Website redesign (part one)

I have hitherto avoided inflicting my technical problems on the
readers of this blog, but this subject is what I really need to
think about, so it doesn’t really make sense to go finding other
things to write about the way I did yesterday. I’ll
try to keep the tech talk understandable to the lay user; let me
know if I fail.

This post is going to discuss only the basic functionality of
how the transcribed pieces are described, and how the user finds
them. The other parts of the site will be discussed in future posts.

Why a redesign?

Because the original design has gotten unwieldy both for
me and for the users.

The reason I didn’t add new pieces to the site for over a year
wasn’t that I wasn’t transcribing new pieces, it’s that the
procedure for adding things is quite clumsy. After I changed
computers and ISP’s in August it was clearly going to need an
unknown amount of debugging. The debugging turned out to be small
when I finally got around to it, but adding a piece that’s been
transcribed and proof-played should be just an easy couple of clicks.

For the users, the one-page By
Composers
listing is an increasingly unwieldy way to find what
they want, and doesn’t include all the information they need. For
instance, one of the most-requested things is a way to find pieces
by number of parts. It would also be good to have some idea of
the ranges of the parts.

The original site design did have both number and ranges of parts
when you got to the page for the piece,
but it happened by displaying short excerpts
from each of the parts, which
broke fairly early on, and wasn’t really the right answer for
doing searching anyway.

So here’s my picture of how the site should look:

  • The primary entry to the collection of transcribed works
    should be a search page that allows selection by composer,
    dates, number of parts, instrumentation, country, language, or
    any combination of those things. That is, if I’m looking for a
    trio for voices in German, I should be able to just say, “Show
    me all the three-part vocal pieces in German.” Or if I want to
    know what there is by Billings, I should be able to just request
    that.
  • The current static html pages which are generated from the
    database by a script I wrote, should be generated dynamically
    from the database. (If that doesn’t make sense, see below.) This will make adding a new piece much
    simpler. You don’t want to know what I do now; what I’ll do
    then is run one script which will add the piece to the database
    and upload the files.
  • I think it might make sense to leave both the current search
    pages (By
    Composers
    and By
    Date
    ) there, but of course have them dynamically generated.
    The idea is that for browsing, having a way to look at what’s
    been added or changed since the last time you browsed, or at
    what the distribution of stuff by composer is, is easier than
    just dealing with the search page. Possibly it would make sense
    to add other pages like that, such as “By Country” or “By number
    of parts”.

Static and dynamic

It looks like the major technical jargon I wasn’t able to edit
out of the above was the static/dynamic distinction. So here’s
an explanation.

In general, if you go to a page like www.laymusic.org/directions.html,
it’s static. HTML is a markup language, so the person who
authored the page just wrote text, and then put in some commands
to say things like, “Here’s a new paragraph,” or “Display this
image here.” Then they put that page on the site, and kept
track of where they put it so that they could refer to it from
other pages, or from emails.

If you have 500 pieces, or a couple of blog entries a day, this
might not be such a good idea. So the way most of those sites are
done is that the information you want to maintain about each
individual item is in a database, and
the text you see when you look on the web at that item is
generated by a program from what’s in that database. For
instance, each piece on my site has a title, a composer and a
list of files someone might want to download
in the database, and there could be a program that gets run on the
server every time someone says, “I want to look at that piece,”
that would display that information.

It was even at the time wierd, but when I designed the site, I
did put the information in the database, but instead of having the
program on the server to display it, I have a program that runs on
my own computer that writes an HTML file to display it. This
means I have to rerun that program every time the information
changes, and run the program that generates the “By Composer” and “By
Date” pages every time I add something. This was fine when there
were only a few pieces, but it’s getting tedious now that there
are more than 500, with another hundred or so that I haven’t yet
put up.

Forgetting a baby

I was pointed to this
item
in the Washington Post from the Making Light
blog, one of many I read in Google Reader before
breakfast most mornings.

Like a lot of people, my first reaction was, “How can anyone
forget a baby?” But then I remembered a story from the early
nineties.

At that time, I had a cat named Geoffrey. I
thought he should be an indoor cat, but he wanted to be an
outdoor cat enough that in spite of how much bigger, stronger,
and smarter I was than he was, he quite often got out the door
when I got home.

[Geoffrey]

He didn’t want to be outdoors for very long at a time, and he
seemed to have a healthy fear of cars, so nothing very terrible
ever happened because of this — he would prowl around for half
an hour or so and then come sit by the front door and wait for
me to open it. I had the pet owner’s physical sense of where
Geoffrey was in relationship to me, so I always remembered to go
open the door a half an hour after this.

But one night, when the temperature was in the teens and headed
down to the single digits, I got home to a full answering
machine of messages I needed to do things about. I handled them
as well as I could, and tumbled into bed.

I think it was about 3 PM that I woke up to the sounds of a
very indignant cat outside on my front steps, and realized that
I had completely forgotten to let Geoffrey in.

I think I took this as a sign that I was trying to do too much,
and that this incident was one of many that led to my resigning
as chair of my neighborhood association, which had been the
source of all the answering machine messages.

But in any case, this happening gives me more sympathy for the
parents who somehow got their mental wiring screwed up enough to
forget a baby in a locked car on a hot day.

Thinking about this on my walk with Sunny this morning, I can
think of several reasons why this baby-baking phenomenon is
happening more often now than it used to:

  • More people trying to do too many things at once. You can
    make a case that just having a baby in this era is already too
    many things at once.
  • The technical problem alluded to in the article, where
    current thinking on physical safety of babies in cars leads to
    the car seat being in the back seat with the baby facing the
    rear of the car, that is, away from the driver.
  • Increased worry about security leading people to leave their
    cars locked with all the windows closed as a general rule. I’m
    sure when I was growing up (before most cars had air
    conditioning), most people left some windows open when they left
    their car on a hot day. When I leave Sunny in the car, which I
    try to avoid on days that are particularly cold or hot, I always
    leave two windows open several inches. Of course, he looks like
    a pretty formidable watchdog, even if he’s mostly retired these days.

I’ve loved you so long

I watched I’ve
loved you so long
last night, and really enjoyed
it. I don’t remember seeing the original review, but I saw a
preview on something else I watched, and added it to my netflix
queue on the basis of the acting, and also because I like to
watch a French movie from time to time, on the theory that it
might help keeping up my French conversation skills, such as
they are.

My favorite part was the scene where the drunken host of a
party decides that the right game to play is to find out what
Juliette, the main character, has been doing before she suddenly
appeared in her sister’s life. Even people who don’t know the
answer try to convince him that he’s being boorish, but he
persists, and finally Juliette tells the literal truth: “I was
in prison for 15 years for murder.” Everybody bursts out
laughing, and they all assure the host that he’s no match for
Juliette’s wit. (The man who’s getting interested in Juliette
sees that it isn’t a joke, but that part is clearly a fairy
tale.)

The same party conversation has an argument about Eric
Rohmer
. There are clearly
similarities with the production values that bowled me over when
I first saw Ma
nuit chez Maude
. For instance, you believe that the scenes
in the kitchen were filmed by someone who had washed dishes at
least once. But I think the characters are much more
three-dimensional than is typical in Rohmer’s movies.

One disadvantage of the movie: the title comes from the folk
song A la claire fontaine, which I almost know, so
I’ve had it running through my head a little bit wrong all day.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001M72J68&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr
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Nokia 810 syncs with google calendar

E-reading history

When I had my first pocket computer (a Palm III in 1999 or so), I discovered
that while I could live without my appointments and TODO list in
my pocket, I really liked being able to carry books around and
read them without adjusting lighting, and with adjusting the type
size to the state of my eyes. Since then, I’ve upgraded
the pocket device several times, including twice when the current
one wasn’t even broken.

Most recently, my Nokia 770 died with the White Screen of
Death. I had really liked it as a reader, with the size and
resolution of the screen being at a really good point, where you
can still get a reasonable fraction of a page on it at a readable
type size, but it still slips into a pocket easily.

