Category Archives: update

Always Loud Somewhere

I’ve been a licensed amateur radio operator (ham) for almost 30 year and have had both runs of heavy involvement and runs of “doing other things”. I’ll delve more into these details, but hams in the USA are licensed by the FCC and have access to some very nice chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum. The equipment is readily available and well supported. To me it is the original “tech nerd” hobby. It goes back to the dawn of radio, and the dawn of the vacuum tube. At that time if you wanted to be a ham, you built the gear. Now… there is a lot of great commercial equipment and for most ops homebuilding is secondary.

Every operator has a central thesis, a set of goals, or a set of constraints that inform their pursuits. For some it is “MORE POWER GOOD”, for some it is “mnmlsm”. One of mine is that two-way radio works, but not everywhere all the time. I call it “You Are Always Loud Somewhere”. I can set up a radio and antenna, pick a mode of operation, and call out to the radio wilderness in search of other operators. In ham parlance, I am calling CQ. Seek You. Get it? Hams are a cryptic bunch.

The 2-way element of radio involves a second station listening on the same frequency I am transmitting on, and being able to reply and be understood. It actually works better than one might think. There are 750,000 licensed hams in the USA alone. It isn’t great by TV ratings measures, but it’s respectable. Also, hams might have outsized influence due to their proclivity for… communication. Of all kinds. For better or worse.

Another thing that hams rely on is a phenomenon whereby the effect of solar radiation on the ionosphere effectively turns it into a “radio mirror” reflecting radio energy back toward earth. Some of the energy from my radio signal is directed up toward the ionosphere, gets reflected back down, and I am now audible 800 miles (for example) away. That can happen multiple times, allowing my signal to travel halfway around the world, or more. Once our signal leaves our continent (roughly) we call that DX (distance). While useful, that kind of “enhanced propagation” is a fickle mistress. Some days it is like transmitting into a lead sponge. Other days you are chatting to an operator in South Africa on less wattage than it takes to power a clock radio.

So that is the backdrop for “always loud somewhere”. You might not be loud where you want to be loud, but somewhere your signal is crushing it. There might be another op there. We can only hope.

Hams have some tools to increase the odds. One obvious tool is to create a stronger signal by emitting more power. Think of the difference between your local AM pea shooter and something like WTIC or WFAN (for those of you who still own an AM radio). One of them is always strong over a large coverage area. The other is community scale. It requires less power, but still communicates well. Also, there are many ways to tailor the radiation pattern from an antenna for a specific goal. Do we want to work distant stations, or communicate locally? Do we want to create a very high uptime communications link, or are we looking for a bit of sport?

I’ll wrap this post with an example (we now go full ham lingo mode. strap in):

I have been experimenting with both homebuilt and commercial portable/lightweight antennas for the past two years. I haven’t had a fixed setup at home, so even if I am operating from home, I am still “portable”. One antenna I recently acquired is a Chameleon MPAS Lite. It’s a “military grade” portable antenna system, and is designed to be easy to set up and still perform well. This is not the norm. In the “engineering triangle” the lighter and easier to set up an antenna is, the more compromised it is and the worse it performs. Also, some of my favorite wire vertical antennas, like the PAR Trail Friendly, require an overhead support or a portable mast. That raises the complexity, weight, and logistics hurdle. The MPAS Lite is self-supporting, low visual profile, and can be configured for local coverage or to give you at least a fighting chance at long distance stations. I had heard good things, so I gave it a shot.

Here is a map of contacts I made on March 23, 2021 using an Icom IC-705 transceiver at 10W into the MPAS Lite. This was done during an afternoon here in southern New England, and conditions were very poor. I tuned across the entire 40M band and it was dire. Like “is my radio broken?” dire, and triple checking antenna connections dire. Then I moved up to 20M and it wasn’t great, but I could at least hear a few strong stations. There was a bit of solar storm effect happening, marked by deep and rapid fading (QSB). I was seeing stations drop 7 S-units in under a minute, and then rise back up. On FT8 I expected to be riding the waves. However, as it was my first real wring-out for a new antenna I decided to at least tune it up (MFJ 901-B, the “cockroach” of ham gear*) on a few bands to see how easy that would be (it was easy).

