Mozo and Lumia 950 – Flagship Uniqueness

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One of the complaints about Microsoft’s Lumia 950 is that some think it just doesn’t feel or look like a flagship phone. While I love the phone and the Windows 10 Mobile OS,  the phone did seem to lack a certain panache. Mozo Accessories, a Finnish company who worked closely with Nokia and now is an official partner of Microsoft, comes to the rescue with their leather covers; they replace the original plastic back cover.

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Mozo’s back cover for the Lumia 950 XL

These back covers are not just another pretty face either – they support Qi wireless charging. They seem durable with metallic accents and unique looks. While I really like the brown leather and its stitching, I went for the subtler white version; a bit of a nostalgic nod to my (now old) white Nokia Lumia 920. The phone stays slim with its perfect fit, has precise openings where needed, grips well in the hand and, while it has very defined edges, it doesn’t dig into your hand. A nice cover indeed. (BTW, I bought mine at MobileFun – they seem the least expensive place and it arrived in perfect condition and timely.)

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Now the rest of this phone is rock-a-lockin’. I find the Windows 10 Mobile interface smooth, intuitive and a delight to use. The phone sports  a 5.2 in,  2560 x 1440 screen with 3 GB of RAM with 32 GB of storage with a microSD slot for another 128 GB (which can go up to 200 GB), a Qualcomm six-core Snapdragon 808 processor running Windows 10 (mobile) with a 20 megapixle camera (using fifth generation optical image stabilization) weighing in at 150 g being 8.2 mm thick. This means it’s an amazing phone with a stunning camera and utterly gorgeous screen. Use a Display Dock (and Continuum), keyboard and monitor, it can become an office away from home.

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So this lovely bit of tech now looks like the flagship phone it was destined to be.

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Halie and the Moon’s Blue Transmissions EP Leaves You Anything but Blue

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From the very first verse of The Story: “I’m the girl outside your window painted blue/who holds the shadows, waves goodbye, and shelters you…” to that of Into the World “He spoke you into the world on the edge of his tongue…,” Blue Transmissions: Vol 1 wraps you into a lovely cocoon of eclectic sound not easily pressed into any genre while bearing the mark of this special collaboration of vocals, cello, bass, acoustic guitar, and drums.

Blue Transmissions: Vol 1 is a new EP (dropped December 8th) from a new group, Halie and the Moon. They hit my radar because of my love for Halie Loren’s velvet voice. Along with Ms. Loren (vocals & piano), they consist of Katherine Dudney (cello & background vocals) – to get a sense of Ms. Dudney’s talent, check out her original composition, River, Bobby Stevens (bass & background vocals), Daniel Gallo (acoustic guitar) and Beau Eastlund (drums). Both Messrs. Gallo and Eastlund previously collaborated with Ms. Loren on Butterfly Blue (one of my favorite albums) and were members together in Concrete Loveseat (it seems that the Eugene music scene is close knit). While, along with Ms. Loren’s voice, it is Ms. Dudney’s cello that colors the unique sound they produce, the band melds so well that you would think they’ve been together for years. This is evident from how well they play very different types of songs in the jazz/pop of The Story to the ethereal ballad of Winter, the jazz/funk of Breathe and the folk/pop of Into the World. Listening to them fuse together the musical backdrop of the story given in Into the World is particularly mesmerizing.

Courtesy halieandthemoon.com, photo credit - Bob Williams

Courtesy halieandthemoon.com, photo credit – Bob Williams

Like a butterfly leaving its cocoon (OK, I couldn’t resist), Halie and the Moon is a new creation unlike any of the individual artists in it but making them, together, greater than the sum of their parts. That being said, The Story is more reminiscent of Ms. Loren’s sound on previous records, including Butterfly Blue, than the other songs here. The bouncy beat, turn of phrase and lit of voice all harken back to previous work (which is lovely), yet there is this undercurrent of bass beat, strings, and guitar that are the hallmark of the new collaborative sound they bring together. That bounce meshes well with the upbeat lyrics: “Well it’s high time that we stumbled to the city/don’t need a dime if we shine up all our pennies/A highwire and an umbrella make a new day/somersaulting to the faces on the subway…”

The band has emphasized their offering of Winter in a music video:

They’ve done so for good reason. Ms. Loren’s honied-voice combines perfectly with the dream-like quality of the song with its poetic lyrics:

Love, won’t you sing a lullaby?
White, naked as the winter snow…
Hey, can we give another try?
It’s time to make our way home.
It’s time to be alone, time to hide away now
Time to keep a love alight inside – every love alight… Love, can we find the other side
of this night, woven with a silver hope?

I love the drum and bass beat intro into Breathe, the slide of the cello throughout and the interesting word-images it employs: “Don’t you feel like a homeless balloon/In someone else’s song?/And you play along” They delightfully frame the piece with their musical phrasing in a slight piano/cello interlude before it breaks back into: “Breathe now, baby/Let the constellations take you/And all and all the everything/Is hanging on an ether swing…”

In some ways, Into the World is my favorite song in an EP filled with delights. I love portraiture in words and this builds its pictorial narrative perfectly through music and verse. The vignette of their relationship opens with an acapella line: “He spoke you into the world/On the edge of his tongue…” It later fuses together voice, piano and string on the simple world of “You.” The theme is wonderfully repeated while transmuting into something new: “He wrote you into the blue/On the edges of the sky,” much like the relationship and person described. Finally, it ends, full circle, acapella, with that same line: “He spoke you into the world.”

 

My only complaint about Blue Transmission is that it is a four song EP and not a 12 (or more!) song full album. I clearly appreciate the effort it takes to produce something like this but do look forward to hearing more from this group. It is a delightful collaboration. So, if you’re looking for something new to play on that new smartphone, those new headphones or other musical accouterment from Christmas, look no further than Blue Transmissions. I highly commend it to you for your listening pleasure.

 

Moving to a Higher Capacity Micro SD card for Windows 10 Mobile – Tips and Tricks

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Digital storage continues to become more and more affordable just as we need more and more. My current phone, Microsoft Lumia 950, comes with 32 GB of storage on board. I paired that with a 64GB card I had been using. So that’s a whopping 96 GB of storage on a phone! I know for many of you that’s a yawn, but I still find it remarkable.

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However, my phone can play lossless audio, shoot stills at 20 megapixels and can shoot video at Ultra HD resolution (3840 x 2160)! That all can chew up storage. To put this in perspective: my 8 megapixel Lumia 920 camera pictures (saving in jpg) would take up about 1.2 MB per shot, my Lumia 950 takes up about 6.3 MB per shot in Rich capture mode (meshing multiple shots together. Video taken at on my Lumia 920 at full HD (1080p) would take 2.1 GB per hour. 1 hour of Ultra HD video takes up 318 GBs. So, before I knew it, I had roughly 20 GB of music (despite using Groove’s streaming service), 20 GB of video and miscellaneous documents and files that added up to 58 GB of storage used on my 64 GB card. Yikes! The phone is less than a month old. So, what with Black Friday sales and cheaper cards, I upgraded to a 128 GB card. I would love a 200 GB card, but that’s still a bit too rich for my blood at $100 on Amazon. I bought my card for $40 on sale; it’s roughly $50 right now. Note: these prices are for well-known storage players; this is an area you don’t want to go with an unknown manufacturer.

Great! But wait, now I had to move all the apps, documents, pictures, music, and video over. You might think that this is a long but simple process of copying all the files on the card onto the new. Not so much. Apps won’t work if you simply copy the card. Can you move all the apps and data so that everything is preserved to work just like it did on the old card? Yes, but it’s some work.

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I have a particularly happy situation in which to do this:

  • I have a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro with enough capacity to back up the old card. This means I have a USB 3 port (much faster than USB 2) and an SSD drive on which to store (again, fast access).

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  • The Sony 64 GB card I was backing up was rated at 40 MB/s and the new PNY 128 GB card was rated at 60 MB/s.

 

 

 

 

I averaged about 30 MB/s backup and about 18 MB/s copying onto the new card. Now, both of those are not only slower the theoretical USB 3.0 speeds but even USB 2.0 theoretical maxes. However, in practice, that’s 2 to 3 times faster than I would get with USB 2.0. So, despite this relatively fast setup, it’s still time-consuming. Your mileage may vary. On Android; I hear that a simple copy doesn’t work there to preserve apps either. Of course, you have no worries on iOS since you’re stuck at whatever capacity you have on board when you originally purchase the phone (hint-buy as much as you can afford and pay lots for iCloud backup).

