New Party CD in Development

Hey, it’s never too early to start thinking about my next party CD, right? There have been some good suggestions, like Nigel’s idea of a compilation of early ’90s hip hop, but I think I’m going to mine an obscure musical genre: shoegazing. Unlike past CDs focusing on musical movements tied to a particular moment in history, like bossa nova or polynesian pop, shoegazing music is more elastic. Without a doubt, the ’90s marked the heyday of the genre, but there are still some great bands out there keeping the form alive. For those who have never heard the term shoegazing, it refers to music that has an atmospheric quality to it. How the shoegazing moniker emerged is somewhat murky, bit it probably referred to the tendency of shoegazer bands to peer at the floor during performances. Some suggested this was due to not wanting to engage with the audience, but a more likely reason is the attention the bands lavished on their chains of effect pedals between their guitars and amplifiers, which were the secret weapon to the atmospheric sound. The shoegazing phenomena took off with the release of the album “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine in 1991. The album was rumored to have cost 250,000 pounds and took two years to record, nearly sinking the band’s label, Creation Records. Here in the States, shoegazing was largely overshadowed by the mammoth popularity of grunge, but the movement managed to develop enough steam to take through the ’90s and inspire a number of band to pick-up the torch and continue making music in the same vein (often branded as nu-gazers instead of shoegazers).

For me, the challenge will be deciding if I want to stick only to music created during the shoegaze heyday, from roughly 1988 to 1996, or to include contemporary tracks from bands like Mallory. Alison by Slowdive is a must, but picking one track from MBV’s “Loveless” album will be a challenge. I think the CD packaging will be influenced by Vaghan Oliver, who was kind of the in-house designer for the 4AD record label. Anyway, more to come in future posts. Maybe even a draft playlist with links to the actual songs.

Add comment October 27th, 2010

Evolution Explained

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Add comment October 2nd, 2010

Intergalactic Planetary, Planetary Intergalactic

Unless your cave dwelling in Afghanistan doesn’t have the internets, you have probably heard about the planet in a nearby solar system that could possibly harbor life. For years, astronomers have searched for earth-like worlds in what’s called the “goldilocks zone”, meaning a planet that’s not too close or too far away from its sun. This newly discovered planet, awkwardly named Gliese 581g, is about 20 light years from Earth, which is super close in space terms. Still, it’s too far away for humans to ever reach in our lifetime. But I wonder if anyone has thought about some long term autonomous mission to this far off world yet? Even if we sent a probe to investigate, it could take a couple centuries to get there. That brings up all sorts of questions, like how do you design and build a power supply that would work that long? And how do you construct a delicate and complex machine to survive such a long journey with prolonged exposure to radiation and  micro meteoroids? Once the probe reaches its destination, it would also need some kind of artificial intelligence (AI) to determine proper orbit and the like. The on board AI would also need to make decisions about how the planet would be studied and what data should be transmitted back to earth (which wouldn’t reach us for another 20 years). Of course you could always include large telescopes in the payload package that would allow us to study the star system long before the probe reach it. Even if the probe failed in the last stages of the mission, the deep space data would likely be worth the effort.

The only practical deep space concepts from NASA I’ve seen are ones designed to study the interstellar regions just outside of our solar system. I’ve never seen detailed plans for a probe designed to travel to another solar system (other than rough concepts for nuclear powered crafts from interplanetary societies dating back to the ‘60s and a few really out there newer ones like Project Icarus). But even if we could design a probe that travels just one-tenth the speed of light, it would still take 220 years to reach Gliesse 581g. Of course our current propulsion technology does not offer anything that could get us to one-tenth the speed of light, so we would have to develop something pretty revolutionary. The other thing I thought about was slowing such a fast moving probe down once it reached this new solar system. I suppose that’s where the AI would come into play again. Once the probe reached the destination star system, it would have to calculate and execute a maneuver that would put it into a stable orbit around Gliese 581g. While the obstacles to creating and deploying a probe to this new planet are formidable, I would love to see scientists and engineer at least brainstorming hardware/software concepts — even if they are totally far fetched.

