March 2007

I’ve always wanted to see Li Yundi live, but when I saw this in the NJPAC season brochure I wasn’t sure if it’s worthwhile: Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, with Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben, because I don’t care for Liszt too much, nor for R. Strauss. Then a week before the concert NJPAC ran a promotion of buy 1 get 1 free. Cheap as I am, I bought the tickets right away, and turned out it’s indeed a very good bargain.

The Gewandhaus has gotta be the weirdest name for an orchestra. It’s the assembly hall of the cloth traders, i.e. the “Garment House”, as the first concert hall the orchestra played in. After our one-day trip to Leipzig in 2003, we felt it’s a run-down East Germany city with few faint shimmers of its glorious past. I was a bit skeptical about the orchestra, since virtually all descriptions I’ve seen start with “one of the oldest orchestras in the world” and “Mendelssohn was one of its early directors”–sounds like the Chinese boasting about our 5K-year history, doesn’t it. You don’t need such description, or any description, when you mention Berlin Philharmonic or Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Ricardo Chailly is no stranger to operatic sounds and emotions, so he’s quite fit for R. Strauss’ flamboyant tone. I heard Don Juan once or twice, but never Ein Heldenleben. I wish I were more familiar with Strauss’ stuff, which would make it more fun to pick them out from Ein Heldenleben–I could only recognize Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegels. Speaking of T.E., I just figured out a great translation: 田伯君正传–how about that?

The highlight of the concert is of course Li Yundi. He’s definitely grown up from his Chopin-winning age, and possesses some superstar quality–even more than Lang Lang, who sometimes seems more like an entertainer than a great pianist. I’m not saying that a great pianist has to be austere, and entertaining the crowd is always important, but just don’t overdo it.

(I just watched a PBS program on Barenboim, at the end giving master classes to young pianists, the first being Lang Lang. An interview precedes the class, in which Lang Lang told how he grew up to be a pianist. He mentioned Liszt’s Hungary Rhapsody No. 2 played by Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny. I had thought about them but didn’t want to expose my naivety, but hey, even Lang Lang loves them!)

I’m not familiar with the piece enough to judge the performance. Liszt, and even more so Schumann, often have their emotions oozing all over their compositions. That’s typical of high Romanticism, but they never have long-lasting effects in me as Bach, Mozart, or Chopin.

I should trademark HD^2: High Definition on Hard Drive.

SD MiniDV has been a very good market for many years: solid performance, good usability, affordable prices, dirt-cheap media. The only problem? It’s anything but HD^2.

Everybody feels the HD wind blows. Take Canon Elura 100,’s Best Camcorder of 2006, and it’s already a goner. You can only find refurbished ones on eBay. I salute those lucky people who got hold of SD MiniDV’s last best offer.

And it can only get better in this new era of HD^2 with 1080i/720p (I’m not dreaming 1080p since my cheap HDTV doesn’t have it), MPEG4 (H.264 AVC), and the incredibly shrinking HDD. Or does it?

First there’s HDV (Sony HDR-HD*, Canon HV10/20), which is HD MPEG2 on MiniDV. Check one. Wait, you mean just one check mark?

Yep, and it’s all even more downhill from here. Except for the price, from $800 going up, up, and away…

Here comes the spanking new AVCHD (Sony HDR-UX*, Panasonic HDC-SD1/DX1, JVC GZ-HD7), some models checking all 3. Alright!

Hold on to your cheers for another year, will ya? Current models only offer 60% theoretical bitrate of MPEG4 (15Mbps/24Mbps), so compression quality is worse than MPEG2 with 25Mbps. Bit is king in the game of compression. Unless someone comes up with a revolutionary codec (which my previous company purported to do for audio, and I left 1.5 years ago, so go figure), there’s simply no way on earth you can maintain the same quality with 40% less bits. And no 3rd-party video editing software can deal with the format yet (that’s the easiest thing to fix, though). And I’m not even complaining about the stupid HD/BlueRay DVD war.

Actually the only AVCHD model that records on HD is Sony’s SR1. All other models use DVD or flash memory. The largest SDHC available now is 8GB for $60, which will take about 70 minutes of HD. That number looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Then there’s the pitiful bunch of SD on HDD models (Sony DCR-SR*, JVC Everio GZ-MG*). They also manage to check one mark, but it’s the wrong one. They’re more expensive than SD MiniDV, with worse quality and control.

And lest us forget the slimy Sanyo slums, who put a still CDD into a camcorder (VPC-HD1) shell and call it HD–let them burn in gadget hell!

