Archive for August, 2007

Boston Pops – Tanglewood (a random roadtrip)

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

So I was at the NEC (New England Conservatory) earlier, buying some violin studies, and noticed that the Boston Pops were being conducted by John Williams in Tanglewood this evening – I just drove more than 250 miles.

Heck, I like being spontaneous sometimes, and I had burned a collection of Guns N’ Roses greatest hits that needed playing as I drove down the highway, on a mission. I got to Lenox (Tanglewood) in time for the intermission, and the front gate staff decided that my 2 hour driving quest didn’t warrant me still paying for a ticket…so they let me in. I watched the “Harry Potter” themed second half…and the “ET” encore.

John Williams is a great composer and conductor. To a point. The only real problem I have with his stuff is that it all sounds the “same” – there’s always that “Williams” signature to it that tells you “it’s another one” and tells Hollywood execs that they’re onto yet another sure bet. It would be nice to see a little creativeness, or so I thought, as I heard Home Alone coming through in the performance of several Harry Potter pieces.

Tanglewood was good. I did nearly 5 hours of driving tonight, to see the Boston Pops perform for under an hour, but I enjoyed it anyway. I will definitely have to go back next summer to see the BSO (I can’t wait for the fall season to finally begin so I can have my fix). I would love to hear from people interested in going to BSO concerts, or who know about any other performances, recitals, or other events happen in Boston. I especially would like to see a performance of Messiah sometime this year…it’s just something I like to see from time to time. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate great works of choral art.

The only negative thing I’m going to say here is that I wish more people would appreciate good classical music, and I wish that those who choose to partake of performances such as that from this evening, would learn how to behave using some kind of civilized notion of behavior. We live in a very shockingly disturbing MTV generation, but even more shocking than that is when you see the older generation unable to figure out how to keep quiet, not stand in the way, and generally just learn how to not yell out “down in front”. Yes, we both want those people to sit down, and no, shouting is not the answer.

Did you know that the US doesn’t have any kind of national music grading system for theory either? The guy in the store (who sells AB books – I bought the pink one, and no Hannah, you can’t have this one! ;-) ) tells me that there are some dudes in Chinatown who run AB exams, and that some British person comes over to invigilate them. I might actually finally get my grade 5 properly sorted out at some point.


Facebook actually useful

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

So I placed an advertisement for a violin teacher on facebook a little over a week ago, and promptly assumed that little would come of it…until I got a reply from a local music student, who teaches violin.

I had my first real lesson in 10 years on Wednesday afternoon, and boy did I demonstrate that my technique sucks something terrible. But that’s why I wanted lessons – so it was actually very constructive. I immediately got some very helpful tips about my bowing, and I made an improvement within the first hour alone. Not that I’m surprised – without a teacher to remind me of what I should be doing, and constructive criticism, I had become quite accustomed to a more “baroque” style of bow hold.

The bowing wasn’t the only thing that needed work, and it was just the first lesson, but I really enjoyed it, so I am going to try to make this a regular thing for the time being – I really would like to get to a point where I can play in a small ensemble and not feel terribly out of place. I’ll start by practicing the musical studies that were recommended, but I also need to quickly brush up on my music theory. Which reminds me, in the US, they don’t have an equivalent of the “Associated Board of the Royal School of Music” (ABRSM) and so there are no grades 1-8. So far, I haven’t found any such testing standard to exist here whatsoever. Not that it really matters, because the true judge of this will be myself – success will be measured in terms of personal satisfaction.


Red Haberdashers Rule

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Photo: Red Haberdashers Rock.

So in order to celebrate my super great Red Haberdasher, I picked up a set of vanity plates. My car now has the Massachusetts license plate “RED HAT”. Yes, I know, I’m very very vain. But I love it really.

In other news, I had my first oil change today (yes, I went for fully synthetic high performance oil) – nearly 5K miles driven since the end of June when I got my car. I’m not late according to the Miata clubs, but I’m going to try to keep it closer to 3K than 5K. I decided to work all night to celebrate :-)


Consumer product recalls a very good thing

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

So I was extremely pleased to see the US Consumer Product Safety Commission taking action to recall millions more children’s toys from US store shelves, for reasons that aren’t entirely obvious.

The US media just loves to blame “China” whenever some kind of product safety scare happens. After all, news in this country isn’t about “news”, it’s about creating and fueling hysteria. And such actions come in spite of the many similar issues around the world – it’s just that, right now, it’s the “in thing” to criticize China for everything and anything that goes wrong. But beyond the US media hysteria, there lies some truth – the truth is that consumers only really care about the cheapest, lowest quality product at the lowest price. Most people, when buying in the store, aren’t going to think about the labor standards involved.

I don’t blame China as a whole, but I am hopeful that such events will teach the corporate world about the effects of always going for the cheapest possible option. By making it more expensive to choose Chinese manufacturing (due to such product recalls), there exists greater incentivization to ensure that safety standards are met in the future. In turn, this helps to address the lack of balance between standards in the “west” and those being used elsewhere.

Sure, this latest action isn’t also likely to also lead to fair wages and employment standards for Chinese labor – that will only come in time – but it is a very positive step nonetheless. I won’t speak out against “outsourcing”, or producing overseas in a free market (consumers are free to decide not to buy foreign goods, if they care) but I do think it’s essential that there exist some kind of global minimum standards that we hold ourselves to – bounding the lower limit of how cheap we can possibly be while simultaneously ensuring some level of quality. If we eventually add in some level of employment minimum standard, then these global manufacturers can compete on a much fairer basis, and consumer safety prevails.


Kayaking on the Concord River

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Photo: Jon Masters

So we felt like a little team building exercise between a few of us in the office, and headed out to the Concord River this afternoon, to put this into practice.

I had never Kayaked before, but that made me all the more keen to push myself harder today. We kayaked a few miles, past the Old North Bridge (from “the British are coming” site of the first shots of The Revolution), and I enjoyed a little historical geekout with my colleagues. Man, do I love US history or what? After that, we had some food at the Old Colonial Inn.


Brave New Jon – East Coast Surfing, and random BU connections

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Photo: A surfer, at Nantasket Beach.

So as usual, I headed down to Nantasket Beach at the crack of dawn this morning, in order to watch the sunrise and have my morning constitutional. I was earlier than usual, and got to meet more of the local surfing community.

It turns out that 5am is a good time to be at the beach. There’s nobody else there, and the waves look pretty enticing – enough that I’m now going to find a short board I can transport in my car and head down for some surfing before work, at least a few times before the summer is over. I enjoy taking a stroll along the beach, but the idea of jumping in the water and riding some waves before work is *really* appealing, especially on days like today, when it’s just going to rain.

One of the guys who was surfing took a break, and we had a chat about the conditions at Nantasket. He’s from Long Island and works in some kind of corporate events type of job – the kind of thing where you can just totally understand a need to surf before work. He had a short board, which inspired me, since it does seem to be almost practical now (I need to have something I can fit inside the car, which caps the length quite considerably). I was worried I’d end up just getting a wake board or a “Zap” board for space reasons.

While I’m rambling. Yesterday afternoon, I was in my current favorite coffee shop (Espresso Royale, on Comm. Ave.), taking a break from working on my laptop to grab yet another cup of coffee, standing in line. I hear a voice a behind me saying words like “modules”, “ELF”, and “kernel”. So I started listening some more. It turned out that the guy behind me was having a problem with module loading on Linux…so I turned and mentioned I was the module-init-tools maintainer, and we got talking.

The guy turns out to be another British expat, who moved here a long time ago, and is a faculty member in the CS dept. at BU. Fantastic. I’ve been trying to build bridges with those guys. So we talked about random stuff, had an amusing conversation, and then the topic turned to cars. He just bought a Mazda Miata MX5. This is where co-incidences start to get interesting – not quite the same colo[u]r, but also a GT, and so we had a great chance to BS about how much we both love our MX5s.


Brave New Jon – Nauset Beach

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Photo: Jon Masters, at Nauset Beach.

So today, I needed to get out of town and drive aimlessly for a long time, anywhere. I headed out to the Cape, to Nauset Beach, and investigated surfing in between pining quietly to myself on the sand.

I had originally planned to go to Whitecrest beach this weekend, but as it turned out, I wasn’t able to leave the apartment until later today, so I decided to head somewhere more predictable – somewhere people have heard of and that is actually on the map (and known to my GPS). Nauset beach has reasonable surf, generally, so it seemed to suffice.

Arriving late in the afternoon (not that I cared particularly, I went more for the need to go drive 300 miles of aimless roundtrip on an afternoon than caring when I got there, or where I went), the surf conditions were pretty crappy, and I was struck with two minor complications – the surf rental shop, which is in town (and nowhere within walking distance of the beach) closes early, and buying a board proved to be a $300-$500 affair. If I had bought a board, getting it home would have been interesting…my car has no capability to haul a large surf board. I love that car, but it’s completely impractical :-)

I eventually decided that, I at least know where to go and how to get a board for another weekend, and they also offer lessons (I could do with improvement). Buying a full size board isn’t practical unless I can guarantee the weather so much so that I risk having the top down all day, board on the passenger seat – which would have worked today, but generally, you can’t guarantee New England weather on that level. I will instead get some rentals, and buy myself a small board that I can fit (somewhere, and somehow) into the car, without ripping the seats. The wetsuit remained a drysuit.

Since surfing didn’t work out quite as planned, I instead lay on the beach for a couple of hours, staring at the sky (in between writing in the sand), and continuing my ongoing theme of ponderance – on the topic of “why”. At one point, one of those aerial advertising banners flew over. It reminded me of a time when I called an aerial advertising company about flying a banner, with a special message, for a special someone, who’s no longer around. It’s funny how almost anything is enough to set off a train of memories.