music: Alan Tarney, solid producer

Leo Sayer’s “Once in a While” affected me as much as any other song. His urgent, increasingly desperate vocal stands out against the pleasant pop-rock stylings. After playing it 7 times in a row at increasing volume my landlord called: “There have been complaints…” Here’s the song. There was a music video but it was inappropriately jokey and embarrassing; Leo is singing his heart out.

off Living in a Fantasy album from Rhino/Warners

I’ve remarked before about the vital contribution of the producer, people like Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, Arif Mardin, and Trevor Horn. Alan Tarney wrote and produced this and he’s little heralded unlike those titans. This effusive Guardian piece reminded me of his songs that really stand out.

He spent 1979-1981 locked into a certain sound, exemplified by Barbara Dickson’s “January February”. Fairground organ, twelve-string strumming, workman-like drumming, good backing harmonies, and a great vocal performance – gotta be Alan Tarney.

from the Barbara Dickson Album on Epic

Thrice in a while

Alan Tarney liked his own song “Once in a While” so much he recorded it on two more records that he produced for Cliff Richard and Dan Seals.

off Wired for Sound album on Parlophone UK

Cliff Richard’s version gains an extra half-verse, a nice “Digging on this every night” pre-chorus, and he inserts some interesting vocal syncopations, but he doesn’t sound emotionally shredded. “What’ll I do if you walk away, Well I haven’t a chance” needs to leave blood on the floor! It’s off the album Wired for Sound, whose title track is a rare piece of music about listening to music.

I like small speakers, I like tall speakers
Wall speakers
but most of all, I like loudspeakers.

Corny, but earnest, a nice fit for Cliff. The music video (on Vevo and pulled from YouTube, but here it is on Tidal) has Cliff roller-skating while listening to his Walkman. Peak 1981!

Why don’t you sell it?!

off unobtainium A&M single!

One lost excellent Alan Tarney song is “Why Don’t You Say It” by Elkie Brooks, another British singer (her biggest hits were “Pearl’s a Singer” and “Sunshine after the Rain”). Fairground organ, good backing harmonies, increasingly impassioned vocal – here we go again. I think I have the 45 RPM single somewhere, but let’s give her and Alan Tarney some money… you can’t! “Why Don’t You Say It” is not available on streaming services, or for purchase and download from any merchant ☹. It seems to be a one-off single release. It isn’t a lost B-side unlike these hidden gems; just another popular single lost in the transition to digital music, along with Prince’s singles on Paisley Park 😢 and so many more. Trying to find it I learned Elkie Brooks recorded a version of Peter Frampton’s wonderful song “Putting My Heart on the Line”; she’s got great taste.

A-ha, the big kahuna

Alan Tarney is most famous for producing a-ha’s smash “Take on Me” and four of their albums. That’s very different and shows his versatility, but no fairground organ.

Posted in music | Leave a comment

music: Fred Astaire swings his sing

Everybody reveres Fred Astaire’s dancing, but he’s an underrated singer despite his light thin voice. The way he swings and syncopates “Let the rain pit-ter pat-ter but it really doesn’t matter if the skies are gray” in “Isn’t it a Lovely Day” by Irving Berlin is sheer delight. This recording (can’t embed it) is a spectacularly good version with Johnny Green’s “tea-dance orchestra” bouncing along on the balls of its own feet.

Here is the song with dancing from the movie Top Hat, not quite as delicious:

Let’s Kiss and have the fire squad mop up the incinerated remains

I watched “Funny Girl”, an OK satire on the fashion business and left-wing philosophizing with an unconvincing romance between a bookish younger woman (Audrey Hepburn) and the world-wise older man. The Paris scenes are nice. But in the middle of it Fred takes “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” by George and Ira Berlin, turns the knobs up to 11, swings SO F***ING HARD and torches the movie set. Here are the opening lyrics:

I didn’t mean to
start any scene to,
Make you sigh
hope to die.

It’s most immoral
for us to quarrel.
Why can we both agree?

