Archive for December, 2013

javaNow, I’m honestly trying to not work on the project specifics except during the work week of Monday – Friday. Granted, like everyone else; I find a project I like; I dive in with both feet. Ironically, the average diver would probably hazard trying to go in hands first. But, then again; I’m not a diver.

What this means is that I spend the weekend trying to refine the work that needs to be done. I spend it learning technologies, experimenting with them and dreaming how they will incorporate. Despite being a holiday weekend (well, Yulishmash spill-over) I knew there wasn’t going to be much to get done. Also, with family in town, I really can’t kick them out of my home office when it’s also the guest room. (Yes, my home office has a Thinking-Queen-Sized-Bed)

So, it was down to sitting on the couch with laptop and hashing out the following. First was refreshing Java. I touched Java aeons ago. This was probably back when you could count Java’s age on one hand. Java is not yet 20, though it did become legal this year in the states. I’ve done a boatload of C and a shipload of Objective-C, and maybe a dinghy of C++. But Java was something that I kept getting pulled back from spending too much time in. Believe it or not; I’ve survived as a third-party Apple OS developer for over 25 years.

Java itself isn’t so much the problem. Object-oriented code with some syntax adjustments. Obj-C protocols are Java interfaces… sort of. The problem with most OO languages are the libraries and the build processes. In java is comes down to Packages, Jars, ClassPaths, and the like. So to learn Java I also brought in Eclipse. Eclipse is a popular Java IDE.  Well, after watching 5 horrendously painful lectures on the baby steps of Java for non-programmers, I was able to get the ever joyful “Hello World” up and running. But why stop there?!?

Next up was loading Tomcat. Tomcat is a web server that runs mini Java programs (known as Servlets). This allows me to do dynamic generation of content dependent on calls to a server. The server takes the request and passes it to the Servlet. The servlet uses java to parse the request, do stuff, and return data. So my next job was setting up Tomcat on my internal server (on the scared side of my firewall) and trying to write a Servlet.

This stage didn’t go quite as smoothly. Servlets have their own brand of packaging that goes even further into the world of Java. Thanks to some helpful folks at StackOverflow I was able to get a better handle on WEB-INF directories and my Java crashing web.xml file. Granted, after all that, the Servlet still wouldn’t run. After many hours it was sleep time.

Today, undaunted, I went back to the Servlet. I tried to figure out why the samples that came with Tomcat worked but mine belched “Resource not found” errors. Then I learned about how Tomcat Servlet paths worked and there was my happy “Hello World!” Servlet running on my Tomcat Server. (2 notches on the tinkerer’s belt)

So, obviously “Stuff” means fetching from the data store. We go to MySQL for that. This is a low effort relational database that will let me keep the data that I will pick and choose for my web requests. Client calls URL, URL hits Servlet, Servlet parses request, Servlet fetches from MySQL, Servlet pushes response out to client.

For those of you who do this all the time like it’s a piece of cake. Remember, some of us have been working on an entirely different kind of pastry. So, I salute the work you do so effortlessly. I hope to get there soon-ish.

Some fine tuning on a quick install of MySQL, a mini throw-away database and VOILA, Servlet is responding and showing a nicely formatted table. Now going back to the client; as previously mentioned I’m going to be using a data format called “JSON.” JSON has a lot of clients and APIs that can consume data in that format and turn it into something usable. So, next up on my agenda was finding a JSON library my Servlet could consume.

Remember, this is all seat of the pants, and I’m likely doing half of this all wrong. But if I can get a working proof of concept that looks good enough for seed money, then I can hire in people who do this for a living to do it right. So, I find an open source JSON java library. I even figure out how to turn it into a JAR (Java Archive) and soon was able to have a sample java program burping out my data in the much hoped for data format.

So, next up is moving this JAR and JSON code into the Servlet. Once that is there, we have an end-to-end request from MySQL JSON generator. But by then it’s the end of the weekend and it’s back to working on the client proper with the hand coded data set.

All this and I had a cold this weekend, too. It’s quite an adventure and I’m really thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far. We being now a team of 5 contributors (including myself) even if half don’t really consider themselves contributors yet.

As we get closer to our Proof of Concept I will endeavor to get less vague.

Til next time…

Back to code!

300px-Tomcat-logo.svgWith the holidays, the usual entertainment segment of the blog has been on holiday. We do promise not one, but two post Sing Off wrap-ups. I’m pleased to announce that many of you really seemed to enjoy the Armchair Judge; so we’ll be bringing her on as permanently as she wishes to participate.

