Better Know a Jazz Musician

February 6, 2014
I was listening to Herbie Hancock's album Head Hunters yesterday, and realized that it and Empyrean Isles are basically all I know of his work. Realizing that my knowledge of Jazz is pretty spotty in general, I'm trying an experiment: I'm making thursdays my "get to know an artist day". Armed with their discography (courtesy of AllMusic) and Spotify (which has pretty extensive coverage of Jazz albums), I'm going to pick an artist and make my way through their catalogue while I work. So what's Herbie Hancock's been up to in the last 50 years?
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December 1, 2013

Just finished version 0.1 of what my be my most arbitrary open source project yet: a static blogging engine called Agiluf, written in Haskell. It's meant to be bare-bones but supports:

  • html templating
  • tagging
  • multiple authors
  • RSS


It's built on top of the awesome Pandoc library. You just write your blog entries in RST, add a little metadata to the top, and let Agiluf do the rest. Templating uses Hastache, a Haskell implementation of Mustache templates, although I will likely switch this over to Blaze soon becuase it seems better-maintained. Why the weird name? There were a couple of historical figures who bore this sobriquet. However, I took the name from Italo Calvino's wonderful novel The Nonexistent Knight. It's something of a nod to the challenges of learning Haskell. If I ever have some spare time, I'd like to convert this site over to it. 

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Paper Protoyping

November 10, 2013

I'm doing some good, old-fashined paper prototyping for an app I'm developing. As you can see, I'm doing mobile-first design. The app has an big smartphone component and it's almost more important for that part to be right than the regular non-mobile version, so I'm starting there. I'm also looking forward to making my first foray into responsive design. This should be a fun project.

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A little guide to the big bands: part 1

October 29, 2011

Swing isn't usually the kind of jazz I listen to, but a friend aked me to put together a playlist on spotify. I thought I'd throw in a few comments on what's in there. Like I said, I'm not a huge expert in this genre, so take this stuff as a layman's intro. This playlist covers the big  band era, which effectively spaned the 20s, 30s and 40s. By the end of WWII, big bands were starting to die out. I'll try to cover some fo the more transitional folks (e.g. Stan Kenton) and the Big Band revival figures in the next post.

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Django-scaffold hits 1.0

May 16, 2011

Scaffold is a little open-source Django app I built to provide a, "[r]eusable application for a generic section/subsection hierarchy in Django.  It aims to solve a common problem: you're building a site that needs sections and subsections and you not only need to be able to manage that hierarchy, but also hang other content off of it." Today, I've decided to bump it up to version 1.0. You can grab it from github or install it with pip/easy_install.

Scaffold is now in use in a couple of production sites, has a full test suite, and an API that is more-or-less stable; taken together all of this seemed to warrant giving it a 1.0 release. I owe special thanks to my colleague, Chuck Harmston for updating Scaffold to maintain Django 3.1 compatibility while I was off exploring the beaches of the Phillipines.

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Scenes from a presentation

November 9, 2010

Slides from a presentation on functional programming

Here are a couple of slides from a presentation I'm preparing to give to developers at work. It's on the topic of functional programming and right now I'm struggling through how to wrap it up. It took me a couple of years to finally get my head around functional programming, so even though I'm fortunate enough to be speaking to a bunch of folks who are smarter than me, it's still a rather mindbending topic to grasp in a one hour presentation. Getting into the declarative mindset is tough, particularly when your mental mapping of human/computer interaction is warped by the lens of imperative programming. (And whoops, putting that collage together made me realize my examples of a fold are not consistent about direction.)

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Making space on the camera

May 26, 2010

Just in time for my trip to Peru, I finally got the last batch of photos from my trip to the Southwest off my camera and up on Flickr.

Abandoned ranch on pleasant creek

I'll try to post pictures from Peru as I go, but I've only got a netbook with me. So unless the photos are coming out of the camera near-perfect, I might have to wait until I get back.

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Flickr Latency

April 22, 2010

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT

How sad is it that I still haven't posted all the photos from a trip out west that happened six months ago?

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Soba Noodle Soup

February 6, 2010

I made a pretty good soba noodle soup the other day. It was simple, light, and easy to make. The first step is to make a Japanese seafood stock, a pretty traditional recipe:

Japanese seafood stock

Just throw in some carrots, onions, green onions, ginger, konbu (kelp) and hijiki (another kind of seaweed). Simmer that for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft:

Veggies are all simmered

Then strain the stock and try to squeeze as much liquid out of the vegetables as possible. Once that's done, put the stock back in the pot and bring it to a simmer. Now you're ready to finish the stock with a few other ingredients:

Finishing ingredients

You add a little dashi to taste (the tan-colored granules on the left). It's a kind of fish stock and you can make your own, but most Japanese just use the granules; that's what I did. Then add a few tablespoons of a 50/50 mixture of shoyu (soy sauce) and mirin (rice wine), which is the dark colored liquid in the center. Finally add some sliced carrots and spring onions. Keep those over a very low heat, and boil the soba noodles (bottom) in another pot of water. When they're all done, just combine the ingredients and enjoy.

