Monday, October 25, 2010

Christmas is finally here!

Each year for the last 20+ I've sung in a fabulous ensemble at Christmas time. Back then, I organized my own such ensembles, generally smaller, to double the fun during the season, but this one remains as the jewel.

One year I counted exactly nine groups I was with, seven or eight of them being my own.

Sadly, with being too busy and losing all my singing friends to their own busy-ness or generally to growing up, graduating from BYU and moving on with their lives, I've not organized choral groups or sung much in long years with this one exception.

Thus, my vocal abilities, which were never great anyway, have sunk to the point where I must resurrect them each October for use at this one concert in December plus helping out at St. Mary's on Christmas Eve (always a distinct pleasure). I have to work myself through the stage of fits of coughing after Saturday morning's hour and a half practice and mastering the unwelcome vibrato that has beset me in my later years. And, I have to re-deepen my bass in order to sing the low notes I've always reveled in.

This year, outside the addition of a piece we've never done (though I used to do it when I was ward choir director), we sing again a selection of old favorites, see my notes for Music for the Christmas Season. With everyone getting a web-capable hand-held device like an iPhone, I've begun in recent years to offer the entire program with copious notes. (This year's are only just begun, so there is a lot of construction detritus on the page as yet.)

Just now, I'm about to return to some SQL work I've begun, but I'm listening to Mannheim Steamroller's "blue" album, A Fresh Aire Christmas. It's nice to get to the point where listening to Christmas music doesn't get me Julene's evil eye (without which I'd probably listen to it year 'round).

Next up will be Chip Davis' "brown" and "red" albums, then Kurt Bestor's few and probably even that old Carpenters' album. This is only a warm up for serious stuff: I've got all of the Cambridge Singers' albums and the Medieval and Renaissance albums done by Joel Cohen(*) and the Boston Camarata. More still.

I'm just a Christmas-y kind of guy.

(* Yup, for real!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crikey! Abbey Road's turned 41

My son found this somewhere and posted it to Facebook.

The old man in the article is Paul Cole, an American Tourist serendipitously photographed on the album cover. Though a few weeks later he discovered himself there when it came out, he admits never having given it a listen. "It's not my kind of thing. I prefer classical music."

I looked up this Paul Cole. He joined John's and George's Dirt Nap Band in 2008.

Wait a minute: Abbey Road is classical music!

—and not 'cause it just turned 41 a couple of weeks ago. In recent months, millions of people of all ages rediscovered what it is to listen to some pretty classy and very classical music.

Where were you when…
I had just gone back to junior high school in my hometown a month before the album release. Bountiful, Utah was an up-scale suburb of Salt Lake City. As children are ever wont to annoy, Alan Battacchio and I immediately memorized Maxwell's Silver Hammer and sang it at the top of our lungs for days in the hallways between classes.

And uh, yup, I had green bell-bottoms, a paisley shirt and beads. (But I wore shoes and my hair was pretty short.)

[Old man's sigh: Alas, things were simpler then.]

Abbey Road
If you're interested in seeing what's happening on Abbey Road this very minute, check out Visit Abbey Road: The Crossing web cam. This zebra crossing has become quite a tourist attraction and, at any random moment, you'll see people taking pictures of each other—usually from the direction of the original photograph which is almost 180° around from the web cam's point of view. Looking just now I saw this happen myself. Great stuff!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A day of stress passes...

Last night's little foray into the world of Alton Brown and Rebecca Ray went well enough. But, I'm not a stand-up comedian; my talents lie more along the lines of being a smart alec.

I pre-cooked the paste underbase of my khurma, the part composed of bloomed cumin, four softball-sized onions, a head of garlic, two serrano peppers, a couple of inches of ginger and a large can of crushed tomatoes. It's well I did this; I guess I'd never timed it before and had the vague notion that it was a 45-minute affair. It took twice that time, but was done perfectly so that I could go an hour ahead of time to prepare my demonstration at Macey's grocery in Provo.

If there has been any revelation in Indian for me over the years I tried to do it without satisfaction, it has been the need to cook this base thoroughly! Indeed, the foundation of a good curry sauce is utterly and completely cooked onion (and the other aromates listed here). There are lots of other important things to know, like how best to bloom which spice or aromate, but this one thing is more important than all.

It was a little awkward: electric range, two grates covered with my griddle for baking roti, another for the saag shorba and the remaining one for the khurma, when to light up my rice cooker, an hour to pull off all the dishes, and distraction galore with questions from the attendees (not offended by that).

My one regret was that when it was time to mix some chopped cilantro leaves into the khurma, I didn't have any. I didn't know if the woman running the demonstration for the store had stocked the refrigerator (she had), but under the pressure of direct, public scrutiny, I decided against looking and having possibly to ask her to go get some (which I'd then have to wash, dry and chop). With the addition of that garnish, however, I think the dish would have been perfect.

Indian is complicated: it's easy to over-look preparing something. At home, this is no problem since I usually cook in a very lazy mode, taking 6 hours to piddle around doing what would only require 2. I figure, that way, I won't tire of it. I took the same approach in building the mother of all decks on the back of my house: I started in April and finished in November.

Julene said it was a little spicier than usual. I was going for that; I'm usually conscious of not serving food that the squeamish can't eat, but as someone who could not for medical reasons eat hot and spicy food until just a few years ago, I haven't acquired the taste myself. I'm not averse to eating hot, I just don't because I like to perceive the flavors rather than them losing themselves in my mouth along with my now-numb tongue. Last night, however, I wanted to raise the spiciness just a little. I think I failed, though. I didn't find the curry spicy and the soup wasn't either. I should have discoursed on this fact, but it fell through the cracks.

Imagine: nambi-pambi Indian food. I should be ashamed of myself. Still, this doesn't prevent anyone from leaving seeds and veins from the chilis in when they do the cooking.

So, the attendees were duly polite and appreciative. One man pressed me with more questions about India, the Indians and their religions, meat-eating and all sorts of other cultural issues than culinary ones. And, of course, the difficulty of managing food over an electric range kept interrupting and distracting me—lest disaster ensue. By the end, I couldn't decide if I was doing a food demonstration or teaching a high school geography class with a food demonstration on the side. I surprised myself by how much my dear Indian colleagues have taught me about the Subcontinent over the years. I hope I didn't betray them in any way.

So, as I told the Macey's lady, I'm glad to do this for whatever motivation they may find to ask me, but I don't crave attention or glory or honor and so won't volunteer to keep doing it. I said this in response to her announcing that the next opportunity would not come until after the end of the year. Fine by me.

Last, I was interviewed by the food columnist from the Provo Daily Herald. I had completely spaced that she was there until she came up to me afterward. That can't have been a bad thing.

As if to save me (and I needed it), Julene attended too. She helped clean up the kitchen at the end. We got out of there after 9 pm.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The sharks are beginning to circle!

The dreaded moment is only hours away...

Tomorrow evening I will present my Indian menu of saag shorba, vegetable khurma, fancy rice and roti at the Provo Macey's grocery.

Already I've had friends pester me to tell them when. I long declined, but now give in. I hope it's too late for most of you.

It is not too late, apparently, for the Provo Herald who are detailing a food columnist to attend and to interview me afterward. This amps up the pressure.

Unfortunately, I can't "do better" because presenting a cooking show isn't something I ever do. While Macey's is talking about me doing this regularly, it's wishful thinking on their part: I'm not so certain. Why would I do this? It was to be a one-shot, let's-see-how-terrifying romp through a personal discomfort zone. A decision taken flippantly and without much commitment.

I have decided I had better put on my best (and only) black chef's jacket, maybe dig around for those trousers I haven't worn in a long time too. (But, I draw the line at donning the toque.)

Nevertheless, these emotional sharks pale in the overall everyday angst of job-seeking especially now that, since last Friday, I can no longer claim to be "employed, seeking new opportunity."

Vivement la retraite !   (How to say that in Hindi?)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cloning good equipment...

Last November's build of a Windows 7 box was a qualified success. I'm equivocating only because, a month after building it, I lost the motherboard and had to get a replacement from Intel. It was the luck of the draw and Intel created no obstacles to the exchange although they waited for my old board to arrive before sending me out the new one. (With Dell Computers, you have the new component in hand within a day or so and can then simply reuse the packaging to return the defective component.)

Since replacement, I have had no other trouble attributable to the hardware.

I have had grief with Windows 7 supporting peripheral devices. It simply will not support my internal card reader, my external card reader or my HP Deskjet 5550 printer. As always, I'm willing to admit humbly that I'm a total idiot, but seriously, do you think a platform is really a popular, turn-key solution for the masses if a career software engineer can't overcome what should be simply plug-and-play after several hours bent over the problem? (And Google says I'm not alone!)

Well, I've also got a Linux box next to me, running Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.4), but it's just too slow to do my development work on. I find, in particular, that launching the Android device emulator from Eclipse takes more than just "for freaking ever" (as many places on the web say about launching that emulator normally) and is simply intolerable as compared to my Windows box which is long, but tolerable. I think it's the horsepower in my case.

After nearly a year ignoring Linux as my main development host (Avocent was a decidedly Windows shop), I've grown lonesome and decided to clone last year's build to build for myself a competent Linux host again.

So, here's my build-out, arriving from TigerDirect today; I'm a little tamer and it's costing me about $200 less with much more disk (although I later added a 1Tb, unmirrored disk to my existing Windows system):

Case Ultra X-Blaster Black ATX Mid-Tower
Power Supply Ultra LSP550 550-Watt SATA-ready, SLI-ready 135mm Fan
Intel Mobo DP55WB Micro ATX, Intel P55 Express Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 750 2.66GHz, 8Mb L3 cache, Quad-Core Lynnfield
DDR3 Memory 2 OCZ 4Gb DDR3 PC10666 1333MHZ 4096Mb
Video Card GeForce 9500GT 1Gb PCI-E 2.0 VD 01G-P3-N958-LR
Hard Drives 2 Seagate 1Tb LP SATA
Optical Drive LightScribe DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM

Additionally, this will allow me to take that otherwise nice if slow box running nevertheless modern Linux here and use it as a replacement for my old web server still running openSuSE 10.2.

I'm running my two, five-year old Dell 20" wide-aspect monitors for now (3360 x 1050 pixels total) until I swap my bigger Asus pair from the Windows 7 box to Linux.

The hard drives would be arranged in RAID 1 but for the fact that Ubuntu desktop doesn't support RAID. In order to do RAID, you must either use Ubuntu server or an alternate non-GUI installation that only supports Karmic (one release backward) at this hour. So, my installation of Lucid Lynx 64-bit 10.4 was successful and I've built the disks as follows (hoping to facilitate setting up with RAID 1 later):
  16 Gb swap   (/dev/sda)
80 Gb /
904 Gb /home
1000 Gb /home2 (/dev/sdb)

I have excellent news: the Android emulator starts up on Linux as quickly as it does on my Windows host. I'm back in business.

Persistence in job-seeking

One word: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!