Bruce Hornsby

Everybody remembers “That’s Just The Way It Is”. It was a huge Pop hit, not the deepest musical composition perhaps, but a reasonably complex little tune with simple sounding, but relatively tricky piano lick. For all the years that followed, Hornsby kept at it, releasing new albums every few years but increasingly staying off the Pop radar.

Bruce Hornsby – Absolute Zero

In 2019 he released “Absolute Zero” and it has become my favorite album of the last 10 years. In a time when, at the same time Pop music has become more and more predictable and all bets are off on Youtube and the internet, here is a true work of art. The first time I listened to the whole thing on the way to my regular Friday Pip’s gig I had tears in my eyes for half the tunes! Seriously, the creativity and originality are off the charts on this one. If features all kinds of guests, from none other than Jack DeJohnette on drums to guys from Bon Iver. Sometimes it gets downright funky, then completely weird and wacky. The piano playing is wonderful, and highly complex sometimes, the singing full of character, the lyrics deep and meaningful, without being pretentious.

All in all, it’s not an album for everyone I guess, and sonically it’s not fantastic, but anyone looking for something truly creative and unique will NOT be disappointed.

American Factory

It’s not a surprise. Or at least it shouldn’t come as a surprise. What did we think was going to happen with all those dollars we sent to China to satisfy our endless desire for the next gadget, for bigger and bigger TVs? You see, when you have a trade deficit, more of your currency goes to them than theirs goes to you. In our specific case, because international trade is usually Dollar denominated, China has been collecting huge amounts of Greenbacks, one iPhone’s worth at a time. Some of that money is given back in exchange for Levi’s, Coca Cola and other stuff made here, but what happens to the rest?

Well, an amazing scenario plays out in the new documentary “American Factory” on Netflix. You see, money wants to make money and these days putting it in the bank yields virtually nothing, so investing it in something is the modus operandi. The Chinese have been buying American real estate, driving up rents and home prices in many places; sometimes not even for actually living in it, or even renting it out, but just to keep the dough safe! What’s more scary is what can happen when they invest in business over here, as evidenced in Dayton, OH when a glass company takes over a shuttered GM plant and promises to bring jobs back to the region and build a real “American” company. Trust me, it isn’t pretty, and in my opinion everyone, EVERYONE, should see this documentary. It gives a priceless insight in both cultures when it comes to work and life; it gives a pretty damn unbiased look at what it would mean for us to have to abide by the Chinese way, what that would really mean for our middle class way of life.

Our trade deficit is quite dangerous, and in effect we’re slowly but steadily eroding our own wealth, giving it away in exchange for what? More plastic crap? Yet another slightly improved cell phone? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Conan Without Borders

Here’s an entertainment tip: watch “Conan Without Borders: Mexico” on Netflix if you have it! I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of the quirky ginger, but this had me literally laughing out loud all by myself.  Not only is it hilarious, it really shows the class and kindness of the Mexican people. It makes you realize how incredibly insulting and stupid it is to keep suggesting bigger and better walls between us and our neighbors!

Update: I watched the rest of the episodes and just wow! This has to be one of the greatest TV programs of all time. Talk about walls: when Conan is standing on the Palestinian side of that monstrosity that Israel built it really drives home what kind of damage they can do to our psyche; what an insult it can be, even when there’s such a better reason to build one than whatever our fearless President comes up with. His interviews with especially the kids in the camps still bring tears to my eyes as I write this the next day.

At the same time, the laughs are huge. My goodness, when Conan sits in on a classroom in Haiti, his entrance is goofy, lifting the tiny desk made for 9 year olds and wedging it on his enormous legs; but as the scene goes on, the wonderful kids throwing him a funny look once in a while, he starts ramping up the abstract comedy, ending up turning a room full of some of the best behaving kids I’ve ever seen into the most wonderful chaotic drum circle. By the time he’s leaving, already sitting in the car, the questions and comments from the children are just amazing…. I don’t want to write any more, you have to experience it for yourself. I have NEVER, I repeat NEVER been so moved and made to laugh literally out loud by the same program.

And God bless Conan for going out there and restoring, ever so slightly, the faith of the rest of the world in the USA. As a matter of fact, one of the recurring themes of the whole series is not only that almost everybody despises Trump and especially his never-ending insults to the “shitholes” of the world (responses of those in Haiti are beyond inspirational and hilarious), but more importantly, that they have love for the american people. He gives an angry woman the time to yell at him about the Donald,  then wins her and everybody else over with his genuine interest in them and he ALWAYS makes a point to say something special in their language.

Rocket League

2600! The Atari 2600! My, or I should say our (my brother was co-owner!) very first gaming system! I’m talking 1979 or so, and those games were literally 4 kilobytes of code! As a matter of fact “Combat” was only 2kB! An entire game with music, graphics and gameplay in a thousandth of the space a 2 minute MP3 would take up. Joust was my favorite…. two player! Oh my God we had lots of fun…..

Now fast forward to 2018 and my neighbor and I have been getting really deep into Rocket League. The premise is simple: 3 on 3 soccer, with rocket powered cars! You can ‘ride the walls’, you can fly… that is, once you learn how to control yourself. The depth of this game is mind-blowing. The level attained by the top guys is nothing short of amazing, and now that I’m 450 hours (?@?!?2!?2) in and Alberto has about half of that, we are getting our asses handed to us, STILL, on a pretty regular basis! Then again, we have learned a lot of technique and tricks: lunging by a well timed double tap, saving rocket boost for just the right time. It’s ALL about timing, flying, positioning…. a lot like chess: easy to learn, exceedingly hard to master, but always fun along the journey. Just let the term ‘air dribbling’ sink in for a second……

Unique and amazing: you can play cross-platform mulitplayer online! That means someone with an XBOX can play another with a Playstation and another with Steam on Windows. Equally cool is that on Windows you can connect controllers from both systems simultaneously! My neighbor has a PS4, I use an XBox One S model, in the same game split-screen.

For $19.99, and often on sale for half of that, this is simply one of the greatest games of all time. The physics engine is awesome, there are endless training sequences available, plenty of totally free multiplayer servers that work fast and smoothly, with plenty of players looking for games, competitive or not. There are even experimental modes, with weird tweaks like fists and lightning, and a bizarre “hoops” mode where getting the ball in the air is crucial; you catch my drift. Simply AWESOME!

Surface Pro 3

“Desktop or Laptop?” a guy behind me in line at Starbucks asks his companion.  “Macbook!” he replies confidently and proudly. “Lot of RAM?” …. “16GB! It works pretty well!”… wait…. what? pretty well?

“I do have the i7” he announces proudly, “but I don’t find it to overheat . Wait…what? You pay top dollar for a machine (>$2000 prolly for that config) and it overheats in a professional setting? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. When the other dude starts talking about ‘cooling pads’ for laptops the hilarity is complete. I mean, that’s what Windows gamers were using 15 years ago to much ridicule from Apple heads… this is too rich!

On a brighter note, I picked up a Surface Pro 3; incredibly cheaply by the way thanks to a less than accurate listing on Ebay! It was billed as a “Surface 3”, but in the picture it clearly showed a Pro, with even a sticker on the back stating the i3 processor! Add a messed up Windows 10 Educational install, a little dent near the USB port (not affecting operation at all) and nobody bid. I low-balled him at $80 and he took it! With shipping it came to $96. When I got it, I made a fresh Windows USB installer and did a fresh install. A few driver updates and 10 Pro activated just fine with the embedded BIOS key. All was beautiful except……oh no!…….there’s a one inch strip across the screen where touch doesn’t register! Don’t worry, all it needed was a digitizer calibration and everything is perfect now. My styli from the Surface 3 work and even the Type Covers attach and work perfectly, although they’re a little smaller than a Pro, so I start looking for a matching one.

