Jupiter Is Better Than Fireworks

Last night was Independence Day—July 4, 2016. At 10:00 PM I had just come inside from an impromptu get-together with neighbors, and my SkyGuide app for iPhone sent an alert that the Juno spacecraft would be reaching Jupiter in one hour. I then turned on my Apple TV and went directly to the App Store, found the NASA app, and within 1 minute, I had the app installed and was watching NASA TV live coverage of the event from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at California Institute of Technology and Lockheed-Martin in Denver.

NASA provided an excellent program. The event, titled “Live Coverage of the Juno Orbital Insertion at Jupiter,” included hosts both at the California and Colorado locations who interviewed the specialists with the most knowledge of the event happening in real time on the mission. The program also featured pre-recorded visualization videos of the specific parts of the mission and a few real-time visualizations of the Juno spacecraft’s position in relation to Jupiter. The visualizations were rendered in 3-D and were occasionally rotated to give a better perspective of the spacecraft’s position. When the interviews, videos, or visualizations were not onscreen, they were providing live feeds of the people in JPL Mission Control in California or the Colorado Lockheed-Martin control center. They also had a camera set up in the room where the families of NASA employees and other civilians were sitting theatre-style to watch the event.

During the entire broadcast, I was able to experience several historic milestones: Juno getting closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft, the rocket-burn slow the spacecraft so it could be captured by Jupiter’s orbit (cheers ensued), the orbit-capture of Juno (more cheers ensued), and the successful rocket-burn stop that ensured that Juno was in the correct trajectory to begin its unusual elliptical orbit to gather the science necessary for the mission (even more cheers ensued). At the end of the event, the mission specialist gave a congratulatory talk to the team where he said this is was the hardest thing NASA had ever done. (With respect to the astronauts who walked on the moon, flew Space Shuttles, and served and continue to serve on space stations—I may beg to differ that point—but I understand his enthusiasm at the time!)

What struck me about this series of events is how easily and “nonchalantly” I accessed all of this information and learning—and how I was able to participate in this event in real-time. My interest in space exploration prompted me to install the SkyGuide app at some time in the past, and the alert arrived exactly in time for me to act upon it. Although NASA TV is available in a variety of ways online, I was at home during this event and was able to use my regular TV to watch the live broadcast in HD live from Apple TV. Of course, Juno is also sending tweets reporting its own progress.

Finally, this broadcast is not the only way NASA is involving the public in this mission. I learned that for the past few months, amateur astronomers have been uploading their own Jupiter images to a website set up by NASA and now that Juno has arrived, NASA will be sharing raw image data (multiple color channels and other spectra) to the public so anyone can download mission data and make their own visuals. Further, Juno includes a JunoCam—a crowd-source input camera built into the Juno spacecraft that allows the public to decide what features to view and send back to Earth. Several JunoCam images are already available.

I look forward to learning more as the mission ensues and being part of this amazing time in history.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

It has taken me a long time to transition from earbuds to over-the-ear headphones, mostly because I needed a compelling reason to ditch the simplicity, portability, and relative comfort of earbuds for an extra carry-on in my backpack. While I own a pair of Sol Republic over-the-ears, I have only used them for GarageBand music recording—never to venture out with them. The Sol Republic headphones, free with Coke Rewards points, are fine for the free price, but the wire is very annoying.

cq5dam.web.1000.1000With long plane rides coming later this summer, the release of the wireless Bluetooth Bose QC35 headphones came at a perfect time. I had been doing research for years and the wired QC25 model had been the clear winner in the industry (except for snooty audiophiles who can’t ever seem to say anything coherent about any audio device). The early reviews for the new Qc35s were overwhelmingly positive.

Since these are my first noise-cancelling headphones, I needed to adjust my expectation of the concept of “noise-cancelling.” The term suggests that “noise-cancelling” is the same as “silence-creating”—if I were to cancel my credit card, I’d not expect to be able to use it just a little bit. However, when noise is cancelled, it is merely lessened. So as I sit here at Starbucks with the reggae soundtrack blaring from the speakers 10 feet away and pointed at my ears, the noise-cancelling headphones I’m wearing allow you to hear the music, but only at about 10%. At the same time, nearly 100% of ambient background noises (i.e., traffic from outside, conversations on the other side of the store, the Metra train outside behind me, air conditioning) are rendered silent. My friends and colleagues tell me that this is typical, and that Bose cancels more noise than others.

As far as a review of the device, I can’t add more than I’ve read elsewhere, but I can recommend this Engadget review or this review at 9to5Mac.

Google Fonts Website Redesign

This week, Google updated the Google Fonts website and the design is a work of art. And it’s also exceptionally useful.

Back in 2010, Google created a service called Google Web Fonts, a directory of fonts with free licenses that use the Unicode character set. The current iteration, now simply called Google Fonts, offers 804 font families.

The new website design offers many ways to discover new fonts and displays fonts in several different ways.

Focus on a Particular Font

Each individual font is displayed by default using a random sentence at 40pt size in the “regular” weight.


Each of these elements can easily be altered by mousing over the example display and accessing specific display options. You can also type your own content to display.


For the entire page, four color backgrounds are available.


Focus on Font Categories

The left column allows a high level of specification in searching for fonts by attribute. Five font attributes are selected by checkbox including:

  • Serif
  • Sans Serif
  • Display
  • Handwriting
  • Monospace

Further refinement is then available using sliders to specify Thickness, Slant and Width.


A very interesting slider allows you to find fonts by number of styles in the font family. This option allows fonts to be displayed to show fonts with only one style to those with over 18 styles, for example:

  • Thin 100
  • Thin 100 Italic
  • Extra-Light 200
  • Extra-Light 200 Italic
  • Light 300
  • Light 300 Italic
  • Regular 400
  • Regular 400 Italic
  • Medium 500
  • Medium 500 Italic
  • Semi-Bold 600
  • Semi-Bold 600 Italic
  • Bold 700
  • Bold 700 Italic
  • Extra-Bold 800
  • Extra-Bold 800 Italic

Proof of Concept

For the purpose of using this site to discover fonts for a project, I present this example:

“I need a sans serif font for the body text that is light and thin, and a heavy serif display font for headers. I want the headers offered in several weights. It all needs to look good on a dark background.”

Here’s what I found:



Based upon these parameters, I discovered 2 fonts that meet my criteria and work in a design:


Merriweather bold for the headers and Yantramanav light for body text.

Shows Page

I have added a Shows page (to the right or at the bottom, depending on your device). This was an interesting data-gathering exercise. I began by looking at my old blog posts since I often wrote reviews or reactions to the shows I saw back when I maintained my first blog (on iWeb).

Next, I looked at my Facebook posts going back until about 2006. This was an increasingly slow process since scrolling down (back in time) in Facebook loads more and more content. I discovered 2 tips to look back in history:

  1. Use the mobile site on computer: https://m.facebook.com. The mobile site includes much less clutter and, thus, less loading of extra stuff to slow down the process.
  2. At one point, I was offered a link to view posts from a particular year: https://m.facebook.com/mattjfuller/year/2014. When I clicked on this link, I realized I could change the year in the URL and move back in time far more quickly.

After I extracted performances from Facebook, I looked at my Google Calendar going back as far as I could. Unfortunately, I only had my current work Google Calendar for the past 2 years since when I switched jobs, I lost access to my previous district’s Google Calendar. Apple’s Calendar was also little help since old Apple calendars disappeared when Apple switched from iCal/MobileMe to Calendar/iCloud.

Check out about 100 performances I attended on my Shows page. I’ll add more as I rediscover more data.

Using e.g. and i.e.

I’ve used several sources over the years to clarify the uses of e.g. and i.e., including my favorite grammar source, Grammar Girl. Here is a short post outlining the usages:

e.g.—Latin for exempli gratia, “for example.”

After e.g., a list of examples follows. Note that the list is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of examples.

Remember that the “e” in e.g. stands for “example.”

Example: He plays woodwind instruments (e.g., flute, clarinet, alto saxophone).

i.e.—Latin for id est, “that is.”

After i.e., an explanation or clarification follows. The explanation or clarification is implied to be all-inclusive of the idea.

