Monday, December 30, 2013

Song festival review, part 2

As for the other group of songs .... First off was the instrumental track which I prepared for what might be termed "the children's song". The two singers - both aged around 70, grandmothers and veteran kindergarten teachers - sang very well (even with snatches of harmony), but also sang too close to the microphones. As a result, my musical track was completely overwhelmed and barely heard. As opposed to the previous set of songs, this performance was indeed tight and I thought that it was very good.

Then there was the song whose music I wrote for the singing lyricist (and whose vocal I recorded in advance and improved with technical devices). I attended a rehearsal of this song on Friday morning; one might ask how one can rehearse which has already been recorded - there is the small matter of staging. It turns out that the singer had worked out a repertoire of body movements and was prepared to perform the song as opposed to simply singing it (or miming, to be accurate). She was walking up and down the stage (the lyrics refer to walking along the paths of the kibbutz); as the stage microphones were on stands and obviously not moving, it would have been very obvious that she wasn't actually singing. The problem was solved by giving her a hand-held radio microphone, which wasn't connected to anything. The illusion was complete. Didn't anyone notice that there was no proximity effect, and that her vocal was perfectly balanced with the music?

As my voice can be heard during the chori (although mixed low), I thought it a good idea to appear on the stage out of nowhere to sing my part. Everyone thought that this was a good idea. I don't know whether my microphone was actually live during the performance, although people said that they couldn't really hear me.

The producer and I decided that I would sit on a stool and 'sing' my solo song; had there been anyone working the lighting (as opposed to two general sets of lights which lit the stage), then there would have been a spotlight just on me. In order to add some form of movement, I decided to drum on my thighs; it probably reinforced the impression that I was counting in order to know when to sing each line. It occurs to me now that I was the only person who had the stage to himself. 

People afterwards said that I sang very well and that they didn't know that I had such a good voice. No one (aside from those at the rehearsal on Friday morning) seems to have twigged to the fact that the vocal was pre-recorded. Did they not hear the harmony vocal? If so, where do they think that it came from? Anyway, people were very complimentary. The remark which touched me the most came from someone whom I very rarely see: "it's good to see you making a come-back after years of discrimination".

And now for the final song (which unfortunately was performed before my quiet song): this featured four good musicians (one is the teenage saxophonist who I mentioned in the first part of this review, and one is doing his army service in the IDF orchestra, meaning that he is very talented) along with one reasonable teenager, with the odd line up of tenor sax, alto sax, accordion, keyboard and drums. 

They played a very raucous song in a style which I think is best described as 'jungle kleizmer' - a very strong 'jungle' beat along with the saxes playing a riff which seemed to be descended from a kleizmer tune. The lyrics were humourous and described the difficulty in getting from the local shopping centre (situated about two kilometres away) to the kibbutz, based no doubt on the tenor saxophonist's problems of getting home from the army.

Putting it simply, this song was completely different from everything else that evening; it was exceedingly well-played, it was both loose and tight, it was funny, it was long (not that anybody minded) and it was real music! Every other song was polite, whereas this song was a slice of Israel. It was clear from the beginning that this song stood head and shoulders above all the others and was clearly going to be the winner of the competition.

It did win.

I greatly enjoyed these four songs, which seemed to be in a different class to the others (because of the arrangements and level of playing); they made the evening worthwhile.

I await the recording of the evening to both relive the excitement and also to verify my judgements.

[SO: 3274; 2,11,30]

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Tzora song festival - a review (part one)

"Tzoravision", the local song festival (held approximately once every fifteen years), took place on Friday night in a packed dining room. The evening was supposed to start at 8:30pm; we arrived at 8:25 and by this hour almost all the seats had been taken. There is nothing like a display of local talent to 'get the punters in' and 'put bums on seats'.

The song festival celebrates the kibbutz's birthday (65 years since it was founded) but is also a competition; after the songs were sung, people could vote and choose their favourite (one person, supposedly one vote; no one was keeping a list). This year, we had a slight technical twist: someone had set up a website, and people with smartphones could connect to the site and place their vote electronically. For the Luddites, it was possible to vote in the time honoured fashion by marking a piece of paper with a pencil.

I don't like the competition aspect for two reasons: first, a kibbutz is supposed to be an egalitarian society and the idea of competition is supposed to be eschewed; secondly, people vote not necessarily on the merits of the song that they have just heard for the first time but more probably on the merits of the performance and also possibly according to family affiliations. The identities of the lyricists and composers were not disclosed till the end of the evening, but one could see who was singing; in certain cases, this could lead one to make an informed guess as to the identities of the writers. One might infer (correctly) from the above that none of the songs with which I was involved won; whilst this is true, I still don't like the competitive aspect (certainly none of the performers felt competitive; rehearsals were supportive).

I'm going to divide the ten songs performed into two groups: the first were the three songs for which I did the arrangements, along with one other song; the second group is composed of the six other songs. This blog entry will discuss the second group.

I admit that the following is an opinion based on one listen only, especially when I was concentrating on other matters, so I may have got some things wrong. Even so, I will try to be objective.

Whilst each song was performed by different singers, the accompaniment was provided by a core group of four local teenagers. One of them plays the saxophone very well, but the others - especially the guitarist and drummer - were a bit shaky. As a result, none of the performances were particularly tight. I think that it's very important to encourage the youngsters, but that encouragement should not overwhelm the possibility of criticism.

The singers all performed well, with no obvious clinkers. Apart from one singer, who is a trained vocalist and sang very well, the others suffered from poor microphone technique, to some extent. The vocals overpowered the accompaniment and sometimes they were distorted. It's a shame that the volume of the vocals wasn't slightly lowered as it would have made them clearer. The singers were generally under the impression that they had to 'eat the microphone'; obviously they weren't aware of the proximity effect which can lower the quality of the vocal sound.

The songs themselves tended to be over-long and not too well structured. I wasn't aware of any striking melodies nor any daring harmonies. I think this will become clear if and when people get a chance to hear the songs again. The whole evening was filmed professionally; the raw footage will be edited and possibly broadcast on the kibbutz's internal television channel. There might well be a dvd released of the edited footage, some of which may find its way to YouTube or similar external channels. I am just as interested as anybody else in having a permanent record of the evening.

To sum up, I was underwhelmed by this group of six songs.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Song festival - the producer speaks

I wrote last month about the song festival which is going to be held on the kibbutz at the end of December; I wrote the music for two songs, as well as arranging them and recording demos. I also arranged the music for another song, which already had a tune. The organisers decided that the lyricist of the first song would sing her song at the festival, but that it would be better to record a vocal track 'in the studio' first, as she's not too good a singer.

So this lady came round to my home; I put on my producer's hat and started talking to her about how the vocal should be sung and how it would be recorded (making this the first decision to be made about which microphone should I use - is she going to sing softly or loud?). We also had to chose a key: I had originally recorded the song in Em, but had subsequently lowered it to Dm. After trying some keys, we eventually settled on Bm, this being the most comfortable for her. Once we had the key sorted, I could create a new music track. I then recorded several takes of her singing, so that I would be able to produce a good composite vocal.