Add comment October 2nd, 2010

Mini Camera Review: Nikon F100

I haven’t used my Nikon F100 much because my old Minolta X-370 is still my go-to SLR. However, as the Minolta quickly ages (it use to be my dad’s for crying out loud), it will need to be retired at some point. I’ve decided the F100 will be my next (and last) dedicated SLR before I move on to a dSLR. I had a Sigma SLR for a while which I liked — it had a compact design and was easy to use — but I never liked Sigma’s line of optics with the exception being my DP1. Nikon, on the other hand, made/makes fantastic prime lens that are generally affordable when compared to my all time favorite Zeiss. I was originally considering an F5, but after talking with other Nikon users, they steered me to the F100 which is similar to the F5, but smaller and lighter. I’ve been using old manual E-Series Nikon lens which are ridiculously cheap and perform quite well despite the bad mouthing they get from purists. Eventually, as my eyesight fails with age, I’ll invest in some auto focus lens, but for now I’m happy focusing manually using the focus assist. Honestly, coming from my little Contax auto focus, this camera is a dream to use.

 I mentioned that at some point I want to get a dSLR. That desire is being driven largely by an interest in high-def video. I’ve seen some really nice HD footage shot by those Canons, but I’ve read Nikon hasn’t quite good HD “right” in their camera. What a shame, since my lens are mostly Nikon at this point. Well, I guess I’ll just wait and see if Nikon can get it together.

Add comment September 21st, 2010

Reflections on MHS Class of ‘90

This last weekend I attended my 20 year high school reunion instantly dating me. There were numerous scheduled events between Friday and Sunday, but I only attended the Friday and Saturday night events. The Friday thing was at a McMinnville brew pub, like our 10 year reunion, and it was pretty well attended. I had a good time and all, but it was what happened afterward that left a distinct memory. As I left the parking lot of the brew pub, a Mac cop followed me. I drove down 3rd street and made a left turn on Baker (99 West). 5-O followed close behind. After the Baker/1st Street intersection, I made a change into the right lane. The cop immediately turned on his lights and I pulled over. He came up to my window and the following conversation transpired:

Me: Is there a problem officer?
Mac Fuzz: You made an improper land change
Me: I had my turn signal on
Mac Fuzz: Oregon law requires that you engage your turn signal at least 100 feet before changing lanes
Me: Are you serious?
Mac Fuzz: Have you been drinking?
Me: I had a gin and tonic about four hours ago
Mac Fuzz: I’m going to need your license, registration, and proof of insurance

So I hand the guy all my stuff and he goes back to the squad car and sits there for like 15 minutes. I rearrange the contents of my glove box to pass the time. He eventually comes back.

Mac Fuzz: There is a problem with your license
Me: What?
Mac Fuzz: Is this your current address? (points to license)
Me: I just moved to Kiezer, like, two weeks ago
Mac Fuzz: You have 30 days to change your address with the DMV or you’ll be in violation in Oregon law
Me: OK, thanks

And with that, I drove off for my hour long trip. Since I missed the last Wheatland Ferry run, I had to go through Salem, making my already long drive that much longer.

Saturday night was a much better experience. I spent pretty much the whole day putting together a video slide show for the evening, but I was having all manner of technical issues. Much of my computer stuff is still in boxes, so I spend a lot of time rummaging for correct power supplies or Firewire cables. And then I had all sorts of issues encoding the footage and burning the CD. All of this made me 30 minutes late to the Saturday event, but everything worked out fine. The video, while pretty rough around the edges, was generally well received. Later in the evening, I had a ton of great conversations. There were the standard conversations centered around where people lived and what people do for a living, but I enjoyed other conversations centered around the human condition. You see, when I was in middle school, I tended to get into a fair amount of trouble, as did some of my classmates attending this reunion. Nearly all of us got that waywardness out of our systems by high school and had left the delinquency behind us. For a few of our classmates, they never made that step forward and remained stuck in a cycle of alcohol and drug addiction. Some have been regular visitors to the inside of the Yamhill County Court House (or worse, the jail). I talked with a couple of my classmates about why we manage to make it through high school and lead relatively productive lives while some of our old friends floundered. One interesting insight a classmate had was that our troubled counterparts had virtually no interests outside of getting wasted all the time. I certainly liked drinking and smoking out during my middle school years, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do all the time. For some of our more troubled friends, the only activity worth participating in was one that included getting totally wasted. It’s like most of us outgrew that urge and moved on with our lives, while these old friends remain trapped in the past.

