Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Songs Posted

There are new songs on the music pages. Come Along With Me was written for the occasion of the marriage of William and Kimberly Hoover. To Be Here With You is a somewhat cleaner re-recording of a song I posted here earlier.

Bloggers, read this

There's nothing I can add to this, except to say that it's cogent, well expressed argument defending free speech against knee-jerk reactions:
Sierra Porn incident Inspires Ban on Anonymity: Amanda Chapel

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

John Backus is dead.

John Backus was the inventor of FORTRAN. In addition to being the first high-level computer language, FORTRAN was the first language I personally learned, and it's still in widespread use today. That's a legacy to be proud of.

He died on March 17th, 2007, in his own home, of old age. Plain, honest old age. Now that's the way to go.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Place for Music

I'd taken all the music down until I could get a new web page for it. It's here. This site has the music, lyrics, stories, and will include sheet music for them what got it. Limited by my laziness, other priorities, and hours in the day.

I also got a small mixer board to reduce the hiss and clipping I was getting from having to run the piano through my 20+ year old tape deck. Mind you, it won't make my performance any better. Deal with it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some details on that Casio CDP-100

I believe I owe you a review of my new piano. This is it, on the right: a Casio CDP-100 (click on the picture for specs). It is exactly as described, no real surprises. I recall when decent digital keyboards first came on the market they would cost you in the neighborhood of $2500. Casio delivers an authentic piano feel and sound for around $600.

Practically all of the effort in building this thing went into the quality of the keyboard itself. It's weighted and feels precisely like a Steinway (and having lived with a Steinway I do know what I'm talking about). There aren't many instruments included; only piano, electric piano, harpsichord, and strings. You can play a single instrument or gang them by pressing multiple instrument buttons. Switching instruments is very smooth, with the previous instrument being continued for any currently depressed keys or sustained notes, and the new instrument being applied only to new notes. There's no hiccup at all in the changeover, which is extremely handy when playing something like Funeral for a Friend. It might have been nice to include a pipe organ, but I found that the grand piano + strings combination is a suitable substitute.

The sound is good, and can easily fool you into thinking you're hearing the real thing. Particularly good are the grand piano and the electric piano. If you're not familiar with it, an electric piano consists of a normal mechanical action where each hammer hits a string or rod that sets up a sympathetic vibration with a tuning fork. This is detected by electric pickups and run through an amplifier. The CDP-100 precisely duplicates the sound of a Rhodes, right down to the hammer sounds on the tuning forks if you pound the keys.

And you can pound the keys. The stand is solid, and the keyboard itself is reinforced with a steel bar. It means that I can play stuff I wouldn't dare play on my CT-6000.

Rounding out the features are a foot sustain pedal (inexplicably missing on most low-end keyboards), headphone jack, and MIDI IN and MIDI OUT ports. You'll notice that there seem to be a dearth of buttons on the CDP-100, though there are a lot more features listed in the documentation. I like that. Casio's engineers reduced most features down to a combination of a single "Function" button + one of the 88 keys on the keyboard. The upshot of it is that if you want to transpose from C to E-flat, you just press Function + the E-flat key. Sweet. Similarly, you can control the touch-sensitivity of the keys, the volume of layered tones, or select from various reverb effects all using the Function + a musical key. It leaves a clean interface that you're more likely to be able to control in a low-light setting.

So what's missing? Just a few things, which I'll list:
  • No foot volume control. It's sometimes useful to fade up or out with a live performance. You can't do that here, so if you're in a band you'll have to rely on an external mixer.
  • No line out jack. There's a 1/8-inch headphones jack. This means if you want to record, you can't plug directly into your recorder and still be able to hear what you're playing. You're either going to have to use a "Y" connector to your headphones, or you're going to need to run it through a mixer with a monitor. Unfortunately, a "Y" connector leads to impedance mismatches which can botch the recording and introduce hum or hiss. Not having a mixer, I've jury-rigged a connection through my stereo receiver and tape deck. It does for now, but it's not satisfactory.
  • No 1/4-inch jacks at all. You're going to need adapters if you want to hook up anything professional. Keep in mind that this is an educational keyboard; if you really wanted a piece of professional band equipment you'd shell out another grand. Actually, there is one 1/4-inch jack, for the sustain pedal.
  • Wimpy sustain pedal. The pedal that ships with this is a bit stiff and small. It's the sort that you practically have to stand on, which tells me it's primarily designed for stage work, though I really believe it would break with continued use. Fortunately, I have a professional-quality pedal that I was able to plug right in.
  • No MIDI through jack. Nobody uses that much anymore anyway, preferring hubs. I've connected the thing through my computer using an M-Audio USB/MIDI interface cable and MusicWrite 2000, and found that there's a significant delay in decoding and processing the MIDI with that setup. You wouldn't want to use that for feedback as it results in the same kind of hesitations you experience when hearing an echo of your voice over the telephone.
Overall it's a good piece of equipment, likely to last for 25 years or more (which is almost how long my CT-6000 has been with me). It has the advantages of never needing tuning and being able to adjust its tuning to other instruments. The price is exactly right. And the size is dictated by the physical size of the keys, so it's easy to place, unlike a traditional piano. All in all, for a casual musician, composer, or student this is a real keeper. If you're a performer in a band, though, you're going to want something that's got the sturdy quarter-inch jacks and line out. In any event you're going to want to budget for a decent footpedal. Here's the one I use.