I was working my way higher in frequency and ended up on 10 Meters. This band has been my nemesis for the past 12 months. I always check it, and never hear anything. Even on FT8, the propagation beacon that has become a global phenomenon, I was 0-fer. That’s hard to do, because it seems that at any time of day, somewhere in the world every FT8 calling freq is choked with activity.

This day was different. I ran into a trans-equatorial opening to South America. Who knew if I could make any contacts, but I could at least hear them. Also, it had less rapid fading than the lower bands. It was fading in a 3-5 minute cycle and not fading as deeply as 40 and 20. In meteorological terms it was like a “radio inversion” instead of lower bands being in better shape, and conditions falling off as you go higher, the real action was at 28MHz. Since we are right at the vernal equinox this could have been a seasonal thing or tropospeheric ducting. Regardless of the propagation mode I will deinitely make a 10M check more often.

Here’s what I was able to do on a low power (10W) radio and an antenna that I have no expectations of for DX work:

The green icons are 10M contacts. Orange 20m, Red 17m, Blue 30m. That stray green icon in Europe… That’s a fail on the mapping app. It is actually J79WTA in Domenica, showing up under his Swiss call HB9MFM. This is also an Islands On The Air (IOTA) station, NA-101.

I have some thoughts on the different portable antenna options I have been using and am working up a kind of “shootout” over weight, ease of setup, performance, and durability. I hope to be posting the first of them soon. Until then, go be loud somewhere.

Pete, N1QDQ

*cockroach = will be the last thing still working before the sun swallows the earth

Radio. Radio.

This WordPress site has been dormant for a while, but I want to use it to store up a few Amateur Radio posts, and maybe share some content. Watch This Space. Pete

Why are we scapegoating “China Sword”?

The following is a largely stream-of-thought article on the recycling side of waste management systems in North America. I could have used “United States” instead, but this issue is broader in scope than that. Many people are using the term “crisis” regarding a change in Chinese policy. I think we can learn more if we approach the issue as “from crisis, opportunity“. This is my own work and does not reflect the policies or opinions of my employer, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

When it comes to the recycling side of the solid waste industry in 2019 there is one King Kong-sized boogeyman. High Prices? Bad Markets? Excessive Transport Costs? All those problems and more are thrown at the feet of “China Sword“, one of the names given to a Chinese pivot away from importing post-consumer recyclables from North America. This policy is tied to surging costs and shrinking profits in the waste management industry.

The Chinese Recycling Market Genesis Story goes like this: For over 20 years China’s expanding manufacturing industries were sending container ships full of consumer goods to the North America. These ships would unload at a major port such as Long Beach, CA, but there were insufficient corresponding North American exports to fill the containers for the return trip. The economics of transporting a load of empty containers back to China were terrible, so bringing back *anything* was preferable. Thus a “black hole” for post-consumer materials was born. Those containers were filled with post-consumer recyclable material from North American households and businesses. From the North American perspective it was a miracle. No domestic processing requiring labor and machinery and electricity was required, only cheap rail shipments to the west coast, and the material was GONE. On the Chinese side the main end product for these materials was packaging for Chinese electronics and other consumer products, which would be exported to North America, and then theoretically returned to China to be born again as new packaging.

If that sounds too good to be true, it was. The quality of the material being delivered to North American docks was terrible. Much of it had high rates of contamination, or worse, involved good looking material on the outside and garbage on the inside. It is likely that none of this material would have been accepted for processing at a North American facility. As we will see, the costs involved in removing that contamination strip the materials of their intrinsic value. It was not long before the Chinese decided they would not be a dumping ground for this poor quality material. None of this was (or should have been) a surprise to North American brokers. Any serious student of recycling processes, markets, materials, and policies is not buying onto a “magical end market”. The charade continued until the proverbial well ran dry. At that point a crisis was born. China hit the brakes. Where importing poor-quality recycled materials may have been economically sound at one time, that time came to an end. China’s economic path from a producer of trinkets to a producer of iPhones led to a mature modern economy, with global economic ties and massive earnings.

