Thursday, March 24, 2016

Draining the ear

Since the end of February, I have been suffering from a continual infection of the throat and ear. The throat infection was cured by the course of antibiotics which started at the beginning of the month, but this did not cure the ear infection. I started a second course of antibiotics (a different type) last Wednesday which finished a few days ago. A few days after this infection began, my left ear filled with liquid which made hearing very difficult - I referred to this at the time. Whilst the antibiotics healed the infection, they didn't help in draining the liquid from my ear.

A week ago, I drove to Jerusalem for an urgent hearing test (the branch in Bet Shemesh could only offer me an appointment at the end of March); this showed that not only was my hearing greatly impaired by the liquid, there seemed to be some damage to the aural nerve.

I returned to the ENT doctor yesterday; upon seeing those results, he referred me immediately to the emergency room of a Jerusalem hospital. This greatly surprised me; he explained that he didn't have the equipment to effect the necessary treatment, and that going via the emergency room would ensure that I would get treated that same day, as opposed to making an appointment for the ENT clinic in the hospital which might not be for another week. He said that it was essential to get immediate treatment before the nerve damage becomes permanent. Apparently about 1% of all the throat/ear infections develop complications like mine had.

So after lunch, my wife drove me to Jerusalem (I could have driven myself, but I wasn't sure in what state I would be after the treatment; also, I don't like driving whereas she does and she wanted to be with me anyway). We arrived just before 3pm which was rather unfortunate as the ENT clinic formally closes at 3pm; we were assured that there would be a duty doctor who would take care of me. After about an hour of messing around, we finally met this duty doctor.

After taking my case history (despite it being noted by the local ENT doctor), he examined my ears, this time with a much bigger device than the normal one. Then he pushed a fibre optic camera up my left nostril in order to check that there were no problems in the area behind the ear drum where the liquid was (the Eustachian tube); it might have been that there was a blockage here which was preventing the liquid from being released. Everything was normal. This procedure wasn't exactly pleasant but it was very quick.

Once everything had become clear to the doctor, he explained that normally there is a waiting period of about three weeks in which the liquid is expected to drain itself; I said that those three weeks had already passed and that the liquid showed no signs of draining on its own. So we agreed on the treatment: first, a liquid local anaesthetic would be introduced into my ear, then after about fifteen minutes, a small (1 mm diameter) hole would be created in my ear drum with a laser.

The anaesthetic part was ok, the laser part was slightly uncomfortable (pressure in the ear canal) but only lasted a minute, and then the doctor suctioned off the liquid, which fortunately was clear, thus obviating the need for any more treatment.

Since then, the feeling in my ear has been very strange; to be more accurate, the feeling in my ear changes from minute to minute. At the moment, it seems like I can hear extremely well in my left ear (which makes me slightly anxious about my right ear) but some white noise has just returned. I have to shower with ear plugs for the next few days, in order to prevent water getting in the canal and possibly getting through the perforation. This was somewhat comical last night; hopefully tonight will be better.

I have to do another hearing test in about a week and a half and then see the local ENT doctor for final assessment. As it happens, in a week and a half, I will be in Sorrento for a week's holiday, so I have fixed the hearing test for the day after I come back. If there are any problems between now and going away, then I can always return to the emergency room; I hope that nothing develops while I am in Italy!

[Edit: I should point out that I received excellent treatment from the hospital doctor]

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Composing a bolero

I was saddened to learn of the death of Keith Emerson a few weeks ago. Although I was never one of his listeners, the death - suicide - of any renowned musician is a sad event for me. In the 1970s, when Emerson was in his heyday, I had liked a few pieces that he had played with The Nice, but found Emerson, Lake and Palmer too bombastic for my tastes. After 40 years, I thought that I would try to listen to them again and so downloaded some albums via YouTube. My opinion hasn't changed very much: apart from 'Fanfare for the common man' and possibly 'Jerusalem', there isn't anything which I would like to hear again.

One of the tracks on the 'Trilogy' album is called "Abaddon's Bolero". The description of this tune intrigued me but I haven't really listened to the track itself. Probably the same night that I downloaded this, I started thinking about boleros, and into my mind popped a rhythm. This is not the standard bolero rhythm as I knew that it was in 4/4 (as opposed to 3/4) and the end was slightly different. My mind 'played' this rhythm for some time and I wondered how I would transcribe it; would I even remember it in the morning?

It took a few days for me to find the time and space to sit down and work out what the rhythm actually was. Here it is transcribed:

Having got that far, I wondered what should be played on top of that. First, I sequenced a bass guitar part with that rhythm, then added an oboe part, playing in the phrygian dominant scale. After a few days' work (no more than an hour a day) on this, I took a step back and started a revised version. This is basically composed of three sections: an A section (oboe lead, phrygian dominant in A), a B section (alto sax lead, 'normal' phrygian in E) and a link section of four bars playing Bb diminished in various inversions. A breakthrough came when I added a harmony part to the oboe tune.

