Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of an era

For the past twenty years or so, our tv satellite provider, Yes, has broadcast the international channel "BBC Entertainment" (or its predecessor, "BBC Prime"). This is one of my favourite channels, and through it I was able to enjoy series such as "Cold Feet", "Teachers", "New Tricks", "Scott and Bailey", "Sherlock", "Silent Witness", "William and Mary" along with many others, especially the weekly medical drama/soap, "Casualty".

No more. As from midnight, the channel will no longer be broadcast in Israel. I wrote a letter to Yes, asking about this; their reply was that the content of the channel is old-fashioned, and that many suppliers around the world are dropping it. They claim that they will be broadcasting quality British programs taken from BBC, Sky, Channel 4, etc. over the coming year.

I'll believe that when I see it. Where am I going to see the coming episodes of "Casualty"? Probably nowhere.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sheet music

No, that's not a reference to 10cc's second (and probably best) album, but rather referring to two PDFs which dropped into my mailbox yesterday evening. I wrote a few days ago that I spoke with Yoni Rechter after his show on Thursday night, and that he offered to send me the sheet music to one of the songs on his new album 'Svivenu' ('around us'). I sent him (or his facebook page) my details on Friday, and yesterday the music arrived! True, it didn't come from Yoni himself, but from someone in his production company.

One file contains music for the vocals whereas the other is for piano.  Looking at them makes me wonder whether Yoni (or a copyist) prepares such files for all his songs, for those playing with him.

I've chosen to display a part of the piano score which is probably the most interesting: the song starts in A minor, 5/8 time. In bar 26, there is a modulation to A major; bar 28 is in 6/8 but bar 29 is back in 5/8. Again, bar 33 is in 6/8 but bar 34 is in 5/8. The song returns to A minor at bar 44 (not shown). As it happens, I have yet to hear the song and follow it with the score, but I'm sure that will happen soon.

When we came home on Friday, I looked at the previous Yoni album, a live recording from 2011. To my surprise, almost all of those who appeared with him on Thursday also appeared on the 2011 recording; the only differences are the backing singers. The set list hasn't changed that much from 2011, either. I haven't looked at the musicians on the most recent album, but again, I would not be too surprised to see there some familiar names.

[SO: 4622; 5, 22, 43
MPP: 1027; 1, 6, 7]

Sunday, December 24, 2017

1,100 blogs

Another 100 blogs have flown by in just under a year (one blog every 3.5 days), and it's time to look at what occupied me this year. No surprises for first place.

2Priority tips14
7=TV series5
9=Musical instruments4

The first two subjects are the same as last year (13 and 9 blogs respectively). Last year there were nineteen subject with four or more blogs whereas this year there are only eleven subjects with four or more. The total count of all the above is 84, although every blog about Rodos would also be marked as Holiday, and I imagine that most blogs about music instruments were also about guitars.

Two important subjects are missing from the above: health (only two blogs) and songwriting (0). Obviously this year I've been healthier than previous years. Disappointingly, I have created absolutely no music this year. I might have remixed a song or two, but apart from that ... nothing. I haven't felt the urge at all.

Who knows what will occupy me in the future.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Celebrating the Winter Solstice with Yoni Rechter

Several weeks ago, our daughter surprised us by saying that she had booked us a Thursday night/Friday morning stay in a boutique hotel, including a performance by Yoni Rechter. That's the way things happen: I haven't stayed in an Israeli hotel for over ten years, and then it happens to me twice in a few weeks.

The boutique hotel is situated in the top four stories of a ten story building in Rehovot; it is strategically place between the train station and the Science park, thus providing an ideal location for visiting scientists, investors and collaborators to stay. Quite how we ended up there is an unknown; I suspect that the hotel management noticed that they had a very low occupation rate for that night and so offered to their consumer club a deal with the Rechter concert (held in a winery some twenty miles away) as a sweetener. Supposition again, this deal was offered to my daughter who knows my fascination with Rechter along with my wife's upcoming birthday, so she decided to surprise us.

We arrived at the hotel just after 12pm; our room was ready - in fact, we had been upgraded (giving further strength to the under-booked theory) to a large room with a sofa and chairs as well as the double bed. Once we unpacked our few clothes, we descended to find somewhere to eat - an easy task. After a reasonable meal, we once again ascended in order to have a little rest.