But onto the project. Code in the project itself was fairly quiet. I put in some analytics and testing libraries to allow me to start getting the alpha into people’s hands to abuse and give feedback. In doing so there’s been a lot of Product Management and Software Management going on. As always, read the following “We’s” as the pre-corporate “I” 😉

We’re now running Jenkins, Bugzilla and Tomcat on our internal servers for the purpose of building, running, and monitoring our software. We’ve added in hooks for Flurry and TestFlight to make it easy to track usage, take feedback, and distribute alphas. I have been re-doing the company’s NDA so we can send out the alphas to people. Also, we’ve put dual 1TB RAID’ed drives in place for data security as well as system backups. We’ve been running gitolite for SCM. All of this is running on OS X 10.8 + Server on a Mac Mini. So updating that to 10.9 will be an experience.

I’ve also given the app to our first Alpha tester. In the first evening we got two bug reports (S, You rock!) as well as a few unanswered feature questions. I’m more than happy to get more testers like this! Further, I did do some coding to create a data entry front end application to let me enter and validate data more easily.

So, currently I am looking for Java folks who’ve done Tomcat, general hobbyist programmers who might like to do some pre-financing work, and testers. Feel free to drop a line on this. 🙂

Well, it’s back to Tomcat for Dummies for me.

More soon!

questionImageErin and I have been discussing the episode and you can expect our write ups before the holiday. But before we put them up I need to put up what seems like a gratuitous tweet.

Nick Lachey: ‏(@NickLachey) {(post)}

I want to thank all 10 groups for making this season of #singoff the most fun yet!! You ALL were great! See you again for season 5.

Did Nick just accidentaly pre-announce a pick-up for another season? One can only hope, but we WILL keep watch on this.

singofflogoA few thoughts going into Monday’s Sing-Off Season 4 Finale (this is being written before Monday’s show and does not take into account any of Monday’s performances).

Each of the three groups left has a different strength.

Vocal Rush has my heart; Ten has my head; Home Free has my ear.

Vocal Rush is full of youthful energy and exuberance. They have several strong leads and can pass the melody among them without a loss of momentum. I always find myself rooting for them. Sometimes the energy gets a little out of control and affects the harmony, but I have to really be listening for it, in most cases, for minor tuning issues to affect how I feel at the end of the performance. Which is usually wonderful.

I would be happy, and not surprised, if they won because they have an infectious sound and lots of potential. I would also not be surprised because, as a young group, they will bring the Glee and Pitch Perfect crowd to concerts and to iTunes.

Ten has experience, a mature depth to their choral sound, rich harmonies, and the ability to mix their voices to sound like even more than ten. I was surprised to learn in one of the background videos that none of them read music, and learn all of their parts by ear from the arranger (who is also the percussionist). They have been playing up their Gospel/Soul roots and it has been effective in showing off their style.  I’m not the biggest fan, personally, of the gospel-revival “come to Jesus” arrangements BUT there’s no doubt that when they build a song up to that frenzy, it’s infectious (and also in tune).

I would be happy for Ten if they won. They will be great in a tour with other artists (either the SingOff tour or with other Soul groups). I do not think they will win because they are not quite commercial enough for Sony.

Home Free has tight, seemingly effortless harmonies, a smooth-faced, smooth-voiced lead, a kick-ass bass and a country swagger. I really love listening to them even though country is not my favorite genre.  They have shown some growth and imagination in their arrangements; varying the style and drama within the song. I would like to see more of that variety and more of a build up to the climax of a song. That might be the only thing keeping them from being this year’s Pentatonix (more on that in a minute).

I would be happy if Home Free won. They show off the best of what a small a cappella group can do. I think they stand a fair chance of commercial success because Country music is hot, and Country fans are loyal. They may even have a rabid band of followers from the fair/festival circuit already.

One final note…

Since the P-word keeps getting brought up this year, the inevitable comparison to Pentatonix will surely show on the finale since they will actually be performing. None of this years groups are as good or as exciting at PTX. We have not seen Shawn Stockman stand up and laud anyone for “being sent from the future to save a cappella.”  However, I think Home Free, and not VoicePlay, are this years closest equivalent because of the tight harmony (basically a quartet with a percussionist). Sure, PTX and VP each had four men and a woman, but in PTX, Kristi does not (usually) sing lead; she fills in the middle harmony. VP was much more “all about the girl”, almost like the guys were her backup singers. PTX has a lead but it always feels like an ensemble no matter who has the melody. Home Free has much more of the ensemble feel along with the close harmonies, but a much different energy.

