Awasu » 2007 » April
Sunday 22nd April 2007 9:16 AM [Awasu News]

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the betas, this one's for you. It comes with an installer so all you have to do is download and run it [1] and it will automagically upgrade everything for you :clap:

The feature list has been updated for the new version, as has the tour and you can get the full low-down in the new online help [2].

For those of us who run the betas, it's easy to forget how far Awasu has come since 2.2 (and before :blink: ) but if you go back and run it or check out the old online help, you can see how the new people are going to be in for a big surprise at how far Awasu has come in the past year-and-a-bit :D

Eric Sink, the founder of SourceGear, recently released a new version of their product the other day and the last line of his announcement completely nailed it for me:

Bottom line: Our product got better today. It's a good day.

I am so off to the pub tonight :jig:

[1] If you're running 2.3.rc4, there's no need to upgrade since nothing has changed since this release.
[2] The CHM will be available shortly. I'm still waiting on a few graphics from our way-cool graphic designer.

Thursday 19th April 2007 1:42 PM [General]

I wanted to write about this when it came out in the Washington Post the other week but didn't, partly because I've been really busy but also because I've been mulling over what to make of it.

By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

Thing is, this was the guy who was playing [1]:

A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements.

What happened probably won't come as a surprise to most people, as we collectively shake our heads in disappointment.

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

Amusingly, he was really nervous about the whole thing [2]:

Before he began, Bell hadn't known what to expect. What he does know is that, for some reason, he was nervous.

"It wasn't exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies," he says. "I was stressing a little."

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?

"When you play for ticket-holders," Bell explains, "you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don't like me? What if they resent my presence . . ."

He was, in short, art without a frame.

The article explores the idea that that we judge things in the context of its surroundings and Seth Godin concurs, saying that "[i]f your worldview is that music in the subway isn't worth your time, you're not going to notice when the music is better than usual (or when a famous violinist is playing)".

But I think this is completely wrong. If it had've been Britney or Kylie, you can be damn sure there would've been a riot within minutes.

I've written before about how I think that a lot of what is wrong around us can be explained by the fact that people are fundamentally lazy and I think it applies here as well. It's actually not that easy to tell the difference between a great musician and one who's merely really good. For most people, jazz is little more than a lot of wrong notes and to really be able to dig it, you either have to be a jazz musician yourself or have done a lot of serious listening. Classical music is perhaps a bit more accessible but it's still beyond your average schmoe to tell the difference between someone like Bell and a lesser mortal.

It takes a lot of work to get to the point where we can make such distinctions and so instead, we rely on other people to tell us what's good and what's not. Mass media and marketers tell us who is worthy of our adultation and we ignore everything else :bah:

I'm on my way back home after an extended trip out of town and I've been having a lot of fun catching up with old friends, many of them musicians. It's getting to be that every time I get back into town, someone else has become a national superstar and this trip has been no different. But I look at my other friends who are still banging out covers in the local bars and there's really not much difference between them. Why did one get famous, rich and all the girls but the other is still stuck churning out Wonderful Tonight and Hotel California every night? :bah:

I remember going to see the Dalai Lama speak when he visited Melbourne many years ago and while it was good to see him in person [3], I was a bit disappointed in how little real content there was in his talk. It wasn't much more beyond "People, be nice to each other and the world will be a better place", which is OK in itself but for this, he got a five-minute standing ovation. I kid you not :blink: If I had've got up and said exactly the same thing, I would've been laughed off the stage :roll:

It's not just a cult of the celebrity, we're just too damn lazy to listen to what's being said, think about about what's actually going on and make our own opinions. Guy Kawasaki is right on the money when he says:

If anyone from the Washington Post reads this, I have two suggestions: First, take a so-so violinist, hand him a Stradivari, introduce him as a wunderkind from the Black Forest, let him play as the opening act at a ritzy concert, and see if the audience fawns over him.

Second, get Steve Jobs to sell iPods for forty-five minutes in a BestBuy in South Dakota and observe what happens.

Suggestions, indeed. I wonder what would happen :roll:

[1] I really dig that he was cool enough to try this :clap: When I become a world-renowned saxophonist, I'd certainly be willing to try something similar :-)
[2] I've done a lot of busking myself and can confirm that it is indeed a completely terrifying experience :-) Getting up on stage with a bunch of complete strangers to play a song you've never heard before is way less stressful. At least you've got the other guys up there with you banging out the core of the song. Playing solo out on the street, you are completely naked
[3] He's just like he is on TV, a cool dude with a wicked sense of humour :-)

Sunday 15th April 2007 5:51 AM [Awasu News]

The final release candidate (what's this?) for Awasu 2.3 is now available here.

Unless someone reports that this release caused their computer to spontaneously self-combust and explode in a searing ball of flame, this will be the 2.3 release. The formal release will be at the end of this week but you can get the software early here.

Tuesday 10th April 2007 5:52 AM [General]

For those of you who don't already know, XSLT is a techno-thingy that lets you make changes to an XML document. In lay terms, because an RSS or Atom feed is written in XML, you can run it through an XSLT and modify it.

Sam Ruby writes here about several XSLT's he's written that fixes some minor problems with one feed and does filtering on another. Tero Ykspetäjä also submitted an XSLT that reverses the order of items in a feed, to work around the problem of some feeds publishing their items backwards :-)

Awasu is one of the few feed readers that let you apply an XSLT to incoming feeds which is quite a powerful feature. As you can see above, you can do some pretty cool things with it :cool:

Tuesday 10th April 2007 5:41 AM [General]

As a computer programmer and musician, there was never really any chance of me being a morning person :roll: When I need to get up in the morning, I actually use my old pager from when I lived in Hong Kong because it has the most insanely annoying beep, enough to wake even me (most of the time). I use a second clock as a backup although I have been known to sleep through both of these :blink:

Jeremy Wagstaff writes about a bunch of different clocks that are designed especially for people like me. This one fires jigsaw puzzle pieces into the air that you have to put back together to turn it off :-) . I used to be a bit of whizz on the Rubik's Cube so maybe I'd need something a bit more challenging :roll:

It's my birthday soon, if anyone was short on ideas for something to get me... :wink:

Monday 9th April 2007 12:45 PM [Awasu News]

We've just upgraded the forum software and installed a new version of the package we use to generate feeds.

The format of the feed URL has changed slightly so if you're subscribed to any of the forum feeds, you might find that they have stopped working. If this is the case, you can open the channel's Properties dialog and append &max_word_size=All on the end of the feed URL (note the ampersand at the beginning). Or you can go to the feeds page and generate a new feed URL.

Sunday 8th April 2007 7:55 AM [Awasu News]

The online documentation for 2.3 is now available (the CHM will be made available when 2.3 is released).

It's taken a bit longer than I would've normally liked but there have been a few fairly significant new features in this release cycle that needed a lot of documentation (e.g. the new template processing engine).

I've tightened up a lot of the writing [1] and it definitely looks much better than before. It's been almost a year-and-a-half since the 2.2 release so I figure it's worth taking an extra week or two to make the documentation look good :cool: Just my Japanese heritage showing through again, I s'pose :roll:

Feedback is, as always, most welcome.

[1] Gawd, I waffled on dreadfully in the 2.2 help. Why didn't anybody say something?!

Friday 6th April 2007 3:14 PM [General]

As some of you know, I'm currently out of town on a business trip but that doesn't mean I'm not having an enormous amount of fun as well :wink:. I didn't make the same misteak of not bringing my horn with me and it's been a blast catching up with old friends that I haven't seen for years and playing together again.

I went to a jazz jam session the other night and wandered into the bar at the same time as this incredibly fresh-faced young kid who also had a horn slung over his shoulder. We introduced ourselves and started chatting and I mentioned that I used to work in town, many years ago (12 and 14 of them, in fact :blink:). He gave me a strange look, asked my name again and where I used to play and when I told him, gave me an even stranger look as his jaw hit the ground. "OMG. Did you have long hair and play a soprano? I used to come watch you play all the time. I play saxophone now because of you!"

Yikes :bigshock:

The funny thing is, I've been in exactly the same position as he was.

While I used to play a lot of music in school, I absolutely hated it. I got strong-armed into playing flute when I in primary school because my ma always wanted to play when she was a kid but never got the chance, plus my teacher at the time was also a flautist, so I never really had much of a choice :-(. The school had a fantastic big band and the flute section was 10 girls and me so, like I said, I absolutely hated it :wink:. When I got to high school, it was all classical so I hated it even more :roll: and just didn't go to most of my classes :-)

It wasn't until I went to university that I started to take an interest in music when I would go down to the Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne's downtown to watch a band [1] busking there every Friday evening. The two sax players absolutely captivated me to the point where I scraped together every last cent I had to buy a horn of my own. I had my heart set on a tenor, like both these guys played, but wasn't even close to being able to afford it and so had to settle for an alto. Even then, I had to go to my old man and beg for a couple hundred bucks to make even that [2].

And many years later, I got to play with them although I was never game enough to tell the guys what they had wrought :whistle:

But getting back to the kid I met the other night, it occurred to me that if he was 24 now and had been coming to see me play, he must've been only 10 at the time. I asked one of the old band members about him and he said "Yeah, don't you remember? His old man used to bring him to the bar every week to watch you play."

Yikes indeed :bigshock:

I've been doing a lot of work with young kids recently and while the impact you have on their lives is obvious, it's not something you think about very often (although we probably should). This, on the other hand, has completely freaked me out, to have been responsible for what is such an important part of his life today [3] :blink:

I talk in the Awasu FAQ about part of the reason for doing all this is the importance I place on putting something back in but I also hope you all get something out of using it as well. Maybe not life-changing but hey, ya never know... :cool:

[1] The Swingin' Sidewalks actually went on to much bigger things and became a household name across Australia.
[2] When I was finally later able to afford a tenor I was never really able to get my head around it. The fingering and technique is almost the same as an alto but there's something of a mind-shift you need to get a handle on. So even today, 20+ years later, I'm still very much an alto specialist :roll:
[3] And let's face it, I was fairly well lubricated most nights, hardly a good role model for such impressionable young minds :hysterical: