February 2010

We ordered 30 boxes of laminate floor in a Home Depot store, and we’re supposed to pick it up ourselves. When we got home I saw their website sells it for exactly the same price with free shipping (usually things that heavy are priced a lot more than in-store). I called customer service and after a while someone from the store called me back and said they will deliver it for free as if I ordered online. Just like that.

We also ordered a 60″ double vanity from Costco.com. The package weights 280lbs. Today in a new Costco catalog the price will drop for $200 starting March 1st. I called customer service and they will credit my card once the sale starts. Just like that.

If there’s anything that makes me happier than spending money, it’s customer service like these.

Almost every piece from Stevey “unsigned long long” Yegge’s blog strikes me down further into the purgatory of hopeless never-going-to-make-it programmer.

But this almost saved my soul.

Later Coding Horror chimed the same bell. I got 91 wpm with 3 mistakes from the typing test site he mentioned, slightly faster than his 84.

Typing is one of the very few things I can actually say that I’m above average.

It could be in late primary school when I started to “learn” English with my parents following “Follow Me”, that I took up typing using an old barely functional typewriter. The mechanics part was probably much easier than the content, since 26 identical keys in 3 rows is a pretty far cry from 88 keys in a staggered row, and there’s no dynamics or pedals to meddle with. Typewriter keys do travel a longer distance than piano keys, and the old typewriter keys were very heavy, so I sometimes used typing as a less boring finger warm-up exercise.

In junior high we started to have computer class (on Apple IIe, topic for another blog piece), and one of the first softwares we used is typing instruction. Computer keyboard was so much softer and shallower compared to typewriter, thus much easier and faster to type.

Typing was instrumental, literally and figuratively, to two main themes of my mid teen: pop songs and “love” letters (yet another topic). I typed the lyrics of hundreds of songs first on paper, then on the home PC. It helped me to learn the songs and some of the cultural background, to learn idiomatic and poetical English, and to type faster, of course.

One funny day in senior high, I walked into a typing class more or less by accident. The teacher watched me type for a while and asked “are you sure you’re in the right class?” She pulled me into her office, measured my speed, and started me immediately on a crash course for typing competition, which traded my speed for accuracy.

To this date I thank that teacher, whose name I can’t remember. And my employers should, too.

(Short comment after a friend’s blog mentioned Steve Reich’s music possibly Different Trains, Electric Counterpoint.)

I’m afraid that I have a pretty strong prejudice against modern music. Most of them sound like Hollywood movie soundtrack. I listened to the fragments on Amazon, and they sound pretty much like Philip Glass’ stuff–Wikipedia says Reich started this whole electronic repetitive thing. Seems to me it’s indication of lack of creativity: find a good motif isn’t that hard, stretching it to a 15-minute piece isn’t either with the help of computers.

(Now an excerpt from an email.)

I generally dislike 20th century music, as lots of it sounds like movie soundtrack: dramatic, episodic, repetitive. The 3rd trait is particularly vexing. It’s like modern composers love to just stick to something they like, after abandoning classical structures like fugue’s contrapunctual themes and sonata’s exposition-development-recapitulation. It might have originated from Ravel’s Bolero, which is a wonderful piece. Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony (“Leningrad”) has the 22-bar “invasion march” repeated 12 times. Barber’s Adagio for Strings (again, beautiful). “O Fortuna” (the first and most famous segment) in Orff’s Carmina Burana (Xiaolei mentioned the piece, but I really don’t like it, and am not surprised by its popularity in Nazi Germany). Most segments in Holst’s Planets. And don’t even think of those “minimalists” like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. I would get bored after hearing a Chopin Waltz 10 times, but I would be totally insane about mid way through the 2nd time you play me a Steve Reich piece.

(And more self-plagiarism: I blasted Phillip Glass at the end of a piece more than 10 years old.)

(I think I started this piece when I was talking with some friends about classical music pieces with titles at least 3 years ago.)

Program music is obviously more accessible than abstract music since they direct your imagination to some extent. My friends and I were talking about some popular titles of Beethoven’s, such as Moonlight and Für Elise. Beethoven have quite a few pieces with names, but few (Eroica, Pathetique, Lebewohl) came from the composer himself. “Moonlight” was dubbed by a German poet after Beethoven’s death, and I found some spotty references on the legend that Beethoven composed it for a blind girl, which was in our textbook (I think). “Für Elise” may be a mistranscription, but Beethoven did give the piece a name (dedication) himself. It’s really funny that it’s used by garbage trucks–I’ve got to confirm that from a Taiwanese. If you know anyone from Iran, please ask him/her about it as well. Beethoven would be fuming in his coffin if he knew that!

Two program pieces in particular that I loved as a kid, and still do today: Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of Animals and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Together with Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, these are sometimes found on the same recording as great materials for introducing children to classical music.

Everybody knows the “The Dying Swan” ballet, based on one of the few non-satirical pieces in the Carnival. I kind of remember that my mum played the “Pianist” piece when I was reluctant to practice the piano, saying something like “see? Even the boring scale is used in a composition, so you should be happy practicing”. I was too dumb to find out the nature of the Carnival pieces, and it may not be a glorious thing to be paraded along with other “lowly” animals like donkey and tortoises…

Peter and the Wolf is a much more coherent piece, and I have an LP of Bernstein/NY Philharmonic with wonderful narration from Bernstein. Some disparage Bernstein as a showman without true musical merit (EMI’s Great Conductors of the 20th Century series doesn’t even include him). I haven’t done enough listening to distinguish different conductors and orchestras, but I think Bernstein’s influence and popularity was great for classical music, especially in the US, being one of the few great American-born conductors.

The melodies and instrumentation and rhythms are truly great in the piece. Each instrument and its corresponding character reinforce each other so perfectly that I would actually not recommend playing this to a child as the first classical piece s/he hears: the impression and association would be too strong. The theme for Peter is so gleeful and uplifting that it should be a universal anthem for 10-year-old boys–I can so see Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn whistling the tune while skipping around.

When it got to mid Romaticism, more pieces have titles than not, so I’ll only mention some pieces that I’m more or less familiar with (I think I intended to comment on each piece, but that would take 30 years). Note that none is opera, vocal (solo and choral), or ballet music, because they have specific designation by definition.

  • Vivaldi: Four Seasons
  • Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. (The original composition is for piano only, and Ravel orchestrated it later.)
  • Richard Strauss’s tone poems
  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 From the New World
  • Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
  • Debussy: La Mer; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
  • Mahler: symphonies (none of the names for his symphonies came from him); The Song of the Earth

In 孙曜东’s fascinating memoir 浮世万象, there’s a chapter about a tennis exhibition match between “two of the world’s best players” that he helped organized. I was slightly suspicious about the “world’s best” part, so I looked it up and he sure didn’t bluff.

The only account of the event I can find online is a section of a concise tennis history, but Bill Tilden and Ellsworth Vines were true stables in the tennis hall of fame. Vines was indeed No. 1 in 1936 when their oriental tour occurred.

And what a shame that Tilden is all but forgotten as one of the all time great, if not the greatest ever. At 43, Tilden was past his 1920’s prime and would be considered advanced Alzheimer nowadays, but he could still rip a “cannonball” serve and beat anyone 20 years younger if he really wanted to.

My dad brought us a 2-DVD set on Gaudi. The main title is made by Hiroshi Teshigahara(勅使河原宏) in 1984, but it’s more interesting to consider the 4 pieces in chronological order.

  1. Ken Russell 1961: a quite banal black-and-white one like a tourism infomercial, nothing eccentric that you may expect from the director.
  2. Teshigahara 1969: a silent 16mm study for the trip the director took with his father, founder of a distinct school of Ikebana. It spent a long time on the unfinished church in the industrial semi-utopia Colònia Güell.
  3. Teshigahara 1984: the title piece, which is mostly just an expanded version of the study. The more interesting (or less boring) part is the sound track. For a large part the sound trembled so much that we thought it’s remastered from bad tape, but instead it’s just Toru Takemitsu(武満徹)’s signature tremolando.
  4. God’s Architect by BBC, narrated by Robert Hughes, 2002. With Hughes’s signature irreverent comments, it’s the longest and most interesting of the 4. The most fun one is from his conversation with a Spanish artist who said Sagrada Familia is such a financial drain on the city and the country that it should be turned into a train station or something.
    I got to know Robert Hughes from his Goya biography, which I got from library but didn’t get to read beyond the first few pages. He has a most fascinating (and sometimes tragic) life to say the least, partly due to a most libidinous ex-wife.

(I’m trying to clean out some really old blog drafts. This one has a perfect(ly bad) timing on this opening day of the Winter Olympics.)

51/100. Wow. It’s an incredible feat no matter how we look at the “state-run sports system” issue. Speaking of which, here’s a blog that has a very good point.

And how about the brave Sydney Symphony Orchestra coming out to support our efforts?

And the 8888 superstition is largely due to NFL, college football, and USTA. Scratch another -1 for China.

Closing ceremony: in quite a few occasions the memory tower looked like a colony of cockroaches. I don’t mean to vilify the performers at all–they worked their hearts out. But seeing from afar it’s really that gross.

I thought the London Mayor is a joke, until I saw this blog. If Stephen Colbert will run for president, I will do anything to get citizenship so that I can vote for him.

  • Baseball: what a unbelievable shame for US.
  • WSJ reports that collegiate olympic teams are being scaled back parted due to the dominance of football.
  • Oksana Chusovitina: 33, 5 Olympics
  • Sheila Taormina: 39, 4 Olympics, 3 sports (swimming, 2xtriathlon, modern pentathlon)
  • Dara Torres: 41, 5 Olympics from 1984!!! (She missed 1992 and 1996)

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