Pierrot Lunaire and L’histoire du soldat (Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

Because I needed more highly stylized 20th century Austrian art, I saw the performance of Pierrot Lunaire and The Soldier’s Tale at the Chicago Symphony last night — wow! Pierre Boulez had to bow out on the advice of his ophthalmologist, but Cristian Macelaru did a great job replacing him. Pierrot is one of my favorite pieces, and Kiera Duffy gave a stellar performance — the only thing that was missing for me was more embodiment of the character of Pierrot. This was clearly a choice, and maybe in a big performance space it wouldn’t work, but one thing that makes this piece pop in the chamber setting is the singer taking on the character of Pierrot, especially in the later movements, packing tobacco into the bald pate of Cassander, or rubbing the spot on moonlight on his black coat. The other element of the production was the projections on three screens behind the performers — rather abstracted visual compositions with the English translations moving and fading in and out in a distressed Courier. The affect reminded me a bit of those mid-episode breaks in “darker” anime shows like Lain. Perhaps a bit over the top?

The second half of the program was The Soldier’s Tale, featuring John Lithgow as the narrator, Kevin Gudahl as the devil, and Adam Van Wagoner, Demetrios Troy both playing the soldier, and Lindsey Marks as the princess. This was the best performance of this piece I have seen, even though I had an obstructed seat in the second balcony. The screens were put to good use here, helping demarcate the acts and providing some great moments for silhouettes, especially as the devil played the violin at the end.

They Are Dying Out (Trap Door Theater)

I caught a production last night of They Are Dying Out by Peter Handke at the Trap Door Theatre in Chicago. I’ve read Kaspar and Offending The Audience but hadn’t heard of this play until I saw the review/notice in Chicago Theater Beat. It’s a dark absurdist piece, meditating on the moral emptiness of business. But rather than trying to get our sympathies, to feel for Hermann Quitt and his existential angst, Handke exposes the hypocrisy of the language used by corporate power to justify itself. The resulting performance is cerebral but stylish, effectively using the space and social Gestus to lay bare the positions and relationships of the characters. The themes speak to our present situation, but it was more of a rhyme than a direct attack. The murkiness of the the lighting gave an unsettling noir element to the piece, but I felt that it didn’t quite work all the time. Recommended if you like Brecht (like I do).

One could, of course, make a longer critique about the way women are used in the play, but I’ll table that. This is definitely men’s avant garde of the 70s stuff.

Civil War Diary Code

Some readers of this blog may be interested in a project by Alison Weiss, a history grad student at UC Berkeley, who is working on breaking a code used in a Civil-War era diary:

I’m writing on behalf of Professors Carla Hesse and Mark Peterson in U.C Berkeley’s History Department, where I am a PhD candidate. We recently got hold of a Civil War Diary that has multiple sections written in code. No one in the Department has any idea how to decipher it…

The code appears to have been broken by Qingchun Ren. Kudos!

Charity bleg

Do any of readers of this blog have a preferred charity to which to donate old textbooks? In particular, I do not think that electromagnetism has changed that much since 1999, so I figured I might find a better home for some old books.

ITA Workshop 2012 : More Talks

There are some more talks to blog about, probably, but I am getting lazy, and one of them I wanted to mention was Max’s, but he already blogged a lot of it. I still don’t get what the “Herbst argument” is, though.

Vinod Prabhakaran gave a talk about indirect decoding in the 3-receiver broadcast channel. In indirect decoding, there is a “semi-private” message that is not explicitly decoded by the third receiver. However, Vinod argued that this receiver can decoded it anyway, so the indirectness is not needed, somehow. At least, that’s how I understood the talk.

Lalitha Sankar talked about two different privacy problems that could arise in “smart grid” or power monitoring situations. The first is a model of system operators (ISOs) and how to view the sharing of load information — there was a model of K different “sources” or states being observed through a channel which looked like a AWGN faded interference channel, where the fading represents the relative influence of the source (or load on the network) on the receiver (or ISO). She didn’t quite have time to go into the second model, which was more at the level of individual homes, where short-time-scale monitoring of loading can reveal pretty much all the details of what’s going on in a house. The talk was a summary of some recent papers available on her website.

Negar Kiyavash talked about timing side channel attacks — an adversary can ping your router and from the delays in the round trip times can learn pretty much what websites you are surfing. Depending on the queueing policy, the adversary can learn more or less about you. Negar showed that first come first serve (FCFS) is terrible in this regard, and there is a bit of a tradeoff wherein policies with higher delay offer more privacy. This seemed reminiscent of the work Parv did on Chaum mixing…

Lav Varshney talked about security in RFID — the presence of an eavesdropper actually detunes the RFID circuit, so it may be possible for the encoder and decoder to detect if there is an eavesdropper. The main challenge is that nobody knows the transfer function, so it has to be estimated (using a periodogram energy detector). Lav proposed a protocol in which the transmitter sends a key and the receiver tries to detect if there is an eavesdropper; if not, then it sends the message.

Tsachy Weissman talked about how to estimate directed mutual information from data. He proposed a number of estimators of increasing complexity and showed that they were consistent. The basic idea was to leverage all of the results on universal probability estimation for finite alphabets. It’s unclear to me how to extend some of these results to the continuous setting, but this is an active area of research. I saw a talk recently by John Lafferty on forest density estimation, and this paper on estimating mutual information also seems relevant.

The post office is winning at programming

I received this email from the USPS today:

Your hold mail request has ended $endDate

The Hold Mail Service for $dateRangeText has ended. So we’ll be resuming your regular mail delivery. Remember to pick up your held mail at the Post Office if you’re not having it delivered to your address.

Hold Mail Details

Confirmation Number: $holdMailDTO.confirmationNumber

Hold mail for…
$holdMailDTO.address.city, $holdMailDTO.address.state $holdMailDTO.address.zip

Phone: $phone

Email: $holdMailDTO.emailAddress

Hold Mail Start Date: $startDate

End Date: $endDate

Delivery option: $deliveryOption