Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poverty and potential role of savings accounts

Nick Kristof has an interesting view reducing global poverty in today's NYTimes. Provide the people a way to save.

I'm a fan of microlender Kiva, and am often amazed at the loan shark-like market lending rates in third world countries (often 50-100%+ interest), but it turns out in many places that even with a savings account you have to pay the bank to simply hold your money!

In West Africa, money collectors called susus operate informal banks but charge an annualized rate of 40 percent on deposits. Yes, you read that right. You pay a 40 percent interest rate on your savings!

In Kenya, two economists conducted an experiment by paying the fees to open bank accounts for small peddlers. They found that the peddlers who took up the accounts, especially women, enjoyed remarkable gains. Within six months, they were investing 40 percent more in their businesses, typically by buying more goods to be resold.


Anyhow, this is an interesting market-based piece of the puzzle. Read more here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Watched Avatar again - this time in 3D

Often I'm a grumpy dude and I have to apologize to my wife for that. Today was one of those days. As I woke up and was getting dressed I'm seeing my day going up in smoke when Trish asks me to go see Avatar again. Yeah I'm a whiner, but I don't recover well from 3-4 hour holes shot in my day.

Anyhow, watched the movie again - this time in 3D. 3D wasn't all that different from regular viewing from what I could tell. Maybe I was missing something.... Anyhow I thought it was interesting that the most interesting character upon rewatch was the craggy old military commander played by Stephen Lang - the Colonel who viewers ultimately focus on as as the "bad guy" of the film.

Upon first viewing I thought his character was overly 2 dimensional and stereotypical, but upon rewatch I see that he is just carrying out his role that his life up to that point has molded him to be. He's kindof like Vader from Star Wars. The Colonel is everything you'd want in a hero - hard-nosed, tough, cunning, sly, smart, loyal, a man of action - except he's fighting on the wrong team. He is nearly the ideal soldier - but without a conscience - without a compass for right/wrong. The kindof guy who can and does kill while sipping coffee. The company was paying him to do a job, and his job was to single-mindedly achieve objectives - no matter who he had to kill to achieve them - or how ruthless he had to become. It was truly juxtaposition in a space/alien movie to see a tough-as-nails human as the scariest thing you'd want to come up against in that dangerous world.

Here's an interesting take on his character by the LATimes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Boskops

Ever heard of the Boskops? Apparently an extinct homonid species from 30K-10K years ago that had brain sizes considerably larger than current homo sapiens, with some arguing they were probably far more intelligent as a result.

I did a few other web searches and there's confusion on just what exactly the brain size means, how it's wired, selection pressures to smaller brains even today due to child mortality... but it's interesting these megabrains were out there not long ago.

Anyhow, thought the article and speculation was interesting.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Still stuck in the 80s

I was tracking down some of my favorite songs from the 80s and found this one the other day. Please forgive the video as it is really bad - I didn't know the video was so strange as I only remember the song from a little cassette where I copied the tune off of the radio - but it really was a fun tune and makes me smile. If you remember it I hope it makes you smile too. I really miss this kind of stuff.

Slade - Run Run Away

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 4

It's quite a bit windier down here today. Lots of surfers out when we went to eat lunch. Much more wave action. Alot of the folks walking the beaches are bundled up pretty good. A family down on the beach has been building a castle but they came prepared with hoodies and glooves and all.

Trish and I went down there but it was just too uncomfortable to walk on the beach for long.

We've had a good break but before too much longer will be packing up to get ready to leave for home early in the morning.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Plan Day 3

Yesterday, Day 2 of the plan, was good day. Modifications to the original plan posted yesterday include going to to see Avatar and also eating a giant bowl of spaghetti. Avatar was a way cool movie. I'm sure it'll become one of those classic movies people watch over and over - but it wasn't as lastingly thought provoking as I was hoping it would be. There's a very good story there - including some good performances - but the real "wow" of this movie is the visual realism they brought to a fantasy world. I particularly appreciated the biology of the planet - including all the luminous plants and thought put into the anatomy of the animals - nostrils in neck, 6-legged horses, multiple eyes.

On to Day 3 which started off with a bang when I got up early to go sit out on the back porch to read out by the ocean. It was a little cool, but I quickly nodded off so I consider it a successful morning. The Crab Shack is in the plans for supper.

Edit: Actually it was Floyd's jumbo shrimp for supper. It's next door to The Crab Shack.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Plan

Since every worthwhile endeavor needs a plan, and since I never have a plan, I figured I'd outline a plan for this year's vacation.

Day 1 "Sunday" was a huge success. Day 1's plan centered around
- getting to the beach
- eating a bunch of shrimp
- putting spanish moss on my head at some point
- drinking a half a box of mountain berry juice
- eating fresh pineapple
- watching "Up"

Here are some of the highlights:








Day 2's plan was considerably more ambitious than the first.
- It starts with a short walk (I'm a short walker, my wife is more of a walker)
- drink some chocolate milk (chocolate milk is a must)
- watch the dolphins
- work on a song or two
- waste time blogging
- waste time on facebook
- sit on the deck
- probably take a nap

Here are some highlights of the day so far:


You might not be able to see the dolphin in this photo but trust me, they're out there... If you look very closely you can probably see them.



If you're having trouble seeing the dolphins I digitally enhanced the photo with the most modern technology to bring out all the details possible. It's still a little blurry, but you can probably see the dolphin in the enhanced photo.



thanks to here for the cool pic

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jabber-song-y

Check out this song written in gibberish to sound like English. I think he's nailed Bob Dylan, and it's actually a pretty catchy tune. Well done.



Here's a link to more info:
linked to this from the Marginal Revolution blog.

Radio Listening Data

I found this article about radio listening habits changing interesting. Instead of using the mail in diary's of daily listening behavior, the metering companies are starting to use technology to track exactly what channel your radio is on and what you're listening to (more similar to how TV ratings are calculated).

I participated in one of the radio diaries last year and agree with some of the critiques. If you're driving to work and change your channel several times - can you really remember all the channels you listened to and how long? During the survey period I'd often just turn my radio off if everything was bad (which was often) rather than keep flipping around and have to worry about trying to fill out the radio diary for channel changes

Some of the interesting findings:
- guys listen to more soft rock than they admit.
- people report listening to more classical than they really do.
- only 5 people in the country listen to smooth jazz, and one of them just died.

I am mostly a rock guy (mostly classic rock stuff), but there are definitely some soft rock music I like alot that most guys either don't like or won't admit to liking:
Sarah MacLachlan is one of my favorite musicians
Alison Krauss is awesome
Rose Reiter (unsigned) also falls into this category

I do have some mp3s in my collection that most guys wouldn't admit to that also can border on outright cheesy, but here's some I see as I scan through my mp3s:
Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart
Christina Aguilera - Beautiful (I still remember the first time I heard this song thinking it was brilliant.)
Katy Perry - I Kissed a Girl
Martika - Toy Soldiers (a pop song I really liked from back in the 80s)
A couple Meatloaf tunes .... yeah they're really long
Pink - Don't Let Me Get Me
REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight this Feeling (makes my friends at work howl)
Shakira - Underneath Your Clothes
Sheriff - When I'm with you. (#1 from back in the 80s. Doesn't hold up well over time, but it was huge back in the day)
T'Pau - Heart and Soul
Bette Midler - The Rose
Frank Mills - Music Box Dancer (heard this when I was a grade school kid and found it online the other day)
John Mayer (maybe - I don't know, he's hugely talented but he seems to me to cater to the women more than most)
Mariah Carey - Vision of Love, Can't Let Go

Interested to see what ads google decides to pop up beside this post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

3D software

I'm occasionally (usually?) go off on unproductive tangents, and this may be one of them, but I've recently gotten increasingly interested art, in particular in fantasy and sci/fi art. It seems there's a lot of powerful software out there for those interested in creating 3D models on the computer.

I first got interested with the video game Spore that lets you create your own animated creatures or design buildings or spaceships. It got me at least interested enough to see what real artists use to create some similar type scenes.

Anyhow, there's a free program out the call DAZ 3D that is one of these programs, and part of the user agreement is that I tell 2 people about it - so since I don't really have any friends into art, this is my effort to satisfy that agreement.

some other software that might be worth investigating. I've downloaded alot of free versions, but don't know much about using them yet.

General 3D
Blender - open source free 3D app
Carrerra - not free, but integrates with DAZ
Hexagon - integrates with DAZ, the sample video here is very similar to building creatures in Spore - but gives the user considerably more control of the minute shaping of the creature.


3D Landscapes
Bryce - Not free, but it integrates with Daz3D and I'm probably going to buy it and play around with it over the holidays.
Terragen - I've played around with the free classic version, but the newer version is alot more powerful. I
Mojoworld
Vue Pioneer - looks pretty powerful and there is a free version with limitations. For only $49 though it has some versions with more functions and has alot of plants, something that seems lacking in some of the 3D landscaping tools.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guitar Tab Tablature for "Got To Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn

Got to be Real
By Cheryl Lynn

My best guess at transcription by Shane Milburn

There’s bass transcriptions and chord charts out there for this, but haven’t seen this funky part transcribed anywhere. Wanted to post as it gave me some trouble to figure out. It’s kindof buried in the mix in the recording and none of the sheet music I’ve found seems to show what’s going on.

Move it up 2 frets when song goes up a full step key change halfway through. I’m not much of a funk guitar player, but this seems to me close to what’s going on w/ the guitar. It may make more sense to somebody who’s more familiar with the genre.

Ebmaj9....D7........... Gm7
|---------------------|-----------------------|
|--3-3-1--4---3---1---|---1--3-3-1---3--1-----|
|--3-3-2--5---3---2---|---2--3-3-2---3—-2-----|
|---------------------|-----------------------|
|---------------------|-----------------------|
|---------------------|-----------------------|
................................What you feel…

Here’s how I think I’m going to voice the chords when/if I play those. Again, move up a full step when song changes key halfway through

Ebmaj9....... D7........ Gm7
|---------------------|-3--------------------|
|------------(6)------|-3--------------------|
|--7----------5-------|-3--------------------|
|--5----------4-------|-3--------------------|
|--6----------5-------|-5--------------------|
|---------------------|-3--------------------|

Playing the (6) note on the D7 chords above with the pinky just kindof sounds cool when chording, but I don’t think it has anything to do with anything in the recording.

Phobos and Deimos

Here's a cool photo of Mars' two small moons Phobos and Deimos in the same frame. Reading the article I also found that Phobos's orbit is slowly falling in to the planet and in about 50 million years will crash into Mars. That'd be something to see.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Early Universe pic

Check out this deep image taken of galaxy formation from the early universe.

I find it interesting that the galaxies seem to form along planes or tendrils - almost swirling looking in places. Wonder what it says about the underlying structure of things - Not really a random looking distribution at all.

This image made me think of a comment by Brian Greene in one of his string theory books where he says the structure of the early universe is painted all across the sky in the distribution of the stars/galaxies - only its spread out and much larger now than it was back then.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A good case to ignore stock picking advice

Check this article checking out the performance of Fortune's prediction for the best stocks for the coming decade written about 9 years ago back in August of 2000.

It turns out 9 of Fortune's top predictions for the decade are still down, and 2 of them (Nortel and Enron) have completely evaporated. See this list for full details.

Just food for thought as you read your next list of top stocks for the coming decade.

By the way - the article shows the real top stocks of the decade vs. Fortune's top pics.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Friedman

Yet another insightful piece by Thomas Friedman.


Many big bad things happen in the world without America, but not a lot of big good things. If we become weak and enfeebled by economic decline and debt, as we slowly are, America may not be able to play its historic stabilizing role in the world. If you didn’t like a world of too-strong-America, you will really not like a world of too-weak-America — where China, Russia and Iran set more of the rules.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Solar Cells on way to becoming economical

From the BBC:


"...solar panels would be cost-competitive with energy from the grid for half the homes in Europe by 2020 - without a subsidy."

Studies are showing that they last longer than expected, bringing down lifetime cost.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Silverdome

I found this incredible. Silverdome sells for $583,000.

I guess there's not much resale value for older sports stadiums or the land associated with them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fantasy Art

I've been getting into Fantasy Art recently and Todd Lockwood's work has stood out to me. This might be my favorite image of his - called Transitions. This one called Lava Magess is pretty cool too.

Locked-In

How about this story. Wow!

Belgian says he was alert but mute for 23 years.

Rom Houben says he lay trapped in his paralyzed body, aware of what was going on around him but unable to tell anyone or even cry out.... Houben's condition has since been diagnosed as a form of "locked-in syndrome," in which people are unable to speak or move but can think and reason.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spider Silk Tapestry

As highlighted on the Marginal Revolution Blog.

Spider Silk Tapestry. Apparently it can be done.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Practicing Guitar some

The corporate band is starting up again, so I've been practicing and playing guitar a bit more than I normally would.

I guess I wanted to post a bit about memory, or muscle memory, or whatever it is. The last time I played the lines in the song "Smooth" (Santana/Rob Thomas) was about 6 months ago. It's amazing how a quick refresher can bring so much of a song back so quickly. And beyond that, why would my mind remember (with brief refresher from tabs) so well something so intricate as guitar lines from 6 months ago - guitar lines that I hadn't played once over that time period? And how long would that kind of memory last going unused?

From an evolutionary standpoint it gets me to thinking about seasonal things - like something you only do in the spring and forget about until the next spring rolls around. Are we wired to hold on to these learned skills for 1 year? 2 years? How long was it adaptively useful to program us to remember these things?

And does this type of memory preclude other new learning? Example: If my brain is saving the space for "Smooth" - is it preventing that space from being used for other perhaps more useful things?

Anyhow, that's the wondering of the day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Green Tech

Here's a real good piece by Thomas Friedman for green tech. Basic argument is regardless of reality or non-reality of global warming, 2 other key trends make investing in green tech crucial
1. The world population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people over the next 40 yrs. That's a 37% increase in population.
2. It's going to take a lot of energy to "feed, clothe, house and transport" an additional 2.5 billion people who want to consume more like Americans.
3. If we don't invest in green energy and energy alternatives, our enemies who dominate the oil producing parts of the world will only grow that much stronger.
4. Plus innovation is what we're historically good at - take advantage of our strengths.

