Thursday, October 15, 2009

San Franciscans, a funny lot

I do like living here a lot. The main academic hospital in the city doesn't have air conditioning. People wear winter coats in July. And I know it comes as a shock, but people here have foibles.
- One day of rain is the end of the earth. A few hours of legitimately hard rain (2.76 inches of rain in a day, which actually was twice the usual rainfall for October) led to widespread civic dysfunction. It was all anybody could talk about. I'll give them that -- talking about fog vs no fog is the only outlet for the natural human tendency to talk about the weather. I guess cities deal with different things. It would have been the equivalent of 15 inches of rain in Houston, but Houston shuts down with 1/8" of ice or snow. And Baltimore, god love it, gets 10 inches of rain and snow and ice and can also deal with neither.
- Putting a barely noticeable S-curve in a bridge leads to 50% delay in traffic and frequent wrecks which can shut down the city for close to 6 hours.
- People are very, very proud of their commute, their dogs, and their marijuana smoking.
- The most aggressive people on the road are the pedestrians, followed by the bicyclists. A pedestrian will think nothing of standing in front of a MUNI light rail train and yell at the driver.
- Fire engine red hair, chunky glasses, a lip ring, and a low cut t-shirt to show off shoulder and back tattoos is appropriate work attire for health care professionals and exotic dancers alike, where it would be for neither anywhere else in the world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ed 0, MUNI turnstile 1

fail. epic fail.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Study music

I figured I'd listen to some classical music for a change, as I'm trying to put together a presentation for tomorrow.

Glenn Gould's 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations came up in my classical playlist. During my breaks, I've watched some of the videos of him as he is a genius and a nut. He had many famous idiosyncrasies -- he would only play sitting on a chair his father made. He sat almost under the keyboard, hunched over in a pose bound to give any piano teacher fits. The piano had to be a certain height off the ground. He liked the room hot during recording. He hummed and swayed along with the music. He made bizarre demands out of fellow performers. There is a famous story about a concerto he played with Bernstein. Bernstein apologized to the audience beforehand because Gould insisted that the first movement be played at half speed.

But his playing was impeccable. Especially when it came to Bach. With some Google-fu, you can find a 47 minute video on Google Videos of him playing the Goldberg Variations, complete with humming, swaying, and ridiculous left hand runs.

Here's something shorter. One of the coolest stories in all of music, if only it were true:

This is the last 2.5 minutes of Contrapunctus XIV, the last fugue from Bach's monumental "Art of Fugue." It was written at the end of his life as his vision was failing. Bach introduces a new theme here -- B flat-A-C-B, or in German musical nomenclature B-A-C-H. That's the four slow notes Gould plays at the beginning of the clip. He then starts to develop a fugue around this theme. A few minutes later, in measure 239, the score abruptly ends. There is a note there from JS Bach's son CPE Bach indicating that at this point, the conductor died.

This story has been widely circulated, including in Hofstadter's book "Gödel, Escher, Bach." Unfortunately, like most things in life, the truth isn't as simple. Bach probably wrote lots of stuff after this, including the ridiculously good Mass in B Minor. It does, however, make an awesome story.