Friday, November 29, 2019

A 'new' DVD recorder

At the beginning of 2019, we got a new Yes Max receiver which connects to the television via an HDMI cable, giving us a good quality picture. Once this was connected up, the television would display a strange message about HDMI when the DVD recorder was the input source. As the receiver was connected to the recorder and the recorder to the television, I assumed that the message meant that it was no longer possible to record from the Yes receiver to the DVD recorder. As a result, the DVD recorder lay dormant for a long time.

About two months ago, I decided to buy a small DVD player so that we could show our grand-daughter animated films when she comes to visit on Saturdays. The player came with an HDMI cable, and though at first I had problems getting a signal on the television screen from the DVD, eventually I succeeded. The screen would display a message about problems with the HDMI cable, but the impression that I got was that there are problems with the screen. 

It then struck me that this was the same message that I was getting at the beginning of the year when I tried connecting the DVD recorder to the screen. As the DVD recorder doesn't have HDMI output, I ordered a converter from RCA to HDMI which should allow the recorder to connect. When the converter arrived, I had no luck with it, but I was able to connect the DVD to the screen via the old RCA cable. 

Then I discovered that in the months of misuse, the disk drive had stopped working. It was unable to format new disks and was unable to play prerecorded disks. One should remember that the disk drive within the recorder has already been replaced once, and so it was likely to fail again. I didn't fancy dealing again with all the problems that I had and so gave up the idea of getting the DVD working again.

After vainly looking for DVD recorders on the Internet, it struck me that I might be able to find one via Ebay. I ran a quick search and discovered that there were several used machines available via auction, so I participated in one and won! The cost was about £30, but postage was about £40! Even so, it would be well worth the money. The seller was a hospital charity shop who probably deserve every penny. I wonder how long this machine is going to last.

The machine arrived the other day but only today did I have the opportunity to collect it from our local post office. After opening the extensive packing, I discovered to my dismay that there were several output sockets but no real inputs; the only input in was via a SCART socket. Fortunately I still have a few SCART cables, so I connected on end to the DVD and the RCA sockets to what I assumed were the output sockets on the Yes Max. I then connected an HDMI cable from the DVD to the screen.

To my surprise, I had chosen the correct sockets on the Yes Max, but the screen was showing the usual message about problems with the HDMI cable. This is when I finally realised that the problem must lay with the screen and not with the machines or the HDMI cables. Eventually I took another SCART to RCA cable, connected the SCART end to the DVD and the RCA to the screen. Now the Yes Max is connected both directly to the screen and to the DVD which then connects to the screen.

I put a new disk into the DVD player which automatically formatted it! Then I started recording the first of several films and television programmes which have backed up over the year. We're back in business! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Song festival 2019 - 2

I conducted a series of WhatsApp messages with the festival organiser the other day. Apparently he is having difficulty in finding enough singers for all the songs and so asked me whether I would be prepared to sing the song that I wrote. I told him that I preferred not to, so that the song would not be identified as by me - if there's going to be voting then I would prefer that the song be anonymous. In the end I acquiesced and agreed to sing the song.

Or rather, 'sing' the song. There aren't going to be any live musicians - everything will be sung to prerecorded accompaniment. This allows me to do what I did several years ago - record the vocals in advance and mime on the night. If I am going to sing, then I want that the song be slower (it was recorded at 110 bpm) and in a slightly lower key. The slower pace allows me to change the phrasing of the tune slightly, for the better.

Yesterday I started on a new arrangement for the song, where about 50% of the original notes played remain. The new arrangement is simpler and I've removed a few instruments. I thought that I would start with just half a chorus (the chorus is a four bar phrase played twice), but then I remembered that I wanted to force the chorus on the audience which is why it was played twice. Thinking about this on the way home, I decided to remove the four bar introduction and replace it with one bar from the coda.

My headphones are currently playing early Beatles songs that I hear when walking the dog; it struck me that I could paste in the final five chords from 'Please please me'  as the coda - no one would know any different and it sounds different. It took a bit of work to find the harmony parts for the two flutes, but that's all done now. This sequence (C Eb Ab G C) doesn't sound as strange in my song as it does in 'Please please me', because the last two chords of the verse and the first chord of the chorus are also Ab G C (or at least they would be if the song were in C; it's now in Bb).

I'll probably record the vocals on Friday or Saturday; in fact, I'll have to as the festival is probably next Friday night.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thesis update

I last wrote on this topic just over two weeks ago. It took me more than a few days to start work on revising the thesis following the review, as the mild viral infection was replaced by several migraines. The last ten days have been very windy and very dry and these seem to be ideal conditions for migraines. I made a doctor's appointment for last Sunday: she checked me out, but everything seemed to be ok. The only way to get through the migraines is to take the pain killing pills as soon as possible and to grin and bear it. Today has been fine.

