Budget Telephony

April 16th, 2014

These days, your typical smartphone anyone talks about costs between $600 and $750: even the ‘cheap’ iPhone 5C is $549+tax. After it’s been out for a while, you might get it for $450 or so. But I wanted to see how little money you have to spend to get a modern functional device. Mind you, I’d been rocking an HTC Inspire 4G, vintage 2010, long dropped by its maker, but a hacker’s favorite. The beauty was, there was a perfectly functioning Jelly Bean 4.2 ROM for it, voice recognition, GPS; a little slow, but with the exception of the latest version of Maps (older is just fine), a solid daily driver. Since I switched to NET10 I was free to experiment.

First purchase was a used HTC 8X, a Windows Phone 8 device with a dual-core A15, 1GB RAM, 4.3″ 720P screen in a beautiful slim package. It set me back $120, but looked brand new, with even an Otterbox case thrown in. I took the screen protector off and it is gorgeous, in a simple, almost childish way with the bright blue plastic. It took me a while to properly configure the thing for data (tip: DON’T use the proxy they want you to!) and with LTE on my unlimited for $46 per month plan, it’s FLYING! The OS is excellent I must say, snappy, clear, perhaps a little too simple, but the next update is imminent and adds some much needed functionality. Physically, this thing is a joy to use: it’s light, thin, great audio quality, beautiful screen. It seems you can find these unlocked brand new in the box for $150…..

Round two, involved Android. I’ve had three phones and 1 tablet now with it, and I’m somewhat invested in the ecosystem. What impressed me about the Windows phone was that I could very easily connect it to my Google Calendar and Contacts, synced two ways! People in the world of the fruit are in a much more difficult position; Apple does everything in its power to try to lock you into its world. After reading up, my choice was the Motorola Moto G, with the same 8GB storage it cost $195 shipped, brand new from the maker. It has a quad-core A7 chip, 1 GB Ram, 4.5″ 720P screen, very similar in horsepower actually. After opening the tiny box (no charger included!) it looked good to me, although it’s noticeably thicker than the 8X. After logging into my Google account on it, downloading apps and syncing data commenced and a little while later it felt like I had an updated version of my Inspire! Almost the same dimensions, very similar software, but what a difference in speed! Oh my god, this thing is as snappy as Dave’s Note II, a phone that still costs $300 used. The lack of LTE doesn’t seem to be hurting it, everything works brilliantly. It’s always listening when the screen is on, so you say “OK Google” and then a command; “navigate to the baked potato” starts turn by turn GPS in 3 seconds. A thing of beauty, for less than a third of an iPhone 5C!

Honestly, either device is perfectly fine and perfectly modern really. I just checked on Ebay and brand new 16GB 8X’s are going for $180 shipped. Unless you need something only available on Android, the HTC is the winner here: thinner, lighter, more elegant design and LTE to boot. The Moto G is more flexible of course, and because it didn’t come from a carrier, WiFi tethering works without notifying your provider! There are better apps for musicians (Drummer’s Metronome anyone?) and the screen is a litle bigger. For me the biggest thing is still Google Maps and Google Navigation. On Windows Phone you can now get Nokia Drive for free and there’s Waze, but neither is as complete as the Big G’s implementation. The former does include the option to download maps to your device, which is very handy. Nice to have a map of all of California right on my phone, and GPS works even when you have no data connection. Boy, it’s amazing what $200 buys these days…..


Brain Machine Interface

April 10th, 2014

What would we do without the VPRO? From before I was born, this Dutch Public Television broadcasting organization has been bringing us arguably the best TV anywhere. From some of the funniest stuff ever made (Koot & Bie!) to incredibly intelligent, truly independent documentaries, if I had to choose only one thing to watch for the rest of my life it would be the VPRO. Time after time, its series called “Tegenlicht” teaches us so much, without ever getting in the way with opinions and the episode from April 10th of this year was another mind-blower.

