Showing posts with label Computers and Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Computers and Technology. Show all posts

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's a Twitter World

Finally have been forced to join Twitter, as it has (unfortunately) become the news feed of choice.  The restrictions of 140 characters might appeal to some people.  I find it abhorrent as one cannot tell a story in that space, only a brief, fleeting emotion (or invective in the case of “some”).  Still, for late-breaking news (both fake and real) it’s a medium that needs to be reckoned with.  So, this old dog is trying to reckon.

From time to time I might post a string of Tweets here that tell a story, such as watching Obama’s moving farewell speech, then seeing a Tweet on Ben Bradlee’s memoir about Nixon’s accusation that the Press fabricated Watergate, and then, coincidentally on the very next day, seeing Carl Bernstein (live, not on TV) talk about Watergate and the role the Press still plays, even in this treacherous “fake news” environment.  Mr. Bernstein still has the right stuff – an impressive speaker.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Funny World

Before Rodgers and Hammerstein there was Rodgers and Hart.  They wrote so many great standards such as Manhattan, My Funny Valentine, The Lady Is a Tramp, I Could Write a Book, Bewitched, to name just a few of my favorites, but sometimes their songs became conflated with the other great standards of the era, those by George Gershwin and Cole Porter in particular.  Yet Rodgers and Hart were trailblazers in their own right.

They met as young students at Columbia University and they seemed destined for one another.  Rodgers of course could write a melody as us mere mortals can compose post cards. Noël Coward once said that Rodgers just “pissed melody.” He was the consummate composer and partner, productive and businesslike. One could always count on Richard Rodgers.  Larry Hart on the other hand was a troubled person. Unlike the “beautiful” people he wrote about and consorted with – first on Broadway and then in Hollywood -- he felt himself to be an outsider, he was gay, Jewish, and diminutive (always photographed standing while Rodgers was sitting at the piano).

His lyrics could be dark and cynical. But I’ve been so accustomed to playing their well known pieces, and as I do not have a singing voice, Hart’s lyrics became submerged in the deep pool of their music.  Furthermore, I've played most of their music from fake books, the melody line or verse only without the introductions.  Their songs without the intros are like birds without feet, homes without foundations.  I have a Gershwin songbook with the intros and I needed one for Rodgers and Hart. To the rescue:  Rodgers and Heart; A Musical Anthology.

Alas, my songbook arrived but I should have known that in this profit driven world the publisher (Hal Leonard) would chose the less expensive “perfect bound” alternative to spiral binding (such as my 40 year old collection of Gershwin’s songs).  Very sensible for the publisher but a nightmare for the pianist as most songs with the intros are at least 4 pages and turning the pages of a perfect bound book is difficult while performing. Even if one is merely playing for oneself it is frustrating to have to introduce a few bars of silence while trying to turn and pin back a page.

One could try to break the binding but ultimately pages would separate or one could guillotine the book and put the pages in plastic sleeves in a three ring binder, expensive and time consuming.

Ah, for the want of a nail. I knew there would ultimately be an iPad in my life and this was the final straw to tip the scale.  I'd photograph select songs with the iPad (still difficult to hold down certain sections of the book for photographing and having to accept some partially distorted pages, albeit legible). Then do the same for my Gershwin songs and other beloved standards, put them in albums, and then play the music from my iPad, merely swiping pages to “turn” them.  Voila it works! A couple of negatives though.  If your finger resides too long on the page you are swiping, you are returned to the pervious menu of all pages, so I’ve “perfected” the technique of quickly swiping while playing.  Furthermore, the page is about half the size of the printed book.  Good reading glasses to the rescue for that drawback.
This commitment to the iPad for my sheet music repertoire in turn has led to a certain acceptance about my piano technique.  I've gone into jazz, contemporary, some classical even, but I find the most satisfaction from the standards, particularly the music of the thirties and forties.  I was born too late to live in that moment, but today I find the themes to be as relevant to today as when they were written. So I’m making my iPad music albums all standards focused when playing in public venues, mostly local retirement homes. To date I’ve performed at The Inn at LaPosada, the Hanley Center, The Waterford, Mangrove Bay and most recently a monthly “gig” at Brookdale Senior Living.

