Sunday, November 30, 2008

Criminal Justice

We've been watching the television series "Criminal Justice", broadcast here only a few months behind its original broadcast in Israel. So far we've seen three episodes out of five, so I'm not looking at that wiki page to see how the whole thing turns out.

I actually had a nightmare about this programme last week, and there was another part in the third episode which gives me the chills whenever I think of it. I don't remember being so frightened by a television programme since ... when I was maybe seven or eight and used to hide behind a chair whenever the Daleks would appear on Doctor Who.

Prison seems to be frightening, not so much because of the lack of personal freedom (and hey, no one will be telephoning me to ask how to do such and such) but because of one's fellow prisoners. Maybe one should ask for solitary confinement; as it is, I'm quite capable of making my own pleasures so the solitary part wouldn't necessarily be too frightening.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Achievements

Work can be frustrating at times. Sometimes it's my fellow workers who frustrate, sometimes it's my work, and sometimes it's the lack of recognition.

Yesterday was a very good day at work for me, according to my metrics. I developed within our ERP program a module (well, a data-entry and retrieval screen) for monitoring commissions paid to architects, helped someone narrow down a report to contain data only about the customers she's interested in, finally figured out how to send a message to one user when any other user performs a certain action, and created a procedure which corrects the foreign currency exchange rate in copied price quotations.

The problem is that virtually no one understands what I do, and if they do have a glimmer, then they only see the results and not the work and time invested. And that can be very frustrating.

But I have to be my best critic, and applaud when I do something good (and criticise when I do something wrong). Sometimes that good feeling can last for more than an hour.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Surreal moment

Whilst watching an item broadcast on Israel TV Channel One news last night, there were a few surreal moments. The item itself was a rather muddled feature on the wife of the President of Iceland, who is an Israeli born in Jerusalem. As it happens, I had read an article about this lady beforehand, so I was aware of her background.

Anyway, during the broadcast, the incidental music switched to pizzicato strings, and after a few bars, I was able to identify it as "Song of the Gulls" from King Crimson's fourth album "Islands". This was fairly surprising, but - how can I put this? - possible, as SOTG is quasi-classical and doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. A few minutes later, though, it became clear that whoever edited the item must like "Islands", as suddenly part of the guitar solo from "A sailor's tale" (also from that album) was heard! This is something which I would never play in polite company.

Whatever could be next? The weather forecast accompanied by the instrumental section of "21st century schizoid man"?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lonely at the top

The big musical event of the year - in fact, the event of the year - for me was supposed to have been Randy Newman performing in Tel Aviv. The concert was set for November 23, I had bought tickets, I had followed the set lists of his performances during an American tour preceding his European tour ... and then the tour was canceled for health reasons. During the tour, Randy had confided that his right arm was giving him a great deal of pain, and this obviously was bad enough to enforce rest.

I had been very excited when the concert was announced (at the beginning of October) and then my enthusiasm died down, waiting to be revived before the concert. So at the time of the cancellation announcement, I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement, and so the cancellation didn't cause me to slash my wrists in disappointment. Maybe the man can reschedule for next spring. If it's been nearly 20 years since his last appearance in Israel (Jan 1989), I can wait a few more months or years.

The timing of the American tour was very apt as it allowed airings of a song rarely played by the man: "Mr President (Have pity on the working man)". America in late 2008 is obviously similar to America in 1929. "A few words (in defence of our country)" is also a song which quite possibly could disappear from the set lists, and I have had arguments regarding the future of "Piece of the pie": at the moment, the rich are not getting richer but are losing more money in the stock market than those who don't have any savings.

In anticipation of Randy's visit, I dusted off a set of recordings which I had made in 2001, "Newman sings Newman", which preserved for posterity my take on 13 Randy songs. Listening to this with fresh ears, I was saddened to realise that half of the vocals were out of tune, and those that weren't sounded as if they had been recorded onto cardboard. Whilst the arrangements were ok, the instruments sounded on the hokey side. So I took it upon myself to rerecord the entire record.

This actually went extremely fast as the arrangements were good and simple. I would take a song, make a few changes and corrections, import the MIDI file into Reason, choose some instruments, create a sound file and then sing over it. In most cases, I needed only one or two vocal takes to nail a song, and most songs were completed within a matter of hours.

Listening to the new recordings again, I realised that most were competent but not outstanding, and so decided to improve my take on "Lonely at the top". One evening was spent changing the instruments - the original version was very brassy, and I decided to soften it up. Yesterday evening was spent tuning the arrangement, inventing new instrumental lines (I had been fairly lazy originally) and changing the ending, which now owes a lot more to my style of harmonic thinking than to Randy's. I need to do another mix, as the ending still sounds a bit too abrupt.

I also needed to duplicate the final sung line, "Oh, it's lonely at the top"; I located this line in my vocal file, isolated it, created a new file with just this one line, reversed the stereo, and slotted it in at the correct point. I find this kind of editing fairly hard, but yesterday luck was on my side and the entire process took only a few minutes.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Adele

Way back in June, I wrote the following: "Unfortunately, the song which I liked isn't on the record, which makes me wonder whether it was really her [Corinne Bailey Rae]. Every time I've tried searching for certain key lyrics in the song (I'm sure that she sang about "chasing paper"), I've found myriad references to The Beatles' "Two of us", and none to CBR."

I heard this song again on the radio and listened closely to the lyrics. It's not "chasing paper" but rather "chasing pavements", and armed with this information, I quickly tracked down the song's performer. Also a young British girl, albeit several years younger and living in London, as opposed to Leeds: Adele.

I like this song a lot, although I'm lukewarm regarding the rest of her record.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wok

I purchased an electric wok about two months ago, but for various reasons I haven't had a chance to use it until this week. Before cooking a 'real' meal with the wok, I decided to have a practice run, heating up the leftovers of what was supposed to be a variant of Lancashire HotPot.

I read a fair amount about cooking with woks, and have developed the following rules:
  1. Heat the wok as hot as possible, so that oil placed within begins to smoke
  2. Cut the food to be cooked into small pieces so that it cooks quickly
  3. Put the food into the wok in the order of how long each item takes to cook' - ie put the item which needs the longest time first
  4. Prepare everything before beginning to cook. Once the first item is in the wok, there is no time to prepare anything else.
Bearing these rules in mind, I took the potatoes from the hot pot (which unfortunately were slightly under-cooked) and diced them prior to placing them in the wok. These went in first, and after they had turned brown, I added the rest of the hot pot. The resulting dish was probably better the second time round than it was originally.

Tonight I cooked chicken and vegetables from scratch. Taking into account the fourth rule of wok cooking, in advance, I sliced a breast of chicken into small cubes, put it in a plastic container, added breadcrumbs and ground ginger, put the top on the container, shook it vigorously for several minutes and then put it into the fridge for an hour. I then diced half a green pepper, half a red pepper, half a yellow pepper and onion, to which I added drained sliced mushrooms. The vegetables sat in a bowl until I was told that it was time to start cooking.

I poured a little canola oil into the wok and turned the heat on full. When I saw vapours beginning to rise from the wok, I poured in the chicken pieces; I allowed them to sit for about 30 seconds and then started turning them. After about five minutes, I then added the vegetables and a little more oil, all the time stirring the mixture. After about another five minutes, the food was ready to serve, along with rice which I had cooked in the time between preparing the vegetables and heating the wok.

The result was a tasty, light and clean meal. A good cook learns from experience, but I'm pleased to say that this dish went very well and leaves little to be improved. I should point out that I am trying to use Chinese cooking techniques but with variations which suit our palate. So there'll be no forbidden foods (pork, shrimp, etc), no chili peppers, no soy sauce, and so on.

What I do need is a good spatula with which to turn the food. I'm using a wooden cake spoon but it's a bit awkward. I need something flatter and wider than the spoon so that I get the spatula underneath the food being cooked.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seasons - a song

A songwriter naturally considers his last finished song to be one of his best - otherwise the song isn't finished. I wrote the following song at the beginning of October, echoing my feelings of how the summer and winter aren't productive seasons, but rather time which one has to survive. The music is very strong too. The song can be heard at my Soundclick page.

Seasons

Summer; and the languid sun tries to melt our limbs
Horizons shimmer in the heat, frustrating all our whims
Distractions come in so many forms and in so many ways
And so we wile away all the months and all the days
Weeks slip into weeks, slide through the undertow
Come the season’s end, there will be nothing to show

Winter; and the feeble sun fails to warm our souls
The squashed days cause an endless night at the northern pole
Cold drizzle is the constant companion and forces one
To seek shelter before one starts to get work done
Numbed fingers can’t grasp pencils; it’s too hard to write
Ships crash in the fog when there’s too little light

But when the thaw comes, our minds rise and shine
Ripening in the spring time
And in the autumn we reap what we’ve sown
All year

Seasons flow across the year, always bringing change
Shifting all our attitudes as they wax and wane
The idyll time is a compromise between them all
Though who knows how we would behave should the climate fall
Warm waters, the gulf stream keeps an even keel
The seasons have control on how the body feels

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Accident

Last time around, I wrote "I had a few health problems with both my legs (though not at the same time) which conspired to reduce my walking ability and taint my outlook on life whilst not being a major nor even minor threat to my general health". Little did I know.

On Saturday, 25 October, we had torrential rain for about an hour an a half. As I live on the edge of a forest and at the top of a hill, a lot of mud and small stones were washed down from the forest onto the main road which runs down the hill. Early on Sunday morning, I set off for work as usual on my motorcycle, got to the bottom of the hill, prepared to turn right ... and the motorbike continued straight on, as its wheels were coated in mud.

Emulating Bob Dylan, I had a minor motorcycle accident: a severely bruised left foot and ankle. Fortunately, x-rays showed that there were no broken bones. The doctor at the trauma clinic gave me 10 days off work, during which I could barely move. In the last couple of days there has been great improvement - time is the great healer - although I still can't walk properly and the ankle is still tender. Apparently at least another week is required before all the bruising, swelling and pain will disappear.