Tuesday, December 12, 2006

XML Conference 2006

Lots of good writeups around, and lots of good ideas to dig through:

Simon st. Laurent - day one
Simon St. Laurent - wrap up
Keith Fahlgren - day two
Keith Fahlgren - Day three

Currently listening to the Guillemots, redefining friendly and epic, and making my ears feel happy!

Guillemots - Trains to Brazil

Monday, October 30, 2006

An independent barbershop choir I'd really like to hear? Well, naturally, you'd need Stephin Merritt's baritone and Sufjan Stephens tenor... and maybe Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros as a soprano? I'm not sure who the fourth member would be, but I'd buy a ticket.

Sufjan Stevens - She is (Tim Buckley Cover)
Sigur Ros - pop song #8

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Musical Quark: Overdub v. Collaboration

When you consider the great musical collaborations in the past, you have to include Lennon/McCartney (poor George, everybody loves George). On the one hand, you have Paul, the poet, the sensitive thinker; on the other, John the innovator, the visionary. And when you read stories about the studio experimentation of John Lennon and George Martin, you have to be impressed also with that collaboration also. I mean, you ahve to, it's the Beatles, right? Believe me, this intro is going somewhere, by the way. One of the studio techniques Lennon used to the point where it defines the sound of his voice is double-tracked vocals. His voice would be recorded for the same part twice, and the two would be overlayed, fooling the ear into hearing a single, disembodied voice.

Collaborating with yourself is fine, but this has long been a pet peeve of mine. Back in the late eighties/early nineties, I loved (loved) the Lemonheads, and during that same time period, started listening to the Throwing Muses more and more. Both bands centred around a collaboration between a main songwriter (Evan Dando and Kirsten Hirsch, respectively) and another songwriter who, though contributing fewer songs, could just blow me away (Ben Deilly and Tanya Donnelly). Well, the years passed, and I started to appreciate Kirsten Hirsch more, listened to far too many Belly albums, and really miss Ben Deilly. Evan Dando? Well, enough about Evan Dando, already. I really like the new songs, actually, much as I'd prefer not to, and sure, maybe Syd Barrett was the real Pink Floyd (I've seen the movie, I know it was Bob Geldof).

Which brings me to my pet peeve. When a singer starts recording his/her own overdubs, even though there is no possible way he/she can sing backup for him/herself live, it pisses me off. There, I've said it. Felt good, too.

The "Lemonheads(/Dinosaur jr. jr.)" - No Backbone

Monday, October 16, 2006

Musical Quark: Familiarity

Yo La Tengo's 10th album, I'm Not Afraid of You, and I WILL Beat your Ass (or as I tend to think of it, I'm going to give you an ass-beating at One) begines with a tour de force of noise in "Pass the Hatchet...", an intensity which maintained in a variety of forms through-out the album. Listening to the song "The Room Got Heavy," I am reminded of the Wire song "Eardrum Buzz" from 1989's "live" album It's Beginning To And Back Again. Is the similarity intentional? Probably not, but still, YLT and Wire are both bands known as much for the influence they wield as for their own personal successes, both are innovators and mercurialists, pushing punk into poppiness and poppiness into punk. "Eardrum Buzz" arrived at a time when the critical hype around Wire had lost its lustre, and the song went on to become their most successful (and arguably most memorable) single. As for Yo La Tengo, they have clearly adopted (or are putting on) a take no prisoners attitude with this album, which draws comparisons with earlier, edgier work, such as 1997's Ican Hear the Heart Beating as One.

It amazes me that we live in a time when you can turn on the radio and hear songs playing from Echo and the Bunnymen, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and God-help them, the Lemonheads! I suppose the the cost of hairspray and feathering irons adds up.

Yo La Tengo - The Room got Heavy
Musical Quark: Thievery

Or paying homage... I am so excited that WOXY, the greatest radio station on the planet, is back on the air, and last week's Ben Kweller session was amazing. And lots of people have written good things about Ben Kweller recently, which is fab. Every time I hear "Penny on the Train Track," I find myself listening for one really specific moment in the song, after he sings "Pick up that guitar, and play, play, play that rock and roll for me..." and then proceeds to play a little bit of stolen, what is that, "Road Runner," or "Johnny Be Good"? In any case, the guitar part is about as rock and roll as they come at this moment in the song. Even moreso in the live version, and I can't wait until the WOXY live acts are back up.