Anyhow, I very much like the way he thinks on green tech - and note the case above is independent of how I may or may not feel about climate impacts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Easing out of some stock positions

I raised a bit of cash. Still recovering from big losses in some positions, but sold my remaining shares of VDSI at a big loss - and sold some of my largest position in CTSH Cognizant Tech - more for diversification than anything - CTSH has been very good to me. CTSH is still my biggest holding, but just about 25% smaller now. I'm trying to be disciplined about selling both losers and portions of stocks on the way up to prevent getting top heavy in positions. Gives me room to buy back in on pullbacks too if I still like.

Also trying to adhere to stop loss rules of around 20% loss in a position over 3mo get's cut loose. I've mad a decent sized bet on RIMM/Blackberry and am down on it a bit now. It'll be a test of whether I can follow my new stop loss rule if it drops further.

current holdings:
CTSH Cognizant
RIMM Research in Motion
GRMN Garmin (down big on this)
DECK Deckers
VSEC VSE Corp
EBIX Ebix
HANS Hanson Natural
GME Gamestop
MLR Miller Industries
BID Southebys

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Detroit - back to nature

this article has some interesting pictures that show how large parts of Detroit are literally going back to nature. Portions look like today's version of ghost towns.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Heroic Fort Hood Policewoman

Read about the policewoman who charged and stopped the gunman at Fort Hood.

quote:

Sergeant Munley — a woman with a fierce love of hunting, surfing and other outdoor sports — bolted from her car, yanked her pistol out and shot at Major Hasan. He turned on her and began to fire. She ran toward him, continuing to fire, and both she and Major Hasan went down with several bullet wounds, Mr. Medley said.

Wow!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New word for the day: Florify

It's been a while since I contributed a new word to the English language and I figured today was as good as any. I stumbled across this word by a typo, but I like it.

Proposed New word: Florify
Definition: To enhance with flowers.
Usage: The landscapers florified the home with plantings around the walk and along the drive.

I did a google search and apparently florify is used by some company that rebuilds the natural bio in your gut/digestive tract, but that's not the usage of florify I intend here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Healthcare costs so much in the U.S.

Here's an interesting story in the Washington Post that links to charts comparing the costs of common healthcare usage units in the U.S. vs. other countries. His conclusion is that we don't necessarily consume more healthcare - it's just that we're paying alot more for the same thing - our system isn't very good at buying healthcare.

Example:
Average cost per hospital day:
U.S.: $3181
Canada: $837
France: $1050
Germany $550
Netherlands: $502
Spain: $579

This is just one of many chart comparisons shown. Really good stuff.

I think we've gotta admit something is seriously broken/wrong with our health care system before we're willing to move on to try something else. To a large degree I think simply the idea that centralized healthcare can work better than the free market alternative is "ideologically incompatible" with the standard American mental framework that we discard the possibility that the free market has completely failed the country when it comes to healthcare. It's not even a close debate in my book but we still want to hang onto this broken thing we have for some reason.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

China authors concerned about copyright

I'm a fan of protecting intellectual property and copyright, however I do find it funny that China cares too given that it's widely considered the global home of pirated music and DVDs.

In general I'm a fan of Google's efforts to build an online book libraries mentioned above - especially for out of print books - provided compensation can be agreed to for authors and publishers. Google has produced considerable societal benefit through its web search engines, and I think there's a lot more to be gained by being able to search books.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another version of Little Wing - on a Chapman Stick

Funny, but a couple weeks back I posted a live video of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Little Wing and I just ran across this unique interpretation of the same song on a crazy looking stringed instrument called a Chapman Stick. I'm not exactly sure how the instrument is strung or tuned, but it seems like it's got both bass and guitar strings strung together on the same fretboard. Anyhow I thought this was pretty cool. Bob Culbertson is the musician here.

Afghanistan

I found this perspective interesting.

What the Soviets were saying about Afghanistan 20+ years ago

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SRV - Little Wing

Here's a live version of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Little Wing - my favorite tune that he plays, and probably my all-time favorite guitar instrumental. There are similarities to the studio version, but quite a bit of differences too. This is a cover of a Hendrix tune (there are some cool live versions of Hendrix playing this out on youtube also to give you an idea of how close SRV's interpretation is to Hendrix's).

You can see he has trouble getting his amp to feedback for him in places. At the end it goes into a different song.

There aren't many songs like this one. It's somewhat unique even among SRV's stuff - maybe "Lenny" is the most similar - but there's just not much that sounds like this.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Google Books Project

Click the link to read Google co-founder Sergey Brin's op-ed on the value of Google's controversial proposed online book library for out of print books.

He claims over 10 million books are now out of print and are increasingly difficult to find even in the best stocked libraries. It really is an ambitious project to make knowledge more accessible to everyone - and to prevent some books from being lost forever.

(I've read recent articles that libraries now regularly have to cull the shelves due to space constraints and the increasing volume of new material. Sorry, I don't have a link on that, but read it in NYTimes maybe year or two ago if you're the investigative type. After reading the article I did a search of the local Nashville public library system also and found some of the so-called classics aren't available here either presumably due to similar culling processes over the year. Apparently the many of the classics weren't being requested very often and ended up on the cull piles due to their unpopularity.)

Brin on the agreement with the Author's Guild and Publishers:

This agreement aims to make millions of out-of-print but in-copyright books available either for a fee or for free with ad support, with the majority of the revenue flowing back to the rights holders, be they authors or publishers.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Richard Leo Johnson - Glidepath

I was looking through one of my songwriting books and the name "Richard Leo Johnson - Glidepath" scratched on a page. I sometimes will jot cool things down when I see them - I guess I saw him on a TV show somewhere. For Richard Leo Johnson I wrote down "cool guitar-strum technique - reminds me some of Auten music on cable access." (the Auten mention is probably guitarist D.R. Auten - he's the only D.Auten I can find reference to on the web.)

I looked up a video for Glidepath and here's what I found. I still think it's awesome.


Here's a tune from D.R. Auten I found on youtube I thought was cool.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thomas Friedman

One of my favorite journalists is Thomas Friedman. To me he has a refreshingly practical common-sense approach to his writing that fits well with his insightful and not-always-obvious observations that strike at the core of issues.

Here his most recent op-ed "Real Men Tax Gas" discusses how we are still unwilling to take steps to reduce our dependence on oil - the one thing that would weaken our enemies the most. The essential crux of his argument: Why are we so willing to send thousands of more young Americans to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, but so unwilling to seek energy alternatives to oil? And what does that say about us?

There are arguments on both sides of this, and there are certainly valid arguments that it's not all about oil... but Friedman as usual hits on a key point that has gone largely un-addressed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How We Decide - by Jonah Lehrer

"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer finally became available at the library (long-long hold list) and I read it over the past few days. I'd requested it so long ago that I forgot about it. I remember seeing the author on C-Span book-TV and must've requested the book and am very glad I did.

