Think you can create holiday crafts better than Martha Stewart? Whether that’s a yes or a no, you should take a crack at creating something festive for NPR’s first-ever holiday crafts contest. Whether you want to make an ornament, a menorah or anything else that befits the season, take a picture of it, upload it to Flickr, and tag it nprholidaycontest. We’ll then judge the best ones and give away some fun holiday swag to the winners. Visit the official contest description for more info. And yes, that’s Mel Gibson festooned on a menorah. Anyone wanna take a crack at making a Michael Richards Kwanzaa candle set? -andy
November 30, 2006
November 29, 2006
The NPR website recently launched a 2006 holiday guide that includes some of its greatest hits from previous holiday seasons, along with lots of new material. One of them is a great story from All Things Considered last December about the proper way to spell Hanukkah. Robert Siegel interviewed a rabbi about the various spellings, including Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, etc. and the source of the problem, which is due to the fact that there are certain Hebrew letters that simply don’t exist in English.
One part of the piece that interested me was when Siegel referred to the popularity of different spellings according to Google. At the time he recorded the story last year, he noted that there were 2.8 million hits for the spelling Chanukah versus 650,000 hits for the spelling Hanukkah. Siegel therefore suggested that Chanukah was the most popular spelling, and that certainly jives with what I remember while growing up. (I was such a snob about it, too, always accentuating the “ch” sound when speaking to my gentile classmates.)
I was curious, though, how much variation there might be over the course of a year, so I decided to search Google again. As it turns out, a great shift has taken place. The number of hits for Chanukah had increased to 3,070,000, while the number of hits for Hanukkah had surged to a whopping 10,200,000 – more than three times the other spelling.
Meanwhile, the blogosphere suggests a similar trend. According to Technorati, there were 23,274 results for Chanukah and 41,667 results for Hanukkah – almost a two-to-one margin. Google’s blog search produces similar results, with 21,336 hits for Chanukah versus 42,960 for Hanukkah.
For those of you visual learners, here’s the horserace according to Blogpulse:
Once again, Hanukkah beats Chanukah, and rather soundly as of late. What’s going on here? Could it be that this year’s popularity of sites like YouTube and MySpace is somehow causing Hanukkah to spread virally across the Net and slap down its rival Chanukah into submission? That may have been the case for the election, but not here. According to YouTube, there are a paltry 64 videos for Chanukah and 85 videos Hanukkah. Contrast that with 26,736 videos for Christmas. Amazingly, there were actually 74 videos for Yom Kippur. Aren’t we supposed to be fasting rather than shooting video that day?
As for MySpace, those millions of naughty teenieboppers clearly aren’t in a Macabee frame of mind. How many results did I get for the two spellings? Zero. bupkus.
Maybe Wikipedia has something to do with it. If you look up Chanukah, it automatically redirects you to the spelling Hanukkah. There’s a long discussion about the proper spelling, and the last word seems to be that while Chanukah conveys the original intention of the Hebrew pronunciation, Hanukkah has become de rigeur among lexicographers, because it’s easier to pronounce by native English speakers. And since Wikipedia seems to double its audience every three days, perhaps that might account for the shift since last year.
Of course, Hanukkah/Chanukah is still more than two weeks away, so perhaps it’s too early to pass judgment on the state of the Internet in this regard. Nonetheless, it would appear that a great spelling shift is afoot – a relief to all of those gentiles who squirm every time they try to pronounce the “ch” sound correctly…. -andy
November 25, 2006
This afternoon I helped compose a song with Pete Townshend of The Who.
Okay, not exactly. It was actually with Pete’s computer.
I can see you’re skeptical, so I better provide some context. To do that, we’re gonna have to go all the way back to 1971, the year I was born. Because that was when Townshend began work on a musical project known as Lifehouse.
The Who had just found great success with their rock opera, Tommy, and Townshend was now working on a new musical project called Lifehouse. A science fiction story in which the world has suffered an ecological disaster, Lifehouse included a major plot line based around the idea that the world’s music was controlled by a small group of powerful media conglomerates, which in turn pumped its mediocre muzak into the minds of humanity. (In some ways it’s similar to Rush’s 2112 album, which came out in the late 70s, without the Ayn Rand influence.)
“The essence of the story-line was a kind a futuristic scene…. It’s a fantasy set at a time when rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist. The world was completely collapsing and the only experience that anybody ever had was through test tubes. They lived TV programs, in a way. Everything was programmed. The enemies were people who gave us entertainment intravenously, and the heroes were savages who’d kept rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force and had gone to live with it in the woods. The story was about these two sides coming together and having a brief battle.”
As part of their revolutionary struggle, the heroes of the story utilized a technological weapon called The Method, which would combat the soulless music they were literally being force-fed.
“What Lifehouse was about, at its root, was to reaffirm that what’s important is that music reflects its audience as absolutely and completely as possible,” Townshend explains on his website. In the early 70s, he was exploring Sufi mysticism, which no doubt put him in touch with qawwali music, like that of the famed Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whom I got to interview in 1992. Qawwali concerts, which often extend to four hours or more, intend to use the trance-like power of lengthy musical performances to bring the performers and audience into a state of spiritual ecstasy. This, of course, is often a complete contrast to rock concerts, where performers and the audience show up, do their thing and leave. Townshend says:
Standing on stage and waving your arms about is wearing a bit thin, I think. There’s going to have to be a way of listening to music which doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to face in a particular direction, there’s going to have to be a way of listening to music that doesn’t mean that you have to go out to a concert hall between eight and ten in the evening. I’ve seen moments in Who concerts where the vibrations were becoming so pure that I thought the world was just going to stop, the whole thing was just becoming so unified. But you could never reach that state because in the back of their minds everybody knew that the group was going to have to stop soon, or they’d got to get home or catch the last bus or something – it’s a ridiculous situation.
For various reasons, Lifehouse didn’t come together as planned, even though Townshend composed many songs for the rock opera. Instead, these songs were published as part of the album Who’s Next, arguably one of the greatest rock albums of all time. But Lifehouse – and the musical weapon known as The Method – never fully vanished from Townshend’s creative consciousness.
This brings us to last February, when Townshend was wrapping up work on his novel, The Boy Who Heard Music. The novel was released chapter-by-chapter on a blog, and he invited the public to comment on the story and help improve it. When the novel was complete, Townshend announced that some of the bloggers who participated in the story’s development would be invited to participate in his next project – the rebirth of The Method as online software that would interpret the images and sounds submitted by a person and convert it into music.
As I explained on my blog:
A partnership between Townshend, programmer Dave Snowdon and composer Lawrence Ball, The Method will perform musical works generated by a computer based on interactions with a real person, referred to by Townshend as a “sitter.” Initially the website will feature works generated by The Method through interactions with Lawrence Ball and others, but Townshend plans to invite bloggers to “sit” with The Method and generate music of their own. At least that’s the way I understand it from his description on his blog. From what I’ve heard of Lawrence Ball’s work, his music is reminsicent of Erik Satie and Arvo Part. Adding Pete Townshend to the mix, along with a community of 500 bloggers, will hopefully lead to some exciting, unusual results.
Yesterday, I received an email informing me that I was being invited to serve as one of the first beta-testers of The Method. I’d have a chance to “sit” and have three musical portraits painted for me. So this afternoon, I logged into and gave it a shot. The website asked me to upload a series of original audio clips, as well as a photo. This data would then be interpreted by the website to create an original electronic composition. I wasn’t sure if it would take the content I gave it and sample it, or just be inspired by it. First, I supplied it with a photo of me from my honeymoon. I then gave it three audio clips:
- A loop of me saying “The moving walkway is ending; please look down.”
- A sample of me doing babytalk to Kayleigh, and her response.
- A loop of a Tunisian malouf trio I recorded in Tunisia last year.
Once this was done, The Method went to work, composing an original work based on my inputs. The result is this song. It’s just over five minutes long, and is very reminiscent of the work of Terry Riley, Michael Nyman and Phillip Glass, each of whom often utilize electronic-like repetition in their compositions. Personally, I like the piece a lot, though I can see how people might dismiss it as being too repetitive. (It also has some crackle noises at the beginning, which must have occurred when The Method saved the mp3 file.) I’ll be very curious to see if my future experiments with The Method produce similar results. I’ll have to go out of my way to submit a photo and audio samples that are very different from the ones I just used.
So what’s next? For one thing, The Method is still in beta, so it’s not totally ready for prime time yet. Eventually, more people will be invited to sit for musical portraits, and even be invited back repeatedly to work with Townshend and his collaborators to expand them into major works. They’ll also take their show on the road, doing live performances of some of the compositions, with sitters like me invited to attend and potentially participate.
Meanwhile, any musical works produced by The Method will be co-owned by Townshend and the sitter. For all practical purposes, that means that if you sit for a musical portrait, you can do whatever you choose with the results, as can Townshend. We just can’t veto the other’s uses of it. That way, we can both use it, refine it, sample it, license it and perform it. Not like I would ever say no to Pete if he wanted to incorporate it into a concert or anything like that.
So that’s the result of my first experienced with networked musical composition. I can’t wait to do it again. -andy
November 21, 2006
In case you haven’t heard the news, Amanda Congdon recently announced her upcoming plans. She’s going to be videoblogging for ABC News while developing a comedy show for HBO. All in all, a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. Personally, I think it was her dancing across America that sealed the deal. I can just see the suits at HBO watching her groove her way across the screen and saying to themselves, "Give this woman Ali G’s time slot." She’s a triple threat. She can vlog. She can act. And as I got to observe for myself at the White House a couple of months ago, she can dance.
Rock on, Amanda. Rock on. -andy
Titi Akinsanmi of the Global Teenager Project has just announced the creation of a three-week online forum for young people to learn about Internet governance and why it’s important they become engaged in policy discussions. (Some of you may remember the interview I did with Titi in Geneva in February 2005.) The forum, which opens November 26, intends to build upon the work of the youth caucus from the World Summit on the Information Society, which took place in Geneva and Tunis in 2003 and 2005. They’re also hoping to use the forum to identify young people to take a leadership role in the 2007 Internet Governance Forum in Rio. To participate in the discussion, you can subscribe to the forum by emailing YouthandIGfirstname.lastname@example.org. -andy
Last night I was watching our local Fox affiliate’s 11pm news broadcast to see how they were covering the mess surrounding that OJ Simpson book, and at one point they plugged a feature on their website inviting the public to blog there. At first I was surprised, because I hadn’t heard of a TV news website hosting blogs for the public. Blogs written by correspondents or contributors, perhaps, but not Jane Q. Citizen. It seemed too good to be true; there had to be a catch.
You agree that any content you post becomes the property of FIM [Fox Interactive Media]. You understand and agree that FIM and its parent and affiliated companies may use, publish, copy, sublicense, adapt, edit, distribute, publicly perform, display and delete the content you post as they see fit. This right will terminate at the time you remove such content from the Site. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a back-up or residual copy of the content posted by you to the Site may remain on the FIM servers after you have removed such content from the Site, and FIM retains the rights to those copies.
If at any time you are not happy with the Forums or object to any material within the Forums, your sole remedy is to stop using them.
So that explains it. Feel free to blog for Fox – just be prepared to give away absolutely everything you write on the blog. I find it amazing people are falling for this when there are a gazillion free blogging tools out there, none of which strips away your rights to your own ideas. -andy
November 18, 2006
The Denver Post ran a featured obituary for my father-in-law Dave Cornwall yesterday. By sheer coincidence, they also ran an obit for my cousin Sumner Shapiro right next to it. What are the odds of that? I wonder if I have a picture of the two of them together at my wedding. -andy
November 16, 2006
Just as we were beginning to come to terms with the death of Susanne’s father last week, we’ve gotten the news that my cousin Sumner passed away two days ago. Sumner, affectionately called Shap, had a sudden resurgence of the bladder cancer that had been dormant for about a decade. When my parents were here in DC with my grandmother a couple of weeks ago, they went to visit him in Northern Virginia. I had no idea he’d been that sick.
The Washington Post wrote a featured obituary about him in this morning’s edition:
Sumner Shapiro, 80, a Navy rear admiral who served as director of naval intelligence from 1978 to 1982 and expressed early warnings about Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst later revealed to have spied for Israel, died Nov. 14 at his home in McLean. He had cancer.
Adm. Shapiro, a Russian specialist, was among the longest-serving directors of naval intelligence. His most enduring influence was rethinking how the Navy approached its Soviet counterparts….
If maritime strategy represented a highlight of his career, Adm. Shapiro often expressed regret about his early handling of Pollard, a Navy civilian who pleaded guilty in 1985 to espionage charges and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
When Pollard, as a new analyst, went to him with a scheme to gain “back-channel” intelligence information from South Africa, Adm. Shapiro dismissed Pollard as a “kook” and reduced his clearance. Later Pollard’s clearance was reinstated.
Adm. Shapiro, who was Jewish, said he was bothered that many Jewish organizations supported Pollard during the diplomatic controversy that followed his imprisonment.
“We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up . . . and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me,” Adm. Shapiro told The Washington Post in 1998.
“I wish the hell I’d fired him,” he added.
The funeral will take place Friday in Annapolis at the Uriah P. Levy Jewish Chapel of the United States Naval Academy, which he had helped found. More information about the funeral, as well as memorial donations, can be found at Legacy.com – andy
November 14, 2006
Here is a podcast of Fugue in Four Parts, recorded at Dave’s funeral yesterday. It was the first time the piece had ever been performed publicly. Dave composed it in late 2004, beginning a period that would prove to be the peak of his creative output. Though Dave had been experimenting heavily with 20th century classical music inspired by Witold Lutoslawski, Igor Stravinsky, Gyorgy Ligeti and Morton Feldman, he never turned his back on his love for Bach. Given Dave’s background as a software engineer, he loved the mathematical precision of Bach’s fugues. In the liner notes of two CDs he made for Susanne and me, Dave described the piece as
a full Baroque fugue in four parts, written according to the rules of counterpoint espoused by Bach. This piece begins and ends in C Major, but modulates into many major and minor keys during its episodic development…. Each of four voices state the main theme in a different part of the scale, until all are intertwining in the harmonic glory of fugue.
The recording is far from perfect, captured on a digital camera and performed by an organist who had almost no time to practice. But Dave would have still loved it. -andy
November 13, 2006
Today we buried Dave Cornwall on a hillside facing the Rocky Mountains in Denver. We left the house this morning, resigned to the fact that none of us could get all the dog hair off our clothes. Pulling out of the driveway, we saw that Pike’s Peak was enveloped in a skirt of clouds around its base, its snow covered summit shining in the morning sun. We’d never seen it so beautiful. Dave would have loved it.
The funeral service was held at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, where Dave had been baptised, confirmed and married. Several dozen family, friends and colleagues from the Lamont School of Music attended, including his 13 1/2-year-old golden retriever, Beethoven, who was given full rein of the cathedral during the service. It was a beautiful tribute to Dave, with readings by two of his sisters-in-law and his nephew Mike. Susanne and her sister both gave their own eulogies. Fighting back the tears, Susanne said
I must have been about nine years old. My dad and I were walking through the nature preserve near our house, our dog Rosy tugging at the leash. My dad wearing a khaki colored winter coat, me wearing a khaki colored coat that I’d picked because it looked just like his. We’d been walking for a long time and at some point I realized that the paths no longer looked familiar; we were totally lost. I looked up at him and worriedly said, “Are we lost?”
But he was smiling. “Why does it matter?” He shrugged. “We’re here.” At the time I took that to mean, here in the forest – because he loved nature so much. But I think now he meant that and more – we’re together, we’re on an adventure, we’re where we’ve never been before. To my dad there was nothing better than getting lost in a forest.
He was such a great dad. He could be silly – so many of my friends this week have told me that is what they most remembered about him. But I could also go to him for advice, or even sit quietly with him, just enjoying his company. He was brave – the way he accelerated down mountain roads (to the terror of my mom and her sisters), but also the way he handled the enormous obstacles that life threw at him. But I think I will remember him most for his creativity – the beautiful music that he left us will forever be a reflection of his soul.
And now I miss him so much – I hear his music in my head, I see him in my baby daughter’s face. And I imagine he is in heaven’s equivalent of a national park. Binoculars in hand, walking over log bridges, followed by all the dogs he loved over the years – Mozart, Rosy and Goldie, Cubby, Tawny and Reddy. Never needing to stop for breath, never running up against a barrier he cannot climb, so happy, so excited to scout every last inch of a boundless forest. He’s humming his latest composition, and his footsteps become percussion, the birds his string section, and as the wind carries off the melody, all of heaven is filled with his music….
The organist then performed one of Dave’s compositions – a three-minute fugue. Even though the piece had been composed for piano and the organist fumbled a few times, it was an extraordinary moment, feeling the deep bass of the pipe organ resonating through your bones. Dave would have loved it. Susanne’s Aunt Ginny recorded it on her video camera; I hope to make a copy of it and extract the audio so friends and family who couldn’t attend could experience the performance as well. (UPDATE: I’ve uploaded the audio of the performance.)
At the end of the funeral, I joined the five other pall bearers as we led Dave’s casket out of the church and towards the hearse. Beethoven joined the procession, pacing just behind me near Susanne and her mom. We then made the 30-minute drive to the cemetery, passing Dave’s childhood home along the gorgeous Monaco Parkway.
An honor guard was waiting for us at the cemetery, where they and the church canon performed a brief interment ceremony. After performing taps on the bugle, the honor guard folded the flag draped over his coffin with precision and dignity, presenting it to Mary, who sat in the front row with Susanne. The funeral party then concluded the proceedings with a luncheon at a local hotel, reminiscing moments with Dave and agreeing unanimously that he would have thoroughly enjoyed everything that had been done for him on this most difficult of days. -andy