Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John Williams--Telling Stories on Guitar

John Williams performed at McCarter Theatre last night. Not the John T. Williams of movie score fame but the John C. Williams of classical guitar fame. I know him mostly through his phenomenal recordings of the music of Paraguayan composer Barrios.

The house was packed, the stage nearly empty but for a chair and two mics. Seems like the fewer people in the band, the more people in the audience. Perhaps people think that large bands don't need as much company. Williams walked out, gave a quick bow and smile, and set about weaving delicate fabrics of sound, making it look deceptively easy as he coaxed all manner of tone qualities out of the instrument. "He tells stories!", my companion declared at intermission, in awe at what an acoustic guitar could evoke.

As he re-tuned his guitar inbetween tunes, Williams gave descriptions of the compositions in an understated, humorous way that I'll guess goes back to his Australian roots.

I would have been more transported by the finely wrought tapestries and tales if not for the percussive accompaniment provided by the audience. It's been a cold spring in Princeton, and Mr. Tickle was getting mischievous with quite a few throats. Williams made a good humored request for more self-control after his first tune, with good results, but the Tickle Monster had a reprise in key sections of Williams' heartfelt performance of Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe's "Djilile" in the second half, bringing winces from the master, and a diplomatic but firm request for silence that tamed the monster for the rest of the program.

Memories were triggered of classical performances at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, years back, repeatedly sabataged by deep winter communal hacking, until finally copious supplies of cough drops became a standard presence in the lobby. (Four flavors! Try them all!) A small basket of them was out in the lobby at McCarter, but I wish there had been a seventh string Williams could have plucked that would have blanketed the audience with medicinal magic.

A more common problem with musical performances (not at McCarter fortunately) is that the musicians are overamplified and the audience lacks not cough drops but earplugs. Even with the coughs occasionally shattering the miraculous fabric of sound, I was glad for the kind of music that draws you in rather than bowls you over, and the chance to see a master of the artform at work.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


An important meeting for the environmental future of Princeton is coming up on Wednesday, March 11. The public will get a chance to learn more about and comment on the Sustainable Princeton Plan. This is the document that will guide Princeton's community-wide shift towards greater sustainability. Everyone--residents, schools, businesses, local governments--has both a stake and a hand in this effort. Please come to this event, to learn and give input.

At the March 11th workshop (7 p.m., Suzanne Patterson Center behind Princeton Borough Municipal Building, One Monument Drive), the draft document will be summarized, general comments will be made, and then the participants will break into small working groups to discuss how to carry out specific actions of the plan. Light Refreshments will be available.
For further information, please contact the Princeton Planning Director Lee Solow: 609/924-5366 or lsolow@princeton-township.nj.us

Additional information:

Sustainable Princeton Steering Committee, composed of municipal officials, representatives of Princeton groups and institutions, and local residents invites the public to participate in a Tuesday, March 11th, 7 p.m., workshop at the Suzanne Paterson Center , 1 Monument Drive, Princeton to review and comment upon the Sustainable Princeton Community Plan (SPCP). The draft plan outlines the goals and objectives of the Sustainable Princeton Initiative. The workshop will provide the input needed to finalize the SPCP and to launch the community on a course of achieving – and sustaining - a green and greener Princeton. Copies of the draft are available at the municipal buildings, the public library and online at http://www.princetontwp.org/Sustainable-Princeton-Draft2-5.pdf

The SPCPoutlines goals, identifies the sectors of the communities that would be implementing these goals, and presents action plans for fulfilling the goals, as well as strategies for measuring/tracking progress. The six goals are: green the built environment; improve transit/transportation; build local green economy; protect health and natural resources; curb greenhouse gases; foster community. The sectors - schools, businesses, residents, government - would be tasked with implementing specific action plans.

Sustainable Princeton had its roots within the Princeton Environmental Commission, which asked the municipalities to form a Sustainable Princeton Steering Committee two years ago and to hire New Jersey Sustainable State Institute (NJSSI) to help the municipalities embark upon a cohesive and effective plan to make the Princetons a model of sustainability in New Jersey. With a grant from the Municipal Land Use Center of New Jersey, the municipalities were able to sustain the Sustainable Princeton Initiative and to develop the Sustainable Princeton Community Plan on which the public is being asked to comment.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Breakthrough in Home Energy Monitors!

If you've been wanting to reduce your home energy use, to save money and reduce dependence on fossil fuels, you've no doubt wondered how much electricity various appliances use. Without that knowledge, it's hard to know how to most strategically cut back. Incredibly, a $500,000 home gives its owner less feedback about its workings than a $500 car.

When I first explored this issue, I bought a Kill a Watt meter that can measure the energy use of most anything that plugs into the wall. But it couldn't measure the real energy hogs, like central air conditioners, electric dryers, recessed lighting or dishwashers. So I bought a $150 T.E.D. meter that provides a real time measurement of your home energy use. With that device, I learned that my A/C unit uses 3500 watts of electricity when on, and the electric dryer uses nearly 4000. But energy meters like the T.E.D. are potentially dangerous to install, because there sensor has to be attached to the fuse box.

So, I wondered, would it be possible to design a device that could be placed on the electric meter outside, where it could measure how fast the dial turns and transmit the measurement to a handheld device inside the house? Lo and behold, such a device has finally been made available by Black and Decker! It's safe and legal for any homeowner to install, and costs less than the other whole-house energy monitors (about $100). After an hour spent installing it, you'll be able to walk around the house with the handheld monitor, turn various appliances and lights on and off, and see how much energy each one uses. With this knowledge, it's much easier to make decisions about how to cut back on consumption.

UPDATE, Jan. 13, 2010: The Black and Decker model has some drawbacks, primary among them is that the meter only tracks energy use in 100 watt increments. A CFL lightbulb may use only 14 watts, so if you turn several of them off, the meter won't show any reduction in energy use. My house generally uses so little energy that I couldn't even get the B&D model to register anything. It may work best for houses that use lots of appliances. For now, I'm using my T.E.D. meter, which, though trickier to install, tracks energy use in 10 watt increments and is much more accurate.

For informative reviews, go to: