MacBook Pro shenanigans: FaceTime, the Keychain, and TouchID

Work bought me a new MacBook Pro at the beginning of the year. Because I’ve grown to value portability over the years, I asked for a 13″ model. Because I have a reputation as a geek, they got me the new model with the Touch Bar.

It’s been mostly great, but starting mid-summer there have been a series of odd things that have been extremely frustrating. At this point I’ve resolved all but one of them, so I thought I’d write it up.

Crashing while asleep: This one isn’t Apple’s fault. We use a corporate endpoint protection system that … has challenges keeping up with new OS versions, and sometimes causes things to really misbehave. For instance, it’s been causing our MacBooks to crash when attempting to wake from sleep. And that went on for about a year. They finally issued a compatibility patch that fixed the issue, but the (sometimes daily) crashes appear to have taken a toll on the system. For instance…

FaceTime and Messages problems: After every crash, I’d have to sign back into iCloud and re-log in to my Google profile on Chrome. A hassle, but doable. But after one crash and re-login, I noticed I couldn’t log into Messages: it gave me the message “An error occurred during authentication.” FaceTime had the same problem. I ended up calling Apple support, and their Tier 2 advised that it was likely a corrupt keychain. He suggested that I delete the login keychain and then recreate it. I decided that before I did that, I’d move all my local passwords to the iCloud keychain for safety. Which took a while, because I had to enter my password for every password entry it moved.

Then I took the plunge and deleted the keychain. The OS, thankfully, tried to recreate the keychain… and failed. Now I had a primary login account with no keychain, which is not a happy state. Logging into iCloud just gave me error messages when it tried to save things to the nonexistent keychain. Fortunately, after logging back in, I could recreate the keychain, log into iCloud, and finally get logged into FaceTime and Messages.

Touch ID. After these shenanigans, my fingerprints started to be unrecognized for login. So I deleted the fingerprint records in System Preferences and re-created them. But login was still failing. This one was easy to fix; I just logged out and logged back in, and my fingerprints started being recognized again.

iCloud Keychain. That brings us to the part that still isn’t working. All those passwords that I moved to my iCloud Keychain are there, because I can see them on other devices—but even after I’ve turned it off and back on, they aren’t syncing back to my Mac. Nor are any of the other passwords or secure notes I’ve stored there. Apparently one fix path is to turn off iCloud Keychain syncing on all my Macs and then turn it back on, the prospect of which fills me with a certain amount of dread. But we’ll give it a go, after I figure out how to back up the passwords, and we’ll see what happens. Look for an update soon.

Classic Quadrophenia, part 2

 

Yesterday I wrote about the experience of singing Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia, including the odd feeling of being a backup singer for some of the biggest names in rock and roll and of being inside a rock concert at normally staid Tanglewood. But what about the work? Did it, well, work?

I should acknowledge, to begin with, that I was unfamiliar with Quadrophenia except by reputation before this all began. I knew “Love Reign O’er Me,” and I had heard Pete Townshend perform “Drowned” in a solo acoustic set as part of the video release of Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. I knew the Mods/Rockers plot and the concept of multiple personal disorder that the title refers to (“Schizophrenic? I’m bleeding quadrophenic“). And I knew about the character of the Ace Face, because Sting played him in the 1979 feature film based on the rock opera.

But the material?

So, first of all, a rock opera isn’t an opera. The songs are songs, not arias. And yet… the musical themes carry from number to number (“Is it me for a moment,” “The Real Me,” and other motifs appear in several tracks, as does the chugging honky-tonk of “5:15”). The emotional arc of the show carries us from Jimmy’s bold statement of theme (“The Real Me” again) through despair and nihilism to a final desperate statement of hope.

And there is a real emotional story at the core, an exploration of what it means to be a man when all the supports for manhood are crumbling around you. Jimmy looks for approval from his father and mother but doesn’t find it. He falls back to the approval of his tribe (“Why should I care if I have to cut my hair? I’ve gotta move with the fashions or be outcast”). He looks at his Mod band idols to realize that they offer nothing more than the fashion he’s already growing disillusioned with (“You declared you would be three inches taller/You only became what we made you”). He takes a manual labor job and realizes that the workers are being abused but won’t stand up to protest (“The Dirty Jobs”: “My karma tells me/You’ve been screwed again/If you let them do it to you/You’ve got yourself to blame/It’s you who feels the pain/It’s you who takes the shame/…You men should remember how you used to fight”). He feels threatened by the changes to his society, the arrival of black immigrants taking jobs and the mechanization affecting even retail jobs (“Helpless Dancer”).

And so he turns to casual sex, and fighting, and ultimately slides into homelessness and despair, and strands himself on a rock in a torrential rainstorm, pleading for love to rain over him in a lyric that has echoes of The Waste Land (as well as the teachings of Pete’s guru Meher Baba).

Lyrically it’s a bleak journey but a fully realized one. Robert Christgau thought so: “… if Townshend’s great virtue is compassion, this is his triumph — Everykid as heroic fuckup, smart enough to have a good idea of what’s being done to him and so sensitive he gets pushed right out to the edge anyway.”

And as a classical crossover work? I think the real challenge that this production faces comes down to sound. For instance, there’s percussion aplenty — various drums including an enormous bass drum, timpani, snare — but if not mixed well you can still get complaints, as we did from one reviewer, that the drums weren’t there. But the visceral punch of the Who orchestration is traded for the grandeur of a full orchestral (and choral) treatment, as heard in “Love Reign O’er Me.”

And the songs are first-class earworms. I’ve had “The Real Me,” “Is It In My Head?,” “5:15” and of course “Love Reign O’er Me” in my head for the better part of two weeks now. With any luck, our rehearsals of the Berlioz Damnation of Faust will finally chase them away. 

Classic Quadrophenia, part 1

At the beginning of the summer I was feeling a little down. I was only doing one performance at Tanglewood with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and while I was really looking forward to singing Mahler’s Second again I was sad not to perform with my friends for the other weekends—especially for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, which I sang with Reilly Lewis twenty years or so ago. But I had business and family travel and so resigned myself to it being a quiet and ordinary summer.

That’s when the email came. “On Saturday, September 2nd, The Who’s Pete Townshend will bring his ‘Classic Quadrophenia’ show to Tanglewood. This show will feature Townshend, Billy Idol, Alfie Boe, the BSO Pops and TFC singers.”

I didn’t even ask. I just checked the calendar and put my name in. A few weeks later, I was dancing when I got the roster and my name was on it.

I suspect that for all classical singers of Generation X and later (and maybe for a few born before me), there’s a part of us that wants to be a rock and roll singer. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the Who, I’ve always had a ton of respect for Pete Townshend’s songwriting — and Billy Idol’s stage presence.

So we started rehearsals last week and by Friday’s orchestra rehearsal we had a show. It was mind-blowing to sing backup with Pete Townshend on tunes like “The Punk and the Godfather,” and to hear his guitar with us on “I’m One.” Even more mind-blowing was watching Billy Idol, looking a great deal like James Marster’s Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), duetting with wundertenor Alfie Boe.

On Saturday, we boarded a bus to Tanglewood, rolled off and got straight to rehearsal on the stage. The main learning from this: the tech part of the rehearsal, as Pete’s sound team figured out how to balance soloists vs. chorus vs. orchestra, was the most important part of the day. As our director noted, they get one shot at balancing sound in an unfamiliar space and have to balance the audibility of quiet instruments like acoustic guitars against the punch of big percussion sections and voices. We even got our own sound check. (See below.)

And then came the performance, and it was amazing. First, Alfie Boe is a force of nature:

Second, I have never seen a Tanglewood audience so excited. They cheered for the opening bell; for the orchestra tuning; at the end of solos. They jumped to their feet and started dancing at various points. It wasn’t a full on rock concert audience—it couldn’t be, given the seats in the Shed—but it was as close as Tanglewood comes.

Last, it was an amazing honor to sing behind these guys. The passion they brought to the stage was unbelievable, and the music still hasn’t left my head.

The Punk and The Godfather #williamsnyderphotography #classicquadrophenia

A post shared by Alfie Boe (@mralfieboe) on

I had a bunch of thoughts about the music itself, but I’ll save that for part II.

Lights back on

I had a busy summer. It’s been quite a while since there’s been a month with no posts on the blog, but alas, here we are.

What was happening? Well, we went to Asheville after school let out and took the kids to the Biltmore Estate, as well as teaching The Girl how to drive a Gator. (That’s the kids with a haybale on my uncle’s field.)

I went to Tanglewood and sang Mahler’s 2nd Symphony for my third time with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, this time under the baton of BSO conductor Andris Nelsons. (It was cool.) I also got to watch a performance of music by Schubert in Ozawa Hall with Emanuel Ax and Peter Serkin accompanying the Tanglewood voice fellows, on a perfect moonlit night.

I took The Girl to hear Chris Colfer read from his latest YA novel.

I made my annual Vegas trip to attend Black Hat, where in addition to all the normal conference stuff I finally visited the Neon Museum, one late night when it was still 95° outside.

I also got to see infosec luminary Jack Daniel memorialized as a tiki god. (Really.)

We took the kids on a ferry ride to Spectacle Island, where they got to see Boston from the harbor…

And we finished the summer with a family trip to Williamsburg, where the kids got to see another side of Colonial American history.

There were many other things that happened, of course, but I’m not ready to talk about Charlottesville just yet.

LaRC, and what my father did there

My dad spent more than 30 years, from the 1960s to the late 1990s, at NASA Langley Research Center, which turns 100 this year. During that time he worked on Apollo-adjacent technologies, atmospheric and environmental satellite based sensors, and diagnostic equipment for hypersonic jet engines.

That’s a grossly inadequate description of what he worked on. I got to know his work on coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy and its applications to high temperature sensors pretty well, because that’s what he was working on when I was in high school. And I’m old enough to remember his overnight or weekend trips to Wallops Island to fly missions to measure ocean environmental characteristics with lasers in the late 1970s, before funding for NASA environmental research was cut during the Reagan years. But he was also at the center when it was a hotspot of research for the Apollo program. I’ve driven by the huge concrete pad dwarfed by towering girders above where Neil Armstrong practiced manually steering the Apollo landing craft to a safe touchdown—skills he ended up using for Apollo XI.

Looking forward to watching this documentary about the center (narrated by none other than William Shatner) with my kids, if I can just get them to sit still long enough.

Mahler 2, Boston Symphony/Andris Nelsons, Tanglewood, July 7, 2017

Between a week-long vacation in Asheville and a residency at Tanglewood, plus the usual work and family stuff, posting on this blog has ground to a halt. But it’s not as if I haven’t been busy.

Take the Tanglewood residency, for instance. This was my third performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; my first Mahler 2 was with Seiji in 2006, my second with Christoph von Dóhnanyi in Symphony Hall. This was my first performance of the work under the baton of Andris Nelsons, and my first time through the piece with James Burton, the new conductor of the TFC.

It was a pretty magnificent experience, all told. Besides the improvements to tuning, diction, and affect that I’ve come to expect with Jamie, the chorus also found its way deeper into the work than we’ve done in the past. We talked about the difference in vocal tone required in the “Bereite dich” to ensure that we were strong and assertive but not aggressive. We were more attentive to the maestro than I remember being before.

Here’s the audio of the full performance.

Now listening: Bill Evans, Moon Beams

I haven’t listened to Bill Evans’ Moon Beams in a while. I listened to it yesterday afternoon in my living room sitting next to the right channel. I was completely blown away by Chuck Israel’s bass, which I hadn’t really heard before but which is panned hard right in the stereo mix. It made me think I was listening to a recording from a different, much more recent decade.

Special bonus note: The cover model was Nico.

More on my grandfather and World War I

As expected, when I started posted family history, I started getting clarifications and corrections from my family. (Thanks, Dad!) Following my post about my grandfather’s close brush with World War I, my dad emailed me to say that Papa Olin had actually been in Officer Candidate School at Tusculum College. As a newly minted second lieutenant, he would have been sent off to the front lines. Fortunately the war ended before that could happen.

I’m now hunting for documentary evidence of his time at Tusculum. Unfortunately I can’t find any online records from that period—no issues of the Tusculana, no records of OCS participation, nothing in Ancestry.com’s military databases. If anyone can recommend a place to look, I’d appreciate it.

My grandfather, enlisted man

Olin Jarrett circa 1918, photo scanned by Esta

As mentioned, we know (thanks to photos like this and a uniform folded away in an attic for seventy years) that my grandfather (Papa Olin) was going to be called up for a war that, mercifully, ended before he could see service. Unfortunately that’s about all we know.

His name doesn’t show up in the military records I can see on Ancestry.com. It’s possible he was only called up locally and then his records were destroyed before the Army got them. I don’t know.

But the pictures of this scientific farmer in his World War I uniform remain a little bit of a mystery.

Papa Olin in his uniform, from 1918

Papa Olin, Mamma Linda, Uncle Forrest, and the Depot

Mural at the Marshall Depot
In 1924, at the age of 19, my grandmother Linda Freeman married my grandfather Olin Jarrett. He had been courting her for a while; she attended the Dorland-Bell School in Hot Springs, which she credited for the rest of her life with teaching her to read, cook, and love the Presbyterians. He was a farmer in Madison County who narrowly missed going overseas in World War I—there are two photos of him in the uniform I would find in the attic seventy years later. Now he was living with his papa Zeb and mother Laura in their house on the side of a holler, learning about modern farming at the extension at Mars Hill.

It’s 16.3 miles by modern roads from downtown Marshall to Hot Springs. It would have been an impossible journey without staying overnight, which was itself impossible, by mule. But the railroad had come through Marshall in 1871 and passed through Hot Springs on its way to Painted Rock, Tennessee. So my uncle caught the train at the Marshall Depot and rode it as it twisted its way along the French Broad River all the way into Hot Springs. My grandmother always credited the railroad for bringing them together.

Fast forward many years and three children and four grandchildren, and Papa Olin’s death in 1974. It’s now 1987 and Linda learned that… well, it’s best if I let my Uncle Forrest take over telling it:

“Forrest!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“They’re going to tear the old Marshall depot down. We don’t want that to happen.”

“No, ma’am.”

“That’s where Papa Olin caught the train to come to see me down at Hot Springs.”

And so Uncle Forrest, who had worked for Norfolk Southern since 1952 and was now Director of Police, put in a few calls, got ownership of the Depot transferred from Norfolk Southern Railway to a group for a pittance, and went about transforming it into what it is today: a venue for live mountain music. And cakewalks.

A few years ago a local artist memorialized a group of folks associated with the life of the Depot. That’s my Uncle on the left, in his hat and holding the clipboard, along with the lady responsible for the cakewalks. And, of course, the Chicken Man.

Fifteen years of Sloan

I went to my class dinner last night for my fifteen year anniversary of graduating from MIT Sloan. (The actual anniversary of graduation passed, unremarked, on Wednesday.)