It appeared to be a sudden reversal from the perspective of the US. But how could it have been. Waste management is a multi-billion dollar industry, employing economists, international business analysts, experts in everything from curbside collection to trade policy, and it revolves around the banking industry. That banking industry is doing their own due diligence. How could the entire industry, the transportation industry, and their financiers have overlooked this iceberg? My cynicism tells me they didn’t.

Much like the Chinese consumer goods of the 2000’s, North American recyclables were overwhelmingly destined for export markets. There had been very little investment in processing infrastructure on this side of the Pacific. Likewise, there had been no reason for collection programs to stress high quality over sheer volume. The export markets had not demanded it, and domestic markets were glad to limit themselves to materials such as white office paper and high-quality plastics, both known for low contamination rates and high value. Pre-Sword, if a municipal collection program was getting paid $20/ton for mixed recyclables, why would there be a reason to worry? As seen from the generation/collection side of the process it seemed like a status quo had been established, and there was very little indication it would change. Processors were offering 5- and 10-year contracts with guaranteed rebates. Generators and trash haulers were writing those rebates into their cash-flow calculations. Ah… Good Times! Not many were aware that this model relied on a distant market with a rapidly growing consumer sector and a government with the ability to alter course on a dime. The ones who were aware seem to have been satisfied to ride the wave until it crashed.

And crash it did. The closure of the Chinese market caused a virtual evaporation of system capacity. Post-consumer material had nowhere to go. The end markets (purchasers of separated recyclables) who would take the material demanded very low contamination rates (Between 1 and 5%, and lower). China had set their acceptable rate at 1.5% and then lowered it to 0.5%. As far as North American MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities or MRFs, pronounced “murfs”) were concerned this rate was impossible to achieve. Without a huge low-cost destination for post-consumer materials, the focus began to shift from quantity to quality.  Many MRFs were running their material through their processing line a second time to reduce contamination. This effectively halves their capacity and doubles their labor and energy costs per ton. The result is spiking costs.

As 2019 progresses, the old contracts fade away, and the shock over post-Sword economics sinks in. Processing a ton of recycling might cost as much as disposing of a ton of trash (or more), a previously unthinkable scenario. Where there were once $20/ton rebates, the cost to deliver recyclables to a MRF (called a tip-fee) was suddenly $25-$75/ton. States, municipalities, corporations, MRFs and brokers are all wondering who will pay for these new costs. In cases where long-term contracts with rebate pricing were in force, they were either torn up or the contractee was hit with higher “claw-back” costs in their next contract (making up for losses under the old rebate contract. Some scenarios involved both tearing up a contract as well as claw-back pricing. Could it be that the closure of the Chinese “Magic Market” exposed North American markets to the actual costs of their waste management policies? Can I make that any more of a leading question?

To turn specifically to the United States, our current solid waste management practices matured under those pre-Sword conditions. The expectations of cheap markets for poorly-sorted recyclables have been baked in to our system over the course of decades. That system relies heavily on export markets. It has failed to develop domestic processing and remanufacturing capacity in the shadow of those export markets. It also relies heavily on long-haul transportation instead of local and integrated, collection, processing and remanufacture. The challenge we now face is one of self-examination, education, commitment, and investment. Can we face up to the facts regarding our laissez-faire approach to waste? The idea that we can mass-produce products and packaging, with no regard to the implications, continues to be discredited every day. Whether it is a global adjustment like China Sword, or a local town-hall budget meeting erupting into a shouting match because the money is simply not there, the current system benefits very few and places a massive economic and environmental burden on the public at large.

To return to the opening question, why would we blame China for this scenario? Do they have some kind of mandate to take poor-quality material from halfway around the world, only to spend money to separate it into useful parts, dispose of the contaminants, and hope to end up in the black? None that I know of. More to the point, considering the importance of the Chinese market to the North American waste management industry, why was there no trade agreement in force regarding recycled materials. It was basically one giant handshake deal. This is the quicksand upon which was built the economic basis of the materials management economy for over 20 years.

