Monday, November 18, 2019

it's alive

How pleasant it is to be able to connect to the internet, to sit at home and read web pages and one's e-mail. What's that you say, it's just an ordinary thing? Not after three days without it.

Several months ago, when we finally got our balky and frequently non-functional modem replaced with a competent new one, the otherwise helpful AT&T repair person did not disconnect or take away the old power supply in the form of a large grey box that sat next to the modem. We did not then know that it was obsolete.

We found that out when it started beeping until I found the sound switch and made it stop. The alarm was to say that the battery was failing. I phoned up the second-tier help line that I always use. They said it was obsolete, but they also said that we'd need to replace the modem along with it. I kept explaining that the modem had already been replaced, and since it was working fine I didn't want to risk replacing it again. But their script read "replace modem" and I couldn't get them off it. So I gave up and kept the thing.

What I wasn't told this time was that when the battery finally failed the modem would go dead. That's what happened three days ago. It was only after puzzling over and tinkering with the modem for some time that I realized what the problem must be. This time when I called the help line I just said the modem was dead, and they made a technician appointment, but not until Monday.

In the meantime, I thought I might be able to buy the power cable for the model of modem we have. Nope. AT&T store carries no such thing. Neither does Target. I can't think of anywhere else around here more likely. Clerks at both places recommended Fry's. I said, "Have you been to Fry's within the last few years?" They said no. Once the bursting emporia for all things electronic or electric (as well as the other needs of the traditional male techie's life: two kinds of magazines, computer and men's; two kinds of consumables, potato chips and soda), its vast stores are now nearly-deserted empty spaces. How they stay in business has actually been the topic of puzzled local newspaper articles. And Radio Shack is also gone.

I could of course order the cable online, but it wouldn't get here before the technician did, so why bother? An hour before the appointment window, he phoned and said he'd be here in 30. (Our phone works because I avoided the temptation to hook it up to the internet service.) He was here in 30, too. I explained the situation, he tested the line just to make sure and then replaced the power cord with the sleek new one, no giant grey box, and took the old one away. He also rebooted our TV set, which hadn't occurred to me would be necessary and would have taken some fumbling if I'd had to do it on my own. No charge, no need to replace the modem, and he was quickly gone, the only trauma being to Maia, who ran off when the doorbell rang and took refuge ... in the room with the modem in it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"That's not 'Let It Go,' it's 'Let It Be.'"

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

cat toys

For Tybalt, everything is a cat toy. He'll push and chase toy mice around the floor, but he seems to prefer to do the same with things like binder clips and floss picks, the latter of which he digs out of the bag they come in and spreads around the room.

But better than self-playing toys he has to initiate playing with, he likes toys that require human intervention, and he'll sit around meowing piteously until you play with him. And of these, his favorites are plush critters on a stick. A plush toy, in the shape of a fish or bird, is attached to a string, and the string is on a short pole, so it looks a bit like a fishing rod. I flick the rod so the plush toy lands somewhere, Tybalt stares and wiggles at it from a distance and then makes a dash, and I usually flick the toy up and move it somewhere else, repeat process. Sometimes he'll take a mighty leap into the air as the toy goes up.

His favorite of these had a fairly short string, and the plush was in the form of an ornamental goldfish. (We also have one made of yarn in the shape of a jellyfish.) The string was fairly short on the goldfish one, so its movements were easily controllable.

Unfortunately, eventually he pulled the toy off the string.

I thought he'd liked the goldfish toy. Not as much as he likes the string. I wiggle the string around on the floor and he goes frantic, splaying his claws out everywhere in an attempt to catch the thing. Even when he does, it usually slips out easily from between his claws. But every once in a while, he does catch it. Then he puts the string in his mouth, from which it cannot easily be slipped out. So at that point I just drop the pole, and he trots off, carrying the string, pole dangling behind him, and takes the toy always to the same place, which is the floor by one side of our bed. There he leaves it.

What his plan is, I don't know, but he definitely has one.

Monday, November 11, 2019

concert review: Music@Menlo

Previous Menlo "residencies" - chamber music concerts with a topical theme, preceded by a lecture on the theme - have made sense. This one I reviewed, and had trouble expressing as coherent.

The theme was purportedly the 19th century burgeoning of the arts in Russia and how the Soviets repressed it in the 20th century. The 19th-century entry was Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, a work by a composer who didn't believe that chamber music for strings and piano worked well together, and proved it by the way that he wrote for the instruments: separately, as if they were unconnected.

And the 20th-century entries were both by Shostakovich, a good choice to trace the history of Soviet oppression in music, except that one of them pre-dated the Soviets learning to be artistically repressive, and the other after the Stalinist era had long since faded away, and the people were under the dull blankness of the Brezhnev era. On top of which, Shostakovich was now obsessed by death and no longer very interested in political activity. On top of which the Soviets were never very interested in censoring chamber music anyway, which is why Shostakovich turned to it so intensely in the gruesome later days of Stalinism.

There's only so much I can convey of this tangle in a short review which also has to cover other things. But there's one bit of writing in the review I'm pleased with. The presence of a pianist named Solzhenitsyn raises an obvious question; note how I salt the answer to that question in near the end of the final paragraph.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

two concerts

The two concerts I attended yesterday I went to because they were irresistible.

In the evening, the San Jose Chamber Music Society, now firmly placed in the music school auditorium on campus, hosted our great local pianist Jon Nakamatsu and the Modigliani String Quartet (from France) in the Brahms Piano Quintet, my favorite of all chamber music works. The Modigliani had shown themselves in the non-piano first half of the program to be an ensemble of a unified, silken tone, and Nakamatsu is a pianist who adapts his playing to its context, so it took a while for this grouping without that much grit in its playing to ramp itself up to the ferocity of the best Brahms, but the last two movements were all that could be asked for.

In the afternoon I was at the small side room of the Mountain View CPA for players from the Peninsula Symphony in a cut-down, ten-player chamber version of Beethoven's Eroica. That was basically one player per part. It was fun to listen to, and the first violinist, who was an uncanny dead ringer for John Hertz in looks, voice, and speaking style, gave an introductory talk on Beethoven and lucid individual descriptions of each movement. He didn't go on too long, so OK, he wasn't entirely like John Hertz.

What I didn't know until I got there was that this was just the second half of the program. The first half was a classical guitarist, playing mostly semi-pop pieces from South America. One piece with a continuous tremolo I didn't like. The rest was pleasant enough, but the amount of guitar music I want to listen to at once is very, very limited.

After the San Jose concert ended at 9:45, I stopped in at Pensfa, which was conveniently located on the way home. Just four people there before me, and some were quickly fading, but we had a little bit of good conversation, mostly on the topic of flaky people who invite you somewhere and then don't do the thing they invited you to join them in.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

concert review: New Millennium Chamber Orchestra

NMCO generally springs its concert announcements late and one at a time, so if I'm to review them for the Daily Journal, and they're on my regular list, I have to grab them when they seem likely. This one was appealing: it featured Czech music, and included a piece by Vítězslava Kaprálová, who is the other modern Eastern European woman composer I was trying to think of after the Bacewicz festival I attended last month. Though whether Kaprálová, who died at only 25, wrote enough music to populate a festival I'm not sure.

I noted in the review that the concert lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours, which meant I gave up on the attempt to attend a San Jose Chamber Orchestra concert that began 20 miles away half an hour later, even though I'd brought a snack to eat in the car in lieu of dinner. The sacrifices we make for art.

Friday, November 8, 2019

o to be a commentator

1. I linked to this yesterday: raising the question of how to respond to a problem by saying "Why didn't you just ...?" without sounding like you're criticizing them; you ask because you actually want to know what's wrong with that solution.
It occurs to me that there are other problems of this sort. The logical-fallacy rebuttal assumes that the arguments were offered as logical proof, but I'm convinced they're used instead as triage. Thus, when I use a tu quoque, what I mean is not "You didn't apply your own argument to yourself, therefore that proves it wrong" but "You obviously don't really believe your own argument, so why should I give it consideration?" There's also what's called mansplaining. When I do something like that to someone who clearly knows the subject, my intent is to say "Here's my understanding of the situation. Tell me where it's insufficient or wrong." But it can be hard to make that clear, or easy to omit it, in the rush of conversation.

2. Jane Austen as a horror writer, that is, it would be horrible to be a woman of her time, even a privileged one. Well, yes, and doesn't Austen make it clear both how necessary and how difficult it is to escape from durance vile? But what really exercises the writer is people who practice Austen re-creations. She's bothered by the celebration of that world. So see the comments by Sherwood Smith. She mentions the SCA: note that its motto is (or used to be) "The Middle Ages as they should have been." That is, with modern conveniences, modern notions of human worth, and on both accounts no need for most people to be wretched servants. People who go to Austen weekends (and I've done this) are there for the parts of her world that they like. Me, I was there for the dancing. Nothing else. (Though I do like her novels, and was happy to discuss them.) I like that kind of dancing, and it's hard to find elsewhere.
But would this defense also apply to re-creations of antebellum Southern plantations? Or does the presence of chattel slavery in the real thing cross a line that other forms of servitude don't? But if so, it should be noted that many of the cultures re-created in the SCA had chattel slavery, and even Austen's Mansfield Park was funded by slavery (as the movie makes clearer than the book does). I think the difference is the one Sherwood implies in her comments: there are people today actually defending the chattel slavery of the antebellum South. Nobody's occupying our current political discourse defending the inequities of the societies commemorated by Janeites or the SCA.

3. This article is about the Kentucky governor's election, but that's not why I'm linking to it. I'm using it as a good example of a standard journalistic writing practice that I find irksome. "Senate President Robert Stivers" is introduced in the first paragraph. He then does not reappear until the next to last paragraph, where he's referred to merely as "Stivers." By that time, though, I'd forgotten who "Stivers" was, and I'd had no indication from the first paragraph that I was supposed to remember him (unlike Governor Bevin, whom I hadn't known either, but who is clearly the subject of the article). Rather than re-read the whole thing, I had to use my browser's word search to locate the previous reference. This problem occurs for me in news articles all the time.

4. When did the 1940s/50s birth cohort become the symbol of resistance to the concept of climate change? Our generation was the one, or part of the one, that invented environmental awareness: Earth Day was in 1970, when we were in our teens and 20s. It was a commonplace at the time that we had only until the end of the century to clean the environment up, and people tried. That was what the generation symbolized, and I stand with that. How could the likes of W. and DT become put up as leaders of the generation? Back in the day, they would have been considered the over-privileged airhead sons of (then more famous) fathers, as Eric and DJTJ are today, not worth treating as representative of anything.
Note how I avoid the term "boomer". The younger politician who used it in the article claims to be mystified as to why "some people" get "very mad" at the use of "the literal title of their generation." But who officially enacted that title? I consider "boomer" an offensive term, on the level of a racial epithet, so don't call me that. Them's fightin' words.

5. And just to show which side I'm on: What I like about AOC. (Videos included.)

6. Politics note no. 2: No commentators I saw noted this in connection with this week's election, but South Bend has just elected Pete Buttigieg's successor as mayor. Pete's out of office come January.

Thursday, November 7, 2019


Being able to drive around in a car is convenient, but one of the most vexing things about it is often finding a place to put the car when you're done driving it. In other words, parking shortages. I've fantasized about inventing a car that you can fold up and put in your pocket when you're done using it. That it would still weigh a ton is only one of the problems with this fantasy.

One place where parking was tolerable but has recently become much worse is the San Jose airport. I learned from today's edition of "Mr. Roadshow," the newspaper's traffic Q&A column, that the off-airport lot I've been using for years and years has closed. It's a sad story, and not just for the feral cats that lived there and enlivened our visits. They used to have a different and superior lot, then they closed that and moved to this rather ratty one (in more than one sense, hence the cats), on the major road that runs behind the airport. This is just down the street from SJ's major league soccer stadium, which can be a problem as I learned the time I needed to arrive at the airport just before a game. (I also learned that the parking lot was renting some of its spaces to game patrons.) Then the construction of new buildings arrived, and half the parking lot closed. Now, it turns out, the other half has closed. (The letter-writer said only "it appears they have closed," presumably from driving past an already rather enigmatic-looking entrance, but I checked the vendor's website and it's true.)

The columnist says that the airport is building more on-site parking, but it will take a while, and they'll have to close some of their existing parking for construction.

I'm going to note down here the options that I can think of. I'm recording this more for my own notes than for reading, but in order to head off "Why don't you just ...?" questions, I'll begin with some I'm ruling out.

1. Take a shuttle. No. I turned to off-airport parking in the first place after some horrible experiences with commercial shuttles.

2. Take a taxi/rideshare. Expensive, as we're over ten miles from the airport. Only in an emergency, dahlink.

3. Take public transit. Theoretically possible, but there's no long-term parking around the transit stations here either. Even more theoretically, I could take the (infrequent) bus that stops behind my house, transfer to another (infrequent) bus, transfer to the commuter train, and then transfer to the shuttle bus to the airport, but that sounds awkward with luggage and would take a very long time, and probably be impractical with an early-morning departure or late-night arrival.

4. Have someone drive me. Really there's only B, so it'd only work when I'm traveling alone, and she hates to drive, especially maneuvering around crowded airports. We've tried it, but it really doesn't work.

5. On-site parking. Definitely possible. Some of the lots are often full, but at least the airport has a web page giving real-time status. The lots run $18/day up, and the most expensive garage is $38/day and right next to one of the terminals. For a trip of only a couple of days, that's manageable, and I've actually used this recently for short trips, because it's actually easier to get your luggage there than taking the shuttle out to the off-airport lot, because the airport keeps moving the pickup zone farther and farther out to make more and more room for Uber and Lyft.

6. A different off-airport lot. I know there are some, because I see their shuttle buses at the pickup zone. But I can't find them online (googling "sjc parking" produces mostly third-party links to the one that's closed) and I don't remember their names, which are very non-specific. Here's what I might do, but I'll wait till after the holidays to do it. (I'm not flying anywhere for quite a while.) I'll drive down to the airport and go sit in the pickup zone for a while, write down the names from the shuttle buses and then go look them up. Sometimes getting your info from the real world instead of online is a really good idea.

7. A different airport. Most emphatically possible. SFO is only 30 miles away, they have a really efficient off-airport lot that I always use when I fly there, and sometimes, despite the greater distance and greater size of the airport, it's more convenient to use it anyway. For instance, I used it to fly to Calgary because SFO has nonstops and SJC doesn't.

So those are my options, recorded for future use.

concert review: Bomsori Kim and Juho Pohjonen

Two violin and piano recitals within a week? Usually I go for bigger chamber ensembles than that. But this one was the SF Performances Gift Concert, an annual treat put on for donors and subscribers. They're worth going to because the performers are usually outstanding.

This was the first I'd heard of Bomsori Kim - indeed, this was her SF debut - but Juho Pohjonen is a familiar name from the Menlo festival. Kim, playing a late 18C violin, had a particularly smooth and enrapturing tone, moderately dark and heavy, but not overly so. I could listen to a great deal of it.

This concert included - not in performing order - two full sonatas: a dark and brooding late-period one from Schumann (Op. 105 in A minor) and a light and chipper one from Prokofiev (his Second). The Schumann extremely emphasized the violin over the piano, perhaps odd considering that the composer was a pianist, albeit long retired when he wrote this.

Plus: a few wetly soppy salon pieces by - of all people - Sibelius, and some grittier and more interesting (pianistically as well as violinistically) salon pieces by Szymanowski. And a showpiece: a fantasy on themes from Carmen compiled by Franz Waxman for his buddy Jascha Heifetz. About 3/4 Carmen to 1/4 ornament, the ornaments often including running one's finger up the string to the highest position and playing the resulting squeak.

Bizarrely, the Sibelius salon pieces were written during WW1. They don't sound like it. The Szymanowski pieces likewise, but more plausibly. They both had quiet wars, Szymanowski on his family estate in what's now western Ukraine, or at least quiet until the Bolsheviks burned the house and threw Szymanowski's piano in the lake. And Prokofiev's was written during WW2.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

in defense of Trader Joe's

Kevin Drum, whom I usually agree with, says he's found the secret behind Trader Joe's. He says, "basically, they sell a limited selection of generic stuff but they put fun labels on it."

I kind of wonder if he's been there. True, you can buy some stuff at Trader Joe's that you can buy at other places, but can you imagine a grocer's that only sold unique items? I've been in a few, and they were rank and dusty and way too exotic for me.

But I go to Trader Joe's to buy things that I can't find everywhere else, or pretty much of anywhere else, and there's plenty of them. In fact, I've just come back, and my bags - Trader Joe's canvas bags, far sturdier than any others I've found - are full of:

*frozen quick-pan-cook meals, of which my favorites are Kung Pao Chicken and Seafood Paella
*other frozen meals, of which I've had the Korma Fish Curry before, and some new to me: Bibimbap Bowl, Shrimp Seafood Burgers, and (this looks excitingly multicultural) Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns
*snacks: Popcorn with Herbs & Spices, which I've never seen anywhere else; Popcorn with Olive Oil, which Safeway carries sometimes, but not consistently; Blister Peanuts, a particularly tasty form I've not seen anywhere else; Marcona Almonds, usually findable elsewhere but only in gourmet groceries
*Challah, and I've never seen that outside a Jewish bakery
*Jicama sticks, not unknown in this form but not very common

Other items I saw on the shelf but didn't buy this time:
*Lobster Ravioli, another variety of which Lucky used to carry, but not any more
*Baby Red Potatoes, B's favorite, which may sometimes be found in general markets but not consistently
*Salmon Fillets, BBQ Cut: everybody carries salmon, but these are an unusual cut of even thickness and thus good on the grill: my usual choice if I want fish for a summer bbq
*Frozen Minced Garlic Cubes: while it's now often possible to get minced garlic (my preference) in jars elsewhere, you used to have to go to the garlic outlets in Gilroy to find it; and this is cubes, which is different.

I didn't see the Gravenstein Apple Juice, which is probably seasonal, and I guess they no longer carry Riced Broccoli, which was slivers of cut broccoli designed to be used in place of rice: an interesting idea which I found didn't quite work.

Trader Joe's has also carried lots of irreplaceable items that they've dropped from their stock over the years, and none of them have ever appeared elsewhere. The one I most miss is the only really good Canned Chili I've ever had.

That's for my taste: I'm sure you'd have plenty others of your own.

I don't do my normal staples shopping at Trader Joe's, in part because their selections are sketchy, but they have plenty of things worth going there for that, no, I can't find everywhere else.