The Darkest Hour

There are a set of songs that always provoke a visceral reaction in me, with symptoms including tingling, goosebumps, teary eyes and, on some occasions, even sobs.  One such song is Long Time Gone, by Crosby, Stills and Nash, which I just played, and which had the intended cathartic effect.

Amy has been in more pain today than I have ever witnessed (in her or anyone else).  I have been with her through two childbirths (including one exactly 14 years ago today), several multiple sclerosis exacerbations, and a variety of other challenges over the 25 years we've been together.  She is one of the toughest, most resilient, women I have ever known (and I will admit that there have been times where I have not viewed that toughness and tenacity quite so admiringly, at least not without reservation).  When she cries out in pain, I know it must be intense.

In my recent reading of Field Notes on the Compassionate Life, I came to know that the meaning of compassion is literally "to suffer with".  I have been increasingly opening up to compassion in a number of dimensions, perhaps because there is so much suffering so close to home.  And I have been feeling increasingly ill in my relative helplessness to do much to soothe Amy's suffering.  I want to achieve more equanimity, in this and all situations, doing my best while detaching from outcomes, as it doesn't do her (or anyone else) any good for me to physically suffer on account of what she is going through.  There are moments when I can take deep, long breaths, and practice acceptance of what is ... but, alas, there are far more moments where my breaths are short and I feel consumed by grief.

Amy's radiation "graduation" was scheduled for today.  Unfortunately, due to her extreme discomfort, we had to postpone, and will try again tomorrow.  Regardless of whether/when we proceed with the last radiotherapy treatment, the chemotherapy is over, and the side effects will diminish ... and so the dawn will come.

It's been a long time comin',
It's going to be a long time gone.
But you know, the darkest hour,
Is always, always just before the dawn.
And it appears to be a long,
Appears to be a long,
Appears to be a long time,
Such a long, long, long, long time before the dawn

[Update, 2005-09-29: I neglected to mention that while the cumulative radiation burn is painful, the primary pain Amy is suffering from now is severe abdominal cramping, which she compares to labor -- and the analogy can be extended, as the pain of moving her bowels is quite intense as well ... but I won't go there.  This morning, her chemical oncologist recommended she has increase her use of pain and muscle relaxant medications, and this has made life a little more bearable.]

Roadcasting: All the Road's a Stage

Roadcasting is a prototype (really, a meme) in which people can share music in and through wirelessly networked car audio systems.  The concept was articulated by a team of graduate students at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. There are some graphical and textual descriptions available at the Roadcasting web site, and a Quicktime movie availabler on the HCII site.

The clearest overview I found on how the system works is in the Roadcasting article by Timothy McNulty, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The technology is largely theoretical but would probably work like this: Besides having traditional radios or CD players, cars would also have a Roadcasting feature. When it is turned on, it would search for all the digital playlists being played nearby, probably over some kind of mobile Wi-Fi network, the same kind of technology that allows you to flip open your laptop and check e-mail at a coffee shop or airline terminal.

The Roadcasting screen would show song and DJ names, and music genres, then judge which offerings match your musical tastes. As you selected songs, the software would keep refining and learning about your tendencies, and would use them to find other songs that match them. Other listeners could listen to the same playlist and vote on songs at the same time, influencing what the ad hoc networks played.

The concept sounds intriguing: it would be interesting to see whether / how roadcasting might help form communities among commuters ... and whether it would help reduce road rage.  There are alot of important details that would need to be worked out, e.g., an interface that was not too distracting (perhaps speech recognition would help, though the background "noise" generated by the music might be a problem ... unless the system could use some kind of "music-cancelling" filter, which may be possible since it could have direct access to the digital source of the music), a variety of legal issues revolving around digital rights management, and a host of social issues that may impact the acceptance and use of such technology ... many of which would be difficult to identify, much less resolve, in the absence of a deployment.  I wonder how much of the burden of technical infrastructure requirements (e.g., WiFi in cars) could be alleviated by the use of short range FM transmitters.