Called “Het Gretige Brein”, or “The Eager Brain”, it deals with the learning capacity and desire of our most potent organ. My goodness, it was fascinating. Connecting directly to neurons is now part of what’s called the Brain-Machine Interface, or Brain-Computer Interface. Scientists have already literally connected two monkeys’ brains through the internet, one in Brazil and on in the US! Things taught to one, affect the mind of the other. It’s crazy! There are people talking about ‘liberating’ the mind from the limitations of the physical body, something that’s been speculated on for a while, but now they’re throwing in predictions of the year we will start doing it: 2035. It’s been shown that we can teach our grey matter to control robot arms, as if they were original equipment, merely by imagining the movement of a real limb, and reading the part of the brain that normally controls such thing. We’re making some serious progress here…

You know, it’s pretty scary actually, especially because of the proven gullibility of the typical human. We are setting ourselves up for something, that’s for sure. Imagine if we all upload ourselves to some giant mainframe, preferring to live without our fragile bodies. The funny thing is that we could literally be erased out of existence by wiping one system! Seems far more fragile than our imperfect bodies, doesn’t it? Just like we are blindly going headfirst into the progress that digital technology gives us. We are going to give up our POTS (plain old telephone service) copper wiring, to be replaced by VOIP systems that are worthless without all the computers necessary to operate them, ripping out an infrastructure installed over many decades. After the earthquake here in 1994, guess what still worked and what didn’t…….

Jakarta: part four

March 28th, 2014

Alright, it’s Tuesday, we’ve been here for four days now, it’s time to venture out! As some of you already know, Indonesia was a Dutch colony for the longest time, so there have to be remnants. I do a little research and find out about Cafe Batavia, the same name my people gave Jakarta many, many years ago. Supposedly there is one of the only public squares there in the whole city, a place where Hollanders used to hang criminals. Fatahillah Square is also home to the old City Hall and many, many street vendors. I convince Dave we must go and Michael Paulo is game too, so we order a taxi! Boy, this is a crazy big city…..we pass malls, endless mopeds, weird fake Amsterdam-style tall narrow buildings with some kind of Dutch bakery inside.

When my phone tells me we’re close, we tell the driver to pull over and let us out. And there it is: the smell that hits us in the face like a wet towel soaked in excrement! OH MY GOD! This is unlike anything I’ve ever smelled before…..we right by a river and it’s truly just an open sewer. The most amazing thing is that people are hanging out right there, and even more bizarrely, preparing and selling food. I can’t even think of eating. Wow! We cross a bridge and get right to the square, and see the restaurant. Inside we find some fresh air thankfully and we proceed to have a great meal actually. Erwtensoep (split pea soup!) and Sate, Dave has an excellent Chinese style shrimp dish, nice little 20cl glass cokes! Really civilized and delicious and the tab for all three of us comes to $50 or so, expensive for Jakarta but totally worth it. When we go down, there’s actually a band playing in the bar! They sound good, playing stuff like “Mi Tierra” and other international hits. Well, it’s time to go outside again, and brave the odor…

On Fatahillah Square there are many people, most sitting on spread out blankets, selling trinkets or food, or just lounging. Michael wants to get a beer so I check Google Maps and we start walking. Before we know it, he’s on a mission, walking ahead of us, so all we can do is follow. Even when he starts leaving the touristy area, and I warn that the map shows nothing there, he keeps going and the next thing we know, he crosses this crazy street with no lanes and buses flying by. Now we’ve done it! There are more bodies of water, all smelling like death in their own special ways and the melange is getting scary. Still, food available everywhere, people working on their bikes, Tuk-Tuks everywhere, people coming up to us offering rides with a look of disbelief. We just keep walking. The smell gets worse and worse, to the point where Dave is really starting to freak out and honestly it feels like we’re touring some kind of bio-hazard. Finally, a regular cab pulls up and we get in. For the first 3 minutes, all we could do was laugh! Unbelievable how disgusting this was. When we get back to the hotel, each one of us has to take a shower. Damn!

Jakarta: part three

March 21st, 2014

So now what? It’s Monday afternoon, we don’t have to do anything until Thursday! We haven’t left the hotel except to go to the festival grounds, but we can’t just do nothing and eat and drink everyday. Water is expensive at the Borobodur (think $5 per half liter!) so I decide to see if there’s a market or something around. I bought a SIM card at the festival for $5 that got my phone online with 2GB of data, so Google Maps is working. It was another great demonstration of the ignorance of the typical iPhone user, when you see them literally carrying another (local) phone because they don’t realize you can unlock them. Oh that walled garden….but I digress……… My inquiry at the concierge desk leads to the Atrium Plaza, half a mile away. When I ask if we can walk they look very puzzled, suggesting we take a cab, but I convince Dave that we should go on foot anyway! It’s basically a straight shot although there aren’t really any sidewalks; we pass by people fishing in the dirtiest water, moped repairmen, bums chilling and some of the richest stenches I had ever experienced. There’s barbed wire, chemical clouds in ponds in which some are actually fishing….. wow!

The mall is actually quite Western looking; there’s serious security of course: dogs, military police, metal detectors. But when we get inside, it’s pretty nice! We see a Burger King, Starbucks, but also a lot of vendors on the ground level selling clothes, wallets and shoes.  The supermarket is in the basement, but we decide to go up first. All in all there are 6 floors in this thing, with many many restaurants, clothing stores and a few gift shops. Electronics are actually quite expensive here, phones cost even more than in the US, although the selection is enormous. Also in the basement are many, many telecom shops! I’m talking 30 of them with more Samsungs than you could ever imagine! Wherever Dave and I go, people are staring at us; surprisingly we are the only two gringos in the whole joint, a good foot taller than most locals. We end up buying a couple of bags of groceries for next to nothing and head back to the hotel. Still not over my jet lag, a couple of beers after dinner at the lovely Bogor cafe and I’m ready for bed. Tomorrow we go on a real adventure!

Jakarta: part two

March 19th, 2014

That first Friday we got there, the Java Jazz Festival was already well underway. It was close to 5PM by the time we arrived and Snarky Puppy, whom we really wanted to see, wasn’t to go on until 12:30AM; it was going to be the only time out of three they did when we wouldn’t be playing ourselves, but we were too tired to make it! Getting to the venue required getting on a shuttle bus which could take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, so it just wasn’t gonna happen. Luckily there was a Jam session every night at the Borobudur where every musician with a badge got 2 free beers! Dave and I made stayed until about 11:30PM when complete exhaustion took over. Organist Tony Monaco was leading the thing and let me tell you, he was GREAT. A lot of familiar faces were everywhere; sometimes it seemed like another night at Cafe Cordiale! Off to bed, Saturday it was time to work….

Woke up pretty early, but thankfully was able to go back to sleep for a few more hours that morning. Lobby call wasn’t until 4PM or so and by that time I felt pretty good actually. We were told the trip to the Jakarta International Expo could take a long time depending on traffic, but it went reasonably fast and we got there in about 25 minutes. Boy, the part we entered through looked like a deserted Zoo or something, a post-apocalyptic amusement park; just gates and empty buildings! A couple of turns later we’re at the main entrance into what looks like a mall. Again everything goes through metal detectors and luggage scanners and we’re in! The building actually is a mall, with sporting goods stores, restaurants etc. On the other side of it though is the main section with many different halls. In all, there were 19 stages, ranging from conference rooms to a couple in the convention center part that were as big as airplane hangars! Ours seats about 3000 or so and is called C1. When we get there, the band before us is just about to start and it turns out they’re really a pretty complex fusion band, not bad actually. After they’re done, we have about 45 minutes to change over the stage which doesn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped….

By the time doors open again to let our crowd in, we’re not quite ready, especially when it comes to monitoring, but the room fills up almost completely and we go for it! It’s a good show, but the repressed style of the Indonesian audience doesn’t quite help overcome the jet lag that sets in halfway for the band. As is normal with festivals, people come and go, so by the end we have a smaller crowd, but it’s all good. We have another chance the next day, a little earlier in the same room. It’s really amazing how well-behaved these folks are! With 50,000 visitors a day you’d expect some trouble, or rowdiness, but it almost feels like a church picnic! It turns out that the whole city is really like that, I expect in large part due to the fact that they are very religious over there. The mosques that litter the city go off on a regular basis, blaring Arabic prayers very loudly into the air. Even the last night, staying on the 22nd floor I was still woken up at 3 in the morning.

On Sunday we do redeem ourselves and play an energetic, refreshed show! This time the audience keeps growing as times goes on and the arch is just perfect. Dean West, our regular East Coast tour manager and soundman is actually there because he’s working with India Arie later on, and he helps us get the monitors right. Quite happy, after Keiko is done with her obligations of signing CDs and such, she Dave and I go and check out some more music. Tania Maria is awesome, the tribute to George Duke featuring Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb and many others is wonderful; the whole place is going off! That night, the jam is pretty great too actually. Organist Tony Monaco starts off the night again and when Dutch musicians Peter Beets and Gijs Dijkhuizen sit in Dave gets very happy! Peter is a pianist there to perform a tribute to Oscar Peterson and Gijs his drummer. Boy, these dudes swing hard! Everyone one is there and many are giving me their free beer tickets, so I find myself in a Smooth Jazz sandwich, getting a little drunker than I prolly should, having an awesome time.

The next day, the adventure is over for most musicians there; Dave and I were supposed to fly back to L.A. as well, but we got hired by Brian Simpson to do another gig six days later so we get to stay! Keiko is flying to Japan on a later flight, and being the class act she is, offers to buy us lunch at the Borobudur. She explains that this place is famous for its Oxtail soup and now I know why. Man, it is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten: rich in flavor without being overwhelming, complex but familiar in the best way. Really, the food at the hotel was incredible every time. Even the bread was just perfect, unsalted butter from New Zealand, delicious deserts from all over the world, Sushi to Rendang, homemade ice cream….. and the coffee…….. so what are we to do? We’ve got 4 more days off and if we just keep eating, I’m gonna turn into a tub!

To be continued….

Jakarta: part one

March 13th, 2014

Where do I begin? What an amazing trip Dave and I were blessed with! We left on the 26th at 10PM for Taipe, to finally arrive on Friday afternoon in Jakarta, Indonesia. Total travel time was a little north of 24 hours, but they are 15 time zones ahead of us, so one loses a day. We flew EVA air, a Taiwanese airline, which was very good actually. The 13 hour flight was on one of their Hello Kitty jets! I kid you not, everything had the cat on it: the cutlery, pillow, blanket, the cake had it built in and even the outside of the plane was fully painted. The stewardesses were all beautiful and so pleasant too, it was like looking at a fashion show. We were served some pretty good food too, from chicken porridge for breakfast, to Chinese cabbage and Dragon Fruit. Coffee was excellent, and Taiwan Beer, really that’s the name, was free! It’s a long, long way, but I arrived pretty well rested at 1PM.

We were met at the airport by a representative from the festival who took our passports and just walked us through immigration without ever having to talk to anyone! We got them back the next day with all visas properly executed; this is the way to do it. The drive was quite something. By the airport it’s pretty green and not densely populated, but as we started to get into the city, the shanty-towns got bigger and bigger, with big modern buildings dotting the landscape everywhere. Dirty, dirty, DIRTY waterways everywhere, that much was clear, even from the bus with the windows closed and the airco running. Traffic was crazy, but when we got off the freeway into downtown it really got nuts. With mopeds, carrying dad on the back, two kids between him and mom, and then another kid in the front, with no helmets, flying around, even on sidewalks, the cars were stuck. We sat on the same block, which turned out be 300 yards from the hotel, for more than an hour! People pooping in the river, than a little further two fishing! Yet the faces were peaceful, even on drivers……there was lots of honking, but the polite kind, just to let each other know where everybody is. Even the bums sitting by the river, smoking, playing chess, didn’t look unhappy.

