Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the completeness of the New Testament canon

Suppose you were offered to take part in a fake discovery of the New Testament literature. A whole team of experts has gathered together and has told you that they already have a site in Egypt where the purported discovery would take place, that they already have fake parchments and ink that have zero chance of being detected as anything other than genuine, and that they have several linguists and experts in old tongues ready to convey whatever text into proper old script and style; in fact, the handful of pros that could derail the falsification, are already in the know and very willing  and able to go along. They only need you to come up with the text.What would you write?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

De-essing part 5: software

There is one final solution that can potentially solve all your problems when trying to de-ess a LP: going digital.

Digitizing your music from analog is not only the way to go for archival purposes on the cheap, but it also allows you to tweak with the resulting data in literally, hundreds of ways. A free, or very low-cost program can reduce or eliminate  hisses and scratchings and can be very good with dealing with the constant noise wave.

The program I have been using for years is the Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. Apparently, they have dropped the version number so the latest one is labeled MX. My old version 11 works so well that I have not seen the need to update it. Broadly speaking, the program lets you import your music from various sources,  including your turntable, process it, and save it or export it into different file formats or optical media. The processing stage is the meatiest one and it can automatically analyze the data for a recommended set of adjustments; alternatively, if you're so inclined, you can choose from many presets or fiddle with the various processing tools as you would with rack hardware. Generally the results are very good. Not all offending sounds can be eliminated, but close enough.

In regards with de-essing, there are at least a couple of tools that can help you. One is a dedicated de-Esser plug-in and the other is a preset in the multimax tool. Oh, there are also a couple of free VST plug-ins:  Spitfish ( and  the Tonman deesser ( . They pull a mighty effort at cleaning, but if the source is too far gone, they will still leave noticeable traces. In my informal tests the
Tonmann performed best out of the free tools. There are surely some other paid plug-ins out there.

So, is this the way to go? If you don't care whether your music is analog or digital, then getting this kind of software and using it concurrently with other solutions, such as the ones we have already discussed, will solve most of your problems. If you do care about keeping your LP music analog, using software is not an option for regular listening.

More on de-essing: 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chess Endgames by Polgar review: Endgames 2

If you have been playing chess for a while, you might probably have come across Laszlo Polgar's huge volume Chess: 5333+1. At least one member of any chess team or club seems to have one at hand. Unbeknownst to many, Polgar released similarly sized volumes on the middlegame, reform chess and the endgame. When I finally found the latter in a bookstore, there was a big stack of them. I promptly bought three copies for around $20 each, and would have bought more, had I had an extra chance.

Endgames is an absolutely beautiful book. Hardcover, sewn spine, attractive dust jacket, cream-colored pages and so on. I even like the smell. Like its siblings, it has six diagrams per page and encourages solving.

It is also very large and heavy book, weighing over 3 pounds and that's its downfall. If you only want it to ogle over it, it's fine. It looks superbly on the coffee table or on a shelf. But if you really want to sit down and go over the problems, it is a hassle. The solutions are at the end of the book and you have to turn several hundred weighty pages to find the one for the problem you're working on. And the solutions are not single moves like most from 5333+1; these are full-fledged, sporting variations and sometimes sub variations, some so long, that can fill a whole column  making it also easy to lose your place. Annotations are in the universal informant sign language with no other clarifying text. In view of this, you have to set the position on a chessboard and somehow fit the book on the same table at the same time. This arrangement is not limited to this volume as it also applies to the middlegames book. An accompanying electronic version would solve many of these problems, but there isn't any; and I have checked thoroughly on the net. I had to make do with preparing my own digital versions (positions and chess engine support in Chessbase format and solutions on PDF) for the first two sections and I am plowing through these now.

The contents are diverse and range from the very basic to the odd. In fact, there are 171 themes all told. No endgame enthusiast would be disappointed in the selection. Most of the problems lean towards hard.

Nowadays, this is a rare book. I think the publisher, K├Ânemann,  has gone under. The few copies that can be obtained at sites like Amazon or eBay start around $80 and it is not uncommon to see them over $100. As far as I can tell, no republishing is in the works. Cheaper units can still be purchased at Amazon's French site,, and shipped to America (this is in fact what I did when I got the middlegames volume around 2004).

Wrapping up: As an object or as a collectible, this book is not really a must have, but it is certainly very attractive. If you happen to find it in mint condition and at a respectable price, snatch it. For challenge, look no further. For instruction, look somewhere else.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Harney and Sons Chocolate Mint tea review

The aroma of perfumed teas can sometimes be intense. At other times it can be the tea's most distinctive quality. Both cases bloom together in the  Harney & Sons chocolate mint black tea which is the most aromatic perfumed tea that I have come across. No other even comes close. One can understandably be suspicious when faced with so heavy perfumes: who knows what they could be masking. As said, the aroma is strong. In fact, you could detect it from a yard away, with your eyes closed and with the tin sealed. Opening the tin is an experience in itself: the full force of the smell fills the airways in an instant. The surprising fact is that it isn't unpleasant at all; one would think that the manufacturer overstepped all bounds; this isn't the case.

What you see inside our small flakes of peppermint leaves and regular black tea in about equal proportions.

For brewing, this one is ready in about 4 min. The taste is somewhat strong but not overbearing. As with the smell, it really does taste like mint chocolate: liquid mint chocolate sans sugar. I cannot determine what gives the chocolate flavor to the duo. Unlike other perfumed teas, the black tea itself does peer through the flavoring without having to look for it and in fact, the black tea tastes better than average. The result is well balanced.

Now, I tried to think up with what food it would mix well, but couldn't come up with anything. With what would you pair real chocolate mint anyway? Neither spicy or blander foods seem right. Pastries… maybe, if they're moist enough. Other sweets feel like compounding… I can only conclude that this one works best as an after meal drink.  I also get a feeling that this one would go down well with insomniacs as its, so to speak, dark components would be welcome to pass the time with in the wee hours of the morning. It is specially pleasing at home in cold weather.

Not tried it as iced tea. I don't think that its strength and taste would give good results cold.

If you're a chocolate mint fan, you should definitely get this one. Also, I would recommend to offer it to guests as an intro to tea in general.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Inflation calculator for Mexico

How much was worth it?
It really doesn't bother me, but it is somewhat annoying.
From time to time I come across monetary figures in books & texts. Nothing wrong with that, especially since X number of dollars is X number of dollars. Having spent a fair amount of those I can relate to what the figures mean. As you can guess, this is only true for relatively recent figures. Inflation messes perception up and if the figures you're reading about are somewhat dated, it gets difficult to get a sense of what they actually amount to. Were, say, five 1962 dollars a princely amount or were they something you could walk by without a second glance were you to find them lying on the street? How can one tell?
Calculator & gold coins; source:; by Benjamin MillerThere are formulas that solve this problem by bringing, so to speak, any amount to the present by reflecting the inflation of intervening years; though not overly complicated, these nevertheless cannot be applied in a jiffy. That's why I decided to write my own inflation calculator. I quickly found out that there were already a number of those on the net for the US dollar. Not wanting to duplicate them, I decided to switch to the Mexican peso. To that end, I researched the consumer price data and taught myself some HTML (too basic perhaps, as the page looks dated) and Perl language for the CGI programming. The hardest part was to get the Perl and the HTML talk to each other, but after some trial and error I got it working. This was back, around 2006 or 2007 and I have been updating it with the latest data since.

Here goes:
If you have to deal with the Mexican peso, the calculator has some nice features. Firstly, it goes back to 1878, which is way farther back than what the Mexico's central bank provides for its own online calculator. Secondly, it is easier to input information. Thirdly, it outputs more than just two decimal points. Fourthly, it not only gives you the accumulated inflation for the given period, but also the average inflation for said period. Fifthly, it lets you enter whatever amount, for example, 1,000,000, and reflecting the inflation to that amount, not just the raw inflation percentage increase. What I believe to be it lacking is getting from it monthly, rather than yearly information. I did not integrate this feature because it's more difficult for the user to input the monthly data (and for me, to get the records).

For the future, if I can get hold of the data, I might rewrite the calculator for use with other currencies.

Update 9/25/14: Boosted my HTML and CSS powers with this and now the page looks less ancient.

Update 1/23/15: Added an Easter egg to the calculator a couple of weeks ago. Working on another.