Thursday, October 29, 2015

Vinyl log 24 - 29 October

29October1975Van der Graaf GeneratorGodbluff

One of the events of the emotionally charged month of August 1972 was the breakup of Van der Graaf Generator. Whilst it could hardly be said that this event had any direct involvement upon my life, it was still upsetting. Whilst the Fairport family provided music for the body, VdGG provided music for the soul, and their breakup denied the possibility of any more of their fantastic music.

A taste of what was lost was delivered in Peter Hammill's first solo album ("Chameleon in the shadow") via the closing track "Black room". This brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it, both because of the quality of the song itself and also as a reminder of what was no more. The second PH album had more quasi-VdGG tracks than its predecessor, but it was still a watered down version of the magnificence that had once been achieved. The third PH album, "In Camera", was truly solo, whereas the fourth, "Nadir's last chance", was a head-scratcher. True, it featured all four VdGG members, but playing songs in various styles, none of which were theirs. Had I been able to read the future, I would have taken this album as a sign that the band were about to get back together. 

The reunion became public knowledge over the summer of 1975; I missed their two 'secret' gigs in North Wales and probably wouldn't have known about them even had I been in Britain at the time. But I, like everyone else who cared, knew what was what by October 1975.

One day (29/10/15), a record sized package appeared at my door. Charisma Records were under the impression that I was still reviewing records for my college newspaper (in fact, my involvement had ceased some months previously, and at the time, I was working for Schweppes) and so had sent me a copy of 'Godbluff', the new VdGG album, for review. I immediately devoured the album and attained a new level of consciousness. At the time, G was in Neuchatel, studying French at the source; I remember writing to her, telling of my extreme excitement. The language I used was highly poetic, influenced by the high that the record had induced. I doubt very much that she would have liked it at all. 

To add to my transcendental state, I saw VdGG for the first time in years at the Thames Polytechnic in Woolwich two days after having received the record (apparently a Friday night). This gig was miles away – literally the other side of London – but Jeremy and I had to go. We set off on his motorbike (him driving, me riding pillion) for the long ride, whilst I sang the songs at the top of my voice. We had to wait outside of the concert hall for a while before being let in; we heard part of the band's soundcheck, primarily the tango section of 'The Sleepwalkers'. The gig itself was heaven; apart from the entire Godbluff album, we were also treated to some other gems. 

This was the first gig at which I attempted to go backstage; playing on my correspondence with PH, I assailed a roadie and prevailed upon him to ask whether we could meet the band. The answer came back a few minutes later – "He vaguely remembers the name but he's too tired". Maybe we were too polite and maybe the setup was not conducive, but I recall this as the sole attempt in all my years of concert going (at least in Britain) of attempting to go backstage.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Remembering Mocha

It's the little things about Mocha that I'm going to miss the most, like
  • Coming home in the afternoon and hearing her feet scratching the wood of the balcony in welcome
  • Getting up from my chair in the evening and going in the bedroom to put my walking shoes on; a moment later, a head will peek around the door to see what I'm doing
  • If I don't feel like walking, she'll come and peck at me with her nose to remind me that I still have to take her out for a walk
  • 'Ringing' her food dish to show that she wants to eat. She rang it yesterday evening after we came home from our final walk, and she ate ravenously
  • Whenever we would sit down to dinner, if the smell of the food interested her then at some stage a head would appear by the side of the table, taking in what was there
I wonder how the cat will react. Normally she finishes 'breakfast' at the same time that Mocha and I would return from our morning walk; the cat would rub Mocha up and down, whilst Mocha stood there stoically. Today, when we went out in the morning, I had almost to drag Mocha down the stairs (she doesn't like the rain and maybe she thought it was still raining), and the two of them stood together for a moment on the landing. I was tempted to take a photograph of the two of them together - it's a shame I didn't.

Goodbye, Mocha

Mocha, our dog for the last nine years, died about an hour ago. It seems that she ate something which she shouldn't have; all night, she behaved strangely, salivating constantly, and this morning she barely came out with me for her walk. We were in touch with the vet, but Mocha died before we could get her to be examined.

Let us remember her in her prime. The pictures below was taken about three months ago.