When I bought it, I had hopes of being able to use the other
features, and found I mostly didn’t. The music player didn’t play
music loud enough, I didn’t feel like working hard enough to sync
the calendar with the google calendar that’s easiest to use on the
desktop and laptop, the sites I wanted to browse when I could
connect wirelessly seemed to use flash…

So when I had to replace it, I considered the Nokia 810, for
which the software is a bit better supported and which includes
features that aren’t on the 770, but also thought
about the ipod touch or a netbook.

In the end, I decided that the right screen size was the
important thing, and went with the 810.

As a reader, it’s at least as good as the 770. The screen is
the same size. I miss the built-in hard case, but the vinyl
envelope seems to work pretty well, and the foldout stand actually
does make it easier to use as a reader. The FBReader version
seems to be behind the one on my Ubuntu 8.10 desktop, which is a
pity since there’s a new feature that lets you download books
directly from some of the online free libraries that would be
really useful.

Calendar

Of the normal PIM functions, the only one I really wish I had
was the calendar. I’m pretty good at keeping my immediate future
in my head, but I’ve several times double-booked by depending on
that, and it would be good to not have to.

The built-in calendar seems pretty basic. For instance, I
haven’t figured out a way to configure it so that the daily view
shows you evening appointments.

However, there is an application called erminig which will
sync your google calendar with the GPE calendar. (This is not the
calendar that comes pre-loaded, but it can be easily installed
from the application manager.)

I installed this in my first set of installs from the
application manager, but stopped fiddling with it when my first
attempt said it couldn’t connect to google.

This week on the maemo-users list there was a long thread
started by someone who had bought an 810 and had been unable to
find an application he really wanted to use enough to be worth the
trouble of putting it in his pocket. At various points this was
about to degenerate into a flamefest, but a number of people
answered seriously about what they use their nokia tablets for,
including a couple who said they used erminit.

So I started another thread asking how they’d done it. Nobody
really said anything helpful, except that if I could get to google
calendar via the browser, it must be something wrong with the
erminig configuration. So I found the config file and looked at
it, and sure enough, it had my password in the clear, and it
started with a capital letter. The real password begins with a
lower-case letter. Fiddling with the shift key didn’t seem to
change this.

On my next dog walk, I realized that I could just enter some
other letter as the first letter, and then delete it, so I did
that and was successfully able to connect to google. Then the
next issue was that my 8 PM Monday recorder lesson was listed as 1
AM on Tuesday, but that was obviously a time zone issue, and I
fixed it. So now I have a working calendar that I can carry in my
pocket. I’ll let you know if there are problems with the syncing,
but so far it looks pretty good.

I get annoyed at people who complain about the quality of Free
Software and don’t report the bugs they find, so I did spend the
time this morning to register at maemo.org and fill out the bug
report.

But if you run into anyone claiming that the 810 is ready for
consumer use out of the box, you can tell them this story.

Other stuff

Another application I downloaded immediately, and even went to
the computer store and spent $8 on an adaptor for it, is the one that
allows a USB keyboard to plug in to the 810. This does seem to
work, but I haven’t used it yet. If I were to figure out how to
install emacs, it would be more useful.

I haven’t even bothered to install the app that would let me
use the camera. I hardly ever use the one on my cell phone — the
pictures that have been on this blog were taken with a real
digital camera.

I was interested in trying the GPS feature, and it did find my
latitude and longitude and let me look at it on a map, but in
order to get navigation you need to send somebody some more money,
and it sounds like if you’re going to do that, a special purpose
GPS device is still a better deal.

I haven’t yet tried the PDF reader, and most of the browsing
I’ve done hasn’t worked well without my glasses. But maybe
they’ll turn out to be of some use.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001CX5UAO&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr
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Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

One of the movie reviewers I read said that he thought the
book
Revolutionary
Road
was one of his favorite novels of the second half of
the twentieth century, but the movie was one of his least
favorite movies of 2008. So I decided I should read the book, and
I finished it last night.

I enjoyed it; I was born in 1951, so all the costume and home
decorating descriptions are of things that I can just
remember, and they seem accurate.

I think the best thing about the book is the descriptions of
the characters’ body language, for instance, in this first scene
with the Wheelers and the Campbells:

…they sank into various postures of controlled
collapse.

Milly Campbell dropped her shoes and squirmed deep into the
sofa cushions, her ankles snug beneath her buttocks and her
uplifted face crinkling into a good sport’s smile — not the
prettiest girl in the world, maybe, but cute and quick and fun to
have around.

Beside her, Frank slid down on the nape of his spine until
his cocked leg was as high as his head. His eyes were already
alert for conversational openings and his thin mouth already
moving in the curly shape of wit, as if he were rolling a small,
bitter lozenge on his tongue.

Shep, massive and dependable, a steadying influence on the
group, set his meaty knees wide apart, and worked his tie loose
wiht muscular fingers, to free his throat for gusts of
laughter.

And finally, hte last to settle, April arranged herself with
careless elegance in the sling chair, her head thrown back on the
canvas to blow sad, aristocratic spires of cigarette smoke at the
ceiling.

The weakest part seems to me to be the description of Frank at
work. It’s laudable for a novelist to try, but it doesn’t ring
true to me that someone who has been trying for years to not
think about his job at all would suddenly come up with a piece
of writing about it that would impress upper management so
much. Or that having done the impressing, the job wouldn’t
start taking up more of Frank’s mind than the omniscient
narrator leads us to believe that it does.

If I were casting the movie, for the female lead I’d go straight for January Jones,
who plays the troubled suburban housewife on Mad
Men
. But I can imagine Kate Winslett doing fine. I’m glad
they didn’t go for Gwyneth Paltrow, who is in my opinion
overrated. When she did Sylvia Plath, she convinced me that she
could commit suicide, but not that she could write poetry.

For the male lead, I was initally dubious about Leonardo de
Caprio, since it’s obvious that at the start of the book he
should be much less attractive a figure than his wife. But as
the plot unfolds and he becomes more confident and she becomes
less so, I can imagine him playing down his matinÉe idol
looks at the beginning and then uncovering them gradually.

I haven’t seen the movie, nor is it on my Netflix list, and I’m not
going to put it there unless someone tells me something better
about the movie than I’ve heard so far. But I do recommend the
book if you’re at all interested in marriage, work, madness, and
general life in the nineteen fifties.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0307454622&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr
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Following up

I expect on a more or less weekly basis to post a short series
of paragraphs that update previous posts.

Tuner

Last Friday, I wrote about my new tuner. I
said that I was having trouble even getting it to slow down when
playing a recorder. I took it to my lesson that evening, to see
what a professional recorder player (John Tyson) could do with
it. As you would expect, he did much better than I did, with no
trouble getting the spinning lights to slow down, but it was a
great deal of effort for him to make them stop. (When you watch
a professional recorder player play with one of the needle ones,
it really looks like the needle doesn’t move at all.) At my next
lesson, he asked me if I’d been working with the tuner (not much,
because of the concert), and recommended doing so, because it
would be good feedback on getting an even tone.

Pruning Roses

On Saturday, I wrote about finally being able to get to the
rosebush in my
garden plot

. Unfortunately, we had an unusual cold snap this
week, with temperatures in the teens (fahrenheit) for several
days, and maybe in the single digits at night. So while last
week I worried that I was leaving it too late, if having the raw
cuts exposed to cold is a bad thing, maybe I should have waited
another week. And now I’m worried about how the poor little buds
did with the cold, too.

Link
to my pruning shears.

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Drugs

I said yesterday that the
pharmacy had the authorization, and was claiming that they would
fill the prescription for the insulin syringes in a small number
of hours. I called them several times, and they still hadn’t done
it as of 4 PM. So I called this morning, and they finally had them. But
this morning my fasting blood sugar was 201, which is much higher
than it ever is when I’m taking insulin. I’m going to try to get
time to write to the hospital ombudsman or whatever it’s called
these days. There should definitely be a system for getting
people medication in less than a week, and for expediting
medications that people are out of.

Getting drugs

I’m having enough trouble filling all my prescriptions this
month that I keep wondering about whether all the people who are less
literate and competent and mobile than I am, and have even more
prescriptions for the system to screw up than I do, ever get what
their doctors think they’re taking.

The short story is that as of yesterday afternoon my doctor claims to have authorized the
refill of my insulin syringes, and the pharmacy claimed
that they’d never gotten the authorization, and the doctor
claimed that there was no way she could talk to the pharmacy
directly.

The status this morning is that they admit to having gotten the
authorization, but won’t have it filled until at least noon. I
started trying to get this routine refill last Thursday, and have
been out of the syringes (and hence not taking the insulin,
although since that got refilled, I have plenty) since Sunday. I
have so far been to the pharmacy twice for this month’s refills,
and will have to go at least once more, and have probably spent at
least 2 hours on the phone trying to get all the refills.

The good news is that my fasting blood sugar this morning was
near the high end of the range it is when I’m taking the insulin,
but not off the charts.

One of the things I didn’t write about as much as I thought I
should last year was the difficulties of dealing with the health
care system. Last year, the difficulties I was thinking of were
largely those of my friend Bonnie, who
was dying of cancer, and presenting difficult problems to the
system. But refilling a prescription every month for a healthy
person who can walk or drive to the pharmacy shouldn’t be a difficult problem.

Snow Shoveling

I live in an 8-unit condominium building on a fairly major
street in Cambridge Massachusetts. The condo rules state that
each owner is responsible for clearing snow from the area in front
of their door. Cambridge law allows the police to ticket a
homeowner who has not cleared the snow within a day of the
snowfall stopping. This has been on the books for some time, but
this year is the first I’ve heard of anyone actually getting a ticket.

I interpret the condo rule as meaning that everybody is
responsible for getting one eighth of the snow shoveling done.
There are storms big enough that I can’t do that much in one
outing, because it causes the arthritis in my hands to act up.
I’ve told people this, and both the owner downstairs and one of
the ones next door have responded that they don’t mind doing my
share. And in fact, they frequently do do the area in front of my
door as well as the one in front of theirs.

I really can’t figure out how people came to this conclusion
that they should do the area in front of their door, and no more
and no less. Maybe they never walk anywhere, and don’t know that
two well-shoveled doorways separated by an area of unshoveled snow
is just as useless as no snow being shoveled? Maybe all they’re
trying to do is avoid a fine, and they don’t care about making
walking easier for the pedestrians?

At the condo meeting before Christmas where we discussed this
issue, I tried to go on after my speech about not always being
able to do my share of the heavy lifting to explain that therefore
I tried to do more than my share of putting down salt and sweeping
the steps clear. This fell on completely deaf ears. I don’t know
whether it was the idea of doing anything in front of anyone
else’s door, or the idea that the job of dealing with the snow was
more than just the initial shoveling that was too foreign or
complicated for them.

img_02251

When I’m one of the first people out shoveling, I try to do a
complete one-shovel path across the entire lot before I go on to
clear more of the section in front of my door. Nobody else does
this. If I hadn’t done it yesterday, there would be a section
with no shoveling, because one owner didn’t do any. He may be out
of town; he usually shovels his doorway.

If we were really public-spirited, we would not only all
contribute to clearing the whole of our own sidewalk, but also
assist the people on either side of us in cutting an outlet to the
street at the corner and at the neighbor’s driveway. This is much
harder than just shoveling the sidewalk, because the stuff the
plow leaves at the side of the road is much harder work to move
than the snow that falls on the sidewalk. Also, it has to be well
timed, because if you do it too early, the plows come and plow it
up again, and of course if you leave it too late it turns even
icier and harder to deal with.

img_0226

I haven’t even tried
explaining the part about helping our neighbors at a condo meeting.

For a while, I was grumbling that it would be easier for the
city to buy little plows for the sidewalks and just do it for
people than to go around ticketing people who don’t do it and
having a complicated system of exemptions for people who shouldn’t
get tickets. But then I had lunch one day in downtown Haverhill,
where they do have the little plows. For some reason the little
plows hadn’t gotten to the block I was on before the snow turned
into ice, and nobody had shoveled or put salt or sand down either.

Snow Shovels at Amazon

Concert yesterday

Here’s the program.
We didn’t take pictures yesterday, but here’s one from last week in Lowell, at the ALL gallery: [Cantabile band]

The Cantabile
Band
does a fair amount of performing for a dropin group, but
it’s mostly things like The
Walk for Hunger
and background music at Boston Wort Processors picnics.

There’s a big difference between that and playing a concert for
a bunch of people who have paid money for the privilege of sitting
and listening to the music.

This difference may be particularly acute in the case of the
Renaissance polyphony that we specialize in. There’s a fairly
long distance between being able to sing it well enough that
everybody in the group enjoys it, or so that people walking by
think it’s pretty, and being able to actually stand in front of an
audience and put together each line in its precise relationship to
all the other lines so that the audience can hear it all.

Five people from the dropin group signed up for this concert.
Three of us don’t treat it as a dropin group, and come every week,
and learn the music we work on as we work on it. Two of them come
much less often, and started rehearsing this playlist in January
with very little acquaintance with any but the more commonly
performed pieces.

In addition, the soprano/harpsichord player fell and broke two
ribs and her left wrist in early February.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached this
concert. I knew it would be a stretch when I signed up to do it.
I think I can report with satisfaction that we did stretch. I can
also report that if you’d been there you could have seen a number
of places where we could have stretched harder or better. But I
think the concert yesterday was what that group can do this week,
and if we turn out to be able to do something better next month or
next year, it will be largely because of the work we did the last
two months.

Things I personally learned include:

  • Always make anything you’re playing comfortable. If it
    isn’t after a couple of weeks of practicing, either change it or
    drop it. One of the pieces I got a lot of compliments on after
    the concert was the van Eyck variations on Come Again,
    which I interspersed with the 6 verses of Dowland’s song as the
    ending number on the concert. Since it was interspersed, I had
    to play it on the G alto so that it would be in the same key we
    were singing in. On that instrument, I can’t reliably hit the
    low G, so I was getting tense about it and not hitting other
    things which should be easy. So I just rewrote the piece so
    that there weren’t any low G’s.
  • Always make sure that everybody knows where the cadence
    points are, and rehearse starting from each of them. This way,
    if someone makes a terrible mistake and gets lost, they can get
    back again at the next cadence. In the Lowell tryout, it turned
    out some people couldn’t do this on The Silver Swan.
    We worked hard on that piece on last Tuesday’s rehearsal.

The sedge is still not withered from the backyard

I had a gift certificate to White Flower Farms a couple of years ago.
The thing I wanted to buy most (rhubarb) cost less than the
certificate, so I had to order something else, so I looked at the
ornamental grasses and picked out a sedge. I made the mistake of
planting it behind the mint and the daylilies, which are taller
than it was, so it wasn’t a lot of use in the summertime, but all
through the winter of 2007-2008, it stayed green and nicely
shaped.

That winter was what I think of as normal, and it might have in
fact been on the mild side of normal, but it certainly got lots
colder than it does in any of the places Keats ever hung out, so I
started thinking about what he could possibly have meant in La Belle Dame Sans
Merci
when he said:

The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

I discussed this with my
sister,
who has a degree in botany, while we were walking by a
lake in early April, and she pulled up a sedge plant to look at it. It was a bit
more withered than the one I got from White Flower Farms, but much
less withered than any of the other grass-like plants growing by
that lake.

So we concluded that when Keats said, “The sedge is wither’d
from the lake,” he meant, “Even the sedge is wither’d
from the lake.” And his audience probably understood that it
meant that it was the end of a really long hard winter, instead
of just getting the generalized picture of bleakness that we
get.

This has been one of those winters here in Southern New
England. As an urban dog-walker, I measure the difficulty of a
winter by how many days there’s ice on the sidewalks, not by
which species of grass-like thing has withered from the lake
shore, but this has been a bad one. And as you can see, the sedge is still nice
and green. Maybe the sedges Keats knew were more
wither-prone than the one White Flower Farms sent me. Or maybe
he was writing science fiction, and imagining that the
knight-at-arms was hanging out somewhere colder than he had ever
experienced.

Today I’m giving a concert, with
lots of practicing and packing beforehand, and celebrating my
birthday afterwards, so there won’t be time for a blog post.
So I’ve scheduled one from the spindle; I hope it works.


The sedge is not withered from my backyard
The sedge is not withered from my backyard