There is a feeling that the market will settle, costs will relax, and a “new normal” will take shape. For most people in the waste management industry from the consumer/generator to the recycled content manufacturer it can’t happen soon enough.

I intend to come back and dig deeper into these issue in future posts, but I would like to close with a few observations about where the opportunities and solutions might lie:

Strong National and State Policies: To date the waste management industry has largely been left to run itself. It is important to give credit where credit is due. The industry has developed the technology and the economic strength to process much of our nation’s waste material. However, in the end it still operates on a volume basis. The incentive to reduce waste is simply anathema to the waste management industry. This is similar to the relationship between the electric generation industry and energy efficiency. EE measures take dollars out of the system. In the waste management industry, waste reduction plays the role of energy efficiency. The industry has been able to manage waste materials through a network of landfills, waste-to-energy facilities, and recycling facilities. No industry would voluntarily takes profits off the table, and as a bloc the waste management industry lacks the scope to put a value on efficiency and develop the policies and partners to make it work. What is needed now is a strong framework to guide the conversion of that industry to one that works for the next 100 years. It simply must evolve to yoke a reduction in waste generation to improvements in separation, processing and disposal.

The Supply/Demand Void: With the market value of post-consumer recyclables at a deep low there should be a buyer to embrace this buyer’s market. Right now that seems to be limited by processing capacity and the ability to reduce contamination to the new, lower, standards. As well, separated, high quality, low contamination materials are still holding their value in the marketplace. The real boat anchor is mixed recyclables (many of us know this as Single Stream, or Blue Bin). As I was once taught, the technology required to fix a problem is exponentially greater than the technology required to create it. Creating mixed recyclables is easy. Separating them into the component parts and maintaining the integrity of those parts is exponentially more difficult and more costly. The mixed recycling days should by all rights be coming to an end. Hence…

Source-Separation. This term can be used to describe separating recyclable materials from trash, but it also means separating recyclable materials by type before they are commingled. Separating materials such a cardboard, certain plastics, textiles, food waste, electronics, metal, and packaging at the source (the consumer in most cases) yields cleaner and more valuable material without the need for expensive post-processing. This approach also reduces the total quantity of mixed recyclables, lessening the strain on MRFs trying to meet the low contamination rates the market demands.

Cooperative and Expanded MRF Infrastructure: A MRF is a fairly innocuous industrial process. Most of these facilities can be sited in a light industrial zone with access to highway and rail/ship/manufacturing infrastructure. Cities, regions, or states might find the best solution to cost is to contract with a facility to process their recyclables. By keeping the size of each facility down the transportation costs are kept down, and the amount of post-process materials (baled separated recyclables) is likewise kept to an acceptable level as considered by the host community. It is important to note that even clean separated materials sill require baling, storage and marketing. A move away from mixed recycling is not a threat to the MRF industry, but a lifeline.

Integrated Processing and Manufacturing: The conversion of post-consumer recyclables into consumer products the final link in the chain. The transportation costs involved in this process can be mitigated by locating manufacturing facilities within a short-haul of one or more MRFs. Similarly the opportunity for long-term supply contracts sets the stage for enhanced source-separation, decreased contamination, and decreased processing costs. Any MBA will tell you that this is a recipe for long-term control of both costs and materials supplies.

These approaches can all be part of the answer to “what’s next” in the aftermath of China Sword. This crisis presents and opportunity to build the next house on firmer ground, with known costs, and reliable cash flows. This is what drives investment, and ultimately creates a sustainable model with room to grow and change as future opportunities present themselves.

 

 

The Disclaimer

I’m not a music journalist. Thank me later. I detest the trend of comparing every band to some other band. It’s lazy. It is shorthand. It lets the writer off the hook, bypassing the need for deep thought ot deep listening.

What I write is largely reviews of music I have purchased directly from the artist. I know some of these folks personally, but I pay for the music whether it is downloads, CDs, concert tickets, whatever. If I think a recording is off, I’ll say so, but if I don’t like it I probably won’t waste my time writing about it.

Same for photography, food, travel, and anything else. Life is too short.