Don’t you know Ben Franklin wrote about this thing at length?
On the proposition that in union there is strength?

Why raise a storm up
if we’ll just warm up?
We’ll be much stronger
and live much longer.

You can hear the syncopation begging for someone with superb rhythm to NAIL IT TO THE F***ING WALL, and Fred does. Listen for the onomatopoeic (probably not, some other Greek term for poetic adjustment) pun where “at length” goes long is so great, then Fred jumps all over the long lines like he’s dancing up a giant-sized keyboard. And of course “much longer” runs subtly long. Then on “Let’s kiss — and make ——up, Come-on Let’s —break ——up” he’ so far behind the beat the VOLTAGE GOES INTO OVERLOAD. And of course on the couplet “No use to break up When we can work in harmony” he goes for divine musical joke #4 in 50 seconds by detuning “harmony” like a METAL GUITARIST WARPING HER WHAMMY BAR. And he dances pretty well, too. 🎤😙🕺🏻❣️

Posted in music | Leave a comment

eco: the big lie of recycling triangles

There’s a wave of articles about the plastic recycling problem, with predictable photos of mountains of plastic trash;

These all make it too complicated. “Data collected by Greenpeace from MRFs across the U.S. showed that only #1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs meet the standard for being marketed as recyclable.” Those little triangle symbols on every other product, especially on plastic bags and films, are simply a lie.

And “In store drop-off” (to later be added to the rest of the trash!) is pointless work for the consumer and the store.In San Francisco you can place your carefully-collected and folded plastic bags on top of your recycling bin, but someone from the waste company told me it ends up in the trash. Obviously it’s hundreds of times more expensive to try to turn mixed post-consumer plastic film into new products than to make new film.

♳♴ might get recycled, if it’s clear, no colors, and with minimal dirt, gunk, plastic film, labels, plastic rings, etc. attached.

♵♶♷♸♹ is not recycling, no matter how many feel-good slogans are placed nearby. It’s just garbage along with all the rest of the trash we heedlessly produce. At least plastic packaging is light and so uses little resources.

Posted in eco | Leave a comment

music: 20 great Elvis Costello songs are the tip of the iceberg

American Songwriter has a long click-through article “The Top 50 Elvis Costello Songs of All Time.”

(promotional image? I can’t find a photographer or copyright)

It’s a hell of a list (actually only 20, they updated the h1 heading but not the title) by one if the greats. We own original releases of almost everything Elvis Costello has recorded, but the rarities in the list make a good case for buying all the bonus disc deluxe Rhino blahblah reissues as well. I agree with every inclusion author Jim Beviglia makes, and he picks the best songs from Trust ♥️ (that album was my gateway into major fandom after loving “Alison” and liking the early singles), but leaving out “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4”?!

Elvis is an elite member of the “run of five great albums” club, along with Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, … I don’t mind obscurity and one-hit wonders, but this level of quality will (often) out.

Posted in music | Leave a comment

computers: 18 years of ThinkPads

(from my series “lovingly preparing old electronics for reuse, only for them to be dumped in a pile of E-waste”)

ThinkPad 600E with BIOS error, ThinkPad T61 running Windows 10, ThinkPad T460 running Fedora KDE behind

IBM originally came up with the “ThinkPad” name for its pen-operated “slate” personal computer running the PenPoint operating system. That valiant attempt to replace clunky DOS/Windows with something better and familiar died, but the name stuck.

IBM ThinkPad laptops were known for the generally tough modular construction, the TrackPoint mouse nipple (the red dot between the ‘G’, ‘H’, and ‘B’ keys), and running all the connectors out so you would have full functionality from a docking station.

Mouse nipples!

The nipple still has its fans (I never learned all the things you could do with it and the three buttons below), but as humans have evolved to use their thumbs for typing and swiping, a touch-sensitive trackpad below the keyboard took over. You can see the T61 on the right added the touchpad and a second set of buttons below the Trackpoint buttons. I’m typing this on the 2016 T460 at the back, using an external mouse.