When we finally got to the hotel around 4, we entered a different world. Named after the most famous monument in Indonesia, the Hotel Borobudur is right in the heart of Jakarta, a five star oasis, with an Olympic sized pool and guys with AK47s in the lobby at all times! On Saturday some politician must have stayed there because they opened a can of MPs. I kid you not, there must have been 50 men with AKs guarding the joint. You can’t enter any big building in Jakarta without going through a metal detector, but this was kind of freaky. Otherwise, the hotel was quite great. Excellent rooms, tennis courts with free lessons, and for us free food three times a day! The Bogor cafe in there is famous for its Oxtail Soup which Keiko turned us on to. AMAZING! The had excellent bread, soups, fruit for days and of course lots of Indonesian and international dishes; I must have eaten more different foods in these 9 days than in the whole year before! And then there was the coffee…..we were gonna get spoiled, that much was getting clear….



Twenty Fourteen

February 16th, 2014

It’s gonna be a good year! I can feel it! 2013  was a year of studying for me: lots of guitar and even more keyboards; I learned a TON of new songs, and properly too, and on the gig with Jeff Robinson at Pip’s last Friday it really felt like I’ve reached a new level of competence on the ivories. It’s been crucial to just get a lot of gigs under my belt. It’s one of those bizarre things about learning an instrument: no matter how well you can do something at home, as soon as you’re out of that comfort zone, your body doesn’t perform the same, you start to force things and the result is less than stellar. Afterwards you’re left baffled as to how or why you blew something you had! Being the pianist in a jazz trio with just bass and drums is quite a challenge: you have to carry just about any tune and play interesting solos. When it comes to the latter, I’ve finally turned a corner I think, after quite a while of semi-pointless noodling.

So what’s in store? First up, 5 days on the East Coast with Keiko followed by a lightning trip to Jakarta, Indonesia! As a Dutchman, it’s a place that’s very interesting and I’m hoping to have some Rendang during the less than 72 hours we will be there. Mind you, it’s about a 26 hour trip to get there! Miss Matsui is busy booking lots of gigs, so it should be a lot of traveling this year. In April we actually have a Rippingtons gig in Las Vegas too. Russ has finished a new record, supposedly called “Fountain Of Youth” which is coming out sometime soon. Haven’t heard any of it yet, and I’m very curious! Who knows, maybe we’ll be touring up a storm later this year…

Then of course, I have to finish my 3rd record! I got kind of busy the last couple of weeks, but when we come back from Jakarta I’ll have a little money to finish this thing. There’s some killer stuff already and I’m looking forward to getting some more. I promise, it’s coming soon! In addition, it looks like we’ll finally make the video for “The Robot Song” I’ve been hoping for. Now that Google has bought Boston Dynamics its message is more current than ever.


February 14th, 2014

What an amazing documentary about someone who’s truly different!! “Blinde Drift” it’s called, and it tells the story of a 26 year old skinhead who threatens ambulance personnel that responds to a 911 call after his best friend has an accident when he has a heart attack while driving. It’s as much about choosing to be different as it is about the unfortunate side effects of the miscommunication that results from it. In the very beginning, we see a calm man, who’s got a lot of stuff going around in his head, being truly appreciative of someone finally asking him some questions. He describes how his neighbors only judge him, never even remotely interested in his side of the story. Slowly but surely, you start realizing that his house is filled with Nazi stuff, flags, mugs, pictures, you name it! We never hear his entire philosophy, but later on there is some discussion about it and he makes it very clear that he condemns the Holocaust, that he’s not a Nazi, he’s just interested in stuff from the war and that the German side, and its unconditional friendship and dedication speaks to him. That others would rather not find out what the guy with the Swastikas has to say, puzzles him!