"How We Decide" is a popular science book that attempts to summarize many recent neurological experiments that highlight new findings about BRAIN function, coordination, strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and ultimately how we arrive at decisions incorporating input from all the different parts of our brain.

It's full of stories about poker (getting reads on other players), consumer decisions (like buying a car, buying a house, buying jam, using credit cards, how we're manipulated by marketers and retailers), military decisions, airline emergency scenarios, quarterback decisions, stock market bubbles and crashes, rationalization, creativity, autism, and many others.

Key concepts.
- The author and the studies presented attack the prevailing conventional wisdom that humans are primarily rational decision makers. If anything, the research utilizing real-time brain scans seems to indicate that our older emotional brains often make decisions before we're aware of it, and then our conscious mind tends to rationalize those decisions "after the fact".
- The author sees the subconscious and older emotional brain centers as a highly powerful computer that picks and considers alot of things that our conscious mind is unaware of. There's alot of power our "gut" feeling about things - and often if we try to rationalize our gut instinct we end up making more mistakes than just going with our initial impressions.
- There are significant limitations to our conscious rational mind (prefrontal cortex)- and it's far more limited than we realize. It's a small part of the brain's mass and it's really best at coordinating the work of the unconscious mind. (Some of the discussions/research reminds me of the futility of multitasking when we see how small stresses on our conscious mind degrade functionality and decision capacity).

Anyhow - this is an excellent book. The best read I've had in a long time. One of the few books I come across that isn't "padded" with fluff. When it was finished I was actually wishing there was more. There are lots of "Wow!" and "Aha" moments in reading through. I'm going to check out his other books.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Memory

I guess we like to think we remember things, but maybe we mis-remember them better?

I played in a corporate band challenge about 5 months back and recently watched a video of that performance. Alot of the performance was kindof like I remembered, but then there was the judging section at the end (kindof like American Idol) where a panel of local celebs and music industry people evaluated our performance. I sortof remembered the general theme what they said, but on rewatching the video I realize my mind had stored several of the comments quite a bit differently. I think the process of replaying the comments in my head after the performance may have gradually changed my memory of the comments themselves. (Like the game where you line up a bunch of people and whisper a story into one person's ear, and they whisper to their neighbor, and so on.... When you get to the end the story may have changed quite a bit just through the retelling.)

I've seen quite a few studies about how memories of an event can easily evolve over time to become considerably different than what actually occurred, but here's a very interesting study that shows that in some cases you can actually come to believe the exact opposite of something you directly experienced. Here researchers doctored a videotape of test subjects and successfully convinced 40% of them that something happened that didn't. Basically the researchers showed that we can be led to completely abandon real memories and replace them with fake memories. And get this - many of the test subjects were so convinced of the new fake memory that they would say they'd testify that the fake memory was the actual truth...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Night Vision "drops"

I read alot of pop-science related stuff, but for some reason this caught my imagination. Apparently scientists have determined that some deep sea creatures utilize chlorophyll to enhance their vision in extremely low light conditions.

Efforts are underway to see if "drops" can be developed to allow humans to see better at night. The military is particularly interested.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One Way ticket to Mars

Here's an interesting discussion - should a human mission to Mars be a one way trip?

It seems kindof cold to me, but worth reading.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Japan elects new government in landslide

I didn't know they were voting, but Japan had a major overturn in government in recent voting. I love this quote from the NYTimes article:

“This vote is about making a system where parties that fail get kicked out,” said Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, 40, one of the white-collar corporate workers known here as salarymen. “We need to teach politicians to be nervous.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sci-Fi at it's best: District 9 movie review

I took today off from work and my wife and I went to the early showing of the Sci-Fi film "District 9". I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling film which is told from a limited point of view but still manages to convey the broader context of the story and world very effectively.

Like the best in sci-fi "District 9" manages to create enough distance between real world issues to create fresh perspective, while at the same time speaking directly to these very real world issues. "District 9" has alot to say about human nature, especially human tribalism, immigration, race, civil liberty, security, torture ... and to a degree speaks to human base responses to fear of the unknown. "District 9" also shows civilization to be a thin and fragile veneer on top of an ugly survivalist biology. Given the opportunity we will seemingly all-to-easily do bad things.

While there's alot of gunfighting in the second half of this film, I credit the writers for not letting this film fall into the rut of becoming a predictable shoot-em-up. Too many sci-fi films create a vivid new world in the first half only to have the second part of the film trudge into a dull blow-stuff-up-and-save-the-world absurdity (or even worse B-grade horror film schlock). "District 9" thankfully does NOT go there. All of the action - and even gore - springs naturally from the storyline. The cast of flawed characters behave appropriately throughout, and seem even at ease with the roles and ugliness inherent in them. The film is thoughtful throughout. Revealing throughout. And it is engaging throughout. The world and movie always feel believable and "real."

The special effects are also incredible. A ton of credit has to go to the actors for pulling off the scenes that have the aliens in them. The alien creatures in this film fit in seemlessly with the landscape and the actors respond appropriately - as if the aliens were actually there.

Bottom Line: I say go watch this movie. If you don't go to the theater at least put this on your Netflix queue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Song - rough version - and make the best

Here's a song I've had sitting on my PC for several weeks. It's really pretty rough, but I think the general idea of the song comes through. It's really just a slow strum that I just hummed along to for the longest time - and it might have not even had lyrics, but I put a reference to a verse by Marcus Aurelius near the end.

Here's the song: ...and make the best

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Message in a Bottle

I hadn't posted in a while, and thought to track down a video today I remember from high school. I couldn't find the performance of this that I was thinking of, but this shortened acoustic version of "Message in a Bottle" performed by Sting is pretty dang good, so I wanted to post.

The version I was trying to find had Sting just playing this song solo with his bass - at least that's how I remember it - but I can't find that version. This is very good though.



And here is another very good version - apparently way back from 1981.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Healthcare: A failure to communicate

I'm probably talking out of school here - but I find the national debate on heathcare to be pathetic. We've become a nation so tied up in ideology - so hardwired into pre-conceived notions of what should be, that our debates increasingly tend to start and end with the way we think things should be rather than how they are. We're increasingly becoming a nation of ideologues rather than practical thinkers.

I'm so disappointed with the national healthcare debate because I don't think even the most fundamental issue of cost is even understood at the simplest level by the voters. At it's core I think we are seeing a massive failure to communicate.

At it's core is the issue of cost I pointed to a short while back. Why do we spend twice as much as most other comparable countries on healthcare? I can't get past this graph showing national healthcare expenditure vs. life expectancy (yes, click the link and digest the graph - it's important) for countries around the world. Why is it so hard for us to admit that the system we have is the most expensive system in the world - by far - without producing a noticeably healthier outcome?

Some datapoints from just eyeballing the graph:

Healthcare - - - -
Spending - - - - -life
per/capita - - - -expectancy

$6200 - - - - - - 77.9 yrs United States
$3200 - - - - - - 79.0 yrs Canada
$3300 - - - - - - 81.0 Australia
$3400 - - - - - - 80.5 France
$3300 - - - - - - 79.0 Germany
$1500 - - - - - - 78.5 South Korea
$2300 - - - - - - 82.0 Japan


And here's the thing... I don't have a clue why I have to pay so much for my health insurance. I have no idea. Why is healthcare so much cheaper everywhere except in America? And if the care is really that much better, I need to understand what our extra $3000 per year per person is buying and why it's worth it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Kepler space telescope - the search for another earth

I find this inspiring. If there are other earth-like planets out there the Kepler space telescope will be able to find them. Based on the type of star and orbit scientists can determine if the planet exists in what is called a habital zone - and likely to be an earth-like planet. Kepler will watch a cluster of around 100,000 stars for a period of 3.5 years to generate some statistically significant distributions.

from the article:

Boss said one day "we'll be able to stand outside ... and say 'Hey kids, look out there see that star? That one has an Earth".


What will you think if many are discovered? what if none are discovered?

I initially thought the satellite would have ability to detect analyze light for the presence of oxygen or other earth-like signature, but apparently that is not the case. The planets discovered are just good candidates. Here are Kepler FAQs.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Conspiracy theory - natural gas

I read this article on seeking alpha this morning about some pretty startling and prohibitive licensing requirements for shops that want to do gas to natural gas fuel conversions for automobiles. Apparently due due to the conversion costs conversions only appeal to large fleets that drive very high miles.

I read enough of the comments to this article to convince me that there's at least a nugget of truth in here. I don't know that conversions vs. original manufacture is the way to go for proponents (see example from AT&T fleet here), but it does seem serious economic barriers have been put in place to keep consumers on gasoline even if you wanted to change.

Some other articles:
Who even know they exist? It's a pretty good summary article that discusses some of the vehicles on the road today - and indicates there are about 150,000 on the road currently in the U.S. and about 5 million worldwide. The article indicates many feel Natural Gas could have the largest impact if treated as a premium fuel for the most polluting and heavy duty vehicles if possible. Article also indicates there's not much consumer demand for natural gas vehicles.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Here's an interesting perspective on the cash for clunkers program. The clunkers are just piling up on dealer lots.

It turns out the salvage folks really aren't that interested in salvaging vehicles because the program essentially requires the engine and transmission to be destroyed via chemical. That significantly lowers the salvage value to the point where they really have little incentive to bother with them. Salvage yards say they can't make much money off of things like wheels and alternators - it's the used engines/parts that have value.

Anyhow, I thought this Behind the Scenes story was pretty interesting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Science article bullets

Thought I'd post a few science articles I found interesting recently. Hope you find some of these interesting.

1. Organic Food No Healthier... This is interesting as alot of resources have been devoted to organic farming with hopes that higher prices could sustain that type of farming locally.

2. Laser propulsion for spacecraft is getting closer - The general idea behind this is most of the energy spent to lift an object into orbit is spend lifting the weight of all the fuel into orbit. However if you could just "beam" the energy via laser to power craft or satellites into orbit perhaps you can take a huge amount of cost out of space flight. I really wonder if it's really almost here though.

3. Carbon Capture Technology - now wait a minute. Technology to pump carbon dioxide from power plants and trap it deep into the ground is being opposed amidst concerns for safety. This sounds similar to problems with storing nuclear waste, or even opponents of windmills who don't want an obstructed view.

4. A new treatment for spinal cord damage... Ok I really just thought you needed to see the blue mouse. Somehow the blue dye seems to prevent the body's natural healing response from doing more damage than good as it responds to spinal cord damage.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home funerals

I didn't even know home funerals still occurred, but apparently they are growing in popularity among some families looking for a more intimate and less commercial end-of-life experience. While it seems most home funerals are followed by cremation, this article indicates in most states you can still be buried on your own property if it's rural land and you get the right permits.

Many report strong psychological benefits from a home funeral similar to what was common generations ago.

Article from the NYTimes

Another good article from MSNBC

and another similar from the Washington Post.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rationing in public health care

This article in the NYTimes was thought provoking - basically arguing that we are all in favor of rationing of health care unless we've got the cash to pay for everything ourselves.

This question illustrates the basic argument:
"Public Health Insurance should pay up to $__________ for a treatment that would extend a patient's life by 1 year."

Is the answer $10,000? $50,000, $100,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, $10,000,000, $100,000,000? .... I get the point. We already ration health care - there is a limit to what we spend on it - we just don't think about it explicitly. The question is how much value do we place on extending life?

An interesting corollary - it makes more sense to spend more on health care for younger people (who might live 40 yrs if they survive a crisis) than older people who are likely to have shorter expected life spans. (the same treatment extends the life of a younger person longer than the life of an older person).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Neil Armstrong Moon Landing

I had C-SPAN on this morning watching James Hansen talk about his book "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong." As the author was talking about the decision for Neil to be the first to set foot upon the moon (instead of Buzz Aldrin) I got to thinking a) about what Armstrong said, b) how odd that it was left to Armstrong to say what he wanted on such a defining occasion, and c) how fortunate, timeless, inspirational and high-minded Armstrong's mis-spoken line "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" was - especially considering what it could've been given the cold-war political climate.

From what I understand - the line was composed by Armstrong in the 6 hours after landing on the moon prior to exiting the lander. You gotta give kudos to Armstrong for coming up with such a cool statement in both short order and with so much else likely going on in the lander. Maybe it was inspiration from the moment. But in any event I'm glad the line was left to Armstrong rather than to be butchered by some government committee.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Train in a tornado

I just saw this link and had to look. It's a train and a tornado. Curiousity got me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blackstar HT-5H amp head review and preamp tube comparisons

Blackstar HT-5H amp head review and preamp tube comparisons

I've benefited from reading amp reviews online, and wanted to do my part for the community and post a review and some observations on the Blackstar HT-5H amp head. The amp comes stock with a ECC83/12ax7 preamp tube and 12bh7 power tube. Farther below I've made observations on this amp after swapping out different preamp tubes.

The Blackstar is a 5 Watt amp, but has a master volume that lets you convincingly pull back volume for practicing at home. Full volume on the overdrive channels is probably more than you need for home use, but is probably loud enough for practicing with drums at moderate volume levels. For gigging you'll need to mic or use the amp simulator line out to get extra volume from the PA. Noise levels on this amp seem very low to me. Not much buzzing at all.

The amp has 2 channels (clean/overdrive and a footswitch), an effects loop, a headphone/line out amp simulator, power switch, standby switch, 3-band EQ, and some type of knob called ISF that lets you blend between “American” and “British” type tube tones. To my ears the American side of sound is “cleaner/tighter” while the British tone is “warmer - mid-rangier.” Leaving the ISF knob in the middle is a pleasant blend, and that tends to be where I leave it unless I'm wanting to create a sparkly clean sound.

Minimalist setup used for sound testing:
Guitar: Yamaha Pacifica (humbucker/single/single) – tested primarily with position 2 for clean and used the bridge humbucker for the rock sounds. These are standard stock pickups; nothing high gain.
Amp: guitar plugged directly into the Blackstar HT-5H amp's input
Speaker cabinet: 2x12 8ohm cab with Eminence Legend speakers

CLEAN: While the amp is marketed primarily as a rock-n-roll amp, I've got to say the clean channel will give you some nice chimey tones. I've been unable to get a silky Fender-y tone similar to what Stevie Ray Vaughan gets in tunes like “Lenny” or “Little Wing”, but I've yet to find that tone in any amp I've tried and think it might be more the mojo in SRV's fingers than anything else. For everything else this amp's clean will probably work – although it might become a bit harsh and spiky clean at the highest volume levels. (I found that adjusting to lower gain preamp tubes than the 12ax7 can help tame this amp a bit in that regard.)

OVERDRIVE: The overdrive channel has both a gain and volume setting. You will have a full range of overdrive and distortion sounds from this amp. With a 12ax7 tube it quickly goes far past tones that I typically use in my playing. I find that minimal gain 8-9 o'clock setting on the gain on single coils is good for classic overdrive (similar to “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers). An ACDC “Back in Black” like tone starts kicking in when you switch to the humbucker pickup and put the gain at about 9-o'clock. Pushing the volume up at a given gain setting just makes everything sound more solid and strong. The character of the tone is consistent. For most classic rock and 80s hard rock riffs I found gain above about 12 o'clock wasn't really needed very often. If you like to hear the amp cookin' with massive sustain for solo playing push the gain on up to closer to 3-o'clock or beyond. This amp has so much gain above what I normally use that I experimented with other pre-amp tubes to calm it down a bit to expand the usable range of sound. (SEE BELOW)

SOME CONS:
1) It's very difficult to read the knobs that are on the amp. They're silver with a little indentation indicating the setting. Maybe I'm getting old and blind, but even at normal lighting levels I needed a flashlight to figure out my settings on more than one occasion. Chicken-head type knobs are much easier to read. See the manufacturer's photos - even there you can barely see amp settings in pics.
2) Some of the jacks don't hold the plugs very well. In particular, the plugs for the speaker cabinets are not very tight. It's not good that the speaker cable can pull out very easily. I don't know if they have protective circuitry should this occur to protect the power-amp, but as any of us with tube amps know – we don't want to find out the hard way on that one.

OVERALL: This is pretty awesome little amp head for the low $ cost ($299 street) – especially for those of us who do most of our playing at lower volumes at home but still crave good tone. The feature set is pretty incredible at this price point. The rock and hard rock tones are really the highlight of what this amp delivers, but the clean really is pretty usable also. If you like to tweak sound on the fly you'll probably want to seek out some replacement knobs that let you see your settings more easily.

Over time, I've found ebay to be a good site to watch when purchasing musical gear. Click here to SEARCH EBAY for live auction pricing for the .

Blackstar HT-5H - preamp tube comparisons

Because of the high gain characteristics of the amp – more than I could generally use on the overdrive channel and maybe a slightly harsh clean channel when turned up loud – I experimented with different preamp tubes to try to tame some of the amp's more aggressive characteristics to give me a wider range of "in-between" sounds.

WARNING: The manual says no user serviceable parts are inside the amp and that only qualified technicians should open up the box. I probably shouldn't have opened my amp up, except the preamp tube was non-functional when I got it – so I had to change the tubes to make it functional.

Preamp tubes tested include:
Tung-Sol 12AX7
Electro-Harmonix 12AX7
Jan-Philips 5751
Jan-Philips 12AT7WC
Electro-Harmonix 12AY7

In guitar amps, the 5751, 12AT7 and 12AY7 are lower gain substitutes for the 12ax7, with the 5751 being about 70% of the 12AX7, the 12AT7 being about 60% of the gain of the 12AX7, and the 12AY7 being about 45 % of the gain of the 12AX7.

Minimalist setup used for sound testing:
1) Guitar: Yamaha Pacifica (humbucker/single/single) – tested primarily with position 2 for clean and used the bridge humbucker for the rock sounds. These are standard stock pickups; nothing high gain.
2) instrument plugged directly into the Blackstar HT5H amp
3) amp played through 2x12 8ohm cab with Eminence Legend speakers.

Comments on the tubes:
Tung-Sol 12AX7 - this was probably the “hairiest” of the tubes tested. On the overdrive channel it's going to deliver the rawest drive and power. Lots of harmonics. If your thing is ugly nasty rock-n-roll like this amp is designed for I'd say this is a good preamp tube to go with. For clean sounds I found this tube maybe a tad harsh in the Blackstar at high volume settings.

Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 - this to me sounded like a cleaner version of the Tung-Sol. Really nice rich chimy clean sounds. Still plenty of gain on the overdrive channels. For an amp that was a bit over the top for me – this tube seems to complement it nicely in overdrive and distortion tones. Plenty of power and sustain and harmonics for carrying single line soloing situations.

Electro-Harmonix 12AY7 – should be 45% gain of the 12ax7. I found myself grooving quite a bit to the clean tones with this tube. Even clean rock strums were very nice and easy without getting harsh – something that I fight with the higher gain tubes. As I listen back to my recordings and comments as I was working with demo tubes I also hear myself wondering if the tube sounded cleaner because of less gain on the tube – or whether actual volume was actually lower on the same amp settings. In any event – very nice cleans. Very nice mellow slightly overdriven cleans on the overdrive channel also. If you need that – this is a very nice tube to deliver. This tube still will deliver very nice overdrive and distortion sounds on the HT5H, you'll just need to use a higher level gain setting than you would on the higher gain tubes. Not quite as strong of sustain for solos, but still a lot of distortion to be had -sounds very good. I like this tube to help clean and tighten this amp if that's what you're going for – gives a lot of flavors if you don't need ultra-hairy ugly distortion.

Jan-Philips 12AT7WC - should be about 60% of the gain of the 12ax7. Very nice cleans. Similar to the 12AY7 in that regard. Clean electric guitar guitar strums still translate nicely without being harsh. Slightly overdriven rock guitar sounds translate very well also – tad harsher than the 12AY7 in that regard but still very good. (Think “Sweet Home Alabama” type tone here). When you move into the heavier rock-n-roll tones this tube provides a bit more bite than than the AY7. I really liked this tube for this amp also.

BOTTOM LINE ON THE 12AY7 and 12AT7: These tubes seem to open up the sonic range of possibilities on this amplifier in the realm of clean, slightly overdrive, overdrive, and distortion. With the 12AX7 the amp seems to me to want to be a full blown rock amp even at conservative settings – and will deliver to my ears intense amounts of gain at the highest settings on the amp. If you're into more classic tone the 12AY7 or 12AT7 just open up a bit more finesse in the flavorings while just giving up the extremely heaviest of the distortion sounds.

Jan-Philips 5751 – a mellower kindof clean from this tube than the others. Not as crisp and chimy or trebly in the cleans. I can tell that initially I wasn't liking this tube as much as the 12AT7 or 12AY7 in the clean finger-picking and clean strums. This tube really becomes strong in the mellow overdrive range of the spectrum – very beefy (Think the strum part in Doobie Brothers “Without Love” song here). It also brings a very solid presence and character to the rock tones and distortions - maybe doing it all with a bit more mellowness in all situations. Southern or Bluesy Rock tone is what this tube is saying to me as I listen back to some of the stuff I was playing while playing. But if you want to crank the amp there's still plenty of hard rock top end gain if needed – just a bit mellower – not quite as edgy as the 12AX7.