Now, as punishment or having sat through the review, here's a quick recording. Sadly, that impedance mismatch I told you about is a factor here. No mixer, so there's a little clipping. I've switched from MP3 to Ogg Vorbis format as well, due to some patent disputes over MP3. Ogg Vorbis is an open format and yeilds smaller files than MP3 anyway. The Vorbis website has the proper codecs to enable your playback software to handle Ogg.

BTW, I really like the lyrics on this one, I think William really nailed the feeling of a quote of Oscar Wilde.

lyrics by William Hoover
music by Dave Leigh

Oscar has gone wild again
Then he drives the ladies crazy
With a quick quip and a smile
And the calm charm of a daisy

I could run for days and miles
Not stopping for a rest and
I could never stop the wit
Of Oscar at his best and

I could say that I resisted all
Excepting for temptation
Whenever people side with me
I tend to take a new direction

Brilliant by breakfast time
I could use another drink and
Yet another day's begun
Already taxing me to think and

Sincerity, I've heard, is dangerous
In large doses, even fatal
A sure life-long lesson learned
As I crawled out of that cradle.


I could run for days and miles
Not stopping for a rest and
I could never stop the wit
Of Oscar at his best and

Sincerity, I've heard, is dangerous
In large doses, even fatal
A sure life-long lesson learned
As I crawled out of that cradle.

Oscar.ogg ~1.7MB

Creative Commons License

This music free to share under a Creative Commons Music Sharing License. As usual, I'll point out that I have no interest in performing, so this is a quick and dirty file to give you an idea of the song. Share it as you like with proper credit to the composers, Dave Leigh and William Hoover. However, if you want to perform or distribute it for money, contact Dave to arrange for proper permission.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I saw Bridge to Terabithia today

I saw Bridge to Terabithia today. Not the new Disney version, but the real version. This is the 1985 version starring Annette O'Toole. I liked it a lot. Having seen this version, there's no way I'd go see the Disney one.

If you haven't read the book, and you haven't seen the movie, run like hell, because I'm going to spoil the whole thing in this post. Starting now.

Now, if you've seen the trailers for the new version, you've seen giants and ogres and all sorts of magical beasties and a computer-generated land of wonder. None of that is in the book, and none of it is in the 1985 movie. None of it's necessary, and it serves to screw up a good story.

The story is this (remember, spoilers!):
Eleven year old Jesse Aaron lives in the country with his parents and three sisters in economic conditions that can charitably be called "poor". Leslie just moved in down the road, and the two of them become fast friends after she beats him in a race. Together they explore the forest near their homes, and in their imaginations they dream up a make-believe kingdom they dub "Terabithia" and crown themselves king and queen. No fantasy creatures... no wild adventures... just two kids, in a special place they can call their own. Their castle is a quilt stretched over some scrap lumber. It's what kids do (or at least what I did when I was that age). Terabithia is reached by way of a fallen tree over a creek. That is the titular bridge.

Did I mention that Jesse was poor? He does draw, however, and his teacher (played by Annette O'Toole) recognizes and encourages his talent. One rainy Saturday she takes him to the city to visit an art museum. Upon his return, Jesse learns that Leslie slipped on the log bridge, hit her head, and died. Trying to help Jesse through his grief, Annette O'Toole delivers excellent advice, saying, "You won't believe me, but you're lucky." She tells Jesse that Leslie was very special, and in knowing her, he holds some of what made her special inside of him. Now he has the opportunity to pass that on to other people.

After the funeral, Jesse returns to Terabithia to hold a touching service of his own. His little sister, Annabelle, follows him and is stuck, frightened, on the log bridge. Jesse helps her across, and tells her he wants to show her something special. He takes her to Terabithia and crowns her Princess.
This is a story about two kids with a special relationship. They love each other in the purest sense of that word. The story gives a needed lesson in how to handle grief, and as such I'd recommend the book or the 1985 movie to anybody, especially for pre-teens for whom it is targeted.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with fantasy creatures. The bone-headed, clueless morons at Disney should be shot for once again blatantly mishandling a story and misleading their audience. Their trailer is a textbook case of bait-and-switch. Their changes are completely worthless, adding nothing at all to a story that stands much better on its own.

I can't say I'm surprised, though. They totally screwed up The Little Mermaid by removing the exquisite ending crafted by Hans Christian Andersen (the master of pathos, in my book). They did it again with Pocahontas (fyi, the real Pocahontas converted to Christianity, changed her name to Rebecca, and moved to England. All that about painting with the colors of the wind is a bunch of politically correct historical revisionist bullshit. I say that as someone whose father was native American, so I'll stack my umbrage against anyone else's anyday). Disney screws up every story they can get their hands on to the greatest extent possible, and don't even bother to come up with original stories for most of it, choosing instead to plagiarize dead people who are no longer in a position to sue their sorry butts... but I digress.

Look, don't see the new movie. If you want to see a good movie with a good message and not an overblown videogame with a sock to the gut in the final moments, then go to Wal-mart and get the 1985 version off the $5.50 rack. Better yet, buy the book.

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia

Tom Baker Says

In some tent near the summit of Mt. Weird, BT (that would be "British Telecom") paid Tom Baker (formerly "Doctor Who") to sit down for eleven days and record over 11,000 words from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Now you can send a text message to a BT landline and have Tom say whatever you want.

You can't make this stuff up. Predictably, somebody's collected some sayings (and more) on the web. Click on the image below.