Yesterday evening, I finished the piece, at least for the time being. Although I might have some more musical ideas, it is currently six minutes long and seems fairly complete. My major problem is with the orchestration, or more accurately, hearing the orchestration. I have barely hinted at this here, but since the beginning of March, I have been suffering from a blocked left ear (acute media otitis, to give it its proper name) along with both throat and ear infections. I've had two courses of antibiotics and seem to be past the worse - but I still can barely hear through that ear. More of that later. In honour of my medical condition, I am currently calling this composition "Half deaf bolero", although this may change in the future.

It seems that later on today I will undergo some form of surgical treatment for my ear, but I'll write about that after the event.

As it happens, I had great difficulty in transcribing those few bars presented above. My normal transcription program couldn't handle the triplets correctly; although the help text said that there is a 'triplets' command, I couldn't find it (maybe it exists only in the professional version). I then looked for an online transcription program; after importing the MIDI file, this too could not display the triplets properly. So I decided to transcribe the rhythm by hand; this online program (which I will not name) made this very difficult but eventually I succeeded. Maybe it would have helped had I used a 12/8 time signature instead of 4/4.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Zero values in Priority tables (2)

Whilst rereading my original post on this subject, an alternative solution suddenly popped into my head. As I wrote then, the way which I have found to solve this problem is to calculate how many records there are in the suptypes table before it is linked as a procedure, then do the same after the table has been linked. If the results are the same then the user wanted everything, but if they differ, then suppliers without a suptype should not be included. I presented the following snippet of code which checks how many supplier types there are in total and how many have been passed as in the parameter.
It occurs to me now that there is a simpler solution to remove the zero values when they are not required: simply delete the zero record from the linked suptypes table:
This way, there's no need to check whether zeroes are required and whether the current record is a 'zero'. The result should be that the procedure runs slightly faster.

Edit from a few weeks later: this 'optimisation' does not work!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Purchasing sound equipment

Over the past few months, I've slowly been acquiring gear for my electric guitar and amplifier. None of this equipment costs very much (the effects pedal was the most expensive, at about 150 NIS), which is fine for a stay-at-home hobbyist musician.

First off is a soi disant professional condenser microphone, which I bought from e-bay. This looks very good, but it's actually quite small. I doubt that it really can be professional as it only costs 11 australian dollars, but it's probably just as good - if not better - than any of my other microphones. I haven't had a chance to test it yet: since receiving it, I've barely been able to speak, let alone sing. I am hopeful that this will be a good purchase. The stand is a neat idea.

My amplifier - whilst coming with effects - only has one input. Let's say that I want to play with someone else or use the above microphone - to do this, I need to expand the number of inputs.

Enter the mixer. I used to have something like this when I was living in London, but that was really a cheap and nasty box. The Nady mixer is very solidly built, and comes with four controllable inputs, as well as echo (the two knobs on the right of the unit control the depth (dry/wet) and the delay time (0 - 250ms). This mixer looks impressive, but I was disappointed when I tried it out. Most of the top end (treble) was removed, leaving a very dull sound, and it was very easy to let the echo get out of control. There seemed to be a negative synergy between the mixer's echo and any effects which I might have used on the amplifier. As a result, I have decided not to use the mixer's echo (or at least, to be very sparing with it). The problem - which I realised only after receiving the unit - is that the echo applies to all the inputs, meaning that if two guitars and a microphone are plugged in, using echo will result in a sonic mess. An even better solution would be to have an extra knob for each channel, by which one could select how much echo each channel receives, but this would require extra circuitry, which would increase the price. So how can I obtain echo on one channel but not on another?

One possible solution  is an effects pedal (which would be used before plugging into the mixer): after looking around at DX, I came across the Mooer Pogo effects box. Despite the somewhat unpromising name, this box contains a large amount of functionality in a small space. 

Pros: This effects box is really two boxes in one: first, it's a guitar pedal with several options: chorus/phaser/tremolo/flanger, echo/reverb, gain, drive (clean/overdrive/distortion/crunch/fuzz/metal) and tone controls. Secondly, it's a drum box, with 40 predefined rhythms, whose tempo and volume can be selected. So this is a great little box for someone playing on their own - they can dial in a drummer and play to their heart's content. The box also comes with an AC adapter, which enables one to use the effects without batteries (2 AAAs). The instructions come in Chinese and English, and are written correctly (sometimes products come from China with mangled English which doesn't always make sense).

