Friday, 29 January 2010

The Playlist -The Beatles

Catching up on Six Months of Music for me is like a lifetime. So I think I'll try and work backwards and see when I run out of steam. Starting with Beatles (did I say backwards):


The Beatles are such an integral part of the emotional side of my musical education it is very difficult to treat their recorded work subjectively so I am not going to try. To me from the first strains of "I Saw her standing there" to Paul's comic exit on "Her Majesty" spanning only 7 years from 1963 to 1969 there is no other body of work of such listenable genius in the history of music.

And then they were collectively gone.....
Beyond the end there was only John and for for, oh, such a short time.
8th December 1980 was the day my music died

"And while Lennon read a book of Marx,
The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died."

What did Don McLean know?

I grew up listening to these guys on the radio only sub-consciously acknowledging them but then just as their light was turned out at Abbey Road I started on my hormonally charged journey into the nether regions of music (just ask my friends) with the Beatles, Tchaikovsky, Holst and a host of denominational music forming a panoramic backdrop.

It is special to me that the complete works of the Beatles are not a work of musical virtuosos but a group of 4 musical experimenters from Liverpool with a sense of humour and good human sensibilities that when put together made magic.

John, Paul, George Ringo
What other group of musicians are universally known by their 1st names.

So what is all this about it?
The guys at Apple (no its not the new i-Beatle, its the "other" apple) have finally re-mastered the whole catalogue This has clearly been a work of love bringing the original mixes to pristine almost current day audio quality over 40 years on.

The Beatles - Boxed Sets
I am now the proud owner of both the Stereo & Mono Beatles 2009 box sets (thank you my love). I think everybody in the house (except me) are sick of the Beatles now, C'est la vie. These are gorgeous re-masters beautifully packaged. The packaging will of course disappear into a corner gathering dust once the booklets, inserts and mini LP covers have been looked at a couple of times but these best versions of some of best rock songs of all time will last forever, actually drop the rock.

The early albums have had all the original excitement put back
The later albums have all the original intricacies pulled out and put right in your face
On all albums you hear things you have never heard before unless you've never heard them before.

The mono re-master of Sgt. pepper is truly magical. Magical mystery tour in both Mono and Stereo are (different) revelations and are becoming favourites. The White Album is still timeless, but now feels eternal. With the new Help, Revolver & Rubber Soul (my favourite as a pre-teen when I thought Norwegian wood was about A Norwegian Wood not Norwegian Wood) mixes it is hard to believe that they were recorded mid-sixties albums.

A Geeky Bit - Go no further ye of weak stamina

Why both Stereo & Mono?
During the Sixties Stereo was still a novelty only of interest to HiFi buffs and mostly for Classical music. As such, the band only paid attention to the Mono mix and left it to, occasionally, George Martin their producer or, more often than not, to some of the junior engineers to rush out a stereo mix (enjoy the now pristine quality screw up on the vocal panning in Eleanor Rigby for instance). Also pop producers hadn't really figured out that you should attempt to balance the sound across the stereo field rather than for instance, sticking vocals on one side (usually right) and all the instruments on the other.

Please Please Me was recorded on a 2 tracks tape recorder which gave them no flexibility on a Stereo mix. They moved to 4 on Hard Day's Night and eventually to a massive 8 on the White Album and thereafter. There are some notes multi-track below for insomniacs and other assorted persons with too much time on their hands.

Anyway, in order to compensate for the lack of available recorded tracks they used some studio tricks like multi-tracking and echo (to take out the dryness in the studio). Unfortunately once you had done all of this added to the small number of resulting tracks there still wasn't much flexibility to do a good Stereo mix.

To sum it up
Up to and including "Magical Mystery Tour", the authentic, band supervised mixes were in Mono. With "Abbey Road" and "Let it Be" only on Stereo. One day I'll try and pick track by track favorites "authentic" or otherwise (I bet you can't wait). But until then:

MONO: Please Please Me, With The Beatles, For Sale, Mono Masters
BOTH: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour
STEREO: A Hard Days Night, Help, The White Album, Let it Be (no choice), Abbey Road (no choice), Past Masters
NEITHER:Yellow Submarine - The only Beatles dud ... But then there is "All you need is love" I guess and "A Northern Song" oh, and "Its all too much". OK make it Stereo

Historical Note on Tape Recorders (can't believe I am doing this)
Eight track had been available on 1" tapes since the 1940's when, I believe, Bing Crosby helped Ampex develop it based on an idea from Les Paul (the guitarist who, by the way, designed the Les Paul guitar that is still heavily used in all areas of Music today). Apparently 8 track was not considered appropriate for Pop music oh dear me no. Post Beatles (but not due to them) the number of usable tracks just escalated up to 24 tracks per tape and with synchronised recorders up to 96 tracks. Toto used this set-up, but it didn't help the music.

