Music Monday: New Zoe Album Kickstarter

May 3, 2016

We resume this blog with a bang!

My beloved, Zoe Mulford, has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her new album.

It will be awesome, per usual.

(I mean, really. Just check out the last one, Coyote Wings. Or any of the others!)

As a teaser, you can listen to what will either be the instrumental portion of one of the songs or an instrumental song!

We were going to have snippets from the ConcertWindow concert, but, well, grr.


Software Gripes: Scrivener and ConcertWindow (and WordPress)

April 16, 2016

I think I need regular “features” i.e., columns of a particular type or theme, to keep the blogging going, so here’s a new one near and dear to my hard: ranting about software problems (I’ll through in other system gripes but the most common is software).

Scrivener

I want to love Scrivener. It certainly is enticing, if a bit complex. I’m trying to use it as a course materials (lectures, quizzes, etc.) management and editing tool. People certainly seem to have had some success with it as such. I think it could also be handy for paper or book writing and esp. grant writing. Grants have VERY complex and finicky structure which Scrivener’s “break it into bits” and “annotate and organise” and “hey, templates all the way down” approach looks to be quite good.

But there’s a fundamental problem: The whole Scrivener model is “compiling” the project into a single final document. Really. Uhm…that’s bonkers. Even if your final output is conceptually a single book, you very well may want the “out of Scrivener” view to be split up in multiple files. (Think Website with a separate HTML page per Chapter. Or just Website.)  For courses, I don’t want one output to contain it all, I want lots of documents (syllabus, references, slides broken out by day or by lecture, quizzes, lab sheets, etc.) Scrivener HAS THAT STRUCTURE, but, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t like to spit it out. You can “export” the file structure, and maybe that will turn out to be good enough. (I only figured that out today.) But I want some of the structure to be flattened! E.g., if I make a Lecture which has separate subdocuments as “slides”, for some workflows they should be combined! But the whole Lecture shouldn’t be combined with all the other lectures. (Except for the global print version.)

Ok, “export” at least lets me write my own custom compiler. But then why do I have to deal with the “project” structure and explicitly set “export”? Why can’t a project just be a directory/file structure in the file system. In other words, why “export”? That adds a really painful step to the process. It makes synching harder, etc.

Additionally, Scrivener has some simple WYSIWIG formatting (bold, italic, tables, lists, etc.) It also has export to MultiMarkdown. This all seems extremely promising for downstream processing: Write using the GUI, explore to Markdown, then run tools that parse and manipulate the Markdown to generate the final versions.

Oh, silly me! All Scrivener does is compile snippets written in MultiMarkdown to other formats (HTML or PDF via LaTeX)! You have to write the Markdown.

Well that sucks. It’s not like Scrivener is a word class Markdown editor with syntax checking etc. The key formatting features it supports in the GUI are eminently Markdownable, so why not export to it? Indeed, for things like Tables, having a reasonable GUI is much much nicer than hacking Markdown syntax directly. Sigh.

Finally, they have this cork board view. Before 2.7, it defaulted to a cork textured background and index card looking cards. Very skeuomorphic, but in a good way. It took you out of the UI and forced a cognitive mode shift. 2.7 it defaulted to a “flat” interface that was 1) bland and 2) merged it visually with every other view.

Sigh. But wait! You can tweak it back. But now, in my preferred Index Card style, they stuck a pushpin.

screenshot_03Why, why, why, why?! It doesn’t read; it doesn’t help; it forces a “vertical” orientation (I actually viewed them as piles before). This little tumour does exactly nothing positive. It serves no visual-informatics purpose and, indeed, distracts. It’s centred, bright, and in line with meaningful information. This is skeuomorphic madness, where the designer slavishly emulates the real world object without thinking about the design. Pushpins are not a useful information part of the design…they are there to hold the cards in place. If you lay the cork board flat, you don’t need them.

“But Bijan,” you say, “the cork only exists to have pins pushed in! Isn’t that the same problem?”

