Organ Dramatics: Mixing Favourite Genres

Little-known Daniel Fact™: I played the pipe organ for a year or so. Where by ‘played’ I mean managed to keep my feet and my fingers in relative-but-not-at-all perfect sync, much to the absolute joy of the classes being taught in the rooms next to the auditorium. With that disclaimer, you may discount my assertion that the pipe organ is The Best instrument of them all. But really, what instrument is as versatile, as subtle, as grand, as the pipe organ?

I also have a fondness for film music. My interest in both of these streams of music has flared up after some dormancy after stumbling onto this beauty:

Koyaanisqatsi, if you’ve not seen it, is an audio-visual experience. One you might not stay awake through, but worth trying out.

(These tracks are best listened to through headphones or speakers with quality bass – not your tinny laptop speakers.)

Going into the mainstream then, here’s a medley based on the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean. Medleys are usually questionable to me, as they often seem particularly disjointed, but this organist seems to make it work fairly well.

That recording unfortunately doesn’t have quite the omph that I really love about the organ. But this next one delivers a bit better on that aspect, being played on the largest theatre organ in the world (and probably recorded with better microphones.) Just imagine being there and feeling the building reverberate with those deep notes. That’s probably what I loved most about playing the organ, honestly. And this piece is just fun:

And of course I have to include this classic, which strictly speaking didn’t originate in film. This recording utilizes more than just an organ, but that’s probably what I really loved about the original versions of this piece. (Unfortunately the video features shots of the crowd that really work against the mood of the piece.)

These are just some of the Organ arrangements I’ve come across today. Right now the Koyannisqatsi piece is probably my favourite, but the others really show the versatility and grandeur of the instrument.

Photo: Organ in John White Chapel, Geneva College. Credit: Daniel Favand



Gotcha: April Fools’ Pranks

It’s so predictable. The first day of April every year, you second-guess everything you read because you’re not sure if it’s real, or if someone is just fooling with you. I’ve generally shied away from pranking people on April 1st both because of this predictability and because I usually don’t have any good ideas in the last week of March.

The Geneva Cabinet, the undergraduate newspaper I edited in my senior year of college, had a strong tradition of April Fools’ issues. So strong that you just knew that the issue on or after April Fools’ Day would be full of nonsense. Granted, there were some pretty creative articles. But it’s predictable. So call me boring, but under my editorship we didn’t produce an April Fools’ issue. We just didn’t have any good ideas that would rise above the noise of predictable prank articles about the cafeteria. This year, though, the Cabinet had me for a moment with their article proclaiming Geneva-alum and now food service operations manager Matt Neal as editor in chief. The headline was just plausible enough to be believable, especially as some years it’s hard to find a student interested in running the paper.

It’s that fine line between plausibility and implausibility that keeps you on your toes. Such was the case with a prank my sister pulled, where she announced to the (Facebook) world that she would graduate from college this May, a whole year early. Apparently she forgot to count the community college credits or something. Right. Been there, sister; you don’t just ‘forget’ your community college credits. Nevertheless she managed unnecessarily excite more than a couple folks, including her poor mother. All sarcasm aside, the exciting reality is that she will graduate next December, a semester early. No fooling.

Another ‘prank’ is the University of Rochester’s website, which features Lego minifigures pursuing majors such as chemistry, music, and music chemistry (‘She blinded me with science … and deafened me with rhythm.’). Just good fun, a marketing scheme that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being marketed to, and it involves Legos to boot.

Work vs. Personal: An Elitist Deconstruction?

I was trying out the note-taking all-organizing web app WorkFlowy earlier this week, and was intrigued that each ‘getting started’ guide recommended starting out with two master categories: work and personal. A simple enough division, perhaps, if one can distinctly divide all one’s life between work and personal. To me, though, this sounded quite a bit like the work vs. life divide that I’ve argued against before, besides being rather impossible because all of my projects really are my life – from school to my internet projects to the radio show/podcast I run. Granted, the recommendation to divide the task list between personal and work was only a suggestion, and since the goal is to get people to start effectively managing their lists and tasks, probably quite appropriate. Questioning one’s life philosophy is, ironically, a good way to distract oneself from getting one’s life organized.

But as I was musing on this topic earlier today – quite successfully distracting myself from work that needs done – I began to wonder if the drive to deconstruct the work vs. life divide isn’t the same Do What You Love (DWYL) mantra that is so common in career advice these days. The basic argument is that you should be doing something that doesn’t feel like work. (Note how ‘work’ is a construction with negative meaning in our contemporary usage.) Both DWYL and the critique of the work vs. life divide argue that proper work is indistinguishable from the rest of life.

But is the deconstruction of the work/life divide a particularly elitist deconstruction? Generally, deconstructions are imagined as anti-elite: they deconstruct ideas or concepts (constructions) that otherwise hide (inequitable) power relations or false consciousnesses, in Marxist terms. But in light of an article by Miya Tokumitsu that I stumbled across, titled In the Name of Love, I begin to wonder if the deconstruction of the work vs. life dichotomy isn’t a particularly elitist deconstruction, hiding the nature of work performed by those not lucky enough to want to make it their lives.

Tokumitsu argues that the DWYL mantra masks the nature of work, creating classes of underpaid workers: ‘Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.’ Further, ‘unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.’ The basic argument is that the Do What You Love mantra hides, and thus reduces the value of, labour. Might the deconstruction of the work vs. life divide do the same thing?

Perhaps. I do take seriously Tokumitsu’s concluding remarks:

[DWYL] shunts aside the labor of others and disguises our own labor to ourselves. It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

But the reality for some, including myself, is that my ‘work’ and my ‘life’ are highly intertwined, given that I am both a student and something of an entrepreneur. So her critique might focus attention on the fact that I am still labouring, that I am producing something, and thus I, along with all the others in similar categories, ought to be compensated fairly and treated humanely. But I still think that in these cases, the work vs. life divide doesn’t quite work – a better way is the work-rest balance, which acknowledges that work is intertangled with the rest of life, and might even be our life, but that, as I think Tokumitsu would agree, one needs appropriate levels of rest. Thus we can critique the work/life divide where appropriate, yet maintain realization that we are, in fact, working.

Quick website development with Bolt

My apologies to anyone who subscribed to this blog hoping for profound paragraphs on religion, culture, or academia.

I work on a few side projects, one of which is a prepaid phone plan comparison site, It involves storing a lot of data on each plan, and having custom logic to calculate plan costs based on the user’s criteria, and then custom templates to spit this all out to the user.

My coding workflow tends to be quite haphazard as I’ll usually end up modifying the data schema or needing to change the way the logic works several times during development. I’m a hobby coder, and so even though I sometimes try to plan things out (and even use Git to manage versions now), I generally code in fits and starts, piecing things together as I figure out I need them or come up with a new idea.

When developing PhonePlanChoices, I initially started with WordPress, because I was familiar with it. Moreover, I didn’t want to have to build the site from scratch. There’s already a system that lets me save content to a database, that already has features that let me pull content out and then do stuff with it, so why not use it? It has lots of plugins and a great community that provides support. This is all true, but I found it to be very much overkill.

Sure, there were a couple good plugins that helped me to manage my custom data types, and it was simple enough to make the custom logic work. But it wasn’t simple enough that I could set it down for a few weeks (or even months!) and come back still knowing how the architecture worked. Plus, to get the most out of some of those plugins required buying a premium version. I’m a hobby programmer and despite the (sparse) ads on the site, I don’t bring in any money from it.

So when considering how to grow the site easily, I still wanted a system that would provide a backend that would mould itself to my custom data schema, but which would be simple enough to change as my needs changed, and be easily extended for my custom logic. Enter Bolt.

