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  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:16 am on October 22, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: amateur organist, , chair, Chopsticks, composer, Der Flohwalzer, , piano teacher, , Steinway and Sons, , Waltz   

    Bear Waltz 

    I never received any musical instruction. My mother always believed that I did not have any musical talents. In fact, she used a Russian saying “медведь на ухо наступил” (“a bear stepped on one’s ear”) to describe my musical aptitude. When I was little, I assumed the bear story to be literally true.

    When I became a little older, I realized how lucky I was–many of my friends had to spend many, many hours studying music, and every one of them hated it. Those who studied music further, hated their lessons even more. I had one friend, for instance who used solfeggio as a curse word.

    To this day I do not regret not getting a musical education: I feel that all that reading, fishing and playing that I’ve done instead of music lessons was a better use of my time. Besides, I think my mother wasn’t very much off in evaluation of my musical ability.

    Having married into a musical family (my mother-in-law is a piano teacher and father-in-law is a senior tuner at Steinway and Sons), I have more music thrust in my life than I ever thought possible. My wife, an amateur organist, took up almost half of the living room space with an organ and a harpsichord. The mother-in-law and her take turns in bringing my baby daughter, whose entire vocabulary is limited to “papa”, “mama”, “baba”, and “kaka”, to the harpsichord keyboard and letting her hit the keys. My father in law has absolute pitch, but at this point it’s unclear if little Natalie inherited it or my own “bear-stepped-on” ears.

    While a harpsichords and an organs are hardly common instruments, I bet every one of you has encountered a well-abused piano situated in a classroom. Invariably, some kid pulls up a chair and starts playing a simple melody. In the United States it’s usually a Chopsticks, in Russia–Dog’s Waltz.

    It turns out that Chopsticks is actually called The Celebrated Chop Waltz and it’s composer is known. Dog’s Waltz’s, composer, on the other hand is unknown, but the tune has a wider international influence (also, musically, it’s a more interesting piece than Chopsticks).

    Dog’s Waltz, as I learned from the Wikipedia article, is one of those things that has different names in different cultures. There are many examples of this: Russian roulette is known as American roulette in Russia, Mk 2 grenade is known as “pineapple grenade” in the US, but was called “lemon grenade” in Russian, cocks being called roosters in the US (for understandable reasons) and so forth.

    The cultures don’t agree in what the said roosters sound like, with versions ranging from “cock-a-doodle-doo” to “goh-geh-goh-goh” to “chic-chi-ri-chi” and so forth. Cat sounds vary from culture to culture as well, and so do dog sounds.

    In the similar manner, Dog’s Waltz has a multitude of names in different cultures, ranging from Cat March to Flea Waltz, Donkey March, Fools’ Polka, and The Little Monkeys. The Japanese, take the prize by calling it Neko Funjatta–I Stepped on the Cat. Interestingly enough, this tune is relatively unknown in the US.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 11:08 pm on August 31, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Alessi, , Boris Spassky, chair, , , Design Within Reach, , EUR, expensive chair, favorite steam pitcher, , Industrial design, Juicer, More, , Product design, , steam pitcher, Team America World Police, , , , , Whinston Churchill   

    Design Out of Reach 

    One of my favorite coffee shops, Joe The Art of Coffee, recently opened a new branch in an Alessi showroom at 130 Greene Street in Manhattan.

    Alessi is one of those funny companies that sell expensive “design”. There are really three approaches to selling “design”. You can go the Ikea way: hire really good designers, mass-produce their designs, use cheap materials and sell them cheaply. On the other end of the spectrum is stuff like the concept pieces, like the magnetically floating bed that recently got all the gadget blogs very excited. The scale model will set you back over 100K euros, and the real one is so fricking impractical that it’s not even built. You can’t deny the coolness aspect though.

    There’s the middle way that is tread by companies like Design Within Reach and Alessi. While a more proper description would be “Design Just Outside Most People’s Reach”, they do have a few items that are a relatively good value even for not particularly rich people like myself.

    For instance, I really want an Alessi steam pitcher. But while a perfectly well made knockoff costs 35 bucks, a genuine item costs 114. Ouch. I have the knockoff, and it’s my favorite steam pitcher right now.

    But when it comes to something that I use constantly, there’s really no alternative to getting the real thing. A Herman Miller Aeron chair is significantly better than most knockoffs that I’ve seen and usually sells only for 1/2 as much.

    There’s another chair that I really want, the Eames “Time-Life Chair”. Manufactured and sold by Herman Miller, it was created for the lobby of the Time-Life building in Manhattan (where I used to frequently have lunch in the company cafeteria before they stopped letting in people from other Rockefeller Center buildings). The chair was made famous by Bobby Fisher who required it as one of his numerous conditions when he played in the world chess championship against Boris Spassky. These days it cost about $2,500 new (about $1000 for a vintage one on eBay). Back then it used to cost about 700 bucks, and made all the newspapers whine about Fisher’s expensive tastes. I really don’t see a reason why someone who earns his living while sitting down does not deserve an expensive chair. Dot com companies got a lot of flack for purchasing Aeron chairs – but those were probably the most prudent investments they’ve made. Putting computer programmers in cheap chairs will literally cripple them, while the chair’s resale value is still pretty good.

    Eames Executive Chair made famous by Bobby Fisher / Time-Life Building

    Another “high design” item that I really salivate over is the Bestlite lamp. Bestlite was made famous by Whinston Churchill who had one on his desk. While the price finally went down on the floor model from $748 to $349.95 at Levenger, it’s still out of reach for me.

    Bestlite lamp

    I see a lot of companies putting famous Barselona® chairs in their lobbies. These are pretty expensive at $3,499 a pop (a friend of mine slept on two of these during the big blackout of 03. Anyway, these chairs are classy, but are becoming a cliche. Wouldn’t a Frank Gheary living room set look much cooler? It’s also much cheaper – the sofa is “only” $1200.

    But the item that really made me scratch my head is the Philippe Starck-designed fruit juicer sold by Alessi. It costs about 80 bucks. I really don’t know what to think here.

    The juicer is definitely cool-looking and original (well, unless you count T4 Bacteriophage Virus, lunar lander and Spaceship Moya, etc) which resulted it being featured as a prop in several movies.

    Interestingly enough, it usually ends up in the bedroom somehow. Here it is, masquarading as a lamp in the infamous puppet sex scene from Team America World Police:

    Team America World Police Juicy Salif Lamp

    I really don’t have 80 bucks to trow away on a Philippe Starck design, the question that bothers me is this: are all of those who say that the juicer is impractical right? From the looks of it, the juicer should work just fine and even be ergonomic. Also, is “Salif” even a word? And if so, what does it mean?

  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:43 am on August 17, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , chair, , Fog Creek Copilot, , FogBugz, Glare, Joel, , premature baldness prevention product, project management, ,   

    Party Pictures 

    I’ve attended the Joel‘s demo party for Fog Creek Copilot, an amazing grey hair and premature baldness prevention product. Here is my photo report.

    The Joel is famous for creating humane working conditions. Natural light, dual flatscreen monitors, Aeron chairs. Actually, this is very similar to the setup that I have at home, except I have a view of Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. My chair at work is a butt-hurting monster, but if I stand up in my cube and really crane my neck, I can see the same skyscrapers, but from the other side.

    Joel was literally mobbed by fans.

    I dragged him away and had a couple of minutes to take a picture of him.

    A funky light fixture was casting a glare on the famous office partition window, but I used it for a cheesy “idea” effect.

    Michael Pryor had way too much fun with a Zero Fog Blaster.

    Despite a wide array of snacks, he chewed on the poor defenseless office plant.

    Zero Fog Blaster shoots far traveling rings of non-toxic smoke. Provides hours of fun.

    Joel’s books mix Yiddish and other types of humor with software design and project management. Even more fun than Zero Fog Blaster.

    You should also own:
    User Interface Design for Programmers
    Painless Project Management with FogBugz

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