• Category Archives cultural ramblings
  • Books, movies, music…

  • Independence Socially Distant Quartet

    Happy Fourth Of July! I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I have always loved Independence Day fireworks, but there have been so many fireworks in the neighborhood in the past month that I’m heartily sick of them.

    Anyway, we celebrated this morning by getting together for the first time with our new quartet: Jeff and Anne on violins, Digg on viola, and me with the cello. We met at Jeff’s farm, outdoors and socially distanced but under a barn roof to block sun (and rain — luckily there was none). I was the “new guy” in this bunch, and also by far the weakest player, so had a bit of trepidation but we all took to it right away and played fine. We spent a bit of time on a Mozart quartet, then worked on portions of one by Schubert, and before we knew it three hours had passed. We’ll probably do this again in a few weeks, an I can hardly wait. What a fun morning!

    Tomorrow is a road ride down to Milford.

  • A Movie Recommendation

    It was a total fluke, I just happened to note it among several movie reviews on Vox, but The Vast of Night caught my eye the other day, and since it seemed like something we both would enjoy we watched it over the past two nights.

    We were both riveted, leaning in (along with the main characters) as some old woman tells her creepy tale, bedazzled by incredible camera work, and totally sucked in to what might have just been conventional sci-fi if the story were told less skillfully. But it was told skillfully, almost hypnotically, and the real story was more about the characters and atmosphere than any “and then this happened next” plot, even though that part was pretty good too.

    I suppose it’ll be in theaters eventually, but we saw it on Amazon Prime. See it there, or on the theater, or maybe at a drive-in for that full Fifties vibe, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Make Room For Cellos

    I got in about an hour playing yesterday (not counting my Zoom lesson), and about another hour this morning, which are good things because cello sometimes to seems to sink to the bottom of the priority list, and the day moves along and suddenly it’s too late to play, or I’m too tired or other things are going on… So I have to make the time, preferably in the late morning when I’m fresher.

    I’ve been making some pretty good strides lately though, working with some books of exercises (fingering positions, bowing), which have helped with my two “ambition” pieces: Miska Hauser’s “Berceuse,” and “Bouree” (I and II) from Bach’s Cello Suite in C Major. “Berceuse” is coming along, and I’m starting to feel I’ve mastered the piece, or at least I’m getting there, but “Bouree” is still a struggle. Yo-Yo Ma is doing a live show of all of Bach’s cello suites tomorrow, so I’m hoping for a bit of inspiration.

    Meantime, I did a bit of cleanup on that new map — fixing some bugs and adding features, and changing the marker icons to more closely match the ones in my original QGIS project. I also did a bit of housekeeping here, adding a new menu item at the top for non-blog projects (like the map).

  • Finally Something To Chew On

    So we finished Devs (which, after all that buildup, ended on a disappointing note), and we just started Community, but I’m not really feeling it yet. I’m a reader and I don’t expect to be engrossed by any show for long, but even reading I’ve been struggling to find something I actually like right now. I picked up a few new sci-fi novels recently, but found most of them juvenile and annoying; re-reads of old favorites, in any genre, end up testing my patience…

    Luckily, my streak ended with Hilary Mantel’s new The Mirror and the Light, the final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. I’m about a hundred pages in, less than a quarter of the way through the book, and I’m totally engrossed. The story picks up just after the execution of Ann Boleyn, where the last book ended, and though I know how it all ends — after all, everyone in it has been dead, and buried in the history books, for centuries — it’s amazing to watch Cromwell’s virtuoso performance, like someone juggling on a high wire, trying to keep Henry VIII’s kingdom from imploding.

  • They Can’t All Be Good

    So we saw The Hangover the other night — it stank. I was able to sit still from the beginning to the end, but that’s about all I can say good about it.

    We are now watching Devs, on Hulu I think. Much better, though the acting isn’t the best. (Actually, the acting and actors are fine, it’s the script that could use work.) This is the one to watch.

  • Every Night Is Movie Night

    Like probably everyone else in America, we’ve been doing a bit more TV lately. Luckily we got both Amazon Prime and Hulu for Christmas (and we still have Netflix). Some things we’ve watched this week:

    • Fleabag (season two)
    • Knives Out
    • Blazing Saddles
    • The Men Who Stare At Goats

    We’d seen Blazing Saddles and The Men Who Stare At Goats before, and we’d also seen season one of Fleabag, but Knives Out was new to us. Emmi recommended it, so I think we’ll probably be watching her other recommendation — The Hangover — pretty soon.

    Any other recommendations out there?

  • Fun With Alice And Bob

    I moved my SSH and PGP certificates to my new machine, and setting them up meant visiting a few cryptographic sites (to remember how to do it, and also just because). That means I spent a lot of time in that world, where “Alice” and “Bob” (and so on, alphabetically) are the main actors in usage scenarios: Alice sends a message to Bob, but maybe Clara intercepted it, how does Bob know the message is secure? Well, Alice encrypts her message and signs it with… Tedious, tedious, but now it’s done, and I can securely access my online accounts as well as send/receive encrypted email, which is sort of like being the only person with a phone — who can you call? — but still: I once thought it was cool, and now I have it back.

    Auld Acquaintance

    This past weekend was sort of the end of the holiday season for us: we saw friends we’d missed during the holidays. Friday night we did some bar-hopping with Doug & Lori, then Saturday was a “Festivus party” at Eric & Kris’s place (where we saw D&L again) lots of catching up and the usual merriment, it was a really nice night.

    Movie Night

    We saw “Uncut Gems” the other night. I don’t recommend it: the acting and the cinematography were all good, but the characters (especially the protagonist) were annoying and unsympathetic, and the plot, as Anne put it, was “a 2-hour panic attack.” Ugh.

  • Divorce Story

    We saw Marriage Story last night over at SteelStacks. I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and it was really a good movie, but it was not a feel-good story. The basic gist is that it follows one couple through their divorce and custody battle, always a knee-slapper…

    Basically a character study (of the couple as individuals, and as a couple), the movie had some really good acting, fueled by serious star power — Scarlet Johannson and Adam Driver, plus Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta and Wallace Shawn (that guy from The Princess Bride). Unfortunately, the movie tended to “showcase” the actors at times, almost as if it were a vehicle for a break-out star, or multiple ones.

    The plot itself was a bit boring. Conflict is at least the precursor to drama, or should be, and conflict was baked into the story, but this thing moved like a sporting event you couldn’t care less about: sooner or later it will end, with some final score, and everyone will move on. And that’s what happened — the lawyers even advised their clients that this would be so.

    In the end, I’m glad I saw this, but my final take-away is that its makers think it’s better than it really is.

  • Not Quite The Borg

    One more piece of software I added: Jaspersoft Studios, a program to design and generate reports from various data sources. I use this because — unlike other report programs I have tried — it works well with PostgreSQL, the database I like to use, but it can be a bear to use since it has a lot of moving parts.

    There are two ways to use Jasper Reports: one is as a standalone program, and the other is as a plug-in to the Eclipse IDE, which I happen to like using, and which I use nowadays for almost all my coding. I downloaded the standalone program first, but it looked so much like an Eclipse product it reminded me that there was a plug-in — this would be just one more thing that I could run from my single IDE to rule them all. So, I installed the plugin.

    What I got, plug-in and standalone package, was version 6.10, and it really looked beautiful. Unfortunately, as soon as I started to use it, I found that it was too broken to use… Jasper Reports is mostly like a graphical page layout program, where text and other elements can be moved and resized on the page, but the elements here wouldn’t move or resize. Which is bad.

    It took me a day to find information on the problem. I never did find a solution but I did find a workaround: just use an earlier version. That’s what I did, installing standalone version 6.8; Eclipse will have to wait until I learn how to add older plug-ins.

    Anyway, the program works fine now, and still looks beautiful. I used it today to make a table of bike rides from my database, natch.


    I just got the latest Jeff VanDermeer novel, Dead Astronauts. This is set in the same story-universe as his Borne and A Strange Bird, and some of his short stories, but it is supposedly far more complex and experimental. More on this after I get through the first page…