A Graphic Example

[ebook on Sony reader]

A lot of non-technical people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking
about standard, non-proprietary formats. Mike
has come up with a graphic example of why you don’t
want one company owning the format of the books you read.

Apparently Sony requires any book sold for their reader in
their store to be formatted by them (at a cost of $200). And then
when they do it, it looks like that.

This hideous example is from Sony, for the Sony readers, but
the principle is the same for any proprietary format — if they
won’t tell you how to do it, you’re stuck with them doing it for
you, and you may well not like what they do.

This is why I don’t put music in proprietary formats on SerpentPublications.org.

Turning space into money

An advantage of the dog park being open again is that I get to
talk to people who do things I wouldn’t normally be involved in. A couple of nights ago,
the owner of a sprightly two-year-old terrier named Demon was
talking about all the good deals in used motorcycles you can get
this time of year.

Apparently, if you don’t have the space to store your
motorcycle for the winter, you sell it in the fall for very little money to
someone who does.

So my friend, who doesn’t personally have any more space than
anyone else who lives in a Cambridge apartment, was salivating
over the deals he’s been seeing in the used motorcycle market, and
wondering how many bikes he can convince his parents to store for him.

Pretending to go a Maying

The new piece the Cantabile
Renaissance Band
played last night was by Thomas
from the Triumphs
of Oriana.
This is a collection of madrigals by most of the
famous composers of the day (1603). They must have been the sort
of music that was played for Queen Elizabeth when she went to
visit her nobles to keep them spending their money on
conspicuous consumption rather than on raising armies to rebel
against her.

You can read what I said about the music on the
Serpent Publications Blog
, but we found the words
interesting as well, particularly the lines:

A Prince,
of beauty rich and rare,
for her delighting,
Pretends to goe a Maying,

We weren’t quite sure what that meant. One idea that occured
to us during the beer-drinking part of the meeting, where we
were discussing our gardens, was that it wasn’t May, but the
prince had too much zucchini in his garden, so he was leaving
them on his neighbors’ doorsteps and ringing the doorbell and
then running away.

Another idea I had was that it was the kind of Maying that led
to teenage pregnancy that he was pretending to do, which the
Queen wouldn’t have really wanted to do, but might have enjoyed
having a beautiful man pretend to want to do it with her.

In any case, your guess is at least as good as mine, so feel
free to leave your ideas in the comments.

More about Julia

With the movie where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child in the
theaters, a lot of people are writing about her. I’ve already
commented on the Michael Pollan
. Here are two other posts worth thinking about:

  • Don’t Buy Julia
    Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking — You will never cook
    from it
    in slate.com takes the point of view that:

    The inconvenient truth is that although the
    country’s best-loved “French chef” produced an unparalleled
    recipe collection in Mastering the Art, it has always been
    daunting. It was never meant for the frivolous or trendy. And it
    now seems even more overwhelming in a Rachael Ray world: Those
    thousands and thousands of cookbooks sold are very likely going
    to wind up where so many of the previous printings
    have — in pristine condition decorating a kitchen
    bookshelf or on a nightstand, handy for vicarious cooking and

    I acquired a one-volume copy last summer when I was cleaning out Bonnie’s
    house. I admit I haven’t yet cooked anything from it, and it is
    fairly pristine, although Bonnie cooked a lot from quite a
    number of her cookbooks. But I expect to change that this month
    — I won a box of organic cake flour from King Arthur Flour,
    and unlike most of my other cookbooks, Julia has recipes that
    specify (and presumably were tested with) cake flour.

  • Rachel
    , in her blog about food politics and food history,
    writes a post comparing Julia Child with Elizabeth David, who
    wrote the books about French cooking that caused her generation
    in England to discover it. She says:

    So although their dishes overlapped, David and Julia offered their audiences quite different ideas about cuisine. David’s was this breath of scented air, recipes as poetic guides to possibilities, a touch of sophistication and class for the aspiring. Julia’s allure was the challenge, the hard work, the mastery the guaranteed results that offered entry into a tempting international world.

    Neither vision had much to do with what French housewives, still
    reeling from World War II, actually cooked (here and here),
    an observation not a criticism.

Spruce tips in August

Someone on the homebrew club mailing list wanted to know where
you get spruce tips. I replied:

You find a spruce tree, but it only works in the spring; after that
they mature into spruce twigs.