A Wired article on Roadcasting mentions a few related systems, such as SoundPryer (from the Mobility Studio of the Swedish Interactive Institute) and tunA (from the Human Connectedness Group at the former Media Lab Europe).  A few others come to mind, such as

  • CommuterNews (from the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University):
    CommuterNews engages the: driver with questions and relevant clips selected from a standard 3-4 minute radio news story. The system keeps track of how many questions have been answered correctly and gives the driver opportunities to earn prizes and compete with other CommuterNews players. The session can be interrupted at any time, but a typical interaction with the prototype (4 news stories, with 4-5 questions per story) approximately correlates to an average commute of 20 minutes.
  • FolkMusic (by Mikael Wiberg at the Interactive Theory Lab of Umea University):
    a mobile peer-to-peer entertainment system that builds on the current trends towards: 1) edutainment software, 2) increase in use of peer-to-peer technologies, and, 3) the current trend towards mobile computing solutions. Further on, the research reported in this paper builds on prior research on "folk computing" for which mobile ad-hoc peer-to-peer solutions are a focal concern.
  • Jukola (by Kenton O'Hara, et al., at the Appliance Studio):
    a digital jukebox which was tested in Watershed's Café/Bar in Oct 2003. Using wireless technology, handheld iPAQS and touch screens, visitors to the Café/Bar were able to try out Jukola by viewing a selection of nominated tunes, finding out more information about them and submitting their vote to determine the next track. Jukola was networked to allow access over the web to review a history of the music played and for musicians to submit MP3s remotely - providing an opportunity for any unsigned bands out there to upload their own music and put it to the public vote.
  • Adaptive Radio (by Dennis Chao, et al., at University of New Mexico): a system that selects music to play in a shared environment. Rather than attempting to play the songs that users want to hear, the system avoids playing songs that they do not want to hear. Negative preferences could potentially be applied to information filtering, intelligent environments, and collaborative design.
  • MusicFX (by me and Ted Anagnost, when we were both at Accenture Technology Labs):
    an example of an active environment that uses a group preference arbitration system to allow the members of a fitness center to influence, but not directly control, the selection of music in that environment. The system contains a database of members' musical preferences, a badge system for determining who is working out, and a weighted random selection algorithm for selecting music to best suit the group inhabitants at any given time. MusicFX was in daily use in the fitness center at Accenture Technology Park in Northbrook, IL (USA), between November 1997 and December 2001.

Of the many features of MusicFX that people enjoyed, the two most frequent complaint categories involved the abrupt music changes (the system would sometimes change channels mid-song, as people entered or left the fitness center) and the "occasional" exposure to bad music (the price of variety, serendipity and democracy) ... factors that may be exacerbated in a mobile environment such as a car.  While people generally enjoyed the increased variety, the most oft-cited advantage was the ability to have some influence over the music in the shared environment of the fitness center.  Given that most people have far more control over the music playing in their car, it would be interesting to see whether the increased variety and serendipity offered through Roadcasting would compensate for the loss of control.  The biggest factors may well be the communty-oriented issues of contribution and reputation ... factors that would be very difficult to assess without some kind of deployment.

Easy Living, Listening, Eating and Drinking at P&G Speakeasy


Amy and I went to dinner last night at the P and G Speakeasy Cafe, a great good place in Duvall, where everything is "handmade, homemade and never boring."  We enjoyed a simple, tasty and inexpensive meal of spaghetti and meatballs, with caesar salad and garlic bread, accompanied by their last bottle of Montevina 2001 Amador County Zinfandel.  We also enjoyed the music, headlined by Casey Garland, who played a collection of engaging original compositions inspired by his years as a river guide as well as a number of cover songs from the 60s and 70s.  Jason Knight did a great job accompanying Casey (and others) on electric guitar, blending subtle background riffs as well as taking occasional leads throughout the evening.  James Hurley and Steve Borquez also made cameo appearances during Casey's break.

James and Steve will be back tonight, along with a number of other musicians, to celebrate the release of the "Live at the P&G Speakeasy Cafe, Volume 1" CD.  The doors open at 6, the music will start around 7, and the cafe is not huge, so we are planning to go early.