No, gentle reader, while the cork in the real object is there functionally to be stuck with pins, it has several user interface functions: 1) visual mode switching; it’s a very strong cue about the difference in working style; it provides an information cue, 2) it supports the illusion without affecting other information per se, and 3) it is high contrast yet not obtrusive. The main problem with skuomorphism is that people take it too far. The idea shouldn’t be to exactly replicate the real world object, but to design an interface that works. Flat interfaces general suck because they generally designed that chrome should be indistinguishable from content (or not be perceptible at all) and content should have few sub distinguishing features. (Microsoft’s Metro interface is something of an exception.)

ConcertWindow

Zoe tried to do a ConcertWindow concert last Sunday. There were numerous technical hassles, but we managed to struggle through most of them and have a reasonable concert which most viewers could see most of. One cool feature is that you can get the full recording of the stream and the website lets you post a one song snippet of the recording on their website. This was exactly what we wanted to promote the new album (in progress).

We do not have such a recording.

The reason we do not have one is that they have a “feature” that is supposed to help you debug your streaming. For a given concert slot, you can set up a “test” session which will not be exposed to anyone except your testers and can happen at other times than your scheduled slot. This sounded sensible, but there were a few problems:

  1. It doesn’t work from the iOS app, which is how were were going to broadcast the concert. Grr. But ok, we can at least test the basic setup via the browser version.
  2. Testing via the browser version just doesn’t help very much. You still need to test via the iOS app. A lot. So we were scheduling test concerts all over the place. That was better in someways, since that’s what exposed that the “Pay what you want” option is really “Pay what you want as long as it is at least $1”. Grr.
  3. When you go to look at your video, the prepend “for your reference” all the test video you did. What? Why? Who wants that? Who wants that in their concert recording? Shouldn’t you just save that as a separate file, if at all? Weird.
  4. Oh, and if you tested in your browser, but recorded from iOS, you now have a video that is half test video and half corrupted nothing. That’s right, the “test” mode can corrupt your concert recording. So we have no video of the concert, whatsoever.
  5. In the FAQ for “Preparing for the show” they have “How can I sound check before the show?” which says

    Choose if you’re going to broadcast with Web, iOS, or RTMP, then switch to “Test” mode and start broadcasting. No one will be able to see it on your channel. Click the “Test URL” link below the broadcaster and you’ll be able to see your test stream in real time. You can also send this link to a friend.

    In the FAQ for  “After the show” they have “My archived video file has errors and/or the recording is corrupted” (it’s on the SECOND PAGE of this FAQ)

    This can sometimes happen if you broadcasted to the same show via multiple devices (iOS + laptop) or in different frame rates / formats.

    To avoid this happening, be sure to broadcast to each show using only one device and one video/audio format.

    If you do broadcast using multiple devices or formats, the live stream will work totally fine, but the archived recording may be corrupted.

    So, the advice they give before hand can corrupt your recording because they have a feature (prepending test video) which is completely worthless. And their own help leads you there.

Message to the ConcertWindow programmers who did this: Never corrupt important data. Never. Ever. Especially don’t corrupt real data with test data. I mean…come on. Shame

Message to the ConcerWindow documentation writers who did this: If there is a risk of data corruption…DON’T RECOMMEND ACTIONS THAT RAISE THAT RISK. Oh, and WARN PEOPLE ABOUT THE RISK AND HOW TO MITIGATE IT before they might do the action that destroys their data.

You should be profoundly ashamed of yourselves.

While we’re talking documentation nonsense, let’s consider this gem:

At Concert Window, we give the artist a full private copy of their show, for free. You can use it for any non-commercial use, including uploading it to YouTube. 

The video files are in .mp4 format, which is playable with most major video players including VLC and can be imported into iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

Sometimes, due to errors during broadcast or other reasons, the video files may be corrupted or unplayable. In that case we’re sorry but there’s nothing we can do. This is part of why we offer video archives as a free service.

In addition to downloading your full show recording, you can also create a short highlight video. Here’s an article with more details: How to create a highlight video

*Artists are not allowed to sell their show videos due to copyright restrictions.

First, note the “or other reasons” for corruption…like BEING MISLED BY THE DOCUMENTATION TO HIT A DESIGN BUG WHICH IS KNOWN TO CORRUPT YOUR CONCERT. Maybe you should fix that.

Second, note the nonsense of the highlight blocks. Zoe owns the copyright for the songs she played and the performance. The terms of service explicitly SAYS that she owns the copyright.

(BTW, the terms of service are absurd and horrible. I’ll break that out in another post.)

WordPress

Current gripe: Adding a category doesn’t put the new category under the parent one you’ve selected.

Also, I want to have categories be more meaningful. I’m currently inserting two key categories into my post title (see current post’s title): Music Monday and Software Gripe. This is wrong. I’m polluting my title with Metadata about my post in order to get the visual effect I want. Boo!


Music Monday: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (from Anomalisa)

April 11, 2016

Anomalisa is a pretty amazing, if creepy, film. (See it. See it in a movie theatre!)

A key transition is when Lisa sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”:

Listening to it outside the long build of the first part of the film really undercuts its power. While it is a fun song (that goes on a bit long in the original; ok, a lot long), what makes this performance so affecting is hearing her distinctive (in that world) voice. As a singer, Jennifer Jason Leigh (check out the behind the scenes video) isn’t doing much interesting here (even when she sings it in Italian). But hers is the only distinctive voice in Michael Stone’s universe. It stands out above everyone else’s regardless of their relationship to him. Though her voice (to us) isn’t a one in a million, for him (and us as viewers) it is. Thus, you can’t divorce the performance from the rest of the film.

Here’s one collection of covers:

http://www.makers.com/blog/cyndi-lauper-girls-just-wanna-have-fun

By and large they range from awful to forgettable for me. Even the original gets a bit tedious. Miley Cyrus’s is at least rather tight and quick, which helps, though overproduced (way too much annoying strings).

 


Belated Music Monday: “What’s inside” from The Waitress

April 8, 2016

We went to a movie on Monday and I ran out of time to post. (Anomolisa which was wonderful and uncanny and will feature in a future Music Monday.) I’ve been baking some and in a fun way using Michael Ruhman’s Ratio. Ruhman is a wonder food/cookbook writer and Ratio attempts to shift your understanding of baking (or cooking in general) from sui generis recipes (perhaps with some variation) to a sort of “essential” definition (primarily in terms of the ratio of fat, flour, liquid, and sugar, at least for baked goods; though for somethings, like cakes, processing also matters). It’s amazing (though I’m not 100% on all bits or results yet; but the shift in perception is amazing; for now!).

It reminds me of Socrates’ critique of cooking (as a waystone to bashing sophistry and rhetoric) in the Gorgias:

Polus
Why, did I not hear you call it a certain habitude?

Socrates
Then please—since you value “gratification”—be so good as gratify me in a small matter.

Polus
I will.

Socrates
Ask me now what art I take cookery to be.

Polus
Then I ask you, what art is cookery ?

Socrates
None at all, Polus.

Polus
Well, what is it ? Tell me.

Socrates
Then I reply, a certain habitude.

Polus
Of what? Tell me.

Socrates
Then I reply, of production of gratification and pleasure, Polus.

Polus
So cookery and rhetoric are the same thing?

Socrates
Not at all, only parts of the same practice.

Polus
What practice do you mean?

Socrates
I fear it may be too rude to tell the truth; for I shrink from saying it on Gorgias’ account, lest he suppose I am making satirical fun of his own profession. Yet indeed I do not know whether this is the rhetoric which Gorgias practices, for from our argument just now we got no very clear view as to how he conceives it; but what I call rhetoric is a part of a certain business which has nothing fine about it.

Gorgias
What is that, Socrates? Tell us, without scruple on my account.

Socrates
It seems to me then, Gorgias, to be a pursuit that is not a matter of art, but showing a shrewd, gallant spirit which has a natural bent for clever dealing with mankind, and I sum up its substance in the name flattery. This practice, as I view it, has many branches, and one of them is cookery; which appears indeed to be an art but, by my account of it, is not an art but a habitude or knack. I call rhetoric another branch of it, as also personal adornment and sophistry—four branches of it for four kinds of affairs.