And this is when she was a puppy

One of her favourite positions

Watching television


Sunday, October 25, 2015

The end of summer time

Today Israel turned its clocks back from summer time to winter time. This year had the longest period that I recall using summer time. 

Almost immediately the weather reacted: first rain, then heavy winds and hailstones the size of tennis balls. There was only mild rain where I live, but other areas were badly affected and had no electricity from about 9am until 9pm.

One person with whom I am in contact with regard to my research and also teaching Priority could only contact me after 8pm; he said that his company had been without power all day long.

Monday is supposed to be dry but the rains will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday. Often, it's not the rain which is problematic but the wind. We should, of course, be thankful that we are not living in the Philippines, which has just suffered a very strong typhoon.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Living in the past

Let's go back 45 years to September and October 1970. At school, I was in a class named RE1 - Remove Express 1 - where I and 30 schoolmates would try to do in three years what most people required four years (O levels). My form master was Mr Roger Perry, who lived in a neighbouring street to mine. History, a subject which hadn't greatly interested me until then, was taught by Mr "Sam" Houston; this year we had an experimental syllabus about American history, so my lack of interest in the middle ages was not a handicap. English lessons were split between a regular teacher (Mr Camp? Don't remember) and a visiting American, 'Bud' Stillman. 

Over the summer I had become greatly interested in writing poetry - "The Mersey Sound" had become my constant companion, and I had also become interested in Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. Stillman was well aware of these poets and was, as they say, the right man in the right place. At first, he was very encouraging, but as time went on, we had some disagreement and I ceased to be his pet.

At the same time, a professor from the University of California, Davis (UCD) came for a sabbatical at Bristol University. I have no idea now what his subject was; I don't remember if I ever met him. But he did have a family which included a 14 year old daughter (and maybe one other?); she had three things going for her: she was female (naturally), American and Jewish. Thus I was deputised to look after her. The family lived at the 'other end' of Henleaze Road, near the Downs on one side and near Robert on the other side; their home was about a fifteen minute walk from mine.

I tried to make her my friend but there seemed to be no spark whatsoever between us. Apart from several chats, the only extra-curricular activity that I remember was taking her to a Jethro Tull concert at the Colston Hall on 4 Oct 1970, when they were touring the 'Benefit' album. I recall writing a song for this girl, entitled "Mebbe Debby" (ie maybe Debby will ...), which was a rock'n'roll song in the style of Little Richard or Chuck Berry. I have a suspicion that I wrote in on piano. No words survive. The song told of the non-relationship between us and probably was very derivative, both lyrically and musically.

Musically, things were to change in November 1970, but more of that in a few weeks' time.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Italian ice cream in Israel

There is quite a resemblance between Hadassa Hospital (which is where I underwent the ENG test) and the airport. The car park is a fair distance from the hospital itself but is also at a much lower altitude (the hospital is on the top of a hill whereas the car park is halfway up the hill). There is a shuttle bus which collects people from the car park and drops them off at different places around the hospital. Until ten years ago, people used to enter the hospital directly, but then a new entrance building was erected; this houses several shops and cafes. An underground pathway leads from this building to the hospital itself, making it very difficult to orientate oneself in relation to the above ground hospital. A series of tunnels branching from a general entrance hall led to a lift which brought us to a more familiar location; getting from there to the room where the ENG test is conducted was fairly easy.

After the test was completed, we made the return journey, this time stopping in the shopping mall situated in the entrance building. As I wrote before, I was feeling a little washed out and was thinking that maybe a cup of tea would be a good answer – although the chances of having tea as I like it were low. I then spotted a shop which provided an alternative answer: Aldo Italian Ice Cream. They were serving (amongst other flavours) the mint ice cream that I like (I tasted a sample before buying); the flavour is peppermint and not pistachio! The server informed me that although the cream is sourced locally, all the flavouring concentrates are sent from Italy. This explains why the taste was as good as what I have eaten before in Monterosso or Sorrento.

