The Manawatu Standard gives The Klezmer Rebs rave reviews

Stephen Fisher posted a fabulous review of The Klezmer Rebs playing the Palmerston North City Library in today’s Manawatu Standard:

While we may have become used to the sounds of live music drifting through our city library, it is a long time since we have been treated to such a lively and spirited performance as that which the Klezmer Rebs provided yesterday afternoon.

Undergoing a revival, Klezmer is traditionally celebratory Jewish music, and, although frequently instrumental, vocal lines and song titles are usually in Yiddish. Flexible in its lineup, yesterday’s concert was by seven members of the Klezmer Rebs, who are largely Wellington based.

It was an evocative mix of clarinet, violin, trumpet, trombone and helicon accompanied by piano and guitar or mandolin, giving us a characteristically authentic sound that set one’s primal musical spirit a dancing.

All of the group joined in with vocals as appropriate as they selected much of their programme from the established Klezmer repertoire, their arrangements reflecting traditional style, while allowing the creativity of these talented instrumentalists to add their own distinctive interpretation to the music.

The music celebrates the many facets of life itself and the Klezmer Rebs brought joy and vibrancy to the performance, giving the music a captivating urgency that could not fail to set the heart and soul soaring.

While there was musical excellence on display from all members of the group, the clarinettist was Urs Signeur, who made a significant contribution to local music during his year as an exchange student in Palmerston North nearly 10 years ago. Apart from giving us some stunning clarinet solos, this talented young man also composed several numbers for the group, his work characterised by much inventiveness while still capturing an authentic style.

While it must be expensive for such a large group to travel around the country, I hope it is not too long before the group makes another appearance in our city as it was obvious that the infectious joy of this music captured the hearts of the large audience gathered in the library.

Can it get much better than that?

Breadmaker Challah

175ml Boiling water
150ml Cold water
100ml Canola oil
1 1/2 Tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Tbsp Yeast
4 Eggs
650g High-grade flour (6 1/2 Cups)
50g Poppy or sesame seeds


Add the boiling water to the cold water, giving 325ml in a large measuring cup.  Stir in the sugar, salt and yeast (use fresh yeast from your local bakery for best results).  Mix well until all of the ingredients are dissolved, and pour into a large breadmaker or mixing pan.  Add the oil.  Very lightly beat three of the eggs, and mix this in as well.  Add the flour, and gently stir for 30 seconds.  If you are using a breadmaker, set it to “dough” and let rip, otherwise knead the mixture by hand in a large mixing bowl for 10 minutes or so.  The resulting dough ball should be just lightly stick to your finger when poked; if not, add more water or flour to obtain the right consistency.

Let the dough rise for an hour or so, and then punch it down.  Let it rise for another hour, punch it down, and remove from breadmaker or mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 195° C on “fan bake”.

With well-floured hands, divide into three equal sized balls, roll them into long cylinders, and braid them in situ on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Allow the braided loaf to rise for 18 minutes.

In a small cup, beat the remaining egg with an equal amount of water.  Paint this egg-wash mixture onto the loaf, and then sprinkle the loaf with poppy or sesame seeds.

Put the loaf into the oven for 18 minutes.

Take the loaf out, re-paint with egg-wash, especially the bits which have expanded and are now not covered with seeds.  Sprinkle more seeds on the loaf.  Put back in the oven for another 18 minutes.

Remove the loaf, allow to cool for at least 18 minutes.

Te Reo Pūtaiao – Tohunga Rorohiko

Te Reo Pūtaiao: A Māori Language Dictionary of Science came out earlier this month.  It was compiled using the Freelex / Mātāpuna open source dictionary writing system that I wrote.

Te Reo Pūtaiao is an encyclopedic dictionary; nearly all of the info is in Te Reo Māori, and each entry contains an equivalent English gloss and a definition.  Most entries also have information on the derivation of the term, an detailed explanation often including diagrams, and related terms.  The dictionary covers the lexicon used in teaching the New Zealand Science Curriculum through year 11.

It’s simply brilliant.  It’s funny that I never realised how brilliant it was until actually seeing the finished product.  Working through the database and user interface design, I never really saw the big picture.  But opening up the book caused an “aha moment” for me.  This dictionary has huge potential to make science accessible to Māori kids through Te Reo and tikanga Māori.  If this book is responsible for helping Aotearoa produce even one great scientist, it would have been totally worth the effort.

Kia ora to Ian Christiansen and Shirley Mullaney for having the vision to produce this, and the Ministry of Education for funding it.

I’m listed in the credits as the “Tohunga Rorohiko”, or “Computer Shaman”; this is the second dictionary for which I’ve had this honour. I feel humbled to have the opportunity to work with such experienced  and learned teams on these lexicography projects which will have lasting impact on Te Reo Māori.


Mouse Music

Our Klezmer Rebs bandmate Amanda MacLean has just produced this surreal music video.  She plays the helicon for us, but in this clip she sings, plays trombone, and does a great job acting.  Go Amanda!

Recycled wisdom – on empathy and success in business

In my work at WebFund, we regularly have young entrepreneurs approach us with interesting ideas, but a distinct lack of maturity.  Vivek Wadhwa recenty wrote on TechCrunch that “when it comes to startups, old guys rule”.