So you might have to wait until next May, unless you can get a cooperative denizen of the Southern Hemisphere to send you
some in our fall.

I thought it was amusing that anyone would think that something
with as small a market as home brewers of spruce beer would be sold somewhere out
of season.

Coffee making ritual

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I’d
started roasting my own coffee, and said that when my coffee
making ritual settled down, I’d do a better description of it.

The roasting doesn’t really add as much time as abandoning the
automatic coffee maker did, but in any case, except for the
grinding, it’s mostly time when
you’re free to putter around the kitchen, and if you cook at all,
you need to spend at least that much time every day puttering
around the kitchen. If you don’t, you can use the time to make no
knead bread.
(More about that later. I just bought the book,
and my first batch is doing its second rising as I write

Normally I would give you links to Amazon, since I have an associate
account, and if you bought stuff by following my links, I would
get some money. In this case, they don’t seem to have any of my
exciting new coffee equipment, so I’ll just link you to SweetMaria’s, with whom I
have no relationship except that of a satisfied customer.

My coffee roaster is the Fresh Roast
Plus 8
coffee roaster, which I bought with the sampler of 8
different kinds of decaf coffee. They were all good coffee, but 3
stood out as the kind of coffee I especially like, so when I
finished the sampler, I ordered more of the ones from Costa Rica,
Ethiopia, and Sumatra. They also have a blend specially
formulated for making French Roast. This hadn’t been in the
sampler, but I wanted to try it, so I ordered some of that, too.
I generally like commercially roasted coffee best in the French
roast, but I think this isn’t true for home-roasted coffee, so
I’ll probably not repeat the French roasting experiment.

The coffee roaster makes three batches of the size I make these
days (about two mugs worth). So on a day when I need to roast
more, I put the tea kettle on to boil the water and put two large
scoops of coffee in the roaster and turn it on.

Then I grind the coffee for this batch in the Zassenhaus knee

The brewer I’m using these days is the Clever
Coffee dripper,
which looks like a normal #4 coffee filter,
but has a valve on the hole in the bottom which is closed when the
filter is on the counter, but open when you put it on top of a mug
or thermos. This means you can grind the coffee as coarsely as
you like it, which makes the grinding easier than for a regular
filter, and then brew it in the filter, which makes the cleaning
easier than a French Press brewer would be.

Before putting the filter in the brewer, I rinse out the brewer
and make sure that opening the valve produces an enthusiastic
stream of water. Then I put the filter in the brewer, and put my ground
coffee into the filter.

When the water boils, I pour a little bit into the brewer,
and then wait while it wets the grounds, and then fill the cone up
and set the timer. I set it for 5 minutes these days since I’m
doing French roast, but when I’m doing a lighter roast I do it for
3 or 4 minutes.

When the timer rings, I put the brewer on top of my thermos and
wait for the coffee to drain into the thermos, pour myself one
mug, close the thermos to keep the second mug warm, and come upstairs
here to write my blog post.

One thing I especially like about this system is that I don’t
have any actual measuring steps at all. When the roasted
coffee beans are cool and ready to go into a jar, I take three
identical jars and eyeball putting equal amounts into each jar.
When I have boiling water, I just fill up the brewer.


Tablature and lilypond

If all you’re doing is entering notes, you can probably take
lilypond from 15 years ago, run it through the automatic updater,
and get your music typeset by current lilypond, using all the
improvements made by all the developers since then.

If you have lyrics, they did something 8 years or so ago that
the automatic upgrader doesn’t deal with, so you have to manually
change two or three lines per part to use the current version. This is why there’s still a
lot of old lilypond on my music publishing
. But it’s certainly possible to use 10 year old work
with current lilypond.

If you want tablature, someone who actually has tablature may
have figured out something better than what I can see. What it
looks like from here is:

  • Some time in 2003, I spend some time figuring out how I
    would have to enter Dowland’s tablature if that were what I
    wanted to do. I actually had a measure or two entered, and I
    got some help writing a scheme function so that it would look
    more like what’s printed in the Dowland facsimiles. I didn’t at
    the time have any real use for the tablature, so I didn’t bother
    entering more than that measure. However, in 2007 I decided a
    few of the Dowland third book pieces didn’t really make sense
    musically without the lute part, so I attempted to enter the
    tablature, and found that all the work I’d done 4 years before
    was useless. I translated the tablature into standard notation,
    and didn’t do anything about having it as tablature.
  • This last week, someone from the recorder mailing
    offered to help me proofread tablature, so I took a
    look at what lilypond has now. It would clearly be a fair amount of
    work to get from the notation I have (for a few pieces) to
    anything that looks like what Dowland printed, but I found a post
    on the LUTE
    mailing list
    from last year claiming that they had something
    useful. However, this may have worked with lilypond 2.10, but it
    no longer works with lilypond 2.12.

Now I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out what has changed
about tablature between 2.10 and 2.12, and it could be that it’s a
trivial problem that just didn’t get into convert-ly by accident,
and if I wrote a bug report it would get fixed immediately. But
since I’ve done considerable work on tablature over the years, all
of which is completely useless with current lilypond, and of
course I still have several projects on the website with a fairly
tight deadline of mid-October. So I’m not going to do any more
work right now. But if any of you feel differently, and do get to
where there’s useful French lute tablature coming out of lilypond 2.12,
please let me know about it.

Meanwhile, I should mention that abctab2ps was
already producing useful tablature 10 years ago, and has
presumably improved. I stopped using it since tablature by itself
is of limited use to me, and there wasn’t any way to get from the
abctab2ps input to standard notation. But another possibly useful
program would translate the tab (plus the tuning information) into ABC or lilypond.

RIP, Senator Kennedy

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Ted Kennedy since he died
a couple of days ago. I grew up in Massachusetts, so via the
miracle of television, he’s spent a lot of time in my living room,
even though I didn’t know him personally, and I only remember once when
we were in the same (large) room together.

Many other people have been analyzing how his work in the
senate shaped America as we know it today. I’ll just tell you a
couple of personal stories.


The speech he gave where he offered to resign is the other
television event I remember from the summer of 1969, besides the
moon landing.
It was a well-delivered speech, and an effective piece of persuasive
writing. The person who is usually credited with writing it,
Theodore Sorenson, was proposed as head of the CIA in the Carter
administration, but the appointment was withdrawn. I remember one
of the arguments against it being that he had written that speech,
which may have contained some lies, and certainly didn’t tell the
whole truth. At the time, I was surprised that the opposition
would have been stated that way, since I don’t see how never
having told a lie or suppressed a truth can possibly be a
qualification for being head of an intelligence agency.

Money from an insurance company

The only time I actually called on him for help as a
constituent, his staff was quite effective. I had been using what
was then called Harvard Community Health Plan (HCHP), one
of the original
manged care organizations, for my health care for about 15 years.
I had been fairly satisfied with the care I’d received, but once I
became a contractor and no longer had my coverage paid for by my
employer, I found dealing with their billing organization
increasingly annoying. The last straw was when they wrote that
they were cancelling my policy because they hadn’t gotten my check
on time. (It had actually crossed that letter in the mail.)

I went into a frenzy of letter writing, and wrote to their
billing that they
weren’t cancelling me, I was cancelling them, and wrote letters to
the two doctors I had a relationship with explaining what was

When they didn’t return the check I’d sent after a month or
so, I wrote to Senator Kennedy, explaining the situation. In
fact, I was more concerned that he be aware that individuals were
having this kind of problem retaining coverage than that he get me
my check. I had both a diabetes and an asthma diagnosis at this
point, and I suspected HCHP of cherry-picking, and also of not
really wanting to deal with billing individuals. His office sprang into action and called both the
HCHP billing office and the Massachusetts Insurance

Less than a week after writing that letter, on the same day I got a letter in
the regular mail from Senator Kennedy’s office saying what they’d
done, and how I should follow up if I didn’t receive my check in a
week, and an express delivery of the check from HCHP.

Cancer diagnosis

I heard of Senator Kennedy’s cancer diagnosis while I was on my
way to pick up Bonnie’s
belongings from the hospice two days after she died. I remember
wondering how much difference it would make that he was richer,
more powerful, and maybe more knowledgeable about the health care
system than Bonnie had been.

The answer seems to be quite
a lot.
He was getting out of bed most days until the actual
day he died; he was at home with his family and friends and dogs
until the end; and while the brain surgery did affect his vision
and motor skills, he continued to do what he loved doing,
including sailing and writing letters until almost the very end.