Add comment August 24th, 2010

Mini Camera Review: Sigma DP1

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Not many people are interested in a single purpose digital camera, which is exactly what the Sigma DP1 is. Designed for wide angle nature photography, this compact digital camera offers few features most consumers would want, like a mechanical zoom lens or the ability to shoot HD video. But the DP1 does include features I find particularly appealing, like a dSLR sized imaging sensor and manual exposure control. I’m especially fond of the long shutter option, which allows for (semi) long exposure night photography — something I haven’t seen on many compact digital cameras. I also like the overall design and construction of the DP1, which has a decidedly old-fashion flair to it. When the lens is retracted and covered with the purpose-built cap, it slips easily into the jacket pocket. The layout of the controls are pretty simple and the camera is relatively easy to learn. There is no optical viewfinder, but I always use the LCD for framing shots, so this isn’t a big deal for me. And while I like the design from an aesthetic standpoint, the ergonomics are really quite bad once you start using it on a regular basis. So bad that I prefer the way my crappy Canon A-70 handles. Once you attach the lens shade/filter adapter, the camera becomes even more awkward to use. But I suspect most fans of the DP1 put up with its quirk because when it does perform, it performs fantastically. I was sold on the camera after seeing example photos on the Sigma website. It’s not easy to produce razor-sharp and highly saturated pictures, but with some practice, it within reach of even the most novice of users. One other thing worth pointing out is the DP1 does export images in the RAW format, which is common for DSLRs for not so much for compact digital cameras. Unfortunately, Sigma forces you to use their software to convert the images to something you can use (like .jpg), but for me, this isn’t a big hassle. I suppose if you had dozens of photos to convert it would be frustrating though.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the newer DP2 offers some features that might appeal to a wider user-base. Gone is the wide angle lens, which has been replaced something approximating the standard 50mm focal length (non zoom of course) someone would use on a dSLR. But other than the lens change, I don’t know if Sigma made any radical departures from the original design. Would I recommend this camera to someone in the market for a compact digital camera? Probably not. Besides the fact it lacks a zoom lens, most people would be very disappointed with the shutter lag and low light performance. These aren’t really issues for most DP1 users who are taking landscape photos, but casual users are looking for something to take pictures of their kids, which the DP1 wasn’t really designed for. I suppose the DP1 would make a good travel camera due to it’s small size and robust construction — just make sure and bring the battery charger.

For examples shots from the DP1, see my Flickr page

Add comment July 2nd, 2010

Post Cold War Air Defense

I was watching the BBC documentary Clear the Skies the other night and it got me thinking about the current state of US air defense. This straight ahead documentary offers a linear narrative of the morning of 9/11, focusing on air defense and Continuation of Government (COG) efforts. To a certain extent, I was surprised at how well things actually worked. The USAF and the FAA jointly coordinated efforts to track the hijacked aircraft. Fighter jets were scrambled for intercept in a (somewhat) timely fashion. Communication lines functioned and information was delivered to the appropriate people. Since I’ve been researching the old Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), the Cold War air defense system, I’ve been interested in knowing what US air defense looks like today. Obviously, we don’t have the massive network of regional SAGE air defense facilities we use to have, but the cooperation between the USAF and the FAA seems adequate for tracking aircraft and identify those with hostile intent. But based on what was presented in the documentary, we seem to be lacking alert interceptors, or in layman’s terms, armed jet fighters ready to fly at a moment’s noticed. On 9/11, armed aircraft were scrambled pretty quickly from Langley in Virgina, but they were some 200 miles away from DC and unable to intercept the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. However, if the other Capitol bound jetliner wouldn’t have went down in Pennsylvania, it would have likely been brought down by one the interceptors from Langley. I don’t remember where the NYC bound fighter jets originated from, but it might have been Cape Cod. Again, they were not able to make it to New York by the time the second plane hit the twin towers, but they would have been able to take down any additional hostile aircraft.

Of course there are many on the inter-webs criticizing the Pentagon’s response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They suggest too many minutes passed between when the planes were identified as hijacked and when the order went out to scrambled interceptors. They also complain the USAF unnecessarily restricting interceptors to subsonic flight. For those who aren’t familiar with supersonic flight, when the sound barrier is broken, it creates a “sonic boom” that can shatter windows and generally make people angry — particularly the elderly, who hate having Mattlock interrupted by anything, including acts of war. Because of this, military aircraft are only allowed to “kick out the jams” over the ocean. So this is a fair criticism of the USAF I think, but the fault may really be with the FAA. There should be some kind of supersonic waiver granted for interceptors when faced with hostile aircraft over the continental US. We can deal with a few broken windows and the agitated old folks (P.S., old people need to be isolated and studied so it can be determined what nutrients they have that might be extracted for our personal use…hey, it’s not just a Lyndon LaRouche campaign slogan anymore!)

Anyway, my take away from the BBC documentary was we need to increase the number of interceptor aircraft on alert in or near large urban areas. And we don’t need fancy F-22s or F-35s for the job. More F-15s and F-16s would do just fine, thank-you-very-much. I foresee two problems with this recommendation though. 1. Cost. The Pentagon would want to spend vast sums of money on additional F-22s/F-35s for air defense instead of cheaper F-15s/F-16s. That’s just the way they roll. Everybody knows USAF brass don’t secure lucrative post military “consulting” jobs by pushing inexpensive weapons systems. 2. NIMBY. Basing interceptors close to urban areas means you’re going to piss a lot of people off. Already, there are many in PDX complaining about the ANG’s F-15s. Frankly, I don’t mind them that much even though I live fairly close to the airport. They only fly after 9:00 AM, so the noise it’s a big deal compared to the ass-hats who run their leaf blowers nonstop. But people like to bitch about every little thing, so increasing deployment of fighters would surely create a lot of angry letters to politicians.

To me, it would make sense for the US to reevaluate air defense in, say, five to ten years. There is a lot of technology hitting maturity, like phased array radar, that’s coming down in cost and could be deployed to increase radar coverage. The phased array sites we currently have in Alaska, California, and Cape Cod look out. Why not look in as well?Increasing and modernizing radar sites would benefit both the FAA and USAF. Also, it’s a safe bet the F-16 will still be in production for another decade based on the strength of foreign orders, so I think it would be a good idea to purchase additional aircraft for air defense purposes or overhaul older F-16s slatted for retirement. Like a wise man once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Add comment June 17th, 2010

World Records from Teenage Wasteland

I’ve noticed a strange dichotomy in the United States around how we collectively treat teenagers. On the one hand, we seem to coddle them — shielding our precious youngsters from adult responsibilities. But then we have American parents who apparently encourage their teenagers to take incredible risks, like in the case of Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who attempted to sail solo around the world or Jordan Romero, the 13 year old boy who climbed Mt Everest last month. Both of these undertakings were extremely risky. Would these parents let their children spend a summer running a log skidder on the side of a mountain here in the Pacific Northwest? Because their chances of getting permanently maimed or killed is probably about the same (timber industry jobs are the second most dangerous in the US after fishing). I’m sure these parent would respond that their children had the training and equipment reducing the danger involved in either of these endeavors, but whether you’re crossing the Pacific Ocean by yourself or struggling up the Hilary Step, there is a lot one can’t control. Weather of course comes to mind. At the top of Everest or the middle of the Pacific, a sudden and unexpected change in the weather can be deadly. And one’s body can become the enemy as well. You never know how your body will react to being at 29,000 feet above sea level or how long you can survive acute appendicitis 1,200 miles from land.