Until next time…


The Sing-Off_ Season 4, Episode 6- Judges' Choice - EPWe’re coming to the end of the Armchair Director (and Judge’s) posts on the Sing Off for 2013. The ratings seem to indicate that this will definitely be back for next season. Hopefully, they can find a way to put it on the schedule more than once in a year. granted, I’m a very greedy fan of the series.

Of course while it’s off the air, I’ll be continuing the Armchair series. I’m going to be keeping Erin on as so many of you have read her posts and given it likes and +1s and the such on social media. Please also feel free to share our links if you enjoy them. Like anything in the interwebz your voice raises other voices. And in A Cappella, who could ask for more.

Of course this begs the question… what would you like the armchair(s) to look at next? And… if it’s not something we review… is it something you’d like us to reserve _you_ an armchair for?

But I greatly digress because here comes the Penultimate 2013 Sing Off Episode. The “Judge’s Choice.” Firstoff, thanks to Erin for her post on this episode. (She was so nervous that she got her post up before mine. Personally, I thought it was fantastic 😉

Of course every episode starts with a “Flashback.”

This week’s production piece was “Shake It Out.” As opposed to last episode’s “Dirty Dancing” intro; this one packed in the ‘OOMPH’ that was certainly lost in the previous. With only four groups in the production  combined with the experience of working with the production team; you can really begin to tune harmonies better. those tunings definitely showed bringing a very beautiful and nigh-angelic blend. The piece was just fantastic.

Time for the Theme and Nick to get us started.

One elimination tonight to get us to our final 3 for Monday’s BIIIIG finale. More on that at the end. Nick re-introduces us to the groups (which I think everyone else either has a favourite or happily like me is utterly stumped.) Nick, then does the short introduction of the judges. (For two hour episodes they respond, in one hour episodes they smile as their Twitter ID embosses on the screen)

Last episode was Party Anthems, this episode the judges have something truly terrifying in store for the groups. That’s right… Nick Lachey will be the mentor. Well, I guess the boy band is happy 😉 Tonight’s episode is “Judge’s Choice.” I like moving that back from the ‘Post vote’ episode. This lets the group get into their element under the gun one last time. It gives them the chance to say, “I know this song is a ‘Gimme’ now what can we do to surprise you and Give back.” To this day, I think PTX’s “Dog Days are Over” makes Florence and the Machine’s version sound like a bad cover. And the song was from the latter.

Nick as Mentor had one nice statement:

Dreams are the Foundation of Creativity

And I think that is really important on infinite levels in any line of work or play. It’s not just for this show.


filharmonic1. The Filharmonic – “Baby I need your Lovin'” – The Four Tops

What I said:

To think that I’d ever enjoy a 90’s boy band. These guys have a locked in sound. They have a style and swagger to match. Finally, they have an ear for arrangement and performance that really pulls people in. After the last episode they also have figured out how to rip their hearts to shreds to bring it to the next level. Whereas Vocal Rush comes unglued when they have fun, The Filharmonic becomes unglued when they don’t put the full emotion in. Filharmonic needs to keep focus, not make tuning errors, and be as openly honest and without fear as Vocal Rush. Low odds, but I think they have a better chance of overcoming/hiding their shortfalls better than Vocal Rush does.

Why it was picked:

Shawn Stockman: Boy bands aren’t just a creation of the 90s. They existed in the 80’s the 70’s. You have to get out of just the 90 sound and go to the root of where this came from. To Shawn Stockman this means going all the way to The Four Tops. This is an iconic example of the type of sound that it all comes from. What Stockman and the judges need to see is that the harmonies stay locked. Practice them. In Nick’s mentoring he tells the group that 98 Degrees would practice by breaking the harmonies into pairs, singing two parts on their own, then bringing them back together.

Going In:

I gave The Filharmonic 12.5:1 with a slight edge over Vocal Rush. These two groups have very specific (and at times opposite problems.) It’s up to both of them to see who can fix themselves better. Filharmonic has the numbers and the technique, Vocal Rush has the Passion.

The Performance:

It was clean. The brought the harmonies in tighter. They had a mature show. he choreography definitely fit the style. There was some build. But there’s where the problem was. There was some build but not enough. The crowd loved them (which is sadly hard to gauge the level of authenticity vs. Televised engineering). The ending was just a bit on the abrupt side. Honestly, I (and likely the judges) wanted more.

The Judges:

Shawn: Slick Choreography. Figured how to get the screams. Build up didn’t get any higher. You need to get to the full build.

Jewel: Definitely locked the harmonies. Let a classic be a classic. Shows restraint and maturity.

Ben: Took the notes and worked on the pitch. Dropped the rhythm ball. That sells a lot of record. Still got a little ways to go

At this point I have The Filharmonic on the Bottom. (Sad day… As always, I do like them all)

NBC cut to a break and after one commercial there was a technical glitch. (Was this national or local?) The NBC peacock image was on the screen, rotated some colours and then went away. It did this for about 3-4 times. I referred to is as Hypno-Peacock for the fans of Futurama out there. The show came back only slightly into Nick’s welcome back.


USO5-2T_R2. Ten – “Proud Mary” – Ike and Tina Turner

What I said:

I was not a big fan of Ten going in. Gospel and R&B has to kick me so hard I’m grateful for it to really touch me. Ten’s initial foray was very scattered. You could tell it was 10 really good singers looking to come together. While it’s not obvious from the crunched in schedule; taping for this series was over weeks rather than days. Ten has obviously matured and coalesced into a group. They will only get better with each performance. Good odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Ben Folds: Ben’s comments are short. We really think that Ten can make this song explode. The intro talks about how Skyfall was very strong for them stylistically, but the group is overjoyed at this choice. They are certain that the judges have no idea how much of a “Gimme” this one is. They are certain that they will “Blow the roof off.” From a mentoring point of view the group asks Nick how to maintain respect within the group. He talks about how any number of group members will have disagreements, but you ALWAYS keep the respect. Don’t confuse conflict with lack of respect. (Good advice)

Going In:

My odds of survival for Ten were a near even 2:1. Ten’s biggest problem was the obvious lack of cohesion for a new group. Ten has very clearly conquered that. Now they stand toe to toe with the other strong groups and their real issue is finding a unique sound that tells us what the group is beyond straight Gospel/R&B. Sadly, this song is not really going to give them a lot of room to get out of that niche. As long as they don’t utterly fall apart, they are in.

The Performance:

I love the narrative opening. It put’s a “Kids, sit down while the grown ups give you a lesson in music” and of course then explodes. It was a slow entry and then a wild ride. This packed a lot of punch. Granted, they are up against the MIGHTY Tina Turner. They hold their own well. And the lead singer does some great Tina. It’s fun, it may be a bit too much. This does not affect the singing. I loved it. But they probably could even have been wilder. I have mental images of live performances from the late 60’s and early 70’s where it was just a PARTY. This was a Party, it just didn’t reach PARTY

The Judges:

Ben: That was really strong. The intro was so perfectly behind the beat. Don’t fall back on the muscle. DOn’t be afraid to take risks.

Shawn: Very Proud. Deedee killed it. No doubt while you’re still in it. Because I know how powerful you are.. The DooDoo was to tame. Get the blowback effect. Still more to give.

Jewel: Big shoes to fill DeeDee, you did a great job. Great Growl. Still hit the clear crystal tone. Looks as artists. We need to see you as an artists. Missing identity outside of Gospel. What kind of records do you want to cut.

My ranking:

  1. Ten
  2. The Filharmonic

Going into commercial:

Shawn comments that it was still too mellow.

From Twitter:

@elielandau (Of who I have become a fan and now follow) “Wait. You don’t understand their identity outside of gospel, but you gave them “Proud Mary”? What did you think they would do?”


home-free3. Home Free – “Colder Weather” – Zac Brown Band

What I said:

A Cappella-Country with a great cross over sound, a stunning lead vocalist, an unbelievable bass (No worries, still a fan of the Avi the Bass Canon), and of course who could forget, a beard! Home Free has a sound that isn’t just original, it’s tight and creative. I was worried in the early weeks that they were getting formulaic, but they managed to find a surprise in each episode. Good odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Jewel points out that they haven’t really touched on the ballad during the run of the series. This will force them to bring up the emotional tug of a song. In the intro Nick mentors the group to Hone in on the emotion of the song. They need to ‘feel it’ otherwise the audience won’t ‘buy it.’ The emotion needs to come from a real place. The pre-produced skit is humourous as they all go in to a barbershop to get cleaned up and suggest that Rob “The Beard” has shaved. Which he hadn’t. But fun.

Going in:

I gave Home Free 2.5:1 or just slightly less than Ten’s chances to survive. Meaning these are my two top picks.  Home Free has truly found the way give us a slightly different look with songs and I have no doubt (Too soon?) that they will give an amazing ballad and clearly sail to the final 3.

The Performance:

Rob “The Beard” leads the vocals. This is a huge change. It’s not as strong as Tim or Austin, but it is pure and honest. This is hugely what the judges wanted. As the tempo comes up the other vocalists come in. Austin brings in the next wave. There’s almost no choreography, but the sound and the emotion are clear. This group has nailed what they needed to.