It’s also similar to the shift from “algorithmic math” to “proofy math” (actually, I’ve felt that that’s unfair to various forms of applied math; not everything that is not-cookbook math is proofs).

This leads me to the opening song of the Waitress, What’s Inside:

The opening starts with the words “sugar”, “butter”, “flour” sung very simply and continued throughout the song beneath the main verse (in a sort of “Broadway counterpoint”, I think). I love the opening! I just like hearing the words.

The first “real” version sets up the trajectory of the musical (as I understand it) in 4 lines:

My hands pluck the things I know that I’ll need
I’ll take the sugar and butter from the pantry
I add the flour to begin what I am hoping to start
And then it’s down with the recipe and bake from the heart

The last line expresses a sort of abandon that Socrates doesn’t quite seem to acknowledge. He’s concerned with the effect or aimed effect of cooking (or speaking) as opposed to the performative experience. Now, these aren’t wholly separate: Part of the pleasure of baking is thinking about how people will react (including one’s future self). But the doing contributes something different: Baking a cake is different than purchasing one even in that anticipation.

There’s a bridge:

What’s inside, everyone wants to know what’s inside
And I’ve always told them, but I feel something needs to change

Now the metaphor is clear: What’s inside the pie and what’s inside the pie maker which, in part, is the pie! It’s baked from the heart. (Wearing your heart on your sleeve in the form of pie gets messy.)

You wanna know what’s inside?
I could tell you if I wasn’t hiding
My whole life is in here
In this kitchen, baking
What a mess I’m making
The metaphor isn’t super complex, though it is neat (in the sense of the parts lining up well; perhaps “tight” is the right descriptor) and non-trivial (in the sense that there are quite a few parts). However, I’m finding it very affecting. The expression is really quite elegant and the introspective music lends it a powerful weight.
I want to see this musical (and hear the musical version of the songs)!

3 Recent Books on Bodies and Suffering

April 1, 2016

I have a Scribd subscription and have been going through the rocky road as they change their model from all you can eat to limited monthly credits. (More on that in another post.) One great thing about it is that it has a great selection of audiobooks, which I never really got into before. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement: The typical price and hassle made me disinclined. For a while, we were getting books on tape from the Durham Public Library and that was good fun (still one of the best libraries of my experience). Zoe and I would read to each other (which really helped with my insomnia), but we don’t do that so much anymore.

Audiobooks are really really nice for walking, which I do a lot more of than I used to.

In any case, I just finished 3 audiobooks which formed a bit of a theme:

  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (read by the author). A letter from father to son about being Black in the modern United States.
  2. Elie Wiesel, Night (read by Geroge Guidall). The second most famous Holocaust memoir (probably the most famous by a survivor; Anne Frank didn’t make it).
  3. Carolyn Maull McKinstry, While the World Watched (read by Denise George). A memoir by someone who survived the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. (The four girls who died were her friends including her best friend.)

Between the World and Me is by far the most lyrical. Probably the most common word is “body.” Coates directs our attention relentlessly to the bodily area but there is a systematic interplay between the body and our various conceptualisations. Corporal punishment is discussed extensively as a manifestation of black parents’ love under conditions of profound, pervasive fear. Coates’ own struggle with that fear and how it affected his interactions with his son are lucidly and honestly laid out. It’s a wonderful book. (And now I’m feeling the pain of not having the non-audio version ready to hand!)

I do not remember reading Night before, though it’s a standard book-list book. I remember having a copy. I remember reading The Painted Bird, but I don’t specifically remember reading Night. The role of fear, the body, and the fragility of the relationship between father and son had resonances for me with Between the World and Me. One recurring element in Between the World and Me is the death at the hands of the police of a young black man,  Prince Jones, and how that death weighs on Coates. (Coates interviews Jones’ mother.) And that is significant. In Night, Wiesel loses everyone.

While the World Watched is best in the early bits, when McKinstry describes the bombing (she was nearly killed in it!) and the protests she participated in. The world she describes there is similar to the one Coates’ describes, but, for her, the world grows better. I felt her discussion of her PSTD, associated alcoholism, and recovery elided a lot. Pretty much God does all the work with her alone and the effects on her family are little touched up except by key symbolic moments (e.g., her children were outside alone and a neighbour brings them in after some minor danger).  The last bit is mostly preaching (she has become a Dr. of Divinity).

I felt that hearing these together made them stronger, but I struggle to articulate how. I feel myself falling back on comparisons, a la Vessels of Evil, but that feels wrong. Each author uses superlatives to describe their evil experiences, but they don’t seem, objectively, similar. Each author has, to a great degree, transcended the horror they describe and are flourishing. Which almost had to happen for me to have access to their accounts. At my age, background, education, and prior knowledge, there is not much new in these. I appreciate the stories and the writing, but I’m not transformed. Not my feelings; not my thinking; I am richer afterwards, but somehow the same.

I can recommend them all. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one (or all) of them was a life changer for other people.


Music Monday: Dar Williams’ Alleluia

March 28, 2016

Posting has been sparse the past few weeks. I had a sudden onset, killer tension headache that also grabbed my neck before working its malevolent way down to my lower back. Things seem mostly better now, so maybe I’ll get back on track.

I was going to try for some sort of Easter song, but it was not being very pleasant to try to find one. So I’m falling back on my absolute favourite “Alleluia” song:

Of course, it’s not especially Eastery, but who cares! Punk angels are awesome:

But there she was this morning, getting fitted for her wings
Leather boots, magenta hair and saying nasty things
I’d say she was an Angel but it’s stupid and it’s obvious
I said you’ll hate it here ’cause we’re the only ones like us
It’s crypto-fascist mania, it’s silicon deliria
Yeah, she said, you’re right, but I like the cafeteria

But the best bit (in a treasure trove of terrific bits…cf the interaction with God), is the portrayal of the regular angels making the same har-har-har joke over and over again:

The waves are perfect and the sun will always shine
But there’s got to be more to death than surfing all the time
I know the signs of self-destruction so I try to stop each new kid
Don’t be like me, forever young, forever stupid
Yeah, I found love here but I’ll bet you’ll find it there
Where they don’t always make the same joke
Gee you make a heavenly pair

This is the perfect depiction of the problem of heaven. No wonder Christ came back!


Music Monday: Johnny o’Bredislee (esp. by June Tabor)

March 21, 2016

Johnny o’Bredislee is a classic Scottish ballad. We heard it for the first time sung by June Tabor at the Carrboro Arts Centre. The whole concert was nigh perfect. Like John Henry, we felt the music in our bones.

Alas, it doesn’t seem to be on YouTube (but I strongly recommend getting the track). There are other recordings like this one by Old Blind Dogs:

And one the Corries (which is waaaay too twee for my tastes):

The reasonable but boring version by the Islanders:

And this very cool recording by John Strachan and collected by Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson:

You owe it to yourself to get the June Tabor version. The accordion alone makes it worth the entrance fee. That arrangement and performance has a brutal intensity lacking from the others. (And the live version was about 10x that.)


Fuzzy on Fuzzy Logic

March 20, 2016

Sometimes, you just have to go “oy” about an article on rice cookers:

But it’s the math this one runs on, not the adorable music, that makes it so special. The rice cooker of my adulthood is built on fuzzy logic, a field of computing that tries to make rational decisions in a world of imprecision. By mimicking our gray matter’s ability to reconcile gray information, this frivolous gadget has become one of the most essential items in my kitchen.

This isn’t going to end well. This modern rice cooker is compared with her old one:

The Aristotle-inspired rice cooker I had in college would heat until the temperature of the rice rose above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point all of the water would have been absorbed. As the temperature rose past this point, a magnet was activated by a thermostat and the machine would shut off. The appliance was either on or off, and it did but one thing while it was on.