And then came Digital....Infinite tracks anybody?
And completely different ways of using tracks, but that is another story.

"Let it be" used mainly a "live stereo" recording that records actual positioning of voice and instruments with 2 tracks. This used to be used to record accurate live performances (as long as nobody coughed).


"Now it's time to say good night
Good night Sleep tight
Now the sun turns out his light
Good night Sleep tight
Dream sweet dreams for me
Dream sweet dreams for you"

Bloody Ringo

Sunday, 24 January 2010

When Paris might be Timbuktu

Just spent the last week in Paris at meetings with my favourite customers. There is nothing more frustrating than spending time in such a great city and only seeing the inside of hotels and office buildings (even nice hotels and nice office buildings) I'd go crazy if it wasn't for my Parisian com padres. Tiring week, spent most of the weekend dozing.

Still learning the Mac way, and starting to see some of the attractions. Got the "missing manual" and can't imagine how people get on without such a book. Like spotlight very much which is search on steroids (including complex file meta data searches), only wish it would index Samba shares. Still a massive fan of VMWare Fusion, just added Windows 7 virtual machine and it just runs. Windows 7 looks gorgeous. The magic mouse batteries ran out today after only 3 weeks of use, looking at a number of forums this looks quite normal. Not very green and not very magic.

Will try and keep the work hours down this week, and if I can I'll try and put some more interesting stuff in the blog.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Have you got a light Mac?

No, but I've got a dark brown overcoat

But hold on.... I do have an iMac

Every-time I walked past the big, welcoming, not to mention expensive Apple shopfront on Bahnhofstrasse over the last few months those beautiful screens have been calling to me and I have to admit more often than not I had to go in just to wiggle the "magic" mice.

Carol had noticed this phenomena (how could she not) and decided to keep me on the straight and narrow by getting me an iMac for Christmas.

So how is to be a Mac man after so much resistance in the past. I'm starting to see why people enjoy playing with macs, but I am not sure if I would want to work with one (yet).
My first impressions (3 weeks on).


Beautiful looking Hardware - Screen, say no more, Mouse is Magic, Keyboard is tiny and usable (travel is a bit shallow, don't think touch typists would like it). Machine is quiet & fast.
DVD drive that scratches your DVD's with its beautiful aluminum casing!! Amazing that people have complained about this since the previous iMac and it still isn't fixed. In fact those sharp edges can catch the odd digit if you are not careful too.

I keep missing characters on the keyboard (now I know why it is so small). No forward delete (it is fn-Bksp), Backslash (Sh Alt /) even @ had me confused for a while being slap bang in the middle of the keyboard. Checked out the Help (no help) Eventually I built my own table by holding down things and wandering around the keyboard.

Fast & stable: some of that will be the hardware but start-up happens so fast you wonder if it has actually started & Shutdown is just poof and its gone. Given the stability (no crashes yet in over 3 weeks) just instantaneous stand-by & wake-up are all that you need.

Networking in a PC (SMB) environment worried me a bit, it shouldn't have. I think it works better than on the PC. I'm even using SmartSynch Pro on a PC to back up the Mac to my File Server. Network printing also works well once you have the correct drivers. HP seem to stop Mac support earlier than PC.

Functionality in oodles

Don't know where to start and need a manual to do it.

Now to invite Death Threats :
It all feels a bit dated and after playing with Windows 7 I am really not so impressed. The Dock seems to get in the way (I've tried putting it everywhere). Pretty smooth rolling icons might look good in the showroom but Icons that move when you are trying to click on them makes you feel frustrated and not a little bit sea-sick.