The saddest part is what happened after the accident. He immediately called 911, but didn’t give a location, and told such an unclear story that the operator did not realize he wasn’t calling about himself; they assumed there was a guy kind of out of it, and when he then hung up on them, they did not send help. 8 minutes later, another friend showed up, called again, cursed them out because they didn’t come and hung up! Eventually, it took 15 minutes for the ambulance to finally arrive. The driver was already dead, but they did CPR anyway; the body was then taken to the hospital where the man was officially declared dead. Supposedly, our skinhead had said to the EMTs: “If he dies, so do you!” He was besides himself.

A couple of times, we see his mother at her house. The interviewer asks if she has baby pictures; with tears in her eyes, she answers yes and goes to get them. We also learn she has a letter he wrote her while incarcerated for burglary, in which he tells her he loves her. Nothing more heart-wrenching than a mother’s pain, wondering if she could’ve done something to prevent her son from turning into a freak. There certainly is a lot of the kindness she displays in the son’s eyes; then he prepares an enormous line of meth and goes to town. He says it makes him able to function and strangely, I believe him. When he talks about jail, it is kind fondly: not having to think, but just following a simple set of rules just works for him. Boy, it takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

Variety = spice

February 13th, 2014

Boy, it’s been a week of much variety! Last Friday we had a great night of Jazz and R&B with the Jeff Robinson band at Pip’s on LaBrea. From Miles Davis to Johnny Guitar Watson, P-Funk to Jeff’s awesome original tunes, his gigs are the best kind of workout, the kind I moved to the US for. Saturday, Santa Monica was the place for a session with Ukrainian producer Sasha. He needed some bass on a couple of tracks and put me to work. The music was real raw and punky, Sergio Gonzalez on drums, and he wanted lots of fret noise and really sloppy but groovy stuff. Not exactly easy for someone who’s spent his whole life trying to improve his technique and sound! But, it’s a state of mind and with the right abandon on my behalf, we found it.

On Sunday, I played piano for the first time at the afternoon service at St. Paul The Apostle’s in Westwood. Chris Haller had asked me to sub for him on bass a number of times last year, but the regular pianist moved to Arizona so they needed someone and gave me the gig 3 times a month. Of course there can hardly be more contrast with the shredding from the night before! The church has an old but nice Steinway and there’s not even a drummer in the band. Musically it’s quite enjoyable though: Peter Torsiello, the musical director, is an excellent musician, Chris a fine bassist, and the singing is always inspired and on point.

Next up, on Tuesday, it was time for some EDM believe it or not. Sergio had told Sasha that I’m a ‘mad professor’ with synths and such, so he came over to check out the studio. He liked what he heard and came back on Wednesday for a 6 hour session. The result is pretty cool actually! Next week we should be able to finish the track, after which the vocals will be recorded back in the Ukraine. I’m talking Swedish House Mafia type of stuff, tight beat, super funky electro basslines, “huge” lead synths. But Wednesday wasn’t done yet! Next up: Mouse’s studio for a session with Natasha Wood. We recorded a floor tom for her song “Part Of Me” and then a violinist named Miguel showed up to play some really beautiful stuff! Actually he played the Viola and he brought it! Otherwise this particular track consists of piano, bass, guitar, percussion and 3 glockenspiel tracks. Nice stuff….

Afterwards, I called Johnny G and we went for a night cap at the Federal in North Hollywood, where bass phenom Hadrien Feraud was hosting a jam night. Add in the one and only Chris Coleman on drums, and you can have a band of plumbers playing the chicken dance and it would still groove. Boy, what a blessing it is to be able to live in this neck of the woods……


February 10th, 2014

How the hell is this much stupidity humanly possible? Last weekend a 21 year old woman, in a Chevy Camaro with her sister and a friend, drove over 100 miles per hour, on TWO freeways the WRONG WAY, before hitting a Ford Explorer head-on. A family of four died, as did her two passengers, but she miraculously survived, with just a broken femur and a ruptured bladder. The pictures of the wreckage are mind-blowing. Her sister , 24, had already had multiple DUI convictions, and the driver had just gotten her license reinstated from her first one that she got at 17. Who are these people?olivia-culbreath