Friday, April 30, 2010

Android v. Windows Mobile

Microsoft has dropped the ball in the phone wars, giving ground to Android, and allowing it to achieve market supremacy. While I chose the Samsung Omnia with Windows Mobile 6.1 as my first smartphone, I am regretting the decision. Windows Mobile is simply too small and too cluttered. Furthermore, navigation is iffy and flakey. Even scrolling from the As to the Ws in my phone book is problematic. I chose the Omnia because I was comfortable years ago with my iPAQ handheld computer, but I desire a more robust user experience, not hesitancy and glitches. I do believe I will catch the next lifeboat off the sinking Windows Mobile ship.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Music Man

Depression <

I think this has much to do with listening to music over the past few days. Good music, too! Those who know me know I love music and that I have two favorite composers that rise to the very top of my list of delights: Philip Glass and Richard Wagner.

Philip Glass is the minimalist composer who wrote Einstein On the Beach. The term minimalism isn't strictly accurate in his case, as he employs minimalist harmonies and melodies, but prolix notation--using revolving arpeggios--to create the effect of stillness in motion. It's quite remarkable when it works. It doesn't work all the time. However, his plaintive, minor sonorities strike just the right mood in me, and apparently in others, as his star has grown over the years. I became a die-hard fan the first time I listened to The Photographer all the way through in 1985. I have since acquired almost everything he's written, but especially the film scores, which really show off his moody, completely unique, style and substance.

Richard Wagner hardly needs an introduction. He was the enfant terrible of the 19th Century, turning music, drama, politics and poetry on their heads, and through dint of pure willpower, became internationally recognized as the genius he truly felt himself to be. While Wagner's music, programmatic and romantic, is far from minimal, the use of chromatic tonalities has something in common with Glass (or rather Glass with it). While Wagner is all thundering power and brass in most cases, some of the gentlest, most sensitive and emotional passages are his best: such as Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the Overture to Lohengrin. Of course, my good friend Steve Will will recognize the Tristan und Isolde music from the score to the film Excalibur.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Beethoven and Liszt

My friend Steve Will today blogged about Naxos music company, which publishes some of the rarest music performed. I just happen to LOVE Beethoven and Franz Liszt. There's an old story that Beethoven was present at Liszt's first Vienna concert (at age 11 years or so) in 1822, and actually kissed the apollonian youth post facto. God I wish I could have seen that. In any event, Liszt later transcribed Beethoven's nine symphonies for solo piano. Naxos has released performances of these transcriptions over time, and I've been waiting for a while for my favorite of the symphonies to be released, Symphony No. 7, with its sonorous, emotional second movement. It is, as I expected: sublime. However, my favorite in this recording is the 4th Movement, in which Beethoven's and Liszt's sonorities mingle and merge in a kind of Reece's pieces combination of classical musical rhapsody. Konstantin Scherbakov's virtuoso playing is not all pounding thunder, which I became accustomed to listening to Horowitz over the years, but has delicacy and sensitivity, and hooks your heartstrings...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Zune and Audiobooks

The problem for Zune users who want to listen to audiobooks has always been the lack of a bookmarking feature. I used to get around that by cutting the audio files, usually MP3s, into 45 minute (or thereabouts) sections. I then had to edit the file data to indicate that the genre was "audiobook" and make sure to title each section in sequence so that they would appear next to each other in the list of files. Because there was no bookmarking feature, one needed to listen to the 45 minute file in a sitting, or keep track of where you were in the file in order to quickly find where you'd left off. That was servicable, but not optimal.

Then, along came Audible. With Audible, audiobooks were kept in their own category--not mixed with music, and were usually kept in one or possibly two, large files (3+ hours each). Best of all, they had a bookmarking feature, which meant that you could pause playback, choose a new file to play (if you had a hankering to listen to "Magic Carpet Ride" in the middle of your book, for example), and return to resume the playback where you had left off. Unfortunately, the audible format was proprietary. Audible manager, the software used for loading books on your Zune, would not recognize any file format except the proprietary .aa (Audible) format.

But then along came Overdrive Media Console. With a little bit of work, one can turn MP3 files into an OMC compatible Audiobook with a bookmarking feature. You have to join the files back into one large file (if you've split them, or ripped them from a CD). I use Roxio Media Creator's Sound Editor. I load all of the files into the sound editor, then export the mix as one large file. Then I use the Overdrive Media Console Wax creator to create a wax file. This file marks the location of the audiobook file and will associate cover art with the file. You then use the Overdrive Media Console's transfer wizard to put it on your Zune. The book goes in the Audiobook section, next to your Audible downloads. It's a slick method. Not as easy as simply ripping a CD to your Zune, but the time it takes (probably 5-10 minutes per title) is worth it for the bookmarking feature.

It took me a few attempts to work out the kinks. Here's what I found. When trying to transfer the file to the Zune I kept getting an error that my wax file had an invalid path. I spent a few hours trying different methods until I realized what I was doing wrong. I had a hyphen in the pathname. The transfer Wizard does not like hyphens, but it seems to do okay with underscores. Also, to save time in the future, I associated the .wax file extension with the Overdrive Media Console transfer wizard. So all I need to do is double-click the .wax file to transfer the audiobook. Slick!

The second thing I learned is that 96 bits or 64 bit samples are plenty for an audiobook. Mono is actually a clearer and more satisfying listening experience for voice recordings than stereo and it takes up half the disc-space of stereo. So, most of my unabridged books are in files about 90 MBs, 90,000 kb. For a 30 GB Zune, I still only have half of it filled, even though I have 2 dozen audiobooks on the hard drive.