After she went home, I started making a composite track of the vocals. I listened to the takes and decided which take would contribute each part. In the end, the verses came from one take and the chorus (duplicated) from another. As the second chorus is a bit complicated - two lines in the original key then the entire chorus in a higher key, I had to perform a fair amount of digital trickery in order to get everything right. I used equalisation in order to take out a harsh note in her voice, and reverb made the vocal sound softer.

Once I had a complete vocal, I listened to it along with the music. I was disappointed to discover that her timing was off on some lines; whilst it's possible to fix this by chopping milliseconds out of the vocal track (and adding them back later), I don't like doing this very much, and normally it's easier to rerecord the vocal. So the next day, I got the lady back into the studio and she sang the first line only several times. I then replaced the original first line with the best take of these edit pieces, thus improving the entire vocal.

I had previously recorded myself singing the song in Dm; I used the pitch changing software to lower this recording to Bm, thus my voice was singing at what is for me a very low pitch. I edited this recording to leave only the chori (including the modulation) and mixed this low in the background, thus adding 'oomph' to the chorus.

The singer was knocked out by the final version, but I think that this is a natural reaction to someone hearing their words realised as a song. I warned her not to think that she sings as well as she sounds in the final recording. In the live performance, she will either sing very quietly, have her microphone turned off (shades of Robbie Robertson) or simply mime.

The organisers had a much bigger problem with the second song as they couldn't find anyone to sing it. After discussion, it was decided that they would play my recording of the song (ie with me singing) and accompany it with slides projected on a screen. Once this decision had been made, I realised that I would have to improve my vocal as originally it had been intended only as a demo - and at the time of recording, I too wasn't familiar with the tune and had problems recording it. As my wife pointed out that I was mispronouncing a word which appeared in each of the first two verses, I decided to rerecord the first two verses.

The first verse is 'just me' - one voice with a little reverb. For the second verse, I duplicated the vocal track, made the track stereo, added a little delay to one channel, then mixed this track into the song with more reverb and more bass in the eq. The result isn't exactly what I wanted, but it's good enough: there is a subtle difference (more "depth") between the second verse vocals and the first verse. The third verse, though, is something different ... as opposed to the first song, in which I apparently sing in a very low voice, this song has me singing harmony to the final verse in a very high voice, effortlessly reaching E an octave above middle C.

I hadn't any idea when I started of what the harmony should actually be; putting the harmony a third above the tune worked for most of the lines but not all. I avoided parallel fifths and octaves and ended up with something that sounds quite reasonable. One has to remember that this harmony vocal is mixed behind the lead vocal so it isn't heard on its own. At one point, I got slightly confused as to which chord was being played in which bar; as a result, the harmony for that bar creates a C major seventh chord, which sounds very good, even though it wasn't intended.

The original demo had instrumental links played by a french horn; at one stage, the horn was removed and my wife preferred this version. I am considering playing the links on the vibraphone, which will add some variation without being heavy handed. We'll see.

The third song, which was described to me as a children's song, presented challenges of its own. My first act was to record the singer acapella; from this, I created a MIDI file with the tune, then added the chords. The rhythm is interesting: the chori are swung (12/8) whereas the verses are in simple time (4/4). I don't think I've ever created a track which oscillates between the two feels, so this was slightly complicated. The rhythm is carried mainly in the bass guitar, so this part varies between dotted quavers and simple quavers.

Hearing the song sung acapella brought the sound of brass bands to my mind, so I found a MIDI version of the Beatles' "Yellow submarine" and lifted one bar of the brass bar arrangement into my arrangement. Otherwise the music is arranged fairly blandly.

At the end, the singer wanted to slow the recording down, something which isn't possible to do with the version of Reason that I have. After thinking about it, I found a solution: I reduced the number of notes played in a bar, thus apparently slowing the tune down. I also had one bar of singing answered by one bar of vibes echoing the tune, thus causing a further slow down. After four bars of this, the original rhythm was reinstated for the final bar along with a 'bang!' ending (a chromatic run up from G to B). After changing key and making the track faster, the singer was very pleased with the result.

[SO: 3259; 2,11,30]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A long story with a low payoff

I ride to work on a motorbike. There is a choice of two routes: the main road, which is direct but is full of traffic, or back roads, which are twisty but empty of traffic. I prefer the back roads as there is no traffic and it's quicker. Unfortunately, there is minimal upkeep of these back roads so there are plenty of cracks in them which I have to avoid. There was a section of the ride which seemed both superfluous (the road was something like a V) and dangerous, because of the cracks. A few months ago I noticed that a short cut had been made between the two ends of the V, thus making the ride shorter and possibly safer. This short cut is over a grassy hill, so I rode slowly but safely.

Possibly as a result of these cracks, I was feeling unhappy about driving over them: the bike would slip and slide and at times I was having trouble keeping balance. As a result, I decided to send the bike for a checkup (it was time anyway).

A few days before the bike was due to go away, we had the worst storm recorded in this area for the last 60 (or possibly 100) years: continuous rain for a few days, along with snow in high areas. Jerusalem was cut off for the weekend and many residents there had no electricity. We didn't have such problems as Tsora lies at the foot of the Judean Hills, but there was plenty of rain (100 millimetres in one day) which caused enough damage. 

It took nature a few days to get back to normal, days in which I wouldn't normally ride the motorbike, so it was fortunate that these days coincided with the days the bike was in the garage. I received it back last Wednesday afternoon; the following day I immediately noticed that the bike's balance - even over the cracks in the back roads - was much better. I spoke with the garage and they confirmed that they had changed the tires, amongst other things.

I had a look at the short cut and noticed that jeeps must have been riding through it during the rain for there were heavy tire tracks. I rode through this short cut a few times but felt unsure about using it as it wasn't easy to manoeuvre a motorbike through the tracks. This morning I again took the short cut, debated the issue and decided to cease going this way lest the bike overturns ... when the bike indeed overturned. I was traveling at only a few mph so nothing very much happened, except that I hurt my thumb. After picking myself up and dusting myself down, I got back on the bike, restarted it and drove the rest of the way to work.

I had to sign a paper with a pen and discovered that it was painful to hold the pen, because of the knock that the thumb had received. I was thankful that this knock happened now and not three weeks ago, for I don't know how I could have taken a three hour exam and write several pages by longhand when I can barely hold a pen.

[SO: 3259; 2,11,30]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some anomalies in "Lord Valentine's Castle"

I was in need of some cheering up over the past week, so I decided to read LVC once again. I especially like the first part when the troupe are wandering around Zimroel. The adventures on the Isle are interesting but not so good, and the final part seems somewhat perfunctory (although of course, the ending is totally unexpected, and I suppose the passage toward the mount couldn't be expanded too much).

