Antwone Fisher

"Who will cry for the little boy, lost and all alone?
Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own?
Who will cry for the little boy? He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.
Who will cry for the little boy? He walked the burning sand.
Who will cry for the little boy? The boy inside the man.
Who will cry for the little boy? Who knows well hurt and pain.
Who will cry for the little boy? He died and died again.
Who will cry for the little boy? A good boy he tried to be.
Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me?"
- Antwone Fisher

Hi-def TIVO

Hi-def TIVO would be sweet, though I'll believe it once I see it. My first PVR was a ReplayTV which didn't work quite right. It was a free sample, though, so I can't complain. Then I bought a modified TIVO (didn't want to pay TIVO's monthly subscription so I bought one with a paid lifetime subscription) and modified it by adding a huge hard drive to give myself more recording space.
I hear people say that the reason PVR's don't sell well is that they're hard to explain to people. Well, those people aren't very bright.

Jim Ford's listening room

Thursday evening I got a treat. Jim Ford invited me to his house in Bellevue to test out his new listening room. I first met Jim on a project a few years back. He's a search software engineer, and we worked together on's movie showtimes site. Working with him was something I'll always remember because he was the consummate professional. Just did his job and did it well. Amazon's such a young company, and sometimes over the past five and a half years I've just taken for granted that co-workers may be occasionally moody, political, lazy, or high maintenance. Then I'll work with someone like Jim and remember the type of person we should all aspire to surround ourselves with.
Before Jim earned his Master's in computer science at the University of Illinois in Urbana, he was a music teacher. Now he's a successful software engineer, but he hasn't lost his love for music. He plays the upright bass, and over the past two years he's designed and built a music listening room as an addition to his house. It's the most impressive music room in someone's house that I've ever been to, and it rivals the best studio demo rooms I've been in. He worked with acousting engineers to design every last bit of it.
The room has all the essential qualities of an ideal listening room. It's dimensions are 15 x 20 feet, approximately, which is a good ratio. Of course the room is perfectly rectangular. He has sliding sound panels at the front and sides of the room, and they can be positioned to cancel standing waves and to optimize for different types of listening or playing. The ceiling is sloped so as not to reflect music back down on the listener. Hardwood floors all around. The back wall is the most interesting thing. It was custom designed using a series of cedar wood boards turned sideways and jutting out at different lengths. Each set of sixteen boards, each about an inch thick from the side, jut out in a varied series of lenghts which scatter the sound waves which hit the back wall. The door to the room is double hinged and is as thick as a bank vault door. When closed, a switch on the side drops a rubber lining to the bottom of the floor to prevent sound from escaping through the space beneath the door.
The entire back wall is a series of five doors. The first leads to a side entrance where musician friends can enter and exit the listening room. The next two doors open to the room which holds some storage space and his musical components, all of which are made by Musical Fidelity. The next door reveals a series of Boltz USA CD racks which are mounted on sliding rails. The last door leads to the rest of the house.
And then there are the speakers. B&W 802s (same as mine! great minds hear alike), a pair of them, at the front of the room, toed in to face the two sofa chairs seated side by side about two-thirds of the way back in the room. The entire feel of the room is spare and clean.
What was left but to pour ourselves a glass of Pinot Noir from the vineyards of New Zealand (where I'll be in about two weeks) and sit ourselves down for some listening. I brought some of my favorite CDs, and Jim had compiled a selection of recordings which would show off his system properly. I let Jim do the honors, as you never touch another man's home theater components (it's like driving another man's car without asking permission), and he started us off by loading Diana Krall's Love Scenes. I knew it would be a good night. Not only does Krall have a great voice, but she knows how to use it and her CD's are always impeccably engineered. She's a darling among audiophiles.
If you've never tested someone's listening room, all you really do is bring your favorite CDs and take turns suggesting tracks to listen to. Then you just sit back in the chair and close your eyes and listen to music. Afterwards you chat about the quality of the recording and the qualities of the sound in the performance. It sounds goofy, but if the listening room is engineered well, it's heaven.
Closing your eyes allows you to focus all your senses on the sound, and if everything comes together, then suddenly Diana Krall is standing on a stage about 10 feet away, singing tunes just for you. And there she was. The sound came through as transparent as can be, and that's the highest compliment you can pay an audio system.
Next came the grand daddy of classical showpieces, a track which has been copied in just about every sci-fi space movie soundtrack ever: Mars from Gustav Holtz's The Planets. The most acclaimed recording, and the one we used, is the recording by Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. You know that Memorex print ad where the guy sitting in the sofa is being literally blown away by music from the stereo in front of him? That was me.
Jim and his wife Kathy enjoy classical and jazz, so that's where we focused our evening's lineup. We moved next to Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites, as played by Yo Yo Ma. This time we chose his earlier recording from 1983. It's been a long time since I've heard this piece, and the recording I own is the one by Janos Starker. Ma's interpretation is quite good, and the rich sound of his cello expanded to fill the room. I have to make a note to myself to get a copy of this recording.
And so it went. Jim and Kathy and I, just sitting in this soundproof (to the outside world) vault, with our eyes closed, just listening to one CD after another. Time started to slide away as my consciousness narrowed to just listen. It has been many months since I can remember feeling so relaxed, so at peace. I definitely think I've had too many demands and stimuli in my life this past year, and it has made me anxious, jittery, and impatient. In Jim's listening room, every CD sounded like a live performance, and I was content to reduce myself to a pair of appreciative ears. My pulse must have dropped below 40.
Among other fantastic recordings we sampled from, all of which I highly recommend for the audiophiles among you or those just looking to add a few great jazz and classical CDs to your collection:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack by Tan Dun and featuring Yo-Yo Ma
'58 Sessions by the Miles Davis Sextet with Bill Evans
Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio
From the Age of Swing by Dick Hyman
Lush Life by John Coltrane
Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus
I left Jim's place with a sudden desire to buy my own house and build my own listening room the very next day. You can't buy a house and hope to find a room ready made like this. My home theater is nice, but the odd shape of my room, the carpet, and the dimensions mean that it is pretty challenging acoustically. I don't find myself listening to CDs as much as I would in the past and had forgotten how transporting that can be, how amazing the B&W 802s can sound.
Three hours went by just like that. Jim finally opened the front door to his house and released me back into society. I stood in his driveway, slightly dazed.

Post-modern spam

I got a spam e-mail today with the subject line, "Tired of deleting spam e-mail?"