A Walk on a Foggy Morning

The fog began to increase in intensity as we approached the parking lot at Carderock next to the Potomac river and the C&O canal.  The temperature was below freezing as we bundled up and stepped out of the car and on to the trail.  The sun began to rise into the sky through the  trees behind us as we started our walk at a brisk pace, trying to get rid of the cold in our extremities.  The fog began to lift slowly, creating a unique and somewhat surreal lighting over the still waters and in-between the trees.  There was some kind of magic happening!






The sky had completely cleared up by the time we finished our walk and returned to the parking lot a couple of hours later.

Quantum Computing

D-Wave 2X quantum computer
The D-Wave 2X quantum computer at NASA’s Advanced Supercomputer Facility in Silicon Valley on Dec. 8, 2015. Credit: Martyn Williams

NASA, Google reveal quantum computing leap that leaves traditional PCs in the dust | PCWorld

I think it is great to hear about progress in this field. What is being attempted is the creation of a revolutionary new paradigm for operation of computing devices.

My First Singing Valentine (February 2014)

As our chorus, Harmony Express, prepared for its Singing Valentines program for 2014, it became quite clear that there was a shortage of volunteers to fill in all of the four parts for the quartets needed for both the morning and late evening sessions.  Although my confidence in delivering the lead notes in a quartet as a romantic offering from one person to his significant other was quite limited, I had to do something.  I had not been able to support the chorus in past years for the Valentine’s day happenings.  I needed to go out of my comfort zone to help the chorus this time, especially since I had time on my hands.  So I signed up!

I was assigned to sing with two different quartets, one in the morning and the other in the evening.   The morning crew consisted of two people who were accomplished singers, and two others of us who did not quite match up to the first two.  Both of us less accomplished singers had signed up to help the chorus even though we were not used to singing in quartets.  You knew that things were not going well when we practiced for the first time, when right away I began to get all kinds of instructions on how to improve my singing.  This did not make for a good start.  A few days earlier the quality of my singing had led our chorus director to give me some directions for changing the mechanics of my singing process, and now I was hearing many more suggestions to add to the mix, all of which were being provided with the best of intentions.  But I was trying to figure out four or five different new things at the same time, and this made things difficult.  There were instructions that did not make any sense to an engineer.  Throw your voice forward to produce the brightness required for barbershop singing (rather than produce the deep sounds from your throat like an opera singer).  Keep your sound tall.  Keep the soft palate closed (easier said than done!).  Let the sound come out of the top of your head.  And then there were these other directions – sing louder, sing like a drunken person, sing as if you had a marshmallow or a golf ball stuck in your mouth, remove the tension in your voice, relax your throat muscles, get under that last note in the song, sit on the note, get on top of the note. Oh my goodness! After singing in the chorus for so many years, the sound of my singing voice was in the process of being deconstructed and reconstructed in a big way yet again.

Well, one of the songs that we sang during the first practice session went off OK, but it turned out that I had been singing the last note of the second song slightly sharper than it needed to be for a very long time.  This discovery brought the whole practice session to a complete halt.  The good singers could not continue forward with the current quality of singing from the lead.  So I spent the whole week focusing on the song that was giving me difficultly.  I made recordings of my singing on the computer, with and without accompaniment from the learning track.  Sure enough, I had been singing the last note incorrectly for years. But nobody had corrected me during all that time!  It was going to be difficult to undo something I had been doing for such a long time. The next week I went back to practice thinking that my problem had been addressed, but I got grief immediately once again.  Another week of painful repetitions of the last part of the song followed at home with the learning tracks and a pitch pipe in hand.  Every time I thought I had it, the pitch on that last note of the song would drift upwards subtly.  Most people would not have made a big deal of it, but I could not get away with it with the folks I was singing with. It was maddening.  Now that I was thinking about it so much, I also began to feel that the pitch on that last note had to be exact.  After all, engineers tend to be anal retentive, and like things to be perfect. I analyzed my problem systematically as engineers are wont to do, and I did it in so many different ways in excruciatingly painful detail.  I compared each note I was singing at the tail end of the song to the notes in the learning media, and I also compared these notes to the notes that came out of the pitch pipe.  Not that it was going to help me, but I even looked up the difference in frequencies between the neighboring notes. It did not help that I had never learned to read music. My singing of the whole song (not just the end of it) was now beginning to fall apart because I was thinking too much about it.  But I think the analysis did finally work in the end.  I realized that the problem was not just in the last note, but in the previous note as well.  Since I was sharp on the penultimate note (a fact that nobody had pointed out), I was also sharp on the last note.  I needed to focus on the entire sequence of notes.  Luckily I got to the root of the problem with sufficient time to spare.  After a sufficient amount of practice I was able to get back to trying to relax and singing the complete song freely once again without tensing up too much.

