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Concert Reviews: Peter Gabriel, DJ Tiesto

So, 20 days ago, dan and I went to see Peter Gabriel play the Molson Amphitheatre near Toronto.

I haven't followed his music very closely for the last few albums, but I have listened to enough Peter Gabriel over the years that I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Thanks to my friend Justin who scored the tickets, we got excellent seats; about 10 or so rows from the stage.

He played with the "New Blood Orchestra," half made of a touring company, half local musicians. Mostly, rearranging for orchestra worked [1]. Particularly, I liked the arrangements for "San Jacinto," "Mercy Street," and "Blood of Eden." I wanted to like "Solsbury Hill" and "Boy in the Bubble" more than I did but they seemed too pared down. And "In Your Eyes" had silly Audience Choreography (as did "Biko", which was annoying because Gabriel was all Social Conscience and the audience was all Play the Damn Song Already).

My overall impression of Gabriel as performer is: consummate professional. It looked like he had done this every day of his life, which he almost has. He was also clearly suffering from a bad sore throat: he was constantly downing a gulp of tea, then a shot of honey. And you could tell where the throat problems came from: gulp of tea, shot of honey, plaintive scream in nearly every song... I had never realized how much his songs have wails in them until dan asked if every one of them did. Not quite, but.

His lights show was fairly cool: very bright LED boards behind the stage, plus a curtain the width of the stage and 20 feet tall, also LEDs, often with video.

One light trick I had never seen before that we both liked: in the second act, he picked up something reflective from the stage, and it was sitting over top of a spot-light. He then swept the light around the audience; it looked for all the world like fire from his hand.

There was a downpour during the first act. The outermost 1/5 of the seats were open to the air. Gabriel apologized; he said on one concerts that week, the moment they had mentioned the word "water" in "Washing of the Water", the skies opened up.

Neither dan nor I had been to the amphitheatre before. I would go to a big concert there again- getting out was remarkably quick, and it was late enough that the 401 was quite speedy on the way home.

And then dan was off to Italy, and while he was gone, I went to see DJ Tiesto, whose podcast I listen to. He's a Dutch DJ, and I'm perplexed why he wound up in our little town: he went from Chicago, to our town for two nights, then Quebec City, and Ottawa (for Canada Day), then Las Vegas for the 4th of July weekend. Then Ibeza for a week. :) But whatever, he came and sold out two shows of about 300 people (versus n-thousand each for Chicago and Quebec City...).

I haven't been inside a dance club in, like, forever.

They confiscated my pen at the door, because they thought I might throw it at someone. I was like, "..." and they said I could get it back at the end if I really wanted to. (and so I did (pick it up again, not throw it)).

The doors opened at 10:00, I showed up at 10:30, Tiesto started playing at 11:45, and I left around 1:30 when I realized I had heard all of the songs I would recognize. And the next day was still a work day.

It was fun, and I probably don't need to do that again for a while. :)

Hope you like the photos, in lieu of earth-shaking incisive content. I would have done better with reviews had I not waited two weeks. Oh well.

[1] Gabriel's set list, which I found somewhere on the net:
"Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Father, Son
Washing of the Water
# Intermission
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal to Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill
# Encore:
In Your Eyes
Don't Give Up
The Nest That Sailed the Sky

[2] Bigger copies of these photos are on flickr. I couldn't be bothered to link each one individually. :)

The weekend that was

Hello world! Happy Canada Day!

Happy 4th of July, those who get tomorrow off (and those who wish they got tomorrow off. Whether or not they live in the US...)

I have three music reviews in the queue, which I expected I'd have time to do this weekend.

Instead of writing them, I:

* went away to the cottage of the_infamous_j, for an afternoon of lazing and not-sailing (which would have been fun, but watching the water from indoors was also fun, and less effort)

* spent about 5 hours playing with Google Sketchup, enough to turn our notional condo layout into a zippy 3D representation thereto.

I will not, however, spend the next six months making ever more detailed models of the condo and our current (and new) furniture. As much fun as that might be. Just watch me not do that. Uh hum.

* watched a fascinating documentary with catbear, dawn_guy, and Boy about Henry Darger, who "became famous for his posthumously discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story." (thanks wikipedia). It was utterly bizarre, and I'm glad we saw it.

* Friday I spent a night away with melted_snowball for Canada Day; at the local inn where we have gone for outrageously tasty food, plus very comfortable accommodations including roverthedog. Their Canada Day picnic dinner featured grilled trout, beer can vinegar chicken, suasage and lobster gumbo, heirloom tomato salad, pickled veggies, bbq onion rings, morel mac & cheese, and for desert: strawberry shortcake, hemp seed pie, maple crème caramel, s'mores, and something they called "caramelized sea buckthorn tart," though for some reason I have doubts that it contained real buckthorn berries. Because who has actually tasted buckthorn and could vouch for them? Hmmm? (Sorry; side-tracked).

There were fireworks, we had a super 4-km hike with roverthedog, and in the morning we had a wonderful breakfast: d. had duck confit fritata, and I had french toast, both with the "continental breakfast" which had yogurt and honey smoothie, heaping plates of berries, lox and cream cheese, pastries made with their in-house churned butter, and a really good coffee.

Oh, and the night before, we met this wonderful couple, about our age, who asserted that the honey-butter was actually made of crack, it was that good. (The only down-side to this vacation was that during dinner, back at the room Rover decided she needed to pee, despite having gone right before we left; and the right place to do that was on the feather-bed. Which they apparently discovered when they came to turn down our bed; they left us an apologetic phone-message that they wished they had another feather-bed, but they didn't and hoped we would understand. Eep. And we apologized to them, figured out that over breakfast we could leave Rover in the entry foyer (which had two doors and a comfortable mat to rest on, but not our bed)).