This time around, I was very much struck by the character Farsaal. Presumably he is an agent of the false Coronal, but the entire episode doesn't ring true. How did he know when Valentine 'makes his break' and goes in search of the Lady instead of where he was supposed to go? How did Farsaal manage to follow Valentine? Also, how come he was never detected by any of the acolytes; at one stage, Valentine asks whether any metamorphs turn pilgrim and is informed that "we would know". How could the acolytes not know what Farsaal's true intentions were?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DCI Banks mistakes

Over the past few weeks, I've been traveling a great deal and so have been able to read many of the DCI Banks books once again. In doing so, I've come across more mistakes which I haven't noticed before
  • In 'Past reason hated', DCI Banks travels to London by train, leaving from the Eastvale station. In all the other books, he either travels from York or even from Darlington. Maybe the Eastvale station has been closed since the action of the book in which it was mentioned, but I suspect that author Peter Robinson simply forgot that he had invented the station.
  • The late DS Templeton is referred to as a DC by his superintendent at one stage.
  • Crime scene coordinator Stefan Novak was promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector in "All the colours of darkness" but is referred to at one stage as a Detective Sergeant
  • In 'Innocent graves', DCI Banks interviews a suspect in the latter's house, but refers to a meeting between the suspect and a third character which took place in the third character's house as happening 'here'. Reading this paragraph literally would defy comprehension, so one has to imagine that they are referring to the meeting taking place 'there'. 
  • In 'Piece of my heart', someone plays the song "Farewell, farewell" on 15 Sept 1969. If this is meant to be the Richard Thompson song which appears on 'Liege and Lief', then the singer must have had a copy a few months in advance as the record was released only in December 1969. It hadn't even been recorded on that date; the public unveiling at the Royal Festival Hall concert was on 24 September 1969. Of course, it could be a different song....
Not mistakes, but certain phrases appear in every book. Normally, when someone makes tea, they say "I'll just let it mash for a few minutes". Someone is always experiencing the feeling of "someone just walked over my grave", and this morning I noticed a repetition of the descriptive phrase "like two peaches in a wet paper bag", when describing someone's behind.

True, such points don't interfere with the stories but they do slightly decrease the pleasure for me. If I can note such errors, so can Peter Robinson and his copy editors. It's like listening to several albums by a musical act and noticing that they use the same riff (or maybe same chord sequence) once on every album. 

It's like noticing continuity errors in a film - most of the time they pass us by because we're avidly following the story, but when one pays strict attention, suddenly little errors are noticed.

I was disappointed to note that the satellite television station BBC Entertainment only showed the two part pilot for the Banks TV series, "Aftermath", without continuing to show the rest of the episodes. Maybe they will be shown sometime in the future.

[SO: 3229; 2,11,30]

Monday, December 09, 2013

Gymnopedie Number 3?

On Saturday, I saw Woody Allen's 1988 drama, "Another woman". I didn't enjoy the film very much - it looked incredibly dated - but my ears pricked up at the beginning when Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1" was played at the beginning. This wasn't the simple piano version but rather Debussy's orchestration.

At the end of the film, the piece is credited as "Gymnopedie No. 3" and IMDB lists this as a goof. But further reading about these pieces reveals that in February 1897, Debussy orchestrated the Third and First, reversing the numbering. Thus it seems as if the film credits are correct: when played by an orchestra, the piece is called "Gymnopedie No. 3", but when played by solo piano, it is called "Gymnopedie No. 1".

I am going to stick with the original numbering: it makes life so much easier. If you are lucky, below will appear a media player which plays an edit of my syncopated version of "Gymnopedie No. 1": this edit serves as the ringtone on my mobile phone for unidentified callers.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

International dressing

I noticed on the way to Tel Aviv on Thursday, I was wearing
  • shoes purchased in Florence, Italy
  • socks purchased on the Internet
  • trousers purchased in Prague
  • sweatshirt purchased in Edinburgh
  • raincoat purchased in Locarno
Only my shirt and underwear were purchased in Israel. I didn't think that I was so cosmopolitan. 

[SO: 3088;2,11,30]

Friday, December 06, 2013

Post mortem on IBR2 exam

I went to bed early last night, in a poor state of mind. I was depressed about the IBR3 exam, it was raining again and a sore had developed on my tongue (probably as a result of tension). But something must have happened during the night, for I awoke in a much more positive mood. It was still raining lightly when I took the dog out for her morning walk, but for once, the rain didn't affect me.

As today is Friday, the train timetable is slightly different; the train to Tel Aviv left 25 minutes later than it does on a weekday, which meant that I arrived at the office where the exam was being held about 25 minutes later than yesterday. Not that this mattered, as the building was locked! I wandered around outside, meeting someone who was also taking an exam. Eventually someone let us into the building (at around 9am), but the office itself was locked. At 9:20am, a young man arrived who unlocked the office, let us in and administered the exam.

A quick look at the exam paper showed that I was in for a surprise again. Whilst the first part of the exam was the same as always (look at the literature synthesis, show its strengths and weaknesses), the second and third questions were entirely different, questions which I had never seen before.

Even the first question really was different, as the literature synthesis started off with a statement then went on to delineate four different functional relationships (normally there are many statements and only one functional relationship). There were a few stock answers to write down: too few references, mixing academic references with anecdotal material, too few definitions - but then I really got into it, writing a four page essay in just under an hour. I won't go into exactly what I wrote for as it's meaningless on its own, but I think that I did well on this question.

The second question was an extension of the first: in light of your answer for question 1, what would you advise the candidate to do? How should she change the orientation of the research? Which orientation would you choose? At first, this wasn't too clear: I wrote about three paragraphs (about how the research at present was too wide - one functional relationship is enough! - and which relationship I would choose to research) but after that couldn't think of anything to write. I left a blank page and went on to the third question ...

Which was a real gift! Describe any difficulties which may arise between the candidate and the supervisor during the literature synthesis stage. This question reminds me of when I was learning the highway code for the theory part of my motorbike license: I was advised to read the section about driving on the motorway. But why, I asked: a learner isn't allowed on a motorway. True, I was told, but this shows that you have read the entire highway code. As it happens, I glanced at chapter 2 yesterday, which talks about the candidate and the supervisor, but thought that this wasn't examination material. As one of the lecturers once told me, everything is examinable.

So I wrote two pages on difficulties which might arise: time problems, geographical problems, communication problems, etc. This was fun to write and also hard to get wrong.

Answering this question improved my mood and had started the mental juices flowing, so I had no difficulty going back to the second question and adding another page and a half. I discussed all the functional relationships which the candidate had raised and all the associated problems arising from each one. I even managed to get in a jab about the MBA programme.

As is my habit, I had finished the exam after just over two hours: I checked the answers to see if I had missed out any words and whether there was anything add, but I think that the sole addition was an arrow. I think that I did quite well on this exam, as opposed to IBR3.

So what's next? I should get the results by the end of January; if I passed both exams, then I can begin working on the research proposal as defined in IBR1. If I have failed one (or both), then I can resit in June, but won't have anything to do until May, which is when I should start revising. So after a few days of cleaning my head, I'm going to refresh my memory regarding the research proposal and even start writing it. I've been waiting for this for nearly two years and it's about time that I got started on it.

This morning I had the time and mental space to notice the surroundings of the office block. Apart from several cafes and a few odd shops (the bottom floor of the office block contained a kitchenware shop), I also noticed a 'hotel' that rented out rooms on an hourly basis, a striptease joint and a peep show place. All of these buildings (except for the cafes) were empty and forlorn on a wet Friday morning. Presumably the action heats up in the evening.

