Monthly Archives: January 2013

080: Thiruvananthapuram

Proper noun: Thiruvananthapuram – State capital of Kerala (India), formerly known as Trivandrum.

TODAY on flaglock: I discuss Fedora 18 “Spherical Cow” and my recent work with “My Neighbor TOTORO.” I have finished a work by Voltaire for once.

Sometimes I really, really can’t stand reading Linux news. The journalism is unprofessional: typos abound, grammatical errors en masse – these are all trifles, because the best of us will suffer these little problems. What gets me is the terrible subjectiveness of it all. Just because your specific computer doesn’t work with it, the distribution gets the blame and down go the ratings. So your hardware happens to be less compatible. Big whoop. Fix it yourself or go back to OEM Windows.

The subjective nature of Linux journalism gets worse as we go further up, to higher-level things: the GUI for Anaconda (the Fedora installer, which was given a makeover for Fedora 18) is broken, partitioning sucks, installation is fraught with problems, fedup doesn’t work correctly, blah blah blah.

Let’s again look at what Fedora’s about: it carries some of the newest and most up-to-date software of the popular distros. It’s about greater flexibility for the user / administrator – flexibility, that, last I heard, Ubuntu was trying to sweep under its quantal carpet.

Let’s look at what GNOME’s about – actually, I have no idea at all, and I’m not going to look for it. Notwithstanding, I’m starting to wonder if the Linux journalists aren’t all just a pack of brain-dead monkeys who can’t seem to do any research. Complaining about having to hold “alt” to get the “Shutdown” option in GNOME is ridiculous. It’s no longer fashionable to shut down your computer every day – at least, not from what I gather of my peers. I’M the only one who would shut down from time to time – and when I couldn’t find that option, a quick Google search turned it up. PEOPLE. GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND. What’s more, everyone was complaining about how GNOME 3’s interface totally broke everything. I, the resident Dimwit (with a lowercase r and capital D), had no trouble whatsoever working out where everything was and how to use it; within five minutes of quick trial-and-error, I had GNOME 3 more or less down pat.

Of course, I promptly ditched GNOME for Openbox (for the greater ease of customization), but before I turned out the lights, I took one last glance around and didn’t see anything overtly WRONG. It really made me scratch my head and wonder how the GNOME team felt about the (to them, surely unwarranted) hate aimed their way.

Do not blame Fedora for GNOME’s problems, and actually, don’t blame GNOME at all. We are not a pack of brain-dead monkeys, so we should act as such, and SUCK IT UP and WORK IT OUT. If I can do it, a 70-year-old granny probably could, and so can you. I still find Fedora incredibly usable and flexible, though admittedly my computing requirements are rather low.

Arranging “My Neighbor TOTORO” for two pianos is the closest I’ve come to a study in orchestration: I’ve really gone back and combed through all the tiny details; the lesser voices, the rhythms, and the tempo changes – all these have to be committed firmly to paper. (I’m using the version from Hisaishi’s album “Melodyphony” with the London Symphony Orchestra.) To aid the pianist in her playing, I have made some indication of what each voice should sound like (violins, brass, etc.). The upshot of it all is that there is no written part for the second piano: that is developing in tandem in my head, shaped and molded around the first piano part that I’m writing now. I’m actually quite pleased with what I’ve done so far, and am convinced that this will be my finest work to date.

In three days, I finished the English translation of “Candide” from Project Gutenberg. I didn’t know it was such a good book; it was almost infuriating to me to read some times, but that was probably Voltaire’s intention. I enjoyed it immensely and will probably resume Leblanc later.


EDIT: For posterity, I will record that Fedora 18 “Spherical Cow” had some problems with the drivers for our Brother HL-2270DW printer. None of the instructions, Brother-provided or third-party, really worked, until the crazy workaround was to instead use the driver for the HL-1250. It worked flawlessly, much to my surprise; there’s really something to be said for twisted problem-solving.


079: nước mắm

Noun – nước mắm: A light brown, watery fish sauce used in Vietnamese cookery.

A lot of things happened at once on Tuesday: in a whirlwind of frantic action, I executed my plan to reinstall Fedora on my laptop. I downloaded a Fedora 18 image first thing in the morning, wrote it to a USB stick, tested the USB stick, backed up everything in my home directory, reinstalled Windows, upgraded my BIOS, nuked my Windows setup again, installed Fedora carefully (to my SSD this time, with /home on my hard disk), cleaned up my backup of extraneous files that could be generated again (but left intact, for example, my Pidgin files, my vim configuration, and my Openbox config), performed a reverse rsync to send everything from the external disk to my home directory, installed all my favorite applications, had a jolly time messing up my bash prompt and fixing it again, configured everything – I think it’s all good, even i3lock works now.

The best thing, though, is that I can now reboot with impunity; going down may take a while, but a cold start takes less than thirty seconds from power button to usable desktop. From power button to login screen, even less (which says something about my password). Yeah, it’s not the ten-second boot time everybody seems to brag about, but for this peasant who’s never seen better, this is an amazing improvement.

Last night, though, was one of the most exciting things that could have happened all break: before two in the morning, this popped up in my feeds. I followed the link as fast as I could (if it’s gone, I record some of the text here for posterity – related post) and queried Wolfram|Alpha furiously for the time in Australia. I groaned internally when WA happily reported that I had to stay up to almost half-past twenty to even start the recital; I would be up to four if I wanted to finish.

Best idea I've had, I think

“I have to be up ’till four? …well, it IS Blechacz…”

I tuned in somewhere in the Rasmussen and got to hear most of Schubert’s symphony, but spent a good half-hour fruitlessly searching for a way to capture from my soundcard (I desperately wanted a copy of this recital).

Mercilessly the clock ticked on until I gave up at 2:10 and simply rebooted (I’d screwed up my audio) to just listen like a good boy. I closed all the unnecessary windows and held my breath as the announcer came on to announce the program. And then the first notes of Mozart came trickling through my speakers. I breathed again. It was that same golden touch that only Blechacz could, or would achieve.

He’s REALLY more than a Chopin specialist – his Mozart was tasteful, his Debussy colorful (but not overly so – I admit I wasn’t fired up by the ending), and his Szymanowski epic. All three works were performed with the traditional Blechacz clarity and beauty of tone.

I huddled for warmth around my little heater with a blanket draped over me, listening with the speakers turned up too much. I clapped after every piece even though I was only listening to an ancient re-broadcast, alone in my room.

In the second half came the Chopin, what he of all pianists excels at. Simply because Chopin happens to be easier for the average listener to follow, it tends to be more enjoyable. I lost the Szymanowski in many places, and even the Mozart escaped me in a few; but with Chopin, it was almost as easy as listening to pop music.

The Ballade flowed deep, touching me gently but in all the right places. As always he didn’t play to electrify; he simply delivered the music as he thought it should have been played.

The two polonaises, Op. 26, were works made familiar to me through Evgeny Kissin at the Verbier Festival, but the interpretations were quite far removed from what I was used to. The first (in c sharp minor) began with an uncharacteristic (well, for Blechacz at least) double-forte; and on the whole, the piece moved faster than Kissin played it (and Kissin wasn’t slow). And yet Blechacz knew so intimately (perhaps it is one of the privileges of being Polish, being able to grasp the polonaise so well) all the voices and all the rhythms and all the little things that make the piano sing. The same went for the second (in e flat minor), which went faster and with greater vigor than Kissin, and yet still without exaggeration or Robin-Williams-ness. At all times, a clarity – a lucidity in every note, and in every subarc of the piece – dominated the music.

I remember how moved I was the first time I listened to him play the Polonaise in A flat Major, Op. 53 – and it still moves me today. These two polonaises he played in recital MUST be recorded some day – they are so terribly beautiful that I can only pity pianos that never have his loving hands perform these two pieces for.

I also remember my first mazurka (listening-wise – I have never played one, and probably never will) was the Mazurka in D Major Op. 33 No. 2 by Fou Ts’ong on The Essential Chopin – an album gifted to me as a parting present from my old piano teacher – and, well, it didn’t really blow me away. The recording wasn’t great, and the piano sounded a little tinny.

Neither of those factors, however, marred Blechacz’s performance, allowing me to focus purely on his gorgeous interpretation of the music. Again, I (more than once) lost track of which mazurka he was on, but by God I enjoyed all four. I won’t repeat my “analysis;” there’s only so many ways I can rephrase my praise for Blechacz.

Then the encores: the Waltz in A Minor, acquainted with me by a recital of Kissin’s at Carnegie Hall. Again, Blechacz really broke the mold (of what I’m used to). No, there weren’t fireworks – but at least there wasn’t the predictable “listen to how soft my pianississississimo is.” It was an unreserved, vaguely mazurka-ized affair that miraculously balanced a sumptuous rubato against the basic three counts. I began tapping along; at very few points did I have to break count (I suspect there are some time changes I’ve forgotten in that waltz, too) – where he sped up, he later slowed; and vice-versa. It was all self-contained. That was the beauty of the waltz.

The Mazurka in E Minor I was unfamiliar with – and so I just sat back and let Blechacz sweep me away with his second and last encore.

Oh, what a night. It’s corny of me to say it now (the recital was this November past), but I’ll never forget it. BRAVISSIMO, MAESTRO BLECHACZ!


078: Routinising

Verb: routinising – Present participle of routinise.

A Very Strange Dream, goodness knows how many of these I’ve had.

I was navigating a labyrinth in detached third-person mode – cruddy graphics and all, a bit like the “Frogger” game sis and I used to play. There were horrid faces that closed in on you from different tunnels in different rooms; you had to pick from several unblocked tunnels to get to the next room in a set time before the faces smothered you. Ew.

Well, this and that, and I was suddenly with a group of three (or so), all unfamiliar faces. The girl with the long hair got out a knife and stabbed me.

I woke with a start, groggy and disoriented. I couldn’t see the clock but it felt like I’d barely slept; I mentally noted the time to be after 3 AM (probably).