Ben Kweller - Penny on the Train Track

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kurt Cagle's posts from AJAX World Conference (Courtesy of O'Reilly):
Thanks Kurt!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Time Spiral Capsule Reviews

Well, the new Magic set is out, and these are the best reviews you are going to find, from one "Nicotine Jones" at Misetings. I am a dweeb who doesn't have time to play this game anymore, but the new set looks danstucky, so I'm awefully excited regardless. With the new pack structure, you get an extra free vintage or "timeshifted" rare per pack, so for dweebs who buy packs just to rip them open, this is a good time.

Capsule Review: White
Capsule Review: Blue
Capsule Review: Black
Capsule Review: Red
Capsule Review: Green
Capsule Review: Miscellaneous

Friday, August 18, 2006

Musical Quark: Familiarity

Well, I really can't say enough good things about French Kicks. This track in particular, which kicks off their album Two Thousand, is a great example of what I'd like to call familiarity. Familiarity?!? Did anybody else have the same initial reaction when that skrangy guitar starts up? Wow, that sounds like the De La Soul song "Eye Know"! The funny thing is, that's kinda what makes it cool; it's actually just two notes, that the De La boys stole from Steely Dan (who stole their moniker from William S. Burroughs: the circle of life continues) in the first place.

I suppose one thing all of these folks all have in common is an ability to express themselves through experimentation. Or perhaps a need. And the more experimental you become, the more you can rely on otherwise familiar elements to express yourself.

French Kicks - So Far We Are

Myspace Page

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Geek-cast part 3 has arrived! Okay, I have a great deal of respect for M. David Peterson, for his thoughts on open source and XML technologies, and on the software industry in general. I also read his site religiously (no pun intended) because I lived in Salt Lake City for three years (where I met my lovely wife), and it's always interesting to get a local take on some of the crazy things going on in that town from Mark Peterson and Heather Armstrong. I am linking these three podcasts mostly because I think there is a lot of value here, and I want to return to them again, and am too lazy to use del.icio.us, but they are definitely a beneficial listen for anyone involved in "the community"

Geek-cast - Part 1
Geek-cast - Part 2
Geek-cast - Part 3

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Story Box

This weekend we unpacked a big box from the move, containing a bunch of Jack's toys and other things. So, naturally, he spent the next two hours hard at play... with the box. This was on saturday, when he used it as a slide, turtle-shell ("Freakin-shell, Freakin-turtle" he screams. "Freakin" is Jack's pronunciation of "Franklin"), rocket ship, house...

The next day, Jack climbs inside the box with a crayon and one of his notebooks and starts to draw lemons and circles quietly by himself... which made for a relaxing 10 minutes, at least. Then he started to draw inside his "story-box"....

"Story-box! Story-box ! Hey, offa-bit!"
"Off of what?"
"No! Offa-bit, daddie, offa-bit."
"What's that, Jack"
"Of - a - bit!"
"Another bit... of crayon?"

He hides back in the box, disgusted with his father's stupidity.

"Oh, alphabet!"

Jack had discovered the writing on the side of the box that said "Jack's stuff, and added his own penmanship to it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Downing a tube-steak at midnight, or "Homage" isn't just a descendents album

Okay, so the tube-steak sounds pretty good... but it's actually the name of a song by the Jam, sort of. I've just finished reading "A long way down" a Nick Hornby novel Katie got out of the library. I really enjoy the way Hornby refers to bands like Drive By Truckers and the Replacements in passing (not to mention all the lists in High Fidelity), without really seeming to care too much about explaining the reference. I respect that. And he's become enourmously successful doing it. I have a theory that most writers and computer programmers alike are music geeks because they spend so much time sitting in front of a typewriter or laptop with nothing better to do.

So would the Black Angels sound as much like Joy Division as they do if they hadn't named their album "Passover"? Maybe not. And really, they sound more like Spacemen 3 than Joy Division anyway, but, what's in a name? If they'd named the album "Walking with Jesus", that would have been the first thing I thought.

Also, speaking of Spacemen 3, this could well be my new favourite, favourite band: Soundpool out of NYC. The vocals are reminiscent of Seefeel or My Bloody Valentine (obvious influences). I really like the way these songs build and build. I want to listen to On High over and over again.