Anyhow, I hope these reviews are helpful to those of you considering changing some of the basic amp characteristics. I find these types of writeups helpful on the web and couldn't find a good preamp tube writeup for the HT-5H.

In the final analysis maybe a bit much is made of the power to shape tone with preamp tubes. Yeah it changes things some, but I think it's likely that some tubes are so close together in sound that changes in EQ or gain staging can produce similar results. It's not something I would obsess about, however if you want your HT-5H to be cleaner/tamer - some lower gain preamp tubes help produce that.

Whale Video

The NYTimes had an article about grey whales in their calving grounds in baja and talked about how they were oddly social creatures - coming directly up to the boats of watchers as if seeking interaction - even with their new calves - a time when most animals are very protective and skittish. The article discusses a time not long ago (when the whales were hunted) that the whales were feared for smashing boats rather than what we see in the video below.

The article discusses some of the scientific data detailing how modern technology - especially powerful sonars and seismic tests - seem to be related to injuring whales. Some beached whales are found in correlation with such tests and are found with bleeding around their brain and ears. I'd heard a bit about this, but this was the first time I'd taken time to read details.

Here's the story. It's pretty good - but a long read.

Here's a good video from YouTube:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Odd cucumber growth

I'm thinking maybe some of my cucumbers are growing oddly due to maybe too much heat or not enough water? The cucumber on the left is pretty normal for what I'm growing, but I pulled a few that seem to grow very fat and short, and several of them even yellow. I can't remember if they're bitter - probably are - going to eat one today to see - but it's odd that different vines are growing differently. Any ideas? Let me know.


Here's some other photos of note from today (click images for bigger pictures)

The larger Romas are starting to turn red in a more consistent way. The first few weren't the best tomatoes. These seem to be ripening more evenly.


And here's a little surprise left from last year. All of these plants just came up from seed left over from last year that had just dropped to the ground. They're a smaller variety of Roma - bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than the larger Romas in the picture above. I really like these tomatoes.


... and my redneck efforts to put some twine around them to keep them from falling all over the place - yes that's the front porch - they grew awesomely there last year though. there's probably 5 or 6 plants in total growing there in the cluster.


And finally, here's a picture of the progression in vertical gardening. The cucumbers continue to take over. (click for bigger image)

Friday, July 3, 2009

America the Beautiful - performed by Ray Charles in 1981

Happy 4th of July

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More from the lazy gardener

I figure my 18 square feet of garden in the back yard is progressing pretty well. I've decided to see what happens if I fix it up for the cucumbers to grow vertically by stringing up some line similar to what I've done for the tomatoes. Those that know me can appreciate my enduring laziness - especially my reluctance to bend over unless I really have to - so I consider this laziness as the root cause of innovation in this case. Gardens above the ground can only be a good thing.

My wife went and got some more posts from Lowes and from there we'll just see what happens. The cucumbers might take over, but I figure I'll have more tomatoes than can possibly be eaten, so I'm just curious.

Here's some pics with the "trellis" type setup.




Also - most of my tomatoes are still green, but I do have the first red one of the year that I snuck a shot of, along with pics of some of the cucumbers which are close to being ready to be eaten.





Most of the tomatoes are still like this though:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sympathy for Mark Sanford

I'm not really sure what compelled me to look into the news about Mark Sanford. I guess it started when my wife, a romance author, thought she might be interviewed for a news story regarding the released love letters between South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress and longtime friend, Maria. Apparently some were finding the letters poetic.

So as my wife ran to McDonalds to get us supper (a nutritious Double Cheeseburger, fries, and a pie) I looked up what the fuss was about. I cared little about predictable political posturing and punditry all around and was happy to find just the link to the email communications that were released to the press.

... and surprisingly I found sympathy for the governor. Yes he'll be vilified, and yes there are lots of people he's hurt. But underneath this story is something tragic but also fundamental and "real." I encourage those who are interested to read the letters first to form your own impression, but here's my take:

I could be reading too much into the small amount of information in the letters, but I see a man who's burnt-out to the core - a guy on the edge who's worked very hard all his life to find at the end all his efforts left him disillusioned and empty. Taking a break on his farm, he speaks of how it's nice to run his tractor with "No phones ringing and tangible evidence of a day’s labors." I could see how a long career in politics could make you feel like you've become a cog in a vast machine that slowly overtakes you. My impression from a small amount of reading is that his spirit was broken, and he'd moved into that place of just going through the motions. I think many of us may find ourselves every once in a while - sometimes it's worse than others. And sometimes it seems harder to find a way out than others - and his life is far more complicated than most.

Here are some key passages:

I think there are indications in the letters that his first impulse was to end things as soon as they started - see an early email from Maria:

Maria: "although I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet again this has been the best that has happened to me in a long time"


I think this quote later on gives additional insight of where the governor was at and how life had just beaten him down:
Sanford: "I have been specializing in staying focused on decisions and actions of the head for a long time now — and you have my heart. .(snip text) ... while I did not need love fifteen years ago — as the battle scars of life and aging and politics have worn on this has become a real need of mine."

Sanford: "we are in a hopelessly — or as you put it impossible — or how about combine and simply say hopelessly impossible situation of love. How in the world this lightening [sic] strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure.... I have crossed lines I would have never imagined. I wish I could wish it away, but this soul-mate feel I alluded too is real"

In all, I just feel sorry for the guy and all parties involved. He was living an unsustainable life, couldn't find a way out, and something had to give. Unfortunately Sanford's breaking point was reached on a national and international stage with far more stone throwing than most of us (thankfully) will ever experience. Some will dismiss this as a cop-out but I think Maria's comment sums it up well: "Sometimes you don’t choose things, they just happen"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Graph of the Day: Healthcare Spending

Graph of the day.

Per capita health care spending vs. average life expectancy.

Now you know. The U.S. tends to spend about twice as much on healthcare as the average country shown, and we don't live as long.

This one little fact made my day and is worth more than all the blathering about healthcare ideologies I've heard in a long time.

Tips to Marginal Revolution for the link.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steve Morse guitar solo

Steve Morse is an incredible songwriter and guitarist. I'm not even going to qualify how good he is. When I was growing up, and after going through my guitar hero stages including Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencort, and maybe a few others I came upon Steve Morse and just latched on.

Comparing musicians is always difficult, but there's such an intense musicality and originality in what Morse does that separates him from the others. He does it with quality songwriting, accessible melodies, hooks, all within what to me seems almost impossible technique. While he can shred, he's different in that he doesn't use raw energy to drive his playing, but he still brings a ton of heart - it's just a different vibe - not the knock-your-head-off-with-overpowering-screaming-solos vibe, but a more finessed WOW-that-is-the-coolest-thing-ever vibe. He's considerably more refined in comparison, meticulous without being cold, and has headed far down the road less traveled in his playing. And this does nothing to take away from the other players mentioned above - but they do a different thing.