Its not that the UI is difficult to use (after a few days) but it is difficult to find the advanced stuff because it is all hidden to keep everything "clean". e.g. how do you move up and down file hierarchies? Up/down buttons? No; Address line to click on the correct point in the path? No; How about a hidden button on the window title (actually on the name) which you access with a right click which exposes a list, Duh. And where did I find out this info, in the help? No, in a book I had to purchase.

What is this with All for One One for All Menu bar thing , very strange if you are used to each window having its own menu bar. And why are all the Menus so ugly (Windows 95 or what)?

For the guys who led the whole WIMP (windows, icons, mouse & pointer) thing they sure do love their keyboard shortcuts.

One thing I like as an old UNIX hack is if you've got fed up with clicking around to find something there is a perfectly serviceable terminal app that gets you to the UNIX OS that is the foundation of MAC OS X. Want to put a directory list in a file "ls -l > x.txt" will do the trick. Unfortunately if you didn't have the Unix shells (very powerful versions of what the PC calls cmd) burned in to your brain at an early age then you will need another manual. Try looking up bash, the default shell name, in Mac help :-) And if you are going to play Unix have you thought of Linux?

Virtual PC
Running the a PC OS on the Mac, using VMWare Fusion allowed me to shut down my PC workstation in a couple of days and I have not gone back. Migrating the PC to fusion was nearly automatic and it is a perfect copy of my original PC from which the migration of things like mailboxes could take place. The weird thing is running it on that lovely Mac screen and having it run MUCH faster than running it on my, admittedly 5 year old, PC. It hardly seems to effect the Mac performance. The cool thing, I can now upgrade to Windows 7 with no risk (just another virtual PC file) and run both on the Mac simultaneously .... I'll have to see how much that slows the machine down. Wonderful piece of software.

Built-In Apps
Mostly toys and expected utilities
I was looking forward to iPhoto and it looks it was fun for 5 minutes but I have already moved (back) to Photoshop Elements, Why? Can't use my server based photo library directly. With PSE all the meta-data is still there in the photos and will stay there and get updated accordingly. For newbies with no family iPhoto is probably OK.

I hated iTunes on the PC it was sooo slow using my NAS based Music library. I used Winamp on the PC, my absolute favourite player. On the Mac iTunes is faster but it still isn't designed for managing large libraries. Worse still it can't play loss-less FLAC files. I am using the buggy but wonderful SongBird.

Mail, Calendar and Address Book are OK, but why are they all separate. Trying to stay away from Entourage (Outlook replacement in Mac Office) so I can give the Mac apps a fair chance.

Safari (the browser) is OK but I soon went over to Firefox, not because I used it before but because I could not set the destination for downloads at the time of download in Safari.

Getting Help
Help is crap, terse and not very er ... helpful.
So many functions are hard to find and not documented you really do need a manual unless you want to go through life oblivious of half of the OS features. I bought "The Missing Manual" appropriately titled and its looking good (only had it two days). I find it strange that Apple famous for ease of use needs manuals to get going. I don't think I ever bought a Windows manual.

So am I happy with my iMac?
Yes, very. I AM HAVING FUN.

Could I become a mac only person?
Maybe, but their are of lots of reasons the PC still has appeal.
1. Much cheaper hardware, I reckon an equivalent PC cost 2/3 of the price and peripherals from Apple are very expensive.
2. Range of applications. For instance, It took me a while to find a FLAC music player (i-tunes doesn't support FLAC) and the only one worth considering is buggy and unstable (although otherwise an excellent set of features). There are literally dozens of FLAC players on the PC. Another example, No personal finance packages that can handle multiple currencies and are easy to use!
3. Windows 7 is the best PC OS so far and at the moment I am leaning that way. That may be familiarity but I guess only time will tell and just in case my MAC makes a great PC.

Carol's original intention was, of course in vain, for I am a now Mac person (I have the stickers) and have to walk in through the the doors of the grand shop each time I go past to pick up some overpriced dongle or some piece of software to help my Mac work the way I want it to.

