Thursday, November 28, 2013

Surface 2 and the Sharks

In addition to Windows Phone, I now have a Surface 2. I am writing to let you know that this device does what I need it to do and is in fact fun and useful. Here is a screenshot:

This is an older photo. I’ve moved things around since, and there are more tiles to the right, including Netflix and News apps. But it looks basically similar.

I have been using the device to check Facebook, listen to music, read news articles, write, takes notes. If my laptop were to die, this would do in a pinch, although I’d probably want the type cover for heavier typing instead of this touch cover. The touch cover is preferable though because it is cleanable, water resistant, and easy to fold back. It is especially awesome as a platform for the kickstand when placing the device on the lap or chest.

RT 8.1 is very good. In the month since I’ve had the Surface 2 several updates have addressed the little glitches in this newer version of the system. I have gotten used to the form factor. Like many others, at first I looked at RT as an odd bird: something that looked like Windows but wasn’t. That is still the case, but it is far from a misfortune. The OS runs swiftly and is versatile.

I have the desktop pinned to the Start Screen because I do in fact use it. One particularly great site to run through the IE11 desktop browser is the web-based version of Spotify. If you set sleep mode to two hours on battery and four hours or never when plugged in, you can listen uninterrupted with ease, even while using other programs and Start screen applications.

I have a set of Bluetooth speakers that work well with Surface 2. The Xbox Music app has a great interface. I use it to read my music off the 32GB microSD card I plugged in. I made a giant playlist for parties, filled with less odd selections that other people might like, but still pretty comprehensive in scope. We already know I like all kinds of music.

What else? The Mail, Calendar, People, and Weather apps are all improved. Bing News and Weave are both great readers, as is Reddit To Go! The new Reading List app is a gem. I can store articles there that I might later share on Facebook. And the backup version of Microsoft Office and SkyDrive integration are great bonuses. Netflix works very well and has plenty of good shows, documentaries, and the usual assortment of bizarre indie flicks. All in all I am a happy camper.  

Tech media do everything they can to disparage Microsoft. They have most recently have been having a field day with Julie Larson-Green’s statement that Microsoft plans to consolidate its phone and RT operating systems. Here is the top half of page one of a Bing search:

I’d include more, but you get the idea. What Larson-Green said and what is being written are two different things entirely. Most these articles have the same shtick: RIP RT. Very little of this amounts to reporting or useful discussion. It’s all about the money. So many of these publications tend heavily toward Apple and Android. They have been bought. What they do is flood the “news” section of web searches with heavy bias, which in turn shifts perceptions.

Only two headlines offer anything thought provoking. “Reports of the death of Windows RT have been greatly exaggerated” the Washington Post headline reads, and a PocketNow article from farther down the page beyond the screenshot asks “How would a Windows RT and Windows Phone convergence work?”

That last question is the best. Change is coming. How will the market respond? How will Microsoft in turn respond? I am not sure, but I can tell you I am confident that Surface 2 will get meaningful updates for the next few years. Will RT die? I doubt it, just as I highly doubt Windows Phone will die. But I am sure that in 2014 the two will begin to merge into something different. That is what Julie Larson-Green has hinted.

Surface 2 sales are what might get the biggest hit from this bad press, at least in the short run, and that I find sad. The device is all in all stellar. I recommend it highly. Many people are saying Bay Trail tablets are better. Maybe they are; then again, maybe after installing enough desktop software on them, they will start running slow and breathing heavy after a while.

Whatever. The point is, for my money, I would rather go for Surface 2 over an Android or iPad tablet. Even without “legacy” software on RT, I get plenty. There is no dearth of apps for my needs. There's Office. SkyDrive. A USB port. Compatibility with my old Canon printer/scanner. Expandable memory. 1080p resolution. Solid processing power. A kickstand that works on my lap. Best part: the thing is sexy.

I like Surface 2. If you do too, forget these crap tech sites. Get something that works for you. I am glad I did.

Angus (Ed Luhrs)

P.S.: Happy Thanksgiving!

P.P.S.: Once again, in defense of Google, I will say I love their services and I do admire Android a great deal for its versatility as a phone. Though I am a huge fan AND user of Windows Phone, I am not willing to take sides with Microsoft against Google. Microsoft should stop the awful Scroogled campaign. I have never been Scroogled – by Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Maps, Chrome, or anything else Google provides for millions of people.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Piano Trio Playlist

Here are sixteen jazz piano trio tracks I put together on Spotify.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Buddy Emmons and Lenny Breau

Minors Aloud is a 1978 release with a good, eclectic mix of styles - maybe rough around the edges, but still an excellent showcase for these two phenomenal guitar players. If you have not heard Buddy and Lenny before, here is a fine place to start. If you have, this is a sweet addition to any collection.

Download here (no password):


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Davy Graham

You should hear this - another guy Jimmy Page got his chops from. This whole album is on Spotify and Xbox Music (the latter of which is pretty awesome, with free streaming and some ads like Spotify). Some albums spell his name Davey. Also check out The Guitar Player, which is only on Xbox now - what a classic!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Maria Kalaniemi & Martin Hayes

Let me pick these two to highlight as performers you might want to hear. Maria Kalaniemi is an accordion player from Finland, and Martin Hayes an Irish fiddler. The gentleman on the right is guitarist Dennis Cahill, who provides the mesmerizing pulse for Hayes in their collaborations. Similarly, on Kalaniemi's album Airbow, you'll hear the violin playing of Sven Ahlbäck, who complements the sparse wintry sound on that album perfectly.

What Kalaniemi and Hayes have in common is beautiful phrasing. You'll find quietness and fire in their work - maybe not enough fire for some ears, but it works just perfectly for me. If neither instrument is something you associate with grace or beauty, dig in. They make such excellent music - Hayes and Cahill with The Lonesome Touch and Live in Seattle, and Kalaniemi on the album mentioned above (which you can find to sample as a download if you dig through these archives) and on Bellow Poetry. And these albums are just a beginning. I've not heard anything by either of them that is not stellar.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Windows Phone and the Lumia 920

In the next few days I plan to add some random thoughts on Windows Phone 8 and the Nokia Lumia 920. Right now I'm doing laundry, getting ready to eat, having some decent wine. So I'll add more to this post later. Meanwhile, above is a photo of the lock screen and a colorful part of my start screen.

All right I'm back. Now here is a blue theme -

Two days passed, and you see I have notifications! This implies a rich and satisfying existence. Actually, I should be preparing; I'm performing at that Barn event tonight. Instead, I'm writing about Windows Phone (WP). I have a few things to say here.

If you don't like the design, use another platform. If you want to complain about its shortcomings, go Android. Go iPhone. For my part, I have been captivated with the design aesthetic of WP for quite some time now, first with the 900 and now with the 920.

Nokia builds tanks for phones. When the 920 came out, critics like Sam Biddle at Gizmodo were complaining about the weight. If you are worried about that, you should go buy a lighter phone. But you will also need to find a case. Many phones are fragile. You can hammer nails with a Nokia. For my part, I do not find the 920 bulky or heavy at all. Sturdy is the word. I got a thin black rubber Nokia case regardless, because it gives the phone good grip. It isn't noticeable - hardly changes the shape of the device.

Next, I give HUGE thumbs up to the dedicated camera button on all models of WP, including of course the awesome photo/video-taking 920. No one can find fault with a dedicated camera button. It is the single greatest feature of all, because who the hell wants to tap a touch screen to take a picture?

Obviously, tens of millions in the United States alone. Look on the NYC subways. iPhone iPhone iPhone Galaxy Droid iPhone. I have only met TWO people in the past few months who use WP.  

Several factors contribute to this. I don't care to talk about them. If you -

Sorry. Damn commercial breaks without warning. The price we pay. What was I saying about cultural indoctrination? Probably nothing. So where was I? Ah yes, US carrier support. It is downright disgusting. WP and Nokia have a harder time here than other parts of the world. Even so, I believe WP is gaining ground slowly and sustainably, despite the insistence of certain tech bloggers whose $$$ is funded by other platforms. 

Nokia has comprehensive, effective GPS navigation, and it is getting better. HERE Drive + is a gem with the recent updates.

Shortcomings? There are plenty. Big tiles imply simplicity, but the People Hub is convoluted (great Facebook and Twitter integration though). The volume control and vibrate are still weird. On the 920 the placement of the search button is annoying. Other observations can be found at Windows Phone Central and reddit.

Why should you buy WP? That is not for me to say. You are an adult: find what works for you. All I am saying is if you followed the crowd and got something else, and are now regretting it, think about that a little. 

Thomas Merton, who was a Cistercian monk but a damn good social critic, once said Americans wouldn't want to be caught dead using the wrong brand of toothpaste. He was criticizing corporate image and commercials and the sheepishness of the masses and all that goes with it. In smart phone world, you've got the same thing - people following the crowd. 

Some of the crowd follow the critics. Some critics still bitch about the amount of WP apps. Please... there are plenty. Great imaging apps, news feeds, social integration etc. You'll find what you need. 

I am glad WP isn't the only phone in the world. Diversity is good! If all phones had tiles, that would be boring. But check out how those tiles update. I dig that. That's my idea of notification. I am never bored with my own tiles. I find them fascinating... and they lead to visually stunning apps.

Photography? Here is a night photo of Avery Fisher Hall I took with the 920 -

And a video I took of a dance performance earlier that day -

In order to find how it all works for yourself, you need to pick up a Nokia or an HTC 8X (also a great device and thin and light). Make the Best Buy rep take one out of the box if the phones aren't on display (they often aren't, which Microsoft needs to address). Try the phones yourself. That is how I got hooked.

When I first began with the 900 I was wondering which Android to get next. I investigated the Lumia just for fun, because I liked Nokia. (Theirs was the second cell phone I ever got - great tiny black and white screened device back in the day.) Anyway, oddly enough the Lumia 900 was on display at Best Buy (which I have never seen since!!!), and within minutes of playing with it, I decided this is exactly what I want next - and that was 7.5, no where near as cool as 8 (and the 7.8 update for the 900.)

Now the 920 does what it does oh so well. Nokia is always on top of meaningful updates to their software. Battery life is easy to manage in settings. Very good navigation. Great pictures and awesome video. The Microsoft Office and SkyDrive integration? Out of this world. I use the Office app for my work at a community college and also at poetry readings if I don't have something printed on paper. 

I'd like more people using WP - ten, fifteen percent of the market sounds like a start. I think that most definitely can happen. There are shortcomings to the platform, yes. Some will be addressed by the 8.1 update in 2014. Knowing Microsoft, they will make very subtle changes. (Stuff like Rooms will get an update though. Golly... wow.) As it is now though, the OS is brilliant - with the Swiss graphic design concepts and all. There is plenty of room for growth here. The phone you get now will receive good updates, whatever the little grumbles I mention.

And Nokia? Nokia makes absolutely frigging great phones. I am sorry. There is no nicer way to say it.


P.S.: Here is a photo of Argyle Lake, Babylon I took with the Lumia 900 - similar to the kind of daytime photos the 920 would take -

P.P.S.: Dear AT&T, Please continue to improve LTE reception on Long Island, especially in the weaker spots along the south shore in Suffolk County. Thanks!

P.P.P.S.: I put a review on Amazon - go here and look for Ed Luhrs, who again is in fact Angus himself.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

River Tam's Dance

I am watching Netflix and catching up on Firefly episodes. When I saw River Tam dancing in Episode 5, I immediately went to see if I could find the scene on YouTube. Summer Glau is incredible, but what I found was just as amazing:

The girl here is reenacting the scene beautifully! I had to share this.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tyrconnell Single Malt

Enter HERE to learn more about this magnificent whiskey.

I'm a fan of bourbon, Irish whiskey, and some of the tamer varieties of single-malt Scotch. I'm not a complete wimp though - I can handle Laphraoig with a small drop of water and am always open to trying something new.

Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey at just over $30 a bottle is a gem. I'm reading reviews that compare it to a Speyside Scotch, or talk about the fruity smells and all that. I'll just say it is very distinctive and perfectly drinkable. One thing I'm sure: after a couple of sips, you'll end up agreeing with all the reviews ever written and singing the praises of Ireland.

Thumbs up!


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sgt Neil Howie, West Highland Police

“Myrtle — do you, um, do you know Rowan?”
“Course I do.”
“…You do?”
“Course I do, silly.”
“Ah, do you know where she is now?”
“In the fields. She runs and plays there all day.”
“Does she? Do you think she’ll be coming back for tea?”
“Tea? Hares don’t have tea, silly.”
“She’s a hare — Rowan’s a hare. She has a lovely time.”
One of my favorite films is The Wicker Man - the original extended version with Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland. If you have never seen the original, for the love of all the apples on Summerisle, do not watch the remake with Nicolas Cage first. That remake is really awful awful crap (though it is unintentionally funny and worth viewing for kicks after you see the original)... anyway, Happy May!

