Sports

Oftentimes when people ask me about some Baseball or Football game, I’ll tell them: “Sorry, there are few things I care less about than sports!” Half the time that answer goes right over their head, evidenced by some detailed response about what happened. For years and years I’ve been of the opinion that professional sports as a whole are a net deficit to society; if only people would spend half the time they spend on examining their leagues and teams of choice , memorizing stats, watching games (and don’t forget the commercials!) on learning what their governments do in their name, what’s really on their tax returns etc, we would have better societies. These days more and more opinions are based on less and less understanding of the issues it seems, and now that some very valuable sources of information like the NY Times have been classified by some of the upper echelon of knuckleheads as “Fake News”, there’s even more of a reason to remain ignorant. Combine that with the fact that a game of which you don’t want to miss a second is the perfect vehicle for creating a textbook captive audience, one ready to swallow whatever propaganda (that’s what commercials are, let’s not kid ourselves) you interrupt it with, and you have a precarious situation.

Every coin has two sides though, so there must be benefits to all of us, aren’t there? Of course there are! Humans are inherently tribal, and have a need to belong to one. Rooting for the same team can bring cities or countries together; for a short time, people from all walks of life, from minimum wagers to lawyers, black, brown or white, the mundane to the crazy can all feel like their on the same side. If it weren’t for the insane (IMHO) commercial interruptions, it can create a way to develop an attention span longer than the typical 30 seconds we’re getting used to. It creates a framework for learning how to deal with winning and losing, how to learn about patience and working towards a long-term goal in a world of short-term thinking.

Now there’s one more thing, and it’s something I don’t write about lightly. These days, more than ever before during my lifetime anyway, it seems one is not allowed to call people dumb anymore. “Everyone is smart in his or her own way” seems to be the predominant narrative, but that means nothing in my opinion. Just like a school system in which everyone passes every test, no matter the actual performance, it just devalues the label. So let’s define what smart means in what I’m getting at. Wikipedia has a great entry about it and it shows the wide variety of meanings the term carries; let’s go with this:

“It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context.”

In this light, it would be impossible to say everyone is equally intelligent, is it? There just are some that are much quicker and better at dealing with complex information and use it to adapt to unknown situations. Intelligence is not being good at remembering batting averages for your favorite team; it’s about solving problems you’ve never seen before, using things you learned from others situations! It’s about listening to a long complex story and quickly distilling the important parts and filing them in your mental toolbox. Having said that, in my opinion, it’s not something you can learn, it’s more like a talent your born with. You can develop it, you can hone it, but sorry, some of us are just born with less of it, just like physical abilities or traits.  Exactly like with every other human trait, our population spans the gamut, from Einstein to those who can do barely more than stuff their face and run real fast and that’s OK. As a matter of fact, it’s what makes humans so powerful as a group; diversity is the ultimate recipe for resilience and that’s a great topic for another day. So, why am I bringing all of this up? Well, of course not every sports fan is ‘dumb’, but for some of us, there’s tremendous value in a ‘universe’ which we can completely understand. Let me explain what I mean.

As our world becomes more and more complex, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend and lack of understanding creates uncertainty. Religion is so powerful for exactly that reason: it provides a mechanism for providing “the complete story” even when you don’t get all the individual parts. In the end, there will be heaven or hell and that’s that. When you can define the theory of everything, it gives certainty, which leads to acceptance which leads to peace of mind. The universe is a big place and no one, not even the smartest 1000 people that every lived put together can even pretend to get the whole picture. Some of us are totally fine with that, but ironically the more you know the more you know that you don’t know shit! It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t get myself to continue my course in electrical engineering; theories built upon theories, conclusions we knew were wrong, but the best estimation we have, stated as the absolute truth. Don’t even get me started about Economics! The certainty with which some spout their theories….. The truth is that the system is too complex for anyone to comprehend and I don’t blame people for wanting to check out of the discussion.