Just in case anyone thought this was my first move, here is Ian's computer history
(W for work):
ICL1904S (originally ICT, at Uni) Commodore PET (1981), Superboard II, HP85, DEC VAX (W) Dragon32 (1982), PDP-11, Sun 2 & 3 Workstations (W) AtariST (1985, almost an early Mac with GemOS but I also ran a Unix like OS called Minix predecessor to Linux), Various UNIX / Windows Homebrews (Interactive/UNIX) & Linux (1990), PC (1991, reluctantly for business purposes). From then on it was various LINUX and Windows PCs as I built up the the Home network from 1995 Onwards. Since 2004 been pure PCs (client & server) until Imac (2009)

p.s. joke from Bonzo dog band - Big Shot, album - Gorilla, 1967 (well that's where I heard it first)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

How to avoid answering anything important

Remember that having failed in the quest for inspiration from great religious works I threatened to go off and study Philosophy, that great answerer of the all the big questions. Explanations on such things as knowledge, truth, freedom, identity, goodness and of course God, I thought laid within my reach.

Well I've started at least, by looking around for a couple of "popular" introductions to the subject. I picked a modern one "Think" by Simon Blackburn and an older one (1912) by somebody I'd heard of "The Problems of Philosophy" by Bertrand Russell.

A couple of mistakes I made in my initial thinking:
  • I thought, modern would be easier to read (and therefore read "Think" first)
  • I thought slim wouldn't take long to read (hence "problems of philosophy")
  • I believed reviews that said "a beautifully clear account";
There is nothing beautifully clear in philosophy except the questions it intends to answer.

Well, I have read both of these books now and I need to read them again at least one more time to actually start to really understand the language used.

Some of the words used encompass so much understanding behind them that it is worthless to carry on reading until you fully understand them. For instance the word "a priori" (ok, two words) means just "assumed knowledge" right. So how can you spend a big chunk of a book discussing what it means.

However, I have learned a lot from the books but I have no confidence to apply or discuss any of it yet so I shan't be answering whether there is a god or not this week? But I have learned enough to put together a new definition for philosophy
  • Philosophy is the science of how to avoid answering anything definitively.
And what good has anybody got out of my studies so far
  • Enabled me to help a colleague to understand she could study philosophy without it challenging her faith (remember this is me, the faithless one talking here)
  • Allowed a discussion of what rhetoric really is over the family dinner table (quite surreal really)
Oh, by the way, for all of you who pretended to read "Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance" when you were (much) younger and it was trendy to read it, you should read it now and those that did (well done) should read it again. That is what I should have read first followed by Bertrand Russel and then Simon Blackburn and not the other way around. Things might have been much clearer then.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

And Here's To Health

The last health update was "The End of a Tumour" post back in June so I thought an update was in order (as that was the reason for the blog in the first place) so here goes.

I'm fine....

Actually, there really isn't much more than that. I have had two MRI scans and one EEG since June. The last MRI was yesterday and the scan results were identical to September's which was slightly clearer of foreign matter than June's. The EEG in November showed only tiny symptoms of abnormality and they were probably mine already.

Prof Neuro is very happy and so am I
My seizure medication (Timonil) has been dropped to 2x300mg from 2x400mg from 3x400mg a day with no adverse (or favourable) effects.

Leftover ill effects are fairly regular but light headaches in the left-hand brain stem area as already mentioned in the past. The lack of sensitivity on my RHS seems to have almost gone away (most of the time).

Given the improvements I kept asking about allowing more than 30% work. Finally, in November Prof. Neuro (obviously fed up with my nagging) said NO for at least another year!

So there you have it .... normal 30% life has resumed for now.
I think I've missed out on too many risks

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he cannot learn, feel change, grow or live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails.

William Arthur Ward

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Some Late Releases

Just noticed a couple of Draft's that never got posted back in May and September last year. One on the "Qu'ran" (I think I got a bit worried about the content but I'm alright now) and one on our holiday in "Cornwall" that was supposed to be more of a travelogue and it ended up being a picture (which is probably more interesting and an infinitely more compact view of Cornwall).

Time to Return

Have you ever left doing something for so long that you feel embarrassed to do it? And when some other thing or someone prompts you to overcome that embarrassment you realise that original something has been growing and festering like a boil (or tumour maybe).

Eventually the boil will grow so much that it will have to be lanced or it will burst of its own accord and the the festering leftovers of time will be washed down the drain allowing new skin to grow and leave, if anything, just a small scar to remind us of the previous painful event.

Perhaps you would rather it wasn't given the previous post.

Much love to Christina for the needle.