Ill be 50 next year, and it’s getting ever harder to argue that I’m not becoming an old guy of some description.  No matter.  George Bernard Shaw observed that youth is wasted on the young, and there’s no doubt he was already an old guy by that stage.

On my last day of employment as Technical Director at The Web Limited in 2002, I gathered the team and tried to impart what I’d learned about business in the previous seven years.

I thought it was worth revisiting in light of Wadhwa’s old guy remark, in the hope that my comments, though somewhat didactic, might be able to confer some vicarious wisdom and maturity on the reader.

Empathy is the key to success. It took me a very long time in life to realise that everything we do is all about relationships, and a relationship without empathy is hollow… While this is especially true in business, it is also true in every other sphere. As an example, if you’re a programmer, you’re all the more powerful if you can empathise with your client, with the programmer who wrote the method you’re trying to get to work properly, with future programmers who will have to maintain your code, with the project manager, and a really good programmer will be able to empathise with the code itself (“If I were the regular expression parser, how would I want to handle this string?”)

Do not fear the unknown. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone. Set ridiculous goals for yourself, and visualise the future in your ideal state – you’ll be surprised what you can actually accomplish.

Nurture your own weird ideas. They could be important or even valuable next year. In the words of Hunter Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Be broadminded. Listen to everyone, try to empathise with them, and understand their point of view. Do not be too quick to judge, for some of the best ideas are the weirdest at first glance.

Keep it simple. You should be able to explain anything in a couple of sentences, or draw the diagram on an A4 page. Things that are too complicated tend to break and are difficult to maintain. A Ferrari breaks down more often, and is much more expensive to fix than a skateboard. Don’t confuse being complex with being complicated.

Make yourself understood. When you’re writing code, anyone, even a non-programmer, should be able to understand what it does, and how it does it, at some level. The key to this is good structure, descriptive naming, and the right comments. 99.9% of the time, maintainability is much more important than performance. If it’s getting too complicated, refactor it. If it’s too complex, rethink your approach.

Make time for distractions. Many of the world’s great discoveries, including America, X-rays, penicillin and post-it notes, were serendipitous in their nature – they happened unexpectedly as a by-product of other, less successful undertakings. In the words of Louis Pasteur, “Chance favours the prepared mind”. If you don’t let yourself be distracted occasionally, you’ll miss out on the biggest opportunities.

Constantly sniff for the winds of change, for if you’re unprepared, they can come through like a southerly. Don’t be complacent, or you’ll be consigned to the scrap heap of people who got too comfortable and woke up one morning to find themselves unemployable – I have a number of colleagues from my mainframe days who suffered this fate. Ask yourself: will my plan withstand the next set of changes? Expect things to be totally different one day, which will likely arrive sooner than you think.

Plan for contingencies. There is always a Plan B (sorry, Andy Grove!) In the rules of the universe, the default Plan B is abject failure. Make sure you have something slightly more explicit and favourable as your plan B.

Most truly great things require a lot of effort, often in unexpected ways. No pain, no gain. You have to give a little to get a little. The corollary to this is that you have to give a lot to get a lot. Be generous. Generosity is in your enlightened self-interest.

It is certainly true that 95% of the effort goes into 5% of the outcome, but it’s the last 5% – good or bad – that they’ll remember you for. Prioritise your efforts accordingly. It may be built like a brick shithouse, but if you didn’t have time to put on the final coat of paint, they will be left with a lingering dissatisfaction.

Know when to yelp for help – your team is right here and right behind you, and they empathise with you. They will help you, and they will expect the same from you. If you don’t understand something the first time, ask patiently for it to be explained again.

Keep positive – things are seldom as bad as they seem. But when they get to be as bad as they seem, they’ll probably become worse than they seem. Even then, in the words of Charles Beard, “When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.” These moments offer unparalleled opportunity for personal growth.

Always attribute credit where credit is due. It costs nothing. Few things more distasteful than people masquerading other people’s ideas as their own. In academia, plagiarism is the worst sin.

I recommend parenting as excellent training for business. You learn how to motivate the unwilling, the importance of unconditional love, multitasking, balancing conflicting goals, teamwork, leadership, how to be comfortable with your own hypocrisies … and the list goes on. My brief career as a Playcentre dad taught me more than I’ll ever want to know about the politics of small organisations run by people with too much time on their hands.

Basil Pesto Kugel

Here’s a variation on kugel … not as bland as straight kugel, but not as in-your-face as pasta-pesto.

500g pasta
250g sour cream
250g cottage cheese
250g milk
2 eggs
1 plant, fresh basil chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
75g pine nuts
75g parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 190°C.

Boil the pasta until for about 5 minutes, until very al dente, rinse in cold water, and drain.

In a large bowl, lightly scramble the two eggs, and mix in all of the rest of the ingredients.  Pour this mixture into a lightly greased casserole.

Bake for 50 minutes at 190°C

Serves 6.

Welcome to Dave’s world

Eek, another blog you say.

Well, some of the stuff I want to write about doesn’t fit neatly into any of my other normal outlets.

I hope you enjoy what you read, and be sure to leave comments or contact me directly if you’d like to engage directly.