PS... A Column

on Things

By Paul E. Schindler Jr.

Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.

I have a day job. So every word of this is my opinion, not that of my employer. This offer IS void in Wisconsin. Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material.


To Pay For This Column Voluntarily
Tales of Teaching 2004
Tales of Teaching 2005

June 13, 2005: P.S. A Column On Things

June 13, 2005 Vol. 7, No. 23

Table of Contents:

General News

  • Last Day of School
  • Effects of Recording on Music
  • Political Notes

Computer Industry News

  • Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Humor

  • The Top 16 Phrases Not to Use in First-Date Dinner Conversation (Part II)

Movies

  • Crash
  • Guest Review: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Letters

  • Sullivan on Gynophobic News Sourcing, Dalton on Mastectomies, Pardo on "Save The Grapes," Dan Grobstein File

General News

Last Day of School

Friday was the last day of my second year teaching. On Thursday, I learned that the complex manipulations needed to keep me as a half-time teacher had been successful, so I will return in the fall. Not knowing until nearly the end means I haven't done as much preparation and organization in my classroom as I would like; my files are a mess, every flat surface is covered with stuff, and my computer need cleaning. Since the computer cleaning required only the moving of bits, I naturally did it first. Oh yes, and since I gave the students food on the final day, my carpet is a disaster. But the janitors have all summer to clean it up, and I will, in the meantime, get ready for another year of being a guide at the side of my students.

J, one of my more "active" students, is, despite the frustrations of dealing with him, also rather astute. He came in after school on Thursday and said, "The trick, Mr. Schindler, is not to get mad at them. They just think it's funny." I have been trying that more and more, and maybe I'll get even better next year.

Effects of Recording on Music

The New Yorker recently ran a piece on the effect of recording technology on music. The magazine only posts a few of its articles each issue; since it posted this one, I'll mention it...

The Record Effect
by ALEX ROSS
How technology has transformed the sound of music.
New Yorker, 06/06/2005

Several aspects of it rang false to me; I asked one of the most knowledgeable sound people I know, Ross Snyder, inventor of SelSync for his comments:

The article is full of flat-out errors. They don't matter much, but detract from acceptance of his assumption of authority. I feel qualified to comment, not as a constant amateur listener, but as one who contributed with some significance to, and observed first hand many of the developments on which he opines. It is opinion that recording damaged the whole practice of playing music with which I most vehemently differ. Ever-more-accurate preservation of artists' performance, I swear, has led to improvement in the standard of playing in every classical ensemble around today.

Example 1:

Magnetic tape meant that Bing [Crosby] could practically whisper into the microphone and still be heard across America; a marked drop-off in surface noise meant that vocal murmurs could register....

Ignorance. In broadcasting, what made it possible for Crosby's soft croon to be heard clearly was the simple, simple matter of a quiet studio, accurate micropones and quiet, distortion-free studio electronics. Mag tape famously preserved those virtues successfully, persuading ABC to permit Crosby to record his whole program in advance, with edits as needed. He was famous for bloopers and immensely grateful to Mullin (whom I knew well) that none would ever again mar his broadcasts -- or records! He and many other broadcast artists were also forever grateful for the ability to edit, so as to time every program perfectly, without having to watch the clock instead of performing their best.

Example 2:

Matter of opinion:

Fritz Kreisler popularized vibrato in violin-playing early in the 20th Century. Previous, and later, great players had used it not at all or very sparingly.

Praise be! We can't know, for sure, about the great violinists of the 19th, but we CAN hear string playing entirely without vibrato in recordings by several modern artists and groups priding themselves on presenting authentic ancient music played on ancient-style instruments. If ten minutes of listening to their monotonous drone doesn't drive you back to more modern performances, I think you have more patience than most -- and perhaps lack much love of the music itself.

In 1955 Walter Selsted, then chief engineer at Ampex, and I arranged with the SF Symphony to attempt to fool a full SF Opera House audience into thinking a recording was live, in direct comparison with the live performers onstage. A fairly long story... we opened with the orchestra onstage and apparently playing, but making not a sound, while three theater speakers radiated the Mozart "Marriage of Figaro" overture from a previous 3-track stereo tape recording by the same orchestra in the same house. We did several variations on the theme, including one in which we alternated passages, live and recorded, from "Scheherazade," the narrator (me) signaling which was what. Equipment was at the absolute zenith of the then state-of-the-art and not significantly worse even than today's best. Our conclusion was purely Lincolnian -- "you can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but all of the people all the time, never."

The nearest I can come to agreement, or difference, with the author is to suggest that the situation much resembles drama -- movies were going to kill the live theater, or at least deeply affect it.... so what happened? Each affected the other, and both survived more healthily for it.

The microphones used in the demonstration were hand-selected by Altec as examples of the best emerging from production of its newest and today-never-outmatched line of capacitor mikes. They were calibrated with Western Electric 640AA instrumentation microphones, as were the Jim Lansing theater speakers.. The tape recorder was a three-channel Ampex 300 running at 30 ips. The entire chain from sound-into-mike through sound-out-of -the-speakers was frequency-response corrected within the 120-watt Ampex theater amplifiers. We confirmed, as Bell Labs had predicted years earlier, that the crash cymbals and the FFF bass drum were unrecordable and irreproducible.

This is mainly to say damned good, near-faithful recording was accomplished much before the New Yorker critic discovered the art.

Matter of sheer curious reflection: although we can now record the fully struck bass drum, the crash cymbals, and even the formerly impossible muted trumpet, we still reproduce them only rather badly. Peak acoustical levels needed are phenomenal and achieving them will either saturate power amplifiers or smash the speaker diaphragms. I have a notion the new sound installation in the Kodak Theater in Hollywood might do it. It was built especially to show as nearly perfectly as possible every kind of movie for members of the Academy. Backscreen are five of JBL's biggest theater speakers, each driven by a one-thousand-watt amplifier, yet able to survive.

Political Notes

Apropos of my note here last week about San Jose digging a pothole for the governor to fill, One wonders if there is a state law or local ordinance in San Jose, California that prohibits the destruction of public property (specifically roads). Is there a law prohibiting the use of public funds for political campaigns? If there are, will they be enforced against anyone involved in this blatant and videotaped destruction of public property and waste of public funds? Call California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and ask him. Call the San Jose city and Santa Clara county district attorneys and ask them.

***

Ross Snyder's thoughtful analysis of Mark Felt:

Mark Felt, I thought when the news broke, was a fine one to risk disloyalty charges. Those were years when a Congressional Committee still behaved like the disgraced Senator McCarthy, damning anyone who differed from the Nixon concept of correctness disloyal and unemployable. And Felt was second in command of the loyalty enforcement brigade. I guess I conclude that judgment, if we are to pronounce it, rests almost entirely on motive. If he betrayed the deep obligation of his inaugural vow to his beloved institution because he was willing to sacrifice his future to save the union from corruption, he was a hero. If he did it, in deepest secrecy, for revenge against the cabal that denied him his long-expected succession to the top, he is quite the opposite. Betray his most profound trust, he certainly did. Why so, defines him.

Last week, I discussed economic inequality in theU.S. This led Richard Dalton to a few thoughts on foreign aid:

Sadly, what and where we spend denotes our priorities...and maybe out humanity.

As you know, Paul, I agree with your sentiments about financial inequality and it's even more disturbing when you remember that we're better off than 95% of the world's population.

Some E.U. countries recently doubled their proposed contributions (directly and with things like debt forgiveness) and plan to press the U.S. and Japan at the upcoming G8 economic talks, to take similar steps. Meanwhile, the administration is busy reneging on the $15 billion it promised in AIDS research and support payments while spending $175 billion so far on the Iraq war (latest figure from costofwar.com). Tony Blair, in an interesting role change, is supposed to be leading the charge to pressure the U.S. to increase its commitment to worldwide poverty and disease.

Briefs

  • TV show depicts 9/11 as Bush plot
    By Tom Goeller
    The Washington Times
    A fictional crime drama based on the premise that the Bush administration ordered the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington aired this week on German state television, prompting the Green Party chairman to call for an investigation.

Computer Industry News

Craig Reynolds' Technobriefs

Wal-Mart only prints bad photographs: this San Diego Union-Tribune article really got my goat. Wal-Mart (and other large chains) now refuse to print digital photographs that appear to be of "suspicious" quality. In an amazing overreaction to potential liability, Wal-Mart would rather refuse to serve their photographically talented customers than risk the chance that they might be trying to copy a professional photographer's work. Apparently Wal-Mart see its customers as failing into two classes: criminals and the merely incompetent. The upside of all this is that it is helping to drive business to competitors of overgrown monsters like Wal-Mart and its ilk. As one of the maligned customers says, she ended up taking her image data "to a real photo printer". Rather than trying to sue Wal-Mart because of its conveniently deep pockets, professional photographers would be wise to follow the lead of their more forward looking colleagues: "...Photographers used to take photos [for free] and then charge clients for copies of the images, [Hopper] said. Now, more and more professional photographers are charging for their time spent taking the photos..." then they don't have to worry about their customers making prints.

Apple-Intel aftershocks: as I write this on Friday its a whole week since news.com broke the story after years of rumors. My favorite headline was from Motley Fool: Pigs Fly Over Cupertino, though some came from the Bizarro Universe: Apple To Switch To Sun Chips. Perhaps the boldest opinion on "what it all means" was Cringely's: Going for Broke ("Apple's Decision to Use Intel Processors Is Nothing Less Than an Attempt to Dethrone Microsoft. Really.")

More Microsoft schadenfreude: Microsoft red faced over web-mail flaw and Recruiting headaches at Microsoft.

Open source or no DUI?: at first it seemed like use of proprietary "closed source" software might be grounds to challenge the evidentiary value of some devices: DUI Defendants Skip Charge By Asking How Test Works. Some took this position even more strongly: Only open source forensics can be trusted?. But in the end it seemed this was largely misreported. The devices are actually certified by field testing (not code inspection) and this case was about a technicality: Breathalyzer case may not be that useful after all: a second look.

Radio Free Beethoven: the BBC's Radio 3 is generously offering free downloads of MP3s of Beethoven's nine symphonies. These are recordings of performances by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Each are available for a limited time on a staggered schedule, so check for details here: Beethoven Experience.

NYT on AIIDE: Technobriefs was on hiatus last week while I attended a conference on game AI: Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment. It was covered by Seth Schiesel for the New York Times: Redefining the Power of the Gamer.

Optical delusions: there is a wonderful collection of 55 Optical Illusions & Visual Phenomena by Michael Bach. I found it via Daypop Top 40 which linked to one of them: Rapid coloured afterimage. I found this one very vivid and surprising: Motion Induced Blindness. (Doctor, my eyes...!)

Technobits: BlackBoxVoting Finds Voting Scan Machines Hackable --- New hack cracks 'secure' Bluetooth devices --- 30 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do on the Internet (Mail2Web caught my eye. Sounds cool, has anyone reading this used it?) --- Social Networking and Graphic Depictions of Human Relations --- Tiger Tweaks Could Kill Folders --- Consumers suspicious of sponsored links --- nano-memory --- "self-replicating rapid prototyper": The machine that can copy anything --- Hydrogen Honda --- cultural transmission of tool-using in dolphins: Sponging dolphins learn from mum --- autism and understanding sarcasm --- brain in love --- AI Seduces Stanford Students --- Bins and Benches: Singing benches let loose in city.

Humor

The Top 16 Phrases Not to Use in First-Date Dinner Conversation (Part II)

 

June 9, 2005

16> "at the last 'Star Trek' convention"

15> "stupid disclosure law requires me to"

14> "my resurrection after three days"

13> "bitches who insist on child support"

12> "after the aliens probed me"

11> "when *I'm* produce manager"

10> "trumped-up child-molestation charges"

9> "my lambada teacher"

8> "every single episode of 'Gilmore Girls' -- twice!"

7> "now look, little missy"

6> "my former pimps"

5> "Humane Society restraining order"

4> "ignorant Scientology-bashers"

3> "made entirely of boogers"

2> "your Chicken McGrill"

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Phrase Not to Use in First-Date Dinner Conversation...

1> "my soundproof dungeo-- er, basement"

[ The Top 5 List www.topfive.com ]
[ Copyright 2005 by Chris White ]
=============
Selected from 187 submissions from 66 contributors.
Today's Top 5 List authors are:
--------------------- Martin Bredeck, Hybla Valley, VA -- 1 (13th #1)
Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA -- 9, 16

Movies

Crash

So, on Friday, I had a choice; I could see Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the trailer for which I had been admiring for weeks, at a theater five minutes from my home. Or I could go see Crash, 20 minutes from my house (and a longer film, on a night when I had much work to do). Smith was dumped on by Neal (see below) eviscerated by the San Francisco Chronicle, disrespected by the New York Times and dismissed by The New Yorker. On the other hand, Crash is on everyone's early Oscar list.

Breathtaking, vaguely reminiscent of American Beauty and Magnolia (and any Robert Altman film), Crash (a tale of racism and life in LA) shows that writer/director Paul Haggis (a TV veteran) has enormous command of his material and an uncanny ability to coax fantastic performances out of often-wasted actors. Don Cheadle has shined in every role of late, but Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon and even Brendan Fraser (briefly), rise above their recent miscues. It is as serious as life and death (although there is very little death), sometimes funny, and breathtaking (literally) on at least three occasions. Stunning, beautiful, brilliant and moving. I doubt any of these are adjectives that Smith will ever notch; in fact, I'd settle for entertaining and clever--but the reviewers warn Smith will be deny me even that.

Guest Review: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Swingers) has created a ridiculous comic book of a film. The two-hour Mr and Mrs. Smith is virtually plotless, and would be unwatchable if not for the charms of its cast, led by Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Vince Vaughn, and an occasional clever bit of script-writing. But none of these modest attractions should be enough to make anyone voluntarily shell out ten bucks to see this silly waste of time.

--Neal Vitale

Letters

Sullivan on Gynophobic News Sourcing, Dalton on Mastectomies, Pardo on "Save The Grapes," Dan Grobstein File

Kevin Sullivan found a report on the Journalism Gender Gap that conclusively proves men are quoted much more often than women in news accounts. People mocked a Gannett memo a few years ago that some of the chain's editors interpreted as requiring quotas, and which caused some reporters to grumble about quoting unqualified sources. What a load of tripe! Journalists quote people who return their phone calls; people they never call don't get quoted. It's quite circular.

You probably thought the Supreme Court decision settled the issue. A friend of mine advised me years ago to ship wine to friends in well-padded boxes and mark them "fruit in glass," which, technically, they are. Of course wineries can't get away with that. Anyway, here's what my friend Ray Pardo has to say about the issue:

Finally -- an issue we can all agree on (I hope).

We must all work together at our state and federal level to fight the wine and alcohol lobby and authorize shipping of wine between individuals and between wineries and individuals.

Having lived around the country, we have found that you can't always get your favorite wine, or the wine you just read about in your local stores. However, you can find almost all of these online at the individual winery.

Also, if you have found a wine that really tastes good at your local store, it would be nice to ship a bottle or two to a friend or family member for a special occasion. I found out today that the UPS has just decided that they can no longer do that in the state of Washington.

So i recommend that you join the fight to Save The Grapes.

Read more on this issue below at the Wine Advisor.

Linda Dalton asks all of us to Prevent Drive-Through Mastectomies. Sounds good to me!

My daughter Rae spotted this funny riff on Hungry Hungry Hippo.

Dan Grobstein File

I too think that Miracle Whip is evil. And I can do without mayonnaise too (which keeps getting put on my sandwiches when I ask for mustard instead).The comments are very interesting too. Octopus pizza in Tokyo. Sounds tasty. [Ed. note: I, on the other hand, love Miracle Whip.]

[ed note: this would be funny if it weren't so sad]

Nixon's henchmen lecture us on ethics
Colson and Liddy worked the cable news circuit, expressing moral indignation that the former FBI deputy director was Deep Throat.
By Martin Schram, a Washington-based syndicated columnist.
June 6, 2005

Blogosphere

  • American Prospect: The nutjob right's effort to destroy the Clintons continues apace. From David Rosen to Mark Felt to Pol Pot, the right can't handle the truth. By Michael Tomasky.

New York Times

  • OPINION | June 10, 2005
    Op-Ed Columnist: Losing Our Country
    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    Almost every one of the administration's domestic policies seems intended
    to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.
    Dan's note: For interesting comment see the UggaBugga blog.
  • BOOKS | June 7, 2005
    Books of The Times | 'Finding George Orwell in Burma': The Road to 'Animal Farm,' Through Burma
    By WILLIAM GRIMES
    Emma Larkin's book is an exercise in literary detection but also a political travelogue that uses Burma to explain Orwell and vice versa.
    Dan's comment: I'm not saying that the US of A has become the same as this, but there are a lot of small examples of similarity from our Republican government (especially on cable "news").

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