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Quo vadis, classical music?

February 3, 2010

An interesting, disheartening blog post by Anne Midgette in the WP. The key graf:

Many of us who love music share a vague idea that audiences should be open to new things, and that they should be convinced to give them a try. But is this true? I’ve observed before that classical music, particularly opera companies and orchestras, are unusual in that they repeatedly try to force things on its audience that its audience doesn’t necessarily want. Someone who comes to the movie theater to see “Avatar” is not necessarily going to be thrilled if I show him “Pan’s Labyrinth” instead, even if I’m convinced that he would really love it if only he would watch it. And yet this is what’s going on in classical music, all the time: audiences are being asked to pay lots of money in order to be taken out of their comfort zone.

I  think it’s worth unpacking this statement.  I’m troubled for instance by the way in which she talks about the audience for classical music as though it’s a monolithic entity; it’s not. In fact, one of the biggest challenges classical music faces is that there is a substantial rift running right down the middle of it’s listeners. Go to the symphony on any given night and it’s easy enough to see: on the one hand you have the older, wealthier segment of the audience. These are the folks who occupy the box seats, the folks who can afford to shell out for season tickets, the folks who show up on the donors list in the program. And by and large, they want to hear the operas and symphonies and concertos they’ve always heard: the classical warhorses. For them, Ravel and Debussy are as adventurous as they like to get. Because these audiences financial influence is high, one often finds their impact  on programming is frequently disproportionate to their numbers.

The other audience for classical music is just as likely to show up at a matinee concert: they’re younger, more open to new music, but don’t wield the purse strings of the  organization. And keeping them coming—in fact, attracting more like them—is the only hope classical music has if it wants to survive, at least in the US. The older audience might be supplying the bread and butter now, but they are dying off and no one is replacing them. This issue is somewhat orthogonal to the old vs. new music debate, but the fact is, new music can spectacularly engage younger, new-to-the-scene audiences; I’ve seen it happen. For these audiences, new music doesn’t have to be an occasional event, leavened with heavy doses of Beethoven and Brahms to make it go down. It can be a vital part of how they define classical music.

It’s also worth looking at this statement: “audiences are being asked to pay lots of money in order to be taken out of their comfort zone” because wittingly or not, it gets at a huge problem in the classical industry. Symphony and especially opera tickets are insanely expensive. If I want to get even halfway-decent seats at a WNO performance, I can expect to pay $100 - $250 per ticket. Big organizations spending lots of money on top-flight talent are going to tend to be risk-averse, but this is happening precisely at a time when the industry needs to take some risks to survive. That’s a likely reason why smaller venues, chamber and solo concerts tend to be more welcoming of new music. But orchestras can do it too. Right here in Baltimore, Marin Alsop and the BSO are a good example.

Update: Alex Ross has more on the state of current classcal audiences, with breakdowns by generation. Good read, albeit depressing.

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The most intuitive, easy-to-follow explanation of Fourier transforms I've ever come across

March 25, 2014

It's here. I found the link when I happened across a discussion of the topic in the Math Stack Exchange. I wish I had seen this way back when I was implementing FFTs in my computer music class in college.  It would have saved me some headaches.

Bonus interesting math thing: The Genuine Sieve of Eratosthenes, a paper by Melissa E. O’Neill. 

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Prog Rock Day

August 14, 2013

Today feels like a prog rock day. Jumping into the deep end of the pool with the first track off Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans. 22:22 of pure awesome. And lots of guitar noodling.

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A serious question.

March 14, 2013

Question about this new Autechre album: are they really two British dudes, or did the ghost of Iannis Xenakis come to be trapped inside a Macbook that happened to have Protools installed ? Even the title—Exai—sounds Xenakis-ish.

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A Mathematician’s Lament

November 28, 2011

A really beautiful little essay by Paul Lockhart about how we learn math now, and how we could do so, so much better. 


[M]athematics is an art form done by human beings for pleasure! Alright, yes, it would be nice if people knew a few basic things about numbers and shapes, for instance. But this will never come from rote memorization, drills,lectures, and exercises. You learn things by doing them and you remember what matters to you.

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A brief rant...