Fifteen years ago this week I was sitting in the rain on a fifty-degree day in Cambridge, hoping my Dad wouldn’t catch pneumonia and listening to the commencement speaker (who, being from the World Bank, was getting his share of protesters). It was a momentous month; in addition to my first Blogaversary (and hard to believe we’ll celebrate the sixteenth tomorrow), we were consolidating belongings from storage in New Jersey with the contents of our North End apartment; I was driving south to North Carolina for a family visit and my first visit to the Marshall Depot (about which more soon); visited with my grandfather; spent a week batching it as Lisa flew ahead to sign the closing papers on our house; packed up our apartment; and settled into our new home in Kirkland.

June will forever feel to me like a time of transit. But it also becomes a time of reunions, and it was amazing seeing so many familiar faces and hearing people’s life stories. I look forward to doing more of that tonight.

Mavis Staples, Cary Memorial Hall, June 2, 2017

I went to see Mavis Staples in concert at Cary Memorial Hall on Friday night. It was immensely moving and a hell of a lot of fun.

Mavis’s sets are heavy on covers and on Staple Singer tunes, which on paper sounds problematic until you realize just how completely she owns her covers. I couldn’t have told you that George Clinton had been anywhere near “Can You Get to That”, so thoroughly did she own the song, and yet it was also recognizably funky.

Mavis was the most moving in “Wade in the Water,” where she started testifying after the song was over, then stopped about a minute later. “I didn’t mean to get ugly up here,” she joked back to the band.

Mavis clearly has health issues. She was helped to and from the stage, had to move carefully, and displayed what looked like shortness of breath. I hope that she continues to be with us for a long time.

Cocktail Sunday: The Vanderbilt

It’s back. This Cocktail Sunday post leaves the familiar world of whiskey and gin behind and weaves its way over to brandy. Which seems fitting given that this cocktail was designed for one of the wealthiest men in America, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt wouldn’t have been drinking any cut rate brandy in his cocktail; he would have used VSOP Cognac, and I recommend (following the advice of David Wondrich) that you make the same substitution in any classic cocktail calling for brandy. Life is too short to do otherwise.

The big question in this cocktail appears to be the proportions. The first written recipe I’ve found for it, 1922’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them, calls for 1:1 brandy to cherry liqueur, which seems likely to yield something way too sweet. The Savoy’s Harry Craddock in 1930 dialed it back to a 3:1 ratio, which seems just about right.

One curious note about the name: the 1922 source says it was named for Col. Cornelius Vanderbilt, “who was drowned on the Lusitania during the War.” But the Vanderbilt on the Lusitania was Alfred Vanderbilt, and there was no “Colonel Vanderbilt” alive then. So: poetic license.

It’s grilling season, and for some reason I had extra homemade pickles that wouldn’t fit in the jar. Turns out they’re wonderful with the Vanderbilt. Who’d have guessed?

As always, if you want to try the recipe, here’s the Highball recipe card. Enjoy!

I for one welcome our new input-only HiFi overlords

Yesterday I bought and connected a Rega Fono Mini A2D phono pre-amp to my new Marantz amplifier. Setup had me swearing for a minute, until I remembered that setup turned on the input ports depending on what was connected when the receiver was first run, and that I needed to use the onscreen menu to turn on the input I was running the Rega into. Initial listening — a Marian Anderson 45 of spirituals which was unfortunately staticky, the new Beatles Sgt. Pepper remaster — was sublime. Looking forward to getting in some more listening this week.

But wait,” you might say. “I thought the Marantz had a built in phono preamp. Why did you need an external pre-amp?”

Well, the Marantz does have a built in phono preamp. I’ve even used it, and it sounded fine on cursory listen. What it lacks is a tape monitor out connection. And without any sort of output connector, it’s impossible to use the system to digitize vinyl. Which meant either I needed to get a USB turntable—and I don’t want to part with my Denon DP-45F—or add a pre-amp with a digital out.

And the Rega works just fine for that as well.

But the absence of “monitor out”—the closing of the traditional “analog hole” even in a relatively high end consumer system—has me thinking anew about future-proofing, customer “requirements” vs. unanticipated use cases, and product features that appease other parts of the supply chain to the inconvenience of the customer.