The ice cream was divine, although I should note that there were pieces of chocolate dispersed within and that chocolate was of low quality. As I assumed that I wouldn't be returning to the hospital  in the near future, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and buy a kilo of this excellent ice cream (the server tried to include as little chocolate as possible). When we got home, I immediately stored the ice cream in the freezer then checked the Internet to discover that not only does Aldo have about thirty branches in Israel, it also has one in Bet Shemesh, albeit in a shopping mall which I don't normally visit. Obviously I don't get out enough.

Now I know where I can get a fix of Italian ice cream, should ever the need arise. 

[Edit: As opposed to what I wrote above, it transpires that the local branch of Aldo is situated in the mall which I do visit - but in the food court, a part where I never go].

[A much later edit: every branch of Aldo operates on its own, although each gets raw materials from the same source. Each branch is at liberty to sell the flavours which it thinks will sell - which is why the Bet Shemesh branch does not sell peppermint ice cream. I have to wait for an annual visit to Hadassa in order to stock up.]

[SO: 4002; 3,17,38]

Vertigo and ENG

As I have hinted here several times, I have had episodes of dizziness and loss of balance, technically known as vertigo; the last attack was probably triggered by our trip to Venice in May. For a few weeks after that, I had to lie in bed turned on my right side and any attempt to turn to the left would cause immediate vertigo. Fortunately I almost always sleep turned to the right, but the lack of choice was annoying.

After this went on for a few weeks, whilst also suffering in a dramatic increase in headaches and migraines, I went to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. After a brief assessment, he ordered some medication, but more importantly ordered three tests: a head CT scan, a hearing test and something called ENG. To my surprise, I was able to have the CT within a few days - the results show no problems. I also had the hearing test within a week or two, which also showed no problems.

The ENG test seems to be popular - or rather, the hospitals allow barely sufficient resources to meet the demand. One Jerusalem hospital offered me an appointment in December, which would have meant a waiting time of about four months. Fortunately, another hospital offered me an appointment in October (only about two and a half months waiting), and this is where I was a few days ago. Although a waiting time of four months is extreme, the technician told me that it is important to perform the test when the subject is not suffering from vertigo. This way, the test can be performed properly without internal attacks interfering with it.

There were three parts to the test, all of which I 'performed' whilst lying on a modified dentist's chair. Electrodes were attached to my skin; these pick up the galvanic response of the muscles around the eyes. It seems that my very dry skin caused problems for the electrodes; at one point, the technician had to replace them and even then, she wasn't sure that they were working well. Does this mean that I will have an advantage when taking a polygraph test (not that I ever have)?

During the first part of the test, I had to look at an electronic board placed about 1.5 metres from me. On this board appeared a red dot, which moved from side to side; I had to track this dot with my eyes without moving my head (this sounds easy but is actually quite difficult). At first, the dot moved smoothly back and forth, but in a later stage, it appeared at a random location on the board. After a few minutes of this, the board was rotated by 90 degrees, thus the dot was moving up and down; this was harder to track. The board was then rotated back by 90 degrees, but the speed of the dot moving from side to side was slowly increased until it was whizzing back and forth. Maybe the technician continues to increase the speed until it becomes obvious that the person being tested cannot track the dot at the increased speed. All of these tests left me with a queasy stomach but with no vertigo.

The second part involved me moving rapidly from a sitting position to a prone position, turned to the right (my preferred sleeping position). I then had to turn to lie on my left side. This was repeated a few times and didn't cause me any apparent vertigo.

The final part was the caloric test, which is divided into four parts. Throughout the entire test, I had my eyes closed (opening the eyes tends to cause vertigo to cease). In the first part, hot water (44 degrees) was introduced into my right ear for a minute or so; this was initially quite painful as the temperature of the water was too hot for comfort. After about 30 seconds, I began to experience vertigo; this is perfectly natural and in fact the purpose of the test is to see whether there is a measurable difference in the induced vertigo, depending on ear. Subjectively, it felt as if I were turning in circles, which is not the normal sensation of vertigo that I get.

It took a few minutes after the cessation of the water for the vertigo to subside, which is again perfectly natural. Once I felt normal again, I had to rest for five minutes before the procedure was repeated, this time hot water in the left ear. Again, vertigo after a few seconds, but this time it felt as if I were spinning in space, a 3-D sensation as opposed to the 2-D sensation in my right ear. Once more, this was not the sensation of vertigo that I have when lying in bed.

