Max Whirlpool: A tidbit

Max Whirlpool (16) shown immediately after being unplugged, and waiting to be escorted outside of the kitchen, for smoking.

Max Whirlpool (16) has been expelled from the kitchen for smoking. A representative from the kitchen, who wishes to remain anonymous because he is unauthorized to speak on behalf of management, stated: “We practice tough love. There is no discrimination. Any electrical appliance caught smoking will be treated exactly the same way as Whirlpool. It will be removed from service. ” He added that Whirlpool has worked in the kitchen since 2003.

Our next microwave oven will not be a Whirlpool. That is not because of any dissatisfaction with Max, until the smoking incident. It is more related to Whirlpool as a corporation. It does not appear to take the health and safety of consumers seriously. In fact, even when one of its products was clearly to blame for a massive loss of life, 72 people, it attempted to blame others.

Recently, the Guardian reported that the Grenfell fire report “… went further than many expected, as did Moore-Bick’s dismissal of attempts by corporate groups to delay or prevent findings that might count against them, such as the “fanciful” claim by Whirlpool – the manufacturer of the Hotpoint fridge-freezer – that the fire could have been started by a cigarette.”

Earlier, the Guardian had reported on another fire, where MP Andy Slaughter said “… the government should learn from a serious fire in his constituency in 2016, when a faulty Indesit tumble dryer started a blaze in the Shepherds Court tower block in Shepherd’s Bush, west London. Residents escaped with minor injuries. Twenty fire engines and 120 firefighters attended the scene.

The same article cited a letter to UK business secretary Larry Clark, where Slaughter stated “that Whirlpool – which owns both Hotpoint and Indesit brands – had “a poor history of fire safety”.

Wikipedia, in a section titled UK Dryer Fire Risk, in its article about Whirlpool Corporation, writes: “Safety warnings about tumble dryers published on the Indesit and Hotpoint websites in 2015 advised customers that “In some rare cases, excess fluff can come into contact with the heating element and present a risk of fire.” Condensers and vented tumble dryers sold under the brands Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline and manufactured over an 11-year period between April 2004 and September 2015 present a fire risk. An estimated 5.3 million tumble dryers were bought in the UK over the time period. Originally, and even after several fires were confirmed as being caused by faulty devices, Whirlpool advised customers that using such devices was safe provided they were not left unattended but would not issue a product recall. Whirlpool offered to fix faulty machines or replace tumble dryers at a cost of £99 – an offer met with derision with consumer groups and in the press. Parliament discussed widespread difficulties with getting faulty machines fixed or replaced, including long wait times and poor service.”

Max’s replacement Sam, a Samsung MS23K3515AW purchased for NOK 900, has arrived in Inderøy. We have spent some time learning how to operate Sam. We are looking forward to working with him to serve our modest microwaving needs in the coming years: reheating food/ beverages and defrosting. Sam is originally from Malaysia.

The Charm of Sandwiches

In a weblog post about sandwiches, no American or Canadian can fail to mention Dagwood Bumstead and his impossibly high Dagwood sandwiches. Chic Young (1901-1973) created the comic strip Blondie 1930-09-08. It relates the adventures of flapper Blondie Boopadoop both before, but especially after, her marriage to Dagwood, and their life together with children Alexander and Cookie and dog Daisy, in Joplin, Missouri. In my childhood, this comic strip was required reading.

In this weblog post, the topic is the vegan recreation of iconic meat based sandwiches including tuna, clubhouse and BLT – bacon, lettuce, tomato. It is inspired by an article in the Guardian, about upcoming vegetarian makeover at Pret a Manger: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/oct/17/pret-a-manger-gives-blt-a-vegan-makeover

Some common ingredients: Cheese, at Cliff Cottage, refers specifically to just one variant – Cheddar, which was the only type of cheese its residents actually grew up with; Roasted shiitake mushrooms are used to imitate rashers of bacon; mayonnaise can be regular or vegan, depending on whether or not the consumption of eggs is a dietary consideration.

Cheese Fantasy (a Cheese Dream, but without the bacon)

Open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with roasted shiitake mushrooms.

FLT (Fungus, lettuce, tomato)

Pret a Manger refers to their equivalent as VLT, as if mushrooms were vegetables. Roasted shiitake mushrooms, with sliced tomatoes, green salad and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise can be filled with finely chopped tofu.

Funa (fake tuna)

Kabuli chickpeas aka garbanzo beans, can successfully mimic tuna. They are crushed then flavoured with chopped pickled onions, capers and seaweed mixed with vegan or regular mayonnaise, depending on whether or not the consumption of eggs is a problem. The precise formulations are left as an experimental exercise.

Gladys sandwich

This sandwich is named after Gladys Love Presley (née Smith; 1912 – 1958) who made these sandwiches for her son, Elvis (1935 – 1977). It consists of toasted bread slices with peanut butter, sliced or mashed banana. Originally it sometimes contained bacon. Where this taste is wanted, roasted shiitake mushrooms can be substituted. Honey is sometimes used as a condiment.

Hangout (is the new clubhouse)

Wikipedia tells us that vegetarian club sandwiches often include hummus, avocado or spinach, as well as substitute the real bacon with a vegetarian alternative. Mustard and sometimes honey mustard are common condiments. The sandwich is commonly served with an accompaniment of either coleslaw, or potato salad, and often garnished with a pickle. Due to high fat and carb content from the bread, bacon and dressing, club sandwiches have sometimes been criticized as unhealthy.

Waterloo Sandwich

Food writers James Beard (1903 – 1985) and Evan Jones (1915 – 1996) believed that the Denver sandwich was created by Chinese chefs who cooked for logging camps and railroad gangs in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was probably derived from egg foo young. The first written reference to a Denver sandwich appears 1903-04-07 in the, Semi Weekly Iowa State Reporter (Waterloo, Iowa), pg.  6, col. 1. In honour of this, the hamless equivalent of a Denver sandwich, has been renamed the Waterloo sandwich. It features shiitake mushrooms, onions and green peppers in a cheese omelette.

Conclusion

Reducing red meat consumption in sandwiches doesn’t seem to be a major problem, as long as one appreciates roasted shiitake mushrooms!

Climate Crisis Links: A tidbit

Does this image meet all seven principles for climate visuals? Check out the last link in the list below to find out. In the great climate debate, it may be difficult to tell – or even to know – what truth is, for there can be many different varieties and perspectives on it. However, attempting to tell a truth is better than the alternative, which is to engage in obscuring it, which is much broader problem than that of simply telling obvious lies. Photo: Joël de Vriend

The world is in crisis, and it is time to act now. There is only one person who can decide how you should act, and what you should prioritize. Despite this caveat, here are some links.

World Scientists’ warning of a climate emergency 2019-11-05: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806

Nobody is prepared: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/most-countries-climate-plans-totally-inadequate-experts

Previous warning statements to put current events into perspective

Second warning (2017): https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/12/1026/4605229

First warning (1992): https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/1992-world-scientists-warning-humanity

UN Sustainable Development Goals website: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

The 7 climate visuals principles: https://climatevisuals.org/evidence-behind-climate-visuals

The Charm of a Uniti

The production model Uniti One, available in three gray colours. (Photo: Uniti)

Uniti began life as an open innovation project at Lund University in 2015, then emerged as a Swedish electric vehicle startup in 2016. It is developing an advanced city car. What first attracted my attention, was the replacement of the steering wheel with a joy-stick. Most of the mechanical system appeared equally innovative, and claimed to be sustainable, whatever that means.

Prototype development was funded through an equity-crowdfunding campaign on the Swedish platform FundedByMe, with 570 investors contributing €1,227,990.

The design mandate of the Uniti One seems to be in a state of flux. At one time, it was a relatively unsafe L7e quadricycle. Now, thankfully, it is being lauched as a M1 vehicle requiring crash testing, and more safety equipment. Other details, such as seating arrangements have also been subject to change. It was a side by side 2 seater, before it became one with one person sitting behind another. Now it is launching as a 3 seater, with a driver in the middle in front, with space for two passengers behind. Trunk space is adequate to hold a packed lunch and a charging cable, at 155 litres.

With a 50 kW electric motor and 62 Nm of torque, and a mass under 600 kg, the Uniti One can reach 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds. It has a computer controlled top speed of 120 km/h.

The Uniti One comes with an electrochromatic panoramic roof that darkens automatically to keep the car cool when parked in direct sunlight. Its virtual sun visor darkens the top of the windshield when the sun is in the drivers eyes.

An Android operating system controls the infotainment system and most of the standard features of the car. Voice commands can be issued. Its systems are regularly updated over the air.

A high strength safety cage surrounds the driver and passengers keeps interior deformation to a minimum, in the event of a collision. Other standard safety equipment include driver’s airbag, anti-lock braking, electronic stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Intel MobilEye 6 collision avoidance system provides forward collision and lane departure warnings, speed limit indicator, and warning for potential collisions with pedestrians or bicycles and their riders, in real time.

In its current state, what appeals most about the Uniti One is that much of the equipment is optional, which means that people declining options can end up with a lower cost vehicle. Currently, the base model costs about €18 000, before subsidies. The only options I would insist on would be the Intel Mobileye 6 collision avoidance system (€ 700), winter tires (€ 400) and possibly air conditioning (€ 300). This is not a highway vehicle, so a 150 km range with a standard 12 kWh battery and a slow 3.2 kW charger seem adequate. It seems wasteful to spend €2 800 each on a 24 kWh battery and a 22 kW charger.

In terms of a computer vehicle transporting one person and a lunch bag in an urban environment, this is probably a good choice except, in urban environments there is public transport, which would be a better choice.

That said, my greatest disappointment with the production vehicle is its steering wheel, with no joy-stick in sight.

Uniti One interior, available in gray. (Photo: Uniti)

Mere morals: A tidbit

Old Tjikko is the world’s oldest clonal Norway Spruce (Picea abies) with a root system about 9 550 years old. It is located close to the Norwegian border, but in Sweden, on Fulufjället Mountain, in Dalarna province in Sweden. Photo: Lief Kullman, the physical geographer who discovered the tree and named it after his late dog.

Except for a few trees that have existed for a millennium or more, hydrazoans that can regress to a larval state and regrow into adults multiple times, and single-celled organisms that replicate through cell division, most living organisms are young. Some live days or weeks, others a single year, still others decades, and a few a century or more.

My mother celebrated her 103rd birthday this past week, but what I notice is her lack of friends, something she has commented on since before she was 90. They have all died off. The last one lived to 102.

Reflecting on this I have decided that it makes most sense to seek out friendships with younger, rather than older, people. If people were 30 years younger, then when I reach 90, they will still be a youthful 60 (or less). Hopefully, most of them will still be alive.

This means that I am prioritizing friendships with people who are born in 1975 or later. Yet, I do not intend to be fanatical. If I find someone interesting born in, say 1947, or earlier, I will also offer them friendship.

For various reasons, some people choose to have pets (companion animals). Are these creatures substitutes for friends? In many cases it appears so. I feel absolutely no need to complicate my life co-habitating with a cat or dog or even a Guinea pig, and especially not a younger woman.

Data: The world’s oldest individual from a clonal tree is Old Tjikko, about 9 550-year-old. This Norway spruce located the in Fulufjället Mountains in Sweden, according to Leif Kullman, Umeå University. Old Tjikko is suspected to be the only living trunk of an ancient clonal colony.

The tree’s age was revealed by carbon-14 dating its root system. Four generations of spruce remains were found at the site, all with the same genetics. Spruce trees can multiply by cloning, so while the individual trunk is younger, the organism has existed for at least 9 550 years. There is a cluster of about 20 spruce trees in these Swedish mountains estimated to be over 8 000 years old.

The oldest known living animal is a nematode, recovered in 2015 near the Alazeya River, in Siberia, Russia, and revived. It was dated at approximately 41 700 years old – making it more than four times older than Old Tjikko.

Note: This post differs from some other tidbits. It was written 2019-10-30.

A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In this weblog, most tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been awaiting editing and expansion for at least six (6) months. Today, I am flaunting these rules, and exposing myself once again as a rebel.

Democracy

Shawn W. Rosenberg claims that western democracy is devouring itself and won’t last. Rosenberg’s prognosis is that over the coming decades, western democracies will decline in number. Those that remain will become shrivelled pseudo-democratic incarnations of themselves. Right-wing populist governments will offer voters (and increasingly non-voting citizens) simple answers to complicated questions.

And therein lies the core of his argument: Democracy is difficult and requires effort from those who participate in it. It requires people to: respect those with different views from theirs and people who don’t look like them; process vast amounts of information and separate good from bad, truth from falsehood; apply thoughtfulness, discipline and logic.

While Rosenberg focuses his professional attention on what is happening, my amateur status allows me to fantasize on why. Once again, I will target the evils of conservative and libertarian economics, which has created a miniscule minority of winners, while it has also created an ever increasing mob of losers: People pressed into earning less than a living wage, whose time has been stolen from them, so they have little opportunity for rest (including proper sleep) and relaxation, let alone for the effort required to maintain a democracy.

Democracy is not a single, unified way of governing, but a family of approaches to government. American political scientist Larry Diamond, states that a democracy must fulfill four key characteristics: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. See: Larry Diamond and Morlino, L., The quality of democracy. In Larry Diamond, In Search of Democracy (2016).

Said another way, democracy can be operationalized in different ways, yet still fulfill these four basic elements.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (microstates are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy ”; “flawed democracy ”; “hybrid regime”; and “authoritarian regime”. (p. 2)

My position is privileged, living in Norway, the country ranked #1, in the latest published (2018) Index, and raised in Canada, tied at #6. Altogether there are 20 full democracies of 167 countries, representing 4.5 percent of the world’s population.

This weblog post is scheduled for publication 2019-10-29, the day that celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Báb, born Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819 – 1850), the first of two prophets in the Bahá’í Faith.

The Báb declared His mission on the night of 23 May 1844 in the upper portion of His house in Shíráz, Iran. This photo shows that portion before its destruction in 1979. Photo: Copyright © Bahá’í International Community

The principles of the Baha’i Faith include: gender equality; the harmony of science and religion; the need for universal compulsory education; the need for a universal auxiliary language; an obligation to independently investigate truth; and, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty. One of the appeals of the Baha’i Faith, when I first encountered it in 1972, was its administrative order, including its system of elections. Perhaps that is what Shoghi Effendi (1897 – 1957), Guardian (head) of the Baha’i Faith from 1921 – 1957, was aware of, when he implemented the current incarnation of a Baha’i administrative order.

This administrative order does not pretend to be entirely democratic. Shoghi Effendi stated that it incorporates elements of autocracy, aristocracy and democracy. His objective was to include “such wholesome elements as are to be found in each one of them…” while excluding the “admitted evils inherent in each of these systems…” so it “cannot ever degenerate into any form of despotism, of oligarchy, or of demagogy which must sooner or later corrupt the machinery of all man-made and essentially defective political institutions.”

Baha’i elections are at variance from standard western democratic practice. At the local, regional (uncommon), national and world level there are boards (Spiritual Assemblies/ House of Justice) each currently consisting of nine members. Nominations and campaigning are prohibited to guard against manipulation. Voters are discouraged from consulting with each other about the suitability of individuals. However, they are encouraged to study and discuss, in abstract, the qualities needed to serve, but without to individuals. Individuals should be voted for on the basis of their qualities.

Many thanks to Jeanette Livesay, who provided inspiration, and a link to an article The Shocking Paper Predicting the End of Democracy: Human brains aren’t built for self-rule, says Shawn Rosenberg. That’s more evident than ever by Rick Shenkman in Politico.

Humanity Plus: A tidbit

An artists rendering of a Bernal Sphere, a hollow non-rotating spherical shell 16 km in diameter, with a target population of 20 000 to 30 000 people, and filled with air. The space habitat was intended as a long-term home for permanent residents. It was first proposed in 1929 by John Desmond Bernal. Artwork: Rick Guidice, 1976.

The definition of transhumanism used by the World Transhumanist Association is: an advocacy, for the ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities.

For religious transhumanists, the operative word is ethical.

Some early writers:

J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) Daedalus: Science and the Future, 1923 http://bactra.org/Daedalus.html

J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) The World, the Flesh and the Devil, 1929 http://www.quarkweb.com/foyle/WorldFleshDevil.pdf

W. D. Lighthall (1857-1954) The Law of Cosmic Evolutionary Adaptation: An Interpretation of Recent Thought, 1940, discussed in, Peter Harrison & Joseph Wolyniak, The History of ‘Transhumanism’. Notes and Queries 62, 2015, 465–7 https://doi.org/10.1093/notesj/gjv080

Julian Huxley (1887-1975) Transhumanism, in, New Bottles for New Wine, London: Chatto & Windus, 1957, pp. 13-17 https://web.archive.org/web/20160625132722/http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/more/huxley  

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence, 1960. http://courses.csail.mit.edu/6.803/pdf/steps.pdf  

I. J. Good (1916-2009) Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine, Advances in Computers, vol. 6, 1965. https://web.archive.org/web/20111128085512/http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Good-Speculations-Concerning-the-First-Ultraintelligent-Machine.pdf  

Note: This post was intended to be a chronology of Transhumanism. It was originally written 2018-07-11 and saved at 20h13m36s. It is published in this inferior state to acknowledge that the topic is no longer being prioritized by this writer, and to encourage others, who may have an interest in the subject, to create related, but more interesting, in-depth weblog posts.

