Sunday, July 31, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Ark with the SSO

Of all the concerts this year the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's live performance of Raiders of the Lost Ark to the movie was the one I was most looking forward to. And we almost missed it!

Kids have a different sense of time and urgency to adults and just getting out of the house was a enough of a struggle. The Thai restaurant was just opposite the station, but it is never safe to assume a frequent and fast service when it comes to Sydney trains.

Google Maps said we would be a few minutes late. Okay, let's challenge the last bit, the walk.

Trackwork on the City Circle Line meant that we couldn't ride the Airport Line train direct to Circular Quay. Change at Wolli Creek, get out at Martin Place and run down Macquarie Street.

Only problem was that B doesn't do karate like Alex and I and doesn’t have quite the same fitness levels. So Google Maps was pretty accurate in the end.

Puffing, we showed the doorman our tickets and were ushered to our seats. Fortunately the conductor, Nicholas Buc, was giving an introductory talk. We'd made it just in time!

Our not cheap seats in the box had views of the orchestra, but the screen was a little bit obscured, a disappointment. Though I was here for the orchestra and the music, not the movie.

In my opinion the movie is a distraction, but it does serve to entertain the rest of the family and to force the orchestra to do its best. No room for lazy interpretation, they must be on the ball to synchronise with the screen.

And they were! This was the fifth live score performance I have attended, all with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House and it was by far my favourite. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the great adventure movies and the score is by the greatest film composer of all time: John Williams.

Though I love almost all of his scores, the eighties were my favourite period of his composition; the second and third Star Wars movies, ET and the first three Indiana Jones films, all from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Watching the orchestra below it became obvious how Williams created his lush sound: He utilises the full orchestra.

Strings, woodwind, brass and percussion, all playing at once, but playing counterpoint, multiple melodies and rhythms. There is so much the listen to, to listen for. The lietmotifs tell the story, the hint of exotic sounds from conventional instruments setting the scene. This is mastery of the orchestra.

The orchestra were mostly up to it, though the tuba sounded a little ragged at times. John Williams actually wrote a concerto for this frequently ignored instrument. I heard the Melbourne Symphony perform it a few years ago and Williams' certainly demands much from his tuba players.

The strength of Williams' score is evident in the the most exciting sequence of the movie, the desert chase. Both B and I were too busy observing the energy of the orchestra to watch the thrills on screen.

Alex was awake throughout the whole performance, despite its lateness after a busy Saturday, and, unlike Babe, there were only a couple of complaints from him. He is quite familiar with Indy's theme!

Harking back to the old days of cinema, there was even an intermission, after which the orchestra played Mutt's theme from the fourth Indiana Jones movie: Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.

Forget the so called Golden Days of cinema, the subject of the previous concert, this was Hollywood at its best. I'm so glad we made it!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Warm winter's day

The bureau says that today was Sydney's second warmest July day in recorded history. The middle of winter and more than 25 degrees. It would have been nice to be outside for more of it rather than in a stuffy office (though with a nice view).

Even at 11 pm it is still warm, around 22 degrees, though it has just started to rain. That beautiful soft patter of rain drops, soothing, ushering in sleep though it means forgoing its music.

Perhaps it is the low or the humid, the oncoming change, but there is a feeling of potential in the air, as if it is time for a journey. Instead, it is time to sleep and to hope for great voyages across the dreamscape.

Good night!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Alex's awesome holidays

The last day of school holidays for the middle of 2016 and I think it's worth jotting down all the activities over the past two weeks. Left to his own devices, Alex would spend far too much time with his devices, so the idea was to get him out and about in a way to stimulate his body and mind with the kind of experiences he doesn't normally get while still having time to "chillax" as he so likes to say. Meanwhile, when he wasn't in vacation care I worked from home.

Thursday June 30

Second last day of school, but we had some expiring movie tickets so went to watch Steven Spielberg's version of The BFG at Miranda. We all enjoyed it, well acted and visually spectacular.

Friday July 1

Alex wrote his first Android apps using MIT App Inventor 2 and following their video tutorials. It''s very simple, much like Scratch, and you can do cool stuff using a device's built in sensors. He worked out how to customise the examples and we put one of the apps on my phone.

Later I had a play with an Arduino set I had recently purchased. Wish that mucking around with digital hardware was that simple when I was at university!

Saturday July 2

Bike riding at Centennial Park, B and I on hired bikes, Alex furiously pedalling his too-small kid's bike.

Sunday July 3

After the previous day's experience we decided to get Alex a new bike. Purchased an adult one so that we can ride with him.

Monday July 4

Vacation care with clowns for Alex after the 4-D cinema cancelled on them. 

Tuesday July 5

Bikes arrived! While I worked from home, Alex relaxed and did his own thing.