And that was our three-day long weekend, more or less.

What was I doing?

Turns out I will remember what I was doing when New York State Senate passed the Marriage Equality bill.

I was skyping with my parents; we had just said our good-byes, agreed it could take a while for them to get to the vote, even if it were a sure thing (but what if two senators fell and broke their noses and had to leave the chambers...) and mom made one last check on New York Times before hanging up, and there it was. And she got to read it from our Ithaca friend Diane M's facebook page as well. 33-29 votes in a Republican Senate. The bill will become law 30 days after Gov. Cuomo signs it.

This one, US State #6 for full marriage protection, is particularly noteworthy to me because I was born in New York State, lived there for my first 25 years; and so many friends in New York will now have legal marriage protection. In fact one friend (Vonn N.) is from the district of Steve Saland, the Republican senator who made a 10pm shift from undecided (without religious protections built in) to supporting it (with religious protections).

Congratulations, New York State! ...44 states to go, plus federal.

How's that go? Slow arc? Yeah, like that.

State of the da_lj

At the moment I'm:

feeling well-exercised. It turns out to be 13km round-trip from work, up to the local BBQ place, and home again. Dinner was a totally awesome shrimp poboy.

I"m slightly worried about roverthedog - she got an abscess next to her ear, and the vet gave us a fairly substantial set of drugs to deal with everything, including an ear infection. She's been wearing her Cone of Shame for a few days, though we trimmed it down so it's slightly less awkward. The cut is doing much better now than it was on the weekend, though, so I'm only feeling slightly anxious about how she's doing. She's a trooper, and she seems in good spirits (she even enjoys being pilled. What a cooperative dog!)

Really looking forward to the weekend- melted_snowball and I are off to Ithaca on Friday! Wegmans! And Viva Taqueria! And Quakers! Oh my!

A big regret is that we can't take Rover- we had been planning to, but it makes the most sense to kennel her at the vet's. It would be a tougher decision if 1) they didn't love her as much as they do, and 2) she didn't love staying there as much as SHE does.

I'm starting to feel nervous about the Quaker workshop I'm co-leading next weekend in Toronto. I will spend a bit of prep-time between now and then, and I am sure everything will go fine, and now having done this before, I can answer the question of "why the hell did I think this was a good idea?" - because during, and afterward, it is totally rewarding. It's just the before that's a bit anxiety-inducing. :)

I'm grateful for all of the people who spoke up at the Regional Council meetings these last two days, concerning light rail. If you read this, you know who you are- you rock. And I'm also grateful for the people who've been live-tweeting the council presentations. I am cautiously optimistic, though I think the next few weeks are going to feel more nerve-wracking to me than the federal elections were...

I'm frustrated that I got half-way through a book and it got auto-returned on me. I checked it out online, via the local library; it was good for 14 days and there was a hold on it. (Though really I don't know how many holds there are- so who knows when I can check it out again.) While I did take notes on the parts I had read, I'm not sure how easily I'll be able to reconnect with it whenever I can wrest it back again. ...Ironically given my inability to finish, it is Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, about focusing one's attention on the things that matter to you. More words to come, I hope.

And speaking of Rapt, I was reading it over the unRapt long Weekend, which included celebrating Queen Vicky's birthday, my birthday, very few raptures, amarylliss visiting us from Toronto, and a few people over to watch Left Behind and Left Below.

And on that note, I think I'm Left for Bed. Night!

I've given up on using LJ for my RSS feeds. I've got 88 of them, which means I sometimes don't see real people posts for pages and pages. I'm jumping to Google Reader. Google Reader will import "OPML" data, so that's how I wanted to do the transfer. This is a how-to.

(If you are hoping to read your LJ friends list directly from an RSS reader, you might instead try this exporter, which grabs the necessary data for friends- it doesn't include feeds and is beyond the scope of this how-to.)

The short version:

1) if you're handy with Perl, grab the code at the bottom of this entry, change the user name, and run the code.
1b) if you're not handy with Perl, give me a shout and I'll run it for you on my server. :)

2) Output is a list of RSS URLs. To translate these to OPML, feed them to this page. Copy and paste them into the big text box, then hit the "Create OPML" link. Seconds later, you will have an output file, which you should save to disk (the file name doesn't matter).

3) Optionally, open the file in a text editor and change the "title" parts from the URL into a sensible title for each feed. Yeah, I was too lazy to write my own OPML and fix that.

4) in Google Reader, the left-hand lower corner, choose "Manage Subscriptions". Choose "Import/Export". Browse and upload your OPML file.


So far, I like the google reader interface, and now I can actually pay attention to the real people on my list who do still post. (I appreciate y'all! I did this for yoooou!)

Don't bother reading the rest unless you want technical details; mostly here for google searching. Let me know if this helped anybody!

The code:


use strict;
use WWW::Mechanize;

my $base_url = "http://da-lj.livejournal.com/profile";

my $m = WWW::Mechanize->new ( autocheck => 1 );

$m->get( $base_url );

my $profile_html = $m->content;
my @feed_lines = ($profile_html =~ /watchingfeeds_body.*/g);
my @feed_urls = ($feed_lines[0] =~ /href='(.*?)'/g);

foreach my $lj_url (@feed_urls) {
    $m->get( $lj_url );
    print $m->find_link( text => 'XML' )->url() . "\n";

And that's it. I'm using WWW::Mechanize, which is the bee's knees if you have to do screen-scraping in Perl.

