In search of Wang

So I dialed over to Deutsche Grammophon’s site to see about recordings by Yuja Wang, and apparently there are three to be had. DG, of course, is a premium-priced label, and the CDs are priced in sterling, yet: £12.49 each, which is around twenty bucks before shipping. They will happily, however, sell 320-kbps MP3 versions for £7.99, which is a reasonable discount. (While that sounds high, it generally works out to a lot less than the $1.29-per-track rate they were charging early on.) And here’s the unexpected twist: they will also actually sell these albums in FLAC lossless at an intermediate price (£9.49). So: do I sacrifice the CD artwork and liner notes to save three quid? Or do I wait for Amazon to restock these same CDs at their $13-ish price? (Amazon also has MP3s, but usually at a lower bit rate than this, and the price isn’t that different from DG’s.)

Comments (4)

The unseen walk among us

That automated rest-room stuff apparently won’t detect the presence of neo-neocon at all:

I enter the stall, and the toilet greets my arrival with a preliminary flush to clear its already-clean palate. I approach the toilet, and it flushes again. But when I’m finished and step back, it refuses to flush; I may be finished, but it’s finished, too. Then I have to look around for a button or lever that can override its reluctance.

Next, the sink and the towel dispenser. Are my hands too small to activate them? Because quite often they stubbornly refuse to respond, and I’m forced to improvise special maneuvers that resemble Tai Chi: waving my hands slowly, and then increasingly frantically, in front of what I think is the sensor. Finally some random movement of mine triggers a response, or perhaps it’s just that the sink and/or dispenser has decided I’ve amused it enough and it’s time to end the game.

Meanwhile, Sean analyzes the problems with these systems:

Bathroom automation was designed to protect, not serve. Since building owners can tune the water delivery system to dispense a specific amount of water each time the sensor is triggered… in a perfect world, the water delivery system could be tuned to the soap dispenser to allow for the ‘perfect’ wash/rinse distribution, but it rarely is. Most times I have to wave my hands in front of the sensor to get additional water, and ultimately water runs for some time after I’m finished washing. In an ideal world, the paper towel dispenser would know how much paper towel I needed (based on my hand size, or the moisture reading it took when it noticed my hands were there) but it doesn’t. So I end up taking two runs with the paper towel dispenser and causing more waste than if I had a manual option. The other drawback is the power source… these things don’t work without power, and that leaves me with a shirt as the alternative for drying my hands when the batteries are dead.

An entirely sensible explanation, which is of course unsatisfying if you’re conjuring up weird semi-science-fiction notions about how some people carry a hitherto-unnoticed gene that makes them effectively invisible in the presence of all these ostensibly high-tech sensors. Not that I’d do such a thing.

Comments (5)

Just imagine the keys

Prestige auto brands being what they are these days, it’s probably faint praise at best to refer to the Steinway as the Mercedes of pianos. What I didn’t know — though Jack Baruth did — is that the Steinway folks once built the Mercedes of cars:

In October of 1888, Steinway became a Daimler licensee, empowered to produce Daimler internal combustion engines for marine and other uses. A factory in Hartford, CT built them, while the piano factory at Long Island had space to fit them to boats if required. It should be noted that this was not the only diversified entry on Steinway’s books; the company operated a motor launch and purchased considerable real estate holdings in the New York area, which increased in value considerably during the twentieth century.

When William Steinway died [in 1896], the family sold control of the [US] Daimler Motor Company to General Electric, although the facilities stayed the same. GE built small delivery trucks there as well, powered by Daimler engines. Meanwhile, the Daimler “Mercedes” 35-horsepower automobile was becoming famous throughout the world. To capitalize on that success, the Daimler Motor Company announced availability of an American-built “Mercedes” in 1905. The price was an astonishing $7500. Let’s put that in perspective; it was six times the cost of Steinway’s Model D concert grand, which today starts at $120K and goes up from there. In 1905, gold was $21 an ounce, so if you use that as a standard, the American Mercedes was worth a cool half-million or more in today’s quantitatively-eased currency.

Two years later, the Long Island production facility burned, putting an end to American-built Mercedes cars. And before you ask: the German Daimler company and Karl Benz’s operation merged in 1926, giving birth to the Mercedes-Benz marque. Steinway has changed hands twice, but the name over the door remains the same.

Comments off

Early risers

The ongoing iTunes Shuffle continues, and at some point yesterday it reached “Primeday,” an inspired (well, I thought so anyway) “Friday” parody. Like the original, it begins with “7 a.m., wakin’ up in the morning.”

