Saturday, December 31, 2005

Vacation Retrospective

A couple of things I've discovered in the last 10 days or so:
  • I like to run. Ever since I saw the reduced gut on the other woman, I've been all inspired and stuff. Even better, I'm starting to lose all the weight I gained from the damned eye-medications.
  • Used-book stores rock. A few days ago I found a nice little hardcover copy of Reading Jazz.
  • I can't ever really stop working. Even when I'm taking a break. I seem to be most productive on my days off.
  • The little Venezuelan coffee shop in Palo Alto has awesome spiced hot chocolate.
  • No other game (FPS) comes close to being as playable as Half Life 2.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mike Stern@Yoshi's

Peter and I caught these guys at Yoshi's yesterday. Here's my take on the performance:
  1. Mike Stern's music is really quite uninteresting.
  2. Dennis Chambers can bang a drum alright, but doesn't know the meaning of subtlety. He should take a lesson or two from Brian Blade.
  3. Victor Wooten is probably the most accomplished electric bassist I've ever seen. His solo was the highlight of the evening.
Overall, both Peter and I came away with the impression that the performance wasn't as interesting musically as it was technically. Still, after good sushi, and much hot sake, one can have fun listening to just about anything.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Save the carols!!

A week or so ago, Jayita and I were in some department store like Macy's or J.C. Penny or something (they all look/sound the same to me), and they'd already started doing the Christmas carol thing, and I heard one of these "experimental" renditions of "Silent Night" clatter out of the speakers.

Now, friends and enemies who know me well enough will testify without a flicker of hesitance that I'm a jazz fan. Hell, I've even tortured a few friends into attending an Ornette Coleman concert. But where I draw the line, is when you turn a mood-piece like Silent Night, into some allegro-1930's-it's-prohibition-so-all-I-can-do-is-swing number. I mean "Siiilent Niiiiight, ba boo be dee DAP pa DOO!" is just not kosher.

But maybe that's just me.

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imaxima

This weekend I was toying around with Maxima, a pretty nice symbolic math package (like Mathematica, but open-source), and I discovered a really slick little feature that Emacs users can latch on to. By adding on this package called IMaxima (where the "I" stands for "image"), one can get the results of symbolic computation automatically rendered in LaTeX, and displayed inline in the Emacs session. It kinda looks like this:
That's just so cool, it makes me want to do more symbolic math :)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Huh.

Where I work is a pretty strange place... I just took a pee next to Al Gore.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Makoto Ozone

This guy is one good pianist. I've been listening to his work as a sideman for Gary Burton's ":rarum" collection recordings on the ECM label (btw, this label has one hell of a catalog for jazz -- I want to own everything). I'm going to look out for his music more. Unfortunately he tends to stay in New York a lot.

I've been so awful with making time to practice the piano. I haven't touched it in 2 weeks. I've been so buried in work over the last month that I haven't even been listening to that much jazz. Still, Peter and I should be going to see Mike Stern perform with Victor Wooten in 2 weeks :))

Just gotta make it through the end of the quarter...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

WebmasterWorld PubCon @ Vegas

So it's been a busy couple of weeks since the last post. This week I spent 2.5 days in Vegas attending the WebmasterWorld PubCon. This is primarily a gathering of webmasters and SEO (search engine optimization) practitioners that get together a couple of times a year to swap tips and war stories. Matt and I were there to find out anything we should've known that we didn't.

The conference sessions themselves are fairly uninteresting. The fun is in chatting with everyone over drinks till 2am. That's when the juicy information gets spilled. There's a fly in the ointment though. Ever since Jayita's been taking CalTrain up into San Francisco every morning, I've gotten into this really nice schedule of waking up at 6:30am. On the dot. No matter what time I've gone to sleep. You get the picture. By the time I was back (Friday afternoon), I was a sleep-deprived zombie.

By the way, I have to plug the hotel that we were at; the Renaissance. What I loved about this place was that it felt like we weren't in Vegas anymore. It didn't have those damned slot machines beeping and booping all over the place, and to cap it off, it has an awesome steak house, and was across the street from both the convention center and the monorail (if you're really desperate to hit the strip). If I'm ever unfortunate enough to go to Vegas again, I'm staying there.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Free Jazz

So of the more interesting events Eric and I attended this weekend was a performance by the Ornette Coleman quartet. Ornette Coleman is the legendary jazzman who turned the jazz world upside down in the late 50s when he pushed the notion that harmonic and rhythmic form were, eh, not really required; bringing "free jazz" to the forefront of New York's thought processes.

It was an interesting setup. Two basses, a drummer, and Ornette on saxophone (and briefly violin and trumpet). With no pianist to provide any harmonic "gravy", the music sounded like these guys just cut loose and wandered willy-nilly. As a listener, it's interesting to appreciate the effort your brain puts into trying to force structure around what you're listening. It's really hard! I'm thinking I probably won't be attending another free jazz concert for a while. But it was great to experience it first hand at the feet of the master.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

This Week

Several good things (tm) this week.
  1. I'd been hearing about this British series called "The Office". Oh. My. G. This is the funniest damned show *ever*.
  2. The other woman's in town for a weekend of jazz, coffee, sarcasm, and general toe-fetishness.
  3. I've just been introduced to "The Weekly Address". This is possibly even funnier than the first two.
There shall be blogposts, and blogposts some more...

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Memory Lane

A friend recently mentioned the nostalgia associated with playing (or in his case hearing the soundtrack of) a decade-old game.

I just took my own trip down memory lane with my recent purchase of the 3-DVD 10th Anniversary Myst edition, containing the first 3 games in the series: Myst, Riven and Exile.

Nostalgia indeed!!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Here we go again...

Dr. Jumper finally saw what I've been secretly dreading/expecting. My eye troubles are starting up again -- this time in the left eye.

The bad news:
  1. There are a few inflammed veins on my retina, and tiny spots of bleeding.

The good news:
  1. The regular tri-monthly checkups over the last year have caught it early. Based on my vision alone, I had no clue (way better than what happened the last time around).
  2. If everything goes well, the drugs will take care of the problem and I won't have to go through the surgery again.
  3. The right eye looks good.

Time to cross fingers again...

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Upcoming Shows

Recently, Jayita and I have been splurging a little. We've just realized that we have quite a concert schedule ahead of us:

Nov 5th: Bobo Stenson
Nov 5th: Ornette Coleman Quartet
Nov 6th: Konono No. 1
Nov 11th: Youssou N'Dour
Feb 9th: An Evening With John Cleese
Mar 30th: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Apr 28th: Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know?
Apr 29th: Zakir Hussein's Masters of Percussion

The next 6 months are going to be fun :)

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Rant!

As much as I love open-source software, sometimes using it can just be really frustrating.

Since yesterday afternoon, I've been playing with GnuPG. This is the first time I've mucked about with encryption and signing so my first stops were the man page, and The Gnu Privacy Handbook which were resources every other page pointed me to. While the handbook provided an excellent overview of the process of creating and managing keys, there are some basic aspects that we're just left to guess at.

Take the output of the gpg --list-keys command. It spits out the following:
pub 1024D/460E03D0 2005-10-18 My Name and id
sub 2048g/9BB40D91 2005-10-18

Why can't I find a simple explanation of this output? Some components are obvious (e.g. 2048 is the key length), but others (like the 'g' after 2048) is cryptic. Nowhere have I been able to find a concise explanation of this. Additionally, the idea of subkeys (the "sub" on the second line) is pretty much ignored in most documentation.

Arrrgh!!

Update: I finally found some decent documentation.

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Political Compass

On a whim, I took the test at http://www.politicalcompass.org. That placed me firmly here.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Over the Hedge

One of my favourite comic strips is turning into an animated movie. I hope they do it justice. Go R.J., Verne and Sammy!

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Friday, October 14, 2005

A Little Numerical Music Theory

Here's an interesting bit of music/physics trivia:

Let's say the frequency of the note "middle C" is x, here are the intervals corresponding to simple multiples of this base frequency:
  • 2x: Octave (C)
  • 3x/2: Perfect 5th (G)
  • 4x/3: Perfect 4th (F)
  • 5x/4: Major 3rd (E)
  • 6x/5: Minor 3rd (E-flat)
Interestingly, as the ratios get more esoteric, so does the dissonance in the sound of the interval. It also works out nicely that since the interval of the perfect 5th is composed of a major and minor 3rd (C to E, and E to G), the frequencies ratios are (5/4)(6/5)=(3/2).

I like the way that just fits.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Nail on the Head

A couple of days ago, Michael and Lauren joined Jayita and me for a concert at Yoshi's. At the end of the concert Lauren had to know why during the performance I often chuckled at exactly the same moment that some of the bandmembers did.

While I was fumbling to explain how the particular chord progression used was interesting, Jayita chimed in and said: "It's as if they cracked a musical joke, and you understood it".

I love this woman. She doesn't always get jazz, but she gets me ;)

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Visit to LA

So I was back in Los Angeles today. The company I work at is on a little hiring spree, and needed USC alumni to tag along. Now you can take the man out of grad school, but you can't take the grad school out of the man, so I'm saying to myself "Woot! Free trip!". This is how we'd get motivated to write conference papers (read IROS 2001 in Maui).