Black Angels - The First Vietnamese War

Friday, August 04, 2006

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Musical Quark: Audacity

Okay, one of my knee-jerk reactions to a new piece of music is often based on what I am going to classify as "audacity". Point in case, maybe three or four times now, I have been listening to the new Yo La Tengo track, "Pass the Hatchet, I think I'm Goodkind", 11 solid minutes of guitar wonkiness/wonkiness. Thing is, I love Yo La Tengo, and I'm not sure where to file this away. I mean, the album is called I am Not Afraid of you, and I will Beat Your Ass, for starters (I really think the follow up to "I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One" should have been titled "I Can See the Ass Beating in Your Future", but there you go, I'm not in charge of these things).

Anyways, I almost exclusively listen to internet radio at work, and I tend to keep myself busy, and so I find myself thinking in the back of my mind "what is this? I need to find out what this is... it's been going on for an awefully long time", and invariably it is "Pass the Hatchet" playing. 'nuff said, sorry, I totally don't recognize this song as Yo La Tengo. But the song has balls! Maybe that's a better word than audacity anyways. Same goes for that Built to Spill epic of a few months back, "Goin' against you mind"... you're just setting out for a take no prisoners approach when you start out with drums n' guitars like that.

Also noted... after the infinite coolness of "Crazy", which I mostly hear in shopping centers and emanating from Jeep YJs these days (oh well), Gnarls Barkley's cover of "Gone Daddy Gone" - sounds so much like the original I find myself thinking it is the original if I'm not paying attention. That's gotta count for audacity, because it was a kickass song in the first place, and the cover is, well, it has a level of subtletyin there somewhere. umm, elsewhere, then.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A note on skrang-iness...

Well, I'm not sure if this is one of the musical memes which Pandora uses to identify and quantify your musical tastes, however, "skranginess" is definitely the spin of one of my own musical quarks. WOXY just played Soon, by My Bloody Valentine, and props to them, it was exactly what I needed to get going on a thursday morning. Anyways, the song is driven by an intermittent wall of white noise "skrang" (plus snappy rhythm session and a quirky lolloping sample, but it's the skrang that drives the jeep, so to speak).

It's pretty much the first thing I pick up on in a song I haven't heard before. "That sounds like fun to play..." I find myself thinking, cause let's face it, making noise is fun. And playing air guitar like Pete Townsend, amirite?

There's a great moment in one of the live recordings on the Joy Division collection Still where I guess somebody hands Ian Curtis a guitar. I mean, the guy couldn't play it, but he could certainly injure it.

I've been really enjoying the underrated blog, which recently blogged on the Band of Horses album (which I love, and is really really skrangy), which brought to mind the Valentines, who then just happened to play on the radio, so thanks underrated, and thanks WOXY!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday morning, rough draft...

So I managed to catch my bus at quarter after six this morning, figuring I would have the whole bus to myself, and get a bit of writing done. Well, I could hardly get a seat, so there you go. I managed to throw a few lines together AT THE BUS STOP!

when whales ruled the world

when whales ruled the world, there were no hard edges,
and no sharp corners, and all the world was one

when whales ruled the world, instead of surfaces,
above and beyond, there was only one surface between,
folding itself into watery baleen to filter meaning from the shores

when whales ruled the world, every grain of sand was sacred,
and you might see yourself through the folds, amongst them and within

when whales ruled the world,
there was a time before enjambment became a word,
and a single sentence could measure out an era

I am currently listening to the latest eXplorations podcast (#5 on Open Office)... it's an interesting one, but like all of these podcasts, very dense, and requiring a second listen.

1) We are living in a technological "Era of Abstraction"
2) It costs more and more to support a suite, but this should be less and less important, as products interact with each other better through service orientation, abstraction, mash-ups etc.
3) Customization is superceding the older "Suite" technology, so (Kurt's line) if you are giving it away for free, the need to customize arrives as a corollary. Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Katie, Jack and I went to the Moss Street Paint-in this weekend, which Jack (2 1/2) loved, begging money off his parents to deposit in the music cases of various street musicians and so forth. We saw some friends we hadn't for a while, and all in all made for a perfect start to a great weekend.

