Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back to the Future.

Thoughts on upgrading.

I have been slow to come to the laptop thing -- I had a 400mhz Winbook for awhile, from the era when networking was thought of as an option, and required a card with a terrible dongle on it. A few years later, I swapped a turntable for an obsolete orange iBook. Just a few days ago, I went whole hog (well, mostly) and shelled out for a brand-spanking-new MacBook, freshly updated by Apple to Intel's newest CPU architecture, and with a decent (though hardly top-of-the-line) graphics processor.

These two computers have nearly a decade of computing advancements between them. In that time, Apple has rolled out a completely new operating system, changed its processor architecture to industry-standard x86, and gone through an entire generation of products, along with several update cycles.

That's a lot of progress. The new MacBook runs a slick, modern OS, is almost two gigahertz faster in terms of clock speed (not to mention the extra core) and has built-in Airport "Extreme," Bluetooth, twice the USB ports (for a total of, um, two) Firewire, Dual-Layer DVD burner, 3d-accelerated graphics. It also has more than twice the total pixels, with a 1280x800 widescreen display. It really outclasses the old machine in every way.

Save one, and it's a doozy.

Take a quick look at that top picture again. Check out those surfaces where your palms rest, and the keyboards on each laptop. Orange iBook: nice, curved surfaces, and actually quite a decent keyboard. All the surfaces of the machine are curved, and it's comfortable in almost any position. New, white MacBook: it's square, with a sharp 90-degree edge right where your wrists are. This means it's decently comfortable if you're sitting at a desk, but it really doesn't feel good in many positions where the old one felt just fine. Also, the chiclet keyboard is really pretty bad. The key travel is small, and it's large enough, but the tops of the keys are flat, which is not as good as when they're curved, at least in terms of comfort and usability.

In a lot of ways, the design of the MacBook is a big step backwards. In the years in between these two computers, Apple went square. For desktops, where a human isn't in constant contact with the main cpu portion, this is fine. Square is pretty bad for laptops, particularly when it's taken to the extreme that Apple brings it to. Does it look cool? This is always arguable, but yes, even the bottom-of-the-line MacBook is a fairly slick-looking computer. But it's given up some serious ground in terms of ergonomics, which is a real shame.

More thoughts later -- I'm still in the process of learning Mac OS X and installing Ubuntu (which runs quite nicely on the iBook, by the way) on the machine. My feelings are really still quite up in the air, and we'll see if the MacBook really wins a place in my heart. It's got a ways to go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I just made an espresso out of this coffee: Guatemalan Acatenango Buena Vista Gesha.

So what's the big deal? The "Gesha" part, which is a rare cultivar (like varietal for wine) which was apparently imported from an old Ethiopian stock into Central America a few years ago. And people love it. It's sweet, full of exotic fruit, and amazing, florally aromatic.

I made some French Press out of it a few days ago -- pretty good, sweet, tasty, nice aromatics. But the espresso (even in the Starbucks Barista here at school) was simply nuts. The floral character was intensified, and the mouth was more powerfully sweet than before...highly recommended. Run, don't walk, and order a pound or so of green, go to Target and get yourself a chefmate popper if you don't have a decent way to roast, and enjoy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On winning.

Papelbon throws a high-90s fastball past the bat of a pinch-hitter in Denver, and suddenly it's the end; a good feeling, but not the all-encompassing euphoria we felt as we watched Johnny Damon's grand slam in game 7, 2004; even the 3-1 comeback against baseball's other best team, the Cleveland Indians, didn't have the drama of the earth-shattering '04 series, which saw the rise of David Ortiz as the best clutch hitter in baseball.

But it wasn't bad.

This year, everyone who follows baseball knew that the Sox had all the components necessary to get the championship. A few big free agents padded the already-impressive lineup; mostly, they've worked out, although Dice-K hasn't looked as dominant as he did in the World Baseball Classic, and I'd still rather have Trot Nixon out in right than J.D. Drew. (Nixon is a gamer, and we saw him rise to the occasion in the ALCS game 2, even if Drew has more natural talent.) The question was only if the Sox would return to pre-2004 form and fold.

Folding to the Yanks ended up being out of the question; they did something amazing by making the playoffs after a spectacularly bad start, and seemed to bring the ghosts of the past with them when they played the Sox in the second half of the season. In the end, it wasn't enough to get them past the Sox for the division, even with Boston's nonchalance towards winning at the end of the season.

Folding to the Angels wasn't in the cards either: the Angels couldn't bring a healthy team to Fenway, and Manny Ramirez woke up to play some baseball with a spectacular walk-off homer in Game 2, off the excellent K-Rod no less.

Folding to the Indians seems like a distant memory as well -- despite being down 3-1 to Eric Wedge's well-balanced team, the comeback seemed almost preordained. Beckett's win in game 5 over C.C. Sabathia, who before a mediocre-to-bad postseason might have won the Cy Young, was almost inevitable: Beckett is now the game's best big-game pitcher, as Curt Schilling hands over the torch, Clemens (who never really wore that crown anyway) retires, again, and the Yank's Chien-Ming Wang foundered badly this fall. Beckett's slow walk off the mound will doubtless be seen again in October.

There were surprises -- Manny showing up to hit was a big one, after his worst big-league season. Mike Lowell leading the team in RBIs was another; the arrival of Jacoby Ellsbury was huge (I think he might have won himself an opening-day start by hitting over .400 in the World Series, sorry Coco) not to mention Dustin Pedroia hitting over .300 as a rookie, despite a ludicrously long swing. The biggest, of course, has to be Clay Bucholz' unheard-of no-hitter, in his 2nd start in the bigs. The fates were smiling on Boston that day.

But still...this is all a bit new to us Red Sox people. I'm sure half of us were expecting Matt Holliday to hit a 7-run, 3-game-winning homer in the bottom of the eighth today, but the modern, professional management in Boston had put victory out of reach of even the hottest team in baseball.

So we'll see. The Sox are still 19 world series short of the Yankees (and also trail the Oakland Athletics and Cardinals in that category). I also suspect that the reports of the Yankees' demise may have been overstated a bit (unless they lose Posada and Rivera in addition to letting A-Rod go) and there are a couple of great teams in the central division that aren't going anywhere. The Tigers still have all the talent they need to win, though the Indians' pitching should keep them at the top of their division unless Fausto Carmona loses his nerve. The Angels will be tough if they can get another bat behind Vlad (although he's got to stop expanding his strike zone in the postseason.) But there's no getting around it -- the Sox are the top dogs now, just like they were a century ago. Last time, the Yanks knocked us off our post in the early 20's. If we can stay on top that long this time, I'd be very surprised.

So let's enjoy it now -- hats off to the 2007 Boston Red Sox, who, whatever else you might say about them, just proved themselves the best in the game.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sportswriters are wicked lame.

So the Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit in this year's ALCS to be jeered by sports columnists all over the country -- look here for one example, but it's not just him. I've read several similar columns.

So you win one world series after nearly a century, and that's O.K. -- but more than that, if you continue to win, to please your adoring fans, if many of the same players from your previous win continue to play well, well, that's just too much. You should make like the Chicago White Sox, apparently, who, a mere two seasons after their last World Series, and impressive rout of the Astros, turned out an 18-games under .500 season. Or the Tigers, who despite one of the most all-around-talented teams in baseball, showed only flashes of the brilliance of which they're undoubtedly capable.

It seems to be the story of the day -- the Red Sox have become the Yankees, and now we must all hate them, as well as the Patriots (also dominant) and any other Boston team that manages to have a successful season.

They're not wrong -- that's not the problem -- although the Red Sox are still going to have to deal with the ACTUAL New York Yankees, who trailed us by only two games at the end of the season, still have the best offense in baseball (and this year, they very nearly did look like the "best offense ever," as they were hailed by Tim McCarver in post-season 2006) and, oh yeah, have a whole bunch of young pitchers coming up.

Maybe the sportswriters are right -- the Sox are the New Yankees. The Bronx is dead now that Torre's gone, and Boston is the new sports powerhouse.

I'm a longtime Sox fan and as such, I've seen some disappointments. I came into this thing just after the '86 loss -- a bitter pill to swallow for fans who really do go crazy when the Sox looked like they might do it "this time." The late '80s and early '90s didn't bring anything for the Sox that was great, but the late '90s did bring the resurgence of the New York Yankees -- which was really more of a return to form for the most dominant team in sports.

Just remember this: if the Sox are to become the dominant team in baseball, we're going to have to beat the Yankees year after year, who, in case you haven't noticed, have been pretty good.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Coffee is still rad.

Check out this excellent piece in the New York Times.

It's an article on "Direct Trade" coffee, the method of importation favored by Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and George Howell, and other top-tier coffee roasters.

This process still amazes me -- the coffee buyers from these fairly small businesses travel around the entire world, from Guatemala to Indonesia to Rwanda, doing what it takes to ensure quality product, which often involves stuff like donating bikes to rural African farm workers. It also results in top-tier farmers making far more money for their product than on the coffee commodity market, even for Fair Trade-labeled product.

It seems seldom today that capitalistic interest dovetails so squarely with development and humanitarianism: although this was not always the case, it's refreshing to see things going the right way sometimes.

Man I am such a sucker for coffee. Fuck. I'm going to go drink like eight cups right now.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Welcome to the JVN network. First up tonight: I am definitely going to hell.

I have been working on my submission for the soundtrack, and well, here it is.

It's my cover version of a traditional spiritual that I have an album of Lightin' Hopkins singing. Anyway it's a pretty straightforward deal with me signing, no fancy production or techno-dance beat -- I'll save that for the Trent Reznor style single.

And even better, I've actually started editing the thing after I figured out that basically every free option out there is actually worse than windows movie editor.

This is happening people. I mean, it may suck, but whatever.

Extra Rich.

Did you know about this? Clover Stornetta Dairy of Northern California (my personal favorite milk producer, apologies to some other prominent dairies) makes milk with extra fat. Notice that label though: more milkfat than state minimum requirements. This isn't straight off the cow by any means -- this milk is made up of constituent ingredients (milk, non-fat milk, and in this case, cream) like most commercial milk, then blended to the required fat content.

Now, I'm not complaining -- this is obviously the easiest way to do it from a commercial standpoint. But it does kinda destroy the image of a pure, natural ingredient.

This post has been dedicated to Richard J. Seymour.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sea change


I have changed venues all of a sudden, going from the high-end luxury world of wine to a university town, Palo Alto. A high-end luxury university town, sure, but it's still a big change.

In September, I'm going to be starting a one-year MA program at Stanford's CCRMA, where I'm going to learn a whole bunch of (hopefully valuable) stuff, and hopefully make some music as well.

Also new: bicycles. I bought a couple of kickin' older bikes for Brett and myself: for her, a Peugeot City Express, a sturdy hybrid bike from the '80s, and for me, a Miyata Triplecross hybrid. We're not exactly going spandex and carbon fiber here, but it's actually really nice to use a non-polluting human-powered vehicle to get where you're going. We have kept one car (my SAAB blew its head gasket and I sold it for $400...just about what we spent on the bikes plus accessories) so we're not exactly carbon-neutral, but it's a start. Bikes are incredibly efficient (5 times as efficient as walking) and actually don't cost much, if any time, compared to cars for our commute. Also, keeping up an aging European bike is still far cheaper than maintaining an aging Euro car. We'll see how we feel when it rains, but for now it's really great.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Bam. There it sat, a u-line record mailer, laying next to my door, nearly overlooked.

I opened it, greeted with a couple brown protective layers, discarded soon enough. Inside the album, a jewel a bit more than twice (four times?) the size of the compact disc; the cover art large enough to communicate the idea that the front photo was taken on a grainy medium-format in bad light; the seal, only a nod at an idea on the cd package, actually sealing the gatefold double record package. A peppermint-stripe slipmat as a bonus.

Kick ass. Two 180-gram doses of vinyl love, the Icky Thump release.

Let me level with you. I like vinyl. I think it sounds better. Most of the time, it's a feeling, an idea that the vinyl is a bit more spatial, or has a bit more "depth." This time I've got proof, as long as you're willing to record your vinyl copy and compare the waveform to the one you ripped off your cd.

Not willing to do that? Well then just listen to the record. It's special. The bass drum sounds deep and round and really, really loud -- just like an unmuffled bass drum in your garage kit. I'm really sorry that CD listeners are going to hear a distorted version with nasty digital sound artifacts. The CD version sounds like somebody ripped it to a low-quality mp3 and then burned it. It is seriously messed up.

Listening without the horrible distortion messing with my head, I've come around on a few songs -- Rag and Bone is my new theme song for craigslisting; I even like the thrashing Little Cream Soda ok. Listening on vinyl also paces the album better; without a pause, I get a bit worn out between I'm Slowly Turning Into You and A Martyr For My Love For You; with a side change everything is cool.

The vinyl sounds fan-effing-tastic: the highs shimmer up out of a well of deep bass; yes, the sound seems spaced better, too. But best of all is that deep bass hit, which was clearly meant to be the star of the album, a motif for bringing the whole thing together. It's deep and thick and clear loud and clean; this is the icky thump the album was named for, and it's a shame more listeners won't be able to hear it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


This clipping issue on Icky Thump is bothering me more and more. I need some closure.

(Start reading just above {rant ensues} for my take on the issue)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Jumpin' it

It's just like Sick Boy said: "...at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever."

When Jack White dubbed bass onto the first single of his fourth album, Elephant, I think that we all new a phase had come to an end. What's more there were no incredibly catchy, and also incredibly simple brain-stickers like You're Pretty Good Looking or Fell in Love With a Girl. Sure, there were plenty of great tracks on that album, but it was, well, different. It wasn't as clean and simple and joyful as the first three albums -- but then, we said, that's development, isn't it?

Fast forward a few years to Get Behind Me Satan -- Blue Orchid is, just as was intended, a total blueball experience, kicking off an album with far more orchestration than any of the previous four, one in which the sessions were fraught with problems, with off-rhythm crashes covering messups...but an album that seems to get better with age. The creepy "Did Jack sell his soul?" feeling, enhanced by the giant heart at the live show, the ghostly theme, and Rita Hayworth popping up again and again...and maybe best of all, My Doorbell, a song just as catchy as any Jack'd written before.

Then something unexpected happened. Jack White made an album with an old friend and released an album with a few incredibly catchy songs, that had a single which hit higher than any White Stripes single had.

And that, I think, is when it happened. The shark was jumped.

There's no shame in it -- it happens to everyone. Led Zep, the Stones...the Beatles...well it woulda...Paul has anyway. Often it happens at the moment of greatest commercial success -- didn't Led Zep IV turn that band into a caricature forever, even though they put out several excellent albums afterward? Michael Jackson did it with a ride at Disney World, for goodness sake -- at least he didn't go out like that!

There's nothing wrong with the album really: Icky Thump is a great tongue-in-cheek riff...there's a lot of play-acting and character creation here, which, yeah, Jack is good at. A south of the border theme? Timely. There's a fake-country last song...bagpipes...(Battle of Evermore?)...blah blah blah. Jack's guitar work has taken shape much more than even on GBMS...he's a true stylist as a lead guitarist now, which was of course missing from the early albums. But some of Sasha Frere-Jones comments about the previous album hit home with me now...yeah...Meg is really not that great a drummer, and her signature rides finally feel old here. But really the problem is more visceral...I just don't feel the boundless giddy joy that the old albums make me feel, even though most of the tracks are good. It's lost the sense of effortlessness that the old albums had, and as a listener, I need to labor as well.

And...worst of all...does the album keep breaking up audibly, or is that just me? This isn't warm sound of tape breaking up...this is the sound of digital equipment clipping. CLIPPING. Captured for all posterity in unchanging digital fidelity, never to be smoothed by a needle travelling again and again over the peaks and valleys of its waveforms.

{rant ensues}

It's for real. It's on the left channel, throughout the damn album...I'm not the only one who noticed. That, my friends is a fuckup. A big one, if you ask me -- am I going to have you buy the vinyl to avoid this? The answer, my friends, may be yes.

Oh, don't believe me? Ok -- does your system have a decent set of tweeters? Should be easy then. Put the cd on. Stick your head near the left speaker. When it gets loud there's a chhh chh kinda sound when the guitar is big...that's digital clipping. If you don't believe me, rip the track and look at it in Audacity. It's too hot. The lines go right from the top to the bottom, and then at the ends, there are flat spots -- that means the rest of the curve is lost, and the sound is distorted. When it's done right, the waveform looks curvy, and the biggest peaks just get near the edges -- they never go over.

Whoever mastered it (Vlado Meller, whose oeuvre includes Kenny G's Faith and Celine Dion's Let's Talk about Love, and, ok, Weezer's Green Album) just put it on disc too hot, and it sounds messed up. Obviously messed up. That is, as I understand it, exactly what you're trying to avoid when you master a disc. If I were Jack White, I'd have his head. As a consumer, I consider this recording to be defective.

But then if I were Jack White, my album just debuted at #2 on the US charts, and basically, even if my album is f'd up, it's still the hottest shiz out there. And all you rockers still need to buy my album...even if it (and I) have crossed over an important boundary, and lost a little something.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Just so you know, some really exciting stuff is going on over at 3than.com, which as I'm sure you know, is my website. Specifically, I'm working on it. Right now, I just put up some actual content, in the "found sound" section; there are a couple of mp3s up there, some of which you may recognize, considering that well, if you read this page you probably know me pretty well. Also you can look at my resume.

I'm going to put up some better stuff just as soon as I invent/create it. I promise.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I just pulled out a hair.

Here's the thing, though...it was a gray hair. And it was in my ear, on the outside of the lobe, just about a the level of the ear canal. I pulled it, expecting, for all the world, nothing more than a stray blondish strand, or perhaps one of the odd reddish twisted locks that seem to have crept up beyond my hairline.

But no...a few quick pulls with a tweezer, and there it was, glinting silver on the tip of my finger; a sign of my body's hopefully slow, but decidely sure, breakdown. The progress toward an inevitable end.

Yes, my first gray hair. And hopefully not my last.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some other stuff...

From LITWC...check this out. It's an interesting piece -- Joshua Bell pretends to be a street musician at a train station in DC -- and nobody stops. Duh. It's the morning -- people have to be at work, and most employers don't appreciate it when their employees show up late. Simple as that.

I wanted to point it out, however, because it's one of the best uses of multimedia that I've seen in a newspaper -- edited sections of video are used to illustrate points from the story. This is the reason why we're not going to be reading the news on paper anymore. It's an effective use of media; it has the "you are there" quality of video without the "you are an idiot" effect of mass-media TV news.
So...this is the first truly legit latte art that I've been able to make...you can see that a few of the bubbles have started to pop there, because instead of drinking it immediately, I ran and grabbed the camera (obviously) and let Brett take a pic (you might be able to tell that too, from the quality of the picture).

Anyway I was pretty jazzed, but I haven't been able to do anything quite this rad since.

I bet Mayer couldn't do that.

Monday, April 02, 2007


OK -- I think we both knew that we weren't finished with this.

Customarily going for overkill, I bought a NOS (that's new old stock, meaning an unused vintage part) 5" Zenith speaker and popped it in there; then, a plain brown shipping box and voila! A totally finished practice amp that runs off a 9-volt, gets loud enough to annoy my faithful girlfriend, and can still be used to store some stuff.

It seriously sounds bitchin' too; I'm sure I'll post some sounds up at some point.

In other news, www.3than.com is up again, though without much stuff on it at this point. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

MAKE my day, punk

That, my friends, is my latest creation. I'll admit that I didn't come up with it, but hey, it still rocks. You can also see the my level of handiwork: I couldn't get it to fit in the box (because I chose the box last, so it was a random shape) so I just stuck everything on one side of a stoned wheat cracker box.

Continuing the nerdiness, I quickly jammed out a couple .mp3s with it. Check it out here or here. Not bad for around $20 of parts per amp, huh?

Oh, and check out my rippin' guitar shredding. AND THAT'S NOTHING, BTW, JOHN MAYER!

About the recording: that's an Audio Technica at2020 condenser near the speaker (as pictured, maybe 8-10 inches away) and the left channel is a directional condenser (MXL 993) pointed at my strat. The second .mp3 also as my Maxon OD909 running. There's no processing on the tracks, except for normalization on the first one.

The speaker is a tiny, tinny driver stolen from my old pc. I think I may get a larger speaker to unleash this tiny monster.

Yeah, Make rocks. Now I'm going to rip open my other b-day gift (the year one box set) and drool over some more projects.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

OK, so it's been a long time.

Oh, I know what you've been thinking: that other whine country blog has got me licked. Or maybe I read Living in the Whine Country, and just put my tail between my legs and gave up.

Not so.

I checked that first one in late August last year, and I thought to myself, "Shit, this guy is posting all the damn time -- he's totally going to win the "best blog with the name Whine Country" award or some crap. But look who's on top now in a google search. Me. Ok, I'm not up there with litwc, but shit man, that guy has like five posts from the last two days. And at least two of them have fairly cool stuff (ruggedized military usb drive, insanely creepy video of a chick with two heads).

Whereas those other blogs may well post more often than I do, and sure, they're probably better written and stuff, but I have one thing going for me: I AM COMPLETELY INSANE.

Which is why I am taking this moment to announce the identity of my arch-enemy: John Mayer.

Sure, he's got the fame, the money, the women. The custom stratocasters. The guitar trio.

IT SHOULD BE ME, DAMMIT!!! I could have written those crap pop songs. Your body is a wonderland. Dammit. It's so obvious....

I will not cease to fight against this oppressor until I have vanquished him in an all-out guitar duel, a la Ralph Macchio vs. Steve Vai at the end of Crossroads.

Eat that, local blog competition.