Our lab's moved to a brand spanking new building on campus. Very slick. Slicker still is the Peet's coffee shop on the first floor. Got to catch up with the old sensei, and a couple of members of the lab clan. Stefan even tried convincing me to take a "sabbatical" back to the lab ;)

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Monday, October 10, 2005

George Brooks' Summit @ Yoshi's

Always my favourite venue for jazz in the Bay Area, Yoshi's had George Brooks' Summit performing last night. The group consists of George Brooks (saxophone), Fareed Haque (guitar), Kai Eckhardt (bass), Steve Smith (drums), and the much loved Zakir Hussein (tabla).

Stellar performances all round, but the highlight of the evening was the percussion solos by Zakir and Steve. I've attended several concerts featuring Zakir Hussein, but this was my first with Steve Smith. He's really impressive, and not just because he could hold his own against the tabla master.

Great way to close off our vacation :)

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Monday, September 26, 2005

"Intelligent" Design?

If life originated based on an intelligent creator, how come practically none of the original species survived extinction?

Could it be that the creator wasn't all that intelligent?

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chronicles

What's so funny is some people think a composer's supposed to please them, but in a way, a composer is a chronicler, like a critic. He's supposed to report on what he's seen and heard.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Parenthesis States

I was driving between random errands last Saturday, and happened to have an NPR station playing in the car. I don't remember the show, the host, or the guest, but one statement made by the guest struck out so singularly, that it left me thinking about it for days.

He referred to the left-wing states as the "parenthesis" states.

I found that statment to be an incredibly useful metaphor on several levels. Geographically, the blue states are truly a parenthesis around the large chunk of red, but this is the simplest expression of the metaphor. We sit in these blue states with our intellectual colleagues, and assume that the rest of the country thinks the way we do. We have to realize that the majority of America simply thinks differently. They are staunchly religious, and conservative, but that's what makes up America. We, the liberals and moderates merely parenthesize what forms the mainstream of American thought and culture.

The fact that the election results of 2004 went the way they did is simply (and unfortunately) democracy at work.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Why iPod???

I'm still puzzled by the lemming-like fascination that the world has with the iPod.

Here's why I prefer the iRiver flash-memory series of devices:
  1. Integrated FM receiver.
  2. Removable AA batteries.
  3. Plays OGG Vorbis as well as ASF, MP3 and WMA.
  4. Supported recording and direct encoding to MP3 from 3 sources: integrated microphone, FM radio, and line-in jack.
  5. Linux drivers available.
I'm an extremely satisfied owner of one of the 800-series flash memory players. The rechargeable battery life is well in excess of 40 hours of continuous playing time, and there's no spinning hard drive that will eventually fail and turn your device into nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing doorstop.

The disadvantage of the flash-based device is of course the (presently) limited capacity, but the convenience of the extended battery-life, tiny footprint, and recording capability far outweigh the downside.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Humble Pie

Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb when one is longing to be absolutely deaf.
--Oscar Wilde

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Requiem for a Dream

I just saw the movie Requiem For A Dream (imdb).

This is truly the starkest movie I've ever seen. It's depiction of the spiral into drug addiction is brutal, and it's heartwrenching to see every moment of the characters' descents tinged with unachievable hope.

It's beautifully constructed, with an outstanding score and stunning visuals. This movie doesn't leave one's mind.

Ever.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Jazz Music Business

Q: What do you call a jazz musician who doesn't have a girlfriend?
A: Homeless.

Q: What do you say to a jazz musician with a steady job?
A: I'd like fries with that.

I heard these on NPR a couple of days ago. After the chuckles die down, you realize that it's a sad state for such a challenging, intellectually engaging art form to be in.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Steven Levitt is Dangerous

Not because the results of his analysis often challenge the conventionally accepted wisdom. He's a dangerous man because he now inspires an entire generation of students to study more math. :)

Statistics rock!

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Fluxbox


I've finally moved to fluxbox :)

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Conversations

In classical music, the written composition is something like a play. Each actor has a written part which is followed exactly, and the performance is measured by how well the actors breathe life into each role. In jazz however, a composition is more like the topic of a conversation in which the performers are invited to participate. They are free (and indeed encouraged) to present novel and interesting ideas within the framework of this topic (As an interesting aside; Indian classical music is a more rigorous treatment of this conversational philosophy). And just as in any conversation, a jazz performance is measured by how interesting each participant's ideas are, and their interplay.

This is why it's so great to see a jazz standard performed by different collections of musicians (or even by the same collection in a different setting). Each session is a meeting of minds -- learning, collaborating, exchanging and innovating. Old friends revel in knowing and anticipating each other's conversational style, and new meetings provide exciting fresh perspectives on tried-and-true lines, inspiring even further innovation.

This is also an interesting analogy within which to explore why some people like certain (performances of) compositions and not others. Think back to the last social gathering in which you participated in (or listened in on) a group conversation. If a conversation leaves you out of your depth because the ideas are too complex, then you tend to tune out. Similarly, if the conversation is mere drivel, it quickly becomes irritating and boring. A conversation which is a complete barrage of new ideas is exhausting, while one that merely repeats well-known phrases sounds cliche. Even so, it's important to realize that novelty is in the ear of the beholder, and each listener is a collective set of experiences that give new events and ideas their context.

Just as listenening or participating in a social conversation needs a requisite intellectual substrate, listening to jazz demands the corresponding collective musical experience within which we can understand the melodic discussions that evolve. Therefore, not just performing, but even listenening to jazz is a practiced art which takes time and training. If pursued however, it enables one to decrypt this secret world of conversations where the ideas can be refreshing, thoughtful, emotive, and always infectious.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Making Music

I finally have a piano (again)!

Susan Pinto, a former piano teacher of mine once said to me reproachfully over her bifocals: "If you don't practice for a day, you'll notice the difference. If you don't practice for two days, your fellow performers will notice the difference. Don't practice for three days and your audience will notice the difference."

I haven't practiced in six years. Oboy.

Three cheers for C. L. Hanon!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jazz for a classial pianist

Jayita and I attended one of the sessions at the Stanford Jazz Workshop entitled "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Jazz (But Were Afraid To Ask)". The pianist had some interesting advice for me: He said that when he was training, his teacher would have him take a section of a classical piece, and break it down to it's most basic melody. This brings up the interesting notion of starting with an involved piece, and deconstructing it so that one is painfully aware of any embellishments.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Miguel Zenón

Been meaning to post about this guy for a little while now. Peter and I caugut Miguel Zenón in concert at Yoshi's a couple of weeks ago.

We were simply blown away.

A lot of the music was from his new CD Jibaro. Peter bought the CD after the show, and I borrowed it a week later. I've now decided to by it myself (and everything else by the guy). This is the first set of music in 3 years where I've actually been really challenged at teasing apart the polyrythms. At the time, the concert was so good that I thought I wouldn't get the same energy coming across from the studio version. I was wrong.

He's coming again to the Monterey Jazz festival later this year. Woohoo! :)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Shannon's Theory of Evolution

Jayita and I were chatting this evening about the "evolution vs. intelligent design" debate that is still being regurgitated over three quarters of a century after the Scopes trial of 1925.

I've occasionally mulled over the idea that we've stopped evolving in the true Darwinian sense. Given the medical advances that level the playing field of life expectancy, survival of the biologically fittest no longer works the way it used to. I remember vividly a conversation I had with a colleague of mine several years ago, during which we came upon the idea that in this age, it is a measure of information fitness that should be used to evaluate the survival probability of a population.

Call it Claude Shannon's other theory.

Simply put; it is how well a community evolves around and absorbs new ideas and information that determines whether it arrives at the top of the information heap, or whether it is doomed to the information-centric form of extinction: irrelevance. The point extends to dogmatic belief both religious and scientific. A scientist that espouses Newtonian mechanics has to face its inadequacy at explaining relativistic phenomena or risk being left behind in the wake of novel research.

Statistically (at least), it is the section of the population that is fearless enough to continually adapt, test, tear-down and rebuild its information substrate, that is the most successful in the so-called information age. The successful species is always the one that adapts.

Stubborn faith in a single isolated nugget of information without re-evaluating it in the light of newly collected facts and ideas is fatal. Ironic that the community that is least open to ideas such as the theory of evolution, will probably be its swiftest victim.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Order and Chaos

I've come to the realization that a good measure of the amount of entropy in my life at any given moment, is the disorderliness of my home directory hierarchy.

If I'm under little pressure and/or have all my ducks in a row, then everything in my filesystem has it's place. Ogg files neatly categorized, photographs date-stamped and labeled, papers organized alphabetically and by topic, etc.

But throw one runaway project into the mix, and suddenly things go awry. The desktop becomes a dumping ground for the refuse of shell scripts, multiple screen instances compete for terminal real-estate, and all manner of bizarre file extensions seem to come crawling out of the ethernet and wedge themselves into the filesystem like plaque accumulating when one neglects to floss.

That reminds me. Must floss...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Prodigal Blogger

I admit it. I failed. The force was not strong enough in me. My willpower sapped, and I couldn't feed the beast. I shall try again. No, I shall do.

I'll need practice, and some self-butt-kicking but it will be fun. I'm back.