Remember that the “i” in i.e. stands for “in other words.”

Example: I prefer to use computer operating systems designed by Apple (i.e., OS X and iOS).

A few more details:

  • Both i.e. and e.g. are abbreviations so periods after each letter are required.
  • Although i.e. and e.g. are Latin words, the terms are accepted as part of the English language. The terms need not be italicized.
  • The majority of style guides I have consulted either prefer or require a comma following i.e. and e.g. when used as described above.


One final technical issue to address is the inclusion of “etc.” after either i.e. or e.g. (The term “etc.” is Latin for “et cetera” and means “and the rest.”) When using e.g., using etc. is probably unnecessary, since “for example” implies that the list of examples is not all-inclusive. When using i.e., using etc. is likely never appropriate, since the list following is an all-inclusive idea.

Macintosh Icon

Susan Kare designed the original icon set for the Mac back in 1983. In addition, she also designed the font Chicago. Chicago was the Mac’s Finder font in System 1 (and before) through Mac OS 9.2.1. Chicago is also used in the original iPod interface.

Kare continues to design and maintains a fascinating website:


Ages ago, I found a Susan Kare interview on Stanford’s Library site. It’s still available and includes a very impressive Mac history lesson, Making the Macintosh: Technology and Culture in Silicon Valley.

Susan Kare is truly a Macintosh icon.


Critical Diacriticals

I had a favorite perennial topic arise this week: typing diacriticals (foreign language accents) in OS X. Diacriticals are easy to type once you know a few clues.

First, the option key (on the keyboard) is used to access diacritical marks. Option is on the bottom row of the keyboard on the left between control and command. On some Mac keyboards, it’s also on the right side.

Typing diacriticals usually involves typing a key combination (this turns “on” the accent) and then typing the character to be accented. For example:

Hold down option
type e
release option
type e
Result: é

Another example:
Hold down option
type e
release option
type a
Result: á

Thus, after typing the combination
option e
the next character you type gets an acute accent.

Here are the most common diacritical mark combinations:

  • option e (acute accent) é á í
  • option u (grave accent) à è ù
  • option i (circumflex) î û
  • option u (umlaut) ü
  • option n (tilde) ñ

Some key combinations do not require the additional keystroke. For example:

  • option c (cedilla) ç
  • option ?  ¿

You may have noticed that the diacriticals are associated with the letter that commonly receives the accent mark in the Romance languages.

In iOS, typing diacritical marks is far easier. Just tap and hold the letter and a menu of possible accents appears. Slide to the accent to type it.

accents In current versions of OS X, the iOS method now works similarly. Type and hold a letter, and a menu of possible accents appears. Type the number under the accent you wish to use.


Why see the same show more than once?

I wrote the first version of this article back in 2006 after the eighth time I had seen the musical Wicked. By now, I’ve seen Wicked thirteen times in at least four different productions. My intent for this post was to answer the question, “Why would anyone see the same show so many times?”

The simple answer is that live theatre is different every time. It’s not like a movie or a television show. Since those mediums are filmed, the finished product is pretty much a done deal. Multiple viewings of movies and television shows certainly may allow the viewer to notice different things, but the performances, content, and other elements don’t change.

In live theatre, many details about a performance can—and do—change for each viewing because every actor is different, sometimes roles are played by different actors in the same production (i.e., rotating actors or understudies), and even the same actor can play a scene differently for each performance. The more times you see a show, the more details you will likely notice. In the case of a musical, there are additional elements to compare since there is singing, dancing, and an orchestra in addition to acting and the technical aspects of the production.

