A Good Week (with some software too)

Slightly unusually in recent history I find myself nearly at the end of a week of almost non-stop learning. I’ve been attending a “Technical University” dedicated to the particular area of IT I work in, where I’m delighted to say the general standard of lectures has been very high. It’s been a bit claustrophobic, but I think that comes with the territory, and the relatively narrow subject area  does mean that a lot of friends both old and new have been here.

Favourite session of the week? A concentrated hands-on workshop where I was completely lost for two hours re-acquainting myself with skills from more than two decades ago. Of course it’s not exactly as before, there’s a Windows app involved in part of the workshop, but it was great to shut the world out and concentrate properly.

Having to take 8 attempts to download a file took away some of the gloss. Fingers faster than brain on this occasion, along with confirmation that I HATE track pads on laptops….

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Not so much playing

I’ve sometimes wondered how it must be for a player of a less frequently used instrument when it comes to playing a concert where you’re either only in one or two pieces or you play very few notes on the ones you’re in. Well tonight it’s been both. Playing 2nd bassoon in a concert that featured solely strings in three out of the six pieces was always going to be one of those quieter evenings. As it turned out, there weren’t that many notes in one of of those three pieces either.

So I did get the opportunity to listen for a change, and very lovely the pieces were. (for the record, they included Elgar’s Sospiri and an arrangement of the slow movement of his String Quartet).

Spare a thought for the triangle player, though. About 10 “strikes” in one piece. At least he got to go home early 🙂

Not so soft any more

When I first started trying this blog out I really was working for the software division of a large IT company, but for the last 5 years I’ve actually been back in the hardware division. Which of course contains software stuff too. Such is the way of the Dilbertian corporation these days.

There are of course a number of differences in the approach. You don’t have to worry about the power supply or air conditioning for the software. Nor do you need to pass the security vetting to deliver the 1s and 0s. Just try turning up unannounced at a bank’s data centre with a pile of boxes and see what sort of reception you get 🙂

Bootstrapping the div

The last week has been deeply occupied with my latest Web obsession, Bootstrap. In simple terms it’s a lightweight stylesheet framework which, for me at least, makes hand-building a responsive* website a lot easier. It is chiefly built by a couple of guys who work for Twitter, and so far seems to meet the needs of my main site, amateurorchestras.org.uk, admirably.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of what it is capable of, mainly because I’m still taking a cautious approach to the amount of javascript I use. A side effect has been a big improvement (IMHO, naturally) of the look of the site, without having to drastically change the original design or the slightly dodgy Rexx code I use to generate the main data pages. 

Apart from all the <divs>…

*means a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it means the pages look good on most sizes of screen without having to change the local source.

Reasons for optimism

Often I don’t find many reasons for optimism, since I tend to be of a more cynical nature. However, after a week in Harrogate at the White Hart Hotel playing almost all day on the great wind chamber music course there, and with the second meeting of a local wind quintet approaching I am finding myself looking forward for a change.

The wind quintet is a fragile beast, and it’s been said that the bassoonist (i.e. me) is the only person who enjoys it. Since the flute struggles to be loud enough, the oboe is forever delving into the quacky end of its range, the clarinet has mostly virtuosic stuff and the french horn player has to play quieter then he or she would like, there is a certain truth there. Not only that, but the personalities often attributed to the players (I’ll spare you the stereotypes) mean that keeping a group of five wind players together can be a challenge. The more regular chamber ensembles, for example the string quartet, have a more homogeneous nature, and also the presence of a clear leader (primo violino) means that decisions can be made!

Still, there is plenty of music, both original and arranged, for the quintet; from the classical starting point of the Reicha and Danzi quintets to the up-to-date jazz-influenced music of Jim Parker, with something from everyone in between. This year’s Harrogate was the opportunity to discover some previously unknown pieces to me: two of the four quintets by Johan Sobeck, a bohemian clarinets from the 19th century; a wind quintet by Howard Brubeck, of Dave’s two brothers. These were definitely worthwhile additions to the “playable” repertoire – hence my optimism.

It’s that time again..