The next track up was deadly serious: Harry Chapin’s “Sniper.” And this time I choked just a little on this verse:

He reached the catwalk, he put down his burden
The four-sided clock began to chime
7 a.m., the day is beginning
So much to do and so little time

I think I’ve just come up with a justification for sleeping until noon.

Comments off

Ignite to remember

Lynn understands burn bans and why they’re imposed, but one thing about them perplexes her:

[T]he inconsistency with which they are imposed drives me crazy. They usually wait until it has been as dry as the surface of the Moon for a month before they ever get around to declaring a burn ban but once it’s in effect we have to be ankle deep in mud and making plans for building an ark before they cancel it.

Per state law, it takes the satisfaction of four criteria for a burn ban to be imposed at the county level:

  1. There must be a drought, as determined by the US Drought Monitor;
  2. Less than 0.5 inch of precipitation is predicted for the next three days;
  3. Fire occurrence is “significantly greater than normal”;
  4. More than 20 percent of wildfires in the county have been traced to controlled burns or escaped debris.

The current statewide ban was issued by executive proclamation from the governor’s office. Which may explain why it’s still around, since county burn bans must be renewed every seven days to remain in force.

Comments off

Burrito obbligato

Well, it’s one way to keep out the riff-raff:

A convenience store in the Short North has decided to play classical music as a part of several upgrades, and customers say it is helping cut down on people who loiter around the business.

The music blaring from the United Dairy Farmers, located at the corner of First Avenue and High Street, is loud enough to catch most everyone’s attention, 10TV’s Andy Hirsch reported.

I pass this on purely in the hopes that other C-stores may see the wisdom of this action.

If you’re not familiar with the Short North district of Columbus, as I’m not, go here.

(Via the Consumerist.)

Comments (3)

Bags? See Room 101

As O’Brien pointed out, there’s a Worst Thing In The World for each and every one of us, even if it’s only a cheap woven nylon purse:

Specifically, it’s the noise made by someone scritching their fingernails over the surface of those purses, the ones that you find on the racks at Claire’s and TJ Maxx. Sometimes there’s a hologram effect switching the image on the front of the purse from a butterfly to a tiger, or from the Biebs singing “Baby Baby” to the Biebs singing whatever that other song is. Something about the combination of texture and noise and petroleum based products in those purses makes me gag a little bit to even describe in words.

As a result of my irrational fear, I don’t trust myself to set foot in the purse department of a discount clothing store, for fear of encountering another shopper who may be idly running her fingernails across the purses’ surface, insensitive to the evil that lurks within.

Goodness. Now I’m creeped out a bit, even though I’ve been inoculated against Bieber Fever. Fortunately, the likelihood I’ll accidentally pass by a TJ Maxx — or a Claire’s, something which seems to appear only in enclosed malls — is relatively tiny.

Comments off

Surly to rise

Product of Surly Brewing CompanyLast weekend, a friend in the Twin Cities dropped the phrase “Surly buttercream,” which was received here at the palatial estate at Surlywood with a wide-eyed “Huh?” She explained to the ignorant questioner — that would be me — that “Surly” is in fact a local brewer.

Even better, Surly Brewing Company, of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, has a whole line of grumpy-sounding brews, including the spring-only Schadenfreude, a dark lager, and a year-round oat-based brown ale called Bender. And there’s the inevitable iPhone app to find the nearest watering hole dispensing those Surly brews.

I am, you may be sure, uncomfortable with the idea of declaring a beer I can’t even taste the Official Brew of Surlywood, but on the other hand, what else is there? At least it gives me another excuse to return to the Twin Cities. (Last time I was there, I had the kids in tow, which mandated Reasonably Responsible Behavior.)

Comments (1)

Paging John Jacob Jingleheimer Rodriguez

Not everybody is thrilled with the Google+ real-names-only policy; the estimable nakedjen, who has blogged under that name for several years, tweeted her frustration: “Raise your hand, Internet, if that’s the ONLY way you’ve ever known me.”

While keeping one hand in the air, I found this advice from Marcel:

An important element to keeping a secret is not letting anyone know you have one. If you are going to use a pseudonym, it follows that the best pseudonym would be a common … name other than your own. Choose a given name and a compatible surname: Jacob Miller, Alejandro Martinez, Mohammad Khan, whatever is suitable to the environment, and move on. You’ve been Mighty Thundarrr since you went online back in ’98? Take the opportunity to change, and get a fresh email address while you’re at it.

People will complain this makes it hard for others to find them. That’s largely the point for me. Why then would I use Google+? I most likely would not, and will not unless there’s some compelling reason, and the loss of privacy is balanced by some gain. If I did, I’d use my own name, or else some common name. I would not use Goofy Gonif or Bigbird777 and then complain that Google+ was repressing my freedom of expression when the enforce their terms of service.

I started phasing out most of my pseudonyms in the late 1980s; separate personas turned out to be too high-maintenance a luxury. (I’ve kept one, which shows up on several message boards to this day, but there’s no fabricated persona involved.) Then again, nakedjen doesn’t have a fabricated persona either: she is what she is.

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal sees the Google+ edict as an inversion of reality:

[I]n real life, we expect very few statements to be public, persistent, and attached to your real identity. Basically, only people talking on television or to the media can expect such treatment. And even then, the vast majority of their statements don’t become part of the searchable Internet.

Online, Google and Facebook require an inversion of this assumed norm. Every statement you make on Google Plus or Facebook is persistent and strongly attached to your real identity through your name.

And if nobody hears it now, maybe someone will hear it a couple of years down the road, when you perhaps don’t want it heard. I once got a request from a person whom I had quoted extensively in a post: he’d been overtaken by events in real life, and some of this stuff he didn’t want attached to his name. I agonized briefly over this, then rewrote the post to omit anything traceable. Social networks, of course, can’t be bothered to do this sort of thing.

Comments (8)

Exposed pianist

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times seemed more than vaguely perturbed by the appearance of Yuja Wang at the Hollywood Bowl, mainly because the young Chinese pianist was wearing this:

Yuja Wang in Los Angeles, July 2011

What Swed said:

Her dress … was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.

I have to side here with Anne Midgette of The Washington Post, who finds the outfit defensible and then some:

I love formality at times, but wish there were more variety in classical music presentation (and this is something that many presenters are actively working on). But even if you do think that classical music calls for restraint, you can hardly claim that the Hollywood Bowl is exactly a bastion of decorum, or even of good taste. Wang, furthermore, was performing one of the flashiest concertos in the repertory, the Rachmaninoff 3. From some points of view, her dress was perfectly suited to the occasion.

For comparison, here’s a more formal setting: the 2010 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, in which Wang, similarly attired, plays solo piano works by Alexander Scriabin:

I spent approximately fifteen seconds wondering how she was going to work the pedals in those heels. Afterwards, none of that extraneous stuff mattered.

Midgette points out:

I would probably have mentioned the dress too. But one of a critic’s jobs is providing reasonable context, and to me the tone of this particular discussion comes far too close to a schoolmarmish wagging of the finger about what we do and don’t do in the classical temple.

And during the days when I had season tickets to the symphony, rather a lot of us in the upper orchestra didn’t actually wear ties. I’m sure there was somebody who had a problem with that, but it clearly wasn’t the Maestro.

(Photo by Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.)

Comments (13)

Displeased, Mr. Postman

“Every day I go to my mailbox and put 98% of its contents directly into the recycle bin,” says this one aggrieved postal customer:

The USPS is a garbage-spamming environmental disaster that solicits money from companies to do direct marketing, offers no opt-out features, and every day drives tens of thousands of polluting vehicles to stuff unwanted paper into mailboxes across the country.

In addition to its monopoly, the post office is one of the most unpleasant retail locations anyone could imagine — filthy counters, grudging employees, and long lines.

Guy’s obviously never been to a Walmart Supercenter on the first of the month.

There’s an upside to this, though: pesky vendors are wasting tremendous sums of money for minimal return. AARP alone has spent upwards of $100 just on me, and that’s a hundred bucks that won’t end up in the hot little hands of some Congressional hack.

(Via this Jeff Jarvis tweet.)

Addendum: “USPS: an idea whose time is gone.”

Comments (8)

Strange search-engine queries (289)

This is the weekly feature where we turn our attention to whatever marginally-humorous stuff we can find in the referral section of the system log. In a recent straw poll, 42.7 percent of readers preferred actual straw, but you can’t have everything.

joy behar is very unpopular:  Not so. Very uninformed, yes; very unappealing, maybe; but very unpopular, no.

you look squelched:  Yeah, I’m all out of anti-squelching fluid, and the liquor stores don’t open until 9 this morning.

burberry lab coat:  As if laboratory assistants were paid enough to afford such things.

you think therefore I am:  Um, I don’t think so.

she got ten twenty thirty in her song:  So she’s going like sixty, then?

