Trevis Rothwell's weblog

Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea

The Return of Something for Cat

23 December 2020

I had recently heard a well-respected multimedia composer state that one of my personal favorite genres of music, what you might describe as 1960’s easy listening light big band jazz, a la Henry Mancini or Neil Hefti, was really no longer commercially desirable.

But just this month, I heard on two separate commercials, Mancini’s track *Something for Cat* from the *Breakfast at Tiffany’s* soundtrack. Perhaps this style is making a bit of a comeback?

Even if not, style aside, *Something for Cat* is a fine example of one of the main features of much commercial / library music today: very minimal melody, with an arrangement that builds, adding a new component, every few measures. Let’s take a listen:

Today’s most typical commercial guidance is to add a new musical element every four measures; here, depending on how you are counting the time, Mancini is adding a new element every eight measures:

  • Eight measures of percussion and low horns
  • Eight measures of adding a low sax riff
  • Eight measures of adding a high muted trumpet riff
  • Eight measures almost the same as the previous, but building the intensity of the drums/percussion

None of this is especially melodic, and thus none of it would especially interfere with on-screen dialogue or narration. In other words, great background underscore music.

After those opening 32 measures, Mancini then goes into a short “B” section of the song, a little bit more melodic, but still reasonably containable in the background.

Past that, the piece goes into various jazz solos, and becomes less generally desirable as multi-purpose commercial library music. It may well work in a particular setting, but such virtuosic lead lines are prone to conflicting with dialogue. When producing modern commercial library music, there is nothing wrong with including such passages, but you would probably want to also provide variations without the soloing.

Even so, the core essence of the track bears much structural resemblance to the commercial music today. And whether if we are seeing a big return to 1960s jazz stylings or not, it’s nice to hear this track getting some fresh air time!

Commercial Electric Ceiling Lights

17 August 2020

Having completed the drywall and painting in a newly-finished room in the basement, I started looking at light fixture options. Other rooms in the house had been outfitted by the original builder with basic Patriot Stella fixtures, part of the Menard’s store line of light fixtures, so I bought a package of those to match.

After three hours of trying to install one of these Patriot Stella fixtures, I gave up. The included wire nuts were on the small side, and it was unusually arduous to join the wires. In trying to get the questionably-spaced screws on the mounting plate to line up with the base of the light fixture, the mounting plate was getting bent. I presume there is some trick to getting these light fixtures installed easily, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to finish the first fixture, much less get the next two up.

Eschewing Menard’s for any further light fixtures, I browsed Home Depot’s website for well-rated ceiling lights. One reviewer of the Commercial Electric LED Flush Mount fixture claimed a successful installation in eight minutes. Sounded promising, so I trundled over to Home Depot and bought one.

Back in the basement, the installation process went much better. The wire nuts easily accommodated the needful wires, and it was trivially easy to line up the screws with the fixture base. All in all, I had the fixture installed and working in about thirteen minutes.

Being an integrated LED fixture, I believe you typically replace the entire fixture when the long-lasting LED element eventually wears out, but that could be years. And with a fixture as easy to install as this one, I would not at all mind replacing it every few years.

Thank you Commercial Electric!

Are Books Worth It?

04 January 2020

There was an interesting discussion thread on Hacker News today, on the subject of the value of reading books.

The proposed premise was that, essentially all information must be freely available on the world wide web, right? Is it still worth it to read books? Or can you just scour blogs and tweets to find anything you want to know?

My own personal book-reading time has waxed and waned over the years; I would readily and heartily agree that I get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of reading a book than I do out of most web browsing, but web browsing is easier, and it at least superficially feels like I am reading and learning.

The Hacker News thread includes many insightful comments. One that I found especially valuable is from user ivan_ah:

The way I see it, non-fiction books are all about distillation of information. Yes most of the information from books is freely available online in some other form, but you’ll have to dig for it in many places, and learn from many narrators.

The benefit of the book-length information product is that a single author went through all the possible sources and used their expertise to give a coherent story on a subject. You can think of the book as someone who read 100 blog posts for you and extracted the useful info from them.

As a learner, I have found this to be true. Last year, for example, I was learning to use the VueJS Javascript framework. There is a great wealth of information in blog posts. Now, as an experienced VueJS user, I can read an individual blog post and get an answer to a specific question. But when learning the framework initially, I found it beneficial to read a book, to have that “coherent story” rather than a bunch of discrete chunks of information.

This should also be an encouraging thought as a writer. It can be easy to talk yourself out of writing a book on a subject because everything that you know about it, you learned from someone else! That whole sum of knowledge is already out there on the web! But you can nevertheless distill your own coherent story into book form, and produce a beneficial educational experience.

The Food that Built America

01 September 2019

Seamlessly blending historian interviews with dramatized re-enactments, The History Channel’s three-part series on The Food that Built America offers a surprisingly riveting look at what might sound like some mundane topics.

A few things I learned:

  • Tomato ketchup, historically known as tomato catsup, is a tomato-based variety of “catsup sauce”, other varieties of which include fish-based sauce and walnut-based sauce. The original purpose of all of these “catsups”, tomato catsup included, was to mask the unpleasant flavor of rotting meat, as most meat at the time was not kept very well, but people felt compelled to eat it anyway, rather than let their expensive food go to waste.
  • The Heinz Company, purveyor of quality tomato catsup, successfully lobbied the United States government to establish and enforce food preparation regulations, in order to push out of business low-budget competitors who were making inferior tomato catsup on the cheap.(Perhaps had Heinz done this first, meat would not have been served rotten, and we never would have needed tomato catsup in the first place!)
  • The Kellogg brothers developed breakfast cereal initially as a quasi-medicinal product, to help people suffering from poor digestion and other stomach ailments. (Maybe from eating too much rotten meat?) One of their patients was C. W. Post, who “borrowed” the idea and launched breakfast cereal to the general public. William Kellogg eventually followed suit as a competitor, though his doctor brother was at best reluctant to market their “medicinal” breakfast food as a commercial product.
  • Milton Hershey launched his chocolate business before he had even figured out how to make chocolate, including building housing for employees and hiring an executive salesman to market something that did not yet exist. He was confident that he could develop a usable recipe, and that, once that part was compete, milk chocolate would be a runaway success.
  • In the midst of the Great Depression, when many people lacked the resources to buy much food, Hershey halved the price of his allegedly protein-rich, peanut-filled Mr. Goodbar chocolate, touting it as a meal substitute with the same nutritional benefit as a pound of meat.

The series was enjoyable to watch, well-acted, well-produced, and left me both wanting to learn more about the origins of these everyday products, and maybe wanting to eat some more of them.

American Airlines: This Page Has Taken Flight

19 June 2019

I was recently trying to book a flight on American Airlines using accumulated miles/points. Every time I got to the end of the booking process, I reached a page that said “This Page Has Taken Flight”, and I lost all of the booking information I had entered thus far.

Eventually I found the solution on a web forum posting. Apparently, despite having flown on American Airlines many times, my account had gotten into a state such that my home address was not on file. Entering my home address into my account details enabled me to complete the flight booking.

This error message was very mysterious, and nothing about it even remotely suggested what the problem was. Sharing this tidbit here in case it helps anyone else!