This makes me wonder if parents often justify putting their children in peril if it could lead to a certain level of notoriety. This might not even be a trend isolated to the US — parents in other countries could be just as eager to let their kids engage in risky activities if they thought the payoff would be mega big, like a line in the record books. Of course this could just lead to a race among to parents to see who can push their kid to be the youngest to summit K2 or fly solo by balloon around the globe. Where would it all stop? At some point, I would hope we would all collectively stigmatize this trend as overly reckless, rather than encourage it but publicizing it so much.

Add comment June 15th, 2010

New Party CD: It’s in the Mail

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The picture above can only mean one thing: New party CDs are in their final stages. I’ve actually started mailing completed one, so be on the lookout for yours in the mail. Below is what the final product looks like.

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Add comment June 12th, 2010

First Visit to SAGE Building at Adair AFS

It’s taken weeks to arrange, but the stars finally aligned and I was able to get inside the former SAGE building at the long decommissioned Adair AFS outside of Corvallis. I’ve been wanting to poke around the place since it will be one of the Cold War sites profiled in my documentary. Edward Elkins of McMinnville, who served at the site in the ’60s, acted as the official tour guide while the building owner Justus Seely handled the logistics. For those of you unfamiliar with SAGE, it stands for Semi Automatic Ground Environment. Basically, SAGE was an integrated North American air defense system that operated from the late 1950s up to the early 1980s. At the heart of SAGE was the AN/FSQ-7 computer. Each SAGE center (like Adair) had two AN/FSQ-7s — one that was “active” and one on standby allowing for near 100% reliability. There were probably around 22 SAGE sites across the US and Canada at the height of the Cold War, but once ICBMs became the preferred method for delivering nukes, many of the SAGE sites were closed. Adair is unique because it operated up to the ’70s and managed the air defense responsibilities for a bit chunk of the West Coast toward the end of it’s service.

So what’s the building like today? Well first, I should confess to a major screw-up: I forgot my Frezzi Mini 100 watt movie light. For some reason, I packed the NRG battery belt and back-up bulbs, but not the actual movie light. This was a huge deal, since much of the building is sans electricity. Interesting story there: when Justus bought the building years ago from the local carpenter’s union, they took advantage of closing delays to strip as much wiring from the building as they could. They didn’t mess with the first floor, since that would be more noticeable to the new buyer, but the second and third floors were thoroughly ransacked, resulting in spotting power. So having the movie light would have actually facilitated decent filming. Instead, most of the video I shot was just dark shadows and flashlight beams playing across walls, which is kind of cool from an artistic angle, but it really sucks from a documentary standpoint.

But back to the actual condition of the building. There is still a significant “footprint” of the Cold War here. The basement of the site was basically a Civil Defense bunker. There are still moldy boxes of CD supplies and other artifacts strew about the place. And since there is no power down there, it feels like a vampire movie set. The first floor of the building, where the two massive computers would have been located, is mostly taken up by Justus’ flooring company. There are a couple of other tenants using this space for storage as well. Up on the second floor, where the operations room is located, there are more rooms that are leased out for storage. There is also someone living there apparently who serves as a caretaker/watchman. We heard his dog bark somewhere in the building, but couldn’t figure out where. That made things even more surreal. Oh, the other weird thing is the building use to be used for Airsoft battles, which is similar to paintball, just without the splatter. As a result, there are thousands, maybe millions, of these little white pellets everywhere. I thought some kind of massive bean bag disaster had taken place. The third floor is where most of the computer consoles would have existed. Of course these are long gone (maybe re-purposed for the set of Lost?), but you can still see where they were mounted to the floor. The lighting in these rooms was all blue and Justus did manage to turn some power on and some of the blue lights still work, which is super cool.

Overall, the SAGE building at Adair still tells a compelling Cold War story. It helps to have someone like Ed there to explain everything though. There have been some pretty significant alterations to the building, like the addition of a couple of windows and the partition of the first floor, but it’s still a fascinating (and often mysterious) site. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return someday with a lighting rig to get better interior footage. If that doesn’t work, I would at least like to go back this summer and get some better exterior shots since the rain yesterday cut short some of the outside filming.

If you want to see some of my limited footage of the site, please visit my Vimeo account here.

9 comments May 21st, 2010

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