Wednesday July 6

Second day of vacation care. Alex went to indoor rock climbing and laser tag.

Thursday July 7

A full day Thinkspace workshop on Scratch programming at Sydney Observatory for Alex. He really enjoyed writing the three games and was very proud to show them off to me. A long way from writing text games in BASIC when I was his age!

Friday July 8

Took Alex for his first ride on the new bike - needed more practice!

Saturday July 9

Riding his new bike in the park, Alex saw his school principal.

Sunday July 10

Alex left us alone to go go karting at a friends birthday. Apparently he was a bit nervous at the speed of them.

Monday July 11

Sadly the holidays were not without some homework and Alex had to write a persuasive speech. Persuading him to write it was the real test. 

Tuesday July 12

I had a day off, or tried (forgot to undivert my phone). We built some of the plastic houses and shops for Alex's Japanese N-scale model railway layout. Wish the bath house was real!

We both went for a ride around the suburb on our bikes, but Alex found the hills a bit tricky. 

Wednesday July 13

While Kita was at the vet having his teeth cleaned I took Alex down to the ANSTO nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights for an hour and a half session of Atomic Kids. This fantastic session introduced kids to the periodic table, atoms and chemical bonds. Alex really enjoyed it.

Thursday July 14

Another full day workshop, this time learning about the circulatory and respiratory system at the Junior Science Academy at Macquarie University while I was over at work at North Ryde. They looked at dissected sheep hearts and lungs and made blood from Cheerios, marshmallows and food dye. He was pretty exhausted by the end of it but eager to tell me everything he'd learned.

Friday July 15

A chance for B to spend some time with Alex before going over to his best friend's house.

Saturday July 16

Alex came into our bedroom at 4 AM bawling his eyes out, having just fallen out of his bed. We then discovered a gash to the side of his head. Who knew sleep could be that dangerous? So off to the emergency department we drove. A couple of hours later, no stitches or glue, just plasters holding the skin together. Barely any rest then off to the first karate of the term.

As the head sensei is off recovering from an operation we had Sensei Leighton, the exercise fanatic.

Went off to eat Chinese at Hurstville and had an afternoon tea of chocolate pudding at Brighton. I could feel a headache building and by the time we were driving back home it was ferocious.

Chocolate flavoured vomit.

I was a write off for the rest of the night.

Sunday July 17

Another birthday party for Alex, this one at 10 pin bowling. I came second last amongst the adults. I would have been last but one of them let his toddler bowl. At least I got one strike! Alex won, thereby cementing what was a pretty awesome holidays for him.

A balance between exercise, education and relaxation. Hopefully he's starting next term in a good frame of mind. I think I need another holiday!

Friday, July 15, 2016

WordPress shortcodes and line breaks.

WordPress automatically adds break tags to new lines. Normally this is useful behaviour but it can prove a major annoyance when combined with shortcodes.

Following user requests I had added a set of column shortcodes to my Utopia theme. The shortcodes are currently just a way of adding a Bootstrap grid to the content, but as we will be replace Bootstrap with an alternative grid system in future this is a way of future proofing the content.

I found a couple of really useful tutorials for adding a columns menu to the TinyMCE visual editor in WordPress:

All well and good, but when I published the content WordPress added break tags between the div
tags and the columns did not display.

My first solution was to change the order of WordPress' shortcode_unautop and wpautop filters, as per these instructions.

//move wpautop filter to AFTER shortcode is processed
remove_filter( 'the_content', 'wpautop' );
add_filter( 'the_content', 'wpautop' , 99);
add_filter( 'the_content', 'shortcode_unautop',100 );

Bad move! Suddenly my other shortcode output was messed up. So I had to remove those lines.

The solution? Write a custom filter using regular expressions to remove line breaks between the shortcode tags and run it before the normal WordPress line break filters kick in. A regex tester proved very useful here!

function utopia_cols_strip_breaks( $content ) {
$content = preg_replace('/(\[utopia_col_row\])([\s]*)(\[utopia_col)/i','$1$3',$content);
$content = preg_replace('/(\[\/utopia_col_)([\_\d]+)(\])([\s]*)(\[utopia_col)/i', '$1$2$3$5', $content);
$content = preg_replace('/(\[\/utopia_col_)([\_\d]+)(\])([\s]*)(\[\/utopia_col_row)/i', '$1$2$3$5', $content);
    return $content;
add_filter( 'the_content', 'utopia_cols_strip_breaks', 0 );

I had to use three expressions as there are shortcodes for rows and columns of different widths. Whilst WordPress is supposed to handle breaks between individual shortcodes, the issue here is that we are mixing different shortcodes together and the content between them should have paragraph and line break tags added. The code above only applies to the added shortcodes and seems to work well, so problem solved!

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