So here’s what I did:

  1. Move all of your applications from your current Micro SDXC card to you phone (hopefully, you have capacity). This means selecting each by hand and selecting “Move”. If you don’t wait for that move to be done before you try to go to the next one, it seems to stop and the new one take over. So wait.
  2. Take that card out and back it up. For the 950, this means either indicating that you want to remove the card or shutting down, taking the back off.  If you said for it to remove the card, then pull the micro SD card out. It is a close fit with the battery in, so you may have to turn the phone over and let it drop out. If you shut down, then the battery out. Remove the card, put it into your card reader and copy. Of course, you could just plug into your USB 3 port with your USB 3.1 to 3 cord, but you’ll have to get the old card out anyway to format the new that you might as well use the card reader.
  3. Put the new card in the phone and format. Do this while step 2 is underway. You don’t need to put the back on again, but that might be safer. I left it off.
  4. Pull the new card out (doing all you did in step 2 unless the back is already off), copy the backup data from step 2 to new card.
  5. Put the new card back in the phone. Put the battery back in, cover on and start up.
  6. Move all of your applications from your phone to your new card. Yup, each one by hand. This takes a while, so just keep at it while you do other stuff.

Viola – a number of hours later (if you’re like me and had 58 GB used for applications, documents and media (music, pictures and video). Just copying nearly 60 GB of data takes between 20 minutes and half an hour. All the apps remembered their data and login information (if that’s how you left them from the old card). Now, as long as I don’t shoot much Ultra HD video, I’m good to go for a while. Hopefully, the next card I buy will border on a terabyte, but for now, I have a bit of breathing room :)

TruShield Tempered Glass – Saving the Day, One Smartphone at a Time

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Got to love the time on this phone

Recently, I bought a Microsoft Lumia 950 Windows 10 phone. Love is a pretty strong word when it comes to inanimate objects, so let’s just say I thoroughly appreciate this phone’s features and capabilities; I am, perhaps, inordinately fond of what I can do with this phone. (More on how this fits in my mobile world here.) One of those features I love is its WQHD (2560 x 1440) 5.2” AMOLED ClearBlack screen. Whilst this lovely 564 ppi eye candy is covered with Gorilla Glass, even that can be scratched or, heaven forbid, cracked. Enter the world of tempered glass screen covers. In particular, Trushield Tempered Glass Screen Protector for the Lumia 950 comes to the rescue.

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a side view with TruShield on

Before I wax poetic on the virtues of glass screen covers, let’s walk down memory lane. Back in the day, we had to settle for plastic film, the installation of which would break me in to sweats and soapy fingers. Once done, even if you did avoid bubbles (which was unlikely), viewing your phone screen was like looking through a mirror, darkly. Why have these great screens if we can’t view them in all of their luscious glory? True ballistic tempered glass covers avoid these limitations.

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They install relatively easily. They are super-clear to look through (you’ll often forget you have one on) and if it gets horribly scratched, you’re out $10 or $15 and you just get another cover. So, all is well with the world, right? Not so much. My first experience with tempered glass, through personal recommendation, was Tech Armor for my wife’s iPhone 6. It worked well and, at least in my experience, is some of the best tempered glass available. Alas, they service a very limited market of only the very most popular phones, chiefly iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. While the Lumia 950 is fabulous, it’s not super popular. So, for those of us who follow a road less traveled, we need to turn elsewhere. Now lots of folks sell things they call tempered glass but are plastic film; stiffer than a Zagg cover but they still tend to have bubbles. It turns out to be quite challenging to get a good tempered glass cover, at least on Amazon. The first one I ordered came without the cover at all. The box had the alcohol square to clean the glass, dust absorbers but no glass cover! The second one was a mediocre film cover; clearly not tempered glass. Then there was TruShield. Finally!

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My Lumia 950 – with notes on the cut-outs

TruShield tempered glass actually did install in a straight-forward fashion sans bubbles. Looking at my screen with it on is indistinguishable from when it wasn’t on. All scrolling, gestures, selections and anything else that requires our little digits touching the screen work perfectly. No sensors, lenses or mics were harmed in the making of this safety. In other words, it does the job for which it was designed. That is, alas, a stunningly rare thing. I heartily recommend TruShield tempered glass screen protectors for your Lumia, HTC, LG or whatever your poison. If you ever get a slight cut across your screen (as a friend of mine did on his LG G4’s screen protector), you’ll be glad you did.

There’s no place like (infrastructurally robust) home, 2015 Edition

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Mobile Office – 2015

While we appreciate our ability to be mobile (and we’re able to do more with mobile tools than ever before), as I previously posted, we also love to come back to a well-designed workplace (I love my job). As the mobile world has gotten better, so has the old homestead.

 Below is the 2012 version of the robust office.

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– His more substantial big-brother –

Now here’s the 2015 version of that picture with some updates:

-The Better Big Brother

– The Better Big Brother
While the most of the changes are subtle, they’re substantial
  1. In the 2012 version, you see the wireless charging pad, but not my Nokia Lumia 920 (WP8) because it was used in taking the picture. The 2015 version shows my more powerful Microsoft Lumia 950 (WP10) on the same charging plate.
  2. I went from a good but bulky mouse to a trim mouse the uses Logitech’s unifying system, which allows me to use the same USB receiver for up to 5 devices; the keyboard used the same one.
  3. Improved monitor and monitor stand – both flattens out the monitor viewing and declutters the stands.
  4. Move to a Surface Pro 3 with a docking station. Provides a third monitor and helps on the mobile side of things.
  5. Logitech Keyboard using the unifying system.

A couple of other small updates is the Microsoft LifeCam for conference calls, an updated Plantronics wireless headset and the oh-so-necessary Lava Lamp. (Our gecko friend was on vacation, but still here). What’s not shown is what I no long need separately – the Surface RT I had. Now I have one device that replaces two which is actually more capable than both. I also moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (and ran Windows 8.1 in between).

The Leaner Mobile Office – 2015 Edition

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The Right Tools – Updated

At the end of 2012, I wrote about mobile tools that allow us to be seriously productive while being mobile. What’s changed since then? Essentially, you can do those same tasks better and faster and you can do more than you did three years ago. The “better and faster” essentially comes down to hardware tweaks of faster processors, more memory and better screens (across tablets, smartphones and e-readers). The “more” bit is that my previous Surface RT ran a restricted version of Windows with more limited tablet-based applications (similar to the iPad but more productivity oriented) while my Surface Pro 3 runs full Windows on which all of my applications run and my phone can act like a desktop using a display dock.  In this post, I’ll dive into this a bit more.

My previous, 2012 set up: A Kindle Paperwhite (version 1), Microsoft Surface RT, Nokia Lumia 920 and Moleskine Large Ruled notebook. There is very little I couldn’t do with these tools in terms of research, reading, music, video and writing.

Mobile Office – 2012

My current setup: A Kindle Paperwhite (version 3), Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Microsoft Lumia 950 and a Moleskine Large Ruled notebook for work use (some things don’t change) and Rhodia Webnotebook – Lined for personal use.

Mobile Office - 2015

Mobile Office – 2015

On the surface (OK, pun intended), these seem quite similar. While the 2012 versions were quite capable, there are core differences

Tablet

  • The Surface RT had a 10 in. 1366 x 768 (for comparison,  720p is 1280 x 720) screen with 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage (with a microSD slot for another 64 GB), using a Quad Core Tegra 3 Processor running a limited version of Windows. This is a capable machine for most documentation, web-browsing and email tasks. It was light, relatively inexpensive, came with Microsoft Office, had a long battery life and worked well.
  • The Surface Pro 3 has 12 in, 2160 x 1400 (1080p is 1920 x 1080, 4K, AKA 2160p, is 3840 x 2160), 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage (with a microSD slot for another 64GB), using a Core i5 processor running full Windows 10 Professional.

Now, that’s a lot of numbers but it basically means you have a full desktop replacement computer that can fit on a Starbucks table getting it all done. The stylus comes in handy for sketching out ideas on OneNote and that gorgeous screen is lovely when you’re watching Sherlock Season 3 for the third time whilst waiting for The Abomnidable Bride episode. Often overlooked, but important in this day of cloud computing and streaming, it also adds 802.11 ac, MIMO which means better and quicker connectivity.

Phone:

  • Nokia Lumia 920 had a 4.5 in, 1280 x 768 screen with 1 GB of RAM with 32 GB of storage with a Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon S4 running Windows Phone 8.1 with an 8.7 megapixle camera (one of the first with optical image stablization) weighing in at 185 g being 10.7 mm thick. This meant it was a very capabable phone with a supurb camera and terrific screen. All of the Audible books, music and video you could wish.
  • Microsoft Lumia 950 has a 5.2 in,  2560 x 1440 screen with 3 GB of RAM with 32 GB of storage (with a microSD slot for another 64 GB which can go up to 200 GB), with a Qualcomm six-core Snapdragon 808 running Windows 10 (mobile) with a 20 megapixle camera (still with OIS) weighing in at 150 g being 8.2 mm thick. This means it’s an amazing phone with a stunning camera and utterly gorgeous screen. The user interface is similar to Windows 10 on the Surface Pro 3; with a display dock (and using Continuum), keyboard and monitor, it can become an office away from home.

