Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Hard Day's Night

I am adequately familiar with "A Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles. But I never paid any particular attention to the opening chord. That is until I heard this analysis on NPR about the use of Fourier analysis to breakdown music into its component sounds. Paying closer attention to the song also helped me recall why The Beatles were such a great band.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

12/11: Live, Freeze, and Die!

New Hampshire is famous for its official state slogan, "Live Free or Die," adopted in 1945. It is a reference to the aggressive sense of independence inherent in the American political philosophy. The phrase has its origin in an 1809 toast written by General John Stark, New Hampshire's most famous soldier in the American Revolutionary War.

However, a new state motto is being proposed by some. I heard it from a former colleague (John Finocchiaro) who is still without power following the December 11 ice storm that threw 1.25 million homes back into the Dark Ages. The proposed motto, rather appropriately, is "Live, Freeze, and Die!"

Additionally, I would propose that "12/11" (a spoof of 9/11) might be an appropriate name for one of the worst ice-storm-induced power outages in recent New England history.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why I Love The Bose Wave Music System

What I like most about the Bose Wave Music System is its size-to-sound ratio, price-to-sound ratio, absence of external moving parts, and ability to play MP3 CDs. The minimalist external design is simply remarkable. I don't believe there is anything else in the market that is one-piece and can compete on these metrics.
  • Size-to-sound ratio. This system fits on one corner of my bedroom dresser and is as much music system as I'll ever need. The sound quality and quantity is superb and superior to what one might expect from much larger and more expensive music systems. Based on a volume scale that goes from 0-99, I generally listen at around 35-40, bump it up to 50-60 for party moods, and have never needed to go much higher than 70. There is nothing else in the market that is this small and provides a similar sound quality.

  • Price-to-sound ratio. Again, the sound quality this system affords me for the $500 price tag is about as much music system as I'll ever need at home or wish to purchase for a home music system.

  • Minimalist external design. I love the fact that there are absolutely no buttons on this system. Everything is accomplished via a compact remote control device. Since external moving parts are usually the first things to fail on a system, this machine is built for longevity.

  • Radio. The system includes an AM/FM radio with a digital tuner.

  • Clock. A clock with alarm is included. The clock will maintain time even after it has been without external power for 24 hours.

  • MP3 Player. The system will play MP3 CDs. This is a major feature when you consider that many CD players do not play MP3 CDs. I've created a few MP3 CDs with my choicest selections. The MP3 CDs play perfectly on this system. The system even displays the song and artist names, which it doesn't do for regular audio CDs. At an optimistic rate of 1 minute of play time per megabyte of an MP3 file, 700 MB translates into about 700 minutes or a ceiling of just under 12 hours of total play time. Actual play times will vary depending on the quality of MP3 (higher the quality, greater the size, and lower the play time per megabyte). Regardless, this is a great substitute for a bulky and expensive multi-CD changer.

  • Aux In. There's a jack for running a cable from your television (or any other device) to your Bose Wave Music System so that you can enjoy the rich Bose sound while watching a movie. No need to invest thousands of dollars in an expensive and elaborate surround sound home theater system.

  • Headphones. A headphone jack is provided.

  • For a detailed list of features, check out the web site at the link provided above.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Coping With Power Outages (And Subzero Temperatures)

Ours was among the well over one million homes that lost electricity as a result of the Northeastern ice storm that hit New England and beyond on the evening of Thursday, December 11, 2008.

The extent of power outages caused by this ice storm is being classified as one of the worst ever. Other outages included land-based phone, cable, and internet services.

Our place went dark at around 10 PM EST on Thursday. We had power restored around 8 PM EST on Friday. We were lucky to have power restored in about 24 hours. Estimates for other regions are as high as two weeks. Living without power for almost an entire day was an important experience, especially for the kids.

Luckily we were fairly well equipped to weather the storm. Here's a summary of the lessons either learned or reinforced.

  • Keep a powerful outdoor flashlight, e.g. something that operates on three type D batteries. Such a flashlight will provide extended run time and a strong beam of light. However, use the flashlight sparingly so that you have it for when you really need it.

  • Keep a small pocket indoor flashlight that operates on one or two type AA batteries. Such a flashlight can serve as a useful backup. It will provide a shorter run time and a weaker beam of light. Use it to preserve your primary flashlight but use it sparingly so that you have it for when you really need it.

  • Keep plenty of extra type D and type AA batteries.

  • Keep a set of pillar candles (with stands), perferably non-perfumed. Multiple candles will allow you to keep a candle in each room and alleviate the need to carry lit candles around the house and risk an accident. The right sort of candlestand will prevent wax from dripping onto surfaces.

  • Keep several matchboxes, again so that you can keep one matchbox next to each candle. Keep the matchboxes in an airtight jar to keep them away from moisture.

  • Keep an emergency radio (ideally self-powered or at least battery powered) so that you can stay connected to the world and tune into local and national weather reports and news bulletins.

  • Keep a BlackBerry or similar smartphone, i.e. a wireless phone that is capable of browsing the internet and monitoring email. Although some smartphones can be used as a tethered modem to access the internet from your laptop for emergency browsing, it is probably best to preserve your laptop battery for charging the cell phone.

  • Keep a car charger for your smartphone so that in a pinch you can use your car to charge your smartphone.

  • In a pinch, don't forget that you can even use your smartphone as a mini-flashlight, for example to find your way to the bed after blowing out the candle on your dresser.

  • Install a natural gas or wood stove that will continue to work when the power is out. The stove will also provide heat. In case you have nothing to cook, boil a pot of water and take a hot water bath! [Credit: Navneet Singh Bhui]

  • Install a wood fireplace. It will provide both warmth and light.

  • Avoid opening freezer and refrigerator doors. Freezers and refrigerators will maintain temperatures for a day or more if they are not opened.

  • Avoid opening external doors and windows in your home in order to preserve heat.

  • Preserve body heat by wearing multiple layers of warm clothing, knitted hats, and multiple pairs of socks. As much a possible, stay under a blanket.

  • Ensure that your home is well insulated. Use old towels to block any gaps under externally-facing doors and windows. If you can see your breath, then your home is not sufficiently insulated/heated and you should consider moving into a shelter/hotel.

  • Plan food consumption to minimize waste and maximize the leverage of what you've got at home. Accordingly, consume highly perishable foods first, e.g. fresh meats, milk, milk products, eggs, ripe fruits, etc. Save unperishables such as canned foods, pasta, cookies, chocolate bars, rice, flour, etc. for later. Consider moving any highly perishable foods you cannot consume immediately into the freezer where they will be preserved longer.

  • Keep kids busy playing games that require no light or equipment, e.g. variations of last-letter-of-previous-word-becomes-first-letter-of-new-word around themes like geographical entities (continents, countries, cities, mountains, rivers), movies, books, etc. Make the geographical theme last longer by allowing younger kids to refer to a globe.

  • Your hot water will stay warm for several hours. Soak your hands and feet in it to stay warm before the water returns to room temperature.

  • Install a generator. The best sort is one that hooks up to your home's natural gas line and turns on automatically when it senses a power outage. The investment will likely pay for itself via the increased value of your house and the savings resulting from a reduction in spoiled food in your refrigerator and freezer.

  • Get a copy of the book "Apocalypse Chow: How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out." [Credit: Merry Beth Hall]

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"The End of Wall Street's Boom" By Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's take on the current financial crisis belongs in the *must-read* category.

He is, arguably, "the funniest serious writer in America."

His 1990 book "Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street" is widely acknowledged as the quintessential non-fiction introduction to Wall Street's underbelly.

Most articles of this length would be abandoned midway. Lewis throws in plenty of serious material, e.g. the ratio of median home price to income. What makes Lewis's writing such a pleasure to read is that he doesn't forget the human element (anecdotes, character sketches, and so on), which also helps to the lighten the reading experience.

The End of Wall Street's Boom By Michael Lewis.