I started off with a manual grab of my "watching" page, a word-processor search-and-replace, and was about to run a batch of 'wget's to grab the lj-feed pages when I realized it would be quicker in perl.

The biggest drawback to this method is the cost of installing WWW::Mechanize in the first place. CPAN makes it easy(ish) but it has a tonne of dependencies. ...I guess it's just one step if you're on a reasonably recent Debian/Ubuntu.



a pick-me-up

A capella flash mobs are awesome. A friend linked to this one ("Heathrow T5") last week, and I've kept it open in a tab since then. About 80 seconds in is my favourite part, an opera singer named George Ikediashi covering "I am a Passenger" by Iggy Pop. I found this "making of" video which feels like it captures the exuberance of it, more than the polished end-product, which is, of course, a commercial.

And now that I have posted this, I can close that tab.

Back to your regularly scheduled Thursday evening!


Updatey thing, with music reviews

I have been in a writing lull over the last month. I've spent a bunch of free time immersed in that game; I've been thinking about work at other free times, solving problems in my head; I've been thinking about Quaker Meeting and making plans for Quaker-related travel; and while dan was away, I had a cold for a week that made me fairly low-brain.

Then, the cold got better two Sundays ago, and I went to Quaker Meeting and felt absolutely wonderful, and spent the afternoon bouncing around, writing journal posts in my head, only to see them disappear when I sat down at the end of the evening, just as the cold symptoms came back again for the night. So, oh well.

But the last two weeks have been pretty good. I went to a Vote Mob [1], voted early in the national election, went to a birthday party, a pub dinner with programmer friends, and we had friends over for tea and cookies. I think I finally kicked the cold, despite some very rainy and windy weather. And I finished what I needed to do at work, for the start of the new term on Monday, despite a fairly impressive set of potential problems with infrastructure upgrades which have largely been ameliorated. And that is all I will say about work.

Last Wednesday was the start of Open Ears music festival, which is more low-oomph than prior years. It's held every other year, and it's how dan and I have seen Pamela Z, Negativland and Patricia O'Callighan, and DJ Spooky, among other highlights. I hope they can get their act together for 2013; Open Ears has been one of the great things about living around here.

This time the only out-of-town performers I was really excited about was the Princeton Laptop Orchestra; and their concert didn't really do it for me.

So far, the best pieces were by Penderecki String Quartet (with DJ P Love). The Quartet are always excellent, even if I don't like what they play. This time they played Different Trains by Steve Reich, and it totally blew the recording away. The mix was different; you heard less of the recorded voices, and a much more lively violin-against-steam-whistle that just sounded awesome. They also played a piece composed during the CBC Strike (of 2005?) by Nicole Lizee, called "this will not be televised", which at one point, sampled the most famous riff from the middle of Duran Duran/"Rio", and cracked dan and me up.

Last night I saw Tanya Tagaq Trio, who are made up of a percussionist, a violinist, and Tanya Taqaq, an Inuit throat singer. This is not easily described. I'm glad I went. She has toured with Bjork, and I can see the mutual attractions. Many of the sounds she made were ones I didn't know the human body could safely produce. They closed with a set of traditional Inuit throat-singing, between Tanya and a female cousin, which was amazingly intimate and sort of kind of like this, though dialed up in intensity quite a bit.

There are two remaining concerts I'm interested in: Blue Dot tonight, and Da Capo tomorrow afternoon. However, we have our friend Lee-Ellen visiting from Ithaca, and I'd rather see her than the concerts!

[1] Vote mob: if you're outside Canuckistan you've probably not heard the term. And fellow Canadians are probably sick and tired of hearing it. In short: a month ago and at a school not very far from here, students decided to Stick it to The Man via YouTube, to counter the claim that "young people don't vote," and there have now been a few dozen youtube-video-driven events along the lines of Flash Mobs, though none I've seen have had amazing music or amazing dancing or amazing anything. Just lots of energy. Being part of the local campus one was... um, sort of silly. But I got to run through mud puddles, which turned out to be fun.

Theatre/Concert review: Spin!

Friday evening, I popped down to Toronto for a cabaret/theatre/concert production of Spin by Evalyn Perry. I wasn't sure what to expect; I knew it involved spoken word, singing, and music played upon a bicycle. I was nudged into going by my friend John, who came all the way from Minneapolis for this show. I know Evalyn from Quaker circles; last summer, she was one of the evening plenary presenters at the 1,000-person FGC Gathering. She does a political/musical show that's bitingly clever and often requires more than one listen to pick up all the threads...

In retrospect, I wish this production was extended for another week, so I could nudged more people into going- this afternoon was the last performance (a matinee added at the last minute because it was selling out).

The themes were, broadly, the story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bicycle around the world at the very end of the 19th century; the joined history of bicycling and feminism; Evalyn's personal story of being a cyclist and artist; and notes on the City of Toronto's mixed appreciation for bicycles.

I *had* thought that the music-played-upon-a-physical-bicycle would be less effective than it was. Her co-performer, Brad Hart, used drum sticks, his hands, and parts of the bicycle, which was wired for amplification, and attached to a looping device. I spent maybe 5 minutes distractedly studying how it worked- they even tuned different spokes to different pitches- but then I could just let go and listen to the music he was making with Evalyn (and Anna Friz, who did on-stage mixing and singing).

Evalyn produced a CD of the songs in the concert; this morning I drove to Guelph, and I appreciated the irony of driving while listening to a CD all about bicycling.

The Globe and Mail gave it 3 out of 4 stars. And she has a cover article in the weekly Xtra paper, which is a good recap of the show, actually.

So- Thanks Evalyn! And thanks, John, for nudging me to come!


I've been playing Minecraft. This game seems to suit me. If you've never heard of it: it's world-building/exploring, first-person, with a fairly sophisticated physics engine. And intentionally blocky graphics, as you can see in this picture with a duck [ETA: chicken].

The waterfall was created when a nasty-bad blew up right next to me, also killing me in the process. The explosion took out a roughly 6x6x6 sphere of ground. Since it was next to water, the water rushed in to fill the hole. But fluids seem to flow forever, without equalizing pressures, which leads to interesting effects.

Here's the same area from a different perspective. I'm perched atop 30 or so blocks to make this shot. There are big, fluffy, square-edged clouds just off-camera. They always drift East to West.

You can see my working inventory at the bottom of that screenshot. Much of the game mechanics involve crafting items. For example, the bow was made from string and sticks. The sticks were fashioned out of processed wood, from trees which I cut down with my bare hands. The string was acquired by killing a few giant spiders, which was possibly the most exciting experience in game so far. I was experimenting with pouring water on the heads of the spiders when I got caught in the down-flow and trapped in a cavern with a monster-generator. I am surprised I survived.

I'm sticking with the one-player mode for now, because I've heard too many people getting their creations blown up by other players in multiplayer.

Meanwhile, I'm digging up a storm- that hill is basically my home. There are three doors to it in that screen-shot, though you'd have to know what to look for to find two of them. You also can't see the reason I adopted this hill. On the other side, there's a lava flow coming out of the cliff that's really pretty at night-time.

open data

Guess what? I'm too tired to make a very coherent post. Busy weekend. Very social.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an "open data codefest"- I had a blast learning, though I didn't write any code.

What's open data? It's a philosophy that public data should be machine-readable, so people can produce software mashups such as smartphone apps or websites that repackage the available information for (different, perhaps unexpected) purposes. Think realtor websites that incorporate municipal property data and walkability scores... or lots of things Google does now, such as maps incorporating transit schedules and bike paths. Or there's this LCBO search app that has indexed all the liquour stores in Ontario, to give you inventory search results in a more clean way than the official LCBO site.

So, I wanted to work on transit data, but we don't yet have a clean data-source. The best available is "screen-scraped" (unofficial, therefore suspect for accuracy and legitimacy). So instead I learned about GTFS, the common format for transit feeds. I learned how to geo-locate via web-browser (not just mobile; it works from the desktop, thank you googly overlords).

The region is investigating what sorts of data they can open up; apparently a few region staff-members were present earlier in the day.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out!

Four things make a post

Icky story: Near the beginning of February, some automated system broke into my gmail account and sent spam to a small set of people in my address-book. Which it could do, because my stoopid password was only seven characters and contained a dictionary word. Not good! Fortunately, one of the recipients was my other email account, so I saw it almost immediately, and I was able to log in and immediately change my password. Unfortunately, two recipients were mailing-lists, which was fairly embarrassing. The email was your standard spam, links to some russian pill site.

Story over? I had a new password (MUCH stronger- a full sentence, with punctuation...) and more info about how gmail protects account-owners. NOT QUITE STORY OVER. This Saturday, I got more spam "From" my gmail account. As did some select members of my address book, including the same two mailing lists. A quick check of gmail proved to me that it wasn't actually coming from me; they were merely spoofing it, using an open relay (via a German ISP, sending to hotmail, which accepted the sender).

So, by this point, I set my own email to "moderated" on one mailing list, as did the manager of the other list, and I sent around apologies, and damned if the jokers didn't try to resend more spam to the mailing lists.

And (after submitting the spammer info to spamcop.net), now I wait; either they will keep trying, or try with different parts of my mailing list, or I'll decide to bite the bullet and tell everyone to block mail from 'dada.da at gmail', or I'll just sit here and be embarrassed about getting my account cracked because I wanted a convenient password instead of a nice long password. (Yes, sometimes my purpose in life is to be an object-lesson for others. That's mostly OK, even though I was pretty grumpy about this on the weekend.)


Tasty story: My Saturday breakfast was leftover pancakes that melted_snowball made a friend for lunch the day before. Lunch was amazing brioche french-toast made by halfwitted. Dinner was chili with ground turkey, made by my sweetie. Sunday breakfast was a bagel made by d. the day before (he's getting quite good at bagels! I will pay close attention with the next batch, because I want to learn these! (Requires being comfortable with using lye! DANGER! But MMMM that crust.)) Sunday afternoon snack was a cannoli from a batch made by melted_snowball and the_infamous_j. Aaaand dinner was pad thai, also made by d., with a leftover cannoli for desert. All of this made me less grumpy! (thanks guys!)


Good things come by courier: My macbook pro has gotten progressively creakier over the last few years. There is a problem with its graphics; this particular graphics card is apparently prone to a data-corruption that somehow corrupts the graphics memory, so I get weird visual artifacts on the screen: horizontal bands of background showing through windows; occasional triangles of warped screen... Weird stuff. I've gotten accustomed to it, though lately it's been getting worse- I can barely open iPhoto without it crashing. At one point I tried resetting everything and reloading my configs, but that didn't help; apparently a complete reinitialization may fix it, but I decided last summer when Apple redid their Macbook Pro that I'd wait until this year to replace it, since the hardware is now 5 years old. And lo, they released their update last week, instead of the anticipated April or May. So, for the first time, I ordered a computer on its first day of sale, and I have a fancy new machine winging its way to me. 5 , no 10 models newer than my early-2006 laptop, according to wikipedia. Same weight, slightly wider screen, 130% pixel-density, a gazillion times faster, and hopefully equipped to last another five years.