Cons: the AC adapter comes with a plug which might be unsuitable, thus requiring an adapter of its own. For some reason, although the drum speed can be controlled, it can't be specified in bpm. To quote the instructions, "The range of the displaying tempo value is 20-90, indicate (sic) the real tempo 60-270 bpm. Each rhythm has its own default tempo value". Would it have been too hard to have allowed real bpm values? 

All these devices means that I need some more guitar cables, so I took  the opportunity of ordering two with the pogo. This morning, I connected the guitar to the pogo, and the pogo to the amplifier (without effects). I should have plugged the pogo into the mixer and the mixer into the amplifier, thus I could have seen whether the tone control of the pogo overcomes the mixer's removal of tone. I had great fun with this unit: I forgot that I could play lead guitar! I think that it was the 'fuzz' setting which gave a good sustain, which is so necessary for lead. This unit obviates the need for the effects on the amplifier.

[SO: 4122; 4, 20, 38
MPP: 617; 1, 3, 6
ELL: 694; 0, 1, 6]

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Priority tip of the day

I wanted to write a report which showed to how many customers we were supplying on a given day. This number is not the same as the number of delivery notes, as a customer may have more than one delivery note on a given day. In standard SQL, this shouldn't be too great a problem, as one can use the 'COUNT' function with the customer number - select count (cust) from documents. This does not work in the Priority flavour of SQL.

What does work, however, is a variation on the above - count (distinct cust). So the query becomes (complete with parameters)

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Sir George Martin, RIP

One of the men who defined what a record producer really is. I learned a great deal from his book 'All you need is ears".

His legacy will live on.

Guardian obituary is here.

Saturday, March 05, 2016


Last week, I wrote that "the latest [viral infection] has made it very painful to swallow, along with an occasional blocked nose and headache". On the fifth day, my situation was getting worse: my left ear hurt, I spent most of the night coughing and I was developing a fever. On the sixth day, I saw a doctor who took one look at my throat and one at my ear and immediately started me on antibiotics. It would seem that there was an initial viral infection which weakened me sufficiently to allow bacteria to start their own infection. 

It's now ten days since my throat started hurting and five since I started with the antibiotics: my throat doesn't hurt, I don't have a fever and I'm no longer weak. On the other hand, my left ear is completely blocked (I feel like I'm underwater and I can't hear very well), I have difficulty concentrating and I still have coughing fits. Tomorrow I will go back to work - I've been working from home for the last week - and I hope that my situation will continue to improve. Not hearing well is a mixed bag: on the one hand, it will make having phone conversations difficult, but on the other hand, I won't hear a great deal of the annoying noise (most of which emanates from one person) which fills my work place. No doubt being at work will force me to concentrate more.

I also wrote last week that I intended to cook a roast chicken shepherd's pie. This was something which I could easily accomplish, despite my reduced mental state. This time I remembered to take a picture, even though this reveals nothing about the taste.

My final task for the day was completing the DVD of our trip to Barcelona, London and Edinburgh from 2013, which I wrote about, nearly a year ago. Most of the clips were in place, but I discovered one clip from Capri lurking towards the end which needed to be removed, and I rearranged the order of several clips. I think it better that the clips be in logical order rather than stick lavishly to the order in which they were shot (this might lead to 'continuity errors', in which we're wearing one set of clothes in one shot, followed by another shot and different clothes; this doesn't happen much as we don't appear in most of the clips).

Once all the clips were arranged to my satisfaction, I added the transitions, then started adding music. I naturally used Catalonian tunes for the Barcelona scenes, some of which were simple arrangements for one acoustic guitar, and some of which were more up-tempo items. The first initial London scenes - Abbey Road - were set to "Come together"; the Covent Garden scenes had their own "soundtrack" and so didn't need any accompaniment. Most of the Edinburgh scenes received tastefully played traditional tunes, but I managed to sneak in Fotheringay's version of "Wild mountain thyme". Obviously, all scenes featuring bagpipe players provided their own music, as did the graduation ceremony.

This time around I discovered how to use sub-titles during the film, although some of these mysteriously disappeared at one stage. Using my original notes, I saw that I had to master the dvd. Until this stage, that blog had been very clear on what needed to be done, but this mastering section seemed very vague. I had to search high and low for the mastering software which I must have had before I remembered that it's a portable program stored on one of my usb sticks - DVD Styler. The version which I have seems very basic, but at least it gets the job done.

Unlike previous times, when I created an iso format file on the mobile computer, copied that to my main computer then burned the iso file to disk from there, this time I was able to utilise the external cd/dvd writer which I bought a few days ago (this connects to the mobile via USB). The dvd was successfully burned and I watched it on television. I was able to write all the raw video files to one dvd (via explorer): whilst this disk is readable on the mobile computer, it doesn't seem to be readable - or even recognised - on my main computer. Hmmm. This is something which I will have to explore further, before deleting those files from the mobile.