Jessica Simpson in Pantyhose:  And you didn’t see this? (Includes bonus Joy Behar content.)

too pretty to work:  This describes approximately none of the most recent batch of London rioters.

Stephanie Zimbalist sneezes:  Doesn’t everyone?

terms we no longer use:  “Budget surplus” comes immediately to mind.

i love you a bushel and a peck zooey deschanel:  People and their insane crushes. Sheesh.

does kim k wear spanx booty booster shorts?  People and their insane crushes. Sheesh.

Comments (3)

Lessons from Ottawa

The Canadians went through the same financial crisis that we did back in ought-eight. Canada, however, is not teetering on the brink of financial disaster. Then again, unlike their neighbors to the south, they comprehend the word “budget.”

Comments (1)

Tailgated by the Balrog

Hyundai Accent with vanity plate

One does not simply drive into Mordor.

(Via That Will Buff Out.)

Comments (2)

It’s supersized!

Ezra Dyer of Automobile got a piece published in The New York Times, of all places, and while it conforms, vaguely, to the Gray Lady’s Engines Are Evil narrative, it’s still pretty funny, at least if you’ve never owned a heavy-duty pickup of your own. A sample:

Besides the obvious area of fuel economy — good luck coaxing a number that begins with a “2” — these trucks pose day-to-day challenges. Drive-through automatic-teller machines are a problem, as your cash will probably come out on the same plane as the Power Wagon’s floorboards. Many parking garages will be off limits, the architects having failed to anticipate the citizenry’s taste for two-story transportation. And your trips to the service station will be frequent and painful. You know how gas pumps shut off automatically when your tab reaches $100? No? Well, you’ll find out.

This comment of mine from four years ago may or may not be relevant:

Ford sent over an F-650 (!) to Automobile magazine a few years back, and the female contingent (including then editor-in-chief Jean Jennings) swooned, while the guys shook their heads in disbelief. Jennings even had the temerity to write about dismounting in a skirt, which event apparently drew a crowd in Ann Arbor.

Since then, Jennings has returned to that position — of editor-in-chief, I mean — so Dyer presumably reports to her. If she says anything and I hear about it, I’ll pass it on.

(Spotted at The Truth About Cars.)

Comments (4)

Worst. Cover. Ever.

This weekend, Rolling Stone is looking for the Worst Cover Song of All Time, and given the sheer length of All Time, there are no doubt thousands of nominees, though I wouldn’t include, for instance, No Doubt’s version of “It’s My Life,” which wasn’t half bad, despite the fact that something about Gwen Stefani’s voice grates on me.

For me, the situation is complicated by the fact that Trini was fond of sending me cover versions, most of which were quite good, and by my devotion to Brian Ibbott’s podcast Coverville, where I’ve heard a lot of good ones, and inevitably a few that made my skin crawl.

Since I don’t go out of my way to find really bad remakes, I can’t think of one that truly deserves dishonoring as The Worst, though the following annoy me enough not to play very much, if not enough to move me to delete them from the pile:

  • The Dead Kennedys’ “I Fought the Law” is properly energetic, though Jello Biafra felt compelled to rewrite it to refer to the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, and his narrative is too elliptical to fit in the structure of a traditionally-styled rocker. (On the other hand, the DKs did a bang-up job on “Take This Job and Shove It,” which they manage to finish off in a mere 85 seconds.)
  • Harry Nilsson’s oft-covered “One,” the first substantial hit by Three Dog Night, was turned into a vaguely-industrial screamfest by Richard Patrick, who got it onto the soundtrack of the film The X-Files, credited to Patrick’s band Filter, though apparently no other member of Filter appears on the track.
  • “Big Yellow Taxi” was never my favorite Joni Mitchell song. That said, an ad-hoc aggregation called the Neighborhood put out a cover version based on the dubious premise that the best part of “Taxi” was the bop vocal. (In the “video” you can see the jacket for an old various-artists LP, a copy of which I have.)
  • Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” is technically not a cover, but structurally it’s a mashup of “Werewolves of London” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” neither of which deserved this sort of treatment, which includes a chorus in which “things” is rhymed with, um, “things.”
  • And while I don’t think either of them have put it out on record yet, neither Miley Cyrus nor Hannah Montana have any business singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” (I don’t actually have a copy of this.)

Your own suggestions will be appreciated.

Comments (20)