Listen Up!

Dad was a storyteller. He loved ragtime music, but I often wonder how much of his love was because of the music itself, and how much was because of the stories.

(Warning: gross oversimplification ahead.) Ragtime is unusual–though not unique–in that during its original heyday, there was very little formal scholarship. Few of the musicians and other prime movers of the genre had any interest in writing about ragtime. The history and culture of ragtime was shared and recorded almost entirely orally. By the time ragtime scholarship really kicked off during the ragtime revival of the forties, many of the primary sources–human and otherwise–had been lost.

That’s a great space for a storyteller. There’s so much room for elaboration. Interpolation. Dramatic enhancement.

Dad loved it. The music, yes. But the stories, too. The research. The “what if” scenarios.

And, of course, the newcomers. Because a storyteller needs an audience. New fans and new performers keep the music alive; they hear the stories and then create their own.

Dad couldn’t play a note, but he delighted in introducing ragtime to the next generation.

(Thanks to Oliver Moore for giving permission to post this performance from the 2019 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. It’s not the most spectacular or technically demanding piece he played that week, but I like it. And, not-so-incidentally, Oliver will be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in November. Come hear him!)

Dad would have loved Oliver. And he would have loved to find a way to introduce more people to ragtime. The younger the better–if they grow up listening to ragtime and playing ragtime, some of ’em are going to stick with it.

We’ve been awed by the donations in Dad’s memory to the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. And we’re thrilled to be able to put those donations to use in a highly appropriate way.

The Ragtime Kids program will seek out talented junior high and high school age ragtime performers and researchers and encourage their development.

There’s more information about the program at the link above.

And, because this is an advertisement–thinly disguised as a blog post, though it may be–a reminder that donations to the Larry Karp Memorial Fund are still more than welcome. The contact for contributions is sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

SAST 14

Today’s Short Attention Span Theater is not brought to you by disease or lack of sleep, it’s just an excuse to deal with my to-do pile.

First, a brief administrative note.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival at the end of the month. I’m not planning a book signing or any other formal event, but The RagTime Traveler will be available for sale*. Come on down to Sedalia, enjoy the music, pick up a book, and I’ll be delighted to sign it for you.

* Dad’s ragtime books, both fiction and non-fiction, will also be in the festival store. In my totally unbiased opinion, you need copies of all of those as well.

While I will take my laptop along, I don’t plan to write any blog posts. I’ll make sure to have a post for Friday, May 31–I don’t want to be responsible for riots caused by cat deprivation–but other than that expect silence between May 28 and June 4, with a return to the usual schedule on June 6.

Second, I’m a little disturbed to discover that El Sobrante* is more dangerous than I’d thought.

* For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, El Sobrante is the closest of the several cities that border the part of Richmond where I live.

Over the years, I’ve gotten accustomed to the suspicious sorts lurking in the local undergrowth, but it appears that a new threat is moving in.

According to a recent post on everyone’s favorite unbiased news source–Nextdoor–“[…]a somewhat large buck with velvet covered antlers jumped out from the side… he mean mugged us hella hard and took a few quick steps towards the car…”

That’s right. As if street gangs of turkeys and terrorist coyotes aren’t bad enough, now we’ve got to deal with deer carjackers. It’s a bad neighborhood, obviously, and getting worse.

But I have to wonder: how the heck did the deer expect to drive the car to the chop shop? He could probably hold the key between his hooves, but it’s not like the driver’s seat can be adjusted to fit his shape. For that matter, what kind of payment would he have been expecting? I’ve heard that fences pay chicken feed, but salt licks?

Anyway, moving on.

The big story a few days ago was that Microsoft is working on tools to (as the Chron’s headline put it) “secure elections”. Which is great news as far as it goes.

Microsoft is doing it right: making the source code freely available, so anyone can audit it and any company in the voting machine field can use it.

The thing is, it’s not a complete voting system, and the value of Microsoft’s software is only as good as the implementation. Voting machine companies have a justifiably poor reputation for the quality of their coding. You can have the greatest software in the world for allowing voters to verify their ballot, and it’ll be absolutely useless if the rest of the software and the hardware it’s running on is riddled with security holes.

How many voting machines run on Windows XP, an operating system that has been completely unsupported for half a decade? (Probably fewer than the number of ATMs running on OS/2, which has been dead for three times as long. But I digress.) Sorry, not totally unsupported. Microsoft just released a security patch for XP. How many of those voting machines running the code are going to get the patch? I’m betting on a percentage in the single digits.

Also, as the articles point out, Microsoft’s new code doesn’t support Internet voting (something far too many people want, given the woeful state of the art) or vote by mail systems, which are increasingly popular.

I’m not running Microsoft down. As I said, it’s a step in the right direction. But we as a country need to take far more than just that one step.

And, finally, no SAST post is really complete without a mention of either the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch or the Transbay Terminal fiasco. I don’t have anything on the BBBB, but there was a brief note in the Chron a few weeks about about the terminal.

The cracked support beams are nearly repaired–though we still don’t have a date for the grand reopening. What we do have is word that the paths in the rooftop garden are going to be replaced.

Those paths, you may remember, are made of decomposed granite, and even before the terminal was closed, the granite was decomposing even further. So the decision has been made to repave the paths, this time using concrete.

As local megaconstruction repair projects go, it should be a comparatively cheap fix, no more than half a million dollars or so. The city and the contractors are, of course, arguing over who is at fault for the failure of the paths. We all know who’s going to wind up paying for the repair, though, and it isn’t either of the arguing parties.

The Belated Father’s Day Post

Not belated because I forgot, or anything stupid like that. Belated because I don’t normally post on Sundays. Okay, so maybe it is a stupid reason. But sticking to a schedule helps me avoid slacking off. For the same reason, I work on novels in the afternoon–so I can start at the same time every day, even when I’m working on blog posts in the morning.

Bad night’s sleep? Doesn’t matter. Gotta write a blog post. Distracted by something shiny (or ragged and cat-eating)? Tough. Go write some words of fiction.

Dad was mildly amused by my schedule adherence, but he understood. “Do what works for you,” is a bit of writing advice that made perfect sense to him. Much as he loved word processing, he absolutely couldn’t edit on a computer. He printed every draft, edited it with a pencil, and then typed his changes in. Which mildly amused me, but again, it worked for him.

19-1.jpg

Last week, I linked a story in the Sedalia Democrat about the Smith-Cotton High School String Orchestra appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, and promised more words about their appearance. These are those words.

The short version, for anyone who finds the Democrat’s website annoyingly hard to use, is that the high school orchestra’s appearance was supported by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund. See, when Dad died, we asked that contributions in his name to be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation. We–and the foundation–were amazed and pleased at the number of donations, and we all agreed there was an opportunity to do more than simply add the funds to the foundation’s general budget.

I often say that Dad was a storyteller. It’s no accident that he gravitated to baseball and ragtime: both are fields with enough stories to fill every library in the world. Dad liked teaching in the classic sense, but he outright loved teaching by telling stories. He could, and frequently did, talk ragtime for hours*. One of the reasons he enjoyed research was for the stream of new stories it brought him. When he started looking into Brun Campbell–a storyteller himself–the stream turned into something more like the Columbia River.

* Baseball, too, but there are more storytellers working that beat than spinning ragtime yarns.

Any community needs new blood to live. And Dad worried there might not be enough new ragtimers coming in to keep the music alive. When a new “Ragtime Kid”–a young talent consumed by the need to play ragtime–came along, he was delighted. Using the money donated in his name, not for immediate needs, but to teach the next generation of ragtimers was an easy call.

What that’s going to look like is still up in the air. We’ve got some immediate plans, and some ideas for the medium- and long-term, all aimed at getting a new generation interested in ragtime and its stories. But no project succeeds if it never gets started. We threw a whole lot of ideas around for where to start. Bringing the Smith-Cotton students to the festival this year was where we wound up. We got a couple of dozen students and their families to the festival. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. If only one of those dozens sticks with ragtime, whether as a performer, researcher, or listener, then it’s a major victory.

Now that we’ve started, we need to keep going. And that means we need to keep the fund healthy. (You knew there was a commercial message coming, right?)

I mentioned last week that the festival was somewhat smaller this year than in the past. Money’s tight all over, but especially so for art programs. We’d love some help.

If you’re willing to lend a hand, please drop a note to sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Thanks from Dad, from the whole family, and from the entire ragtime community.

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Another Brilliant Notion

Before I get to today’s main topic, a little bit of housekeeping, loosely following Tuesday’s post.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival again this year. There’s still time to make your own plans to attend. What better way is there to spend a weekend than listening to great music performed well? In addition to the music, there will be dancing; symposia on ragtime, it’s precursors, and successors; and tours of Sedalia.

And yes, there will be copies of TRTT for sale. I’m not currently planning on a formal signing–though I’m certainly open to the possibility–but I’ll be happy to sign your copy*. I recognize most of you have been resistant to the idea of distributing copies to friends and relatives, so how about an alternative plan? Get ’em for people you don’t know–the possibilities are endless:

  • Send one to Donald Trump. He won’t read it, but maybe dealing with thousands of copies will distract him from tweeting for a few minutes.
  • Slip one to the opposing pitcher before the next ballgame you go to. Who knows, it might distract him enough to give your team a chance.
  • Give them to Scott Pruitt. He needs something cheerful in his life right now. And if he gets enough copies, he can use them to build himself a privacy booth at least as good as the one he made with the sofa cushions when he was a kid.

I’ll be happy to sign any “Strangers and Enemies” copies too. And I’ll add a personal message of your choice!

* I’m still unsure how to sign ebooks. Suggestions welcome!

Admittedly, the weather in Missouri in June is a bit on the hot and muggy side, but for those of you east of the Rockies, it’ll be a nice change from the snow you’re still getting. And better June than September, right?

So I hope to see a few of you at the Liberty Center and around Sedalia between May 30 and June 2.

Commercial over, moving on.

By now many of you have probably heard that the amazingly ill-thought-out Amazon Key program is expanding. If you don’t want Amazon unlocking your house and putting your packages inside–and who would?–they’re now going to offer an alternative: they’ll unlock your car and put your package in the trunk.

Which is, at least by comparison with the original offering, not a bad idea.

Despite San Francisco’s well-publicized problem with smash-and-grab auto robberies, your chances of having your car broken into are probably no higher than of having your house robbed. Assuming, of course, that nobody is following Amazon delivery peons around their routes and texting car delivery locations to a confederate.

Anyway, the service will be offered in conjunction with GM and Volvo initially, and then expand to other makes later. Trunk delivery will also require a recent model with online connectivity, i.e. OnStar.

Which brings us to my major complaint about this iteration of Amazon Key: it’s a reminder that we don’t really own our cars anymore. Ownership should mean control, but a modern, connected car sacrifices control. The manufacturer–and potentially dealers, repair shops, police, and others–can unlock your car, disable features, and display advertisements at will.

Yes, I’m talking capability rather than practice, but policies can change. Once the hardware is in place to, for example, show ads on your navigation screen, you’re never more than one manufacturer-controlled software update from not being able to turn the ads off.

Or one bug–or hack–away from the car failing to recognize the remote relock signal.

That’s true whether you use Amazon Key or not, of course.

Semi-Vacation

About the time this post goes live, I’ll be boarding a plane, heading for Sedalia and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’ve uploaded Feline Friday posts for the next two weeks–I know better than to leave y’all with no cats–but don’t count on anything else. There may be a few short posts. There may be a few tweets (If you’re not following me on Twitter, why not? I’m @CaseyKarp over there.) Or not. We’ll see.

Regular posting will resume June 13th.

I’m Back

I’m back. Rather than asking and risking an answer I’d rather not hear, I’ll just assume you missed me.

I managed to disconnect from the net, and didn’t look at any newspaper*, so it’s going to take me a couple of days to catch up on whatever happened while I was gone–and what’s happening now. That means I can’t bring you my usual timely (i.e. no more than 48 hours-delayed) posts quite yet.

* OK, so I looked at “USA TODAY” a couple of times. I stand by my original statement.

So today you have to suffer through my vacation photos. It’s traditional, right?

As usual, I’ll be making wild generalizations based on insufficient data (residents of Missouri–pardon me, “Missoura”–feel free to jump in and correct me).

07-1Sedalia, MO, where I spent most of the past week, is surrounded by fields of blurry corn. I’m willing to entertain the theory that the corn would be less blurry if it weren’t moving at a relative velocity of 70 MPH–no, don’t call the police: I assure you that’s the speed limit along that stretch of freeway*–but I don’t have any experimental data that would bear on the question. For those even less agriculturally-inclined than I am, the corn is the green stuff behind and to the right of the tree. The green and yellow plants in the foreground are something called “weeds”. Yes, with an “s” at the end.

* Disconcerting to those of us used to states where the maximum speed is 65, or even lower.

07-2There’s a downtown historic district, where many of the business occupy buildings that date back to the 1800s. For that matter, many of the homes are equally as old. Here in California, forty-year-old buildings are routinely considered “historic” and protected from change. That made seeing buildings a century older being remodeled and rebuilt, and in daily use with nary a historic marker in sight seem a little peculiar.

Which is not to say that Sedalia is locked in the eighteenth century. Outside of the historic part of town, you can find all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and murder.

Whoops, pardon me. That’s for a later post. And besides, the murder in question, and the ensuing events, happen in the older section. So, let me try that again: “…all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and BBQ joints.” Yes, much better. And, with apologies to my vegetarian readers, it’s damn good ‘que, too.

* One thing Sedalia doesn’t seem to have is the concept of recycling–indeed, Missoura as a whole seems extremely deficient in its attention to matters environmental. The only recycling bins I saw in the (admittedly small) part of the state I visited were in the Kansas City airport. And the signs advertising unlimited auto washings for twenty bucks a month made this drought-attuned California resident bang his head against the nearest wall.

07-3Anyway, aside from the murder-I’m-not-talking-about-yet, my main reason for going to Sedalia was the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’m not going to give a background briefing on ragtime or Scott Joplin. Not today, anyway. There’s some information on the festival site if you’re curious, but frankly, approaching the music by starting with the history is a backward approach. Start with the music!

For starters, several people have already posted videos from this year’s festival. These all seem to have been taken at one of the outdoor venues, and are a decent place to start your investigation. I expect the list to grow as more attendees get home, catch up on their e-mail, and start posting their vacation movies.

* Kudos to the festival organizers for including a full lineup of free concerts in addition to the scholarly presentations and non-free indoor concerts. There were quite a few times when I really wished I had the ability to be in two places at once.

Be aware that silliness does occasionally break out.07-4

I know how boring other peoples’ vacation photos are, so I’ll knock off with one final note.

I enjoyed the festival immensely, and I wasn’t the only one. This was my first time attending, so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I heard several people say that it was the best one yet. Give some serious consideration to hitting the festival next June.