Sunday, December 30, 2012

Being a tourist in Israel: Ein Karem

Ein Karem is a village nestling in at the bottom of one of the hills leading to Jerusalem. I mentioned this village several years ago when I walked through it with my son's class on the way to Jerusalem. Yesterday we visited in order to celebrate my wife's birthday; we were far from alone - the village is a popular attraction for people looking for somewhere to eat. Abroad, such places seem to be two a penny, but here they are somewhat rare.

Here's a picture of the restaurant in which we ate: the name is 'Karma' but for some reason they chose an unusual spelling of the word.

One can't really see from the photograph but the restaurant (on two levels) is packed. We had the foresight to order a table in advance, but not everyone did so; as we entered, someone asked for a table for ten. "Have you ordered?" asked the maitre d'. "I didn't know we have to", answered the lady. "Then you'll have to wait...." 

There isn't that much to see in the village: there's a main "strip" with three of four restaurants, and a pedestrian lane running at right angles with small shops and cafes. Last time we walked along that lane, but as my father wasn't feeling too well yesterday, we had to cut our visit short.

In the distance, facing the restaurant, can be seen the mosque pictured below. There is also an imposing church in the village but I couldn't take a picture of it.

Visitors: beware: whilst there is parking space in the village, there are so many visitors on a Saturday lunchtime that those places get filled quickly. It is better to visit the village during the week when it is far less crowded.

The drive from the kibbutz to the village is maybe only 20km, but the scenery along the way is stunning. Who needs to travel abroad when there is this beauty in one's backyard? Indeed, there were plenty of cyclists and motorcyclists on the road, with many cars parked along the way.

A visitor from Britain is supposed to be coming to visit at the end of January: I hope that we will have the time and suitable weather in order to make the trip to Ein Karem.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sequencing "House with no door"

I see that blogging is a habit which has to be maintained: if one neglects it for a few days, it becomes harder and harder to return. This December has been a fairly barren month in terms of blogging probably because I've actually been more than busy at work although not with subjects which I can blog about (not because they're secret but rather they're either mundane or esoteric, requiring too much explanation). It's true that I did suffer a period of emptiness after the first doctoral exam which was at the beginning of the month, and it's true that for the past few days I've been suffering from some unspecified viral infection which has left me lethargic and suffering pain in my lower legs, but these are just excuses....

When looking for something to occupy my time, I decided to return to my continuing project of recording covers of Van der Graaf Generator songs. This project was curtailed in the summer when first I had great difficulty in recording vocals to my version of 'Pilgrims' and then almost permanently mothballed when it seemed that I would never sing again after the pertussis episode. But now, a few months later, my voice has returned and so has my appetite for recording. 

There has always been one song which I knew that I would probably record - 'House with no door'. After a few false starts (one promising version began with marimba arpeggios, a device which unfortunately I have used too often, especially in 'Pilgrims'), I plumped for an electric piano playing simple chords as the basis for the recording. I ended up with a version which sounds just like one of my songs, only even simpler, as the chord sequence is very scalar (this caused me problems with the solos - I like complicated chord sequences!).

During the sequencing process, my headphones stopped working properly so I had to buy a new pair. Perusing the headphones on sale in the local mall (two different shops), I discovered that the kind of 'phones (or 'cans' as Peter Hammill and the boys used to call them) which I had previously (closed with a generous amount of foam) were no longer being sold; there are closed 'phones (but not with a perfect seal) but they all come with microphones attached. This actually is not necessarily a bad thing. After connecting the 'phones and microphone to the computer and making a simple test recording, I was pleased to discover that the microphone actually has a very good frequency response and is very clean - no background hum or clicks.

Once I had my backing track ready, I commenced singing. Although I know the song very well, it still took a few takes to get a good recording - there was one line in particular with which I had trouble phrasing. After about an hour, I comped together three separate takes, performed the necessary note correction and then commenced the aurally exhausting process of mixing, with most of the time spent on getting a good vocal sound. I discovered two things about the headphones/microphone combination: very little equalisation (tone control) is necessary but unfortunately the insufficient closure of the headphones along with the adjacency of the microphone to the 'phones had caused a great deal of leakage - the microphone was recording the instrumental track along with the vocal. Normally this isn't too much of a problem, but there were many rim shots from the drums being picked up and these were causing phasing in the final mix. I cleaned as many of these as I could and made a final mix.

Listening to the track over the next few days whilst wearing my producer's hat, I became aware that the instrumental section was limping; in order to correct this, I recorded a new solo over the second half and also spiced up the drumming. This version was fairly intimate with an 'in the face' vocal (very little reverb or gimmickry) and was then deemed to be a winner.

Or maybe not: after a few more days of listening, I realised that there was a cognitive mismatch between the lyrics (somewhat sad and certainly detached) and the music (somewhat happy). A new, spacier, version was called for. I spent most of yesterday creating that version. I didn't have to add a single note (although I probably removed a few); instead I used different instrumentation and moved the parts around. I found a rather strange pad sound to be the basis of the sound and worked from there. 

The beauty of computer recording is that I don't have to record a new vocal track: as long as the new version is in the same key, at the same speed and of the same structure, the existing vocal will automatically sit correctly on top of the music. When mixing, I added a 2kb boost to my vocal along with a hefty amount of reverb. Unfortunately, the leakage which I mentioned previously came back in spades: although there was no drum track with which the phantom rim shots could phase, these phantom shots appeared out of nowhere, coming and going seemingly at random.

Last night I wasn't too convinced about the new version, but having listened to it several times this morning, I think that this will be 'the one'. Of course, I'll keep the original version - it will be a 'bonus track'.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Out of curiosity, today I googled my name (I used to do this quite frequently) and discovered that there's another No'am Newman living in Bet Shemesh, which is the town just across the road. There's even a film of my double playing the piano! Fortunately, I don't think that anyone is going to confuse us.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Guitar stand

In lieu of something better to write, here are two pictures of the guitar stand which I bought the other day. Due to poor lighting, I took the pictures in the kitchen - not the normal location of the guitar. I admit that I was dubious about a stand which does not support from below, but this stand holds the guitar by its neck; the body rests against foam covered legs.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Post mortem on the Research Proposal exam

'The deductive approach is based on developing an understanding of how a logical chain of events can combine to produce a result, whereas the inductive approach is based on observing events, then explaining them'. This is the sentence which I memorised this morning whilst riding on the train to Tel Aviv, in order to take the Introduction to Business Research 1 (aka "The Research Proposal") exam. I felt that I had most of the material down cold, but last night I was looking at hypotheses and de/inductive approaches, thus making the above sentence as important as 'A paradigm is a series of beliefs and values about research'.

As I wrote before, the structure of the exam is very consistent, and there appear to be only a few questions which can be asked. The first question, 50% of the marks, is critiquing a research proposal; almost certainly the second question (25%) will be about research paradigms and how they relate to the case study and the third question (25%) would be about something else - managing time, methodology or hypotheses.

The case study which appeared in the exam was a very badly written proposal about success in new businesses. Although it took just over an hour to fill six pages of A4 paper, this question was technically very simple (provided that one knows the material, of course!). The proposal is composed of fourteen different sections, so one has to go through each section and offer comments. In a sense, I was fortunate that there was so much which was obviously missing as it made it easier to write the answers. Some of what I wrote was stock sentences (for example, the sections about ethics, deliverables, time needed after the viva and appendices were all stock answers) and some was pre-prepared, like noting that the number of companies to be questioned was not noted and that no sample questionnaire was appended.

The second question was, as I had guessed, about research paradigms and how they affect the case study. In the proposal, the candidate had written about quantitative analysis and standard statistical methods, meaning that he was writing about using the paradigm of positivism (although this word specifically did not appear in the text). My answer first explained what a research paradigm is, then showed the advantages and disadvantages of the two paradigms, positivism and phenomenology. This material was almost word for word the same essay which I wrote for practice the other night, although more concentrated and lacking all the anecdotal material which I thought was unnecessary. I then wrote that in my humble opinion, the research question called for the paradigm of phenomenology - and of course, explained why I thought so. I even wrote a little on how this would change the research.

The third question was how a candidate moves from a wide research area to a specific research question and hypotheses. This isn't material which I had actively revised, although by chance, I had skimmed over some of this material last night so it was fresh enough to enable me to describe competently what programmers call stepwise refinement (the text refers to this as building a work breakdown structure). Once I had built what should have been the candidate's research question (much more focused than the original vague statement), I then explained about null and alternative hypotheses, and even wrote down a few possible pairs (the null hypothesis is what the researcher is trying to prove, such as 'good cash-flow is an indication for success', whereas the alternative hypothesis is the negation, 'good cash-flow is not an indication for success'). At this point, I felt it was time to throw in the sentence about deduction and induction, pointing out the candidate was using induction to prove his case. This may well not have been in the scope of the question, but I had the time.

I finished the exam after two and a half hours of furious writing (interrupted only by a few toilet breaks). I think that I did very well in the exam. I'll probably only get the results towards the end of January - until then, I'm on "holiday": I'd like to know that I passed the first course before I start the second, which will only be examined  in June (hopefully before the graduation ceremony in Edinburgh!).

There were only four students in the examination room (including myself), but three invigilators. Each student was taking a different exam, so we couldn't have copied even had we tried.

It had rained heavily yesterday, so I came prepared with a thick coat and a large umbrella. Fortunately, I did not rain while I was in Tel Aviv, so I was able to walk from the hotel where the exam took place to the Dizengoff centre, where I bought a guitar stand in the music shop. I then walked from there to the train station, cursing my heavy coat and umbrella. But when I got to my local train station, it was raining heavily, so then I was pleased that I had the coat and umbrella. My wife was supposed to pick me up, but she had to go and help her brother and his wife look after their twins (they came home from hospital yesterday). I had to find a taxi.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Almost ready for my first Doctoral exam

One of the movie channels broadcast the newish Richard Gere film "The Double" the other night. I don't think that it's a good film, but today I'm not writing film criticism. At one stage, there is an FBI agent who starts rattling off a series of sentences in rapid fire about null hypotheses (he spoke so fast that I couldn't really understand what he was saying), that "Paul is not Cassius" (you'd have to watch the film to understand). My ears pricked up at the word 'hypothesis', because formulating null and alternative hypotheses is part of any research project and at the moment, my brain is almost obsessed with research projects.

The exam for the course 'Introduction to Business Research 1' is being held tomorrow (Wednesday), so obviously I am up to my ears in revision. Relaxing for an hour by watching 'The Double' reminds me that I have skimmed over the chapter about hypotheses, induction and deduction; these subjects don't seem to have appeared in recent exam questions.

I spent yesterday evening's revision session by writing an essay - without preparation - about the research paradigms of positivism and phenomenology. After writing for about half an hour and covering two pages of A4 paper, I checked my answer against the table which lists advantages of disadvantages of the two paradigms. I could see that my essay tended to the anecdotal and was also missing a few points. I then wrote another, shorter, essay which was straight to the point and covered all the points. By writing such essays, I can get the material into my mind, along with the correct English phrasing. This will be similar to the preparation for the Negotiation course, in which I had stock phrases stored in my mind.

I intend tonight to cover the hypotheses material, just to make sure that it's clear. I'll also check the previous exams to which I have access in order to see whether there were questions about this material and which angle was taken. Otherwise, I intend to have a quiet night. I am not one of the people who sleep during the course and then take the coursebook a week before the exam and burn the information into their brain; I prefer to read the coursebook from the very beginning, letting the information sink in slowly and then reinforcing the absorbed information by reading the material again and again. 

No last minute revision for me: if the material is not in my brain now, it never will be. What is important in these final hours is getting the mental material into a form in which it can be written effectively.

The exam will be held in the same hotel as the MBA exams were; I have been told that sitting with me (but not taking the same exam) will be students repeating MBA exams. I wonder whether I will see any familiar faces. Pyschologists recommend that students imagine the physical setting of the exam; this exercise is intended to prevent anxiety appearing in the critical minutes before and during the exam. The same exercise is recommended for athletes preparing for a race. Whilst I have no problem in visualising the setting, there are a few exams which I don't remember how they finished. For example, I have a memory of leaving the Economics exam and riding back to the bus station in the evening; after the Marketing exam, I walked along the sea front and then all the way to the bus station (quite a long walk!), but I don't have any memory of the Project Management exam. No, wait a minute: part of that memory of the Economics exam is actually the PM exam! Yes, I was sitting in a public taxi and figuring out alternative methods of crashing a project.

Probably some of the above is a bit more muddled than it need be, but that doesn't bother me. All I need is some more revision this evening, a good night's sleep and some light revision tomorrow morning - and then I'll be fit to take on the world!