Conducting Beethoven

Conductor

Three and a half years after conducting Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in 2003, I was again fortunate — for a second time in a lifetime — this time to conduct Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture. The late Maestro Sidney Rothstein, my friend and mentor, suggested a more complex piece this time and Creatures of the Prometheus filled the bill.

It was indeed a challenge, but at the same time an exhilarating experience hard to describe in words. The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra is always a privilege to hear but as three years earlier, the difference between sitting in the audience and standing inches from the musicians — was amazing. It was being right in their space, seeing them at work in great detail and hearing the unique character of each instrument like never before. I have always had great respect for orchestral musicians, but once again even more so.

I didn’t count how many times I listened to mp3 recordings of the Prometheus and how many times I read the thirty-page score, but it reached the point where the notes were playing in my head nearly every waking hour. After all the hours of rehearsing, there were no more excuses — it was time to raise the baton and conduct. I made two introductory beats and then away we went! To watch these professionals at work, to hear the actual instruments instead of an mp3, to see the musicians in front of me and occasional encouraging smiles from them — I was on cloud nine. If the orchestra senses you know the music, they will actually follow you! I made a few mistakes, but I don’t believe the audience noticed. At the end, I congratulated the orchestra on their performance and was humbled as *they* applauded. Here are the reviews from the The Ridgefield Press and The Danbury News-Times.

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Online Voting Trial with Blockchain: Academics Say Yes

Mobile Voting

The BBC reported the Scottish Government is being urged to undertake trials of online voting. A group of thirty academics and non-profit leaders said online voting could lead to “modern democracy”. I could not agree more, as I wrote in Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy. The group of thirty acknowledged security must be assured, but suggested online voting would make elections “more efficient, more accessible and more engaging”. Pursuing the trials could allow Scotland to “lead the way in democratic reform and pave the way for the rest of the world”. This is exactly the election attitude we need, and I hope Scotland gets the trials going.

The BBC quoted Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, as saying: “Online voting has the potential to dismantle barriers to an independent and secret ballot for many voters with disabilities and vision impairments, as well as British citizens overseas including many members of our Armed Forces. For the younger generations, online voting presents a method of voting that meets the expectations of the digital age. We are pleased to see the Scottish Government explore this reform and hope they can lead the way by undertaking pilots of this important and exciting reform to our democracy.” Bravo.

The recommendations to the Scotish government urge it to tackle security issues through pilot schemes rather than avoiding online technology altogether, which, unfortunately, is the approach being taken by nearly all U.S. states. The recommenders believe, as I do, failing to master the technology and address needed enhancements is disenfranchising millions of people who cannot get to the polls. 

In the United States, election officials have been frightened by Russian hacking, and are, defensively, generally moving towared paper-based systems, which have their own set of security and privacy issues. However, one innovative state, West Virginia, has become the first to allow Internet voting by blockchain as I advocated in Election Attitude. The state plans to offer online voting to overseas military service members and their families. The pilot will be offered in two counties. This is exactly the right way to do it. Think Big, Act Bold, Start Simple, Iterate Fast. If it goes well in the May primary, the state hopes to allow all eligible West Virginia military voters to vote online during the November general elections. If other states follow, there could be millions of military and expatriate voters enfranchised.

The technology will be supplied by Boston based blockchain voting startup Voatz. The startup has raised $2.2 million in venture capital funding, and a philanthropist is helping fund the pilot. Voatz technology works by recording votes on an Internet blockchain, much like bitcoin is stored on a blockchain. The voter’s identity is verified using biometric tools like Touch ID or Face ID using a mobile device. Voters will be able to vote from anywhere in the world, and verify their vote was recorded. This will be far superior to the old-fashioned paper-base absentee ballots which often get lost in the mail or arrive after the voting cutoff date.

West Virginia has a history of being progressive about the use of technology. In 2010, then Secretary of State Natalie Tennant supported an Internet voting pilot for 125 West Virginia military and overseas citizens from eight counties. She said the number of voters represented a 162 percent increase over the participation in the 2010 primary. The 76 percent online-vote return rate far exceeded the average 58 percent absentee ballot return rate experienced by counties using standard mail as the ballot transmission method.

Natalie Tennant has a solid election attitude. Unfortunately, since 2010, the state has encountered financial declines, and Secretary Tennant was not re-elected in 2016. The new Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer is Mac Warner. He has election attitude. I hope other states will follow this great example and begin Internet voting pilots using mobile devices and blockchain technology. It can lead to a stronger democracy. Let us not forget the 100 million people who could have voted in 2016, but did not because they could not navigate our 150 year-old voting system.

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Ridgefield Library: It’s All About Attitude with John Patrick

The Ridgefield Library is pleased to have author John Patrick back for his fourth visit. The lively talk, called It’s All About Attitude, will be at 7PM on Thursday, April 5. John believes many opportunities and problems have their roots in attitude. He also believes the solutions and ways forward are based on attitude. In his revealing talk, John will offer a positive perspective on how an attitude change can reap major improvements. He will weave this theme through his current four books. He will also introduce us to his newest book, Home Attitude: Everything You Need To Know To Make Your Home Smart.

John R. Patrick is president of Attitude LLC and former Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM. He lived in Ridgefield for more than 30 years. John and his wife Joanne have been active in the community as philanthropists. They currently live in Danbury, CT and Palm Coast, FL. John served on the board of Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) and Founders Hall. He is a trustee at OCLC, Inc. and a director at Keeeb, Inc. John has degrees in electrical engineering, management, law, and health administration. John’s current books are:

Net Attitude: What it is, How to Get it, and Why it is More Important Than Ever (2016); Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare (2015); Election Attitude – How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy(2016). Learn more about John and his books at johnpatrick.com.

To register, please visit the events section at Ridgefield Library. Any questions, contact Lesley Lambton at (203) 438-2282 or lalambton@ridgefieldlibrary.org.

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Gene-editing Gets Major Funding

CRISPR/Cas9

Last year, I wrote about a team of Chinese scientists having received ethical approval to perform a clinical trial of gene-editing. The goal was to test whether gene-editing may be a potential cure for cancer. The technology used for the trial is called CRISPR/Cas9, not exactly a household name. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Cas9 stands for CRISPR associated protein 9, an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzyme. If you read all these words a few times, it can make your head hurt. The topic is complex, but I hope in this post to make it more understandable.

After reading about CRISPR more than a few times, I think I finally get the concept.  I may not have this 100% right, but following is what I believe it is about. To imagine what gene-editing is, consider editing of a video. The software shows you each frame of the video. You select a frame you want to edit and display the frame in video editing software. You make the changes to look the way you want the frame to look, and then insert the frame back into the video. For example, the original video may have contained an unneeded “um” or “ah” or “eh” which added no value to the video.

Now, consider the similarity with gene-editing. The human body has T-cells which are an active participant in our immune system. A gene in the T-cells can produce a protein called PD-1 which disables the T-cells’ ability to trigger an immune response to fight cancer. A team of oncologists removed cells from an advanced stage lung cancer patient and edited the cells using CRISPR-Cas9. After editing out the gene which blocks the immune response, the cells were cultured and multiplied and then injected back into the patient.

 Traditional treatments are aimed at killing the cancer cells. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. The gene editing approach is designed to modify our DNA and have our body fight the cancer instead of chemotherapy. Some top experts are very optimistic CRISPR/Cas9 may become the cure researchers have been seeking for decades.

Gene-editing is a breakthrough technology which could change how oncologists treat cancer. Laboratory experiments have shown it is possible to literally eliminate tumors. There are at least several significant risks, and many trials will be needed to test the safety and efficacy of gene-editing. 

Carl June, an immunotherapy specialist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia is a U.S. leader in the hunt for new cancer cures. He said, “I think this is going to trigger “Sputnik 2.0″, a biomedical duel between China and the United States”. He further said this is important since competition usually improves the end product. As of now, it looks like the Chinese are ahead in the race. That may be about to change. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), this week, announced a major effort aimed at removing barriers which slow the adoption of genome editing for treating patients. The program, called Somatic Cell Genome Editing, will be investing $190 million over six years,  beginning this year. The financial grants will go to researchers to collaborate to improve the delivery mechanisms for gene editing tools for patients, develop new and improved genome editors, and to develop methods for testing the safety and efficacy of the genome editing tools. The goal is to create a genome editing toolkit built from what is learned from the research, and share it with the entire scientific community.

“Genome editing technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 are revolutionizing biomedical research,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “The focus of the Somatic Cell Genome Editing program is to dramatically accelerate the translation of these technologies to the clinic for treatment of as many genetic diseases as possible.”

I will continue to follow this important and exciting area of medical research.

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Doo-Wop: Why They Keep Going

Doo Wop singerMost of my posts in the music category are about classical music, but there are a few about Doo-Wop. Last night at the Flagler Auditorium in Bunnell, Florida was was a different kind of “classical” music. The Pop, Rock & Doo-Wop Live! Concert featured Shirley Alston Reeves, original lead singer of The Shirelles, Dennis Tufano, original lead singer of the The Buckinghams, and Emil Stucchio & The Classics.

Shirley and her two companions sang, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “Soldier Boy”, “Foolish Little Girt”, “Mama Said”, and “Tonight’s the Night”. Dennis sang “Kind of a Drag”, “Don’t You Care”, “Hey Baby! They’re Playing Our Song”, “Susan”, and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”. Emil and The Classics sang “Till Then” and other recognizable hits from 50+ years ago. The Doo-Wop spectacular featured these and other classics of the 50s & 60s. It was a real trip down memory lane.

The Origins and even the spelling of Doo Wop are debated but most would agree it evolved from a merging of pop, gospel, blues, jazz and swing elements in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. Some call it vocal group harmonizing at it’s best. I think of Doo-Wop music as innocent, joyous, romantic and, almost spiritual.

Watching these performing groups on stage is always inspiring. A little arithmetic from the fifties to now can quickly show most of the performers were well past Medicare eligible 65. Shirley said she was 76, Dennis will be 72 shortly, and Emil is approximately 75. Some of the group looked their age, some did not. All of them had great voices and rhythm. If you look at their concert schedules on the web, you can see they are performing almost constantly — one group claimed 208 concerts last year. Why are they doing this? Why don’t they stop and retire? It is possible some lived past their means or did not invest in their future during the hay days, and now need the money. Others may do it out of loyalty to other members of their group. Some may not know what else to do. Most however, are probably doing it because they love it. You could see the sparkle in their eyes and the spring in their step. As the audience raved, the performers were inspired, and the cycle continued.

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