Croí folláin agus gob fliuch,

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's a Wonderful World in Cyberspace, But Remember

Don't Feed The Trolls!


P.S.: This is an example of a brief reflection on a various topic.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Selection 37 - Performance Segment (R. Iyer)

...built around the kriti "Sarasiruha" (etc...)

Veena player Ramachandra Iyer (see here) was in his seventies when he recorded "Sarasiruha," which is featured in the academic compilation Worlds of Music pictured above. This is South Indian (Carnatic) classical music, which begins with an alap (improvisation), becomes more rhythmic, then moves to the kriti (set composition where the drums kick in), and the pallavi and anupallavi, developments of the kriti.

Something like that, at least. Check here for better details.

Listening to this piece in an ethnomusicology class at SUNY Binghamton in the '90s was an awesome experience for me. You can even hear a dog barking in the background of the recording, so you know this is the real deal.

Download here:

The veena has more of an earthy sound than sitar. Here, it is a thing of beauty. You will be transported to another place. Also check out the work of Chitti Babu, E. Gayathri, and other Carnatic musicians on Spotify and YouTube.

For instrumental favs in other styles, click here for one of my prior posts.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Ladies And Gentlemen

...Mr. Conway Twitty!

I saw part of this video on Family Guy and thought it a good day to share. I had some Easter-related music to post yesterday, but my nephew was born, so I put that on hold. I'll post more soon.

Meanwhile, let me point to something my friend Paul shared with me, Howard Goodall's Story of Music. I have to watch these. Paul has an excellent blog as well, being British and living in Florida - see here.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Paavo Berglund, Bournemouth Symphony - Sibelius

Alleluia! Back in circulation... I have some listening to do.

Spring is sprung!


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ulfilas and the East German Branch

All the surviving Germanic languages today are either from the West Germanic branch, including English, Frisian, Dutch, and German; or the North Germanic, Scandinavian ones. The Eastern branch died out a long time ago, and the only substantial extant manuscript we have of that family of languages is a Gothic translation of portions of the Bible by Ulfilas. It amazes me how one tenuous thread can open such a fascinating and comparatively wide door to linguistic history.

Ulfilas, or Wulfila, made his own alphabet for the translation, the letters drawing heavily from Greek and Roman. The photograph above comes from Robert Pfeffer's very excellent site (in German and English), which has historical information as well as mythological art. In this Youtube video, Pfeffer does an absolutely fascinating job pronouncing a passage from the Gospel of Luke:

What amazes me how un-Germanic it sounds, at least at first, but then you pick up on certain words that look similar to words in modern German or English. (Incidentally, I left a comment in German on the video, or at least I tried.) Though we can't be sure what the language really sounded like, to me this is as convincing as it gets.

Take a look also at this lesson from Alexander Arguelles's excellent YouTube series on modern and extinct languages:

As you listen to his translation of the text above, you'll see some connections. Let me give one more example of Gothic - the Our Father, in this case using Roman characters and a thorn (þ) for the th sound:
Atta unsar þu in himinam,
weihnai namo þein,
quimai þiudinassus þeins,
wairþai wilja þeins,
swe in himina jah ana airþai.
hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gib uns himma daga,
jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima,
swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim,
jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai,
ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin. Amen.
Just looking at the first line, we see atta = father; unsar = unser (our in German); himinam = Himmel (heaven). The second line: weihnai = holy (so Fröhliche Weihnachten, which is Merry Christmas in German, literally means something akin to "Happy Holy Night"); namo = name; þein = thy, thine. Then a few lines down, daga = day.

And so on. What we'll likely not fully know is what these people did for fun, what they ate, what music or art they might have created, what their society was like. But the idea that a Germanic culture existed down near the Mediterranean region back in the 4th Century, and that they spoke a language related to ours, however distantly, shows us a significant link in a long chain that extends even farther back to places we can only imagine.


P.S.: Robert pointed a a great series by BenJamin P. Johnson, "Gothic for Goths." The first video begins with the alphabet:

I look forward to watching the rest of the series - click here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Robin Trower

Nothing spells love like Robin Trower. Oddly enough, this album from a 1975 performance in Stockholm's Konserthus is not on Spotify or in MP3 format on Amazon right now. (A number of the things here aren't, now that I think of it.) So...

Download here (no password):

My absolute favorites here are "Daydream" and "I Can't Wait Much Longer," (also on his first album*) with bassist James Dewar's stellar voice in full force. The tunes have a moodiness that I greatly identify with. Dewar died in 2002, but Trower is still strong - never lost his chops as a guitarist.

From here you can explore a number of albums both on Spotify and Amazon. A few to start with: Twice Removed from Yesterday*, At The BBC 1973-1975, B.L.T. (with Jack Bruce... and a picture of a sandwich on the front cover), and Living Out of Time (Live). He's got great live energy. I have to catch up on more of his studio albums, especially the most recent ones.

Almost forgot to mention Bridge of Sighs. That's a good one too, especially that killer intro on the title track.


P.S.: A lot of the early Procol Harum is fun stuff. The tune "A Salty Dog" is a gem.

P.P.S.: Passed the 100,000 mark with the page views on this blog. For comparison I have another Blogger blog for almost as long, that I seldom maintain, and that one has like 600 views. Music is always a more fun topic.

I've been digging Tumblr too - I share daily picks over there. It's much easier: nothing to post, as the albums are already online. But there are endless amounts of cool photos and art to check out as well. There are a lot of people in the world, many of them on Tumblr, just tumbling away :-)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thoughts Before The Superbowl

First, I went and got a six pack of Geary's Pale Ale. Home run. All right, wrong word. Touchdown! This Portland, Maine brew embodies everything I love about ale. Just smelling it lets you know this is English style. The yeast and hops help give it that unmatchable aroma and flavor, albeit a little more dry and herbal than some of the pale ales from across the way. Another American great of similar kind is Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55. Try these if you like the flavor. I can't recommend them enough.

Next, the photo above. The Boss. Bruce Springsteen himself. I am listening to Live in Dublin right now. This is an unbelievable concert. He performs with The Sessions Band doing Pete Seeger tunes together with his own stuff, here with banjo, fiddle, accordion, brass, and plenty of acoustic energy. You can find this on Spotify too. It's even better than the beer.

Now none of this has anything to do with football. I have not been following all season, so I'll have some catching up to do watching the game. I didn't even have any idea who is performing in the half time show till I just looked it up. Beyoncé it is. Usually the half time show is just glimmering lights and a fashion show, but I really dug what Bruce did a few years back. That rocked.

Anyway, I'm still looking through the archives to see what I can share next. For now, enjoy the game if you're watching, and if not, go enjoy something else. Happy February.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

What They Have In Common

Twelve songs here, performed by Aengus Finnan, Antje Duvekot, Jenee Halstead, Rob Lytle, James O’Malley, Stuart Markus, Small Potatoes, Joe Iadanza, Spuyten Duyvil, The McDades, Peter Rowan, and Gathering Time respectively.

Each of these artists has performed at the Folk Music Society of Huntington. I have seen them all live, the ones who live more locally (Stuart Markus, Joe Iadanza, Gathering Time) quite a few times. These are some of my favs. Check them out!


Friday, January 18, 2013

Kathleen Ferrier

The voice of Kathleen Ferrier was a force of nature. She died in 1953 of breast cancer. One of her last recordings in 1952 with Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra included a performance of the air "Father of Heaven" from Handel's Judas Maccabeus. This is one of the greatest contralto performances in the history of recorded music. I won't footnote that statement, but if you like go listen for yourself.

I wanted to include an MP3 in this post, but this time around I will leave it to you to find a copy. There are several copies on Spotify and Amazon. Click here for an Amazon link. 

Just thinking about this performance makes me cry, without fail. It is so uncommonly beautiful. She was sick but kept strong long enough to leave us with her incomparable gift.


P.S.: Two other gems in the mezzo-soprano and soprano departments respectively...

1. Janet Baker singing the “Urlicht” song from Mahler’s 2nd in the Simon Rattle recording.
2. Gundula Janowitz singing “Mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk" from Haydn’s Creation with Karajan conducting.

By the way, if you have any favorites you'd like to share, add a comment and I'll give it a listen!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Turning 40

First off, belated Happy New Year! I will officially be an old man January 6. So sad. For consolation, I put together a punk rock tune. I couldn't think of any other way to stave off these maudlin tears.