And then we have the modern one:

In my current fuzzy-logic cooker, however, I tell the machine what kind of rice I’m using and how long it has been soaking. It takes that information and decides what temperature it should reach, and for how long. Generally using what are essentially if/then statements, it can fine-tune the process. For example, it can take into account the surrounding air temperature and turn the heating element up or down to compensate. The rice isn’t cooked or uncooked; the fuzzy-logic machine wants it to be cooked correctly.

The second machine might be better, but if this is what it is doing, it’s not using fuzzy logic. It seems to be using perfectly crisp logic. The machine has more than 2 states, but the logic needn’t have more than two truth values to capture those multiple states.

Now, I suppose it could be using some sort of fuzzy thresholds to determine when to switch, but I don’t see why it would bother. It’s going to determine temperature plus time. Both of these are going to be crisp. It’s going to be in a particular temperature for a given time (patch heating/cooling cycles of the element under control of the thermostat…but it won’t represent the heat that way!). Then it might switch to another temperature for a different time. It might change its program on the fly depending on sensor action.

But none of this is fuzzy logic in any sense.

To add a bit of pain:

Fuzzy logic was first proposed in 1965 by Lotfi Zadeh, a computer scientist who is now retired from the University of California, Berkeley.

Except multi-value and, in particular, infinite valued logic had been investigated before (c.f. Łukasiewicz-Tarski logic).

I doubt a correction will be forthcoming.


Music Monday: Bad Idea from The Waitress

March 14, 2016

I’m very excited for the new musical The Waitress.  I’ve never seen the movie (by the tragically murdered, Adrienne Shelly), but Sara Bareilles has released a “Sara Bareilles” version of her score. There’s lots of great stuff (I love the opening!), but the stand out song is Bad Idea:

The chorus (well, C part?) is a wonderful build:

Heart
Stop racing
Let’s face it, making mistakes
Like this will make worse what was already pretty bad
Mind, stop running
It’s time we just let this thing go
It was a pretty good bad idea, wasn’t it though?

The Broadway production will be a milestone: “With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus, Waitress makes history in Broadway with the four top creative spots in a show being filled by four women.”

Good thing that it looks and sounds to be awesome!

Update:

I have this album (and esp. this song) on loop. The character evolution in the song is, naturally, giving into the bad idea. But I’m feeling the need for that right now:

Heart, keep racing
Let’s make mistakes
Let us say “so what?” and make worse what was already pretty bad
This secret is safe
No reason to throw it away when there’s love to be had
Hold me tight as I tell myself that you might make sense
And make good what has just been so bad
Let’s see this through
It’s a pretty good bad idea
Me and you

I love the recognition that it’s still a very bad idea.


Democrats Abroad Primary

March 9, 2016

Today/yesterday/that is Monday March 9th 2016 was the deadline to send in ballots for the Democratic “Democrats Abroad” Primary. Since Zoe and I live in the UK, that’s our primary.

I ended up voting for Sanders, because 1) I think Clinton has it locked up and thus 2) pulling her even more to the left is my current aim (after getting her elected). Sanders says a lot of stuff that I like (though I have qualms about some bits and pieces and suspect he’s a bit too pollyannaleftist; of course, that makes him a good primary candidate) and I think esp. on economics and foreign policy  he’s a good way to say to Clinton, “Hey! Remember there’s a chunk of your coalition that has some qualms with some of your positions!”

Even, contrary to the odds as I see them, Sanders wins the nomination, I think he’ll do fine in the general. So I don’t think there’s any real risk in voting for him in the primary.

I feel a bit sad at not voting for Clinton, mostly for solidarity and history reasons. As John Cole elaborates in his discussion of his decision, blacks are breaking heavily for Clinton (though, Sanders vs. Clinton is much more young voters vs. older voters). And, of course, I’m super excited for a woman president. (Sanders breaks breaks the Christianity stranglehold on the presidency, but I find that a bit less interesting at the moment.)

This choice was pleasant for me. The candidates are close enough that I feel pretty positively enthused to vote in the general (in addition to the strong moral duty to oppose the Republican disaster machine). Are either my ideal? No. Are they pretty reasonable given the realities of the US system and the Democratic coalition? Yep!

My nail biting commences for the general.


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