And some things go by Air Canada: Last weekend (Family Day weekend, here in Canada) was amazing. I was in North Carolina, for the mid-winter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns. I don't feel equipped to describe it, other than being happy that I got to hang out with so many awesome people. It was one intensely packed four-day weekend.

I'm a lucky guy, ya know?

Yesterday, I woke up a bit early, determined that Snowpocalypse had not closed our university, got ready for work and spent some time with d., who was leaving for a conference [1], hiked through the snow to the nearest express bus, with a quick detour to pick up a chunk of smoked salmon for my breakfast bagels, just caught the bus, and made it to work in excellent time.

At which point I discovered that the salmon, which I had already noticed smelling awesome, also transferred some of that awesome smell to my gloves and the coat-pocket I had briefly put the salmon bag into.

Which happened to also contain my gym shorts, because on Wednesday I had a physio appointment and she wanted me to wear shorts.

And after work, I bussed downtown to the Art Gallery, which was hosting a Groundhog Day party [2], and in answering email from someone suggesting I pack earplugs for Thursday night's concert, I was pleased to reply that I did have earplugs on me; in fact they were in the pocket containing the smoked salmon, not the pocket with my gym shorts (as I had put the salmon in the other pocket, while I was putting on my gloves).

[1] in Florida, and I'm happy he made it, because it would be awful and ironic to miss a February trip to Florida because of a snowstorm. [3]

[2] Have you ever gone to a Groundhog Day party? Me neither, figured I would check it out. Plus, catered reception, and free visit to the art gallery, which I hadn't visited in a few years.

[3] even a work trip.

20 year appliances

We're replacing two of the last original appliances in the house ("original" in the sense they were here when we moved in.)

The water-softener is failing; it is 20+ years old, according to the repair guy. It's being replaced on Monday. This was the cause of what we thought was a problem with the dishwasher: no matter how much or little soap we used, there was a film left on the dishes. Well, in fact, the water-softener hadn't been regenerating or using ANY salt in possibly six months.

The garage-door opener is failing- it doesn't recognize the top or bottom limits, so it always reverses at the top and bottom of its cycle. It, too, is 20+ years old: hard to say how old, but that's when Stanley got out of the Garage Door Business. Both the opener and the door are in sad shape. At the top of the cycle, the opener is trying to commit hari-kari as the L-bar rams into the front cover for the motor-assembly. There are knobs, which are supposed to adjust the limits, and I took off the chain to see how far it would naturally go before stopping, but neither knob seems to do anything. the_infamous_j and I will be taking a look at it again this afternoon; and probably then we're going to at least replace the opener.

Sort of a shame to me that both replacements will probably last less than 20 years. Butwhatchagonnado.



I wasn't going to bother reviewing this, but in part I wanted to record that I don't always like the concerts I go to...

We went to see Pendrecki String Quartet sharing a concert with "Ebony Tower Trio", a jazz group including Glen Buhr, the new director of NUMUS. d. and I conclude that Buhr is much more interested in playing his own pieces than Jesse Stewart was, which is a shame; we used to like NUMUS concerts. This opened and closed with pieces of Buhr's composition, as well as the next-to-closing piece.

Much of the audience seemed to like them, though the house (the old King Street Theatre) was barely half full.

The second piece was a setting of Poe's "The Raven" to string quartet, read by the trio's singer, who made really odd gestures throughout. It was preceded by 15 or so minutes of exposition by the composer, who nearly went line-by-line through the piece, having the players demonstrate the musical phrasing. (For goodness sakes- this isn't a workshop!) She said "I don't know what I should say about this part, but..." and went on to do so, for minutes.

There was a Beethoven piece, Grosse Fugue, which was described as being excised from his Quartet No. 13 in B♭ major upon its premiere, when the audience applauded the preceding movements but not the conclusion. I can see why. It seemed as if it were strung together from the bits and pieces of a dozen other fugues. I was really amused for the first five minutes. And it went from "OK, he's playing with us" to "why is this still going?" I'm intrigued that wikipedia says it's considered among Beethoven's greatest achievements. Maybe it was that we were already coloured by the first pieces. It was technically very good, as far as I could tell.

And there's no law I need to like all Beethoven.


And the first half concluded with an instrumental Radiohead piece, "Like Spinning Plates." Which I sort of liked, but not as much as the studio version.

The second half started with Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, done by the trio. The vandals took the handles, alright. More odd gestures and expressions from the lead singer.

The string quartet played one piece I really liked: String Quartet by Erkki-Swen Tüür, a modern Estonian composer who was apparently a popular Estonian rock-star in the 80s.

And, after the closing Glen Buhr pieces, they did a collective encore with Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", which was, um, under-rehearsed.


Things that are making me happy right now

I just got a package in the mail, from Cat and Girl. I am now the owner of the original sketch/ink artwork for Birds of America and this makes me really happy.

Meet the Robinsons is a really charming science-fiction movie, sort of a cross between "Up," "Back to the Future," and "The Addams Family." I now have the DVD, and it stands up to a 2nd viewing, which I wasn't sure of since I first saw it on a tiny airplane seat-back screen with crappy headphones. But yeah. Recommended.

I'm busy, and that feels good, and not like burnout.

Yesterday I co-led a visioning session in the Quaker Meeting, and we accomplished a lot in 90 minutes. The theme was the needs of each of us and all of us together; what should we focus our attentions on in the Meeting. The conversation included a number of areas we've needed to talk about more, if we're going to be a strong community. I see this as a very good step. It was draining but also energizing. Ya know?

Today at work, I had three items on my plate I really wanted to get done, and I did. And then I went to the gym, which was a much better use of that 45 minutes than staying at work.

And then dan and I went home for dinner, and dan dropped me off on his way to chorus rehearsal, and I did an evening of Quaker work with 6 people I like a lot. 90 minutes later, I was very much ready to come home again, but not feeling burned out or stressed. Even though I have 9 new things on my to-do list.

Today was a pretty great day, weather notwithstanding.  (Seriously: cold snap in Florida. We got here on the 24th; It dropped 20 degrees F on Christmas day. It's going up 20 degrees tomorrow, just in time for us to leave.)

We spent three nights in Tom's very comfy guest-house in Tampa, hung out with him and had some really great food [1] and drink [2] and basically had a laid-back Christmas.

Yesterday, he drove us down to Sarasota, to our beach-front hotel, where we're spending two nights.  Two gorgeous sunsets in a row. Wonderful white sand beach. Mid-40s temperature. 

No kidding, it's going to be upper 70s Thursday and Friday. OK, I'm done complaining about the weather. (Except that: dan notes that the nightly lows aren't really different from home right now. Sigh. OK, now I'm really done).

Today we had breakfast at a Cafe recommended by Tom, packed with locals as well as tourists; I watched the  waitress flirting with a regular as I tried to finish my home-fries. Then we caught a bus downtown to Sarasota; and decided to press onward to the  Barnum and Bailey Museum, which was well recommended.  

Sarasota used to be the wintering grounds for the Barnums, on a 28-acre homestead. Huge museum. There's a building just for the 1:30 scale model circus (covering some 2,000 square feet); also a building for life-size ephemera including Barnum's custom Pullman railcar (very pretty), and a truck/cannon for a Human Cannonball act; which might be the coolest thing we saw. There was the Barnum museum, which includes some great Renaissance works, and also a sculpture-garden with a replica bronze David (which just looked out of place).  There were gardens with some great Banyan trees; There was also Barnum's house, which was so overwhelmingly big we didn't even go into it.

Back to the hotel for naps and relaxing; dinner was in Sarasota at a surprisingly cheap and tasty tex-mex restaurant. Then we wandered and got desert at a busy bar/cafe, where dan had a tart and I got a chocolate/nut meringue that made me happy.

Just now we took a taxi from downtown Sarasota back to Lido Key. The driver sounded like your basic laid-back Floridian; he was chilling with Voyage of the Dawn Treader when we showed up, and told us the story of how he inherited his ex's copy of the Narnia series and Bun-Bun the Rabbit. 

Tomorrow, we have until mid-afternoon before we have to catch our flight from Sarasota airport. I'm curious how tiny this airport will be... and I'm looking forward to the rest of my vacation, at home, through the next week...

This, my friends, does not suck.

[1] Food: SideBerns restaurant; 7-course tasting menu. Yum. Details to follow, I hope, when I get around to looking at my photo of the menu.  Favorite course: the deconstructed Creme Brûlée, based around a cold creamy layer that definitely wasn't ice-cream, and definitely wasn't Creme Brûlée.  Also: dan cooked us a whole chicken and cranberry sauce and Tom grilled asparagus. Also: tapas at a local Spanish restaurant, which was just a little too much heavy stuff, but we persevered!

[2] Drink: this was a good holiday to not be driving.  Cocktails and wine-pairings at SideBerns, followed by a chaser of Pine Liquour, tasting amazingly like a Christmas tree in a glass... We had egg-nog and wine at his place for Christmas day dinner; then a big pitcher of sangria at the tapas place. We've kept the drinking more low-key in Sarasota. :)

Snuggies for Trees

melted_snowball, on reporting that Tampa is under windchill warning because it will feel like 35ºF, says he thinks this is cute.

I say, what is *really* cute, is all the workers I imagine out there rushing to put Snuggies™ on the fruit trees.

On reflection, wouldn't that make an amazing Christo-like art piece? A field of trees, each with a leopard- or zebra-patterned Snuggie™ flapping in the breeze?

Googling the subject tells me of course the Japanese already thought of it, at least with straw wraps and windblocks.

One of the photos on that page, the entirely wrapped trees, look suspiciously like some of the Chihuly sculptures that dan, Tom, and I saw this afternoon in St. Pete.

On an airplane

December 24, 2pm: Somewhere over northern Florida-

dan and I on our way for three days in Tampa with our friend Tom, then two in Sarasota. As usual, the University is closed between Christmas and New Years, so we're taking the time for vacation. Somewhere warm(ish): Tampa temperatures are mid-teens Celsius (60ish F) for the next few days, but it's due to go down to freezing overnight on Saturday through Wednesday. Ah well; It will be warmish.

I just watched an episode from Treme, season one, which I've been hoping to check out for a while. It's gritty and depressing, and makes me want to visit New Orleans. Some other vacation.

It's been a while since I've had energy for writing. I might say I've been too busy living life, to record it; or I might say I've felt too boring to write. It sort of feels like both.

I'm curious if this week will find me less busy and/or less boring-feeling.

It's... only Wednesday?

The week so far has been fairly full.

Today I went for an all-day Emergency First Aid training. I'm curious how many of my friends are CPR trained? Either current, or lapsed? (I'd also be curious how many of you have ever used it? I know at least two of my friends have. What's that like for you?)

