Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Design fail?

This is the view from my front porch:

Knauth Memorial Library: Rear

Okay, not really, but I can see this structure--the back side of Knauth Memorial Library at Lutheran Theological Seminary Philadelphia--from my porch. What struck me, though is how incongruous and inelegant the brown brick extensions are next to the building's older stone exterior. The brick pilasters seem to mock their stone counterparts, yet it is the brick section that comes off worse. In short, it comes off to me as a disappointingly functional addition to the structure, especially when one considers the front of the building:

Knauth Memorial Library--Front

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Great iCloud Rip-Off, Part I

Okay, I fell for The Promise of iCloud: all your music on the cloud, automatically matched between iTunes and your local PC and available for delivery to your iOS device wherever you may happen to be that has a Wi-Fi connection. Further, unlike Amazon Cloud, iCloud wouldn't have to upload your music: as long as your music was present on your local machine, iCloud would simply match it to the same track that it had.

That's the theory.

Promise runs into reality, however, when you download and listen to the matched files.

In my case, I had ripped the three-disc set that comprises a recording of La forza del destino. I imported it into iTunes which added the tracks to iCloud--or, rather, matched the iCloud tracks to the tracks I had on my computer.

The problem arose after I downloaded the tracks to my iPad: it turned out that the tracks were laden with errors. Some tracks had skips, others lacked the first few hundred milliseconds (this was particularly noticeable when, while listening in gapless mode to a selection where there was supposed to be a brief pause at beginning of the track, no pause occurred).

My first impulse was to attribute the problem to my own computer. Then I uploaded the same tracks to Amazon and listened to them. Guess what? No problems with my tracks.

I don't know whom Apple contracts with to rip tracks from existing CDs, but at least in the case of classical recordings, quality control seems poor.

Meanwhile, my grievances towards Apple continue to accumulate.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Buyer's Remorse

I should have known better. More often than not, I get burned when I buy von Karajan recordings. Here, the characteristic Karajan smoothness struck again and rendered the music almost lifeless. What was I thinking? Was I smoking something without knowing it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sarah Palin's Lack of Qualifications

It doesn't get any better than this terrific column by Maureen Dowd.

Teaser:

Carly Fiorina, the woman John McCain sent out to defend Sarah Palin and rip anyone who calls her a tabula rasa on foreign policy and the economy, admitted Tuesday that Palin was not capable of running Hewlett-Packard.

That’s pretty damning coming from Fiorina, who also was not capable of running Hewlett-Packard.

Sarah Palin's Qualifications to be VPOTUS

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

More on Jason Ng

Kudos to the New York Times for keeping the story of Jason Ng alive.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Shostakovich Problem

I once had a friend, an emigré musician from the Soviet Union, who insisted, "Listening to Shostakovich played by a non-Russian is like listening to a monkey reciting Shakespeare." While he was exaggerating (I think)--there are some fine performances of Shostakovich by Western perfomers, even if they might not strike Eastern Europeans as idiomatic--I wonder if there's not some merit in his claim. The Shostakovich afficionados I've encountered insist, for example, on the superiority of recordings by conductors like Kirill Kondrashin, Yevgeny Mravinsky, and Rudolf Barshai, by the Borodin String Quartet, and by soloists like David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich. Mention, on the other hand, the symphony recordings by Bernard Haitink, and one will often receive withering dismissals.

I'm not sure how Shostakovich die-hards regard recordings by the likes of Bernstein, Slatkin, or the Emerson String Quartet that have received some acclaim in the U.S. I will admit, though, that some of the Shostakovich recordings I find most compelling are by performers from Western Europe and the United States. (Yes, I even like Haitink in some of this repertory.) Recordings that stick out in my mind include Ormandy's classic account of the Fourth (which, alas, I've not heard in about 25 years, so my opinion today might be less favorable), Bernstein's Seventh with the Chicago Symphony, Previn's first recording of the Eighth (with the London Symphony), and both of Karajan's recordings of the Tenth. I've also been happy with the Emerson's recordings of the quartets, which I actually prefer to the Borodin's. But I've not had that much experience with the Eastern European recordings. Certainly I'm in no position to make recommendations.

I've brought up this topic because I've been thinking about recordings I've heard of the long, often texturally sparse slow movements in a number of Shostakovich symphonies (especially nos. 5-8 and 10). These movements puzzle me. I just don't get them. (I note, however, that the slow movements in the later symphonies, especially 11, 13, and 15 don't pose the same problems for me.) Perhaps I've not heard the performances that will unlock them for me: maybe I need to hear some of the classic recordings by Kondrashin and Mravinsky. Or maybe the movements themselves presume listening practices other than that with which I'm familiar. Are there listening practices characteristic of Eastern European audiences that Western listeners tend not to share and that make works by composers like Shostakovich more challenging? Or it it just me?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

L'Homme armé

My son, ready for medieval combat:
L’homme armé
[Double-click the image to enlarge.]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

National Defense

I am a simple man, and complex historical events elude my feeble grasp. So I'm confused by the following:

In the 1950s, Eisenhower pushed for the interstate highway system on grounds of national defense. (He had been impressed with the German highway system during WWII and its effectiveness for transporting materiel.) So the U.S. built the interstate system, and auto companies built and sold lots of lots of cars to drive on them, and oil companies sold lots and lots of gas for the cars.

In the early years of this decade, some people who were mightily pissed off about the U.S. meddling in their oil-rich lands committed some acts of horrific violence on some prominent American targets. The loss of life was, by U.S. standards, staggering.

Now, what was that about building highways in support of national defense?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dobsonian Democracy

On his radio show this past Tuesday, Dr. James Dobson discussed Barack Obama. In the course of the show, he uttered the following (as reported by the New York Times):
I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.
I’m confused: is Dobson recklessly shifting between first and third person as he describes his own theology? Later, Dobson complained about McCain and Obama, charging, “They don’t give a hoot about the family.” I guess that puts the two candidates in pretty good company. I recall a certain rabbi with leadership--nay, messianic!--aspirations who declared
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
Let us thank the good Lord that we have Dr. Dobson to blow the whistle on this mischief!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Second Life

Is it just me, or is Second Life simply a huge waste of time?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I can’t believe my eyes!

Hillary Hahn--yes, that Hillary Hahn, the violinist--has recorded the Schoenberg Violin Concerto. Nobody else with her amount of star power has ever recorded the Schoenberg. How did she get this past the marketing pea-brains at Deutsche Grammophon? I dunno, but I’m looking foward to hearing the recording (scheduled for release on March 10 in the U.K.). Oh, the other piece on the disc is a little-known concerto by a guy named “Sibelius” or something like that.