Upon arising, we went to the hotel's tea room; it was 5 o'clock and my body was screaming for its daily fix of tea with milk. The hotel has a 'business lounge' open from 2-10pm, which serves hot and cold drinks, cakes and even light meals (potato latkes, noodles, salad): all free to hotel guests. So we had a cup of tea, a piece of cake, another cup of tea, a piece of a different cake, a third cup of tea and a biscuit. By this time, I was sated and knew that I wouldn't need to eat supper.

My wife, though, wanted to eat. I pointed out that the meagre information that we had about the show said that doors open at 8:30pm and that the concert begins at 10pm, implying that food was to be served. Despite that, she decided to have something to eat at a nearby cafe.

We set out for the winery, which is situated about half way between Rehovot and where we live. By the time we arrived at 9:30pm, the hall was almost completely full of people who had been eating well. This was not a concert hall with ramped seating, but rather a very large room filled with round tables and chairs - what we call a function room - with about 400 people. We were shown to one of the few tables which still had some room (the maitre d' maintained a list of who was to sit where) and turned our chairs to face the stage. I had very good sight lines of the stage (at least, when everyone sat down).

By counting microphones and instruments, I could see that Rechter would be accompanied by a four piece band (guitar, bass, percussion and drums) and three backing vocalists, although there were another two microphones and two guitars set up. At 10:01, the band came on and proceeded to play exquisitely for an hour and a half, followed by another fifteen minutes of encores. As I had guessed, there were the four piece and three singers: one of the singers spent half her time at the front of the stage (one of those microphones), and a guest singer/guitarist took the other place.

The set list was quite interesting: along with several Rechter standards, which he is almost obliged to play, there were also five songs from his new album (released two months ago) and some rather obscure material which first appeared on a live album in 1991.

After the show, we waited outside by the group van for the master to appear. We spoke to the percussionist and we spoke to the drummer, both of whom noted that the van couldn't go until Rechter turned up. Although there was quite a crowd hanging around at first, most of them disappeared quite quickly which is when we discerned that only about eight people were waiting for the man. Eventually Rechter came out; it transpires that he knows two of the girls who were waiting to speak to him. Then he spoke to a couple of boys from a nearby settlement, one of whom was clutching a book of Rechter's music; my wife took a picture of them with Rechter. One of the boys reciprocated and took a picture of us with Rechter, which unfortunately is somewhat blurred.

Then it was our turn; I mentioned that we had met with Rechter twenty years ago when he came to our kibbutz. He surprised me by saying that he had been there the night before (i.e. Wednesday night); when we asked how this was so, he said that there had been an orchestral evening held (true) for a friend of his and he had come as a personal favour and as a private person. I offered him the new album booklet for an autograph, joking that this showed that at least someone had bought the album (he had made a joking reference to a non-existent merchandise table during the show). I also asked about one of the songs on the disc (not one which was played, by the way), as to whether it was in a 5/8 rhythm all the way through; I had tried counting and got lost in the middle. No, he said, the time signature changes here and there. He asked if I read music, and when I said yes, he kindly offered to send me the sheet music! So I left a message today on his Facebook page, reminding him of my name, my kibbutz and my request; let's see what happens.

We then returned to the hotel, arriving at around 1am. It was hard to me to fall asleep (because my back had gotten cold while we were waiting outside), and noise from the railway station woke me in the early hours. We had breakfast in the hotel - the breakfast at the Dead Sea hotel was better - packed, and then headed home. All in all, an enjoyable 24 hours!

Monday, December 11, 2017

More on Delphi 7/Hebrew/Win10

After writing up my exploits from Saturday night, I took the dog for a walk - always a good time for thinking and reflecting. It occurred to me that maybe I don't have to rewrite the library program from scratch: I can take the original version, add in strategic places the two lines of code which handle the locale, and hey presto! I have a program which displays Hebrew in Windows 10. 

It was too late for me to check this idea on Saturday (unlike the stereotypical programmer, I don't like working at night) so I had to wait until I finished work on Sunday before trying out this idea. Unfortunately, it didn't work. There must be some extra magic in the TNT controls which sets up the Hebrew.

So I quickly finished the menu structure in the unicode program and checked that it worked properly both on my laptop and on the library's laptop. It does work properly.

When I get some more free time, I will try and find what the minimal amount of change is required in order to create a Hebrew/Win10 program in Delphi 7.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Delphi 7/Hebrew programs running on Windows 10

Several years ago, I wrote a program for the local children's library so that they could keep track of all their books and see who had borrowed what. This is a classic database program, and like all of my programs, it was written with Delphi 7. Until recently, the library had an old PC which was running Windows XP, so there were no problems with my program (in terms of displaying Hebrew characters correctly).

A few months ago, their computer crashed and burned. Recently, the lady who runs the library (and who is also a neighbour of mine) got in touch: someone had donated an old laptop computer to the library, and she wanted me to get the program running on this new computer. Some of the data had been saved, some lost; she was prepared to compromise on this issue. When she showed me the laptop, it turned out that it was far from an old computer - it was running Windows 10!

I knew from experience that my programs would display as gibberish under this operating system, as it uses Unicode, whereas my programs are non-Unicode. In the past, I converted one of my programs to a unicode version, using the TNT components, so I wasn't too worried about this conversion ... until I started work on it.

The program which I had converted uses labels and edit boxes, but it doesn't use menus or data grids, which is what was required for the library program. After a great deal of faffing around yesterday, I discovered how I could implement menus and grids in the program - all the time, I was copying the program to my own laptop (running Windows 8.1) in order to see what had been converted successfully and what not.

I was having great difficulty with the data grids: they were showing gibberish despite the fact that they were TNT components. A database manager installed on my laptop displayed the Hebrew perfectly so I knew that the problem was not with the database. After a great deal of looking around on the Internet, I found one suggestion which seemed a little strange: set the computer's locale to display Hebrew (the question was about Hebrew, as it happens).

I copied the code (two lines) into my program, compiled it then tried it out on my laptop. It sort of worked: at first, the menu displayed in Hebrew and from right to left, but after I opened one of the forms which I had converted then closed it, I noticed that the menu had reverted to gibberish. Encouraged by this, I added the locale code at the form creation event and at its closing. On the laptop, the data grid displayed gibberish the first time it was displayed, but the second time, it displayed Hebrew! I then discovered that even forms which I had not converted displayed in Hebrew!!

So I added a little code which displayed this form before immediately destroying it. This should mean that everything would now display in Hebrew ... and it does! Just to make sure, I copied the program onto the target computer, and it worked perfectly the first time. I still have to hook up the menu to the various forms, but for all intents and purposes, the program has already been ported to display Hebrew on Windows 10 - seemingly without the TNT components.

Here is the magic code which seems to make the difference
SetThreadLocale ($040D); GetFormatSettings;

Friday, December 08, 2017

Dead sea, part 2

Whilst I was in the warm pool this morning, I remembered that in the 1960s, my family often traveled from Bristol to the nearby city of Bath, where we would bathe in the roman baths. The water was very warm and buoyant - maybe less so than in the Dead Sea - but very similar. As I remember it, we were allowed about 30 minutes in the water. The picture above seems similar to the pool in which we used to bathe, but I'm certain that there was a roof, unlike the picture above.

In the 1998, when on a trip to Britain, my young family and I visited Bath and we walked around the baths. What we saw didn't match my memories (apart from the Pump Room), so when asked the guide, I was told that people are no longer allowed to bathe in the water for safety reasons. This matches what is written in the Wiki entry. I note that it states that the newly constructed Thermae Bath Spa nearby and the refurbished Cross Bath allow modern-day bathers to experience the waters via a series of more recently drilled boreholes.

So once again, people can enjoy the warm water of Bath, although I doubt that I will ever return there.

Trip to the Dead Sea

Every year, the company for which I work holds a 'fun day': all employees are transported to a site - normally a country club or a coastal result - for a day (or at least, several hours) of relaxation, mixed with a short speech by the CEO and the awarding of 'Employer of the year' certificates (along with a 500 NIS bonus). One year we went rafting on the River Jordan, twice we went paddling in the Mediterranean. I get the feeling that I've never written about these events, probably because there isn't much to write about them (even though last year I was one of the employees of the year). I often have mixed feelings about these events; even though I know more employees than most (because I travel between all four company sites in Israel), I work with no one closely and so am not friends with anyone. My introverted nature doesn't help much either.

This day is normally in or around September, when it's still very hot but after most employees have had their annual holiday. This year, September came and went with no mention of the fun day; I was wondering whether it had been cancelled when we were informed that we would be traveling to the Dead Sea in December. Not only to the Dead Sea: we would travel on a Thursday, stay overnight in a hotel and return the following day. Those that can do the arithmetic will have realised by now that I came back from the Dead Sea today.

I know that I visited the Dead Sea in (or around) 1992: a day trip for the company (before the merger, when everyone worked in the factory situated in the kibbutz, so a day trip was possible). I'm fairly sure that we visited the area in the mid 1980s, although I'm not sure whether we actually stopped by the sea itself. I cannot recall for the life of me whether I visited the Dead Sea in the summer of 1972 or during my gap year (1973-4);  I imagine that we did as it's not far from Masada and I definitely remember visiting there twice.

Employees from my home factory were the first to arrive yesterday at about 10am, not surprising as we had the shortest distance to travel (about 1.5 hours). After an hour, the coach from Tel Aviv arrived and finally one from Karmiel in the far north. The coach from Haifa had broken down and the people traveling in it arrived only at around 3pm. This delay caused the postponement of the CEO and awards from 11am to 5pm. We would receive the cards to our rooms only at 3pm, which prevented us from certain activities. One person organised a trip by jeep to a nearby historical site, but knowing how much I 'enjoy' riding in a jeep (see our trip to Hersonissos), I passed on this opportunity.

After lunch (fish and rice) in the restaurant, I went for a walk on the promenade, where I took the pictures accompanying this blog entry (I look a bit worried on the left as this is the first time I've ever taken a selfie). Then I went to lie down by the swimming pool for an hour, falling asleep and only awakening a few minutes before 3pm. Once I had the card to my room, I could change clothes and put on my swimming costume. First I swam a few lengths in the hotel pool (it was warmer in the water than out of the pool) and then went to the sea (which was only about 20m from the hotel).

I waded into the water (which was slightly on the cold side) but wondered how I could lie down. There was a metal framework to my side, so I walked over to it, held on and let my legs float up. I was floating on my back in an instant. I drifted around for a few minutes, but realised that I was very tense, so I decided to come out. It was very hard to get from a prone position on my back to having my legs back on the sea floor! A bit of kicking and acrobatics, and I could walk. The sea left a silky feeling on my skin (the Hebrew word normally translates as oily or greasy, but that doesn't really describe the feeling) so naturally I had to shower in my room.

After a cup of tea and some reading, I went to the company meeting, which finished shortly before dinner. After another meal of fish (sea bass fillets), I went for a walk around the hotel area and discovered a row of tatty shops. Coming back, I spend some time in the hotel lobby, talking with my colleagues, then went to bed.

This morning I woke at 6:15, and as silently as possible, got dressed then walked briskly for half an hour on the promenade. By this time, it was possible to have breakfast: I was one of the first people in. After a long breakfast including several cups of tea and chocolate milk, I waited in the lobby until I saw my room-mate; I hadn't wanted to go to the room and make noise, if he were still asleep. Again I changed into my swimming costume then went to the hotel spa: they have a pool which is filled with warm (37 degrees) Dead Sea water - I needn't have bothered going into the sea the day before. This pool is the closest one can get in terms of  'returning to the womb'; I held on to the bar running alongside the pool edge, lifted my legs - and straight away I was floating on my back.

I stayed in the pool for about 25 minutes, which were very relaxing, but this turned out to be a mistake: one shouldn't stay in the pool for more than 15 minutes. After showering and packing, I went down to sit in the lobby; by this time, I was feeling very washed out, which I attribute to my long stay in the pool. Shortly afterwards came the coaches, and by 12pm, I was home. This was definitely the most enjoyable 'fun day' that my company has held.