And now I can incorporate the introductions to many of the standards which so beautifully set up the songs, sometimes acting as a counterpoint and foreshadowing the content.  Finally, playing the Rodgers and Hart Songbook yielded a double bonus, finding songs that are absent from my fake books, such as their hilarious To Keep my Love Alive, and some songs I’ve rarely heard.  One such song is This Funny World.  Here is where you see the genius of Larry Hart: the lyrics are so achingly cynical -- one can imagine Hart wearing his own heart on his sleeve. 

Richard Rodgers’ magnificent melody populates the introduction with minor chords, underpinning the dark lyrics by Hart. (Although, when working with Hart, Rodgers would normally first write the melody.  When collaborating with Hammerstein, the lyrics would normally precede Rodgers’ composition.) Rodgers writes the song in a major key.  Such sad lyrics to such a beautiful melody and the chorus which is also the title of the song is repeated four times just to make sure you don’t forget it!

With my imperfect equipment, in my imperfect recording studio (our living room), I recorded the piece and posted it on YouTube so it plays on all devices.  It helps to read the words before or during the video.

A mop! A broom! A pail!
The stuff my dreams are made of!
You hope, you strive, you fail!
The world's a place you're not afraid of.
But soon you are brought down to earth,
And you learn what your dream was worth.

This funny world makes fun
of the things that you strive for
This funny world can laugh
at the dreams you're alive for.
If you are beaten conceal it!
There's no pity for you.
For the world cannot feel it.
Just keep to yourself
Weep to yourself.
This funny world can turn right around
and forget you.
It's always sure to roll right along
when you're through.
If you are broke you shouldn't mind.
It's all a joke for you will find
This funny world is making fun of you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It’s Come to This

I’ve passed through Baltimore more times than I care to count but never toured the city.  I know the Baltimore portrayed by Anne Tyler, a place of comfy familiarity. She must be appalled about what’s happening in Baltimore, although it is not surprising. Racial riots and tensions are not new in America.  It is reminiscent of the 1992 Rodney King riots in L.A. which followed the acquittal of police officers after a police brutality incident was caught on video tape.  But that was a “one off” capture of an incident.

What is new is the widespread use of cell phone, surveillance, and dash board cameras that reveal the everyday nature of the problem.  Twitter and YouTube deliver the message to a nation crazed for user-generated content.  The more we see, the more inured we become to the root of the problem, racial and economic division. 

Meanwhile media firms are pouring endless money into creating “shows” designed to be watched on ubiquitous mobile devices, the holy grail of streaming Internet firms such as Netflix.  We’ve become a nation of somnambulists, cynical about the political process (ironically revealed by Netflix’s House of Cards – does life imitate art or vice versa?). According to a study done two years ago, “by 2015 Americans are expected to consume media for more than 1.7 trillion hours, or an average15.5 hours per person per day, again not counting workplace time. 

2015 is now. My wife recently boarded an aircraft from Atlanta and most people were watching videos on their laptops or iPods or even cell phones and although anecdotal evidence at best, many were of interactive games or slam-bang explosive Hollywood films.   Imagine, most of your waking hours consuming media of this nature?

What happened to reading?  Same answer as to what has happened to education.  As long as we put a premium on consuming video content while minimizing education, there really is no answer to the racial and economic tensions that will play out in the future.  Along with rebuilding our infrastructure, and our inner cities, education must be this nation’s highest priority to provide opportunity where people feel there is none. Better police tactics are needed, and research and education is required there as well.   No wonder there is such despondency.

Easier said than done naturally, and having a dysfunctional government is not helping. As presidential electioneering gets underway the failings of the whole process will become even more apparent, thanks to Supreme Court sanctioned unlimited campaign contributions by corporations and individuals: its a few mega billionaires and corporations vs. the rest of us. 

And it’s come to this in Baltimore today: the Baltimore Orioles will play the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium -- our National Pastime with no spectators allowed because of safety concerns. Eerie symbolism of things to come? Is that how we want to live our lives? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Personal Space

Once upon a time people were considerate of others’ personal space. I’m old enough to remember those days.  Perhaps today’s “it’s all about me” mind-set is partially the result of the very technology I’m using to write and post this and especially social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Population growth and prosperity are equally responsible, everyone “fighting” for space.

And by personal space I mean the right to enjoy life without the in-your-face encroachment of someone else’s lifestyle. I love Sondheim’s music, but don’t think I should “broadcast” that love affair at ungodly decibels in public places.  How many times have you been at a stop light and a car pulls up in the other lane with its stereo blasting a base so loud it vibrates your car?  It’s even worse at the beach as it is prolonged. You’ve already planted yourself under an umbrella, only to be accosted for the rest of your stay unless you move.  Or even while you are trying to enjoy a quiet dinner at home, hearing a neighbor’s woofer banging out what now passes as “music.”

I’ll put this under my audio effrontery section: robocalls. The one I love is the automated, breathless but recorded message, that happily announces that I’ve been chosen (one of the select few : - ) to be eligible to have my debt consolidated, please hold on for a representative.  A few times I’ve actually held, trying to get the name of the company.  Call recognition doesn’t work for those calls and if it did, reporting it to Do Not Call seems to do nothing. They simply rotate their phone number (or use Skype). Political and charity calls are exempted from Do Not Call and during political season it’s a free for all invasion of your telephone line and your private time.

Probably one of the main reasons we rarely go to the movies now are the bombastic, extra-loud trailers that you are forced to sit through.  One also has to contend with people checking cell phones, texting during the film, those phones glowing in the dark or ringing their owners’ favorite melodies.   Or, the people nearby talking “huh, what did he say?”

While one’s audio senses are being increasingly assaulted, so are one’s olfactory rights.  Yes, there are much more stringent laws governing smoking, but few apply to outdoors.  A particular bête noire are cigars which seem to defy the laws of being “upwind” of that particular kind of smoke.  Cigars simply stink 360 degrees.  Stay at home and smoke that stogie, or go to a cigar bar.

Air travel has taken the loss of personal space to still another level.  After being required to partially disrobe with your fellow passengers, you board an aircraft only to find you are sitting behind someone who immediately reclines his/her seat – to its fullest extent -- for a lengthy flight, leaving you with the rear of the seat in your face and the tray table in your gut.  We’re told that common sense etiquette should prevail.  Ha, in this day and age.  Recently a number of flights had to be diverted because of unruly passengers duking it out over this issue, one person even carrying a “knee defender” device which prevented any reclining of the seat in front.

A friend of mine was seated behind a lady with very long hair and as he tried to eat what now passes as a meal on an aircraft, she decided to recline her seat, but did not want to rest her head on her precious hair so she flipped all of her hair up and over her headrest and directly into his dinner!  Welcome to 21st century air travel!

Then, the coup de grâce:  Are we ready for the implications of what Amazon, Google and even Domino's Pizza are testing? -- drones to deliver “goods.”  With GPS technology they could be spaced only feet apart, why not?  There goes our entitlement to viewing a serene sunset, a conga line of drones going by, delivering the essentials of life such as pizzas, dog food, and might as well throw in cigars and boom boxes as well!   We of the “me” mentality must have what we want immediately when we want it! 

Probably I will not be around to witness the ultimate battle of the drones.  And no doubt, as I age I am more sensitive to all these issues, feeling increasingly powerless to do anything about individual incidents. And down here in Florida, people pack pistols, so you might get shot by asking someone to refrain from some of the things I’ve mentioned.  There is no Department of Common Decency and Consideration to complain to and even if there was, let’s face it, nothing would be done. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bane of the Blue Screen

They call it the “Blue Screen of Death,” usually an overburdened computer seized by malfunctioning hardware.  Sometimes there are ways to recover from this near death experience; sometimes not, resulting in a desktop that can be used as a massive paperweight.
Peering at an unwelcome blank blue screen

For me, it started more than a year ago, my several-year-old desktop happily chugging along with the Win 7 Operating System.  Win 8 had been introduced and I went for a test drive at my local computer store and after a few minutes knew it was not designed for my needs.  Images, video, graphical interfacing, social networking, now seem to dictate everything.  Keyboards will soon disappear (as well as us folks who use them).  One wonders where today’s generation has time to watch all these movies, YouTube ditties, and indulge in multifarious forms of social networking.  What kind of a future does this portend?  Perhaps it is inevitable that computer chips will be implanted in the brain at birth.  No other hardware required, just think a thought and Google reality!

 Back to my blue screen saga.  After witnessing the Win 8 graphics, I was thrilled to stay with my Win 7 computer.  I figured that as I practice sound computer practices, running required updates, actively using antivirus and malware programs, never opening unknown links, cleaning out my computer with an air can, why shouldn’t it just last longer than me?  My Office 2003 programs worked fine, along with Adobe Photoshop and MS Money Sunset Edition, Firefox working efficiently, email accounts flawlessly operating, my printer and scanner in perfect sync.  I was in computer pig heaven.

Soon after my disheartening Win 8 test drive, a sudden warning shot across the bow of battleship desktop.  It would not boot, even in safe mode.  Nerds USA to the rescue.  Turned out to be an enigmatic hardware issue.  One of the memory chips would not work in the slot it’s been in since the computer was new and somehow this failure impacted start up (go figure said Dr. Nerd).  By moving the memory chip to another open slot, voila, back to normal.  However Dr. Nerd said the mysterious nature of the problem led him to believe it might not only happen again, but shuffling the memory chip might not work again as well -- there may be another unknowable hardware issue.

Oh no, Dr. Nerd, I asked, how long does the patient have?  Hard to tell he replied, maybe a month, maybe years!  We discussed Win 8.  He hated it too.

What to do?  First, I have a laptop (Win 7, everything compatible of course), and I regularly back up files an external hard drive, so I can at least function if the computer goes.  But once that happens, it would seem than Win 8 will inexorably invade my life.

An epiphany  --  get a new Win 7 desktop – they should be cheap thanks to the introduction of Win 8!  So I started my search for a good machine at a reasonable price until I discovered new desktops with Win 7 preinstalled were no longer available.  Absolutely no one seemed to be selling one at the time.  I don’t remember how, but I traced one through a HP website link.  It had the bare minimum hard drive and internal memory I require, but it was available!  So I bought it (and it was cheap). 

When it arrived I debated when to set it up.  My old computer was functioning fine, so why fix something not broken?  I put the new computer in a closet thinking that after the summer (that’s last summer) I’d get to it.  Summer came and went.  Lethargy set in.  Wondering whether my old computer would last (forever was my hope) I imagined I heard its hard drive whisper “I think I can, I think I can.”  New game plan:  just make sure everything is backed up.  I now looked at the desktop in my closet as merely an insurance policy.

At the end of February, another warning shot, getting "you have logged on with a temporary profile" on Windows 7“ at start up.  I waited and then restarted the computer and everything worked, but it reminded me that the last full back up to the external hard drive was a couple of months before (doing interim backups on USB thumb drives).  But all these backups were done manually, dragging files to the storage device.  I decided to use the full backup program that comes with Windows 7 and initiated that.  My understanding is that would allow me to restore my files on my existing machine in the exact same configuration.

It took hours to back up to the hard drive, but mission accomplished.  I then resumed the use of thumb storage USBs for interim backups

Then early last week, the dreaded blue screen with a message that begins "A problem has been detected and Windows has been shutdown to prevent damage to your computer…”  From there, nothing seemed to work, even safe mode start up although I was able to get into the HP diagnostic program which indicated a hard disk failure.

Breathe easy, I thought, you have back up files, a new (actually by now, old) computer in your closet.  It just means time reinstalling programs and data.  But to be on the safe side, I called my Nerd guy.  Think you can do an old disk to new disk transfer even though I’m getting this fatal message?  Don’t know until I try.  So we fixed a time for his visit, with the understanding I first set up the “new desktop” and install the programs I need, not to mention the updates.

So finally I unpacked a computer I had received more than a year before.  Everything was there.  After connecting, power up!  Eureka, everything functions, went through all the preliminaries, rejecting the temporary “free” programs such as Norton Anti-virus, and after such a long slumber, Windows initially had 138 updates to install.  It ran all day.  I installed my software, and got my printer/scanner to sync.  Everything set up for Dr. Nerd.

The next day he showed up with his magic tools, popped out the old hard drive, slipped it into his hard drive reader and plugged it into the “new computer” USB.  It got half way through the transfer and then stopped.  Indeed, a bad disk drive.  So we had to resort to my Win 7 complete backup.  It worked even though it was now restoring to a different computer.  All is now well, except for several lost days to all this Sturm und Drang. 

However, Win 8 possibly looms in my future, unless this machine outlasts me. 

I was amused by a tongue in cheek “news article” that appeared in the New Yorker not long ago, about Bill Gates recently “returning to work” being confounded by Windows 8.   The picture of Gates is priceless.

This satirical article was actually picked up by a number of “news sources.”   (If it’s on the Internet it must be true!)  Here’s one such echo published on the “Voice of Russia” web site. (Of all places.)

Nonetheless the basis of all good humor is a full measure of truth.