My training was led by an ex-US Marine, ex-firefighter, with just about as much authority on the subject as I might hope for. It was a really intense day. Hopefully I'll sleep OK tonight; I've been to the gym and had a strong drink, which I think has helped calm my mind down. :)

I wonder how the day's tone would be different with, dunno, a more "boring" instructor. He shared a lot of his macabre sense of humor. One story; he was working as an EMT in Atlanta at the Braves stadium for a big home game. They got the call about a man who collapsed; they got within a few hundred yards and started humping their equipment through the press of crowds, many clustered around the guy who was down. As they got there, they discovered two "good ol' boys" (as he called them) running a jumper-cable from their big truck, engine racing, just about to make contact with the old guy on the ground. Fortunately, they got there just in time; turns out he fainted from the heat, his heart was beating fine, though it wouldn't have if the two dudes had worked faster!

A few things I learned:

1) if someone feels faint, *don't* tell them to put their head between their knees, unless you're holding on to the back of their shirt. If they go unconscious, their head will hit the ground and then they might have spine/head trauma to deal with as well. According to Ian, slouching with head back is perfectly fine.

2) AED's, Automated External Defibrillators, are some really cool technology. The modern ones are designed so anybody can use them (though you can get going a bit faster if you're trained). They will talk to the user, flashing lights to tell them what to connect to the patient and where. They will detect a weak heartbeat and if necessary, send the shock to try and restart their pulse; but if they don't detect any pulse, they will guide the user through CPR steps, including sounding out the beat for chest-compressions.

3) The "First Aid Recovery Position" is the same as it was when I learned it at Cornell when I volunteered at Slope Day, a booze-fest on the last day of classes. Preventing someone from choking on their own vomit is timeless.

On that classy note, what about yesterday?...

Yesterday was the annual campus conference. I gave a talk, on one cross-campus collaboration project I'm involved with. It went ok; the best part was finishing and having lots of leftover time for conversations with people. I saw good talks and so-so talks, and ended on a great note with some students very energetically talking through some mobile dev projects they are working on in spare time. They made me, personally, feel completely not-cutting-edge, but that's fine. Sometimes other people get to be the sharpest knives in the drawer.

After work, I had a fairly difficult phone-call to make relating to some stuff that happened after Quaker Meeting on Sunday, but you know what? It was fine; and it was entirely the right thing to do, and I felt supported by a bunch of people in the Meeting in the process.

Just beforehand, I shoveled snow for the first time this year, and a bunny came over from a few lawns over and sat just across the street, sort of under a bush, watching me the entire time. It was still keeping watch when I went inside. And it helped me stay grounded as I went inside to make that phone-call.

And in the evening, dan took me out for all-you-can-eat tapas, using the thank-you gift-certificate from the talk that he gave yesterday, to a bunch of high-schoolers. (Next year? I think the school will try and avoid having a CS conference for some hundred students on the very same day that most of the technical staff are at their own conference. The combination went OK, but that took a lot of work from lots of dedicated people!)


Bike Log

Monday, I rolled over 600km on the ride home from work. Which was in the dark, and actually not that great weather. Anyway, the odometer said 600km.

So, I think I'm done for the season.
Making 1743km since March.



melted_snowball, who is spending the next day on a work trip in Indiana, sent a link to a neat article about where he was to be exploring next, the architecture and art of Columbus, Indiana. One tantalizing photo is an exploded diesel engine from the lobby of Cummins, Inc, a diesel engine manufacturer. Which is very cool; and reminded me of something else, though I couldn't place it.

Googling the piece, and the artist, Rudolph de Harak, led to a neat essay on the history of exploded-view art.

It pointed me to one aspect that I've always loved; lego construction diagrams. I loved, loved the visual language of lego instructions.

Then I realized what I was reminded of: Tron. The new version, out in mid-December. Which I'm sorta kinda looking forward to, even though I expect it will suck. One of the previews, which I saw a few days ago and can't find just now, did the animation of someone "turning on" their light-cycle, and it looked sort of like it was stitched together in the inverse of an exploding diagram.

...Sorry, at the moment I ain't got a more deep post than that. :)


three things make a post.

The frost this morning was gorgeous. My shadow looked like it was 20 feet long against the bike path. My headgear and gloves, just barely warm enough. This biking season will be drawing to a close soon.

I appreciate that at 8:30, many people have been at work for hours, many even in the same time-zone as me. But as one who often leaves for work at 9:30, I wanted to write down that this morning was magical.

(And next week at this time, I will wake up in darkness, and at 9:30 the shadows will be just as long as they were this morning at 8:30, and I will be grumpy.)


I was reminding myself that my ski-jacket style coat needs its zipper-pull replaced, as I loaded my backpack this morning, and a zipper-pull on my backpack shattered in my hands. ><
(c'mon Jansport; it's only lasted fifteen years so far. what ever happened to durability?)


Google voice's transcript of a message left on my cell this morning is sort of worth noting:

And analysts is so I'm calling from the strippers We're supposed to pick up there this morning. If you could please give us a call, but let's talk to someone there at least okay and phone number here is xxx-xxxx

That's actually quite a good transcript. The Strippers are refinishing our table, and they were due for pickup at 8am. Cheerful, matter-of-fact, efficient, and not cheap. Would recommend.


this and that

This morning I headed in to the office a bit early, so I saw kids collecting and walking to school. Some were dressed for Halloween; the only one that stood out was a remarkably accurate Peewee Herman, possibly 8 years old, being photographed on his front lawn by a parental unit. I considered, and didn't, make a Peewee Herman laugh as I biked past.

The last few work weeks have been intense. I had the realization this morning that I was on top of all of the projects I'm working on. 8 projects worked on this week. Deadlines in 4-6 weeks for many of them, and none of these are filling me with stress. So, yay!