Work on my custom edition of the Spirited Away soundtrack liner notes is almost done, and the “Fantaisie-Impromptu” is shaping up wonderfully. I hope to have the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto complete very soon, and might venture to start on the second movement. I have not made any progress with my original compositions (lack of self-confidence set in).


077: Colour-blind

Alternative forms: color blind, color-blind, colour blind; Adjective: colour-blind (comparative more colour-blind, superlative most colour-blind) Of a person or animal, unable to distinguish between two or more primary colours (usually red and green), OR Of a person who hold no prejudice based on skin colour, or of a process which precludes racial prejudice.

That’s not an auspicious way to preface the first post of the year. Nevertheless, I feel lucky for 2013.

“Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world.”

Felix, Hong, Steven, and Alvin came yesterday; there would have been more, but some couldn’t make it and others cancelled at the last second. Hong came first; we talked and I played a little piano. Felix followed; he brought a gift for me (“John Coltrane Plays for Lovers” – I was touched!) too! We talked some more and watched a bit of Pewdiepie. Some ping-pong later came Steven, the stiffness in our conversation went right out the window. It’s hard to be quiet or awkward with such a merry crew en masse. Then Alvin joined us, and we all ate Dad’s pizza for dinner, and washed it down with sugary fizzy drinks.

Then began the gamefest: Mario Party, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Kart – Alvin left us around eleven, unfortunately – we played until a quarter to midnight, when we paused to see the countdown. All we saw was a low-resolution replay of the Times Square deal with the timing off by a few seconds, but the experience together made it special.

Somebody (across the creek, I thought) was setting off fireworks. We gathered at the rear window to watch, and agreed that watching it outside would be a better view. One last firework (it was the loudest, the brightest, and the most beautiful) went off after we congregated at the corner of the lawn. At my suggestion, we piled into Felix’s car and headed out to Leland to sightsee.

“I think we look really sketchy,” I commented.

“Four little Asian guys walking across a school parking lot at night, one of whom is wearing a scarf. That’s not sketch at all,” quipped Felix.

There were deer out front! Ignoring them, we walked around and reminisced a little, entering via the G-wing portables. We passed the speech room. “Do you think there’re guards out here?” I asked nervously. “Why would there be? Why aren’t we allowed here? It’s public property,” said Felix. “Not like we’re ruining anything.”

I demonstrated how to climb the purple cage, but decided (at the others’ suggestion) not to climb onto the roof from there (“Like I have the athletic ability [to join you],” said Steven).

I leaped onto the stage under “that purple thing” and shouted to the night: “Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him well.” Funny looks were directed at me. “I’ve always wanted to say something stupid out here in the open when nobody could hear me.” Felix center-kicked a lion painted onto one of the supports, and we moved on.

A light was lit in the girls’ lavatory by the cafeteria, and the vending machines hummed quietly. I pulled curiously on the door (it was locked) and the others examined a vending machine not in its cage. Eventually we headed to the back, and I fairly ran to the sheds by the bathrooms which I once climbed on top of. They were fenced off, but one of the gates was ajar and provided excellent footholds to clamber onto (provided you didn’t torque the gate into opening up, which swung you out and away from the shed). From there I mounted the shed roof – a somewhat dangerous move because it felt like the flimsy material would cave in on me. From there I made a leap across a little gap (less than half a meter, but still potentially dangerous because of the potential shed-height fall) and hoisted myself onto the bathroom roof. Felix and Hong clambered up too, but I warned them about the shed-top and the jump and asked them not to follow me; “We’ll meet up at the purple, all right?”

And so I began my short sojourn across the Leland rooftop.

There were puddles, slime, pipes, and catwalks – I clambered around, across, and above the many obstacles and things of interest. I worked my way over to the quad and waved my phone flash at them, then continued on my way to the cage. Once or twice I thought I saw something move, but it was just my imagination. I cast a half-worried look over at the well-lit parking lot to check for any unwanted visitors.

When the time came to drop down onto the fence of the purple cage, I was actually quite nervous – it was a long way down with plenty of things to bash a limb or head on. Worse, I could snag my scarf and make a nasty scene.

I had a false start, almost putting my feet out into thin air – I hoisted myself back up, though, and lowered myself down proper on the second try. I straddled the purple cage and then worked my way down easily. “Another happy landing,” I said with a smile. I had put my hands straight into the slime for the descent.

[Note: I think the vending machine thingy and the girls’ lavatory might have happened THIS time when we headed around  back. Whatever.]

We entered through the parking lot entrance to the baseball field, went around, and went inwards to the soccer field where the SJCS soccer team played so often in my later years. I chose the venue because a row of houses across the creek shielded us from the streetlamps, and the field was at a lower elevation than its surroundings (e.g. Bret Harte).

The moon was bright. The stars were bright. We were in a little snowglobe of the night, with the snowflakes stuck to the blackened glass and set aglow. So many little twinkling pinpricks. I thought I had seen a lot from the roof, but I was almost speechless here. We just watched and watched.

We spent a good ten minutes trying to find the North Star as we left, but our efforts proved fruitless.

A few pictures later, we said our goodbyes and good-nights. We had spent the first hour of our new year under the stars. Ah, to be single – and yet to be in such good company!