Mind you, the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover fits as well and is much improved, with a bigger trackpad and better keys, but it’s $150 new… ouch! There are used ones for $50-$60 all day on Ebay, but there’s an even better option and it’s thanks to something I care very little about: the NFL. You see, they had a partnership (still do? don’t know!) and made a whole range of Covers for all the different teams. A Packers one is more than an unbranded one, but I guess nobody is proud of the NY Giants because a new-in-box cover with their logo cost me $68 shipped. I did have to buy a charger for $20 but for under $200 total this is now one of my favorite machines. The XPS 13 I’m typing this on still has a better keyboard, but the Pro 4 Type Cover is quite good really, much better than the old ones, and with the tablet together weighs barely over 2 pounds. The screen is gorgeous, its 3:2 aspect ratio wonderful; full size USB port, good speakers and surprisingly good battery life and sleep behavior. I love the magnetic charger connection (credit where credit’s due: thanks Steve Jobs!)

Installed Cakewalk on it, with the Lounge Lizard, B4, Ivory piano: flawless. It sits perfectly on the sheet music stand on my P115 together with a Korg Nanokontrol, Zoom G3X on the floor as an interface, Korg Microkey velcroed to the piano: incredible sounding super-compact gig system. Apple users eat your heart out, you can’t even get this from the big fruit if you took a second mortgage out on your house! I’m having a flashback to seeing my dear friend with a touch screen hooked up to his Mac, trying to figure out how to make the drivers work on this (Windows 95 days….ouch). Mac OS does not natively support and thus understand touch… and that’s not because Jobs is gone; quite the contrary, it’s because of him, because he said that touch is for iPads, and because he decided to separate development between ‘computers’ and ‘tablets’. Microsoft was fucking right! CPU power will catch  up sooner than later and tablets ARE computers! Windows 10 is awesome and touch works on software that was never even designed for it (Ableton Live 9 I’m looking at you!)

So there it is: I can HIGHLY recommend the Surface Pro, even the 3 that I have with i3 and 4GB of RAM. You can pick these up for $350 or $400 used with a Type Cover and Stylus, they’re incredibly well made and as long as there are no cracks in the screen I would not worry about buying used. If you fly a lot, it’s amazing to be able to take the keyboard off and use it as a tablet which is allowed during taxiing and landing. The battery will last for 7 hours on mine watching video in airplane mode, and probably for 12 on a new one. The screen is gorgeous, headphone output sounds excellent and loud, and operation is super snappy. Oh, and you can add a micro SD card. Another thing Jobs thought was a bad idea…..

Dosey Doe in the Woodlands, TX

Today I just want to give props to one of the very best places to play in these United States! When you travel with a band like the Rippingtons, you have what’s called a “rider”, a list of things you need/want ready at the venue. It usually contains stuff like batteries, food and drinks, catering during sound check, all kinds of amenities. Whether all of them are provided is certainly not a given, and the size of the place is not necessarily indicative of compliance. Some spots will even charge us half or full price just to have a beer or two, some stock the dressing room with a nice selection of beverages and food.

And then there is The Big Barn – Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX. Not only is it a wonderful venue acoustically and aesthetically (they took a 165 year old tobacco barn from Kentucky and rebuilt it outside of Houston!!) but it might just be the place that takes the best care of us. I mean, from the moment we get there every single person working is not only courteous and  happy to be there, but also goes way beyond what we need or deserve. The boss wants to order three dinners, two to go? No problem. Beer, top shelf whiskey, vodka, desserts….anything we want. They place is filled with genuinely great people, on a level that is beyond rare here in the city of Angels. And guess what: it results in a band that wants to do a great show! Dosey Doe started as a coffee roaster years ago and they still do it. At the end of the night they send us on our way with a pound of beans of our choice, each! Here’s a place that deserves to thrive and I’m glad to see they’re doing well.

So thank you Paul, Kevin, Barry and everyone at Dosey Doe for creating such an amazing place to keep live music alive and kicking! Hope to see you again soon!

The price of fear

What is the price we pay for our irrational fear? If I had a dollar for everytime someone that came over immediately locks my front door, I’d be a rich man. Most of my life I hear “Safety First!” everywhere; how can that be a bad thing? Well, last night it cost me $5 for a tip and about an hour of my time. Let me explain.

