Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yarn and Music

I used to love having quiet Sunday mornings all to myself. I'd make a big pot of fresh coffee, and then slowly drink it while writing stuff and wearing my jammies. Not that those Sundays are gone, but they've become rare things these days. It's a rare and lovely treat these days to have a stretch of time in which I can just write.

First, the Yarn

Come to think of it, I haven't had much time in which to just knit, either. I was taking these photos for Fran's website and thought I'd share them...

Isn't it pretty? This is K1C2 Crock-o-Dye sock yarn, wool/nylon with a little silk. The colors are lovely, and the yarn has the right combination of softness and springiness that make knitting with it a pleasure. It's just a smidge softer than Happy Feet, which is in the running to become my favorite sock yarn to knit. You can buy the yarn from Fran if you'd like. (Disclaimer: I don't get a commission, but I do get paid to put up the PayPal buttons and stuff on her site. You might say that I have an economic interest, though.)

I do have another pair of socks in the works -- one sock done, one just needing a toe. These are the ones made from Kureyon Sock Yarn. The yarn comes off the skein feeling like a Brillo pad, but I've had the chance to touch a sock that was washed after knitting with the stuff -- and it feels like real wool. The yarn is lovely (as is anything with the name Noro on the label), and I'll share photos once that last toe has been added.

I knit in dribs and drabs these days -- half an hour here, 15 minutes there. The fact that these socks have taken shape at all is pretty much a testament to what you can do if you have a spare minute. The fact that they've taken me months to knit says a great deal about how many spare minutes these things take.

Next, the Music

After months or years of waiting, Greg's tracks are finally beginning to appear on Amazon and iTunes. His "Water" Suite appears on Volume 15 of Masterworks of the New Era... on Amazon, these are Tracks 9 and 10.

The latest track to appear is on the disc Harmonious Dissonance, which will be released on June 29. Track 5, "Variations on 'Ongiara'," is a string piece using the themes from Greg's "Niagara" orchestral piece (now referred to as "Ongiara"), performed by the ensemble Vit Muzik. As soon as it has been released, you should be able to hear a preview on Amazon. At the moment, you can see the CD cover and pre-order it as a disc or an MP3 album only. You can hear a 30-second preview here.

The tracks are also available on iTunes, but I'm unable to dig up the URLs for you. You can always search on the disc titles and see what comes up.

The String Quintet, the one that began life as The Ugly Horn Quintet and emerged as a beautiful piece for strings, will appear on Navona Records shortly, too -- only I don't know what exact date corresponds to "shortly" yet. The Sax Quartets CD will also be issued this year -- we hope. 4 years in the making -- or maybe 5!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Google Voice: Lost in Translation

In Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, the residents of San Lorenzo build their entire lives and civilization around misheard words and concepts -- but in doing so, they manage to build a pretty decent lifestyle out of ideas they know to be glorious lies. One example of misheard words is their version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," which goes something like this: "Tsvent-kiul, tsvent-kiul let-pool store..."

You can experience some of the same exotic style of translation with Google Voice. Its voice-recognition software transcribes telephone voicemail into email and sends you an email or text if you receive a call and the caller leaves a message.

Oh, I waited eagerly for a few months for my Google Voice invite. Google Voice promised to do some of the things that I was used to being able to do with the Accessline software we used to have on our phones at Sun. You could accept calls at your assigned phone number, and then set up rules to route calls to your office, home office, fax machine, or cell numbers -- or, after hours, direct to voicemail. You could set up temporary rules, permanent rules, and different rules for days and times. How great was that?!

Google Voice also offered some mighty nifty features beyond call routing. You could listen to a caller leaving a message before answering. Messages could be transcribed to email, and you could listen to the associated sound files via the Web.

Oh, and the best part: You're more or less allowed to pick your own phone number from the available area codes and number/letter combinations. One lucky friend of mine in NH was able to pick a Bay Area area code and a phone number that was his nickname. I wasn't quite so lucky in my choices -- I chose the Maine area code that all my other phones use, but spent at least an hour trying to find any combination at all that wasn't already in use under one of the two available exchanges. I did finally go with a number, but mostly out of exhaustion. SHIT and CRAP were still available. Oh, and if you choose SHIT and decide that you'd rather have CRAP, you may change once for $10.

With the difficult part done, I set about programming my home and cell phones to ring at prescribed hours, and to set "Do Not Disturb" after 11 PM. That part went easily enough. I then waited for my life to become more orderly -- at least as far as phone calls were concerned.

Things thus far haven't worked out quite as planned, though. People calling my cell phone number -- not my Google number -- got routed into the voicemail system without my being alerted that they were calling. Even if I had thought to screen my calls, I never had the chance.

The only notification I did get came from the email transcript -- which did arrive promptly after I never heard the phone ring. The first message came from the admin at a company for which I hope to do a little freelancing. Having reached my voicemail greeting, she began, "Hi Karen, this is Tiffany." The transcript, by contrast, read "Hi Janet Company." It's a good thing that Google Voice can at least capture phone numbers accurately. If I hadn't recognized the phone number in the message, I might have mistaken it for one of those horrendous spam emails with long lines of nonsense leading up to a link to buy "herbal Viagra."

Sometime during my apologetic call back to Tiffany, Greg beeped in. I ignored his call, so it went to voicemail -- Google Voicemail. This would have been great, if he had been calling my Google number, but he wasn't. He called my AT&T number.

The email transcript arrived. "Hi Lee, Almost all those things. Bang foot I want to repair with you R N. Bye." I will admit that sometimes it's like Final Frickin' Jeopardy trying to untangle all of the vintage TV references, nicknames, and private jokes to get the real meaning of some of his messages, but this one reached a whole new level of obscurity. There wasn't even a link to herbal Viagra. I called Greg at home and read him the message. He replied that he actually had asked me a couple of questions that would help him fill out a form for something, and that his foot was just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Okay, maybe I expect a great deal more than I should get for the shiny and fabulous price of Free -- but it's evident that Google Voice isn't quite ready for prime time yet. The product has a HUGE amount of promise, but don't count on it to handle anything critical, or to not handle things you don't want it to handle.

For starters, Google Voice should only handle calls made to the Google number, and leave all other calls alone. If a call comes directly to my cell number, I would prefer that 1. the phone should ring, and 2. messages should go to the voicemail I specify, or to my cell phone's voicemail.

The call screening feature either doesn't work at all, or it works too well. If no one can reach you because your phone doesn't ring, then you need not worry too much about answering, let alone listening to someone leaving a message.

And ah, the messages. While vastly entertaining to read back to the original callers, they can't be used to deliver anything of actual import. I've removed my cell phone for the time being. If a phone call should come in announcing that I've just won the Nobel Prize, I'd rather not have to try prying some meaning out of "Hi Janet Company. Boo bottle flies."

-- Post From My iSomething