[SO: 3088;2,11,29]

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Post mortem on IBR3 exam

It rained all night; there was even some thunder and lightning at around 6am. Most people were only too pleased that it was finally raining, but I wasn't: rain has always made me feel depressed.  I suddenly had this terrible thought that the IBR3 exam was on Wednesday and the IBR2 exam on Thursday, which would mean that I had missed one exam and had prepared for the wrong exam ... but it was only the amygdalae playing tricks on me.

I drove to the train station in the car (because of the rain), rode to Tel Aviv - and on the way realised that I had forgotten to pack my calculator. How would I answer the statistics questions without a calculator?? As I would be arriving in Tel Aviv an hour and a half before the exam, I assumed that I would have time to buy one ... if I could find a suitable shop.

I wandered around the area where the exam was to take place, taking note of a shop which might sell calculators (it hadn't opened yet), when I discovered that I was almost directly opposite the anonymous office building in which the exam would take place. So I went in and asked whether I could borrow a calculator - no problem.

The examinees had been told to arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam, which was scheduled to start at 9:30 (so be there at 9). I was there at 8:15. Another person turned up at around 9:10, a third at 9:20 - and the invigilators turned up at 9:25! So much for half an hour early. After some fiddling around - it seemed that the two others didn't have books in which to write their answers - we finally started at 9:45.

My heart sank when I read the paper. Instead of being presented with someone's methodology section of their thesis and being asked to criticise it, there was a short discussion between a candidate and his supervisor. The candidate didn't seem to know anything, or at least had a very naive view of doctoral research. My job (as well as his supervisor's) was to set him straight. Unfortunately, the questions were worded in an unfamiliar way which made writing the essay fairly hard. I wrote for nearly an hour, barely filling two pages. 

I knew that the second half of the exam would be statistics, for which I was prepared, so I was looking forward to this. The first question was, as expected, asking for a chai squared analysis of some figures; this was easy and I got it out of the way quickly. But the second and third questions had me stumped: is the average educational level of the managers from the companies whose mergers failed significantly higher? (I may have got the wording slightly wrong) Higher than what? The third question was the same, only asking about managers from companies whose mergers had succeeded. 

In desperation, I started looking through the formulae which we are given, trying to find something which matched this description. At first, I thought that I had a suitable formula, but the answer that it gave seemed to be completely wrong, and anyway I was missing one term. After thinking about this for about ten minutes, I realised that I could calculate the missing term and then calculate the variation of each group against this. The difference between the two groups is that one group numbered 24 whereas the other group numbered 34; 30 is a magic number in statistics, so one group had to be tested against certain values (the t-statistic) and the other group against different values (the z-statistic).

I do not know whether this is the answer that they were looking for. If it was, then I would have done ok, but if not, then 22 points went down the drain.

The final question, as expected, was to write a short report regarding the statistics results. This was easy.

I looked at the paper again, checked that I had calculated the chai squared correctly, looked at the clock (about 11:50) and realised that staying would not improve any of my answers. So I left the exam, feeling exceedingly dejected. I would not be surprised if I didn't pass the exam.

Normally at this time of the year, one writes about the miracle of Chanuka: how oil which was normally sufficient for one day lasted eight. People often use this when writing about basketball, how Maccabi Tel Aviv win a game against all odds. My Chanuka miracle in the past few years has been that the examiners (MBA and DBA alike) have always asked questions to which I knew the answers. This time, there was reversion to the mean: I didn't know the answers.

The only thing which slightly improves my mood is that in six months time, they probably will ask questions to which I know the answers.

Incidentally, the two other examinees (women in their 30s) were sitting for the second (maybe third) time their finance exam for the MBA. I have never seen them before, which is not surprising in light of the statement that one made when she said that she didn't attend any of the lectures nor the practice sessions. This is someone who wants to get an MBA? The other still has to pass accounting.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The least we can do is wave to each other

After having listened to the Shel Talmy mix of TLWCD for the past ten days, and having the remastered version accompanying my evening power walk for the last two days, I've got this classic album very much on my mind. In that spirit, I would like to offer some random comments
  1. In my opinion, the Shel Talmy mix of 'Out of my book' is better than John Anthony's version. First of all, the vocal is in the middle of the stereo as opposed to being on one side (which was a really strange decision). Secondly, in the middle bit, I can hear what sounds like a harpsichord - I've never heard this in the original. But otherwise, the ST mix is worse than the JA mix: vocals, bass and drums are clearer, but the saxes and flutes are mixed much lower. 'Darkness' especially loses most of its power. There are also a few glitches in 'After the flood', but otherwise this sounds fairly like the official version.

  2. In 'The book', mention is made of Nic Potter playing electric guitar in 'Whatever would Robert have said" in a last minute addition. To my mind, the final result sounds as if this were planned from the beginning . I've never heard any discussion of the fact that the electric guitar also plays centre stage at the end of 'After the flood' - indeed, David Jackson is nowhere to be heard and it's the guitar which plays the solo. It's conceivable that initially DJ played a solo but was mixed out when NP's part was deemed better, but still....

  3. The sequencing of TLWCD bears more than a slight resemblance to the sequencing of another record released a few months before, also with a similarly cumbersome title, 'The court of the crimson king'. Both albums start out with sound effects (wind, a pipe organ) followed by a very strong song; the second track is very gentle, and the third is strong again, but in a different manner to the opening track. The first half of the second side differs, but the final track is another blowout. The same gross structure appears on 'H to He'. Maybe this was a common idea, maybe it was the best idea available, but it does appear to be more than coincidental.
[SO: 3078; 2,11,29]

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Critical week

This is going to be the most critical week of my academic career (at least, since a week in March 1978 when I had four final exams for my first degree held in the space of five days): on Thursday, the 'Introduction to Business Research 3' exam will be held, and on Friday, IBR2. Those who follow the story will know that I should have taken IBR2 in June but got the dates mixed up. Maybe this will be the last time I ever have to sit a formal, written exam. I don't remember thinking this in 1978, although I did think it in about 1986 when I took an accounting exam. Little did I know then. I certainly didn't think it a year and a half ago when I sat my final MBA exam as I knew that I would be continuing my career.

If I pass the two exams, then presumably I can start on the interesting part of my doctoral studies. If I fail one or both, then I will have to take it/them again, which means waiting another six months.

I've been working on the material for IBR3 for the past month and am now fairly confident about it. There will be two questions in the exam: the first one will be to read the methodology section of a thesis and point out its strengths and weaknesses, possibly even having to rewrite part of it. The second question will be a statistical analysis of the given data. Almost certainly, part of the analysis will involve the chai squared test, probably in conjunction with some tests regarding regression. I've worked hard on the statistics, as this is easier for me; hopefully I can get a good mark on this part of the exam, thus needing fewer marks from the first half in order to pass. As always, one needs 50% in order to pass, and I'm hoping that I'll get 40 from the second question. I haven't neglected the first part, and after analysing several previous exam papers, I'm fairly aware of the points which I will have to make.