I had a chat with my supervisor on Monday when we went over the review. The most important thing for me to find out was the degree to which I have to follow the reviewer's comments. I quite agree with some of his comments but strongly disagree with other comments. "That's fine", says my supervisor, "as long as you explain why you have chosen to present the material in its current format".

Last weekend I spent some time on the first chapter, moving certain topics out into the literature review, throwing out one section which seemed unnecessary, and moving other sections around in the chapter. To continue my music analogy, I was 'playing with the arrangement' in order to achieve a better flow.

This was emphasized by the supervisor: structure the material as if you are telling a story - and not in the post-modernist style of having flashbacks and flash-forwards in order to complicate matters for the reader. The goal is simplicity combined with explanations.

Part of my problem is that the introductory chapter was based on my original research proposal, which is supposed to be based on literature references with little personal input. If the main question of the reader now is "why (are you telling me this)?", then the original question was "who says?". But now I can write unfettered from these demands. So I added at least another page if not more to the introduction, explaining why the research is important; also, what is novel and what is original.

An idea crept into my mind whilst walking the dog at 4:40 am the other morning; this material found its way into the introduction, contributing almost another page. Then I had an idea for the introduction to the literature review.

This section began with a perfunctory paragraph stating which topics would be covered along with the vanilla statement that these topics were chosen as they are relevant both to the use of ERP in SMEs, and to the management of ERP enhancements. My idea was to replace this with a paragraph on each topic in the literature review, explaining at length why each one was included. Some were marked as being background material and one was took a leaf out of textbooks by being marked as 'one can skip this material on first reading'. Two simple paragraphs were replaced by two pages of meaningful material.

This is what I want to continue doing throughout the rest of the thesis.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The luxury of digital recording

Following on from what I wrote the other day about a song I wrote in Hebrew for the kibbutz song festival: I rewrote a few lines and in doing so, I removed the infelicities from the words and from one line where the words didn't really fit the tune (too many syllables). 

I then had to rerecord the vocals; at first I thought that I could keep the final verse, but it turned out that there had been changes in every verse and so I had to sing the whole thing though again (it's only a short song but a bit too fast for me to sing comfortably). Fortunately I had fewer problems this time and was able to mix a revised version of the song reasonably quickly.

Whilst walking the dog, I had been thinking of including a modulation, although I wasn't too sure of its position within the song. As I wrote yesterday, the verse finishes with the deceptive cadence Ab -> G, which also returns the song to the key of C, after a mild flirtation in Eb. All I had to do was add a bar between the end of the third verse and the beginning of the final choruses; the instruments play an A chord in this bar. This required me to transpose all the notes in the final choruses by a whole note (for now the song is in D and not C), a task which I accomplished in a matter of seconds.

I then imported the new MIDI file into Reason and exported a new wave file. With regard to the vocals, I calculated how much time the extra bar would require then inserted silence lasting for this interval (just under two seconds) into the vocal track. Using pitch correction software, I then transposed the vocals of the final choruses again by a whole note, imported the edited track into the multi-track recording program then mixed the whole thing again.

Total time required: less than five minutes. This is the luxury of working with digital recording tools. If I were working in an analog situation, I would have to get the musicians back to the studio in order to record the final section again in the new key. The singer would also have to sing the choruses in the new key (I could splice in some new tape for the silence). Total time required: at least an hour, once the people were in the studio. It might well take longer to bring them together, although if we were in the middle of recording an album, the musicians and singer would presumably be present all the time.

My wife thinks that the song is 'charming' although she doesn't want to sing it live.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Song festival 2019

The last week has been very painful: hot weather (32ÂșC) with strong winds; this is exactly the kind of weather that triggers migraines. It's been so long since I last suffered from a migraine that I didn't recognise the feelings at first, and it was too late by the time I realised what was happening. Thankfully Friday and Saturday were migraine free, but this morning the pains started again. I checked that I had enough pills and that their 'use by' date has not passed (I've forgotten the English term).

It looks like we're going to have another song festival this December. I normally write tunes for other people, but the one set of lyrics which I was sent would have been very difficult to set to music. I had decided in advance that the music would be in a major key and would start with a catchy chorus, not my usual cup of tea. A tune suggested itself for the chorus, and the verse tune followed on quite easily. I set the song in the key of C, not because it's particularly easy to play, but rather because it fits my vocal range. 

