Happy Merry New Christmas Year

I’m so confused! As I mentioned in my previous post, this is Christmas Part B for my household. (Getting divorced and establishing a blended family will do this to the holiday season.) Today is New Year’s Eve, but my children opened their Christmas presents this morning.

Christmas ornamentWe’re driving to Peterborough tomorrow to celebrate — ummmm … I think it’s still Christmas for a few days yet.

What I did on my Christmas vacation

Readership is still light, but I feel like I’m overdue to post something. So, in keeping with the relaxed mood of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I offer you … What I did on my Christmas vacation.

I should start by admitting that I didn’t do what I had planned to do, which was to read a 900-page theology tome by one of my favourite scholars. I know, that isn’t your idea of a vacation activity, but I often read theology to relax. (Even late at night when I’m very tired, which may explain why I have some strange convictions.)

I got distracted by something of lesser significance. For some while, I’ve wanted to learn how to take music recorded in an analog format (on an audio cassette or vinyl LP) and convert it into digital information. Since my primary Christmas present was an iPod Mini (thank you very much, Mary P.!), I decided it was time to figure this process out.

Remember, I’m from a generation that didn’t grow up with computers. In my high school, kids one year behind me had courses in how to use a computer. I missed it by one year … but actually, I didn’t miss much. Some of you will find it absolutely incredible, but those kids learned to punch holes in pieces of cardboard: that was how they fed program information into the computers!

(Go ahead, laugh at the inferior technology. As late as the 1980s, Russian cosmonauts were using that kind of computer, or something only marginally superior to it, to run their space program. They managed to build a space station with that technology. That and lots of duct tape, of course.)

I own Roxio software, and I use it to burn CDs. I was vaguely aware that it could also convert a signal from analog to digital, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion how to achieve it. And the stumbling block was something ridiculously simple.

I understood that, somehow, I needed to feed the analog sound into the computer, but I didn’t know how to do it. I had read that you must feed the signal directly into the computer’s sound card. But I had this vague, unexamined notion that it required a special attachment.

During Christmas vacation, I turned to the fount of all computer wisdom: Mary P.’s sixteen-year-old son, who is extraordinarily knowledgable even by the standards of his generation. He immediately pointed to a little hole in the back of the computer: “You plug the cable in there,” he informed me.


The harder part was figuring out how to use the “Sound Editor” function in Roxio, because the instructions were utterly useless. I had to resort to a process of trial and error. But hey! — that’s how men prefer to use technology anyway! Instruction manuals are for scrawny little girls, not for powerful grown men. Figuring it out was good for my ego, after the humiliation of not knowing about the “line in” hole in the back of our computer.

Three hours later, Mary P. asked me how the project was coming along. I triumphantly informed her that I had converted three entire songs from analog to digital — one per hour! This was a major turn on for her, let me assure you. Women find geeks sexy, however much they protest to the contrary.

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday converting even more songs to digital. For example, I had Sting’s Nothing Like the Sun on audio cassette. I had Paul Simon’s Graceland on audio cassette, too. (Graceland still holds up as an outstanding achievement, by the way; I recommend it very highly.)

Even more fun awaited me: the Canadian Dedication Suite, performed live by Hugh Fraser and the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation. This is a live recording of a concert I attended this past summer at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. The Suite was specially commissioned to celebrate the Jazz Festival’s 25th anniversary. It was rebroadcast on a local FM station about a week later, and I recorded it. And now — ladies, try to restrain your ardor — I have converted it to a digital file and transferred it to my iPod.

In the best bootleg tradition, I had considered offering you a sample track, but the file is too big to upload to Flickr.com. If you’re curious, I can e-mail it to you. (The Canadian Dedication Suite isn’t available on disc.)

It consists of two parts. The first 2:30 consists of the histrionics of the female vocalist. Shades of Yoko Ono / didgeridoo / Janis Joplin. (What?! You’ve never heard a vocalist mimic a didgeridoo before? Well, then, you haven’t really lived, have you?!)

In the second part, the vocalist (I regret that I do not know her name) demonstrates that she can also sing, when VEJI launches into a great blues composition, “The Mother of Us All”.

Alas, all good vacations must come to an end. Wednesday I was back at work, although “work” is an exaggeration; not much is happening in the office.

And actually, only the first part of my vacation is over. My kids are off school for another week, and I’ll be taking them to visit my parents and two of my two sisters. Christmas Part B, as it were.

But it will be more hectic than the quiet days I enjoyed earlier this week, converting analog data into digital. Ooh, I feel so potent!

A Cradle in Bethlehem

UPDATE, 1:40 p.m.

49erdweet did an online search and found a downloadable version of the song (or at least an excerpt from it) by Sylvia, available here. (The actual Web site is here.)

Thanks, 49er; much appreciated!

The version I have — the only version I knew of until now — was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1960.

A Cradle In Bethlehem

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
’til angels say, “Amen”
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

While wise men follow through the dark
A star that beckons them
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

“A little child shall lead them,”
The prophet said of old
In storm and tempest, heed him
Until the bell is tolled.

Sing sweet and low your lullaby
’til angels say, “Amen”
A mother tonight
Is rocking a cradle in Bethlehem.

Refreshingly honest tech support

This amused me. I tried to access gmail, and got this message instead:

Gmail is temporarily unavailable. Cross your fingers and try again in a few minutes.

That kind of honesty is refreshing. No gobbledygook technical jargon, and no offer to send a message to gmail to alert them to the problem.

All that stuff is just smoke & mirrors, in my opinion. It’s like the “door close” button in an elevator — there aren’t any wires attached to it; it’s there only for the placebo effect.

“Cross your fingers.” There’s an instruction I understand.

And it worked! I can access my inbox! How ’bout that.

Elton and David get married (sort of)

British law has been changed to allow gay couples to wed — sort of. The UK now recognizes homosexual civil partnerships. Guardian Unlimited explains:

Registering as a civil partnership gives same-sex couples new rights, meaning they will be entitled to the same tax, employment and some pension benefits as married heterosexual couples.

Elton John was the most prominent celebrity to get hitched yesterday. He “married” David Furnish, his (Canadian) partner for the past twelve years. A guest is quoted as saying, “There were tears. They kissed at the end. It was very, very happy. It was like any other couple getting married.”

Some of Elton’s fans were perhaps a little disappointed that he didn’t dress more flamboyantly for the occasion.

I’ve been an Elton John fan for many years, but the story of a non-celebrity couple moved me more. Here is an excerpt from Jerome Farrell’s first-person account:

My expectations of the register office at our local town hall were not high. Early in 2005, I sent an email to ask for some information. No reply. A month later, I sent another … and then another the following month.

By May, I was beginning to think I was being deliberately ignored, so I went there prepared to argue with what I feared might be homophobic staff. We had, after all, heard of some councils at best dragging their feet in the implementation of the new law.

But the council officer I spoke to was very apologetic — her senior colleague had been on long-term sick leave, and no one had been able to access her email for months. They had not yet been told what the procedures would be, but I could book a provisional date and contact them again in November. …

We have lived together for four years, and have been committed partners for six. We both had previous partners: Ray lived with Jeffrey for 21 years until he died in April 1995, aged 45. I met Steve in 1986 and he died in December 1995, shortly after his 40th birthday.

The loss of a partner is indescribable, but Ray and I are fortunate to have found, in each other, the source of another loving relationship. We hope to be able to share what may, if we are lucky, be the second half of our lives together.

December 21, when the first partnership ceremonies take place, is the day of the winter solstice — a symbolic turning point, with increasing light each day in the season to follow.

By sheer coincidence, it also happens to be the date on which Steve’s funeral took place ten years ago. When I realised that this was the first date Ray and I could register our partnership, I went to think. We talked about it and concluded it would actually be entirely appropriate for us to book the register office for that day. …

The venue for our partnership ceremony reminds me of the petty inequalities the new law will eliminate. The day after Steve died, I went to the town hall to register his death. I explained to the registrar that I was Steve’s partner and lived with him, but she informed me that only relatives could register a death.

A loophole was found — I was with Steve when he died in our home, and could register in that capacity with the words “present at the death” appearing after my name on the certificate to explain how I qualified as the person registering the information. Had I not been present when Steve died, his mother or sister (both of whom lived 150 miles away) would have had to register the death.

For Jerome and Ray, and Elton and David, the legal recognition of civil partnerships is a major step forward. But does the new law give true equality to homosexual couples? In Canada, we have eliminated even the semantic distinction:  gay couples can marry.

Guardian Unlimited sometimes placed the word in quotation marks, as here:

Sir Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, were “married” as the first same-sex civil partnership ceremonies took place in England and Wales today.

I hate to end this post on a negative note. But until those quotation marks can be struck out, the UK is still denying homosexuals full equality.

Snow removal

After a major snowfall like we had last week, snow plugs up the streets and seriously interferes with the day-to-day activities of the city. The municipality springs dramatically into action to remove the snow as quickly as possible.

First, the city notifies people not to park at the side of the road. Bleccch!, snow at the side of a busy road gets filthy in a hurry!

You may never have seen one of these before:  it’s a sidewalk plow. People are expected to clear the snow from in front of their houses, but the municipality helps out for the sake of public safety.

Another view of the sidewalk plow. Isn’t it cute?! I’ve always thought it would be a great job, to be the driver of such a machine.

This is a snow plow of a different magnitude. Nothing cute about this monster!

Eventually the two plows create a line of snow a foot or two away from the curb.

Now that the snow is in a nice, neat line, the snow-throwing machine comes along. (I have no idea what the machine is really called.) Note the gaping maw, which contains two screw-like thingies that turn in opposite directions to pull in the snow. (I hope I’m not overwhelming you with too much technical jargon.)

Here’s a better look at the snow thrower in action, filling a truck to overflowing.

It takes a whole convoy of trucks to cart the snow away. When I took this photo, there was one truck beside the snow-throwing machine, and six more lined up behind it. They will transport the snow to a kind of dump.

The city of Toronto became the butt of a lot of jokes in 1999, when they had to call in the Canadian army to clear away their snow. Toronto is the city Canadians love to hate; this was too juicy an opportunity for people to pass it up.

But all the mockery was a bit of a cheap shot. This writer reports, “In 158 years of record-keeping, there’s only been 41 times when Toronto was hit with more than 25 cm of snow in a 24-hour period.”

On the east coast, they get a snowfall like that about twice a month, as near as I can figure. So Halifax is always prepared for it (sort of); and Toronto isn’t.

Since Toronto is Canada’s most important economic center, that much snow can have a real impact on the economy.

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

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