A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In this weblog, tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been awaiting editing and expansion for at least six (6) months.

The Charm of Synths

Two versions of the Switched-on Bach album cover appeared. The one above was the first one used. Unfortunately, the synthesizer is incorrectly set up. The earphones are plugged into the input. The output isn’t connected to anything, offering silence as the synthesizer’s final product. A second cover, with a standing Bach, corrected these faults.

It is now over fifty years since I first heard a recording of a synthesizer, and became intrigued (but not enthralled) by this rather artificial music production machine, as were many other young people. As is frequently the case, the older generation was more sceptical. Wendy (then Walter) Carlos (1939 – ) performed on and programmed the synthesizer, Benjamin Folkman (? – ) performed on supplementary keyboards, while Rachel Elkind (1939 – ) produced. The album was Switched-on Bach (1968), and referred to ten works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) in the public domain.

These pieces were played on a modular Moog synthesizer. The recording process was labour intensive, and necessitated a close cooperation with Robert Moog (1934 – 2005), designer of the instrument. A custom 8-track recording machine was built by Carlos from components. The synthesizer was monophonic, meaning only one note could be played at a time. This meant that each track had to be added individually. Each note had to be released before the next note could start. In addition the synthesizer frequently needed to be tuned, because of tonal drift. The album took approximately five months and about one thousand hours to produce. By 1974 over a million copies of it had been sold.

Why anyone would want to buy an off-the-shelf synthesizer is beyond my comprehension. Synths are ideal DIY projects. Despite this, there are several approaches that can be taken to build one.

YouTube contains a number of sites dedicated to music and electronics. The one I have found most useful is Notes & Volts. Its three basic Arduino videos provide insights that go beyond the introductory tutorials provided by Jeremy Blum: Arduino on a Breadboard; Arduino as ISP; Arduino on a Proto-Board. It also has 9 videos about MIDI for the Arduino. All of these provide insights that extend far beyond the Arduino. There are also several music related projects, including an Arduino Granular Synth and a Teensy Synth. More information about the Teensy Synth is available at Arduino Slovakia. Teensy is a development board made in Sherwood, Oregon. The latest version, 4.0 uses an ARM Cortex-M7 processor at 600 MHz. However, the Notes & Volts synth specifies version 3.2 using a much less powerful ARM Cortex-M4 processor at 72 MHz.

Another approach is to find a kit, buy it and build it, slavishly following provided instructions. Elektor is probably the best place to look. It is a bi-monthly electronics magazine first published in Dutch in 1960, and in English since 1975, renamed ElektorLabs magazine in 2019. It offers a wide range of electronic projects, background articles and targets engineers as well as enthusiasts. Synthesizers are just one area of many, where PCBs, kits and modules are available. Microcontroller based projects have downloadable source code and (sometimes) executable files available free of charge from their website, along with PCB and other artwork.

People who regard assembly of an IKEA flatpack, as DIY, will be pleased to hear that Eurorack is the flatpack standard for modular synths. The format was originally specified in 1996 by Doepfer Musikelektronik. There are two basic technical specifications that have to be met:

The starting point for constructing a Eurorack is usually a case and power supply. DIY cheaters, will be able to buy these either separately, or together. The electrical specifications require the use of a red stripe to mark the -12V supply on each module’s power cable, and include keyed connectors which physically prevent modules from being plugged in incorrectly. 3.5 mm monojacks are used to connect

Purists will then populate their rack with modules containing sources and processors.

Sources – characterized by an output, but no signal input; it may have control inputs:

  • VCO – Voltage-controlled oscillator, a continuous voltage source, with an output signal that may be a simple or dynamically modified waveform.
  • Noise source – A random voltage output typically providing white, pink and/ or low frequency noise.
  • LFO – A low-frequency oscillator, optionally voltage-controlled. Typically used as a control voltage for another module.
  • EG – An envelope generator is a transient voltage source, typically configured as ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) to control the amplitude of a VCA.
  • Sequencer, aka Analog Step Sequencer, may act as a source or a processor.