After a further rest period, I had cold (30 degrees) water introduced into my right ear. This produced no subjective sensation at all, although the technician said that the electrodes did detect some vertigo. After the mandatory five minutes of rest, cold water was introduced into the left ear, which almost immediately caused vertigo. I think that the intensity was less than with the hot water, but I don't recall exactly.

After the mandatory rest period, I was free to go. I felt a little washed out but otherwise ok. After about another hour, I felt totally normal. Although I was promised the results almost immediately (the same day), they have still to arrive, so I don't know whether a problem was detected in my balance system. The technician mentioned something about a non-localised problem, meaning that there is something wrong but that the tests didn't point to a specific location or cause. Hopefully the ENT doctor (or the neurologist who I will see afterwards) will be able to decipher the results and find the reason for the vertigo and headaches.

I note with pleasure that I haven't had a single bad headache in the past three weeks (and only one mild one). I was given new medication for headaches exactly at the same time of that last severe headache; this is a mild opiate along with paracetamol. So far, I have taken only one pill, which certainly got rid of the headache but gave me terrible gastric reflux pain. Fortunately, I haven't been required to repeat the experience of taking this pill, so I don't know whether the reflux was a direct consequence of the medication (let's hope not).

Update: the results arrived about half an hour after posting the above. They read "There is no spontaneous nystagmus. LT beating nystagmus recorded with positional test. Oculometric tests are normal. Bithermal caloric test is within the normal limits".

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Vinyl log 23 - 20 October

20October1971Dave EvansThe words inbetween

As I wrote here several years ago, 1971 found me as a dewy-eyed teenager sitting agog at the Bristol Troubadour. I had just discovered that my adopted home city had a strong "folk scene," and that good music was always to be found in that musky room in the Clifton district. Of the many musicians that I saw there, the strongest impression was made by a guitarist and singer called Dave Evans. It always seemed that he had several hands playing the guitar at the same time, and his performances used to hold me spellbound. One Sunday evening at a concert (at the appropriately named Newman Hall, actually not far from my house), Dave introduced an instrumental as "a number which I recorded this afternoon for a forthcoming album". I waited a few weeks, then went round to the local record company's headquarters and purchased my copy of The Words In Between.

The "local record company's headquarters" was situated a short walk away from my school, at the top of Park Street, and was called The Village Thing. The person who I used to deal with was called Rod Matthews who was a graphic designer. He was also a drummer and played on a later VT record by Hunt and Turner; by the time that record had been released, I no longer frequented the VT offices, which was just as well as I was saved having to tell Matthews that he wasn't a very good drummer.

The newspaper here runs a weekly column in which they ask questions of minor celebrity, generally about the celeb's youth. One frequent question is "what advice would you give to your 16 year old self?". Apart from trying to grow a thicker skin, I would have advised my younger self to seek guitar lessons from Dave Evans. I have no idea whether he actually gave lessons but it wouldn't have hurt to ask. But at the time, I considered myself a mean rhythm guitarist and would have been embarrassed by the need to take lessons.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

'Intriguing' email

Today I received an email, part of which reads as follows
Are you the author of work entitled « Spreadsheets in an ERP environment: not what the doctor ordered »? It was apparently written at the Heriot-Watt University in 2015. I believe this particular topic could be of interest to a wider audience and we would be glad to consider publishing it. We would be especially interested in publishing a complete academic work of yours (a thesis, a dissertation or a monograph) as a printed book. Our services are free of charge for authors.

The email was sent by someone from Lambert Academic Publishing; the inherent flattery in the mail (I think that my research subject is interesting but not many other people do, and this person divined this from my modest two page article) caught my detector. After a quick search on Academic Stack Exchange, I found a question entitled " Is Lambert Academic Publishing a reputable company? The short answer is "no!".

Here's a link to a very interesting article on the subject, entitled "A Trip Through the Surreal World of an Academic Book Mill".

Thursday, October 08, 2015

How the mind works

I have been reading this fascinating book by Steven Pinker for some time. It is large – 765 pages – and both engrossing and intellectually deep. Thus my normal high reading speed is tempered somewhat. In a sense, this book provides a great deal of measured academic background for David Lodge's excellent novel, "Thinks". There is a section on qualia and one section on emotions and why they exist. Whilst the statement apparently made by Darwin and discussed at length by Lodge's characters – crying is a puzzler – does not appear in Pinker's book (or if it does, I haven't come across it yet), there is a section about grief, which also is discussed by Lodge's fictional professor, Ralph Messenger. 

Following is some of what Pinker writes on the subject: No one knows what, if anything, grief is for. Obviously the loss of a loved one is unpleasant, but why should it be devastating? Why the debilitating pain that stops people from eating, sleeping, resisting diseases, and getting on with life? Jane Goodall describes a young chimp, Flint, who after the death of his beloved mother became depressed and died himself as if of a broken heart. [I should mention here that after my paternal grandmother died, my paternal grandfather died after a few weeks, and the same thing recently happened to the parents of someone on the kibbutz – NBN].

Some have suggested that grief is an enforced interlude for reassessment. Life will never be the same so one must take time to plan how to cope with a world that has been turned upside down. Perhaps grief also gives people time to contemplate how a lapse of theirs may have allowed the death and how they might be more careful in the future [pp 444-5].

Another snippet reminds me of a letter which I received from my mentor a few weeks ago which incensed me at the time; I decided to wait a few days to calm down before replying. When I did reply, his letter seemed much more to the point and basically exposed my misunderstanding. Pinker writes: Sometimes we have glimpses of our own self-deception. When does a negative remark sting, cut deep, hit a nerve? When some part of us knows it is true. If every part knew it was true, the remark would not sting; it would be old news. If no part thought it was true, the remark would roll off; we could dismiss it as false. Travers recounts an experience which is all too familiar (at least to me). One of his papers drew a published critique, which struck him at the time as vicious and unprincipled, full of innuendo and slander. Rereading the article years later, he was surprised to find that the wording was gentler, the doubts more reasonable, the attitude less biased than he remembered. Many others have made such discoveries; they are almost the definition of "wisdom". [p 447]

Post script: I looked at the appendix of Lodge's "Thinks" and saw that amongst the books which Lodge read prior to writing his novel is "How the mind works" by Stephen Pinker.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

More statistics functions with SQL

There are  three  commonly  used  measures  of  central  tendency: the  mode, the median and the mean. The mode describes the most common score, the median the score of the middle case, and the mean the average score. The measures available for analysis depend on the type of variable.


 In my data, the 'results' table contains the results (naturally) for a given section (or variable). Since data from nominal and ordinal variables cannot be aggregated (see previous post), each section corresponds to a single question, thus the results (or scores) are actually the options chosen for that question.

In my pilot study, the results for the following ordinal question were
Q45: What is your highest level of education?
1. Ninth grade (O-levels) - 0
2. A levels - 1
3. Professional diploma - 3
4. Bachelor degree - 8
5. Masters degree - 4
6. Doctorate - 0

The mode is clearly 8 - bachelor degree. This can be determined by a fairly easy SQL query:
select score, count (*) from results where section = :p1 group by score order by count (*) desc
where p1 is a parameter whose value is the number of the section being evaluated (for education, it's 12). The query will return several rows, depending on how many options exist for the question, but only the first row (which will be 4, 8) would be used.

If one arranges the values by score, they are 1333444444445555. As there are 16 values, the median lies between the 8th and 9th value, which in both cases is 4. Obtaining the median via SQL without using a cursor is fairly tricky - it involves the use of two less frequently used SQL keywords: first and skip. The query which I came up with is
select first 1 skip 8 score from results where section = :p1 order by score
The number following first defines the number of rows to be returned - in this case, one. The number following skip defines how many rows in the original dataset should be skipped before applying first: translated into English, the query says order the values, skip the first eight values then return the next one. In other words, return the ninth value - the median - when the rows are ordered.

The reason that the '8' is on a separate row is because it cannot be parameterised; it has to be added dynamically into the SQL query during preparation; isolating this value simplifies the addition.