One of the things that drive me nuts about modern cars ( and I rent one almost every weekend) is that they lock their doors automatically every chance they get.  I understand that it can be advantageous, a locked door won’t swing open as easily in a big crash and if you walk away and forget to press that button on the remote the car is “smart enough” to know you’re not coming back and might prevent coming back to a ransacked automobile. At the same time, I move fast, faster than the car, resulting in endless trying to open the door and having to unlock it again, and again, and again. Last night it got much worse.

It was going to be a rainy night here in Los Angeles and when we got done with our weekly gig at Pip’s I wanted to load up the car with all my gear as quickly as possible. It wasn’t as cold as I had expected so after doing the first two loads I took off my coat with the key fob in it and put it in the car. Normally any car with remote unlock will have tiny little buttons on the door handle that allow you to activate the mechanism if the fob is close by without having to touch it. I put stuff in the trunk, close it and walk back to get the last two thing. Mind you, at this point the car is unlocked! When I return 2 minutes later with the final load, the door is locked again; “no problem” I think to myself, but guess what: the little button on the passenger door does nothing. Wow, is it really gonna make me do this on the driver’s side? Nope, nothing there either!

At this point, I still believe this can’t be true! You mean, the car knows the fob is close, but inside the car? Why in the world won’t it let me unlock? I ask the valet guys and they explain that this does happen once in a while and that there is no other way than to get someone to break into the car! AAA to the rescue; in literally less than a minute the guy that came opened the car, and not with some kind of master remote which is what I expected. Instead he had a kind of inflatable airbag that he wedged in the door jam, and then inflated until the gap was big enough to get the end of a long flexible stick with a ‘finger’ at the end inside to press the unlock button! That goes to show you how silly we are in thinking we can keep out anyone with the intention to get into your car by locking it, although I guess it might have some deterrent effect on someone looking for only the easiest targets.

One big question remains though: why in the world  would it be a good idea to automatically lock the car with the key INSIDE? This is not a rhetorical question. The only answer I can come up with is fear of the outside world. The only scenario I can imagine is if YOU are inside the vehicle and someone is trying to get to you, perhaps to rob you or do a car jack, and you don’t want him to be able to unlock it by the normal method of touching the little button. What other reason could there be? It’s absolutely throwing out the baby with the bathwater isn’t it?

So there it is: defeated by a damn Chevy Cruze and a Western world of snowflakes!

Cuba

Talk about getting old gracefully! “He’s almost 90 but he looks like a boy!” says the middle aged Belgian presenter. She’s in Cuba at a party for old folks, they are DANCING up a storm; one 84 year old man has all his teeth, healthy as an bear. Free healthcare has its advantages you know. But, but, but “freedom!”, “the free market!” will make it all better. Look, I’m not saying Cuba doesn’t have its problems; met plenty of musicians who came here to escape it. But getting old happy is worth a lot in my book and not being ashamed of being old is a big part. When’s the last time you say literally a hundred people over 80 dancing?

How much?

There’s plenty of talk about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies these days; from endless banter from people who don’t even understand the basic premises, completely nonsensical information from folks who have no concept of money and finances in general and even some discussions anchored in fact and knowledge. One kind of vital piece of information is impossible to be found though: how much money has been put in BTC and its derivatives? It’s easy to calculate to the total value of all Bitcoins: quantity times price, just like the market cap of a stock, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to know how much money all of us together have spent on buying them and that’s not that easy to figure out.

One more thing: please, PLEASE take all these analyses on the web about BTC’s price movement (moving averages, death cross etc etc) with a pallet of salt. The people writing them are using methods that may hold value when applied to stocks representing companies, for predicting the value of something completely different, and that’s asking for trouble. You see, even if investors would lose trust in Ford as a company, its stock would still be worth something, based on, if nothing else, the company’s assets (factories, inventory, cash), but BTC could be worth $0 overnight if something bad enough happens. I’m not exaggerating; its price is 100% dependent on trust. I’m certainly not saying it’s worthless; I believe we have something incredibly valuable here in the long run, but our old methods of analysis can not be blindly carried over.

x64 to ARM, come in ARM

It’s been rumored for a while, but today even Bloomberg is reporting on a possible platform change coming in 2020 to macOS; supposedly Apple is seriously considering making its own chips for Macs, just like it has been doing for phones and tablets for a while now. While in the iOS the transition from Samsung to self-designed SOCs didn’t mean breaking compatibility because just about anyone can use the ARM architecture and build on it, laptops and desktops are a different story.

You see, there are only three entities allowed to build x86 and x64 CPUs, and the Big Fruit is not one of them. What that means is that Apple will almost certainly transition macOS to ARM if it starts making its own CPUs. Now, most discussions I have read on the interwebs focus almost entirely on performance and whether the “mobile” chips will be able to keep up with “laptop” and “desktop” chips. In my opinion, there would not be a problem in that department; especially with higher TDPs Apple’s chips should be just fine. Also, all frequently updated software (think browsers, Netflix, MS Office) should be operational pretty quickly, although there will be some hell to pay in the bug department as there always is with such a major operation.

The real problems will be affecting a small subset of users, among which are a LOT of people I know. This is because there is a whole subset of software that does NOT get updated frequently or at all; I’m talking about Audio Production software. If I had a dollar for every Mac user I’ve heard complain about what happened when Apple went from the G5 to Intel chips…. great plugins, like the Native Instruments B4, were never updated, Spectrasonics stuff was the same. Mind you, on Windows I can and still DO use them (there hasn’t been released anything better!). Now look at Pro Tools: the list of which versions work on which OS is a mind-bender! It’s such a mess that I occasionally get calls from Mac users to see if I can help them, and now the musical director at my church told me he’s fed up with Apple and asked me to help him transition to Windows. There’s simply nothing worse than a company forcing you to give up the tools you already know and love, because of arbitrary reasons. Windows has shown the way for years now; I can still run software from the 1990’s for goodness’ sake.

Death by machine: part deux

Amazingly, two videos of the first fatal autonomous Uber crash have been released to the public. I’m sure we’ll have quite the extended debate over them, and the human ‘safety’ driver, who is supposed to make sure the machine doesn’t make mistakes, or at least take over when it does; this woman failed spectacularly, that’s for sure. She was simply not even looking out the window, instead looking down at something in her lap until a split second before the crash occurred. The most interesting legal question is how much liability she has in this disaster.

When watching the dashcam of the car, one thing becomes clear: the victim made a move that just begged for a correction in the population that only natural selection can provide. There’s most likely no way the car could have been controlled to NOT hit her, certainly not by a person, but probably not even by a machine with infinitely faster response. She just came out of the dark in THE most stupid place to cross, in addition hampered in her mobility by the bike she was dragging along. It seems hard to believe she didn’t jump in front of the car on purpose but let’s assume she didn’t. In my opinion it would be unreasonable to put the blame for her death on anyone or anything other than her.

At the same time, there’s something very very interesting about the video and the little info about what happened that we do have. Apparently, the brakes were not applied at all! That the knucklehead behind the wheel didn’t is perhaps somewhat understandable, she had literally a fraction of a second, but for a machine that’s an eternity. Once she came out of the shadows, in those 2 frames, she’s clearly visible, and clearly in the path of the car. Did its sensors not notice her at all? Did it decide it was too late to start braking? Amazingly what the car was ‘thinking’ will be known, at least to the engineers with access to it. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Google’s cars would have done better. In either case, it’s yet another data set, another set of circumstances that future Uber cars have in their experience.

Finally, to all the doubters of autonomous vehicles: just look at how utterly relaxed and trusting the safety driver was. Amazingly, it has to be prove of how well this tech already works, and Google is significantly ahead in its capabilities. Dead lady or not, this tech is coming quickly; you can improve computers, but you can’t fix stupid!