November 10, 2011

on the future of interaction design. Well worth a read.

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March 10, 2011

David Troy has created a very cool visualization of how geohashing works. If you wanted to create your own geohashes (for example, to speed up proximity searches) there's an excellent python implementation of it.

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Evaluating CSS3 & HTML 5 features

December 26, 2010

When Can I Use... is a fantastic site to use when you need to decide whether or not to use some of the new CSS3 and HTML5 hotness. It offers comprehensive compatibility tables for relevant versions of all browsers, mobile and immobile, and even links to workarounds so you can just squeak by on using that one feature you just have to have. I'm planning on redesigning this site soon, and It's going to be a big help. Also, IE users, things here will still be readable after that, but otherwise, you're on you own until IE9 is ready for primetime.

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Learning Haskell

December 19, 2010

In the process of putting together a presentation on functional programming, I've begun getting into Haskell a bit. It's a bit of a mindbender at first, but I'm enjoying it. For certain types of programming, it's an extrodinarily expressive language. Project Euler is a good example: I've started working through each of the problems, first in Python (a language I know) and then in Haskell. These kinds of math problems are places where a functional language can really shine, and I'm finding that even when judged against an imperative language that I think is particularly elegant like Python, the Haskell solutions often seem more, well...aesthetically beautiful. Fodder for a future blogpost, maybe.

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Apropos of absolutely nothing...

December 10, 2010

Did you know Art Garfunkel keeps a list of every book he's read since 1968 on his website?

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What is Wikileaks Up To?

December 6, 2010

One of the most thoughtful, nuanced, and distinctive pieces I've seen about Wikileaks: 3 Quarks Daily: What is Julian Assange Up to? Contrast this with a fairly dissapointing essay by Umberto Eco on the subject which manages not only to get details about technology and state secrets wrong, but also doesn't really say anything interesting.

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django-belleville moved to github

September 16, 2010

Belleville (the blogging engine I wrote, which powers this site) used to be on google code, now it's on github.

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What Classical Music Needs

August 30, 2010

From Unblocking classical music's arteries on the blog On An Overgrown Path:

...[G]reat music making only happens when creative energy can flow freely between composer, performer and listener. Yet almost all of the current efforts to reach new audiences involve building the very barriers that block the vital energy flow. Classical music does not need a celebrity culture, it does not need inane presentation, it does not need to be markeketed like cornflakes by PR agencies, it does not need note perfect performances, it does not need national flags on the platform and it does not need the other brands of consultant created snake oil currently doing the rounds.

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How to save the news

June 8, 2010

Excellent article by James Fallows about how Google's involvment in the future of journalism.

“Nothing that I see suggests the ‘death of newspapers,’” [Google CEO] Eric Schmidt told me. The problem was the high cost and plummeting popularity of their print versions. “Today you have a subscription to a print newspaper,” he said. “In the future model, you’ll have subscriptions to information sources that will have advertisements embedded in them, like a newspaper. You’ll just leave out the print part. I am quite sure that this will happen.”

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Back from Peru

June 6, 2010

Started putting photos up from Peru on my Flickr acount.

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Next stop...Lima

May 26, 2010

Peru trip starts tomorrow. I have some notion of blogging and/or photoblogging my trip through the country, but it's an open questin whether I'll have the time.

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Update on an open source project of mine

May 24, 2010

Django-scaffold is now feature-complete. Test coverage is good—somewhere in the neighborhood of 85%—but needs to be closer to complete. Docs are also needed. Once those are done, I'll feel ready to call it 1.0. Well....maybe 1.0 RC 1. It would be nice to get it into production to really see where the bugs are, which I hope to do soon.

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A further reason to quit facebook

May 14, 2010

Nice post by Michael Zimmer on the fact that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg really doesn't get it when it comes to privacy.

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Nice little Bistro in Richmond, VA

May 10, 2010

Had a very nice meal at Bistro Bouchon this past Saturday. If you happen to be in Richmond, give it a try.

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Time to disengage from Facebook?

May 9, 2010

There's plenty of evidence that Facebook is more than willing to sell its customers out:

...and ongoing security holes and exploits are a further cause for concern:

I hardly even bother signing in any more. I've been thinking of just closing my account.

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A bike shed (any colour will do) on greener grass...

April 22, 2010

 Some of Poul-Henning Kamp's words of wisdom have been floating around in my head lately. Here's a snippet:

I wish we could reduce the amount of noise in our lists and I wish we could let people build a bike shed every so often, and I don't really care what colour they paint it.

Reading this and thinking "Bikeshed? Huh?" Aquaint yourself with Parkinson's Law of Triviality.

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