Why do DVRs suck: reliability or user experience?

A Microsoft friend of mine was quoted in a CNET article this morning (Why my cable DVR stinks). Arvind (whose last name was misspelled in the article) said (and this is something I’ve heard from him before) that the rich-client, local processing model that Windows Media Center uses is a much better way to provide DVR features than a networked DVR model such as the one Cablevision is trying. Aside from being consistent with Microsoft’s general vision of keeping the end nodes smart, I think Arvind has a point about the need for a “much richer user experience.” Certainly a graphical UI is easier to sort through when deciding what to watch than a text listing, even a well designed one—especially in a 30 foot UI.

I think the bigger issue is the reliability one, and here Arvind may have overstated his point, which appears to be that Vista is a step on the way to reliability nirvana. I don’t care how reliable media center PCs are running Vista. They just have to be more reliable than the equivalent set-top hardware, including Tivos and Comcast’s proprietary DVR. (We had two total Comcast DVR meltdowns before we gave up and went Tivo.)

The problem with the cable guys is that they refuse to acknowledge the need for moving the content off the box. Hey guys—RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia showed that space-shifting content was legal seven years ago. Why does Comcast still make it impossible to get my content off their DVR? At least my new Tivo lets me burn shows to DVD, though I would prefer it if I could back up the hard drive directly over the network.

Here comes the science (er, not)

I got a glimpse into the mind of global warming deniers today, as I was waiting for my lunch in a pizza shop near my office. Abutting a story about The Independent Republic of California doing a deal with the UK to create an international market in greenhouse emissions (not itself a bad thing) was a reader reaction that said (effectively) “Carbon dioxide has nothing to do with global warming. The sun has been getting stronger since 1905.”


If anyone doubts that America enjoys a multiplicity of belief systems, look no further. Somewhere in the vast heartland of the country is a guy who believes with all his heart (and with no scientific evidence) that we have nothing to do with the global rise in temperature, melting icebergs, etc. Nope. It’s that pesky sun.

I, Roomba


A fortuitous and formidable gadget showed up on our doorstop yesterday: a Roomba. (What can I say? It’s the Jarrett House. Gadgets have a way of finding their way here.) This particular Roomba was a Roomba Red, the entry level model, but I’m not complaining. It charged all day today, and tonight while we ate dinner it vacuumed our bedroom. With the door closed we couldn’t hear it, but it is a little noisy as it cleans the hall at the top of the stairs. Next time we’ll wait until we go out before we do that part.

The dogs seem quietly curious about it. Jefferson got up off the sofa, walked to the foot of the stairs, and looked up for about ten seconds. Now he’s happily ignoring it.

And the results? Well, the bedroom smells much less dusty—and the vast quantities of dustbunnies that I emptied out of the dust chamber suggest that it’s done a pretty good job. I’ll take a look at the other rooms later, but the fact that I’m not having to get up to deal with much of anything (other than removing the hall rug while it sweeps) tells me that we may finally have licked our bedroom dust problem—which has collided with our “no time for housework” problem too many times.

Friday Random 10: Power Out

Or, more precisely, Power Back On. I’m in my office now, but was working from home this morning because of a power failure that took down our entire building. (Apparently an air conditioner overloaded.) But they fixed it and it’s back to business.

So without further ado, this Random 10, in which the first two tunes are combined greater in length than the next 8:

  1. Branford Marsalis Quartet, “Countronious Rex” (Contemporary Jazz)
  2. Anthony Braxton, “Cherokee” (9 Standards: Quartet, 1993)
  3. The Charlatans UK, “A Time for Living” (Help)
  4. Bobby Bare, “Everybody’s Talkin’” (The Moon was Blue)
  5. Vic Gammon, “He That Buys Land” (The Tale of Ale)
  6. Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago” (Illinoise)
  7. Beth Orton, “Conceived” (Comfort of Strangers)
  8. Billy Joe Shaver, “Georgia on a Fast Train” (The Third Annual Oxford American Music Issue 1999)
  9. Woody Allen, “Summing Up” (Standup Comic)
  10. Funkadelic, “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You (Alt. Version)” (Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow)

Gas leak?

—Oh yes. We had noticed a gas smell near our next-door neighbor’s house, and they don’t have a gas hookup so we figured it must have been a leak in the main. So Sunday afternoon the crew from Keyspan was out there digging. They found a stub that would have been used to connect our neighbors, but which hadn’t been touched in sixty years and was corroded. They also, unfortunately, found a water main that crossed right over it. Needless to say our new neighbors spent the night with friends while Keyspan and the water company fixed the problem.

Then Keyspan came next door. There had been no detectable gas when they probed our lawn—and a good thing too, since we depend on gas for hot water, cooking and, later this year, heat—but our neighbor across the street showed signs of a subsurface leak. So they had to check the integrity of the main. Of course, that ran in the street right in front of our house, so there were big holes in front of our yard for a few days while they worked on the problem.

My favorite one, though, was coming home late Wednesday night to a big hole in front of our driveway with two cones in it. I had to drive over my neighbor’s lawn to get in my driveway. I called and bitched, and they never did come by to put a steel plate over it, but they patched it yesterday afternoon.

They also did us what they supposed was a favor: having scooped out the loose sandy fill (comprised of years of road sand and salt build up) in front of our curb to dig, they replaced it afterwards. Unfortunately they chose to use topsoil instead. So now we’ll have a guaranteed mudhole plus lots of weeds.

Sigh. At least there’s no more gas leak.

Catching a breath

Friday morning, and the power is out at my office building (like, in the whole building. That’s a new one.) so I’m working from home and breathing in. It’s been a busy, crazy, nutty week, as they all seem to be recently.

I neglected to mention on Monday that I traveled to Chicago for one day for the IQPC Software Asset Management conference (if you attended the Monday workshops, and a few did, I was playing the role of our Marketing Communications Director who for some strange reason was listed as the speaker for Session C instead of me. Odd). It was a relatively easy travel day—I caught earlier flights than my scheduled one twice and made it home by 10 pm instead of midnight—but it still took a lot out of me.

A lot of the rest of the week, non-work-wise, was spent dealing with errands and distractions. For instance: Wednesday I drove to Walpole to pick up a dishwasher that will go in our new kitchen. Yesterday I was at the doctor’s office. And all week long I was calling and griping at Keyspan about the way they’ve dug up our street. (See next post for details.)

And today the power is out in our office and I’m breathing a little easy rather than fighting the morning commute. It’s nice to have a positive disruption in one’s schedule for a change.

Review: Carrie Cheron, One More Autumn

carrie cheron, one more autumn

It’s not uncommon for a folksinger’s bio to mention the influence of James Taylor, Suzanne Vega, and Linda Ronstadt. It’s a lot rarer for the bio to go on to mention degrees in classical vocal performance and experience in the Jewish, Arabic, and gospel traditions. It’s almost unheard of for a musician to live up to that many promises. But Carrie Cheron is that rare new recording artist who sounds completely authentic and passionate and at the same time polished and poised. Her debut album, One More Autumn, is a relaxed collection of acoustic performances that shows off her songwriting chops and her burnished mezzo voice to beguiling effect.

Carrie Cheron has been gigging around Boston and New York for a few years, but has also had a series of side gigs, including church musician (through which I should mention that I became acquainted with her, in the interest of full disclosure), that have carried her into some different idioms and musical traditions. The variety of her experience stands her in good stead on Autumn, which has a wide emotional range and plays with some interesting contrasts. The mood of the songs ranges from relaxed and reflective in “Goodbye Amelia,” “Autumn,” and some of the other folksy numbers, to mischievously mellow in “Untitled Song About Drinking Alone” to somber and mournful in “Ghost Town.” To my ears the standout track is “Arms of Our Brothers,” which sounds by turns anthemic and balladic and would not be wholly out of place in a worship service. Carrie’s choice of cover material and texts (including a fine performance of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and an adaptation of Christina Rossetti’s “Echo” as “Julie’s Song”) is solid as well.

Gripes? A few minor ones. Carrie’s voice is sometimes a little too low in the mix, particularly on the first few tracks where the backing vocalist is a little too prominent. While I appreciate the choice of traditional instrumentation, I personally could have done without the mandolin on a few tracks, especially on “Time” where it distracts a bit from the performance. When Carrie’s vocals, melody, lyrics, and accompaniment gel perfectly, as they do on “Arms of Our Brothers” and “A Rainy Night,” they hit with an incisive clarity like sunlight through a high window. Carrie may be her own most sensitive accompanist, as both these numbers are primarily driven by her piano.

My take on the album: it’s a compelling voice heard across a crowded room. I look forward to the next one clearing away some of my production quibbles so we can hear the voice more clearly.

On singing Mozart with James Levine

It occurs to me that I’ve posted a couple of lists of review links, but haven’t actually written about the experience of performing great choral masterworks at Tanglewood. First a few specific notes about the Mozart performances, then some general observations:

First, the amount of music that the chorus actually sings in Don Giovanni is quite small compared to the three-hour-plus performance length. To be specific, we had three numbers in which we performed: about sixteen or 24 measures each for the men and women in No. 5 (the wedding song), another entrance for the men toward the end of the first act that lasts about 24 or 32 bars, and then the final scene in act II, in which the men have about 16 bars of devilish chorus work. That’s all told less than two minutes of music. Was it worth it to sit on stage for three-plus hours to sing two minutes of music? Um, hell yes, particularly because we had the best seats in the house for the action of the opera. As I eventually agreed with John at MessagesAboutMusic, the key aspect of this opera was being able to watch it, and we had a clear view of all the comedic interactions between the cast. It was a lot of fun.

Second, the Requiem. I’ve sung this piece a few times before, most recently out in Seattle with the Cascadian Chorale on the first 9/11 anniversary, and each performance is different and unique. For one thing, I learned the piece in a non-Süssmayer edition almost 10 years ago with the Cathedral Choral Society, so the memorization part was interesting: I was quite confident with the piece through the first few choral movements but realized a few days before the concert that I was quite shaky on the Offertorium movements, primarily because they had been omitted the first few times I performed the work. But I eventually pulled it together.

This concert was the first time with the TFC that I feel like I really understand why we sing music from memory. Memorizing for a guest conductor can be tricky, since frequently the conductor wants different interpretations of the music from that which was memorized, and there are only a few rehearsals (maybe as few as two) in which to re-learn the music. But singing with Maestro Levine is different.

I observed last year at Tanglewood that his conducting style is different than others with whom I’ve sung. He stopped a rehearsal of Mahler’s 8th and said to the first violin section, “Look at your scores for that passage. I think you’ll see that Mahler wanted something different than what you’re playing.” No histrionics, no micromanaging, just appealing to their native musicianship to bring out a coherent performance.

It appears that he takes a similar approach to working with choruses: if you provide him with a well thought through, passionate performance, he works in that context to provide feedback. But he never microconducts emotional context, dynamics, fugue entrances, etc. because he relies on you as the performer—yes, even the individual chorus member—to bring that to the performance. It’s daunting if you’re used to conductor-tyrants, but it’s liberating and exhilarating if you can own the music and invest your own energy in the performance.

I’ll be interested, after three concerts with Levine in a row, to see how things go with Seiji Ozawa in August. From what I understand it’s a night and day experience.

Reviews redux

My first ever picture in the New York Times! (I’m the face circled in red.)

tfc and me

The New York Times review of the Requiem was the first to appear, late last night, followed by the Globe:

  • New York Times: At Tanglewood, Scintillating Send-Offs for Don Giovanni and Mozart: “With the festival chorus, meticulously trained by John Oliver, weighing in at about 80 voices, Mr. Levine simply let it rip. The wall of sound at the start was stunning, and the performance remained compelling throughout, mostly for its power, but also at times for its subtlety.
  • Boston Globe: BSO celebrates Mozart’s 250th with style. “Sunday afternoon brought a solid and stirring performance of the Requiem, with some splendid singing from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and a starry team of soloists…”
  • The Phoenix: Mozart plus. “John Oliver’ Tanglewood Festival Chorus didn’t have as much to do as in its stunning work in the next day’s Mozart Requiem, but it was one more crucial cog in Don Giovanni’s miraculous success.” (OK, so the Phoenix really only reviewed Don G, but they still said we were stunning.)

Don G.

Only one review so far for the weekend’s performances, but it’s a good one: Boston Globe, Levine leads triumphant Don Giovanni. I would agree with Dyer’s assessments of the soloists, particularly Matthew Polenzani, Soile Isokoski, Morris Robinson, and Luca Pisaroni. The cast had tremendous rapport and it was fun to watch from the best seats in the house, even if we only had a few minutes of song.

The bloggers generally agreed: Bravo, Alto Flute thought it was “very very very very VERY good” and said it gave him/her chills, even at the 3 hour plus running time. The writer at My Blog Is Laaaaaaaame says the singing was magnificent. Fanw, who was on stage with me, notes that the female contingent of the TFC was captivated by both Pisaroni and Mariusz for more than strictly musical reasons. Of course, one grumpy blogger at MessagesAboutMusic wrote that the singers sounded like a bunch of mediocrities to him. Wonder if he was listening to the same concert.

Mostly Mozart and complete catalogues

The concert week continues; I sing the chorus part in Don Giovanni in a few hours. The chorus part consisting of approximately 30 measures of music, this will be mostly an excuse for me to watch the action from up close. And the cast being amazing, the action should be excellent indeed.

I was actually reading this New Yorker article about the complete Mozart oeuvre during one of the long stretches between our entrances during one rehearsal this week, but had to stop—there was just too much to watch. For instance, the celebrated scene in which Leporello explains to the stunned Elvira that she is just one of his master’s conquests, then proceeds to read the list from a log that he has kept. In the first runthrough, Leporello used his own paperbound copy of the score as the “catalogue.” In the second, there was a burst of laughter and applause as at the requisite moment in the aria, Levine’s own hard-bound score appeared, passed to Leporello via one of the wind players. Leporello took the score, gaily referred to it during the aria, then passed it back, Levine conducting from memory all the while. The humor of using the score as the catalog, as Leporello’s record of Don Giovanni’s conquests, is delicious, and plays nicely on the metaphysical level.

Friday Random 10: CB edition

Today’s Random 10 is brought to you by the letters C and B, where C stands for Carver Middle School and B stands for bus. Carver was the middle school next to ours—immediately adjacent, oddly enough—where a lot of the kids from my neighborhood went, some of the nice ones and some of the troublemakers. I rode the bus with them through three-quarters of the town and a 30 minute morning commute to attend the next door middle school, which had a gifted program. Watching them go their way as I turned and trudged mine probably goes a long way toward explaining my reluctance to accept the privileges in my life at face value, as I know how close the alternatives are.

And that bus goes a long way toward explaining my bizarre memory for 80s pop and hip-hop. The alpha kids at the back of the bus always had a radio, a boom box really, which the driver tolerated since it kept them from beating up the other kids (usually). And that radio would always be tuned to some reasonably urban station or other, which (in the days before really rigid formats) could also be counted on to drop some choice dance tracks alongside the hip hop. I first heard Doug E. Fresh do “The Show” on that bus, and “Roxanne Roxanne” … and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Which explains its presence with the former two songs on my first brace of 80s compilations.

And the rest of today’s list? To me today, the other nine songs look like the fruit of my long running attempts to run away from the music on that bus and find something different. It was a quest led me down a lot of blind alleys as well as to a lot of new and interesting places. But it never succeeded in excising those other songs, which tormented me for years—the knowledge that the troublemakers may have gotten the worse school, but they still had my attention because I couldn’t get their music out of my head.

  1. David Byrne, “Good and Evil” (Rei Momo)
  2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax”
  3. James Brown, “Bewildered” (Star Time)
  4. Richard Buckner, “Faithful Shooter” (Since)
  5. Miles Davis, “Assassinat (take 2)/Julien Dans l’Ascenseur” (Ascenseur Pour L’échauffaud)
  6. Mogwai, “Friend of the Night” (Mr. Beast)
  7. Funkadelic, “Funky Dollar Bill” (Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow)
  8. The Wedding Present, “Shatner” (George Best Plus)
  9. Mogwai, “Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist” (Come On Die Young)
  10. Camera Obscura, “Dory Previn” (Let’s Get Out of This Country)

Calling all conspiracy theorists

I came from an intoxicating rehearsal of the Mozart Requiem this morning (if you’ve ever sung the “Rex tremendae” with a huge, well-tuned chorus after listening to four nearly perfect soloists hit the “Tuba mirum” out of the park, you know what I mean). This afternoon I was startled to come across a suggestion that the piece is not just intoxicating but subversive. A reviewer on Amazon writes that the piece incorporates “Freemason music” (look for the review called “The All Time Best Mozart Requiem”). In a word, huh?

Turns out it’s not that far fetched. Mozart was a Freemason, a member of the lodge “Zur Wohltätigkeit” (Benefaction) and a Master Mason for the last six years of his life, and many of his works contain what some have described as overt Masonic symbolism, such as the three chords in the opening of the Magic Flute. But the only case I can see for giving credence to the Masonic symbolism suggestion for the Requiem is its echoes of the orchestration of the Magic Flute. Not much to hang a conspiracy theory on.

But I was amused to learn of one non-Masonic connection in Mozart’s work: the scatological, as evidenced by his six (or three) part canon, “Leck mich im Arsch” (K. 231 or 233, also known as the “Kiss My Ass” canon). You won’t hear that on WCRB…


I’d be really curious to hear someone attempt to explain, without going to Biblical sources and speculations about when life begins, why I should agree with the President’s veto of the stem cell research bill. Because honestly, there seem to be far more articles written from the other side that are a lot more convincing to me.

I find appalling the posturing about the morality of working with cells that were created in petri dishes that would otherwise be discarded. I find it especially appalling when it comes from the mouths of people who think it’s OK to vote on someone else’s marriage or to send our young people to die in Iraq on the basis of trumped up intelligence.

Congrats to Mark Russinovich and Sysinternals

Slashdot: Microsoft acquires Winternals and Sysinternals. Regardless of how you feel about Microsoft, this is great news for Winternals the company and Mark Russinovich the industry figure. (For those that don’t recognize the name, think Sony BMG: Russinovitch’s blog at Sysinternals blew the whistle on Sony BMG’s rootkit.)

It’s clear that this is a talent acquisition; Microsoft has said they are aware of some product overlap with Winternals’s product line, which generally means some sort of phased migration plan is in order.

I think the Slashdot advice to download the free Winternals utilities now is a very very good idea. I always forget that Regmon exists until I need it, and then I wonder how I lived without it.

I also find the statement that they’ll rationalize the Sysinternals community features with Microsoft.com offerings somewhat disturbing. If the value of Mark’s blog, for instance, is its refusal to spout the Microsoft party line and thus carrying a strong reputation for truthful investigation into technical issues, aren’t they destroying some value by bringing him into the fold? Or are they afraid of having another high-profile blogger get too much of an independent rep, as Scoble did?