Of course, it may well have been just the luck of the draw that
his surgery left him relatively unimpaired and Bonnie’s left her
unable to speak or move her left side, but it may well also have been a
difference in quality of care. If it happens to me, I hope I get
closer to the kind Kennedy got than the kind Bonnie got.

Sunny takes a bath

I did think while I was doing this that you would enjoy
pictures, but really, it takes at least two hands to give a dog a
bath, and setting up a camera, tripod, and remote control while
you’re doing it would make it even more too much work than it
already is. So you’ll just
have to take my word for it that we both looked wet, and he looked

Sunny and his cousin Monte both got fleas while Monte was
here. Monte’s seem to be clearing up from the Frontline flea and
tick stuff, but
Sunny’s just seemed to be getting worse, and I got a good look at
the infestation yesterday when Sunny was rolling in the grass in
the sunlight, and after that it made my skin crawl just thinking
about it.

So I decided he probably needed a flea shampoo in addition to
the monthly flea and tick stuff.

People at the dog park have spoken well about Laundramutt as a place to
give your dog a bath. They have tubs the right height and give
you aprons and assist you getting the dog into the bath. But when
I called them, they said they weren’t interested in helping bathe
a dog with a flea infestation.

I stopped at the pet store on the way to pick up the farm share
and picked up some flea shampoo. I took Sunny out in the back
yard and tied him to the fire escape and turned the hose on. The
internet instructions suggest wetting and soaping the neck first,
so that the fleas don’t just go hang out around the ears and eyes,
which you’re going to be trying not to get shampoo in, and then go
back and feast on dog blood. So we did that, and then wet the
rest of him, and soaped him, and rinsed him twice, and then I
toweled him off and took him inside and blow dried him.

He spent this whole process looking martyred, and clearly
wondering why I was torturing him, and the rest of the day feeling
miserable because he smelled wrong and his mommy didn’t love him
any more, but he seems to have mostly forgiven me today.

He’s normally a pretty clean dog, and any bad smells he picks
up seem to be temporary. I’ve dealt with skunk smells with a
sponge bath. The only time I resorted to a hose was when I first
got him. He’d spent a month in the shelter, so he had a pretty
strong disinfectant smell, so I hosed him off but didn’t bother
with shampoo. So this is the first real bath he’s had since at least 2000,
so it’s obvious that he thinks it’s not only cruel but also
unusual punishment.

But he’s nice and fluffy, and doesn’t seem to be scratching
anything like as much. He is shaking his head more than usual, so
I probably got water in his ears, or maybe a few fleas took refuge
there. But the flea population should be down to the number that
the monthly spot of stuff can handle.

Halfway through

Yesterday was my half birthday. This means two things:

  • In one year, I will be 59 1/2 and I will really own all the money in my
    retirement accounts.
  • I’m half through with this experiment in blogging every day.

I know I already told you about how I felt about being one third
, but I’ve had a couple of new thoughts since then, so I’ll
pass those on.

I think I’m writing some better. My current crusade is to use
the word “thing” less, and substitute a more specific noun.
I’m doing this in routine emails, as well as in these blog

I may be reading better, as a result of the fact that my
default is to write about anything I read that I really love
and want to tell people about. One of the more popular posts
on this 59’th
year experiment
was the one I wrote about Little Dorrit
after watching the BBC adaptation and rereading the book.
Part of what made that one good was that I took notes about what I
noticed and had to look up while I was reading it. I’m
currently rereading Anna
, and I’m planning a similar post about it.

I did finally get a request from a friend to change something.
I had goofed and left his real name in some text copied from
elsewhere on the web, and my blog turned up on
the front page of a google search for his name, and he was starting a job
hunt. Of course, I immediately redacted his name. It does
prove that this blog has a higher google page rank than the
page from which I lifted the quote with his name in it.

Of the top ten most popular posts, four are about the Boston Early Music Festival. I
got a request this week from the American Recorder
to use my blog post about the recorder
masterclass with Paul Leenhouts
, since the person who had
been assigned to cover it for them hadn’t come up with an

I still don’t know much about who’s reading this blog, but the
numbers of readers are going up steadily, so someone must be
enjoying it, or finding what they search for in google on

I still haven’t completely missed a day, although I admit that
days like last
are cheating a bit. But I had written real
content, just in other contexts from the 59’th year blogging
every day project.