And so it begins

It’s August. August should be hot and humid. August rises in waves from blacktop pavement, and smells of tar. August fans itself laconically in the shade, hardly fathoming the concept of being comfortable, never mind cool. August sears to the bone with its heat, melting the ice still lingering on in the marrow of a New Englander. July rises us, like bread dough put near a hot stove, and August bakes us into tall loaves, ready to be taken from the oven.

Well, a normal August does. This year, I’m afraid. For the second year in a row we have a temperate August. We had a few hot, humid, properly miserable August days. But now there’s an autumnal tint to the air. The skies are clear and blue. The breezes are cool and crisp. The grasses are still green. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite weather. But for August, it is simply wrong. We have slipped straight from June to September once again, my friends. The icicles in my veins still cool my heart with every drop of blood.

Watching the colors turn in autumn is like watching a child grow old. You love each stage, and yearn for more — the first word… the first sentence… learning to read… learning to write… But you know that eventually your baby will be a man full grown and leave you. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. So does summer go. It goes beautifully, here in the Northeast. The breath catches in the chest as the leaves turn yellow and gold in the slanting October sun — just as your child riding a bike by himself for the first time. And as beautiful as that moment is, it also foretells the future of absence.

Today, I saw a flash of scarlet on the side of the road. A shrub, in a wetland (always the first to go), has signalled defeat and raises a vermillion flag of surrender. It is early. Possibly the shrub is diseased, or otherwise in difficulty. But it is the first. In time, even the mightiest and healthiest of maples shall bow to the inevitable and strip themselves of their summer garmets.

And I am not ready. Another summer like last — short and cool. Another winter like last — harsh and frigid. I am becoming like the Arctic permafrost. I feel the beginnings of a glacier forming in my inmost center. The summer was not hot enough or long enough to melt off last winter’s snow, nor the winter before. It grows and accumulates, and becomes a powerful river of ice, scouring the landscape.

And there is nothing I can do but brace myself, and look longingly at the velvet night sky — too clear for August — and hope.

Amusing job posting

I was just contacted by a recruiter who wanted to know if: 1) I was available 2) I had any friends 3) I knew of any good ColdFusion boards. Striking out on 1 & 2, I sent him the classifieds section of the ColdFusion boards. Just idly looking, if found a job posting with the following. I find it hilarious — such sad and sordid tales the writer must have experienced! Thank God I work where I do!
————————-

Please ONLY respond if you:

1. Have RECENT experience with Cold Fusion & SQL Server (NOTE: 3 years ago is NOT recent).

2. Are available to work at least 35 hours per week RIGHT NOW (NOTE: 20-25 is not equal to 35).

3. Are willing and able to speak on the telephone during business hours, return calls, and you’re able to communicate well in English. You must also have a telephone number at which we can reach you – and not by appointment only. If you object at all to speaking on the phone, please do NOT respond. If you tell us later that you don’t like to talk on the phone or prefer email, you’ll be immediately taken off the job.

4. Are the type of person who calls the project manager if you don’t understand something in the spec. Making assumptions and doing things your way is NOT acceptable.

5. Understand that a deadline is a deadline and must be met. Missing any deadline without our prior approval means that the project will be reassigned.

6. Are familiar with working on sites hosted on web servers of hosting companies AND understand what FTP is. If you’re a programmer and you don’t know what FTP is, we really don’t want to hear from you. Also, if you don’t know where to find files on a web server, you don’t have the experience we’re looking for. Files are not always in the root!

7. Have a developmental server and computer set up that you can use to work on and the necessary tools to complete the job. You must be ready to start work. NOTE: If you do not have these tools and are willing to work onsite here where we do have the tools, you may still respond.

8. Are willing to work initially for a short time with no money upfront realizing that you will only be paid some money when we see some work done. (We are willing to pay incrementally when we see an area of the project completed and we’ve tested it to ensure it works. In certain instances, we’re willing to allow you to show us work on your server if you are nervous about payment. While we can’t pay for any entire element while we’re viewing it on your server (unless you give us FTP and database access), we’ll be glad to make a partial payment once we see that portion working properly and then pay the balance when you move it to our server. We’ve been burned too many times. We realize you may also have been burned but we do want an ongoing relationship with you. We’re a business and we’ll sign a contract with you ensuring payment.) If you write code that doesn’t work properly, we can’t pay for it. You are welcome to take it with you as it’s of no use to us and we don’t want it.

PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND IF:

1. Any military body you were in erased any part of your memory which now prevents you from remembering the spec (even if you just read it 2 seconds ago) or when the deadline falls.

2. You are egotistical, rude, argumentative and/or aggressive — particularly to women. Please go do that somewhere else.

3. You are a nervous wreck on the verge of a breakdown because: (a) your marriage is on the verge of falling apart and you’re emotionally unstable as a result; (b) your child(ren) scream(s) 23.9 hours a day which makes it too hard for you to work; (c) your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t like you freelancing and/or demands that you take care of the baby for 12 hours a day and you think you can do our work before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m. and still stay awake and conscious and not give us complete and utter junk — you can’t; or (d) any other reason not mentioned. If you need constant handholding and compassion from us in order to avoid having a complete nervous breakdown which you’re always on the verge of, we can’t help you, sorry. We can’t be your marriage counselor, psychotherapist or your confidante. If you need any of the above, please find them elsewhere.

4. More than 2 projects at a time puts you over the edge with stress about getting them done; whereas less than 2 projects at a time also puts you over the edge with financial worries. We have many projects and we need a person who can multi-task. If you can’t, don’t respond.

5. You’re the type of person who uses profanity or inappropriate material in naming your variables or in your testing. “Got really drunk last night” is not appropriate in a business environment. Naming variables after sexual organs is also not appropriate.

6. You believe in abandoning projects BEFORE they are finished or missing deadlines you set for those projects. (Even if you are the greatest programmer on earth, we’re not paying you if the job isn’t finished and finished ON TIME. It’s worth nothing to us otherwise.) If you frequently use excuses for missing deadlines, PLEASE do not respond. We are really not interested in hearing that you need another 2 weeks to complete our 2 week project because: your mother died three times in a year (unless you really do have three mothers — and next time we hear that, we’ll ask for proof!); your unexpected house closing prevents you from working (the closing is NEVER THAT unexpected, we’ve bought houses); you have to go to a wedding at the last minute in another state; you suddenly have to move out of the area; you have unexpected friends from out of town that you need to socialize with; you forgot the deadline and thought you said 20 weeks for the project instead of 2 weeks; you did too many drugs in the 70s/80s/90s and can’t think straight anymore; you thought the deadline was just made up to make you work harder; you had ‘top secret’ classification in the military and they erased your memory when you got out and you can’t remember everything you used to be able to; you hired your buddy to do part of the work and he let you down and didn’t do it; you found out you’re losing another job and feel depressed about it so you can’t work; your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t like you working so much and needs to hold your hand while you watch TV for four hours a day so you can’t meet the deadline; your pet tarantula died and you’re too depressed to work; you’re hung over; your sister’s mother’s aunt’s niece’s daughter got picked up by the cops and you need to disappear for 2 weeks; your internet connection died but you’re still able to send ridiculously long emails explaining what happened — you’re just not able to do any work for the next week; you can’t connect to the database anymore because the hosting company upgraded to a different version and you don’t want to download the trial version upgrade because big brother could be watching you; your laptop crashed and even though you have 6 other machines on hand, you’d prefer to rebuild your laptop for the next month than to do the work that we’re paying you for; you forgot that your friends were going to have 3 beach picnics and 4 parties when you said you’d do the work and you completely forgot your aunt’s 61st birthday, your best buddy’s kegger and your husband/wife’s family reunion picnic, and you’d prefer to attend those than get the work done.) etc., etc., etc.

We’ve already heard all the most outrageous excuses and we’re REALLY NOT interested in hearing any others.

6. You are a prima donna programmer who thinks that you can do the work your own way, deviating from the specs, and that we should find it acceptable. We won’t. There is ONLY one spec: OURS. Not the one that exists in your head. Not the one you think it should be. Just the spec you were sent. If you don’t want to work on that spec as we’ve written it, then tell us that upfront. But don’t deliver something else. That’s not what you were hired for. It may be absolutely brilliant, but it isn’t what the customer asked for so it’s useless to us and we cannot pay you for it. If you don’t understand something in the specs provided to you, don’t ever ASSUME. Call. If you think something is stupid, CALL. If we say do it anyway, do it. We know the client. We’ve been over all the “stupid” things with the client.

7. You are not able to comment and document the work you complete.

8. You believe in bidding on a job for one price and then decide later on that you want more money to finish the work that you bid on in the first place or you think that doing the job is one price, actually making the work live, is another??? PLEASE NOTE: If the specs change, we expect you to want more money. If they don’t change, we WON’T pay you more to do the work you bid on. If you underbid the job because you didn’t read the specs, whose fault is that? It’s not ours.

9. You do not understand that in order to bid on a job that requires modifying work that already exists, you need to FIRST take a run through the front end of that project and review any existing code. It is not acceptable to later on say that you didn’t realize there were other pages that this needed to work with because you didn’t go through all 3 pages of the project before you bid!!! Nor is it acceptable to say you missed the deadline because it took you longer than expected to review the existing code or there was a learning curve with the existing code. Reviewing the existing code before you bid, solves this problem. I don’t care if you were a DBA for 100 years, no one is so brilliant that they don’t need to review the existing code!

10. If we have a tense moment or we say that we don’t like the way you did some work and that it’s not absolutely perfect and you’re not the greatest programmer God ever put upon the earth and/or, we don’t constantly stroke your ego and reassure you that you’re wonderful every 5 minutes, you go off and sulk like a baby and when we try to call you to discuss it, you let the answering machine get it, listen to our message and then respond seconds later with a nasty mean email. Be a grown up, pick up the phone and talk about it.

11. You’re incapable of doing preliminary testing. If an element of a project contains a link to add an item, a link to modify an item and a link to delete an item, then all 3 of those should work BEFORE you say it’s done. If there is an image to be uploaded in one of those links, test it. Don’t say later that it works as long as the image isn’t modified! That’s one of the features of the project! It’s not done until it works!

12. You don’t understand that a deadline is a deadline. You set the deadline. If you miss it and tell us on the day the work is due, the work is useless to us. No excuse covers that. NONE. If the spec consists of 5 areas and you deliver 3 of those by the deadline, the work is NOT complete by the deadline. Making excuses about how well you’ve done the 3 areas and that you were going to complete the other 2 areas within the next few days is not good enough. You set the deadline. Deliver the work on or before the deadline. ALL the work, not some of it.

Sadly, ALL of the above situations and examples have happened with other developers we’ve subcontracted work to during the last 6.5 years. We’re looking for someone who is serious and wants to make some money working with us. We’ve got so much work that we’re turning away projects right now because we don’t have the right people working with us. We don’t want to treat you like a kid and certainly don’t want to be your mother or father. Are you a grown up? Can you communicate normally and talk on the phone? Do you want to make some money in return for work? Can you meet deadlines you set? If you are solid and reliable, with verifiable references (your best buddy from high school, your cousin or your girlfriend are not acceptable references), and are looking to form an ongoing relationship with a web development firm and make serious money working for us over a long period of time, we’d like to speak with you. We will provide more details as soon as we speak with you.

Otherwise, if this isn’t right for you, we totally understand and wish you all the luck in the world.

Fourth Anniversary

Four years ago today, my husband and I stood before friends, family, community, and God and made promises to each other. (Of course, *remembering* those promises is something else. I slipped the pastor a $20 to include “entertain” in the vows, but A. doesn’t quite remember that part.) Those promises have been kept — in thought, word and deed.

Marrying my husband was the best choice I have ever made. We have now been together for nearly 8 years. That’s roughly a third of my life. I cannot fathom adult life without him. My husband is handsome. I’d go on about all the features of his I like, but he’d probably end up embarrassed, and I’d have to fight people off him with a broom. He is kind. He will pick up a bug on a piece of paper and patiently walk to the door (trying not to drop it) and let it go. He is as kind (or kinder) to me than he is to bugs. My husband is smart. He can deal with complicated intellectual arguments, sythesize them, and deal with them accordingly. There is no word in my vocabulary I have to censor from him. There is no concept I understand I cannot explain to him. There is no discussion we cannot and do not have. My husband is generous. He gives of himself to me, to our church, to our friends and to our families. He doesn’t even realize how much he gives. Best of all, though, my husband is silly. The night before last we took an evening walk in the soft summer darkness. And we passed a playground. That had swings. We were up in them almost instantly, and he gave me good pushes before he got on himself. He’s never ashamed to do something he will enjoy, and never makes fun of me for doing what I enjoy. He always deals with me kindly, with amusement where someone else might be frustrated or annoyed.

I can spend 24 hours a day with my husband, and not have enough of him. I go through my daily life with the roots of my heart deep sunk into the firm earth of his love for me. I never tire of my husband. I love him more now than I did the day I married him — and as my friends can attest, I loved him a lot that day.

A. knows I like surprises. He, himself, hates most surprises, so this took a lot of getting used to. Yesterday, he was so thoughtful and kind as to surprise me. See, he told me he was going to the mall to get Doom III (a perfectly natural thing to do!). And he came back with two cards (one funny, one for real) and a gorgeous sapphire pendant that I absolutely love. I was surprised, and delighted.

These four years of marriage have been wonderful. I look forward to another 60 or so with him. He is my beloved husband. He is my dear lover. He is my best friend. He is my buddy. And I love him.

The 8 modes

I’ve sat down at the keyboard the last two nights to write one entry about music, and different ones keep coming out. Let’s see if I can get the one I intend out.

When my parents came to visit, we stopped by a store that sold sheet music. This is rarely a satisfying experience for me. My library usually knocks the tar out of their trumpet selection. But we stopped and I looked because I could tell Dad needed to sit.

I found this book: Plainchant for Trumpet. I was enchanted. The composer (W. Jonathan Gresham) took 22 chant lines from the Liber Usualis (Medieval Big Book o’ Chants) and wrote etudes on them. The etudes are quite nice. But my favorite part is that he highlights the medieval mode in which the music was written.

Medieval theoretical musicians (the best kind, according to my buddy Boethius who’s responsible for transmitting most of this stuff from the Greeks to the middle ages) thought there were 8 different modes of music. It gets all squishy in my brain, what goes where, because they stole this from Ancient Greece and didn’t completely understand it. The Greeks thought that the modes inspired different methods of action (here we’re getting into my thesis topic). For example, music in a Phrygian mode would cause someone to be warlike. A Lydian mode, on the contrary, tamed inflamed passions. I can’t remember which (the Dorian perhaps) the Greeks discouraged ever using because it made men timid and weak.

Medievals pulled across this idea of modes, but they sort of ignored the alchemical nature of the modes. There are 8 medieval modes (which act similarly to keys in modern music), four of which are authentic and four of which are plagal. They are the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian and Hypomixolydian. The very names to me are magical. They carried a significance, a meaning along with them.

I’m not really going anywhere with this. In some ways, I’m being nostalgic over my own past, when I was given the marvellous opportunity to delve into these mysteries and call it homework. I’m not sure I ever truly mastered my subject, but I was fortune enough at times to see glimpses of a whole and coherent picture.

If I won the lottery, and I had the time, energy and attention to devote to whatever I wished, I’m sure I could find more meaningful and more important things to do. But what I would like to do is delve even further, understand even better, and see clearly and laid in front of me that picture of the genesis of music that I made the barest pencil outlines of in college. I’m not sure what I would do then — if I could transform my understanding into a communication for others.

That day will probably never come. But that doesn’t stop me from rolling the words off my tongue and dreaming about how the obscured picture might look. Dorian. Lydian. Phrygian.

The inevitability of polyphony, and lack thereof

Music history is fascinating to me. I have a music history minor, except for Theory II which Paul Althouse insisted on holding at 8:30 in the morning Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After my experiences with Theory I at that time, I didn’t think my GPA was up to it. But I took all the requisite classes otherwise.

I’m transfixed by music before it’s fully formed. Consider, my friends, that a mere thousand years ago (or so) music had no standard pitch. It had very little in the way of rhythmic variation, and nothing in the way of tempo. Written music only dealt with one set of voices at a time — there were no parts and no polyphony. Music was not written for specific instruments. Chant notation, while it has it’s own beauties and complexities was basically relational: you hold this note for twice as long as this other note, and then you go a step up from the first note you started with. (Yes, my musical friends who have studied it far more than I, I’m simplifying. Bear with me.) From that, in only a half century, you get to music so complex (hocketing) it wasn’t rivaled for another five hundred years. First you give different voice parts different notes, even though all the voices move together. Then you start having one set of voices move at a different time than the other. You standardize rhythmic notation. You create clefs and keys and accidentals. You start specifying which instrument you want used. You say whether you want it loud or soft. Fast or slow. (They even created an entirely different way of notating music for keyboards and strings, but I won’t go there lest I display my ignorance further.)

In some ways, I think learning to write words was inevitable. Many cultures came up with different solutions to the same problem — letters, phonemes, hieroglyphics, characters representing words, etc. But when Western civilization came up with a way to accurately communicate music by means of writing… well, I consider that little short of a miracle. And without that miracle, there can be no Bach fugues. Or rather, there could have been, but they probably would have died with Bach. Can you imagine trying to communicate a Wagner Opera line by line to the musicians, and then have them memorize it and try to put it all together? It might not be impossible, but it would be close.

I love polyphony. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of modern (and by modern, I mean 20th century) popular music bores me. It’s not truly polyphonic. Ok, granted the base line is doing one thing, and the singer is doing another, so it KIND of counts, but I love the complex interplay between voices and lines. My favorite “pop” music has a rich harmony in multiple voices — like the Beatles at their best. My favorite music of all — mostly to participate in — is a quintet or similarly sized ensemble. It’s small enough so that you can pick out each line as a separate individual, but rich enough that you have to really pay attention to do so. I love Gabrieli for this. He passes the lines back and forth in downright enchanting ways.

I wonder: is complicated polyphony unique to Western culture? Did any other society create a fully-fledged way of communicating music, other than rote teaching? Is it possible that Pachabel’s Canon in D represents a truly unique cultural achievement?

Musings on my past

There was a time in my life when I was quite possibly the world’s expert on something (although probably not). Unfortunately, it was when I was about 19. I wrote an independent research paper — cobbling together scraps of information from ‘divers’ sources, about the wind ensemble I called the pifarri. They were an Italian phenomenon that never stayed the same for a century. Mutable creatures. They started out being homogenic shawm bands, with shawms of different pitches. You know, your average bass shawm. Shawms are, for those who didn’t bother to click, basically loud bagpipes without the bags.

Then came the lovely, my heart’s desire, the cornetto. I mourn that the cornetto got lost, and had largely disappeared by the time the great classical composers arrived (although it hung around in German drinking bands for a while). It has a beautiful, soft sound. It’s versatile and lovely. The cornetto played in mixed ensembles with sackbuts (a trombone predecessor), and that is the 16th century ensemble I dream of.

It was for that grouping that Giovanni Gabrieli, arguably the best and most important composer of his century, wrote his Sonanta Pian e Forte — the first known piece with dynamic markings. He is also one of my favorite composers. He wrote in Venice, in St. Marks cathedral. They would get two bands of these pifarri — 12 or 16 players in all, and put them antiphonally on balconies on either side of the church. The music written for these circumstances intertwines, opposes, combines in rich an luscious ways. And it was so specifically written for one geography, this one church, that I longed to go. (Of course, what I was really longing to do was to be a pifarro, but that’s another story.)

I bring this up because after longing to go my whole life (or since my sophomore year of college), I will hopefully be going to Venice this October. I will stand in St. Marks. If I’m very, very lucky perhaps I will be able to hear antiphonal brass choirs calling to each other from across the congregation and echoing in the dome.

I wonder if it can possibly be as splendid as I imagine it. I hope so.

Connect the Dots Part II

I should mention that after doing this graduation trip with me, my grandfather and godfather (who were best friends for like 50 years) decided travel wasn’t so hard after all, and went to Scotland together. For a month.

My grandfather died about a year ago, but in the last 3 years of his life, he did something he always wanted to do with his best friend.

And I still miss him.