Processors – characterized by a signal input and an output; it may have control inputs:

  • VCF – Voltage-controlled filter, attenuates = lessens frequencies below (high-pass), above (low-pass) or both below and above (band-pass) or between (band-reject = notch) certain frequency. Typically with variable resonance, sometimes voltage-controlled.
  • VCA – Voltage-controlled amplifier, typically a unity-gain amplifier which varies the amplitude of a signal in response to an applied control voltage, with a linear or exponential response curve.
  • LPG – Low pass gate using a resistive opto-isolator to respond to the control voltage.
  • RM – Ring modulator where two audio inputs create sum and difference frequencie but suppress original signals.
  • Mixer – A module that adds voltages.
  • Slew limiter – Sub-audio lowpass filter.
  • S&H – Sample and hold, typically used as a control-voltage processor.
  • Sequencer- (see above).

To populate their rack appropriately, the ModularGrid database can be used to find suitable modules. As this is being written in 2019-10, there are 8 525 Eurorack modules to choose from, that have populated 224 551 racks in the Eurorack universe.

The advantage of a modular synth is that it can be whatever one wants it to be. The user is the designer. It is relatively easy to customize. It also allows the user to start off small, and to expand gradually. This has a second advantage. It takes time to learn how to use gear. One can start off by reading the manual, but then one has to experiment. Patching = connecting with 3.5 mm monojack cables, is part of this process. If a module turns out to be of limited use, it can be sold – or even traded.

David & Charles: A tidbit

Originally written as Publishers, then changed to Some British Publishers.

I am happy that there were many publishing houses in the world. Variety was the staple of the book trade, and much needed in today’s uniformed world. In this post, I thought I would reminisce about one of the publishing houses that influenced me over many years, David & Charles.

David St John Thomas and Charles Hadfield started David & Charles at Newton Abbot, Devon in 1960. I found their titles on Britain’s canals and railways fascinating, and in particular their works that incorporated industrial archaeology. It did not hurt their reputation that the company was based in the Newton Abbot railway station building or that the locomotive shed was used as a warehouse. They also published travel books, including an Islands series and the Light and the Land photography books by Colin Baxter. In 1971, the company bought Readers’ Union, with book clubs for even more enthusiasts such as needlecraft and other handicrafts, gardening, horses and photography. The company was sold to the American F+W Publications in 2000. F+W were similar specialist publishers, but for the American market.

Note: This post was intended to provide information about several British publishers. The others to be included were: Faber & Faber, Observer Books and Pelican Books. It was originally written 2018-02-08 and saved at 02h07m41s. It is published in this inferior state to acknowledge that the topic is no longer being prioritized by this writer, and to encourage others, who may have an interest in the subject, to create related, but more interesting, in-depth weblog posts.

A tidbit is can be defined as: 1: a choice morsel of food. This usage dates from about 1640; 2: a choice or pleasing bit (as of information). In the context of this weblog, tidbits will refer to shorter draft posts, that have been waiting to be edited and expanded for at least six (6) months.


The Charm of Keyboards

Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, the original programmable polyphonic synthesizer, and the spiritual ancestor of every polyphonic keyboard synthesizer produced today. Photo: sequential.com

Pianists are typically dependent on the venues where they play, to provide them with an appropriate instrument. Without a team of roadies, it just isn’t practical to load a piano onto the back of a tour bus, and offload it for every concert/ gig. Other musicians may have instruments with considerably lower mass. A piccolo weighs in at about 160 g, a flute is generally less than a kilo, a trumpet just slightly more. Even a tuba has a mass of 20 kg or less. An upright piano weighs about 200 kg, and a grand piano may reach 500 kg, or more.

The pianoforte was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 – 1731) about 1700. This early instrument is a vastly different from the one in use today, which is a distinctive product of the industrial revolution. Not only does the modern version offer a larger tonal range, its treble register is enriched by using a three string choir. Wire strings mounted onto an iron frame, precision cast to withstand the tremendous tension of these strings, also offer the opportunity to vary loudness. Accessibility to the piano was enhanced with the invention of an upright piano in 1826 by Robert Wornum (1780 – 1852).

Is the acoustic piano still fit for purpose in the 21st-century? Opinions are mixed.

Enter the keyboard. Even one that is relatively massive, such as the Yamaha MX88 with its 88 full-sized, touch-sensitive keys, weighs in with a mass of less than 15 kg. It is a lightweight and portable synthesizer, augmented with over 1 000 voices from a sound engine that can mimic strings, woodwinds, brass and even pianos! Many professional users complain that it doesn’t work well as a synthetic pipe-organ, in part because it lacks drawbars, and features a piano oriented keybed. Keybed refers to the keys of a keyboard and their underlying mechanisms.

I am imagining my mail box filling with an infinite number of virtual complaints from irritated Scandinavians for my failure to prioritize their regional favourite, the Swedish Clavia Nord. To make amends, I will not mention other Japanese brands such as Casio, Korg or Roland that make impressive keyboards, but focus all my energies for the rest of this paragraph to describe a Nord Electro 6. Yes, it weighs less than the Yamaha. Yes, it has fewer keys (73 or 61), but the keybeds are available in two flavours, hammer action for pianists, and weighted waterfall for organists. Yes, it can imitate 1960’s transistor organs, Vox Continental and Farfisa Compact. Yes, it is available in an attractive red. It also costs over twice the price (over NOK 20 000), compared to a Yamaha (less than NOK 10 000).

Stop! I’ve tried to illustrate by example, a major problem with many equipment reviews. They attempt to compare two (or sometimes even three or more) products, and are far too taken up with the specific qualities of some market leaders, rather than looking at the principles that will help a person decide what sort of product they need.

It is important to understand the intended purpose of a keyboard. There are different qualities of keyboards for different purposes. A synthesizer is a keyboard that produces sounds, without additional equipment, although some may need amplifiers and/ or speakers. A keyboard synth is especially useful for musicians interested in practising and performing. It is something that will fit in any practice room as well as any performance venue. Most use sample-based synthesis, using pre-recorded sounds. The Yamaha MX88 is an example of such an instrument. In contrast, the Nord Electro 6 is – at least in part – an analogue synth that manipulate electrical signals to create sounds. The number of keys on these instruments can vary, but with 49, 61 and 88 being three standard offerings.

For composing and recording, a music workstation is an upscale device from a synth, that can be more appropriate for recording work because it incorporates more hardware and software. It is also more difficult to use. It is essentially a computer in disguise. The most important additions involve onboard storage, such as hard disk drives or SD card slots capable of preserving multi-track recordings of performances. They typically include a touch-screen display. Connectivity to and from other devices is also important. Perhaps the most important music workstation was the Open Labs Production Station, introduced in 2003. Unfortunately, Open Labs went out of business in 2010. Many music workstations use custom operating systems built on top of the Linux kernel. Less sophisticated, but more portable models, are often referred to as arranger keyboards.

Digital pianos differ from the above instruments in that they only try to fake one instrument – an acoustic piano. Typically, they use weighted keybeds or hammer action to realistically simulate the feel of an acoustic piano. Their embedded sound clips are most often sourced from acoustic pianos, with realistic sustain and decay programmed in. Most digital pianos have 88 keys. Amplifiers and speakers may be separate, or built into console units designed for residential use.

Most modern electric organs today use sample based sound synthesis, but incorporate drawbars and modulation wheels to modify sounds.

If, at this point, I were asked which of these I would prefer, my honest answer would have to be – none of the above. My interest in a keyboard is limited to having a MIDI controller, a device that generates and transmits Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data to other MIDI-enabled devices that will ultimately play some form of electronic music, when attached to appropriate amplifiers and speakers/ headphones.

MIDI controllers come in various of forms including drum pads and other control surfaces, samplers, sequences and other units with knobs and/ or sliders, as well as keyboards. There are even wind (read: breath) control units. This means that I want a synthesizer separate from the keyboard. Potentially, it could be inside a computer, but even here there is a need for flexibility.

Keyboard MIDI controllers vary in the numbers of keys offered (from 25 to 88) and response characteristics. They can be velocity-sensitive – where they respond to the speed at which they are pressed; varying degrees of weighting for varying degrees of piano like realism; with or without aftertouch, to assign additional parameters including vibrato or filter sweeps. The most impressive characteristic of a keyboard MIDI controller is its cost, typically from less than NOK 1 000 to 3 000.

The MIDI communication protocol avoids sounds, but encrypts parameters that specify sound characteristics so that a hardware or software instrument can decrypt them and play a sequence of sounds. In 2019-01 a new MIDI 2.0 was announced, updating MIDI with auto-configuration, new DAW/web integrations, extended resolution, increased expressiveness and tighter timing. It is backward compatible with previous versions of MIDI, preserving the interoperability of older devices.

There are two other devices that should be mentioned in conjunction with keyboards. A sequencer is a device that records MIDI data and plays it in a user-programmed sequence. It is in essence a 21st-century player piano. A sampler records live sounds digitally to produce audio clips. These clips can be manipulated in various ways. Some keyboards incorporate sequencing and or sampling capabilities, usually implemented using a combination of hardware and software.

An alternative approach to the use of a keyboard synthesizer or a music workstation, is to use a Eurorack modular synthesizer. Its format was originally specified in 1996 by Doepfer Musikelektronik. Currently, it is the dominant hardware modular synthesizer format. There are over 5000 modules available from more than 270 manufacturers.

Once the category of keyboard has been determined, it is then possible to specify the characteristics of its components. Here are some, in order of importance.

Connectivity: Keyboards can connect to computers (and other devices) physically for the transfer of data in a variety of ways. There are FireWire, MIDI, mLAN and S/PDIF and many other types of interfaces that will work. However, a guiding principle should be to avoid these and other legacy connectors, and stick to USB ports, where these are available. Analogue signals are another matter, XLR connectors, 6.35 mm (1/4″) TRS audio jacks and 3.5 mm TRS minijacks are all commonly used. 3.5 mm monojacks are also used to connect to Eurorack synthesizers. Digital audio can be combined with video using HDML connectors.

Number of keys: They vary from 25 to 88. Reasons for opting for less than 88 include space restrictions and musical genre. Personally, I am considering 61 keys, but will be making a mockup of both it, and a 49 key unit, to ensure it will fit onto the height adjustable desk that I will be using.

Keybed action: There are four main choices. Weighted, semi-weighted, hammer and synth. Weighted and semi-weighted offer varying degrees of resistance. Hammer action approaches the feel of an acoustic piano, with mechanical hammers. Synth action could be more properly called no action, because of its lack of resistance. Personally, I would want something in the middle (weighted or semi-weighted), rather than something more extreme.

Key sensitivity refers to the ability of a key to sense the force/ speed of a key and to either to create a sound or send an appropriate MIDI message.

To understand voicing, polyphony and timbrality it is necessary to look at some theory, along with recent technological history. Voice is used in two distinct ways. In the second paragraph, the Yamaha MX88 was described as having 1 000 voices. That is, 1 000 descriptions of how a sound potentially can be played involving an oscillator, amplifier and assorted filters. When the time comes to actually play a note, a specific voice will be selected. A monophonic instrument is one that can only play one note at a time. It cannot play chords. Most woodwinds and brass instruments are monophonic. During the 1960’s and 1970’s almost all synthesizers were also monophonic.

A polyphonic instrument allows many notes to be played simultaneously allowing the possibility of playing chords. A piano is an example of a polyphonic instrument. The Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, an analogue synthesizer manufactured between 1978 and 1984, was the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer and the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor. Now, most synthesizers are polyphonic, producing between 8 and 128 note polyphony.

Timbrality refers to the ability of a keyboard to play notes on different channels simultaneously. A mono-timbral instrument produces one sound on a single channel. A multi-timbral instrument can produce sounds on multiple channels. For example, one channel might imitate a piano, a second channel a guitar, a third channel a bass and a fourth channel a flute, etc.

Arpeggiator: An arpeggio is a chord whose notes are played successively, rather than simultaneously. An arpeggiator electronically creates an arpeggio when a single note is played on the keyboard.

Since I am not a musician, I cannot justify the expense of an expensive keyboard. When called onto the financial director’s carpet to justify a keyboard purchase, at some time in the future, I will have to explain why I need yet another, relatively expensive input device. Fortunately, she is used to my imaginative stories. I will try to divert attention away from the purchase price, to the cost saving of not buying a Nord Electro 6.

Here is my short list of MIDI keyboards with prices in NOK (Norwegian kroner). The quick, but not particularly precise, way to convert NOK to USD is to divide these prices by 10.

BrandModel49 keys61 keys
SamsonCarbon 9501 550
M-AudioKeystation1 0001 450
Native InstrumentsKomplete Kontrol MKIII1 7002 150

The MIDI keyboard will be used to input data to LMMS, an open source digital audio workstation application program on an Asus VivoMini. Output will be through a headphone connected to the computer using a 3.5 mm TRS minijack.

Note: In writing this post, I thought very often of my friend, Olaf Olafsson, former Moscrop junior secondary school (Burnaby) language teacher and resident of New Westminster, who retired to Squamish, where he became an avid keyboardist.