I went to see Crosby, Stills & Nash at Chateau Ste. Michelle last night with Amy, Bruce & Mary; it was the last concert of the season for both the band and the winery. Bruce arrived when they opened the gates and braved the rain to secure fabulous, front-row, center, lawn seats for us. By the time the rest of our party arrived, the sky was clearing ... and fittingly enough, the first song CSN played was "Carry On" (more on the songs in a bit). I enjoyed this concert better than the concert Amy and I went to at Lake Compounce sometime in the mid 80s, probably due to a combination of the great company, great venue, great seats, great wine, a higher proportion of songs from their early days and a collection of newer songs that I generally like better than the songs that were new at the earlier concert.

Continue reading "CSN @ CSM" »

Kokopelli Redux?


I've joined the ranks of Native American flute players, with my purchase of a High Spirits "Golden Eagle" flute in F# (cedar, with turquoise inlay), after a rather synchronistic series of events. On my way home from a particularly moving Reiki session with Eileen Wurst, I decided to stop by East West Bookshop to look for the Kamal Whale Reiki Song CD that was playing in the background during the session. As I searched for the CD, I came across Emergence by R. Carlos Nakai, which reminded me of Joel Kagan (and Joel's passion for Native American flutes), whose mentorship during my time on the Computer Science faculty at the University of Hartford had emerged during the Reiki session a short time earlier. As I waited in line to pay for the CDs, I glanced over to the glass display case near the door -- that I had never noticed before -- and saw a display of flutes; I bought one, on impulse, and have been playing regularly ever since ... hoping to capture the playful spirit of Kokopelli.

Ethereal Cafe

This morning, I was on my way to Lighthouse Roasters in Fremont, when I passed Ethereal Cafe & CDs (note: web site is "under construction" but it can be found in the physical world at 254 NE 45th St, Seattle), which had a banner advertising fair trade Kenyan coffee, organic teas and vegetarian & vegan food. I decided to stop here instead of continuing on (will visit Lighthouse another day). Ethereal has a pair of chairs and a table for outdoor seating, but I ended up hanging out inside, chatting with Kelly, the proprietor, and Nicole, the barista. Ethereal has approximately 500 CD cases displayed in five 10x10 grids on the walls inside, each case labeled with a number that corresponds to its index on a CD jukebox (with headphones) and comfortable seating area nearby. Each grid has a theme -- Pop / Classical, Ambient / Electronica, Darkwave, Psyche / Prog, World / Improv -- and many of the titles were new to me (of course, as someone who just saw Bowling for Columbine, it's probably clear that I'm not exactly ahead of the curve when it comes to media consumption). I listened to -- and then purchased -- The Mirror Reveals: This Infinite Eye, which had an interesting look & sound, while enjoying some French-pressed coffee. I was thinking -- and talking with Kelly -- about how great it would be to create a way for the music playing in the loudspeakers (vs. headphones) to be somehow influenced by the people in the cafe at any given time ... reminiscent of the MusicFX system (which did this in a fitness center rather than cafe). I'll have to bring Trevor, who is thinking about similar possibilities with respect to usage scenarios for the Personal Server, next time I come here (or, actually "there" ... Ethereal does not have WiFi access [yet], so technically speaking, I'm "blogging about place" rather than "blogging in place").

Continue reading "Ethereal Cafe" »

Music ID

AT&T Wireless recently announced a new music recognition service that will enable customers to use their mobile phones to identify music they are currently listening to. By entering "#ID" on the keypad and placing the phone near the source of the music, the service will send a text message with to the phone with the title & artist of the music playing. It's not clear from the announcement how inclusive the service is with respect to musical genres, but I know that there have been many times I've agonized over my inability to definitively identify a song; I'm just not sure how often I'd be willing to pay US$0.99 to relieve that frustration. If only there were a "#ERASE" service that would allow me to clear my mind of a tune that just won't quit playing on my "internal" speaker ...

Continue reading "Music ID" »