..for another blog entry just to keep up the average of nearly 3 a year 🙂

As I mentioned in my last blog post nearly two years ago sometimes having a “foot in many camps” means that actually some of the camps get a bit neglected. Perhaps 2014 should be the year in which we decide WHICH camps we’re still going to stay in? The easy availability of so many sources of information, entertainment and commerce on the internet certainly encourage a magpie-like approach which requires quite strong self-control to avoid. I don’t have that sort of self control short of turning off my computer and walking away. Yes, I still have a “computer” and I still sit at a desk despite having access to the more mobile forms of technology. Possibly it’s an age-related thing that means that the two large screens on my desk are more attractive to my be-spectacled optics than the smaller screen real-estate presented by the phone and tablet.

So has anything fundamental changed in the last year in my relationship with software and music? Actually probably not. I’m still happy playing the bassoon, and I increasingly use electronic copies of music to play from when at home – the libraries of the International Music Score Library Project provide a valuable resource for rehearsal material of the orchestral music I typically play. I have acquired a Nexus 7 – fabulous piece of technology in its own right – but for quite a lot of the time it doubles as a (albeit high-function) alarm clock, replacing a Joggler that died. Probably the most significant piece of technological change for me was the new camera, I have jumped ship from a Canon DSLR to the estimable Olympus Micro-Four-Thirds format EM5. Has my photography significantly changed though? Again, actually not, although the improvement in size & weight mean that I tend to take the camera with me more often.

A year of incremental improvement then? Certainly. I’d love to say the same about all of the software deployed where I work, but, well, a supertanker takes a long time to turn. Oh, and there’s the new car too which probably contains more software than all my previous ones put together. Has it made it any better to drive? Possibly not, but then I’m relatively undemanding in my requirement for a car – I like it to start, go, and stop with as little drama as possible. Which it does.

Looking forward to 2014!

Happy New (blogging) Year

With the plethora of social interaction possibilities, it seems that blogging has slipped down the priority list, or it could be that I’m just not that good at keeping up a regular repartee of semi-interesting things to say (or perhaps I’d rather talk to people than a screen?). I do have a Facebook presence, as well as a Linked-In profile, a Twitter id and so on, but thus far I have tended to use them for different purposes and have not succumbed to the temptation to link them all together in a web of cross-connections.

Is that a good idea? Does anyone have views? I’ll think on it.

Amazong, really

OK, so it’s a slightly lame play on words, but I had one of those little electronic interactions yesterday that adds a bit of cheer. You know, something small happens that has involved (possibly) two human beings, albeit via some interface that separates them but it gives you confidence about what goes on behind the interface.

In this case I submitted a couple of small updates to the titles and artist name for a couple of CDs (by the Gurzenich Fagottquintett) on Amazon’s UK website. I got the acknowledgements back within a very short period (saying they agreed with my updates), and I figured that was probably a machine talking. But to my surprise, the entries were also updated and within half a day the indexing was working as expected. So now you can easily find the three latest CDs by this esteemed bassoon ensemble with one search!

Well done, Amazon.

Blankety Blank

Well, I’ve discovered a very interesting piece of html interaction. OK, perhaps not very interesting, but at least slightly interesting.

A few weeks ago I made a small change to my amateur orchestras website which I thought would tidy up a lot of the underlying web links. The site links to a lot of sites of orchestras around the country and for the links I’ve used the target=”_blank” mantra to make sure they load in a new page. Well now I discovered a tag that was new to me, the base tag. This allows you to set the default behaviour of ALL of the links on your page. So, hey presto, just one of these tags at the beginning of the page saves dozens of target specifications and maybe even some space on the site.

But of course it’s never quite that simple. Also embedded in the web pages are a bunch of OTHER links, which themselves contain some embedded javascript to de-obfuscate some hidden email addresses and open the default mail client. Guess what – the base tag prevents them from working. Instead of generating a nice mailto: link and opening that default email client, all that happens is a new blank page is opened. Nothing else.

So it’s back to the drawing board, and back to the target attributes for the time being.

I love software!

Trying to remember

I’m trying to remember things I’ve done. Of course highlights of one’s life do live in the memory, but sometimes putting them in order or remembering which year they were in is challenging. Luckily, the electronic trail left behind gives plenty of clues. Those old credit card statements that you thought about throwing away (and that’s another story) hint at exciting times. Just HOW many times have I visited the Meson Don Felipe? What WAS I doing in Ilkley?

As you might be able to guess, a forthcoming birthday prompts such memory-hunting, along with (the other story) an ongoing paper reduction task to digitise old records and then throw them away. That’s the hard part! Not quite as extreme as these guys, but it is liberating to see mountains of paper that you were saving just in case disappear.