We stopped to watch one of the buskers playing the Neil Young song "Helpless", with an acoustic guitar and one of those harmonica around the neck jobbies. I couldn't help thinking, wow, what an amazing moment - there are few songs that just, well, bring tears to my eyes, but that sure is one of them. There's just so much honesty to Neil Young's music and lyrics, whether you're listening to a goofy song like "Winterlong", a tear-jerker like "Helpless" or a long-walks-on-the-beacher like "Harvest Moon". Good stuff!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Quick food for thought before the bus comes:

Here I am fixing bugs again. It's possibly what I do best. I like to think of myself as an innovator, but... well, there's the thing... until I have a stupid nasty problem to overcome, there is no real scope for innovation. Innovation for innovation's sake is less fruitful than innovation that gets you out of a corner you or someone else has painted you into. Is this glory seeking, or is it just the nature of fixing things? It's not finished until you break it, fix it, reinvent it, and then ship it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Wow, a lot changes in a couple months! We (myself, my lovely wife and irrascible child) have made the move from the mid-island to the south-island, and I am working at a new job, which in the technology sector should come as no surprise, and though it was a shock, it came as now surprise when they stopped paying me at my last job! So I am now a Java developer where once I was a JavaScripter... no big deal, life is elsewhere, after all!

Currently listening to: Sufjan Stevens on WOXY 97x - I don't tend to listen to really melodramatic music on my own time (though I find myself listening to the Magnetic Fields/6ths more and more, and I grew up on the Smiths and the Cure)... but when I'm at work, I alternate between a need for Public Enemy and Elliot Smith, wither way, it keeps me awake.

I love WOXY! I heard Gnarls Barkley's Crazy playing in the grocery store yesterday, and I thought, well it's summertime, whatever... but there you go, they were playing it six months before the album came out, and props to that.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The specifications for my latest project have been daunting. The application is a web-friendly version of an existing training record manager, which interfaces with the web-based training we produce and sell. The previous incarnation of the manager is the better part of a decade old, and written in Access 2 Basic. It runs locally, obviously, so one of the immediate advantages of a web-based version is that it would not require installation on each of 30 machines at a site (for instance), and also that this could be hosted locally.

The snag is this: many existing clients are running the existing system with a database networked off a file-server; others have invested in a dedicated web-server, while still others would like to host off our web-server. A previous incarnation of our system, responsible for running training and storing the results, but providing no additional record management or reporting functionality, is implemented as two systems ganged together. Web-server users are provided a server-side ASP application, while file-server users use similar functionality implemented in client-side script. Whereas the majority of the database layer is shared between the two, the presentation layer is duplicated.

This makes for a difficult to maintain code-base.

The solution which was implemented for the training record system was to take advantage of the XSL/T engine, which can run on both server- and client-side. This allows the same presentation layer to be used for both flavors of the application. Changes to the presentation layer are made by changing the presentation XSL.

In order to accomplish this, database access is encapsulated in a JavaScript library. To display a page, the database library returns an XML stream, which is transformed by the appropriate XSL in the presentation layer. The resulting HTML is written to the page. Both flavors of the application also share an active layer, which responds to control events on the client-side.

When this mechanism is wrapped up in a few appropriate classes in a shared library, the actual page code becomes quite simple:




With objPage
.selfreference = "frm_ListEditor.asp"
.selfrefshort = "ListEditor"
.XSLPath = Server.MapPath(objPage.XSLPath)
Response.write .createPage()
End With


A very clear separation is maintained between data and presentation, and between client and server. I was quite happy the day I discovered you can use “runat” in a script tag to make a library available to a server-side application. You can also see in the above code how Client and User authentication data have been added to the XML stream for the web-server flavor of the application, and not the file-server. This is by design, since the file-server application requires a lower level of authentication. In this way, the processing layer in between data and presentation can contain any processing code that is required for one flavor but not the other.

The processing layer consists of a main library, which contains the Page class, which gets extended by an extension script. When the library gets extended, it gains two new methods, processFormState and createFormContent, which provide logic for navigating from page to page and the XSL to use for a selected page. Each major section of the application has its own extension script. To change the navigation between pages, you only need to make a change to the appropriate extension script.

Implementing the application this way initially took some extra effort, but as development continues, new additions are easier to make.

A note on AJAX: obviously, you can’t target an AJAX application to both file- and web-server; however, when you package your entire presentation layer into XSL stylesheets, and interesting thing happens. First, you realize that all of your pages share an assortment of common paraphernalia, like html headers, form-centering tables and, and navigation buttons. Second, you move all of the content into a separate XSL stylesheet. Third, well, then you start thinking about the content that is left behind.

What you are left with is the active content on the page, and transforming your stylesheet so you can generate only this content is quite straightforward, if you are so inclined. If you update only this content on the page, using asynchronous server requests, you get cleaner page transitions. Just sayin’, though, you wouldn’t get many of the benefits of a full-blown AJAX application, like increased interactivity and lightning-fast page updates when you want to just reload one textbox on the page.

For instance: