Saturday, April 27, 2019

Holiday doctoring

Today is the last day of the nine day Pesach (Passover)/Easter holiday. I had been looking forward to this week for some time as it would give me an opportunity to do some serious work on my doctoral thesis.

My first task was to go over the thesis and reduce the number of references to Priority, normally replacing them with 'ERP'. This was because the thesis review (last November) pointed out that some of the thesis read like a consultant's pitch for Priority. It was easy to replace most instances, but in some places I simply deleted the offending sentence.

I then addressed the reviewer's concern that I hadn't quoted the seminal paper about multiple case studies - Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989): "Building theories from case study research", Academy of management review, 14(4), 532-550. This paper currently has over 50,000 citations! I quoted this paper for two separate reasons: the first was about the technique of case studies, and the second was about the number of case studies. The paper suggests that four to ten studies is the appropriate number.

This number makes life easier for me as at the moment I have five separate case studies with ten documented examples. I still want a few more, but this shows that I am getting close.

After sending the current version of the thesis to my supervisor, I then concentrated on writing up some of the interviews. I discovered that I lacked the English translations of some of the interviews - these may have been on the hard disk of the broken computer - so I worked on this again, as well as finally writing up the first interview which was for the pilot study.

I have a few more companies in my sights - it looks like that these companies will have to be 'interviewed' by having them fill in a questionnaire, as finding a suitable date for an interview seems to be very hard. If I do get results from these companies, then the research will be approaching the upper limit set by Eisenhardt.

I still have to find an amenable company which is using SAP Business One. It's hard enough to find any company which uses this system - I found a few, but received no answer from them.

My supervisor has scheduled a discussion for 10 May, which leaves me stranded for two weeks. I am then going on holiday to Greece, so it looks like no progress will be made during May. But all of the above means that I am much more optimistic about finishing the doctorate, and it appears that I might well be very close to finishing by the end of August. Then will come the stage of polishing.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Hardware woes

After receiving my new (at least, to me) mobile phone, I commenced the process of bringing it up to the same status as my previous phone, more or less. The phone is of type LG G4, whereas previously I had a Samsung Galaxy 5, so there are many slight differences. The contacts and pictures came back intact from wherever they are stored by Google, but it was a different story with WhatsApp. Although this app does backup to Google Drive, it only does so when connected to WiFi, and generally the phone is not connected. All messages until mid-January returned, but nothing after that; also missing are all the pictures from WhatsApp. This is not the end of the world. Of course, Gmail came back in its entirety. I also installed the few other apps which I use. The phone's interface is subtly different from what I am used to, but I think that I have adapted now.

As it happens, there was an article in the online Guardian a few days ago about someone forsaking Google for a week. For me, the app which I missed the most during my 30 hours of disconnection was the clock!

If this were the sum of my hardware woes, then I would be a happy man. Unfortunately, on Friday morning, my mobile computer slipped somehow off its table and onto the floor. As a result, the computer no longer boots, which means that there is a problem with the hard disk. I took it yesterday evening to a computer repairman who lives on the kibbutz: maybe the data can be restored and maybe not. I don't have an answer yet.

What do I have on the mobile computer?
  • Files belonging to the doctorate - my work, the papers that I have referenced, and extraneous material. This is all backed up with Mega, so I am not bothered about this.
  • All files from our holidays - I hope that this material is backed up on an external drive which I sometimes use. In some cases, the original material is still on the video camera so all is not lost.
  • Books - in any case, the books which I want are stored on the Kindle. Some of these will be on the external drive.
  • Music - all my material is on my XP computer as well as on Mega. Other material is on the XP computer as well as external memory cards in my various mp3 players. There's quite a bit of material which I had downloaded recently from YouTube - of course, I can download it again.
So what is lost? I doubt whether anything important will have been lost, but it is very annoying. I have my work mobile computer which can access Google Drive and my XP computer, but not Mega. I can access Mega via the XP, and access the XP from my work computer via AnyDesk, so at a pinch I can still retrieve material (I was working a little on my thesis this morning - this now exists in three locations, namely my work mobile, Mega and Google Drive). There are compensations for being paranoid.

But it is inconvenient and annoying. I hope that the final analysis will show that very little has been lost.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Communications

I discovered this morning that I had lost my mobile phone. I certainly had it when I left home, as I used it to open an electric gate near my house which leads to the main road. It was only after about an hour at work that I felt a need to check my phone ... and it wasn't in my coat pocket. I tried ringing the number but there was no answer. As I turned on the GPS function  permanently a few weeks ago, there should be the possibility of locating the phone. Android has a locate facility, but even this could not find the phone. I strongly suspect that a lorry ran over the phone.