The Judges:

Shawn: Rob: Wow. That was really nice to hear you step out. Austin: This boy is a beast. A slight fluctuation in pitch. Still a treat.

Ben: As artists some of the best stuff is the scariest stuff. If you can step off the ledge… Do it. Get out of your comfort some.  Great generous performance.

Jewel: Less is more when you have talent. And you do. You shy away from your comfort zone. Austin don’t be afraid of your comfort zone.

My ranking:

  1. Home Free
  2. Ten
  3. The Filharmonic

From Twitter: ‏

@IoannesMartinus (John Martin Tenor from season 2’s Street Corner Symphony) – So, when Shawn said there were some pitch issues, did he mean that one IV chord that wasn’t quite solid?



vocal-rush4. Vocal Rush – “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” – Fallout Boy

What I said:

Every episode they show more depth, more maturity, and more style. This group has so many different and eclectic weapons in their musical arsenal to call from. Vocal Rush’ ongoing danger has come from their biggest asset. They know no fear. The put it all honestly out there and that means if it’s fun, they are going to bring the party. And the care-free attitude is where the really hard hitting songs begin to break down. If they can conquer this, they’re in… If they let it get away from them, the other thing that will get away is the competition. Sadly… Lowest odds for survival tonight.

Why it was picked:

Back to Ben Folds. They’ve been singing a lot of ‘Old People’ music. Time to sing something from their time. In the Intro the group talks about how they feel like they’ve transformed from being just “Those High School kids” into a respected team on the show. They feel they have an enormous chip on their shoulder and want to prove that they can make it all the way.

Going in:

I gave Vocal Rush the worst odds to make it into the finals. At the time I felt badly. Barring a home run or a complete meltdown, combined with the Filharmonic not really bringing it, I am pretty sure they are in. The question is how badly will they have to fight in an “Ultimate Sing Off” if it’s not a home run?

The Performance:

Vocal Rush has been holding back. The old songs they work for. This was the first time I heard them sound effortless. This was also a new experience for me. They made “The Wall Of Sound” work for me. And I don’t say that lightly. The energy did not damage the harmonies. While I acknowledge my ear is not best for that; they sounded better than they ever have. The energy from the group was astounding. I’m honestly believing this was their first home run if not a grand slam.

The Judges:

Jewel: You did so many things right. You sound like an artist. Collective Identity. You lived up to the pyro blast.

Ben: I was rocking. First time I was glad to be wearing glasses. Playful drama. Only thing I noticed: the 5 chord below the chorus.

Shawn: You take on every song with reckless abandon. You take it on full. With every song.  Technically: The bridge was so hyped that you didn’t give yourself to take it down before up again. The little things. The schmaltz.

My ranking:

  1. Vocal Rush
  2. Home Free
  3. Ten
  4. The Filharmonic

My call for the Ultimate Sing Off:

Ten takes apart The Filharmonic

First off for the group vs. group for who’s safe

  • Home Free vs. Ten
    • Home Free: Stars. Professional. Lost the pitch at the top. Hasn’t really stepped off the ledge.
    • Ten: United in praise at DeeDee’s solo. At times too mellow. Needs to take BIGGER risks
    • Safe: Home Free
    • USO: Ten
  • The Filharmonic vs Vocal Rush
  • Filharmonic: Dropped the ball on rhythm and arrangement
  • Vocal Rush: Rocked out. Bridge missed the chance to go to the next level.
  • Safe: Vocal Rush
  • USO: The Filharmonic

The final song is “Should I Stay or Should I Go” which I think while the topic is relevant, the song is a 6-alarm WTF for both groups.

Neither group has a really astounding performance here. Ten is a little muddy while Filharmonic is back into rhythm but lost some of the show. Both had good and bad points but neither group really reached me enough to put many more notes down beyond that. Performance-wise I think The Filharmonic may have edged Ten here. But taking into consideration their earlier performance, and where I think both groups potential lie in the series. I’m thinking the judges will pick Ten.

Each group speaks about how they feel:

  • Ten: It would mean everything to make it to the finale. But if not. It means everything to us
  • Joe: Making it this far… we’re so far. We just want to represent for a cappella. We’re happy.

The Judges decide to save Ten.

Next Episode: Last Episode of the year (and hopefully not the series…again)

Monday @ 8pm the 2 hr finale.

Performance from the groups, the judges, Nick (and 98 degrees), Pentatonix, other survivors?

Downside. No live show, no fan voting. Hopefully no charity editing.