Here's a video I found of Steve Morse on YouTube. Perhaps my favorite guitarist. While the sound quality isn't the best, I found this to be highly entertaining and a good sample of what Steve Morse albums sound like. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Awesome Milky Way photo

Check out this Milky Way photo from the "Astronomy Pic of the Day" Website. This one will probably end up as a poster. Very cool.

Also, while I'm at it, I thought this photo of this rare horizontal rainbow was very cool. I've never heard or seen one of these. Read the description below the image for an explanation for how they form.

Iran and a Martin Luther King Jr. speech

The post-election turmoil in Iran has been on my mind. While I haven't been singularly focused on it, it keeps occupying my thoughts - making me wonder why it's so hard for us all just to get along and live out our lives.

I've read on several occasions that protesters in many countries look back at speeches by Martin Luther King Jr for inspiration, so I pulled up one of his sermons this morning on the internet.

I found this one about loving your enemies.

At the core of King's argument is the ability to abstract and see pieces of ourselves within our enemies - seeing that we operate within systems, cultures, frameworks that drive much of our behavior.

Some key points in his speech:
See our own faults. "How is it that you see the splinter in your brother's eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye?"

"And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals."

Here he also quotes Goethe: "There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue."

"Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system."

Much of what he talks about here applies in Iran today.

Despite my current sympathies for change in Iran, in different circumstances I could easily find myself shooting tier gas, wielding a baton, and beating protesters in the streets.

Similarly, I could likely find myself protesting in the streets.

Change my circumstance, and you likely change me and my reactions.

It's hard to put myself in their shoes over there - but after reading King's speech I think I have better clarity.

And that speaks to King's point (one of many in his sermon) that we need to find and encourage systems that allows and encourages the good in people to be expressed. It does make a difference in how we look at a situation when we say "it's a bad system" vs. "those people are bad." I think that distinction makes a huge difference in how you think about solutions also.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ay Oh - probably final update

I just put up what may be a final version of the tune. Main changes from previous versions include
- quite a bit of drum edits - lots of new beats in different sections that change the mood considerably
- delay on harmonics
- cut out 16 bars early in the song to shorten it and reduce repetitiveness
- maybe a tad of EQ on some tracks
- removed some acoustic guitar parts that just weren't working for me.
- thinned out the song in a place or two that had multiple layers of the same thing going on.

Links are the same as previous:
Click HERE to hear the song.
If you want to download the MP3 click HERE.

On to something else before I burn out on this one. Getting close.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ay Oh - revised mix on new song

Made some revisions to the "Ay Oh" song this weekend. Getting closer to final. I APPRECIATE YOUR COMMENTS IF YOU LISTEN - IT HELPS ME ADJUST THE MIX. :D
- Added a couple brand new parts to hopefully better address the repetitiveness comments. Let me know if you still feel it's too repetitive. It is loop based, but I don't want it to feel overly repetitive.
- Added what I think is a pretty cool section starting at about 3:40. Kindof a cool funk groove thing going for a while and then
- breaks into an Allman brothers inspired 4 guitar harmony thing after that. I was grinning ear-to-ear when I started hearing this part.
- rerecorded acoustic guitars and added some parts.
- changed mp3 converter to get much better conversion. I'm not real good with my software, but I just found out Acid would render to mp3 and it sound considerably better now imho.
- haven't messed with any variations on drums yet, but I'm hearing some hand claps that might be some of final touches.
- also hearing some harmonized vox and a vocal variation in one part, but I'm not a good singer so this will be harder for me.

Here are song links from Unsigned Band Web to the newly posted mp3:
Click HERE to hear the song.
If you want to download the MP3 click HERE.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dreams - Acoustic version - Sammy Hagar

"Dreams" is one of my favorite Van Halen songs, and here's an acoustic performance by Sammy Hagar that I thought was a very cool take on the song. I've never heard this song done acoustically before.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My tiny little garden

Just wanted to post a few picks of my tiny little garden. CLICK THE PICS FOR A LARGER IMAGE.

Tiny garden plot in back yard. Essentially just some Roma tomotoes and cucumbers. The broccoli and cauliflower seeds didn't come up. I put some potato slices out there just the other day to see if they come up:


Here's a pic of the tomato beside the house:


All of the tomatoes have little green fruits on them right now similar to this:


While I was at it I took a few other pics of other stuff around the house:

Hostas



Rose


Trumpeter vine


And a bee making a stop at the grocery store!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Digging for worms

Here's an interesting VIDEO on how to "dig" for fishing worms. Never heard of this. I encourage the video as you can hear the sound it makes.

Apparently the vibrations in the ground are interpreted by the worms as a mole coming to try and eat them.... So the worms quickly come to the surface of the ground. Here's a news article if you prefer to read it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Planetary Orbits not stable over longer time frames

Here's a very interesting story regarding a scientific paper projecting the odds of planetary orbit disruption in our solar system. This is the kind of stuff you don't learn in the school books and is why I regularly check links to science articles. Interesting stuff.

Appararently over long time periods the planetary orbits as we currently know them are not stable, and there are are small percentage chances that some current planets may wobble/evolve into orbits that cross the orbits of other planets - creating the likelihood of planetary collisions within our solar system. Apparently this is the most complex modeling of planetary orbits over long periods attempted.

From the Space.com article:

Our solar system has a potentially violent future. New computer simulations reveal a slight chance that a disruption of planetary orbits could lead to a collision of Earth with Mercury, Mars or Venus in the next few billion years.


Click HERE for the full story

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More guitar for beginners - 6 chords in the Ay Oh song

Based on web searches, it looks like one of the most popular posts I've put up the one for good guitar songs for beginners from a while back.

In the spirit of learning to play guitar I wanted to post the chords used in the song I worked on over last weekend and posted in the previous post.

There are only 6 common chords for this entire song: Em, D, C, Am7, G and A

Really the only odd voicing used is playing the D chord form using the low strings instead of the more normal high strings. This is done to support the bass line which walks upward on the low E string from open string to the 2nd fret (F#) to 3rd fret (G) to the 5th fret (A).


-Em--D---C---Am7----Em

-x----x----0----0------x-----
-0----3----1----1------0-----
-0----2----0----0------0-----
-2----0----2----2------2-----
-2----0----3----0------2-----
-0----2----0----0------0-----

Play 2 bars of Em (8 beats), 2 bars of D (8 beats), 1 bar of C (4 beats), 1 bar of Am (4 beats), and 2 bars of Em.

The second time through play the same progression except when you get to the last 2 bars where the Em is there's some quick chord changes where the Em is: play 2 bars of Em, G, A, G, If you listen in the song you'll hear it.

-Em--G---A---G---- repeat

-x----x----x----x----
-x----x----x----x----
-x----x----2----x----
-2----0----2----0----
-2----2----0----2----
-0----3----x----3----

After you've learned the chords you can click HERE and play along, or click HERE to download.

I didn't do a very good job of recording the acoustic guitar part in this song, but you can hear it jangling along in parts to hear the rhythm of the strum, or just play it however you like. I may rerecord it better in the near future taking care to do a better job with mic placement.