fri, 06-jul-2007, 18:42

overloaded scale

bach: complete works, overloaded scale

hanging scale

bach: complete works, 8.5 pounds

I recently got Bach: Complete Works, which is a 155 CD box set on the Brilliant Classics label (yeah, I’ve never heard of them either). The amazon reviews were surprisingly favorable, and it’s very reasonably priced. But until you’ve seen it in person, it’s hard to comprehend how massive 155 CDs of music is. I tried weighing it on my kitchen scale, but the scale tops out at 6 pounds and the collection Errored the scale (seen on the right). Next I tried hanging it from the ceiling with my antique hanging bullet scale. Eight and a half pounds. Or somewhere between four and seven days of music if listened straight through.

The collection is organized by musical category, not in order, as I was expecting. Twenty-three CDs for Orchestral Works / Chamber Music, 23 for Keyboard Works, two sets of Cantatas (60 CDs total), 32 CDs of Vocal Works, and 17 Organ Works CDs. They appear to all be performed on historic instruments (harpsichord instead of piano, most notably), and each category of music is done by a different group of artists.

I may regret the attempt, but I think I’m going to try to tackle these in order, hopefully writing a blog post about each CD or set of CDs. If I do a couple CDs a week, it’ll only take me 18 months to get through all of it. Lucky for me, and my relatively uneducated ears, the collection begins with the Brandenburg Concertos, which I’m already quite familiar. If I wind up getting tired of a particular category I may skip around a bit, since I may have trouble getting through all of the vocal parts without some instrumental breaks.

After that, perhaps the 170 CDs of Mozart!

tags: Bach  Bach edition  music  scale 
sun, 01-jul-2007, 15:10

black swan green

black swan green, david mitchell

Books Acquired

Books Read

I think this is the last time I post one of these long monthly summaries of what I’ve read. I should be considering the books when I’ve finished them, not a month later, as is the case with Galatea 2.2. I remember what it’s about and that I liked it, but the details of the story and exactly why I liked it is already fading from memory. Plus, if I comment on each book, there'll be more posts!

As for the best of this month, it's a toss up between The Raw Shark Texts, which is a great “summer read”, and Black Swan Green, which is a more serious coming-of-age story. Read both!

Galatea 2.2

As I mentioned, I liked this book a lot and am really looking forward to reading more of Powers’s work. The book appears to be somewhat biographical since the main character’s name is Richard Powers and the number of books he’s written and his back story match what the Wikipedia has to say about him. But it’s unlikely that Powers really participated in the creation of a neural net genuine enough to make it’s creator consider whether it had a right to life. Which is what happens here.

As to why I liked it, I’m afraid I can’t really remember exactly. It was very smartly written, had some excellent science in it about the nature of language and consciousness, but didn’t get too hung up on the science that it felt like you were being educated.

Never Let Me Go

I’ve never read Ishiguro before, and I didn’t want to start with Remains of the Day, so I chose Never Let Me Go. The book is a sort of argument about how far we would be willing to go to extend and improve our lives. In this case, by producing humans whose purpose is to provide replacement organs for the rest of us. When they’re not donating organs, they’re taking care of those that are. The book is told from the perspective of one of the organ donors, mostly in the form of flashbacks to her growing up. I found that technique to get a little old after awhile, because I got tired of the first person voice and wasn’t as interested in learning every detail of her childhood. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, the final section of the book had a strong emotional effect.

Page 263:

…when the great breakthroughs in science followed one after the other so rapidly, there wasn’t time to take stock, to ask sensible questions. Suddenly there were all these new possibilities laid before us, all these ways to cure so many previously incurable conditions. This was what the world noticed the most, wanted the most…How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back.

The Raw Shark Texts

I read this book in two days, and once I hit the half-way point I couldn’t put it down. It’s a smart, funny thriller that’s also a love story. The main character wakes up on the floor of his apartment with no memory of his past, and soon discovers that this has happened to him multiple times in the past. Notes he sent to himself from the past start to clarify the situation, and once he figures out what’s going on, the adventure begins.

Some of the dialog didn’t ring true for me, but the sections from his past life were great. Page 123:

“Hey” “What?” “While we’ve been sitting here, have you been thinking my girlfriend has no knickers on? ” “No, course not,” I said, then, after a second: “Well, it depends. What’s the right answer?” Clio tucked her hands deeper under her knees and looked away so I couldn’t read her expression. “No clues,” she said.

The book isn’t perfect: the last fifty pages bear a striking similarity (intentionally, I’m sure) to a famous movie about a shark, and I kept thinking to myself, “this will make for a great movie.” None of these issues is damning, though, and in fact, The Raw Shark Texts is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

Plus, how can you go wrong with a book that’s got a flip-book section in it?

Black Swan Green

David Mitchell’s latest tells the story of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor (presumably not this Jason Taylor), growing up in a small English town in the 80s. I found a lot to like about this book, since I was also a teenager in the 80s (in a small town in the U.S.A.) and faced many of the same problems fitting in with my peers. Thankfully, I didn’t have a stammer, but it’s a good stand-in for whatever it is that makes a person not part of the in-crowd. The book is rich with the details of the community, Jason’s family, and the trials he faces among his peers.

What was most impressive, though, was how much Jason changed and grew through the year that the book covers. Not only does Mitchell convince you to care about Jason, but you feel like you’ve lived his growing up along with him.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver and her family move to a small farm in rural Virginia to see what it would be like, for a full year, to grow as much of their food as possible on their farmstead. The book is another view of the same issues that Michel Pollan considers in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I read last month. The main narrative describes the yearly cycle of food on their farm, from the asparagus of April to the squash, frozen meat and banked root vegetables they eat over the winter months. Along the way Kingsolver’s daughter includes commentary and recipes from the perspective of a 19-year old, and more political or scientific sidebars from Steven Hopp.

It’s an effective way to consider the subject of the worldwide industrialization of food production, but suffers because most of us can’t just pack up and move to a farm. I’d love to be able to raise chickens and turkeys and grow all my own food, but land covenants in my neighborhood forbid raising “livestock”, and Alaska is a tough place to grow your own food (although we’re doing what we can in our small garden. Still, this, and Pollan’s book have caused me to think more carefully about the food choices I’m making and what options I have available for making better ones.

Falling Man

This is DeLillo’s 9/11 novel, and man, is it a flat, emotionless book. I guess that must be the point, though.

From page 75:

“Is it possible you and I are done with conflict? You know what I mean. The everyday friction. The every-word every-breath schedule we were on before we split. Is it possible this is over? We don’t need this anymore. We can live without it. Am I right?” “We’re ready to sink into our little lives,” he said.
Working Alone

I’ve done quite a bit of work around our house, most of it by myself. Hanging fourteen foot-long pieces of siding while standing on a swinging platform hung from the roof is not easy, and neither is raising, squaring and plumbing walls. Carroll considers solo building from the ground up starting with the foundation, moving up through the structure to the roof, and even has a chapter on building a deck. This book, and Moving Heavy Things, will go a long way toward allowing you to work on your house by yourself without getting hurt.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Genuinely funny, honest and open, and yes, heartbreaking.

tags: books  review 
sun, 24-jun-2007, 14:35

Tow rope around the tank

Tow rope around the tank

Winching an oil tank

Winching an oil tank

The oil tank that feeds our furnace sits under the deck on a wooden sled. Over the years the tank has slid downhill to the point that the tubing was starting to bend and kink and I was worried it might actually slide all the way off it’s supports. So it needed to be pulled back up the slope and secured.

The tricky part is that there’s nothing solid enough under the deck to attach a jack or winch to, and the tank is heavy: it’s a 300 gallon tank about two-thirds full. What’s the saying about moving the moon with a long enough lever and a place to stand?

I used a tow rope around the tank, some chain to join the rope to my two-ton winch, and attached the winch to the trailer hitch on the back of the pickup truck. Worked like a charm. I’d fully tension the chain with the winch until the truck just started to move, go under the deck and rock the tank back and forth, causing it to move forward an inch or so. Re-tension the winch and repeat.

I moved the tank about a foot uphill in less than an hour, and blocked the end of the sled so it can’t slide down any more. (Those are our basil plants on the deck in the bottom photo.)

tags: Dakota  house  oil tank  winch 
wed, 13-jun-2007, 16:46

Baffler 17

The Baffler, No. 17

I got my first Baffler in the mail yesterday from dusty groove america, Issue No. 17, Superslayer Storybook. The cover shows an armored guy standing over another decapitated guy. Strange.

Then I started reading it, beginning with The Gilded Mean by Thomas Frank. It’s an indictment of the centrist philosophy that has strangled the Democratic Party (no, not the Democrat Party you nitwit) since Reagan was in office. Here’s a fantastic section, taken from his review of David Harvey’s Brief Review of Neoliberalism:

His new book achieves the effect it does through the simple device of speaking plainly about the momentous economic and political change that, beginning in the seventies, swept over America and then the rest of the industrialized world.

It is a story we all know instinctively, and it’s not a very centrist affair. We have loosed the forces of the market, and this is what the market has done to the United States: It has destroyed manufacturing and enthroned finance; beaten organized labor almost to death; demanded round after round of tax cuts; defunded public services while raising the price of education and health care to inaccessible levels; decoupled wages from productivity, allowing wages to erode to a level lower today than in the early seventies despite all the advances in worker efficiency. We are often told that we live in a time of otherworldly prosperity, but what has changed the most, Harvey tells us, is distribution, not production. Our new economy is a banker’s triumph, not an engineer’s. Today the nation’s affluent areas glitter, it’s blue-collar neighborhoods crumble, and its rich people are richer, as measured by their percentage of the national income, than they have been since the twenties. The class divide has returned with a vengeance, with one class consistently getting what it wants while another just as consistently loses out. (Page 7)


I haven’t read much of the second essay yet, but it’s equally strong-worded and honest about how screwed up industrialized society is today:

Consider this single fact: It took ten years, almost all of the nineties, for the median family income to get back to the same level that it was, in real terms, in 1989. But in 1999, when we got to the same income level we had in 1989, this same “median” family had to work…six more weeks a year. (Page 14)

I think I’m really going to enjoy (and really not enjoy, if you know what I mean) reading this magazine.

wed, 13-jun-2007, 05:37

Glass Album Cover

Philip Glass Cover

Yesterday I found myself with 43 eMusic downloads available and my refresh date approaching quickly. I’ve got quite a few records in my queue, and choosing among them to exactly consume my available downloads is difficult to do by hand. So I wrote a program to do it.

It’s a Python script, so it’ll run any any platform. Click this link to download it:

To use it, you’ll need to create a separate file that contains a list of the albums you’re interested in and the number of tracks on each album. Here’s the file I was working with yesterday, called queue:

clientele 14
rosebuds 9
okkervil river 11
stravinsky 19
saint-saens violin 3 8
mapmaker 12
of montreal 5
long blondes 14
glass #4 7
widor #5&9 9
bonnie billy 13

Each line contains an album name, a space, and the lines end with the number of tracks on the album.

To run the program, call it and pass the name of your file and the number of downloads you’ve got left:

$ ./ queue 43
glass #4, saint-saens violin 3, stravinsky, widor #5&9: 43

This is one (of many) ways to use up my 43 downloads. The script chooses albums randomly, so if you want to see all the possibilities, you’ll need to run it a lot. I wrote a very simple shell script to do that:

#! /bin/sh


for i in `seq 1 100`; do ./ queue $tracks; done | sort | uniq

You can download it here:

Depending on how large your queue is, you may need to increase the number of times it runs the script. Because it’s random and not deterministic, it can take a lot of runs to find all possible options (in fact, with 25 albums in the queue and 90 tracks available, there are more than 40,000 possible combinations, so this script is best at choosing from a small set of options, unless a random choice is what you're after). You’ll also need to change the name of your queue file if it’s not called queue.

Here’s what I did yesterday:

$ ./ 43 | grep blonde | grep glass
bonnie billy, glass #4, long blondes, rosebuds: 43
bonnie billy, glass #4, long blondes, widor #5&9: 43
clientele, glass #4, long blondes, saint-saens violin 3: 43
glass #4, long blondes, of montreal, rosebuds, saint-saens violin 3: 43
glass #4, long blondes, of montreal, saint-saens violin 3, widor #5&9: 43

The two grep commands were included because I knew I wanted to include the new Long Blondes album and Philip Glass’s Fourth Symphony in my selections. I wound up going with the second choice, adding Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go and Widor’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies.

One final note: if after 1,000 tries, the script doesn’t find a set of choices that uses up all your downloads, it’ll report the last set of albums it found and the number of tracks used up. Be sure that the final number reported matches the number you passed in or you won’t be using all your downloads for the month. The script isn’t smart enough to find the “best” solution in this situation, so if this happens, you’ll need to run it a bunch of times to maximize the number you’re downloading (or better, add more items to the queue file and run it again).

tags: eMusic  music  programming  python 

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