...That said, I've had a few too many mornings when I wake up thinking about database design and user interfaces. Probably zero mornings is a healthy number. Probably I'd have just as good ideas if I waited until I got to the office.


Bike Log

rolled over another 200km, biking home after Pilates. During which I had the realization that my core muscles felt stronger, after doing the same exercises for something like 6 months. Yay!

Beautiful fall weather.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Or, Columbus Day, or both, if you prefer!

Today we took on the challenge of the Butter Tart Trail, through Arthur, Mt. Forest, and Damascus, Ontario. We didn't have a designated driver, but did practice safe sampling, not too many tarts at each location.

We met up with amarylliss in Guelph, which is under a metric buttload of construction (detour D-twelve?!), enough backtracking to get downtown that we were fairly grumpy at their not communicating if there even were an alternate route to the centre of town. And then saw a detour sign which they didn't even bother labeling with the detour number. "D minus." Yeah, that's Guelph in a nutshell right now...

The plan was to hit the two stops on the Butter Tart Trail we knew were open on Thanksgiving Monday, and see what else we found on a long weekend drive. Success!

Fergus had practically nothing open, being Thanksgiving Monday. But Tara got some bouldering in on a cliff at the waterfront. And Rover got her first swim of the day.

In Arthur, River's Edge Goat Dairy was open to our surprise, and we had our first butter tarts with goat's milk in them. And they sold us some amazingly good chevre. The goats posed for photos, though they didn't want to be in the same shot as roverthedog.

Kenilworth Country Kitchen, in Kenilworth, had half a dozen types of tart. We had lunch in their restaurant, cheap tasty eats (their breakfast special had slabs of home-made bread and thick slices of turkey sausage. Mmmm.) And as we ate a Butter Tart Sundae, our waitress told us about moving to the middle of nowhere from Toronto a few decades ago for her daughter's sake, and being a criminologist for the RCMP as her main job. She called Kenilworth "Never-Never Land", which having lived in a tiny town, I can identify with. Dan got peach pie instead of trying a different flavour of butter tart, which was also quite tasty.

We stopped in Mt. Forest for their waterfront park, which gave us all a chance to walk off a bit of lunch. Rover had a chance to swim and wag at Ducky Friends, and Tara took the chance to climb a tree.

In Conn, we picked up a pack of Walnut Butter Tarts at a country market. And in Damascus, we stopped at the Damascus Emporium, which had such a jumble of junk masquerading as a rummage sale that we didn't feel like actually going inside, despite writeup in the Trail guide as having "Old Fashioned Charm."

We did not have a conversion experience either on the roads to, or from, Damascus, even as we unwrapped the Walnut Butter Tarts. Mostly we looked at the leaves and did the road-trip thing. Perhaps we would have had an epiphany had we been walking.

But we all agreed the trip was a success, and I'm so glad to have friends to go with on this sort of thing. Because that would have been a lot of butter tarts to eat all by myself.

I'm having a devil of a time with some php to do unicode processing and display.

Do you know how to turn the unicode representation of "&#286;" into its HTML entity (Ğ)? The character is from ISO-8859-9, Latin 9, and it's one of a few I'm having trouble converting. Because they're not in Latin 1. And heaven forfend we actually want to use those other characters.

You'd *think* (or at least I would think) htmlentities() would do the job; but not with htmlentities($string, ENT_QUOTES, 'UTF-8'); it remains the unicode string. get_html_translation_table(HTML_ENTITIES) suggests htmlentities() only has about 100 mappings, which is a disappointment.

I've browsed all sorts of PHP and perl docs, as well as straight references for ISO-8851-*, including some which say "here are the HTML mappings for a number of UTF8 characters" - but I haven't found an anywhere-near-useful set of UTF8 to HTML entities.

This seems like a bug.


[Edit to add: I found this, which is perl to convert entities to LaTeX, and maybe I need to hack that up to produce a simple array myself?... Hm.]

UK trip notes

Caution: contains Super LambananasCollapse )
You know, I'm looking forward to home.

[ETA: Comments disabled due to spam]

In an airport

I'm sitting with melted_snowball at Pearson. Next stop: Manchester. By early afternoon, we will be in Wales.

We're spending two nights in Wales; then 4 nights in Liverpool, where d. has a conference.

Then, we fly to Long Island, for the memorial for my grandmother who died this spring; we're spending two nights at dan's parents' place, and one night at my aunt's.

Possibly the biggest factor into whether this is a good trip for me, I expect, is whether I sleep OK. Last night it took me a while to fall asleep, and at 7:15 this morning there was street construction, which continued all morning. I tried napping, but it's really tough to sleep through random vibrations. I do hope I can sleep on the plane.

I am looking forward to this trip. I expect I'll take lots of photos.

This is the first time I've used my brand-new Canadian passport.

Since we're traveling to the US, we're bringing both US and Canadian passports. I admiit this makes me feel like a spy. :)



I liked it. Not as much as Paprika, possibly not as much as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Probably 8 or 8.5 out of 10. It could have been a 9 if they'd spent more time with the Architect and turning realities upside down (psychologically, as well as physically); psychological freefall as well as the physical in the second half. melted_snowball says it could've used some David Mamet- the hotel bar scene felt to him like they were going in the direction of The Spanish Prisoner.

They did blow stuff up good, in the second half; it was fun, but they could've trimmed that down 20ish minutes without any loss.

So, yeah. Worth seeing, possibly worth seeing on the big screen if you like your stuff blown up big...



Daniel Allen

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