a CD reader when I built that computer and installed Windows XP MCE.

One of the burners in this computer, and the one in the HTPC, are dual layer burners. Sounds like a great technology until you try and actually use it but I've found dual layer so unreliable that I stick to single layer media and will for the foreseeable future. I'd rather stick twice as many blanks in during a backup if I want a reasonable hope of them being readable a year from now.

On the other hand, have you tried buying a DVD burner recently? They're all dual layer whether you like it or not. Come to that, tried buying a CD burner recently? They're still available if you're willing to pay twice the price of a DVD burner. Given that a DVD burner can burn a CD why would you spend twice the bucks?

We're talking about 60 US bucks for a DVD burner these days though my first DVD burner, bought the same week I arrived in the US to live, cost about 400 bucks.

By contrast, back in 1995 Heino and I investigated the purchase of a CD burner. It was going to set us back about $6000 Australian. We built the cost of the burner into the business plan but little did we know that the people we were presenting the business plan to were underfunded and a bunch of charlatans to boot! A story for another day...

A couple of weeks before our Chicago trip Andrew intimated a desire for a CD burner in his computer. Well, at first he thought he already had one. Andrew's not very technologically inclined; he sees me sticking a blank into my computer, burning a backup and thinks that any device that can accomodate a blank will record. Thus a request for a blank. I was content to pass one up knowing that nothing he could do on his computer would damage the blank!

A few minutes later a question about why it wasn't burning a copy of his iTracks tracks. 'Well Andrew', I said, 'maybe it's because your computer doesn't have a burner!'. Sheepish grin...

So he asked for a burner. Ok, he can have one on certain conditions. The main (indeed only) one was that he damn well earn it! Mom and I came up with a schedule for him to earn it. If he cleans up around the house (not just his own stuff but everyone's) for 28 days we will buy him one. He agreed to this about six weeks ago.

Yeah, we got the usual teenage wail; 'that's not fair'. I asked him to show me the contract he was given when he was born, the one that promised life would be fair. Sheepish grin; I've asked to see that contract before!

The next day I went out and bought his burner and showed it to him. A DVD dual layer burner as it happens; it's the least expensive option and the hitherto unnaccounted for fourth burner. It's still in the unopened original packaging. I bought it the next day because I think it's important that we keep our promises to him if we expect him to keep his to us.

In the 45 or so days since the bargain was struck his 28 days has dropped to 7 days. He got 14 today for washing and cleaning my car inside and out. I was a harsh taskmaster! 'Missed a bit'. Protests. 'I can see dirt there' I said. He scrubbed a bit more and rinsed a bit more. 'Missed another bit!'. More scrubbing and rinsing!

He can now feel the burner is within his grasp. Only 7 days to go. But I'm betting it'll take another 3 weeks in total to get to zero. I'm in two minds whether to make my installing it another day!