As I have remarked to a few people this morning, I'm not married to the phone, so I don't feel much sense of loss; also it's quiet this morning as no one can phone me (I still have the landline, of course). All the photos (not that many) and contacts are backed up via Google so nothing except the hardware has been lost.

I immediately notified the person who is responsible for mobile phones at work, as well as sending a general message to everyone. He has just phoned me to say that he is arranging a new phone - with the old number, of course - and I should have it tomorrow. There's no rush.



A few weeks ago I installed a program on my work mobile computer which allows me to access the Yealink video conferencing machines that we have in Tel Aviv and Karmiel. Normally, there are calls between these two sites, which obligated me to travel to one or the other (normally to Tel Aviv) when such a call is arranged. But now I have the ability to connect from my mobile and so I don't have to travel.

This is very strange! My mobile computer is currently connected to Karmiel: I can see and hear people in the meeting room there; I can also see what is being displayed on a computer connected to the projector. I can even see myself in a small window. They say that they can hear me but not see me - apparently this requires the projector in Tel Aviv to be turned on as well, even though no one is connected there.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Shadrach in the furnace

Several years ago, I wrote here about the summer of 1978: "Every weekend I would take the train to London ... I think that I used to borrow books from the public library in Swiss Cottage on one visit then return them on the next visit". The only book which I do remember borrowing is "Shadrach in the furnace" by Robert Silverberg; I very much enjoyed reading this, and bought my own copy (21 August 1978, as noted in the book) when I visited San Francisco shortly afterwards.

After the great Kindle disaster and its restoration, I discovered that I did not have a copy of 'Shadrach' on the Kindle. These days I am inclined to think that I never had a copy of 'Shadrach' as I have not been able to locate any e-book version on the Internet. On the other hand, I was able to find a scanned PDF version of the book and downloaded this a few days ago. I then converted the PDF into epub format so that I could edit it. Apart from removing the page numbers, the original scan was about 99% accurate, so editing the scan was very easy. 

I discovered this time where each book's cover is stored: in Calibre, one can see the various files which comprise the book (I read recently that the epub format is simply a renamed zip file). Calibre organises these files into sections, one of which is called 'images',  allowing the replacement of any file in this section with another jpg file. It seems that Calibre created this cover image during the conversion process, based on the first page of the PDF file. As this inexplicably has the wrong title ('In the furnace'), I dug out my old print copy, photographed the cover (as appears above) then added this file to the epub.

I have always loved this book. As I wrote to the Robert Silverberg mailing list in 2007 (in response to RS noting that a new edition was to be published by the University of Nebraska Press) -

I was rereading "Shadrach" the other day and as usual was swept away by its majesty, its breadth and its humanity. What's amazing about this book is that it covers so much material. Whilst it's a story about betrayal (and if one wants, one can easily find the stages of Greek tragedy buried within, namely introduction, complication, attempts by the protagonist to solve his problems, resolution), it also:
  1. serves as a medical primer in case anyone wants to become a surgeon
  2. serves as a travel guide to the world (and when, Mr Silverberg, are you going to return to Jerusalem so that I can play Meshach to your Shadrach?)
  3. gives a geography lesson about Ecuador 
  4. gives an off the cuff lecture about feedback systems (Nikki and her discussion of MichaelAngelo's David)
  5. even invents a few new religions, including the most unlikely one of carpentry
... and makes it all so believable.

I know that people like Valentine and all his stories, but that's all bloated adventure when compared to Shadrach, even though Valentine does have his metaphysical moments, and no Silverberg book would be complete without them.

So if you haven't read this tower of a book, then you're in for a special treat! And no, I don't think I've given any spoilers about what happens in the book.


Saturday, April 06, 2019

Maybe I'm doing it wrong

I wrote yesterday about a song which I had recorded, hinting at problems encountered when mixing it. Whilst this might be clear to me, I realised that not everyone knows about the different terms used in this process.

Mixing is probably the simplest: this means taking any number of audio tracks and creating a new track by blending - mixing - the tracks. This primarily involves setting relative volumes between the tracks but also means using effects to highlight portions or to create a better sound.

