Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Remembering the guitar

I was watching a not particularly good film about a teenage boy who has crippling shyness and discovers that his next door neighbour was once a famous rock star but faked his death in order to avoid paying taxes (or something similar). I discovered that the film is called 'The beat beneath my feet', but it's not worth looking for. 

Something however clicked in my mind, and I found myself playing 12 string guitar and singing a song which I wrote in February 1972, called 'Gemini and Leo' (I'm the Leo and Mimi was the Gemini ... funnily enough, several of my closest friends were Geminis).

Gemini and Leo are incompatible
 But don't let that fool you 
They'll trick you with any phrase of doom
As long as their personal aims are satisfied
And the witch cries 'folly!' up on high

Man and woman are incompatible
Unless both make a try
Don't sit back with your tea and sigh
About the things you'd do if you had the time
But don't, for is it really that wise?

We say we're as close as the pages in a book
But we know we'll never get to that stage
We'll try as we may but we know deep inside
I'm not your opposing page

So dear friend, as we grow old
We grow away from the ideals we set ourselves
They'll remain in situ till the wedding bells
Which will never ring, as we know so well
For Gemini and Leo just don't gell

I have a memory of writing the lyrics during a free period at school, but I don't remember whether I had the tune before the lyrics or vice versa. I certainly didn't have a guitar with me at school! Some good lines in there, along with one clinker and one obscure Hammill reference. I also remember playing this song on my beaten guitar at an open mic session at the 1972 Lacock festival, and discovering to my mortification that Maddy Prior, lead singer of Steeleye Span, was in the front row (believe it or not, I used exactly the same words to describe this eight years ago).

Finishing the above song, I then went on to play two songs from Richard and Linda Thompson's "I want to see the bright lights tonight" - "Withered and died" and "Has (s)he got a friend" - which is when my wife came into the lounge and took a picture of me playing.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Harvest festival

The traditional harvest festival was held last night on our kibbutz - and presumably on most other kibbutzim in Israel. The programme is agricultural branches displaying some of their 'goods' - a sheaf of wheat, a young turkey, etc - interleaved with songs and dances. Some of the dances have a long tradition on the kibbutz - the dresses and music stay the same, but the girls wearing the dresses over the years change.

The weather over the past few days has been terrible - 40°C outside! Inside, the air conditioner in our lounge struggled, cooling the air to only  29°C. I don't know whether this was because the a/c doesn't work properly or whether the air outside was too hot to be cooled sufficiently. Fortunately, the hot weather broke early yesterday evening, so by the time the festival started (at about 7:30pm), the temperature was a balmy 30°C, if not less: definitely bearable and even pleasant.

Many years ago, it was my lot to have guard duty on the main gate during the day of the harvest festival, when again the temperature was far too high. I had a mild case of overheating and was nearly physically sick when I tried to drink water.

I was slightly envious of those playing, singing and dancing: over the years, I have taken my place with the performers. Looking at it rationally, I don't have the time these days for rehearsals, so maybe it's just as well that nobody asks me anymore to perform. 

After the programme finished, we had a picnic on the grass (only dairy products), then someone put on a tape of music for folk dancing. After my last experience of dancing (Independence Day), I wasn't inclined to participate, although I was going over the steps in my head. Actually, I did dance a few steps to 'The shepherd's dance', which is yet another complicated dance with lots of twirls and hopping which I learnt when I was 15; during the dance, I realised that my shoes weren't right for this kind of dancing, and I was also afraid that my sunglasses (which I didn't need at all) would fall out of my breast pocket. So after one chorus, I said my goodbyes and left.

I very much enjoyed yesterday evening!

Friday, May 18, 2018

A long term mystery solved

It would happen sometimes that when using my work mobile computer, the mouse cursor would go absolutely wild at first, making it very difficult to control. This would often happen when I was trying to work on the train, early in the morning. I discovered that if I left the mouse to its own, it would calm down after a few minutes. At one stage this got so bad that I was sorely tempted to ask for a replacement computer. This happened some times but not every time.

Yesterday, I was randomly perusing the blog of Microsoft explainer in chief, Raymond Chen, when I came across a very old entry about how a computer mouse could sometimes lock up a computer. The moral of the story was not to connect a mouse to a running computer, especially a mobile computer, which has its own kind of mouse buttons as well as a track ball (that blue thing in the keyboard, sandwiched between g, h and b).

I realised that this described the problem which I was having with the mobile computer: if I connected the mouse to the computer before I turned it on, everything would be ok. The mouse would go wild if I connected it after the computer had already started running. As Raymond writes in one of the comments in that blog, the "wandering mouse-stick" is the stick recalibrating itself. If you touch the stick while it is recalibrating you are only making it worse. Just let it wander for a few seconds until it gets its bearings.

So now I know: connect the mouse before turning the computer on. This is a problem only on my work mobile, as I frequently turn it on and off; all my other computers stay on all the time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tom Wolfe, RIP

I read today that Tom Wolfe, pioneer of the 'New Journalism', died yesterday at the age of 88. He was one of the major authors whose work I read during the formative years of 1971-8.