On the other hand, .I wasn't very confident about IBR2 six months ago and I'm not very confident about it now. I've been concentrating on this material for the last couple of days and will devote almost all my remaining time to it now. The trouble - at least, for me - is that the material is too amorphous and difficult to get a grip on. I shall have to work out a strategy for answering, in the same way that I have for IBR3, although previous exam papers seem to be less consistent in their structure.

I thought that the exams, as per previous years, would be held in the seaside hotel, but presumably I'm the only Heriot Watt student left in Israel and it would be too expensive to hire the hall there. A few weeks ago, I was sent instructions telling me that the exams would be held in the British Council building, but a week ago I was sent another letter telling me that the venue has moved. Both these new locations are 5-10 minutes walking distance from a train station in Tel Aviv, so it won't be a problem getting to them. I will phone the contact number on Wednesday to ensure that I go to the correct address. If I'm going to be the only examinee, maybe we can start before the advertised time: the exams are supposed to start at 9:30am, but I imagine that I'll be there by 8:15am. I could of course travel by a later train, but I prefer to be early rather than arrive at the last minute.

[SO: 3068;2,11,29]

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arik Einstein

Anyone in Israel will know that the doyen of Israeli singers, Arik Einstein, died of an aortic aneurysm a few days ago at the age of 75. I'm not going to write an eulogy for him as many have already done so (and people are still laying wreaths at various places in Tel Aviv with which he had a connection) but rather write about what he meant to me.

Arik was at least a decade older than most of the Israeli musicians to which I listen: he was born in 1939 and served in the Nachal entertainment troupe from 1959. So when I first heard him in the autumn of 1973, he was already 34 years old. He made a series of classic records from about 1970 through 1975, had a few years off then made some more classic records. He was the first who wrote lyrics with every day words as opposed to singing poetry, thus making songs much more accessible to the general public.

Musically, his records occupied the same sonic space as the Beatles' "Rubber soul", although with a delay of several years, and most of his pre-1980 records maintained that simple acoustic guitar/electric guitar/piano/bass/drums sound. He very rarely sang with syncopation, which made his records to be not too engrossing. Thus in 1973, he already sounded anachronistic.

His second major talent was to hook up with a young and talented composer - Shalom Hanoch, Miki Gabrielov, Shem Tov Levi, Yoni Rechter and Yitzchak Klapter - making one or two records then moving on. These records naturally had differing styles and placed a seal of approval on the composer.

In the early 80s, he tried his hand with more upbeat material and larger groups (frequently featuring saxophone) which involved coarsening his fine voice. Whilst this was more interesting musically, it was less of a pleasure to listen to him.

I realise that all of the above is a bit muddled. I have a few records of his but never reckoned him as an artist to which I would like to listen. His mission - as far as I was concerned - was to influence and inspire other musicians. In that, he definitely succeeded.

Maybe his greatest strength was that from the 1980s onwards, he stayed at home and never performed in public again. He certainly was never part of the 'celebrity generation' and steered well away from them, maintaining his modesty until the end.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nostalgia (song festival)

As I wrote the other day, I wrote a melody for the second set of lyrics that I received, but had difficulty in placing some of the lyrics on the melody. Presumably this is what happens when one writes lyrics without a tune to act as a reference: syllable counts don't matter, neither do metre nor emphasis. The name of the song (I assume) is 'Nostalgia', this being the five syllable word being sung at the end of every verse, hence the title of this blog.

I actually wrote to the author asking for some changes; I have yet to receive a reply and was getting worried - maybe she was hurt that I was asking for changes. Last night when I went to bed, I had some ideas both regarding the arrangement and how I could sing the problematic line. I woke up with the phrasing of that line on my lips and felt more confident regarding the recording.

As it happens, I met the lyricist this morning and asked her whether she had received an email from me. She said no, so I then asked whether xx@gmail was her address - yes, she said, but she only reads emails on Saturdays! Relieved, I asked her to ignore the email that I had sent her as I had cracked the problem.

This afternoon, I devoted more time to recording that tricky final verse. It took several takes before I got it exactly right; I also screwed up a few times regarding what might be called the 'engineering' part - deleting takes, correcting takes then losing them, etc. Finally I got the vocal file that I had been working towards, with all the phrasing and pitches that I had wanted. A quick mix with appropriate eq ... and the song is finished.

I read an article the other day which shows how to add a song to a Blogger page - the song itself is in my public Dropbox folder, but supposedly I can add a music player. I have added the necessary HTML code but at the moment I can't see whether it actually exists! What happens is the player appears for a few seconds but disappears before it can be activated; after reading the comments, I see that I have to create an ogg file instead of mp3 - I'll try that. [Edit: the player isn't visible when I'm creating the page, but it appears when the blog is read - and the player can be activated!]

[SO: 3048; 2, 11, 29]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stack Overflow

I've been casually mentioning the Stack Overflow site on this blog for several years. As far as I can establish, my first mention here was on 25/10/09, but I asked my first question on 25/08/09.

As the site states, Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about programming.

Like all the Stack Exchange sites, there are two systems of ranking: one is reputation (Your reputation score goes up when others vote up your questions, answers and edits. As you earn reputation, you'll unlock new privileges like the ability to vote, comment, and even edit other people's posts) and the other is badges (Badges are special achievements you earn for participating on the site. They come in three levels: bronze, silver, and gold).

Sometimes the badges seem puerile (there's a badge awarded for filling in one's biography or logging in every day for a month), but some are more serious and of course, the gold badges are difficult to achieve.

Most of the time, I manage to ignore my reputation and number of badges, but over the past week checking my reputation had become almost obsessive. The reason is that a reputation of over 3,000 enables one to vote to close questions which aren't good (or vote to reopen), and I was so very close to achieving that 3,000 reputation.

Unfortunately, SO doesn't easily allow one to see how the reputation changes over time (that's not strictly true, but it'll do for now). I've been thinking about including my reputation and badges here for some time - not in order to brag, but rather to see where I was standing at a given date. The key is very simple: first the reputation, followed by the number of gold, silver and bronze badges.

At the moment my reputation is 3,013 but having just given a good answer to a question, it may soon increase. Sometimes it happens that people upvote an answer which was given months or even years ago, so there is not necessarily a connection between answering new questions and increases in reputation.

[SO: 3013, 2, 11, 29]

More song festival

I wrote a tune for the second set of lyrics that I received and probably will record a demo this evening.

I find it very interesting to note that when I looked at the first line, I automatically knew that this was going to be a slow, sad song in a minor key (A minor, as it happens!) with a 6/8 time signature. There are lots of songs like this, although I have been racking my brains to try and think of an example which I can quote! The song which does come to mind is 'Because' by the Beatles, but this isn't really an example as the arpeggio has eight notes (the time signature is 4/4); if one thinks of it as 6 + 2, then it's easier to understand how this might be considered an example.