I just want a $600 HD^2 camcorder that doesn’t suck in video quality, and I can easily import and edit the footage and leave it on the yet-to-be-purchased 1TB external drive from here to eternity. Is that such an outrageous wish?

No I’m not talking about IT security.

I’m talking about job security by information obscurity. It exists in any profession, but is particularly onerous in software business. If you write obscure code with no comment or documentation that “just works” (if it doesn’t even work, it’s called stupidity), and no one else in the world could maintain the code but yourself, you’re a master of SbO.

And even sometimes you can’t understand your own stuff. So you happily reinvent another wheel, and proclaim the extra honor of Security by Confusion from Multiplicity.

For a software company, SbO is one of the most dangerous things. Not able to fire you is the last of the company’s concerns. Sure you’ll demand hordes of guaranteed bonus and exponential raise, but the CFO should be good at playing financial tricks.

The problem is that productivity is hurt on a daily basis. Other developers can’t possibly make any sense out of your code unless they timidly ask you. And an M.S.bO is usually a Master of Incomprehensible Speech. You talk too fast, or too slow, or too loud, or too low, or monotonic like a metronome, or hysteric like a hyena. And usually with a heavy Indian or Russian or Chinese or Brooklyn or whatever accent.

And if probability forbids, an accident wipes you off the face of the earth, which leaves the world a better place to be in general, but the company in a terrible state of panic.

On a philosophical level, I think it relates to different strata of freedom. The lowest level is what almost everybody is stuck with: do whatever you want. So you think you’re free to obscure information.

However, you cannot hinder other’s freedom by your act of freedom. If half of the people realize this, Communism is realized. Other developer is free to get information on your code for whatever reason: they need to maintain it, use it, or simply study it for recreation. So you can NOT obscure information to hinder their freedom.

On the highest level, you sacrifice your own freedom to boost other’s freedom. If half of the people just think about doing this once in a while, we have heaven on earth. So you write plenty of comments and documentation, keep them up-to-date, write wiki and blog, call a tutorial session on your new library, open source it with BSD license.

I would then renounce my atheism and worship you wholeheartedly, my God of Code Freedom.

This has got to be the biggest CD release ever. I can’t find any info from Philips Classics website, so this could be the official site, with very complete information on each CD and track.

Later, EMI has a Great Conductors of the 20th Century series, originally planned to have 60+ 2-CD volumes, each for one conductor, but ended up with only 40 so far. This page has an easy-to-read list, missing only Adrian Boult.

Amazon used to sell it for about $2000. It’s pretty ridiculous to get the whole set–I certainly don’t have room for it. I bought the 2-CD sampler from eBay, though, which is a very good introduction with short bio for all pianists. And for the full series? Pray that your local library has it, and if you happen to be local to NYC, your prayer is answered! I think the first volume I got (Gyorgy Cziffra) was actually from the library in Elizabeth, NJ.

Some facts and stats:

  • There are 100 2-CD volumes. Total running time is over 250 hours.
  • 72 pianists are covered:
    1. 45 have single volumes.
    2. 16 have double.
    3. 7 have triple: Arrau, Brendel, Gilels, Horowitz, Kempff, Richter, and Rubinstein.
    4. 2 couples each share one volume.
  • The pianists come from 23 nations. Russia has the most (10), followed by USA (9), then Ukraine (8). In terms of region, Europe has the overwhelming majority of almost 80% (West Europe 20, old USSR 19, East Europe 17). Asia only has one (内田光子).
  • Among the 41 deseased, 80% lived past 60. 2 died in their 30s: Kapel 31, Lipatti 33. 2 in their 40s: Katchen 43, Francois 46. At the other end, 3 lived to 90s: Rubinstein 95, Kempff and Rosina Lhevinne to 96.
  • Competition winners
    • Chopin: Pollini@60, Argerich@65, Zimerman@75 won 1st prize. Ashkenazy@55, Uchida@70 won 2nd.
    • Tchaikovsky: Cliburn@58, Ashkenazy@62, Ogdon@62, Gavrilov@74, and Pletnev@78 won 1st.
    • Leeds: Lupu@69 and Perahia@72 won 1st. Uchida@75 won another 2nd.
    • Rubinstein: Anton, not Artur. It was setup by Anton Rubinstein himself and went from 1890 to 1910. I got to know about it from the notes on Backhaus, and amazingly Wikipedia didn’t have an entry. I did some googling and here is my first Wikipedia creation. Josef Lhévinne@1895, Backhaus@1905, Sofronitsky, and Yudina were winners.

I won’t say anything about the music and pianists until I’ve listened and compared enough to say anything not obviously stupid. Before that, you can kill a day reading this very detailed review.