My first encounter with Wolfe's work was when I spent a long weekend at my friend Mimi's house in Stanmore, October 1971. We were walking around her neighbourhood when I spotted in a shop (a newsagent? not a book store, as far as I remember) a copy of Wolfe's "The electric kool-aid test"; the name was familiar as it had been mentioned in another book which I carried around at the time like a bible - "Awopbopaloobop" by Nik Cohn. Wolfe's book - along with others of his which I found here and there - accompanied me during my literary adolescence. 

The 'New Journalism' anthology affected me in a few ways: I tracked down several of the books which provided chapters in this book, through which I found Joan Didion and Michael Herr. I also tried adopting an NJ approach when I wrote a short article about the leader of our youth movement.

I have to admit that I haven't looked at Wolfe's work in years, although I still have the books on my shelf.

Edit: Singer Jarvis Cocker writes about Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey and The Electric Kool-Aid test.

Monday, May 14, 2018

This day in history

14 May 1969: During a UK tour, Fairport Convention's van crashed on the M1 motorway on the way home from a gig in Birmingham, killing the group's 19 year-old drummer Martin Lamble and Richard Thompson's girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Sandy Denny was not involved, as she traveled separately on a train with Trevor Lucas.

In all these years, it has never dawned on me before that this accident occurred on "Bonny Black Hare Day", whose lyrics begin "On the fourteenth of May at the dawn of the day....". This was a 'holiday' observed by hard-core Fairport fans.

Another coincidence which I did notice several years ago: Fairport had just released "Unhalfbricking" at the time of the accident. One of its stand-out tracks is the obscure Dylan song, "Percy's song", whose narrator is pleading with a judge to reduce the sentence of 99 years which was handed out to a friend of the narrator, who fell asleep whilst driving, thus killing three people. In true life, Harvey Branham, Fairport's driver, was sentenced to three months in prison for causing the M1 crash (coincidentally the name of an instrumental on Fairport's eponymous and obscure first album).

The drumming on the first few Fairport albums is surprisingly good; Martin could have developed to become an excellent drummer.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Even more on Delphi 7/Hebrew/Win10

The computers in the Occupational Psychologist's lab all run Windows XP (the psychologists themselves have modern computers running Windows 7 or 10); these are old computers which we collected from several sources. They are sufficient for our needs, as the programs running on these computers - the exams - have modest requirements. Lately we have had hardware problems with some of these computers, leading us to the conclusion that they will have to be replaced. We received a bunch of refurbished computers, all of which run Windows 10.

Five months ago, I wrote about my experiences in converting a program written in Delphi 7 to run properly in Windows 10, when the program's interface is written in Hebrew. These experiences were in my mind when I came to check which programs would run as is, and which would require updating. To my surprise and great relief, all of the programs (both exams and administrative programs) work properly without change on all of these 'new' computers, as well as on a really new computer. 

It would seem that setting the default locale of the computers to Israel is the key factor. I alluded to this in my original blog on the topic, but then my program set the locale whilst running. These computers have their default locale set, thus obviating any need for the programs themselves to do this. It would thus seem that the computer which was donated to the library was the odd man out instead of being the default.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Checking out the new mp3 player

As I wrote last time, I've been very busy during the past two weeks, traveling every other day; next week, too, I will be traveling on Sunday and Wednesday. All this traveling has provided a good opportunity for testing the new mp3 player(s) which I bought via EBay.

Sound-wise the players are fine, as long as the headphones' plug sits securely in its socket. I've figured out how to use the volume control, something which may sound trivial, but this cheap and no frills player comes with no instructions and without ergonomic design. Well, they did cost only $1 each!

The major problem with the players is their battery capacity. A fully charged player gives upto two hours of uninterrupted listening, which is fine if I am traveling to Tel Aviv but not so good if I am traveling to the north, especially to Karmiel. In order to get around this problem, I take with me two fully charged players; I start off with one, then when it ceases playing, I extract the memory card (very easy) and place it in the other player. During the day, I charge the players (there's no sign that they're fully charged) so that they are ready for the return trip. The memory card remembers which song it was playing when it is transferred from one player to the other, in the same way that the card remembers where it is when the player is turned on.

We will be going on holiday to Italy again in a few weeks' time (as I put it, in order to further my studies in Italian ice cream); I suppose that I will have to take with me all three players, having charged them in advance.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Never underestimate the power of a hot shower

No, this isn't going to be about cleanliness but about solving problems.

I've been very busy the past week and will be in the coming week, traveling almost every day in order to attend meetings in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Karmiel. Today, I have a 'day off' - a chance to work on my own and complete various tasks.

Yesterday, I wrote very rapidly a few reports in-between meetings; the reports didn't work as expected but I didn't have the time to figure out where the mistakes lay. I showered in the evening before going to bed, and as usual my mind went over the events of the day. Scientists say that hot showers cause the body to relax and create alpha waves in the brain; it's the alpha waves which promote problem solving. So there in the shower, I realised that one report was checking orders which had reached a certain status - but in my rush, I had forgotten to define what that status was. Sure enough, this morning I defined the status - and hey presto!, the report produces data (very important data, I might point out).

A similar activity is walking the dog (or mowing the lawn); I'm sure I've written about this before. This morning, at about 5:45 am, the answer to another problematic report popped into my head.

Abstracting these activities, the important thing is to get away from the computer and think things through without typing!