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Saturday: November 25, 2006

Worse than Wikipedia

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:09 PM UTC

The Biology teacher at my school despises Wikipedia, but I think its usefulness depends a great deal on the subject. Anything technical is likely to be ill-informed, and anything political is almost certain to be tendentious, at least until someone corrects or hypercorrects it, but that still leaves subjects like Geography, where the articles are generally solid, and the soft spots are in obvious places (e.g. the Balkans).

Where allowing (or rather forcing) anonymous members of the general public to do all the work fails spectacularly is in iTunes information. It’s been two weeks since I figured out how to move my iTunes library off the hard drive of my laptop, where it was taking up 46G on a 60G drive and I was down to less than 1G available space, and onto my 100G peripheral hard drive. Since then, I’ve been ripping discs all day long whenever I’m at home, and now have 17,197 tracks, adding up to just over 42 days (and nights) of playing time and 81.63 gigabytes, with more to come. The 46G was mostly non-classical, and the newly-ripped stuff is virtually all classical. The main thing that takes time is correcting the information provided by iTunes. It’s bad enough that the format (which information goes in which slot) differs enormously even from disc to disc of a multiple album, but some of the errors are amazing. What kind of idiot thought that piano concerti with K. numbers were by “Mozzart” and should be classified as “Electronica/Dance Music”? It’s only very occasionally that an error is amusing rather than infuriating: I think it was on one of the Gothic Voices’ albums that I found two tracks labeled ‘Angus Dei’, making the Lamb of God into a calf (not a golden one, I hope).

iTunes allows users to upload alternative information, and I’ve learned that when two sets of data are listed, the second one is (not surprisingly) usually better, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to replace the ineptitudes instead of just supplementing them.

So why am I putting most of my classical CDs into iTunes? It’s not to make them portable, since they’re on the peripheral hard drive and I can’t listen to music at work, anyway. (I can play tunes for students, as appropriate, but private listening is out, since we need to keep an eye ear on what’s going on around us even when we’re not teaching.) There are three reasons:

  1. Random shuffle, with single works ‘grouped’ as one, provides a cheap, easy way to test one’s ear for music. If a piano piece sounds like Chopin, but even wimpier, it’s probably Poulenc, but if it sounds like it was plagiarized from a folk-tune, it most likely was, by either Bartók or Villa-Lobos.
  2. Some things are best in small doses. My opinion of Cliff Carlisle, “Blues Yodeler & Steel Guitar Wizard”, went way up after I put him on iTunes. Steel-guitar yodeling sounds much better in very small doses, best of all one at a time. The same goes for harpsichord music, where a whole disc is too much, though three or four cuts are tolerable.
  3. Some things sound better when listened to without preconceptions. Years ago, I kept my record player and records in the office for a few weeks while I was living in temporary quarters, and my colleagues didn’t mind if I played them now and then. Several of them asked me who wrote one particularly pleasant piece and were disconcerted to hear that it was Arnold Schoenberg. (It was his wind quintet, Op. 26, if you’re wondering, which just goes to show that oboes and bassoons sound good, no matter what notes they play.) I’ve had the same effect more than once with my new iTunes setup, where I’m not prejudiced by vague ideas of which composers or works are supposed to be great or not great, deep or shallow, or distracted by unusually beautiful or ugly album covers.

I’m Back

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:01 PM UTC

The main reason for my long silence is that I’m now teaching full-time instead of 3/5ths, due to a sudden and unanticipated personnel change three weeks ago. Besides Latin IV (AP Vergil) and 6th-grade Geography (fall only), I’m now teaching all three levels of Middle School Latin (A, B, and C), instead of just Latin C. Since I seem to have a previously-unsuspected talent for handling middle-schoolers, I will be teaching the same classes next year, except that the AP class will be Latin V (AP Catullus and either Horace or Ovid). With fifteen students in Latin B, my average class-size is up from 5.3 to 7.6, which is still very reasonable.

A few things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  • One way to keep 6th-grade Geographers happy: bring in samples of products from the various countries we are covering. Though Barbadian hurricane glasses (to take one example) are interesting, edible samples go over particularly well: since the students are supposed to have had U.S. geography in 4th grade, we started with Canada (maple donuts) and Mexico (guacamole), before moving on to Central and South America, then Africa, then Europe (cheese). We jump into the Middle East (dates) on Monday.
  • Another way to keep young Geographers happy: provide individual blow-up plastic globes (only $5.99 each). This wouldn’t work with a larger class, but it makes learning about latitudes and longitudes, the Prime Meridian, polar great circles, and so on much easier and more ‘hands-on’. The globes all stay in a big cardboard box when not in use.
  • For all classes: What with recalcitrant xerox machines and very small classes, it’s easier to make all the needed copies of tests and handouts with my own little Deskjet. That also allows me to make them in color, which helps keep the middle-schoolers happy.