Let the Music Play

This blog has been dormant for quite a while, but my plan is to start putting up music reviews, and some longer-form pieces on learning, performing, and experiencing music.

Coming up very soon: A Tale of Two Mothers

Corby 2015 – The Rundown Cometh

Just a quick warning that I will have a few observations from my recent trip to the Festival Moo Ah in Corby, England. Yep. Another Zappa-themed festival in a European location with its fair share of beer and elsewhere. Uncle Ian is a Corby resident so I will be kind: I like Corby, but at one point I was sure that it was not reciprocal. I wish I could have seen more than the view from the taxi or on my escape from The George… My feeling about England, and this was my first trip, was that it is lovely when you have lovely company. Conversely, when things go sour they do so in a big way.

First the summary version! I expect to have a few more on music, food, and a solar eclipse. My trip was based out of the Manchester area, so I will start there:

A great party was had in the Manchester area, and it was great fun to see my Zappateer/Mancateer friends in their natural surroundings. 🙂

obshire_2015 28

A great road trip was taken to Corby! 🙂

obshire_2015 71

I had to choose a room at the Inn, and I did not choose wisely 😦

evelien_george-1photo by evelein langereis

The first night full of good friends and good music. 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmike fox and helen tate

I returned to a hotel room that was a miasma of chip-fat (fryer grease) 😦

Booked a new room at 5:00am over a prehistoric GPRS connection 😦

New hotel was 2 miles away and gave us a 7:00am check-in  🙂

I still had not really slept in three days and my diet had been poor, at best 😦

Was able to attend a commitment ceremony for friends Steve and Susan 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Was starving and ate a double burger at the UK equivalent of Applebees 😦

Reception for Susan and Steve

Second night of music was great, but I was in rough shape 🙂 😦

Actually slept some on Saturday night, took it easy with breakfast, but… damage done 🙂 😦

Ignored GERD-symptoms and had an epic drink-up with curry on Sunday night 🙂

curry cheers!

Crazy Train grinds to a serene halt on Monday morning and much lounging around ensues 🙂

Fantastic family dinner with my hosts! Hard to beat that 🙂

Out the door at 6am on Tuesday to return home 🙂 Guiness and an egg sandwich at 6:30am in Manchester airport 🙂

obshire_2015

All told, a really fun time at a really fun festival. I need to thank everyone including Ob, Mrs. Ob, the Oblings, Danny, Steffen, Bengt, the residents of Mancunia, Uncle Ian, Andy, Canadian John from London, YoungPumpkin, Ged, Eric, the Dutchies, the Vikings, Rupert and Kevin, some mad bloke named Rick, and a seemingly endless string of amazing people who I now count among my friends.

And in other news…

The latest musical effort here at Rancho Frio Studios is an improvisational duo with drummer Peter Riccio.  There really isn’t an official name for this project.  There have been a few performances so far and they have all used different names.  We play at the Outer Space in Hamden, CT on April 1, and that performance will be under yet another name: Journey to the Twin Planet. That is the name of a track from the Jack Dejohnette record Special Edition (1980, ECM). There was a time when ECM was putting out some of the best and most unique recordings, and those recordings largely hold up very well.  So while I can guarantee that nobody will mistake JttTP for a Jack Dejohnette project, it is a tip of the hat to a man I consider to be one of the best ever to pick up the sticks.

Peter and I go back a long way, and it is great to be playing some music together again.  A few years as bassist in his band the Sawtelles was a major turning point in my musical life.  Playing in an ensemble while being able to retain my own voice on the instrument is something I had never truly enjoyed, and playing in the Sawtelles opened a door to that process that I continue to develop today.

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NHIC @ firehouse12 – recap

Everything is running a bit late this year, so my recap of the NHIC gig is also late.  Short of it: it was a very cool night of music.

nhic:atlas (Bob Gorry pronounces “NHIC” as “NICK”… go figure) was a blast to play with, and was in the odd position of having a CD release show with 50% new lineup and 80% new material.  But hey, this isn’t a commercial thing, so no worries.  We had Mike Paolucci (Sandy knows him as “octopus boy” due to his fluid style behind the kit) on drums and he was a swingin’ rock of funky rhythm.  Gabriel Kastelle is always a joy to play with as well.  I love an in-tune violin or viola, and he has great pitch.  The Gorry-Asetta-Matlock front end from the original Atlas lineup was intact, and sounded great.  The swingin’ new rhythm section, and new blood in the violin-family chair brough a totally different feel to the group.  Where the original nhic:atlas was leaning toward a formal chamber-jass feel, the new lineup was more funky and leaning more toward a propulsive feel.  On my end, I was playing my Tacoma acoustic bass guitar in place of the original upright bass, and it filled that role like a champ.  No feedback issues, and the deep, resonant sound fit the arrangements like a glove.

NHIC Electric was the new kid in town, bringing a familiar two-guitar NHIC setup to the stage, but we had Peter Riccio on drums.  One thig is for sure, among his many talents, he has a very deep knowledge of jazz, and especially free jazz and hard bop.  I know, because most of the stuff I heard as a kid, I heard out of the record collection at his house.  That one factor gave the group a feel that I haven’t heard in the past.  Not that Peter doesn’t know world music, or prog, or polyrhythmic complexity, but he brought some strong jazz drumming to the party.  My rig was fretless Zon Sonus 5, Line6 M5, and Radial Tonebone handling the switching and fx loop for the M5.  I also ran loops off my iPhone to handle some synthy noises.  It has been a while since I have run effects at a show… and it was a weird feeling, but it was a reminder that I *can* do it if I want to deal with it.  The simplicity of playing bass-cable-amp (and often not running an amp) can be seductive.  I did enjoy blasting some delay and some phaser action in small doses.  I can’t wait to hear some rough mixes of this band.  Should be a hoot.

Thanks to NHIC, firehouse12, and the folks who came out to support the gig.  It was very cool.  I hope to be sharing soem audio and video in the coming months.

nhic:atlas is bob gorry, guitar; steve asetta, saxes; adam matlock, clarinet, accordion; gabriel kastelle, viola, erhu; michael paolucci, drum kit; pete brunelli, acoustic bass guitar

NHIC Electric is: bob gorry, guitar; jeff cedrone, guitar; paul mcguire, soprano sax; peter riccio, drum kit; pete brunelli, fretless electric bass

Occupy Blog Street

Just a few tidbits about how “Washington” and “Wall Steet” are fucking this country, and but good.

Job Creators: this is as cynical and retrograde as “Clear Skies Initiative”.  The actual problem with the economy is hidden directly behind this crystalline piece of “douche-speak”.  Actually, these captains of industry are laying people off, and avoiding hiring here in America, because they first and foremost need to keep the profit-wheel turning.  Not just normal profits.  Profits that increase every quarter.  The irrational ever-expanding economy concept at the granular level.  So when (as mentioned here in a previous post) a company that relies heavily on American military spending, like Sikorsky, needs to keep the profit margin rolling, so they can continue to “perform” and their executives can continue to reap performance-based bonuses… they lay off thousands and move them onto the American Unemployment System!  Uncle Sucker provides a backdoor “entitlement” to Sikorsky, as opposed to the “front door” they were using* back in the “aughts”.  Meanwhile, those unemployed people can no longer participate in the economy at large to the same degree, causing other businesses to slow down, layoff, and you have the makings of a true economic Domino Theory clusterfuck.  This is happening on a national basis, and thousands of businesses are complicit, but I am just using Sikorksky because they are so transparent in their efforts.  In Conclusion: Thanks, “Job Creating” Doublespeak Assholes!

When Occupy Whatnot has the time to figure out what is really going on… maybe they will connect a few dots and make some concrete points.  So far I see a lot of vague generalities about the economy, but nothing that you can really hang your hat on.  My feelings are: keep it simple, keep it direct, don’t pull punches, and don’t let yourself get co-opted by a group that is part of the problem (Move On, I’m looking at you)

* What Changed? Back in the heady days of say… George W. Bush… it was easier to just divert the money from multiple war efforts directly to the bottom line, knowing that the GAO would never have the time or resources to figure out if you actually delivered on a contract.  You had a neutered Accountability arm of the Executive Branch, and a lot of open graft, wink, nod, repeat.  We now find out, horrors, that BILLIONS of US Dollars have gone missing in our multiple “wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… who knows since the USA never actually declares war any longer.  We just deploy a bunch of taxpayer funded military resources, and an equal or greater military contractor force, and then stop answering the phones over at the Penatgon.  Seems to have worked so far.  But with the US Government actually paying attention, at least in a small way, it is safer to play this shell game.  Even if it tanks the US economy… I mean, once you offshore enough of your business it really doesn’t matter what happens here, right?

Pseudo-Random

First, RIP Steve Jobs.  I go way back with Apple, maybe a little too far back.  My dad brought home an Apple II to check out, because he was going to be using it as part of his classroom work.  He taught Electronics and wanted this new “personal computing” stuff to be part of the curriculum.  The school got some Apple hardware, and My dad brought one home to work on classroom stuff… So I got my hands on a very early Apple product.  What I remember was it had a 40 column greenscreen display and no lower case.  It was still the nicest computer I had seen.  Before that it was a teletype console and acoustic coupler (to the Yale mainframe), or this trashed Hex Programming Trainer (probably Heathkit) that I forced to do four-function math (in hex).  Anyhow, Apple has been through a real rollercoaster existence, but the company that we now know is very much about Jobs.  I kept away from the Apple line until they ditched the System-7 thing, and when they switched to OS X, I jumped back in.  Great OS, better hardware, and they had the sense to ditch all that old spaghetti-code under the hood of the old Apple OS.  As well, they survived, and thrived, a CPU family switch, which looked like it could be a deal breaker.  Nope.  It was a deal maker.  It proved that you could have a killer desktop OS on an Intel CPU.  Something that M$ has yet to find a fucking way to make happen.  Thanks, Steve.  You Rocked It.

Switching gears, Zappa is the gift that keeps on giving.  I think I was about 13 when I first heard a Mothers album, and have been pretty consistent in absorbing Zappa music since.  About 34 years later I am still having regular epiphanies regarding Conceptual Continuity.  The man left a shockingly deep catalog of great music.  Even the songs I don’t like, I see where they fit in as I keep listening.  I recently checked out an unreleased album called Chalk Pie.  It kinda runs like a low-budget YCDTOSA release, but it has some killer music on it.  First off, it might be Exhibit A in “How Great Was Scott Thunes, Really?”  The answer: really freakin’ amazing.  Especially in the early 80’s before the bullshit of the ’88 Tour went down.  Scott plays some brutally hard passages with great fluidity, and you can hear that he is doing what Zappa wanted him to do.  Each player in the history of Zappa bands had a whole different set of challenges from the player preceding them.  In this case it is Scott, Chad Wackerman, Tommy Mars, Ed Mann and Steve Vai…  And they are all playing hard-ass parts and kicking ass while doing it.  I really dig that band before it got all tarted up with extra instrumentation…. But about Thunes: Even a piece like Jazz Discharge Party Hats was an eye-opener for me.  It is nothing more than a Sprechgesang vocal, doubled on bass.  Really stripped down, kinda funny, kinda runs on for a while… Not my favorite FZ piece, but damn, not only does FZ sing the part, but Scott nails the doubling part.  Sounds easy?  It Ain’t.  It is like a crystalline example of the FZ vocal-based-melody principle.  Neat.

Another gear change: One of the realizations that I am having Post-Rochefort is that I was lucky to get through that festival in once piece, and I will have to be more organized if I go back.  I may also have to be more demanding and let some of my organizational freak-flag fly.  I think I extended myself too much, too far in advance of the gig, in musical genre that I am not in practice on.  I also let a lot of decision-making slide (I was the FNG, and not there to make decisions) and it made it impossible for me to handle all the demands I was agreeing to.  So I either need to put in a lot more time branching out of my comfort zone, or be more particular about what I say “yes” to, or both.  Also, it was still a wild ride and I am still buzzing from it.