Monday, September 26, 2005

Jazz Benefit for New Orleans

A day or two after Katrina, a blogger whose link I've now lost wrote a story about a little girl watching an ad for a benefit concert for New Orleans, and turned to her father and asked, "Why do they need to have a concert? Can't people just give money by themselves?"

I think about that now every time I see a benefit concert being advertised, so I wasn't overly enthusiastic when my wife wanted to go to this one, and left to my own devices to choose between this concert and Monday Night Football, well, pass the beer nuts. But I suppose that if you drive a backhoe you can help out; and if you're an electrician you can help out; and even IT guys can volunteer for some things. Musicians want to help out too, and hopefully concerts like this one will raise a nice piece of change for the Red Cross. The Indiana University School of Music brought in David Baker, Sylvia McNair, and Timothy Noble as headliners - all are alums - and it turned out to be a really good concert, and much better than the pigskin (as Denver rolled right over the Chiefs).

Although the lineup didn't include as much New Orleans jazz as one might hope, it was not surprising for as quickly as this concert had to be put together. So the arrangement consisted primarily of show tunes. The ensemble were upbeat on the instrumental pieces, and the soloists did a solid job. The lone female, Sophie Faught, did a fine job on Quincy Jones' Grace -albeit with a rather hissy microphone - and with a strapless gown and a shock of bright red hair amid a sea of tuxes, was the visual centerpoint of the evening, something I suspect she will have to get used to if she wants to continue in jazz.

Tim Noble performed admirably on a couple of Cole Porter tunes, while Sylvia McNair sang some swinging jazz melodies with perhaps more of an opera rhythm than a jazz one. But she did a great job on Over the Rainbow, and her performance of John LaTouche's Lazy Afternoon was nothing short of stunning.

Before the final song Mr. Noble pointed out a pair of music students in the audience who werre newly enrolled after coming from Louisiana, which was a nice way to point out the real purpose of the evening. Then he and Ms. McNair teamed up with pianist Luke Gillespie for a closing rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone. This concert was a reminder of how good jazz can be, and it left me wishing there was a good jazz bar in Bloomington, so we can hear music like this every night.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pillars of Solomon, Jon Land

I haven't gotten around to reading the Da Vinci Code yet. I read Angels & Demons and liked it; I like the sort of book that combines history and mystery to reveal ancient secrets. It's what I was expecting about this book, which blurbs a "Secret born of the blood that forged a nation!" which sounds pretty cool. But I'm not sure that the recent forging of Israel holds a great deal of interest for me, taking place recently enough that many of the protagonists are still alive. Still, the five thousand year history of the territory makes for some interesting reading. The plot takes us from the murder of an Israeli businessman and the disappearance of a Palestinian schoolgirl to the uncovering of a child slavery ring, and then to the secret, going through a Jordanian archaelogical dig on the way, which presented some Indiana Jones-esque sequences. I wonder if that's a standard for Mr. Land?

The thing you always have to ask when reading a book like this, is "Does it hold together?" This one mostly does; the big difficulty I had - hopefully without giving away the plot - was in buying the complex nature of the warriors in the book who were partially responsible for the creation of Israel. Of course, all wars have irresponsible behavior on the battlefield and in the post-battle euphoria of survival; but I'm not sure that I can buy some behaviors under any circumstances. Ethics are one thing in the circumstances of hot blood and totally another after the fact, which is why the happenings at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable.

The writing is fair-to-good, with the occasional really awkward phrasing ( "Realized" is not a synonym for "Said". Ever.) The cover promises better writing than Tom Clancy, and that is not the case, but IMO Clancy is really in a class by himself for thrillers. Jon Land is a solid writer, and - the reason I'm actually writing this article is to make sure I don't forget - I will be picking up some of his other work. Isn't that all an author can really ask for in a book?

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Cosi Fan Tutte, IU Opera

It's a fun opera season this year, with the Barber of Seville, Carmen, and a couple of Shakespeare adaptations on the agenda. The opener was this Mozart opera, and it was...ok.

See, Mozart's operas to me seem like they're twice as long as they should be. The niceties of the 18th century required that the singers be given a nice slab of time for a solo on stage, and that's fine, but I wish the great one had managed to work more than one verse into each eight-minute aria. The fault of the librettist actually, I suppose, but if you choose a plot with 90 minutes of material, why make it into 200 minutes? That was the actual length of this piece, although the program said it would be 165.

With all that said, it's worth seeing. The plot goes something like this: Two soldiers make a bet with an older cynic that their betrotheds can stay faithful to them against all temptation. As part of the bet, each then tries, disguised, to seduce the other's fiance. The cynic, who is sure he will win the bet, thinks that "they're all like that", or, cosi fan tutte.

Highlights: The maid, Despina, comic relief played skillfully by Angela Mannino, with a very nice nasal voice for her turn disguised as a male. The two soldiers (Brian Stucki and Benjamin Czarnota) do a very funny slapstick bit being pulled around by a magnet. It's a truism that opera singers can't act for beans - Dorabella (Ann Sauder) for example, tended to go a bit overboard on the dramatic gestures - but I thought the two males worked very well together. I was surprised to learn that Ms. Sauder was an undergraduate, but she carried herself capably with a solid voice.

So go along and see it if you have a chance, but make sure you budget enough time for it, and be prepared to enjoy the music. You'll have to do that anyway, to keep your attention during the parts where the plot isn't going anywhere fast.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Google's killer app

The blogosphere is abuzz about Google's plans for a WiFi network. There's a lot of talk going around about datamining and selling ads based on what's on your hard drive and stuff like that. But here's my take on what Google is after - it's something I've wanted for a long time: A VOIP cellphone.

If there's one thing everyone agrees on, it's that the cell phone companies are awful. Proprietary networks, $2 ringtones, basically everything they can do to monopolize and monetize absolutely everything their customers can do with their phones. The companies even have their own private networks, that no one but themselves can use. As a consumer, none of this is any good to me. I'm usually in range of a WiFi network - why can't I use my cellphone to make cheaper, easier VOIP calls when I'm in range?

If I'm Google, I'm looking at that and saying, wow, what a golden opportunity. What would we have to do to take on the cellphones? Let's see:
  • We'd need global wireless access.
  • We'd need a ton of wire to transmit all that data.
  • We'd need secure traffic.
  • We'd need our own voice application.
  • We'd need a way to determine the user's location for 911 calls.

Check, check, check, check, and check. GooglePhone, coming soon in your area. Sign up today!

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Using the pImpl idiom with an auto_ptr

Here's a interesting C++ fact I had never figured out. The pImpl idiom is a method of hiding implementation details of a class from users of the class. You define the class's interface in its .h file, and then add a simple forward-declaration:

class myClassImpl;

and in the class, include a member variable:

myClassImpl* pImpl;

(pImpl stands for Pointer to Implementation.)

Then, in the class's CPP file, the constructor news up pImpl and the destructor deletes it, and the declaration of class myClassImpl can be pushed off to a different file or even hidden entirely in the class CPP file.

But still, there's a step in there we might be able to get rid of. The standard class auto_ptr defines a pointer that will be deleted when it goes out of scope. So, instead of using a raw pImpl pointer in the class definition, we define it like this:

std::auto_ptr pImpl;

Now the auto_ptr goes out of scope when the instance is destroyed, so we don't even need to delete it in the destructor. But wait - there's a problem. If we happen to have a class destructor that's defined in the header file, it won't be able to delete pImpl because, at that point, it doesn't have a definition for it. This seems like a minor issue, until you realize that, if you don't define a destructor at all, that works exactly the same as if you had defined it in the header file. So, as Gene Bushuyev explains in the referenced article, you need to define a destructor explicitly as well, so the compiler has enough information to delete pImpl when it needs to. Thanks, Gene!

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Windows Services

At work my current task is to rejigger a bunch of applications into Windows Services. Prosolv has four primary applications that run as servers: An Archiver, a Dicom server, the Prosolv server, and a file server, or streamserver. We also have a series of other executables that handle data transfer for various machines such as the Acuson Cypress. Up until now, each of these applications has run as an application with a regular window, which is less than ideal for a server application - people tend to shut them down without meaning to - so I'll be reworking them into services. For most of these applications, this is no big deal - the only thing the windows do is hold a little config information. But the main server, the Prosolv Server, might be a bit tricky, because the server itself is actually nothing more than the original clientside-only application reworked into a server application! So it will have quite a few references to windows scattered through it. I think I've mentioned that all of these applications were written using Visual Studio 6, and it's not likely to be upgraded anytime soon. However, when the applications run as services, they'll need a separate config application, which I intend to write in C#.

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Book review: Secret of the Caves, Franklin W. Dixon

Frank Dixon and a cast of thousands, that is. But Caves was #7 in the original series, which means it was actually written by Leslie McFarlane, generally agreed to be the top Hardy ghost. I was a huge Hardy Boys fan as a kid, like my dad before me, and around 1974 he handed over a collection of probably 30 books that he had gotten originally in the 50's - Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and others, such as the Mercer Brothers, which I've never seen again. Recently I've decided it would be fun to collect some of these old books again, so I picked up Caves at an antique shop for $9 - which may have been a bit steep, but better than the $15 they were charging for some old Tom Swifts.

I don't remember this one as being one of my favorites, though, and on rereading I can guess why - there really isn't a villain. The boys and their chums go in search of a man who has lost his memory, and the escaped prisoner from the local jail is more a distraction than anything else. There are a couple of cliffhangers - literally - which are pretty exciting though, and the missing man is discovered neatly.

I've also picked up a Battleship Boys book and a Submarine Boys book, which I'll review if I think of it. Between a couple of programming books, a spy novel, and a C.S. Lewis, my limited reading time is pretty split up :)

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Blogger toolbar broken?

I was easily able to get the Word toolbar to work on a machine where I have local administrative privileges, but I don't normally log in with those on my laptop. The Blogger toolbar does not show up on this machine when I log into an account without local admin privileges. Is that just a scenario the authors overlooked, or did I hose something up - I'm pretty sure I tried installing it without privileges before I did anything else. I used the Blogger support form, and got back some automated response, which I let sit for a couple of weeks before responding. We'll see if anything comes of it - I'm guessing not. Very disappointing; I'd like to use the toolbar.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Fear of code

Kevin Barnes writes a nice article on Fear of code. The opposite of fear is courage, which is of course one of the core values of agile development. If you are afraid of changing your code, that is a code smell, which needs to be Lysol'd with lots of unit tests!