I love my Zune, and I didn't want to have to switch to Itunes and the Ipod in order to enjoy audiobooks. Zune + Overdrive Media Console is the the best solution at present. Until Zune comes out with a solution which is as simple as ripping audio CDs, that is.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mine Kampf

After watching coverage of the West Virginia mine disaster last night, it is impossible to deny it. Profits have more meaning and worth than the lives of workers. This is the grinning demon-idiot face of lassez-faire capitalism left unchecked. People who have less money have less right to live.

This is the philosophy that made possible the Ford Pinto. The brutal, beyond soulless, evil force of the bottom line, when it applies the spreadsheet of business to the nectar of life, and becomes, instead of a way to improve life, the incarnation of Moloch. It was ugly in the 1970s, and its even more repulsive today. Excuse me while I go find an antiemetic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Catholics and Kubler-Ross

Contemplating the hole that the Catholic hierarchy has dug for itself regarding its ongoing sex abuse scandals, it occurred to me that their reactions follow closely the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross model of acceptance. The Kubler-Ross model has been applied to the psychology of dying, of addiction, of trauma and disaster. And these scandals are a disaster for the Church if ever there was one.

To recap, the Kubler-Ross model starts with DENIAL and then ANGER. Up until recently, the Vatican was entrenched in these two phases. Anger was more the position of the rabid lay defenders and apologists than the clergy. After this weekend, however, I think the Church has moved into a BARGAINING phase, though still peppered with denial and anger. See my previous entry regarding how Benedict's own preacher compared the suffering of the church in response to the scrutiny of the western media of the scandals to the "collective suffering" of the Jews in Europe. (As repellant and nauseating as that concept is to anyone with a conscience or mind).

In essence, they were saying that the Church was a victim, too. And that proper scrutiny and criticism of the hierarchy was tantamount to anti-semitism, which is an irrational animus. But that, it seems to me, is a bargaining position. And that's why I think they're in the bargaining phase.

Unfortunately, if their reactions really are following the Kubler-Ross model, it will get worse before it gets better. After Bargaining comes DEPRESSION. Only after depression comes the final stage of ACCEPTANCE.

I do pray they get it before they're left with only wild-eyed blind followers who have idealized and idolized the church; i.e., replaced God in their souls with a kind of Idolatry of the Church... I think Western Civilization is stronger with the Catholic church intact than broken, and I want Western Civilization to survive. So I do wish them well. But they must stop their appalling self-pity. Otherwise, that hole they've dug may turn out to be a grave.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Catholic Scandals - A New Reformation?

Outrage over the Catholic sex abuse scandals has heated up in the past few weeks, as reports detailing a Wisconsin priest's abuse of deaf students in his care, and the resulting coverup, which reached the Vatican, and Pope Benedict personally, have been widely disseminated. Today, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, delivering the Good Friday homily in St. Peters, insisted that the recent criticisms leveled at the Vatican in general and the Pope in particular, were akin to "the collective violence" of antisemitism. While the Reverend may have had a point to make concerning individual guilt versus collective guilt, the audacious hyperbole of conflating international criticism to the Holocaust is unbelievably self-pitying arrogance.

My jaw drops as I contemplate the meaning of the reverend's words. He believes himself, the pontiff and the church, to be the victims here, not the children harmed by the abuse that gave rise to the scandals in the first place. Unbelievable! How can Catholics abide it? Why they don't rip St. Peter's down stone by stone is beyond me. The sheer magnitude of the scandal also troubles me. It makes me wonder if Satan really does exist, and this is an infernal plot to seed the church with possessed priests bent on destroying it from within.

There's much about the Catholic church I can't abide, and I count myself fortunate not to have been raised one. Several of my cousins were, however, and they've all turned out to be quite good people. It's the hierarchy I can't stand. Really, the Catholic Church is the Roman empire redux. The levels and strata of power, from the autocrats to the aristocrats to the bureaucrats to the laity, is top-down, with the Pope occupying the place of Caesar.

However, that model is central to an organizational structure which permits unity of purpose and philosophy. It's had its ups and downs, but throughout the 300 centuries of Western Civilization (Joseph Campell says Western Civ began with the cave paintings 30,000 years ago), the top down structure has served us well at times. There's been rebellion, such as the Reformation, which severely compromised the church's temporal authority and led ultimately to the renaissance and the enlightenment, and gave birth to the Western Democracy we all enjoy. The Catholic church tried its best to adapt to Western Democracy, eschewing its innate feudalism for greater transparancy and discussion, and even allowing dissent. (Vatican II).

I find myself in the unbelievable (i'm using that word a lot today) position of actually fearing for the welfare of the Catholic Church, what has always been considered an eternal juggernaut. These scandals might bring it completely down. It's already paid $billions in restitution, and money=power. This hemhorraging of funds can't help its authority. But I worry what would happen to Western Civilization if the Catholic Church dissolves. One of the problems of radical Islam, is this idea that practically any Imam can make any fatwa against practically anyone. It's extremely chaotic and leads to misunderstanding and continuous violence. I do not want to see that happen to Christianity.

So, while I don't wish the Catholic hierarchy well, neither do I wish them ill. I hope they will abandon their self-pitying victimhood and clean house. Major repentance and reconciliation is called for.