I decided also to cut down on the harmonic tricks of which I am fond; this one has only one mild trick. The verse begins F G Am (so far, no surprises) then Fm which is the critical chord, allowing the tune to modulate from C to Eb. The second half of the verse has the chords Eb Fm Ab and then modulates back to C with a G chord. There isn't much melody: every bar of the verse generally contains several syllables set to the same note. I did want something which is easy to hear and sing along with.

After a long time with no words, except for the chorus, couplets have been entering my head over the past few days. I 'wrote' several while walking around the kibbutz and used my mobile phone as a notebook in which to note these couplets. When I sat down to put the words together, some of these couplets stayed and some were replaced. It was very interesting to note that there are no verbs in the lyrics (apart from the final two lines): the lyrics are basically a series of slogans strung together which describe our kibbutz. It's easier to do this in Hebrew than in English, although it was very hard technically with the stresses, emphases and grammar. There are still one or two lines which need improvement.

Once I had a complete set of lyrics, I thought it time to record a demo. Originally the song had only two verses but that made it very short, so while working on the arrangement I added another verse - for which I had to strain in order to write the words.

I then recorded a few vocal takes. This proved more problematic than usual as my computer seems to be suffering from old age and slows down every now and then. This caused the vocal to be out of time with the music. In the end, I had to resort to singing one verse at a time then stitching the whole thing together.

I have absolutely no intention of singing this one live! Apparently this year all the songs are going to be sung with playback with no live musicians, so I'll work a bit more on the arrangement. But I must remember that people are going to hear the song once and once only so subtlety is not called for. This isn't a song which requires a great deal of love or even attention.

After having written the above, I took another look at the lyrics and the lines which require improvement. Fortunately the order of the lines doesn't make much difference (apart from the final verse), so I switched a few lines around with slightly changed lyrics in order to fix the song. Now I'll have to rerecord parts of the song.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Draft thesis review

I have finally received the draft thesis review of the work which I submitted at the end of September. This process took much longer than I had expected; inexplicably the review is dated 28 October, but I received it on 4 November, a week later.

The review is detailed, fair and easy to understand - there are no remarks which are wrong or incomprehensible. Unfortunately, it looks like a great deal of work will be required to bring the thesis up to standard. Some of this is due to the fact that portions were written in advance -  parts referring to the actual research were written for the intermediate submission, at which stage the research had yet to take place and so was written in the future tense. This now has to be recast in the past.

Another point mentioned is the the abstract, which was written well before the initial research proposal was written and has remained almost without change. This important part of the thesis does not provide an insights [sic] into what the findings indicate, why these findings are important, and the overall contribution of the research to both academia and practice.

My idea of presenting the data in a 'horizontal' manner (answers from all companies for each question presented together) did not find favour with the reviewer, who wrote it might be more appropriate to present each company separately. I beg to differ; I don't know whether I have to accept everything that the reviewer writes.

I can make an analogy between writing a thesis and making a record. The thesis supervisor is the record producer, who suggests what material should be included and how it should be presented, trying to make it as good as possible. The research committee is comparable to the record company's A&R men (this may be a dying function) who lend what should be an unbiased ear to the product (thesis/record) and make further recommendations. The external examiner is the general public, who decide whether the record sells. According to this analogy, the draft thesis reviewer is equivalent to a music critic, and this is where the analogy breaks down. Musicians rarely listen to critics, but I have to.

Obviously I would like to start work on updating the thesis as soon as possible, but I think that this process is going to have to wait a few days as at the moment I am suffering from a mild viral illness whose major effect is slowing me down to about 50% of my usual pace, making me very weak (and affecting my concentration and spelling as I had written 'weak' as 'week'). It has also given me a tongue canker which mainly makes itself felt when I swallow (because the tongue is pressed to the palate, thus putting pressure on the canker and causing pain). I imagine that this will blow over in a few days; in fact, today already seems better than yesterday: let's say I'm working at 60% capacity.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

CPAP readings

Today I uploaded data from my CPAP machine to my database; it was very interesting to compare the readings from the past ten days (when I have been at work) to the ten days preceding (when I was on holiday). I walked about the same distance over both periods, probably slightly more during the holiday period as I didn't have 'Karmiel days' (even though I managed slightly over 10,000 steps when I was last in Karmiel).

I slept slightly more when I was on holiday then when I have been at work, which is not too surprising as I get up early (normally 5:30 am, 4:30 am when I'm travelling) when I'm working. What is interesting is that the number of apneic events per hours was in single figures since returning to work, whereas the number varied from 11-20 per hour when on holiday. Obviously I'm more tired when at work (not surprising) and so I sleep better with fewer apneic events.