The MIT-licensed Bolt CMS is simple enough that the architecture is quickly understandable: It doesn’t have a huge learning curve. At the same time, it allows one to do some fairly complex things – more than just display blog posts (it can do that too.) It really provides something that I can build around. The support community isn’t terribly large, but does seem dedicated, and it uses standard components from well-known frameworks so that most things are easily figured out.

One particular advantage over WordPress is that the content types schema is based on just a text (yaml) file. Change the schema in the file and Bolt will prompt you to update the database. As soon as that’s done the updated schema is ready to use in extensions and themes. The backend is ready and waiting. While I’m sure WordPress’s architecture is well thought-out and robust, I found working with custom content-types and meta to be difficult. Not impossible, but not something I could do on the occasional weekend. Bolt, being simpler in that regard, makes it easier to tackle a project.

My programming itch has been scratched (for now.) I’ll get back to my essays…


Head in the clouds: saving your digital life

Earlier this week my flat lost internet service for over 24 hours. It was a bit annoying, partly because so many things work on the computer require an active internet connection. Which made me think about all those services I to make sure that whatever I’m working on gets saved in at least two locations. I’m a fan of cloud backup sites, and I use several for different purposes, ranging from personal, to academic, to software development. They not only back up my data, but they often make it possible to share things with others and edit files remotely. Continue reading

Politics and emotional correctness

Sally Kohn was a commentator for Fox News. She’s also a lesbian and progressive when it comes to politics, which put her largely at odds with many of the people she interacted with on the TV channel. She talks about how entrenched and polarized people’s opinions are, and argues that even if you think your ideas are correct, it doesn’t matter if you can’t connect emotionally with the person you’re talking to or arguing with. What’s needed, she says in this video from October 2013, is ‘emotional correctness’:

In a follow-up interview from December 2013, she gives a perceptive answer to one of the main objections I’ve had to ‘just be nice’ theories of social and political dialog:

There’s a school of thought that says if we were all kind to each other — if we all embrace this notion of emotional correctness — then we’d be glossing over our profound political differences. I don’t see it that way. I really don’t. I think we can have incredibly tough political differences and yet still be decent towards each other. I think this is the best practice for our democracy, and we can actually get somewhere with that. The jury is out on whether it’s the left or the right — or some new political formation — that masters this first. Whatever side grasps this first will win, because we’re all just preaching to our own choirs right now. Unless we find ways to expand those choirs, it’s just sort of intractable.

No People Allowed: Jaywalking in America

One of the things I like most about Europe, including Scotland where I’m currently living, is that the streets are free. While stepping in front of oncoming traffic is not advised (and getting in the way of a car will get you a nasty look at minimum), there is no prohibition against crossing the street whenever and wherever you can. It’s just one way in which European cities tend to be more human-friendly than American ones.

(It is notable in the UK, however, that in practice cars always have the right of way except when stopped by traffic control systems such as street lights and crossing lights. It was great fun to pull a North American visitor through the streets as we dodged traffic to get our destination.)

There’s an article out today from the BBC on the origins of jaywalking laws in America, which firmly implicates the American auto industry in pushing people out of their streets. Peter Norton, from the University of Virginia, is quoted as saying, “The newspaper coverage quite suddenly changes, so that in 1923 they’re all blaming the drivers, and by late 1924 they’re all blaming jaywalking,” thanks to the subtle but influential propaganda of the auto industry.

The article also presents an interesting statistic, stating that “The UK is among those countries where jaywalking is not an offence. But the rate of pedestrian deaths is half that of the US, at 0.736 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 compared to 1.422 per 100,000 in America.”

I’m a big fan of walkable (and bikeable) cities. Jaywalking rules annoy me, because they privilege the private automobile, which, as much as I do like driving, is a comparatively inefficient mode of transit in densely populated areas. One of the reasons that I love Edinburgh is that it is very walkable – both in terms of infrastructure as well as size.

Photo: Woman crosses street oblivious to traffic at Trafalgar Square. Credit: kenjonbro on Flickr. Creative Commons License.