 

e-Reader

  • Kindle Paperwhite (v1) – a 6 in marvel which allows you to read anywhere, save highlights, take notes and save them to the cloud and sync with your Audible books. This version weighed 223 g, 9.1 mm thick and had a screen resolution of 768 x 1024 with a density of 212 ppi. (For more on the benefits of the Kindle e-reader, see here.) While it’s another device to carry, don’t use a notebook, tablet (even a Fire) or phone for reading, either use paper or an e-ink reader like the Paperwhite.
  • Kindle Paperwhite (v3) – Very similar to the first version but with a super sharp 1440 x 1080, 300 ppi screen weighing 205 g, 9 mm thick.

With font tuning and a sharp screen, the Paperwhite is a delight to use. (I once owned a Kindle Voyage which is slightly lighter and thinner than the Paperwhite with the same sharp screen, but it decided to keep traveling in an Uber car somewhere in Orlando). This is my primary tool for reading; I carry thousands of books wherever I go.

Anything I can do in the office, I can do on the road. I can Skype into a conference call, share documents, research, read, review and design. That wasn’t quite true in 2012; I could do most of what I needed to do, but had some limitations due to a limited version of Windows. That limitation is gone. The other difference in 2015 is that it’s all easier, quick and works more smoothly. Moving from Surface to Lumia is straight-forward with a shared Windows 10 core, applications that work on both and the ability to pop into desktop mode on my phone makes finishing updates to documents dead easy.

Now, admittedly, the old homestead is still more productive, but even then, the shared tools mean no more copying, file moving and syncing:

-The Better Big Brother

-The Better Big Brother

There never was a better time to be mobile, whether that’s working in your backyard, at a hotel or at Caribou. Power, precision and a lovely experience are all available on the road.

 

A couple alternative pictures:

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Continuum in action @ home

Mobile Office - 2015

Mobile Office – 2015

The Time Travel Chronicles – Diverse Perspectives on Time

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In diving into The Time Travel Chronicles, I dive into a long tradition of Science Fiction / Alternate History stories on time travel. I’ve only started into the book with Gambit and Hereafter. This is a great anthology from different perspectives, temperaments, and storylines all examining time travel. The first story I read (second in the book) is from the perspective of an historian (how cool would it be to do first-hand research; not just original sources depicting the even, but the even itself.) and the other is from a scientist. Both have the descriptive detail and moving narrative arc of a storyteller.  The Time Travel Chronicles was released just 4 days ago and tonight there’s a celebratory Facebook Launch Party! Join the fun if you want to (virtually) meet some cool authors and learn a bit more about the book (which happens to be #1 amongst SciFi Anthologies right now).

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Rysa Walker

While not the first in the book, I started with Rysa Walker’s Gambit because I recently finished Time’s Divide and was still well immersed in the Chronos Files world (starting in Time Bound, then Time’s Edge and concluding with Time’s Divide). In this story, we find a lovely peek into the first blush of Saul and Katherine’s relationship, Saul’s megalomaniac mind, and late 18th spiritualist manipulations. Ms. Walker does a nice job explaining the potential dilemmas of a time traveling historian – her main point being that we would all succumb to meddling to prevent horror and evil. We would all have fixed it so the bomb would go off in Hilter’s Eagles Nest. We would push Kennedy down sooner. We would whisk Archduke Ferdinand away. (Would that really stop the Great War? Unlikely.)  As she wrote: “Even those of us who have absolute faith in our ability to screw things up might be tempted to tweak things just a bit, whether for humanitarian reasons or for personal gain.” In other words, we would all succumb, whether for good intentions or ill, to play God, even with a deep understanding of the law of unintended consequences. It is the sin as old as time itself.

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Samuel Peralta

The next story I read, Hereafter, I read because of, well, science. Mr. Peralta writes from the perspective of a scientist. I got science, but I also got poetry and a poignant love story. Due to the physics of time travel in this book, there are only time slices accessible to us for brief periods. Like a temporal strobe light, people meet at touch points. Long distance relationships are rough, meeting in snippets of time is rougher.

While I’ve yet to read the rest of the anthology, and I will be updating this post as I do, these two stories are indicative of how differently a theme can be handled. Different isn’t bad. I love the diverse, but good perspectives both elicit. I anticipate the remaining stories to be equally diverse and well done.

Kudos to Crystal Watanabe for editing such a great anthology and all the authors for bringing their inner worlds to life for us on such a fun and provocative topic.

Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic’s Beethoven Symphony Nr. 9 – Teutonic Greatness with a Touch of British Temperament

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Remember that moment when Christian Bale hears the opening notes to Beethoven’s Nr. 9 (“Chorale”) Symphony in Equilibrium and he simply drops an Eiffle Tower snow globe, mouth agape? No? Wow, go watch it, it’s a great movie. Bale is so moved because that is the first piece of music he has ever heard in his life and he is viscerally struck by the stark beauty of it.

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I had a bit of that moment listening to Simon Rattle conduct the Vienna Philharmonic in the same piece. This time, however, it was in the lush strings in the 4th movement Allegro Assai, think very joyful, just before the introduction to what we’ve come to think of as “Ode to Joy”. The sound is so rich, it completely brought me out of my reverie. I then started to focus on the controlled pull in the music before the big sound really comes. The fusion of Simon Rattle’s and Beethoven’s dramatic flairs really pay dividends here as you are moved from lush but controlled sound to the big brass and voice introduction to “Ode to Joy”.

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Sir Simon Rattle

So I was taken by surprise in this particular recording. Some apparently think that Mr. Rattle doesn’t have the Teutonic sensibility needed for Beethoven. They suggest that British sensibilities are out of touch with the warmth and ardor of this Germanic masterpiece. I’m not going to argue the point; I’ll simply say this recording is beautifully executed, conveys emotional impact, and lays the emphasis in all the right places. Does it hold back more than some? Probably. Is it mechanical? Not even close.

From its famous opening to the chorus singing “Ode to Joy”, Mr. Rattle, along with the Vienna Philharmonic, draws us into a soundscape describing hope, fear, love, loss, and, yes, joy. With light deft touches, layered lush strings and brass clarion calls to join in, we’re brought on a wonderful musical journey. The chorus and singers perform their craft admirably.

Here’s a little taste of Mr. Rattle performing the same piece with the Berlin Philharmonic:


I’m delighted to have this recording join my collection. It stands up nicely with Herbert Von Karajan’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, albeit from a different era. Here it becomes a matter of taste. While I love von Karajan (the one I’m referencing is the ’84 DG “digital gold” recording which I like due to the great sound engineering, although the ’63 is cherished as well), there are times it seems a bit heavy handed. There are times Mr. Rattle seems a bit understated. Maybe I lack the Teutonic passion and musical wisdom of some, but both are great. Simon Rattle’s version stands tall and, at moments, takes your breath away.

Happy listening.

Anne Akiko Meyers’ Serenade – Technical Felicity Married to an Emotionally Charged Interpretation of Love.

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Anne Akiko Meyers – Courtesy anneakikomeyers.com

I’ve been living with Anne Akiko Meyers‘ Serenade album for a bit over a month now (I received it the day it released, September 18th). I usually post a little quicker, but there is so much packed into this album, I took a bit longer (plus, I was wicked busy with book reviews). This album incorporates four elements I love – philosophy, books, music, and movies. The main set piece for the album is Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade which is inspired by Plato’s Symposium; If you’re interested in it, recommend reading Percy Shelley’s translation; normally I would pick something more contemporary but for this, only a poet will do. Just to help you dust off your memory of ancient Greek Philosophy, the Symposium essentially incorporates the equivalent of after-dinner (and while drinking) speeches on the nature of love. These speeches were carried out by a number of characters, including Socrates. Aristophanes, the comic playwright, had one of the more impressive speeches. While I think C. S. Lewis’s Four Loves provides more helpful reflections on the nature of love, the Symposium is a great exposition of Platonic love. All of that being said, Mr. Bernstein indicated that these were inspirations and this symphony shouldn’t be taken as a musical translation of the ideas. For more on the philosophical aspects of the piece, please see Philosophy Talk’s Episode In Praise of Love.

One of many aspects of Ms. Meyer’s artistry I love is that she brings to light pieces outside the more standard repertoire. She gives them a peerless dust-off for a new introduction to a contemporary audience. This was the first time I’ve ever heard Serenade and I’m thrilled with the opportunity to hear it.

In the opening, you’ll find as notes slide into one another similar riffs in West Side Story. Some of the more abrupt transitions remind one of Candide and there are even hints of Mass. It’s all Bernstein and it’s all fabulous. Ms. Meyer’s brings out the emotion with precision. She continues her traditional of intimate sound albeit with the soundstage widened a bit. I can think of a number of artists who could play the fast staccato with equal felicity and a number of artists who can evoke the emotion of broader movements, but it’s rare to find someone who can interpret and execute that interpretation on the wide array of soundscapes Ms. Meyers paints. It’s beautifully done.

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Ms. Meyers next ploughs into (mostly) love themes from the cinema. The Morricones’ “Love Theme” from Cinema Paradiso is one of my favorites, as is “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission. Both of those are lovely, lilting pieces that pull at our hearts, but not in a cloying way. They contain haunting, piercing beauty that is almost overwhelming. Contrast these with the much broader, lush “Laura” or “Someone to Watch Over Me.” While both types are good, there’s a bit more sentimentality layered on the later.

Michele Colombier’s “Emmanuel” is somewhere between the two. It doesn’t pierce but rather permeates your soul with its melody. Ms. Meyers plays directly on your heart and she’s pulling all of the strings. She then brings the Latin heat of the Tango with Jacob Gade’s “Jalousie”. I felt a bit liked I’ve stumbled onto a 30’s movie set listening to this one. Yet Ms. Meyer’s treats it with the same care, respect and dexterity as any piece by Bach. It all works so well. Matthew Naughtin’s arrangement of “Jalousie” flows admirably into Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” (what, no concertina?)

While there is unity of theme, this album has a variety of styles yet Ms. Meyers make it seem like they belong together. Not because she makes them sound alike but because of the similar musical themes and her excellent, consistent playing. While some may be tempted to dismiss the album as a bit too pop-oriented, it is a treasure trove of beautiful songs that round out Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade.

The Literary Landscape In 2015: The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

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Writing is a tough profession. It’s probably one of the things you want to do for living only if you can’t stop yourself. It is particularly challenging now. There are, we’re told, fewer readers. It’s also impossible to just write; you have to be a project manager, marketer, public relations person and you had better be nice to boot. We’ve heard the frightful statistics with regard to average amount of books read (although Pew Research suggests this may not be as bad as thought) combined with more being published than ever before (there were 391,000 books published in the US in 2013 (including a 59% increase in self-published books), see The Guardian; that’s a lot of choices. Add on top of this the plethora of choices on where to spend their time make writing a difficult profession. So, the literary landscape of 2015 finds challenges for an author but also has more ways to get her work in front of the eyes of readers than ever before.  While there are more avenues than ever before from which to publish and the barriers for doing so lower than ever before, the financial rewards are also harder to come by. Yes,  the writer’s world is fraught with opportunities and challenges above and beyond those normally found in the craft of writing. Of course, I’m not sure there ever was a time that any but a few could make a living writing while avoiding promotional activities like book tours.

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For the reader, however, it seems to be a golden age. At least for this reader, books, short stories, poems, audiobooks, and even audio plays are more available than ever before. For all the putative evil of that Goliath, Amazon, many of the barriers of financial and other access have been dramatically reduced due to the mixed blessing of their efforts. They have considerably eased the process of self and independent publishing; I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it is possible beyond an old-school vanity print. They have programs like Amazon Crossing which publishes translations of non-English work (such as Rosa Montero’s brilliant Tears in Rain) and spur on new writers through programs like Kindle Scout. Now, before I start sounding like a shill for Amazon, they are an 800-pound gorilla in publishing and they’ll abuse that position. I will read fewer books if it means a “Fair Trade” for authors rather than abuse of their labor. Nonetheless, these programs, and others like them by other companies, help bring new, diverse work into the readers hands. Audible, now an Amazon company, has done much the same for audiobooks. Now, some might argue that the craft of writing and narrating have suffered as a consequence. All of the support of editors and the publisher’s critical eye is missing, at least in self-publication and the quality narrating audiobooks may have diminished due to placing a narrator in a booth with little or no direction. Surely quantity doesn’t override quality (all of the twentieth century has seen more publications than we can reasonably read). No, it not just more voices given a venue in literature, but the kinds of voices who would not have a platform. You cannot deny the reduced physical cost of publishing a book (especially compared to a traditional publishing of a hardback) and distributing it has been substantially reduced as have producing audiobooks  (no more huge plastic cases of cassettes) and financial hurdles to audio books. Remember renting abridged audiobooks? Me neither.

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Not only are more books published, many quite good and more diverse than traditional publishing provided, and made accessible, but connection with authors is easier than ever before. Through social media, sites like Riffle and Goodreads (yes another company brought into the Amazon fold) and easier direct interaction, there are a myriad of ways to connect with your favorite authors. There are opportunities like NetGalley providing ways to be involved in the publishing process as never before. Becoming a beta reader, giving feedback on advanced reviewer’s copies and writing reviews on places like Medium and WordPress allow your passion to be shared far beyond your local book club.

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This fall, at least for me, provides a stark example of how intense it can become. I had the opportunity to read and review five books published within two months (September and October). Now for some of you, that’s no great shakes. For this humble soul, with wife, children and a day job, this was a challenging schedule. I was a beta reader for one of the books, part of a blog tour for another and a joined a launch party on Facebook for a third. While I somewhat bemoaned them all coming out so closely together, how cool of a literary world is it when you can be so involved with authors and some great work. Interestingly enough, all of them are part of a series. Michael Underwood’s Hexomancy (September release) the third (full) Ree Reyes book, Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant (October Release) is the second Worldbreaker book, Christina Farley’s Brazen (September release) is the third Gilded series book, Rysa Walker’s Time’s Divide (October Release) is the third Chronos Files book and N. J. Tanger’s Helios (October Release) is the second Universe Eventual book. What a privilege it is to join in, share, review, and celebrate all of these new works. Obviously, the first line of thanks goes to the authors and their hard work, but all of the confluences of digital publishing, social media, author sites and timing made it possible for me to join in.

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Now this doesn’t account for all my “reading” during these two months. Due to the joy of audiobooks (and longish walks), I also read Jennifer Foehner Well’s Fluency, Frank Herbert’s Dune (first time I heard it on audio – amazing multi-cast narrative performance),  Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath: Star Wars (another well-produced multi-cast performance), Camille Griep’s Letters to Zell,  Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet: Dauntless,  Wesley Chu’s Rebirths of Tao, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion,  David Wong’s Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits and Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (David Tennant was amazing). No, I haven’t reviewed them all and some, like Dune, I’ll never review – they have their audience and acclaim. Given what I’ve read about the average number of books folks read (the median for American adults over 18 is 5 books a year according to a 2013 Pew Research Study) this isn’t too bad for two months. Again it isn’t just about quantity. During these two months,  I experienced the joys of watching geek interest become superpowers, the waxing and waning of various moons dramatically affecting multiple diverse cultures and their politics, good guy and bad guy time travelers battling for the true future, and teams attempting to save humanity while they tear themselves apart.

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This was just the written word. I listened to the challenge of alien species interacting with humans, a desert messiah rise up against an empire, the ongoing fight against another Empire (and those who misguidedly serve it), joined three close knit friends who happen to be princesses bemoaning the loss of one of their number to running a Unicorn preserve, followed a well orchestrate military action in space, fought the good fight against a race who thinks humans are expendable, listened to beautiful stories of love and loss against a hellish beast, a daughter come into a modern gangster’s inheritance in a future Las Vegas-style town and witness life and death struggle against a leader in SMERSH with the unlikely help of the Unione Corse (Corsican mafia). Those who haven’t read these book experienced none of this (at least not in the way these authors provide). So, while it was somewhat of a feat to visually and audibly read these books, the benefit is all mine.

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While I will always love the smell and feel of printed books, there is no way I could’ve done this with only physical copies. Publishers could not afford to send out advanced review copies to as many as they do now by making e-books available, I would not have had an opportunity to read, let alone review this many physical books. For one, I couldn’t have afforded them. For another, I could not have had them so often easily by my side, nor could I so easily keep notes in search to help in preparation for reviews. That’s just the written works. Back in the cassette or CD days, I would’ve been lucky to be able to afford and find time to listen to one of the audiobooks. Libraries would not have had the diverse kinds of literature to which I listened.

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No, this is the best of days to be a reader and for many authors, the only days their work would have seen the light of day. So, I get it that many people harken back to the days of small, local bookstores and print books, and I love those as well, but I’m glad I also have e-books, downloadable audiobooks and ways to engage with authors beyond the occasional book signing or conference.

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