This song was a bit harder to compose than the other song; the melody - bar that first line - was difficult to hear. After finishing the song, I realised that four bars were actually pinched from a song which I wrote 40 years ago (but recently rerecorded); although no one else would know, I would know. I have to admit that the melody was somewhat weak there, so yesterday an alternative chord sequence for those bars appeared. I worked them into the song then found that I needed to change the melody - for the better, I think.

Despite that, I've had so much trouble with a line in the final verse that I decided to return the lyrics to their author, asking for a revision to that line.

The festival organiser thought that my first song was wonderful. I think that she's exaggerating somewhat, but I have to admit that the melody was in my head all day long yesterday.

[SO: 3003, 2, 11, 29]

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's in a name?

Yesterday, the Israeli National Statistics Unit (I'm sure they have a more official name) published data regarding the names given to newly born children in the year 2012. Most of the attention was given to the names given to girls - 850 were called 'Adele', probably in homage to the British singer.

In the boys department, the most popular name in 2012 was No'am! When I chose my name, some 36 years ago, it was a rare thus meaningful name. Now it's become common. Maybe I should change my name again. One of the children living next door is also called No'am; sometimes I hear a voice calling the name and I answer, not realising that the child is being called and not me.

I note - with a certain elitist disdain - that the name has been spelt in the more 'common' form, where the letter vav carries the 'o' sound - נועם. I spell my name with the archaic "holam haser" vowel, נעם. Such is the phonetic character of modern Hebrew; this is akin to the British spelling 'night' as opposed to the American 'nite', or 'through' versus 'thru'.

Incidentally, the most popular girls name in 2012 was No'a (which literally means movement, as opposed to No'am, delightful). Interesting that the most popular names sound almost the same. I note too that No'a is spelt with a vav as opposed to with holam haser, נועה as opposed to נעה.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

TV series update

I checked the upcoming programmes on satellite channel BBC Entertainment a few days ago and was pleased to note that the channel is commencing showing several series from their first episodes. This makes it ideal to follow (and possibly record) the series.

  • Absolutely fabulous - I loved this series in the 1990s and even bought the first two series on video (which of course I haven't seen in years). It was interesting to watch this again with a more critical eye: Edina is totally over the top and Patsy has tremendous hate for Saffron, but for me, the funniest character was actually Bubble, who got some lovely lines. For example, they were talking about a fashion show starring the model Yasmin Le Bon; her husband Simon Le Bon (lead singer of Duran Duran) called to say that his wife couldn't come, so Bubble says "How progressive of him to take his wife's surname". I am going to record all the episodes of this classic series.
  • The office - I saw a few episodes of this many years ago and really hated the character of David Brent. I thought that I would try again, now being a graduate of Organisational Behaviour. My opinion hasn't changed. The only character with whom I felt any form of identification was the lady who came from head office to inform Brent that his was one of two branches which might be closed. Interesting to note that Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, etc) was one of the characters. I won't be continuing with this!
  • Hebburn - This is a fairly new programme (from 2012) which I watched with no preconceptions. The series seems to be about a family which lives in the town of Hebburn near Newcastle; the son of the family brings home a girl who initially he presents as his latest girlfriend - although actually they are already married. The only interesting characters are the above girl (presented as Jewish and studying for a doctorate in psychology) and the family mother. Here I will reveal my class bias and state that I found most of the characters 'exceedingly common'. I look (or at least, think that I look) quite like the father of the family, although I hope that I don't share his health problems: he has a heart attack at some time during the series. Whilst I imagine that I'll continue watching this series, I doubt very much that I'll keep it for posterity.
  • DCI Banks - I wrote about this several years ago, giving it a scathing review. I think that I had downloaded the 'Aftermath' film from the Internet as opposed to watching it being televised. I presume that BBC Entertainment are going to show as many episodes as they can, which means that my previous judgement may be tempered by episodes which take less liberties with the source material. Of course I'm going to record this.
I've also been watching a few other series which I haven't mentioned here. The primary series is from Australia, entitled 'Rake'; this is about a barrister, but as opposed to other series which I have seen about barristers, this is more about his out-of-court life as opposed to his legal career. I find this series very entertaining, although sometimes it's hard to figure out what they're talking about (strong Australian accents). It's a comedy in the same way that Gavin and Stacey is a comedy, and 'Absolutely Fabulous', 'The office' and 'Hebburn' aren't: it doesn't have funny one liners, but rather situations which tend to be strange, the humour arising from the situations themselves. To my regret, I didn't record this: I would like to see the first episodes again.

The other series which I have been watching half heartedly is 'The good wife'. In my opinion, American TV rarely produces anything which I can watch, the exception being 'The West Wing', of course. Unfortunately, I only hooked up with this from the fifth series, so I don't know any of the back story. It's certainly classy but not totally immersing. At the moment, I've been watching it in lieu of anything better to watch.

I suppose that the main criterion is how I would feel if I missed an episode of one of the above programmes. I would be distraught if I missed an episode of DCI Banks, disappointed if I missed AbFab or Rake, and not bothered about the others. Fortunately, the satellite tv provider generally shows each programme two or three times during the week, so there really should be no reason not to see each programme if I am so inclined.

I don't recall whether I have previously written about regret over not recording programmes. I have dealt with this in the past by recording everything (or nearly everything). Obviously I am not consistent. Somehow I doubt that I am going to feel any regret about not transferring 'The Office' or 'Hebburn' to dvd; I have most of this week to make up my mind as BBC Entertainment will show each programme a few more times this week.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Song festival

My kibbutz will be celebrating its 65th birthday in December. There's quite a heavy programme planned for the first week, but I shall be elsewhere as my two doctoral exams will be held at the end of that first week. 

At the end of the month will be held a song festival; a month or so ago, a call was put out for people to write songs around the theme of the 65th birthday. It was stated that those who only wrote lyrics would have tunes provided for them. I volunteered my services to write tunes.

Yesterday, one of the festival organisers called me and asked whether I was still prepared to write music. I noted that I had the exams at the beginning of the month, but that I would find the time for the music. We agreed that working on songs makes a good distraction from preparing for doctoral exams.

After we spoke, the hint of a tune came to mind. I mentally filed it away for further use, as there was no guarantee that the tune would be at all suitable (in terms of metre) for the lyrics that I would be sent. As it happens, the first set of lyrics which I saw fit almost exactly onto the tune (a nice piece of serendipity), so I was easily able to extend my snippet into something more substantial. I noted that there were some lines which were problematic in that they had too many syllables, but I managed to get around this.

The chord sequence for the verse is a combination of something standard aligned with my harmonic sense: in the key of E minor, there are two repeats of Em | Bm | C | G | Am | B | C | D |
followed by two bars of E minor, which link the verse to the chorus. The instrumentation is basically syncopated Rhodes, bass and drums.

The chorus, though, was something else again. At first, I couldn't see much of a rhythm in the words, but after playing with it for a while, I began to see opportunities. The tune which I created for the opening of the chorus used virtually the same chord sequence as the verse, which was a mild annoyance to me, so the next part veered from the standard into more familiar territory for me. Two repeats of Em | Bm | C | G, followed by Am - so far, standard. But the A minor is followed by G minor: Am | Gm | F | Gm | Am | Bb | Am | Bb. At this point, I was worried that I had dug myself into a hole from which I would not extract myself, so I put in a four bar instrumental which brings us back home - C | D | Em | Em. The end part of the chorus serves as the introduction, and there the E minor chords are major.

Whilst I was working out the tune and the chords, I also developed the arrangement. Actually, there isn't much development, as this song is being written for a song festival: the most important part is the words, followed by the tune, followed by the chords and ended by the arrangement. So I settled on a fairly simple arrangement with only small amounts of instrumental fairy dust.

Feeling that the chorus wasn't packing much power - to be honest, the line structure didn't help here - I decided to cut the second chorus short and then repeat it from the beginning, this time in a different key. The first attempt as this was ok, but after thinking about it, I decided to make the cut earlier, then transpose to F#m.

I'll record vocals this afternoon and then we'll see what happens to this song. The fascinating point about this process is that I received the lyrics at about 1:30pm and had a finished song (without vocals) at around 6pm. I would have completed the song that evening had it not been a Friday night, when my daughter comes for a cooked (and formal) meal. 

Do I wish I could normally work this fast? It certainly makes life much easier having a completed set of lyrics. Normally I would work and work on the arrangement, thinning it out at the beginning and adding instrumental dexterity later on, but as I wrote at the beginning, this time the music is not the focal point.

I have also been sent the lyrics to another song. At first glance, these are going to require a completely different approach, but I won't start with them until I finish this first song.

We last had a song competition about fifteen years ago: I took one of my songs and had the lyrics translated into Hebrew. My wife and I sang the song with live backing, and I thought that we did very well. In fact, everyone who had heard the song during rehearsal was impressed. But as the kibbutz as a whole voted on the songs, extraneous factors came into play, and I don't think that the voting reflected the musical quality. We came third, but this left a sour taste in my mouth.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Minimalistic arrangements

As I have probably mentioned at some time in the past, every evening I take a 'power walk' of two kilometers. As this walk is simply ten times around what might be termed a car park, one might consider it to be boring. Indeed, my dog has long learnt that when I'm walking laps, she can sit down and wait for me to finish.

When I walk, I think about programming problems, although lately I've been going over the methods for solving the statistics questions in the doctoral exams. I also listen to music: in fact, this is a chance to listen to clearly recorded/played back material without any distraction. Last night, most of my laps coincided with the Swell Season's "Strict Joy", which took me back four years to the evenings when I would listen to the disc whilst traveling to lectures on organisational behaviour.

About a week ago, my laps coincided with the Blue Nile's "Hats" disc. Every time that I hear these songs, I think that I should be able to create something which sounds similar - but then I remember that my songs tend to have more complex chord sequences, meaning that it would be difficult to imagine the necessary minimalistic arrangements.

This time around, however, I was reminded of a song which I wrote 40 years ago, which has a very simple verse: a two bar phrase (E and F#) which repeats four times. I dug the song up and started arranging it. As usual, getting started took a while, but after a few evenings' cogitation, I had a basic arrangement with picked acoustic guitar and bass. After playing with this for several hours (and in the course of doing so, I added a new chord sequence for the middle eight), I ended up with a complete arrangement. 

I listened to this for a few days but felt unhappy as it wasn't the minimalistic arrangement which I had in mind. The second verse, especially, gave completely the wrong feeling. On a whim, I took out all the instruments except for the bass, a chordal pad and a monotonous drum beat: this was much closer to what I was looking for! I had to change the bass line in a few places, but otherwise no changes were required. I decided to leave in a few instrumental lines, without which the song would have sounded incomplete (these were links between verses and a short solo).

After completing the arrangement, I looked at the words. As these were written 40 years ago, when I wasn't as experienced at songwriting as I am now, I could see that they were clearly the result of a small amount of inspiration and a larger amount of filler. Some of the lines didn't make too much sense and the language was simple. Yesterday, I rewrote the words, keeping the original idea and maybe 40% of the original lyric; I enriched the language and generally improved the lyrics. It helps to look at all the lyrics at one go: one can see where an idea was set up in the opening verse and either repeated verbatim or even negated in the final verse. I was able to change the words around, making a better flow.

I'll probably record the vocal over the weekend; I want to keep this as simple as possible with as few affects as possible. It probably will not even be double tracked. 

The end result may not be The Blue Nile, but it's certainly different from my usual output.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sorting in Excel via Delphi automation

I was asked to prepare a table for the OP's flagship database, which shows for each question how many people have answered 'yes' and how many 'no'. Getting the data itself was fairly easy but displaying it was something else again.

Basically, I had an array with 480 rows and seven columns, where I had to sort the array by the fourth column; the spreadsheet has a header row. I thought that it would be easy to output the data to Excel then let Excel do the sorting. As it turns out,  I have never had cause to sort in Excel via automation before now, so first I recorded an Excel macro which would sort. This is the result
Range("A1:G481").Sort Key1:= Range("D2"), Order1:= xlAscending, Header:= _
  xlGuess, OrderCustom:= 1, MatchCase:= True, Orientation:= xlTopToBottom, _
  DataOption1:= xlSortNormal
While Excel might be able to understand that, it wasn't at all clear how I was going to translate that into a form that Delphi could understand. So I started googling, finding several solutions, none of which worked. Eventually I found the solution which I am documenting here.
 xlAscending = 1;
 xlNo = 0;
 xlTopToBottom = 1;
 xlSyllabary = 1;

 sheet.Range['A1', 'G481'].Sort (sheet.Range['D2'], xlAscending,
                                 EmptyParam, EmptyParam,  // key2
                                 EmptyParam, EmptyParam,  // key3
                                 xlAscending, xlNo, EmptyParam, True,
                                 xlTopToBottom, xlSyllabary);

Let me explain the 'G481' term: there are seven columns, and Excel labels them alphabetically. So 'A1' refers to the cell at the intersection of the first column and the first row, its neighbour is 'B1', etc. So 'G1' refers to the cell at the intersection of the seventh column and the first row. As there are 480 rows in the array along with a header row, the final cell is G481.

The first parameter to the 'sort' procedure is the column by which the spreadsheet will be sorted; the second parameter presumably states that the sort will be in ascending order. In this case there is no second nor third key, but if there were, they would be the third and fifth parameters. The eighth parameter (xlNo) would appear to relate to the existence of the header. Don't ask me about the rest (what does syllabary mean? Now I know).

Unfortunately, for the time being,  I am going to have to relate to this code as a magical spell as I don't really understand what each parameter does. All I know is that it does what is required.

Note to myself: following is the definition of the 'sort' procedure from MSDN:
Object Sort(
 Object Key1,
 XlSortOrder Order1,
 Object Key2,
 Object Type,
 XlSortOrder Order2,
 Object Key3,
 XlSortOrder Order3,
 XlYesNoGuess Header,
 Object OrderCustom,
 Object MatchCase,
 XlSortOrientation Orientation,
 XlSortMethod SortMethod,
 XlSortDataOption DataOption1,
 XlSortDataOption DataOption2,
 XlSortDataOption DataOption3

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Did I mention that my daughter is getting married?

She's been working on getting the hall that she wants at a price per head that she is willing to pay (or to put it another way: guests here are expected to cover the cost of their place; if the hall charges 250 NIS, then a couple will be expected to give a 500 NIS present, but of course, no guest knows exactly how much the hall will charge). Once we have a hall at the right price, then we have a date.

She was torn between the hall that she wants (in Modi'in) which is in great demand, which means that it is expensive, and a hall that she doesn't want in Jerusalem which would be cheap. Finally she settled on the hall in Modi'in, with the compromise that the wedding be held in March (prices are cheaper before Pesach, April 2014). We heard this on Friday morning.

A few days ago, I read in an Israeli newspaper that the King Crimson offshoot group, The Crimson ProjeKCt (consisting of three one-time KC members Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelloto and three others) will be coming to Israel for one concert in March. As this seemed far off in the future, I hadn't bothered yet to check what the actual date will be.

We joked on Friday morning that I would have a tough choice should the Crimson ProjecKCt appear on the same day as the wedding. What should I do? (Of course, there is no real choice whatsoever). There are 31 days in March, I said to myself, so there is a 3% chance that the two events will fall on the same day.

Today I decided to find out when that concert will be. In so doing, I stumbled upon an Israeli site about progressive music, which probably will receive return visits. Anyway, the concert will be held on March 5, 2014.

The date for the wedding? You guessed: Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

So much for the Crimson ProjeKCt....

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some DBA thoughts

Despite the malaise from which I seem to have been suffering in the past few weeks due to lack of quality sleep, I am trying to study as much as possible. On the one hand, this means studying all the various statistical tests, whereas on the other hand, I am revisiting the material which I learnt earlier in the year for the exam which I missed (mainly about literature reviews). I am trying as much as possible to study this material dispassionately: trying to learn it as it is presented and not as how it affects my own research.

Even so ... this morning I was asked about one of our business units and why they don't work properly. I didn't give a very clear answer, but thinking about it now, I can explain more clearly (at least to myself!). As far as I am concerned, people who work with Excel (or to be polite, end user computing) in an ERP environment are like programmers who learnt Access and then try to use what they have learnt in an environment which uses SQL: they are using a 'record' way of thinking as opposed to a 'set' way of thinking ('set' as in 'set theory'). This is a common failing of programmers new to SQL.

Specifically: this business unit asked me for data about parts which have been ordered (the users are never precise enough; what they mean is parts which customers have ordered, as opposed to the parts which we need to purchase in order to produce the parts which we will sell to the customers). I gave them totals per part - a 'set' way of thinking - whereas they persist in asking me for part amounts per order - a 'record' way of thinking. I contend that they would be able to do their job better if they left the conception of a record/order behind and started thinking in terms of aggregates (sets).

This is especially important when considering purchasing: there are two types of purchasing approaches, bulk and specific. The purchaser does not need to know for which orders a bulk item is required, just that 10,000 units have to arrive before a specific date so that all the customer orders can be fulfilled. A purchaser does not have to know the purpose of a part which is bought specifically in order to fulfill a given customer order, but it helps. Obviously, parts which are expensive and used only rarely will be purchased specifically whereas parts which are used frequently will be purchased in bulk.

Translating between the terms, bulk purchasing is a 'set' way of thinking whereas specific purchasing is the 'record' way of thinking.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paul Klee

When I was a teenager, I "fell in love" with the pictures created by artist Paul Klee. My favourite painting of his was one called 'Senecio' (appears on the left); I don't remember now what attracted me to it nor how I discovered who painted it. I suspect that there was a subconscious influence at play: one day (probably in 1973) I discovered that there was a print of this painting hanging on the wall next to the main staircase in my school! This means that I had probably seen this painting at least once a day for several years.

I went through an 'arty' phase when I started at university, and frequently visited an Athena shop, from which I bought a few Klee and Picasso prints. I took these with me when I emigrated to Israel, and I mounted the 'Senecio' print on plywood, so that I could hang it properly. I had this 'painting' on my wall for several years but eventually had to discard it as the colours had faded. I'm not sure where the Picasso is now but this used to hang on a wall at home; when people came to our house, I used to joke by saying that most of the pictures on the walls were drawn by my wife, but this one (the Picasso) was mine.

I see that there is a Klee exhibition running at the Tate Modern at the moment. This reminds me that there was a similar exhibition in Jan/Feb 1975, which I wrote about for my university newspaper. This was the first of several articles which I wrote, although the others were about music or films. Eventually I 'graduated' to writing a personal column, but due to circumstances beyond my control (I spent my second year working outside of the university; the newspaper's editor changed)  I only wrote two personal columns. Unfortunately, all the reviews and columns which I wrote got lost, so I can't quote from them. Probably just as well, as they would seem extremely naive and callow now.

I have at least one book about Klee at home which dates from my period of infatuation, but I think that I haven't looked at it for thirty years. But if I were in London now, I would be making my way to the Tate....

Sunday, October 20, 2013

More health issues

It seems that my joy in cutting down the number of apneic events by increasing the pressure that my CPAP machine provides was short lived: true, I had three days with few events at a pressure of 7.5 cmH2O, but then I had four days with high numbers (back into the realm of 20 incidents per hour). As per my instructions, I increased the pressure to 8 cmH2O. After a week, I checked the results and saw that increasing the pressure had made no difference.

Yesterday, I increased the pressure to 9 cmH2O; presumably as a result of trying to adapt to the higher pressure, I slept very badly and this morning I feel lousy. Hopefully I'll get used to the new pressure and get some sleep, although its quality will be an unknown factor.

In my doctoral studies, I was working on what's called the Mann-Whitney U test, which basically checks whether one series of values is significantly different from another series of values. This test is meant for non-standard distributed values which are independent of each other - exactly like the values I get from the CPAP machine. I checked 24 values from Friday nights against 24 values from Saturday nights, and assuming that I did the maths correctly, I can conclude with a confidence level of 95% that I have more apnea on a Friday night than on a Saturday.

The only good thing that I can find to say about my health is that my weight is fast decreasing. Two weeks ago I was surprised to discover that my weight had ballooned from 82 kg to 85 kg; last week it had decreased to 84.3 kg and this morning I weighed only 83.3 kg. At this rate, in another two weeks I will have lost all the extra weight and will be well placed to make some serious losses.

Which leads me back to sleep apnea: shortly my weight will be the same as it was in April when the machine was set up, which means that I should be using the same pressure as then (7 cmH2O). If there is a significant increase in the number of apneic events (without regard to pressure) then there is some other variable which needs to be taken into account. Maybe there is a problem with the machine or the mask ... or maybe me.

As an aside, I note that despite the fact that a sizeable proportion of the adult population suffers from sleep apnea, I have never seen this (or CPAP machines) mentioned in either films or books. So it was a happy moment when I found the following passage in the opening pages of 'Up in the air'  "Once between Denver and Oklahoma City, I nodded off next to a pulmonary specialist who told me when I woke that I had apnea - a tendency to stop breathing while unconscious. The doctor recommended a machine that pushes air through the nostrils while one sleeps to raise the oxygen level in one's blood."