The weekend before Valentine’s day we sang the songs in front of our director so that he could check the quality of the songs and also offer some constructive criticism.  While the experts may have been thinking about the exact pitches for the notes, the director just focused on how comfortable I was singing the songs. Of course, the song that I had spent hours practicing was the one for which I was a little more tense and had the most issues with delivery.  We decided that that song would be the last option during our gigs.

The Friday of Valentine’s day comes up just as the area is recovering from a massive snow storm.  It became quite clear the previous evening that we would have no orders for Friday morning.  That meant that I would not have to sing with the folks who tended to be most critical of my singing.  For a little while it also seemed like there would be no customers for the evening, and that I would get off scott free from the whole gig.  But that situation changed during the day.  I was going out with a quartet to Columbia, MD, not very close by, to deliver two Singing Valentines programs.  Not only that, we would be delivering the most expensive package that we had, which meant singing all three songs that we had practiced, along with a card, a box of chocolates and a dozen roses.   I could not get away from the song that I had been critiqued about, and I would have to sing it on two occasions.  Now, the quartet for the evening was different from the one I had spent a long time practicing with. It did not include the people who had been most concerned about my singing, but it did include a person who I had never sung with before (because he had not been coming to practices).  This was going to be quite the experience!  But you know what, I was not stressed out about any of this.  I resolved to just relax and do whatever I could do, with whatever musical quality I could conjure up.  I was not even going to worry about the problematic song.  Que sera sera.

We landed up at the first home where we were supposed to sing after the sun had set.  It was turning cold and the water from the melting ice had begun to refreeze up on the roads.  The first thing we did when we got out of our cars was to warm up by singing together in the cold beside the car. This warm-up was especially important since we were singing together for the first time.  We sang through each of the songs once.  It did not sound too bad.  We carefully proceeded into the home sliding over the ice.  I think the lady to whom we were delivering the songs was expecting us.   She sat on the sofa waiting for us to start while her husband stood in the background.  The boy who had been sitting in the room decided that he wanted none of this and vanished to his room.  The dog stayed back.

I sang my heart out to her.  I was trying to channel as much emotion as I could into the song, but she was sitting there looking somewhat expressionless, even looking away from me.  I thought that the beginnings of the songs were ragged in timing and pitch, but we sang pretty decently (not great) after the shaky start.  We got to the end of the songs and I could not make out how successful we had been from looking at her face, but the dog was wagging its tail.  The lady thanked us individually for coming and then we departed.  I have to say that I was not nervous while singing, and I tried to focus on delivering the emotion of the song rather than the exact singing technique and notes.

The lady at the second house did not know that we were coming, but she knew that her husband was up to something because he had not wanted to leave the home earlier for dinner.  We started singing the first song, and she immediately reached out for her husband’s hand on the seat behind her.  She was appreciating the words in the song.  She was definitely paying attention.  She was moved!  We went on to the second and third songs and she was really feeling it and getting a little emotional.   At the end she came up and hugged each one of us.  It looked like we had made a successful delivery.  But I did think that our singing was still only of similar quality to that for our first stop.  It was not top notch.  And we did get a generous tip this time…

So we drove back home and I was feeling quite satisfied about the way things turned out.  I knew that I had done what I could for the chapter within my limitations.  I was done.  Or so I thought.

A couple of days after Valentine’s day, our program coordinator sent out a request for singers to deliver a Singing Valentine that we had not been able to deliver on Friday.  The school at which the delivery was supposed to take place had been closed that day on account of the weather.  The husband would like the the Singing Valentine to be delivered even if it was late.  Being the helpful soul that I was, I said that I was available.  As luck would have it, I was asked to be the lead in yet another quartet on Wednesday.  This time all the other parts of the quartet, not just two, were being sung by good singers.  I was the odd man out.  But the situation was slightly different.  Two of the new singers had been singing in quartets for years and had the experience to deal with folks like me who were not that good.  The third person in the quartet happened to be one of the guys who had been pointing out my mistakes at the quartet practices earlier on.  But no worries!

I got to the location where we had decided to meet for a warm-up session prior to the drive to the school to deliver the Valentines.  Let’s sing, they said!   The pitch pipe was blown.  I delivered my first note.  You are flat, Kuriacose – came the somewhat pointed statement from the bass who was staring at me, not looking too happy.  I stared back at him silently, thinking to myself that this was an honest criticism, that I should not react negatively, and that I should endeavor to do better with the next start.  But the others were not as rough.  Hey man, give him a break, he just came out the cold – said the tenor.  If he is flat, then we also need to sing flat – said the baritone.  The fact of the matter is that the tenor, bass and baritone are expected to follow the lead wherever he takes them, even if it is off-tune.  I took off my jacket and prepared myself for a long warm up session.  They were a little gentler with me after that.   The singing improved with each song that we sang.  They would have wanted me to sing louder, but understood that I was more comfortable at a lower volume level, and that they would need to adjust. They gave suggestions on how to get beyond just singing the right notes in order to deliver a performance. A light level of conducting was suggested from one of the experienced singers in order to make this an effective performance.  We were singing quite well as a quartet as we headed off to the school in the tenor’s vehicle.

The Frost School in Rockville, MD, is a school for children with special needs.  After we signed in at the front desk with the receptionist, we waited to be escorted to a room when we would deliver the Singing Valentines.  The person who took us to the room was the one we were going to be singing to.  What I did not know was that she was going to have the school kids in the room while we were singing.  As we went down the corridor, she let the teachers know that we were there, and kids streamed into the performance room from all directions.  If there were a time I should have started becoming nervous, this was it!  I was singing to a room full of kids with special needs.  But things were cool.  Things were laid back.  After the introductions and the delivery of the flowers, cards and chocolates, the pitch pipe was blown.  Our experienced tenor knew enough to hum my first note so that I would have a good start.  And then we were off to the races.  We sang quite well I was told.  I thought that we did create some nice chords that rang, which is an indication of how well the different parts were harmonizing together. In any case, after we sang our third and supposedly last song, there was a request for an encore. There was an impromptu performance of one of the songs from the Barbershop polecat book without any prior practice.  This time even I could make out that we had nailed it.  The song sounded incredibly gorgeous, and on the last note I could feel the perfect harmony.  It was an awesome blend.  There was hushed silence from the folks in the room as the song ended.  Home run!

We departed in good spirits, and I thanked the rest of the gang for supporting me.  They declared that they were willing to sing in this quartet in the future at any time!  (I might hold them to that one!) As for me, I was happy with the way things turned out.  I will be signing up to sing next year.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye Spy

A few months ago I posted a blog that was perfectly suited for this subject called “Here’s Lookin’ at You“.  (I think I was prescient.;‑))

What follows is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the theme.

The first series of pictures is of Dodger, my brother’s dog.  The first couple of the pictures were cute, and then I think he began to get ticked off!  He refused to look directly at me, instead spying at me out of the corner of his eyes.






Here are a couple of pictures where I was taken off-guard when I noticed somebody looking back at me.  In the first one, the person does not look too happy.  The second one shown here actually made me nervous since I was in a place where things could go wrong in a hurry.  As you can see, I was not actually focusing on the guy, but I got him in the picture anyway.



These last two pictures were taken from a wedding.  In the second one I unexpectedly found the groom looking back at me.



Here are other pictures in the same challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Transitions

This is a wide open topic since almost everything that we experience that is noteworthy is related to transitions, whether it be those that are in nature or in the environment around us, or whether it be those that we experience in our own lives.  Transitions can be abrupt or they can be gradual.  Sometimes they are of a subtle nature and not obvious until it has happened.

But I also cannot help thinking that almost everything that most of us already tend to talk about in our blogs tends to be about changes and transitions!  So, I was not too successful in trying to find my own unique take on this subject. But I thought I would present something anyway.

The first picture is of a sunrise over the water.  You can barely make out the transition from land to water.  There are more transitions underway in this picture.


This second picture is also of a sunrise, but is taken from inside an aircraft, over the wing of the aircraft.  Besides the transition from night into day, there is the transition between the aircraft and the sky and then the transitions between the land and the sky and the different layers of color in the sky.


The third picture shows an abrupt transition of clouds in the sky.  This picture was taken near sunset.  There is no subtlety in the nature of this transition in the big picture.


I made an argument in an early blog that while some changes (or transitions) seem to be abrupt (or digital), life is truly experienced in a gradual (or analog) manner.  I wonder if there are any folks who will agree with me.

See other submissions in this theme at this site.

Revolutionary Camera Technologies?

(Source – pixabay.com, used under CCO license.)

I saw the following article on the online magazine Wired recently.


Panasonic has introduced a feature in some existing cameras via a software download that lets you take a single picture at multiple focal points almost simultaneously so that the person can pick a desired focal point for presentation to the viewer after the fact.  Some existing cameras have had this kind of a feature in the sense of taking a picture at a few (two or three) focal lengths one after another, but this Panasonic feature apparently takes this kind of capability to the next level.  Indeed, what is needed in existing cameras to implement this kind of a feature is plenty of speed and a lot of storage.

I somehow feel that this is a half-baked solution to a very interesting problem of capturing pictures in their truest form so that they are suitable for post-processing to any desired set of parameters for presentation.  In fact, this is the technology that will eventually revolutionize the field of photography and allow even devices like smartphones to take pictures that in presentation will far superior to those generated from traditional cameras.  They will allow a much greater level of creativity than with the existing optical technology.

Welcome to the field of plenoptic  or light-field technology!  There are experiments in this realm that are still not completely mature or suitable for use by consumers at this time, but I think that something along these lines will be coming some time in the future.



And then there is Wavefront coding….

Perhaps I was very naive about what it was all about when I took up photography, but years of experience have taught me that this hobby is not just about capturing the image as seen by an observer.   It is about creating the visual and mental impact that you desire with the picture that you present. Towards this goal, today, you end up using all kinds of technology in the camera, and outside of it in post-processing, to create the impact that one wants.  Even the most basic picture that you see today has probably undergone some kind of “processing”, either optically, or electronically, or in software.  What we call artistry is trying to use the technology that is available to us, be it the simple paint-brushes, or the cameras, or the electronic devices, or the software, to create the impact we wish.    Of course, we will always argue about the amount of “reality” in the product that is being produced based on the amount of creativity that is used in the presentation, but I think it is becoming more and more an argument about the degree of processing, not about the presence or absence of processing.

When you look at the possibility of new technologies emerging for capturing images, and then this technology becoming a part of the mainstream, such events will actually open up the field of photography to new techniques for artistry in picture presentations.  We will have a new generation of artists using newly invented image capturing and processing devices and techniques who will call themselves photographers, who will have no concept of what photography meant to the pioneers in this field.  Photoshopping is just the beginning.  Even the term “camera” may become passe.  Analog cameras anybody?!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Trio

I call this one Larry, Curly and Moe.


This picture was taken soon after.  I am not sure if they are the same birds.  (Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!)


Moving on to a different kind of theme, here are two pictures from an airport in the US. (Guess which one!)



And finally there is this pair for sentimental reasons.  Love you guys!Trio


Submitted for this week’s challenge.