Afghanistan, Pakistan Declare New Trust in U.S. Talks

I mentioned two weeks ago that Pakistan, in the wake of the Kabul terrorist attacks and with insurgent activities increasing, would have to start talking very seriously with the U.S. and with Afghanistan. Consequently, it was not entirely unexpected that the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

http://www.rferl.org/content/Afghan_Pakistani_Declare_New_Trust_In_US_Talks/1498891.html

Posted in Humanitarian Issues

All Hail the Power of Drupal

The more I use Drupal, the more projects it becomes the solution for.

Since my first encounter with Drupal, I have realized how easily it could have been used for a variety of projects I have struggled with before. Drupal is powerful enough with its lean core of only 600+ files, but even just a few modules expand its capabilities to new levels. For knowledgeable “Drupalists”, Views and CCK come immediately to mind; two modules that dramatically enhance the content description and view customizability of Drupal. But all that still barely scratches the surface.

An important thing to understand is that Drupal is not simply a content management system (CMS), but rather a content management framework (CMF). It allows the development of customized web sites, tweaking them to behave in CMS-like manner if so desired, or implement an entirely different approach.

All that power comes from one of the most powerful web technology partnerships: PHP/MySQL. You see, Drupal itself is not a programming language or a web page coding language. It simply uses pre-written PHP code chunks to offer a more transparent web development platform, while offering all the benefits of dynamic, data-driven web pages. The open source PHP foundation means that even Drupal itself can be entirely modified.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Right now, I am just happy to use the core and a few add-on modules. However, as I keep researching Drupal development, I start realizing what else it could be used for. I found the Drupal Social Network, which is built entirely upon Drupal. I read with interest about DrupalEd, a version of Drupal built for online education management. While in the past I used Joomla, marveled at the ColdFusion platform of MySpace, and developed courses for Moodle, I now see that any of those applications could have been developed on, (or at least integrated into) Drupal. Drupal’s stability and scalability, combined with customizable (read: reducible) complexity, make the CMF an ideal candidate for an endless list of applications.

I have also written about the excellent Drupal community. Being able to use just one starting point (Drupal.org) to find modules, themes and documentation, makes it less confusing and causes considerably less frustration than what I encountered clicking through ads and finding commercial web sites selling goods for various “other” CMSs.

I do wonder about the whole “The Drop is always moving” philosophy, as I barely installed Drupal 6.X when it came out, and now it seems like 7.X is already on the horizon. I am mainly worried about conent transfer and module upgradeability, but if my previous experiences are any indicators, things should turn out a lot less painless than I probably anticipate.

I follow with interest the conversion of various web sites to Drupal and its movement into government use, as a federal initiative to migrate government software to open source only makes sense in today’s troubled economy. Not that the only advantage of open source is lower cost, of course.

Posted in Computing, Drupal, Technology

Tunes for the Day, February 21, 2009: Blackmore’s Night, Ishtar Alabina

“Way to Mandalay” by Blackmore’s Night; “Yalla Bina Yalla (Mashallah)” by Ishtar Alabina

Before anyone gets the idea that all the songs in this feature are gothic metal, there are two completely different offerings today.

You do not hear about the renaissance folk rock genre too often, possibly because there are not as many groups representing it and it is not as “mainstream” (as much as I dislike the term). Candice Night and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore (Get It? Blackmore’s Night?) cleverly mix various musical elements (try a synth and a mandolin) into the catchy “Way to Mandalay”.

Keeping things always international around here, I am pleased to introduce Ishtar Alabina to readers. She is a true example of a diverse artist, “raised by an Egyptian mother and a Moroccan father with Spanish roots”, and singing in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew and Spanish. She has worked with scores of artists from all over the world, including Gypsy Kings. Check out “Yalla Bina Yalla (Mashallah)”.

Posted in Arts, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Tunes for the Day

Tunes for the Day, February 20, 2009: Nemesea, Nightwish

“No More” by Nemesea; “Ghost Love Score” by Nightwish

I am usually quick to jump on uninformed music reviwers who think every hard rock or metal band with a female singer is an Evanescence knock-off, considering that the American band started doing in 2003 what so many other bands around the world had been doing for about a decade. This time, however, I will give credit to some comparisons between the Dutch band (same as Within Temptation) Nemesea and Evanescence (just listen to the below song and “Bring Me to Life”), as the former group is more on the lighter side of the genre, but still with pleasing results. Here is “No More”. Tags: hard rock, light metal, industrial, techno, electronic, orchestral backing, melodic.

I wrote about Nightwish before, and “Ghost Love Score” is an excellent example of the band’s finest works. As usual, it is not a typical pop or metal song, but what can be tagged as progressive symphonic gothic metal. Great work by every member of the band on this live presentation from End of an Era.

Posted in Arts, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Tunes for the Day

How Not to Sell Active Studio Monitors

I wonder if some manufacturers know just how much some salesmen can make their products look substandard.

Here is a quick reflection on a recent studio gear shopping experience. I was auditing active monitors at a SamAsh store, where–for full disclosure–the staff was generally great, helpful and knowledgeable. I asked the salesman about the Yamaha HS M80s. Yamaha, manufacturer of the legendary (and sometimes debated) NS-10 monitors, released a solid product with the M80. However, I raised an eyebrow when the salesman pulled out an iPod Touch and commenced to “show-off” the M80s with MP3 tracks from the player. Talking about blowing a sale. Here are my problems:

1. The MP3 files were not even 320kbps, and an audible flutter in the high end was present. I mean clearly noticeable. Of course, the song was ripped with standard iTunes MP3 conversion, which is definitely not Lame quality. Lame at 320kbps may not fool every musician, but it would still provide a better listening experience than what I encountered.

2. I am sure some engineers or producers would question in the first place the use of MP3 (or any lossy format for that matter) as an evaluation audio source.

3. The iPod touch is an impressive piece of entertainment electronics, but its headphone output is certainly not studio quality, and the SNR and frequency output are more in line with generic consumer electronics, instead of pro, or even “pro-sumer” equipment.

4. 1/8″ mini to 1/4″unbalanced connection. By itself is not the end of the world, but a balanced source could still have made a better impression.

5. Noticeable hiss of the iPod Touch, which disappears when the device is disconnected from the monitors.

Overall, if someone is just trying to upgrade from lower-end monitors, he or she may not see the purpose of spending hundreds of dollars on something that perceivably sounds less impressive than his or her current, yet still cheaper equipment that is run from a quality source.

Lessons learned? Shop around, know the sound source of your demo, use multiple sources, and ask for better demo equipment if not satisfied. It is your hard-earned money. Get the best show and deal for it.

Posted in Music Production

Starbucks’ Instant Embarrassment for the Recession

For those of you who still actually believe that drinking Starbucks makes you somehow sophisticated, here is the final blow: instant coffee.

You can convince yourself that you are enjoying fancy coffee products just because you find Starbucks to be an experience, feeling better by ordering different sizes using Italian words, while you think that you are getting a real caffeine jolt because you asked for a quadruple shot of espresso. You can probably even sit at one of the tables, popping that CD you just bought with your coffee into your MacBook, with the illusion that your are enjoying finer things in life. Let me break the news for you: you are drinking coffee from a paper cup. A paper cup with plastic lid on top! For true coffee connoisseurs, that is a sacrilege. As far as potency goes, if you think your Starbucks coffee is strong, you have certainly never sampled real Irish, Russian, or Turkish coffee offerings, some of which have the consistency of used engine oil, keeping you wired for days. (You also need to watch more Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.) And now, citing demand created by the recession, Starbucks is lowering the standards by offering instant coffee. You can get better deals elsewhere with a more local experience, or just make a cheap, tasty cup at home or at the office.

Posted in Arts, From the Media, Lifestyle

Drupal, Elgg, Moodle: A Powerful Learning Management System

Drupal and Moodle have always been top players in their respective fields of content management systems (CMS) and learning management systems (LMS), making the idea of integration a powerful one.

Bill Fitzgerald makes an impressive proposal for combining the strengths of Drupal, Elgg and Moodle. I have followed some Moodle/Joomla intergration projects, and I am pleased to see that Drupal is moving into the field as well. I have read arguments that Drupal dos not need Moodle to become an effective LMS, but Moodle already has years of solid development and an excellent framework ready for deployment. It does not make much sense for Drupal developers to redo all that work, when they can rely on Drupal’s powerful core to interact with Moodle’s flexibility.

Posted in Computing, Drupal, Education, Technology