In the old days, studios used tape recorders which had 2, 4, 8, 16 or 24 separate tracks (there were also 32 and 48 track recorders, but I think that these were obtained by using two machines simultaneously). A sound (like vocals, bass guitar, etc) would be recorded on a track, which was separate and not affected by any of the other tracks. Of course, the tracks all had to be in time. 4 track recorders were in use in the mid-60s; 8 tracks came into use 68-9; 16 tracks in 69-70 and 24 tracks by the mid 70s. Having more tracks enabled each instrument to be recorded separately and several times, but it made mixing much harder, which is why computer aided mixing appeared in the late 70s. My recording setup 'cheats' slightly: first, I record a music track which is effectively the final mix of all the instruments. Then I mix this music track with vocals.

There are three primary effects which I use on the vocals: compression, equalisation and reverb. Compression evens out volume levels; loud sounds remain loud, but quiet sounds become louder. I normally use this in order to provide a more consistent volume when singing, but I also use it on the final, mixed, track.

Equalisation (eq) is a souped up tone control. This allows different frequencies to be decreased or enhanced in the sound. Normally I reduce all the bass frequencies in my vocals, as these might clash with the music, but they also thicken the sound too much. I frequently enhance higher frequencies to help the voice stand out. Commercial studios spend a great deal of time with equalisation, 'carving out' space between different instruments so each one becomes clearer.

Reverb is a contraction of 'reverberation' and is the easiest effect to understand. Compare yourself singing in a room with open windows as opposed to singing in the bathroom: the sound bounces off the walls in the bathroom, creating echoes, otherwise known as reverberation. A room with open windows and walls which don't face each other, along with carpets and furniture, will absorb the sound and no echoes will be created, resulting in a dull sound. So one adds reverb to a recording, in order to add depth. There is also a relationship between the speed of a song (or part) and the reverb: short notes require a short reverb, as a long reverb would cause the echoes to dominate and swamp the original sound. Slow and long notes can sound exquisite with a long reverb - think of choirs in a cathedral.

My usual effects chain on vocals is first to compress, then equalise and finally add reverb. What happens sometimes - and this is what happens yesterday - is that the frequencies enhanced with eq cause certain sounds, especially sibilants, to stand out; the reverb causes these frequencies to become even more enhanced, creating many unwanted peaks in the volume, which is exactly what I don't want.

After thinking about this a little while walking the dog last night, I hit upon the following solution: change the order of the effects. First add eq, then reverb and finally compression, which smooths out the volume. I did a quick mix after returning home with this new order: the result was much better than all the previous mixes. For some reason, compressing after reverb causes the reverb to be more noticeable; as a consequence, a more minimal reverb has to be used.

So (with thanks to Randy Newman for the obscure song after which this blog is titled) maybe I've been doing it wrong all these years. I haven't decided whether to rerecord some of the vocals (primarily the opening verse) but otherwise, the mix settings are very good.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Excellent music blog

I stumbled upon a new music blog the other day. The 'about' page gives a little bit of background, but no name and no dates. Maybe that's just as well. So far I've only read a few pieces and have enjoyed them: the no-name author seems to like much of the same music that I do.

A recent post was about master arranger Paul Buckminster, who is well known as having been the arranger for David Bowie's "Space Oddity". Without going into details about this article, there is a very important quote from Buckminster (who died a few years ago), when talking about arranging the early Elton John songs:

The delayed entry of the rhythm section makes it more dramatic, and serves to lift the piece into a more propulsive mood. One general rule is to hold back as much as possible, to give the listener the chance to let the song grow and unfold, introducing new sonic elements, such as new instruments or sectional groupings. If you use everything from the beginning, you have nowhere to go.

This principle was called 'the staggered entry' by Ian MacDonald when writing about The Beatles: a good example would be 'Day Tripper'. But The Beatles generally only used this approach for their intros: the instrumentation during songs would be fairly constant.

I have been working during the past week on a song that was written 42 years ago and first arranged 22 years ago, bearing a very strong and mature lyric. In updating the arrangement for Reason, my main goal was thinning out the notes. There are very few notes that I have added, but quite a lot has been subtracted. Parts have been moved around, assigned to different instruments and even split into two, further deepening the sound. The solo section is played by three instruments which make their initial appearance at this stage, one of which then disappears.

I used a little trick, which is also my form of musical joke, or tribute: the intro also appears as the coda, and these few bars form the introduction to King Crimson's 'Starless' (just the mellotron chords). I only needed to sing the song once, but at the moment I'm too close to the song  to decide whether the current mix is the final one (and that's after about six previous mixes, each slightly changing the equalisation settings on the vocal).