In my original article, I presented the following examples after having seen the same production of Wicked on back-to-back days. I had already seen the show six times before presenting these examples so I had a fair amount of context and background knowledge behind these observations. Even after ten years, I remember these differences:

  1. In one of the performances, the actor who played Fieyro delivered a pivotal line early in the show in a manner that gave away a major plot point. During the scene when Glinda references Eva Perón (alla Evita) and declares a celebration, Fieyro says, “of course I will marry you…” But in another performance, he stressed, “of course I will marry you.
  2. The audio mix can sound quite different from show to show. In many contemporary musicals, rock instruments such as synthesizer, electric guitar, electric bass, and drum set are scored for the pit orchestra. In this performance, the electric guitar and bass were extremely prominent. In the soundtrack, these instruments are at times difficult to hear. The perception of the audio mix can also be affected by where one sits in a theatre. In this performance at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, I sat right-side orchestra, under the loge. I have often noticed that sitting directly under the loge or mezzanine greatly enhances the sound in this theatre. Closer to the stage, some of the sound gets lost by going straight up, but under the loge, it bounces back at you and sounds fuller.
  3. This performance had an unfortunate technical issue which did not detract from the show—unless you knew that it was supposed to be there. The set features a giant mechanical dragon (the time dragon) over the stage that articulates, lights up its red eyes, and spews forth smoke at key points in the show. I’m not sure if the time dragon was broken or if the puppeteers missed their cues, but the absence of the dragon’s movements were conspicuous for these performances.
  4. Casting is like technology—it’s a generally problem when it doesn’t work. In this case, I was surprised how the physical build of some of the actors affected the story for me. First, Fieryo—a “handsome prince” character—who is usually cast as tall and athletic, was neither. Also, Boq, who plays a munchkin, was too tall for a munchkin (he was played by an understudy in one of the performances). Boq was distractingly taller than Nessarose, with whom he is coupled throughout most of the show. While I certainly understand that all actors are different, this performance illustrated to me that looks and builds matter in casting.
  5. Speaking of understudies, I’ve seen my fair share. In the majority of cases I can remember, the understudy is just as good—if not better—than the regular actor cast in the role. In this performance, Elphaba, played by understudy Dee Roscioli, was excellent. Her lower register was the most impressive of any of the performers I’ve ever seen in the role, and she brought an attitude that I’d not seen in past performances. She especially nailed the song “Popular” with her “toss toss” antics.
  6. And speaking of “Popular,” this scene has come to be performed differently in each production, and sometimes varies by performance. Each Glinda I’ve seen uses this song to showcase her interpretation of the character. I’ve seen a spectrum of improvised (and likely intentional) overacting—to by-the-book performances that sounded close to the soundtrack with little additional interest. This is a great example of a scene that can be different every time it’s performed.

Spotting these differences likely requires that an audience member be as much a fan of the theatre genre as I. If you are not, you have likely stopped reading long before now—or believe that I am way too into this. You may be correct. In any event, my hope is that these examples have supported my notion that one reason that the musical theatre experience is interesting and engaging is due to the inherent spontaneity of the performances. The same show in is never performed the same way twice.

Kurt Elling on May 15, 2016, at City Winery

Although I have a range of musical tastes, I am somewhat embarrassed to report that jazz is underrepresented in my concert attendance calendar. Before Sunday, my last two jazz shows were Manhattan Transfer and Janis Siegel, but those were ages ago. While I always seem to enjoy the performances, I just don’t book the tickets. I hope to add a regular act to my live show repertoire: Kurt Elling.

IMG_5280I have seldom heard a male jazz vocalist with the range, variety, and talent of Kurt Elling. I was fortunate to see Elling at my current favorite Chicago venue, City Winery, and I was again lucky to get front-row seats. During the show, he mentioned that he is a Chicago native (along with two members of his band). His band, by the way, was nothing short of phenomenal, including Clark Sommers (bass), John McLean (guitar), and Kendrick Scott (drums).

The performance included Elling’s sweeping vocals, some scat singing, several improvisations by all band members, and some original vocalese performances. Although he didn’t use the term, he described the concept of vocalese through a story he told the audience. Elling explained how he had written lyrics to another jazz artist’s improvised solo, and later met the artist at a Grammy party.

IMG_1299I was particularly impressed by three covers that were performed so originally that even those who knew the songs needed to do a double-take. The covers were Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and a customized version of Journey’s “Lights” with Chicago-specific lyrics (When the lights go down in my city…I want to get back to my city by the lake…).

Finally, special thanks to my long-time friend Norma for introducing me to this performer. Norma and I worked together several years ago when I was a band director in the south suburbs.