And that’s the beauty of sports! It’s like a limited universe, a rather large world of winners and losers, of strategies and outcomes, of hard work and luck, that’s relatively easy to get. It allows just about anyone to get it, to see the big picture, to have the ability to contribute to a conversation with a relevant statement. It’s a microcosm in which traditional ‘intelligence’ is of very limited value, where talent, and dedication and hard work are 99% of the value, but there still is enough diversity and complexity to be ever-changing and ‘interesting’ for anyone’s lifetime. The older I get, the more I see the value in it (even though it still doesn’t really interest me very much at all) to the point where I’ve changed my mind about the net value proposition.

Nefertiti: she’s like a beautiful queen

The talent is undeniable. Advice on how to sing from Kelly Clarkson? In my opinion invaluable, cuz that woman can sing. Lionel? Damn, that’s talent royalty, as a performer and composer.

I’ma keep it short this time. AI jumped the Mouse; when you put your logo on a little girl’s “dream board” (seriously, from when she was tiny, dreaming and thus writing on it, about being on AI..they put a big fat Disney logo on it!) in my opinion it’s inappropriate at best. Poor Katy Perry, who’s certainly a smart and talented woman and pretty serious singer, is like a real life barbie, to be made sexual remarks about, constantly. #savekaty

All the backstories are fully manufactured for maximum penetration of your emotions, get you ready for that surprisingly decent performance; that much both have in common. Other than that, the Voice has less scripting; it’s just more focused on the music, as it should be. If you can impress Clarkson with your singing, you have something. She knows more about singing than Cowell, Britney Spears and both cowboys put together. And the contestants are very, very talented. There’s a LOT of talent out there.

BTC

“Bitcoin energy use in Iceland set to overtake homes, says local firm” says BBC news! Cryptomining is taking off like crazy and we the people are using more and more energy to do it. Everyone is doing, yours truly included and the ideas and principles behind it are only now becoming more commonly understood. It’s been estimated that the total power usage of the Bitcoin network is larger than all electricity consumed by the country of Ireland. Let that sink in for a second… But what exactly are we doing? I’ll be talking about it in a few posts coming up in the next few months, but first I’ll tell you about my little experiment.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve set up two of my computers with a service called Nicehash. Mind you, I’m NOT recommending you do this; they were hacked and robbed blind in December of 2017 under very suspicious circumstances. My experiment is humble, my systems relatively low-power, and thus I’m not making major investments or running big risks with large sums of money. In my main system I have a GTX 1050ti 4GB and in the other a GTX 750 1GB.  I’ve been mining for two weeks, and have now been paid 0.002 Bitcoin, or about $17 at today’s price. Normally my main rig is always on anyway, the equipment is fully paid for, but of course there is extra electricity being used; my estimate is around $5 for a net profit of about $12. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and I just got started. If Bitcoin goes up 1000% like some people are forecasting, it’ll be $120!

Initially, I was planning on adding a GPU or two but after looking the current prices I flipped out: most usable cards are going for double MSRP! My 1050ti, which I paid $105 for,  has been going for over $200; USED! Video gaming is definitely a hobby of mine, and I’d love to get a 1060, but not at $400, even though it has double the mining power of my current card. Luckily things never stay the same and because of the drop in cryptocurrency prices, they now bring in half the profits they did only a couple of months ago.  Some people paid upwards of $500 and they will never recoup that investment because net rewards will only go down due to increased difficulty, even if Bitcoin goes back up to $20k. For a gamer like me, a 1060 is of great value, even when it doesn’t mine, but what are the hardcore guys gonna do with 6, or 12, or 24 of them when they’re not worth running anymore? I feel a great flood of used GPUs in the very near future!

Up next: transferring my earnings from Nicehash to Coinbase, and online wallet for safekeeping. My buddy Peter in Holland actually has a hardware crypto-wallet, which is the safest place to put them; might ask him to look after my coins for me. Through Coinbase and GDAX (its coin exchange), I might trade for some Ethereum once I get to a $50 balance or so. Unlike so many other ‘alt-coins’ I believe that ETH and BTC are here to stay, but that’s for a later article.

Cardboard

Cardboard? Really? A post about packing material? No, this is about Google Carboard, the most inexpensive way to experience VR! Really, I paid $10 at Best Buy for its Insignia version and it is AWESOME! I’d been reading about it for a while, but when my neighbor let me try the one his wife got at work, I knew I had to get my own.

Unsurprisingly it uses your cellphone to do the rendering and not all are supported, but his iPhone 5S worked great, my Nexus 5X even better, but my Huawei Honor 5X did not because it lacks a Gyroscope. You download the Cardboard app from the Play Store and off to the races with a built-in demo. There are a lot more apps available and the Titans Of Space one is my favorite so far; it’s an exploration of our Solar System, free of charge, with a $3 narration pack available. On my 1080P screen there’s definitely a “screen door effect” but it’s wonderfully enjoyable nonetheless. The head tracking works great, the effect is quite amazing. There’s a limited version of Google Street View too, which allowed me to stand in the middle of the town square in Alphen aan den Rijn through a 360 degree panorama someone took, but for the full experience one needs a proper headset like the Vive or Rift. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

When old becomes new

Another win for Windows 10!  My good friend Brad Rabuchin’s machine we put together in 2010 stopped booting up properly; he hadn’t done a proper backup in a while (?!?#@?#@?) so the first thing to do was to save the data. Because it’s a desktop, it was easy to remove the drives, hook them up to my machine, and then pick and choose what to move over to an external 2.5″ USB disk. We were able to get everything, so the pressure was off. Now how do we move forward? Windows repair wasn’t working and neither was doing a system restore to an older point in time. At this point a fresh reinstall on a new drive (thus keeping the old OS install intact just in case) is what I like to do.

Seven years ago SSDs were first becoming ‘affordable’, but at $200 for a 64GB drive we chose to use a spinner, a 750GB Hitachi, hooked up to a 1st generation i3-530, 4GB of DDR3 and an Echo Gina 3G PCI audio card with Windows 7. You know what? Those specs are more than enough to run Windows 10, so we just bought a 500GB Samsung 850 EVO and installed the OS fresh, everything worked perfectly and just incredibly smoothly, booting from off to usable in mere seconds, just like a modern machine. Even that old Gina was purring along, with rock solid performance at 64 samples by the way for running Sonar at full real-time input monitoring.

After making sure all the data was there in under Windows 10, and having seen that the BIOS was set to IDE instead of AHCI for the SATA ports, I figured that perhaps that was keeping Windows 7 from booting. Sure enough, it now booted just fine from the old OS drive. But, what a difference in performance! All because of the SSD, it’s now a whole new computer! Microsoft was kind enough to let us install 10 with the old serial from 7 and Brad is ready for another at least 5 years with this thing. If needed, he can pop in an i5 or i7 and double the CPU performance, there’s room for another 2 DIMMS to go to 8GB of RAM for $50 or so, but even as it is, it’s a totally modern feeling machine…… seven years later!

Surface meet Sonar

With the latest update, it’s quite amazing how well Sonar Platinum runs on my 2GB/64GB Microsoft Surface 3…really, after properly calibrating the pen (duh!), it’s just so cool to be able to draw in the “piano roll”. Fingers to move the canvas, pinch to zoom, pen draws notes, moves notes, eraser button works, even pressure sensitivity to determine velocity!

Listen, I bought this machine for $250, with a dock with ethernet, HDMI and extra USB ports, with the pen and the type cover. Used, but in excellent condition. After monkeying with some drivers I decided to do a fresh reinstall from a Windows 10 USB stick. It certainly made a difference, although there are still areas in which the system is noticeably slower than my i3 based XPS 13. Firefox is weirdly sluggish, sometimes in unexpected things like typing this blog. Pleasantly surprised!

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 (the 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, deserts….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!

Saxomofone

As I approach the 25th anniversary of my move to the United States of America, and I look back at what it has brought me, I can’t help but feel blessed and grateful. It’s been a hell of a ride, that’s for sure, many years as an illegal alien, seemingly endless doubt of whether I made the right decision, gigs gained and lost, great honors and even 15 minutes in the back of a cop car! After all though, I have now worked with some folks for more than 20 years, not only some of the finest musicians I know, but also some of my dearest friends. Through all the flakiness of this here big city, those friendships have carried me in a land so so far away from home, providing strength and inspiration. At my advanced age, I get to tour the world with two world-class acts, make wonderful records every year with artist of all kinds of plumage.

Let’s get one thing straight: the two albums I have made, would not have been the same had I stayed in Holland. Not only because I wouldn’t have half the musician I am now, but simply because a huge part of the music is who’s playing, isn’t it? And now, I find myself making a third album, and being able to call perhaps the three finest Sax players in L.A., and find them not just willing, but excited to play my tunes! So there it is, this little Dutch boy is about to put out an album with Eric Marienthal, Doug Webb and Brandon Fields on it! Coming soon!

Dell Inspiron 13 7000

Helped a good friend and his wife find a laptop today at Best Buy! He’s only really accustomed to Mac and she’s really used to Windows, which is what she uses at work. The time had come to get a laptop for the house and there were no preconceived notions, but budget was of course an issue. A Macbook starts at $1000, has a crappy screen with an i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD; MacBook Pro 13 with 256GB, 16GB and a beautiful screen is $1500, and only USB-C ports BTW! The store had a giant sale going on, almost every Windows laptop on sale.

First item of interest was a Samsung ultra-thin. Everything is soldered on the motherboard thus can’t be replaced or upgraded, the keyboard had uncomfortably little travel, gorgeous display and under 3 pounds, for $1100 with 256GB SSD, 16GB of RAM for $1100. I talked them out of it, not in the least because such an irreparable machine should only be bought from a company with good warranty service; Samsung is not such a company! Besides, for a machine that’s gonna live in the house all the time, not be lugged from airport to airport, saving a pound is inconsequential. There was the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1. Screen quality in between the Mac Air and Pro, 1920×1080, full 10 point touch(!), 360 degree hinges, pretty damn great keyboard, not as nice as the XPS 13 but way better than that $1100 Sammy. One with i5 12GB of Ram and 256GB SSD is $749, with an i3, 8GB, 128GB $649! We’re talking USB-C port AND two regular USB3 ports! It has SD card reader, HDMI out, metal body. I tell them “Let’s see if there’s an open box one….” and there it is! The i5 model, Geek Squad recertified, with full manufacturer warrant, for $550.

Let me tell you, this thing is GREAT! It’s under 4 pounds, well built, touch screen works great and all the different modes are awesome; Tent mode is just perfect for on the kitchen counter, where a wet finger won’t drip onto the guts of the machine, or for watching Netflix in bed. It might not have everything an XPS has, like a PCIe SSD, but guess what: this little computer FLIES, just a joy to use. In a couple of years when the 256GB is full, you pop in a 1TB! An extra 8GB costs $65 right now! The final bonus is a Windows Hello compatible camera; no really, it has an infrared camera, which means a face-unlock feature that’s actually secure, can’t be fooled by a picture. I had never seen it in action and it is mighty freaky to look at the damn thing and it acknowledging you by name……

As I sip on a nice French Roast on the Clover and write this post, I’m reading some reviews online, scratching my head. How in the world are you going to put a $750 machine up against something costing double and then complaining about the screen? The rating of 3.5 stars out of 5 is completely wrong in my opinion. This is as close to a five star machine as possible for that price. At $550 it’s a gift from the Gods!

Keiko Matsui

Something quite fascinating is how people have the tendency to categorize. In order to organize this mess of a world, to be able to deal with the chaos and unpredictability humans assign things to boxes: good and evil, healthy and unhealthy, Country music, Metal. Once something has been assigned a category, it rarely gets reclassified. Sometimes it’s quite beneficial, but it can be detrimental too, for instance when people start conforming to the box they’re in, whether they chose to be in there or were put in there by others.

And then there are people like Keiko Matsui. This woman, classical piano wunderkind, became a worldwide star in the world of New Age and later Smooth Jazz, touring the world for 30 years now. This woman made 26 albums before “Journey to the Heart” last year. She now sells 1500 tickets a night in Russia for two weeks straight, a beloved artist at Smooth Jazz nights from the Hollywood Bowl to Java Jazz in Jakarta, Indonesia. But guess what: she keeps growing and innovating, keeps pushing, instead of resting on her laurels and riding this wave into the sunset.

After years of others, mostly men of course, running her life, managers, record labels etc., she has taken control! That album she did last year? Her best one yet, and the most free of all. Produced by none other than Carlitos Del Puerto, son of Cuban bass legend Carlos Del Puerto of Irakere, it’s her first all acoustic project and it’s truly wonderful. She never really was a Smooth Jazz artist to begin with, very few 2 chord R&B jams in her repertoire, but here we have a proper Jazz album, awesome compositions, fantastic playing by a group of great musicians. I’m serious, this is music that would fit in at any real Jazz club in the world and she proved it last week in Napa.

Back in 2000 I did one summer with Keiko and her manager ran the show back then, she would hardly talk to the band. When I joined again in 2013 the situation was much different already. I replaced Eric Baines who was the musical director, so it really was the first time she took on that role, and slowly but surely she realized that she could easily do it! I mean, after almost 30 years of doing your music, you know what you want! Communication across languages can be hard, and explaining feeling in music even harder, but between a group of excellent musicians (JP Mourao, Jackiem Joyner, Dave Karasony) who truly repected her and my above average language skills, we got there. She still had a “Pop”/Classical concept of her show, with strict arrangements and solos that were almost verbatim every night. Doing “Journey to the Heart”, and then touring on it with the Carlitos and Jimmy Branly forced her to adopt more of a true Jazz flow: those guys are UNSTOPPABLE, they cannot be put in a box. They will never play the same thing twice. I heard some of the live recordings and they went for it every time, actually a little too much for Keiko’s fans I’m afraid. Of course Carlitos is the hottest bass player in the world right now, so when Chick Corea called, and Barbra Streisand and Bob James, he moved on and combined with the preference of promoters and fans for the electric band, we got the call again.

Fast forward to last week, when we did 4 nights, two shows a night, at the brand new Blue Note in Napa, CA. I’m not exaggerating when I say all 8 shows where in my top 25 favorite gigs of my life. Keiko was simply outstanding and we played like a real band; I get tears in my eyes again thinking about it, as happened literally every night at some point. The stage is small there, and with the incredible CF6 that Yamaha brought especially for Keiko, we were set up super tight, which is ideal actually for playing Jazz. Keiko played some truly amazing solos, really blew my mind how free and creative, how beautiful, playful and exciting. She improvised stuff on songs I had never heard even a slight variation on. And we were right with her, at all times; it’s incredible what happens when a band trusts itself, when a soloist feels so comfortable. JP went from beautiful whisper quiet Brazilian flavors to screaming rock, rhythmical explorations to surf…. our dynamics as band were incredible, we played so softly a few times, without losing any intensity it shocked me.

Honestly, Keiko became a true Jazz pianist this week. She’s been trying to book shows in Western Europe, but her association with Smooth Jazz has held her back, even though she was always more of a New Age/Pop/Classical pianist. Now, in my opinion, she could and should get booked at any real Jazz club in the world, even with the electric band. It’s beyond inspiring to see a woman of her stature make such a bold and dramatic move, to refuse to stay in a box and boldly go…….. feeling beyond blessed to be able to witness it……