Docking maneuvers

IBM ran all the connecting wires for microphone, speakers, external display, serial port, parallel port, USB… everything to a connector under the laptop. Buy a docking station, connect all those to the docking station, then just drop the laptop in. You could also lock it to the docking station, making theft a lot more cumbersome. Nowadays almost every interface runs over USB so connection can be plugging in a single USB connector.

undersides of Thinkpad T460, Thinkpad 600E, and Thinkpad T61
less modularity, no more docking connector

1998 ThinkPad 600E

The 1998 600E is festooned with connectors: modem, external floppy drive, infra-red (!). Its one USB connector is behind a door. It doesn’t have built-in Ethernet (!), I had to plug in a big Xircom Ethernet adapter into its huge PCMCIA Card slot. Everything is modular and easily swappable, the hallmarks of an old-IBM design.

Thinkpad 600E underside with modular components
So modular, so swappable. PCMCIA Ethernet adapter, memory, CD-ROM drive, battery, hard drive
screen showing BIOS error and flappy bird cursor
flappy bird cursor!

It powered on, but as you can see in the first photo it encounters errors during POST. They could be due to its CMOS battery dying, but it’s just not worth tracking down. “POST” itself is a throwback, Power-On Self-Test. IBM’s mind-set influenced the PC industry, and that was to test as much as possible every time you turn on your computer. I don’t know whether today’s laptops perform any self-test at startup. Note the cursor, it’s a bird! As you move the cursor around, its wings flap up and down! Someone programmed that into its BIOS.

64 Megabytes of RAM. That was a vast amount, 512 times more than my original Macintosh. But it’s only 1/128 as much RAM as today’s 8GB laptop.

2007 ThinkPad T61

This was after the sale of IBM’s personal computer division to the Chinese computer maker Lenovo. I blogged about it when I ordered it. It’s still got a full-on docking connector, which I actually used on my hulking Herman Levity “knowledge athlete” sit-stand workstation:

Need to re-connect mouse,keyboard, Ethernet, display, microphone, speakers?
Just dock it!

This booted up fine! So I removed all my user data and blanked out the admin user password so I can give it away.

Recovery partition hell

This has a 160 GB hard drive, but only 110 GB was available!? I put a 25 GB partition at the back in case I wanted to run Linux, but what happened to the other 20 GB or so?

Microsoft let manufacturers put a hidden recovery partition on computers, so if you had problems the manufacturer could restore to the original OEM build. But manufacturers don’t add any value to Windows! They add a bloated manufacturer app that just calls out to Windows tools and Windows updates, and nags you to buy extended warranties and batteries, and in the case of Dell and HP the manufacturer installs nonsense third-party apps in exchange for $$$$ that slow your computer down. There was one of these OEM recovery partitions at the front of the drive, about 8 GB. However, if you ever use it, your computer is back to running the O.S. version at the time you bought it, despite years of updates. But Lenovo can continue to nag you to buy an extra battery!

Then, when I updated the laptop to Windows 10, Microsoft put its own hidden recovery partition, 560 MB, with a stripped-down Windows where you can attempt a reinstall and run a terminal.

I read up various instructions for how to copy the recovery partition and apply it elsewhere, requiring the typing of obscure command lines into Windows’ terrible CMD.EXE terminal (and people complain Linux makes you use a terminal). I copied Microsoft’s little recovery partition over the manufacturer’s one (still wasting 7 GB), and extended the Windows partition to the end of the disk.

Update heck

I had managed to update it to Windows 10, but there have been 4 half-yearly updates since then. Check for Updates reported them all, but instead of being able to update to the latest 21H1 update, Windows made me install 1909, then 2004 (dumb naming from Microsoft, this means 2020 April update, not a reversion to an earlier version of Windows), then 20H2 (second half of 2020), and finally 21H1. Each took hours of the disk whirring away at Preparing… Downloading… Installing, rebooting…, Installing… And for most of these Microsoft insisted on installing a separate .NET 4.0 update.

The other update craziness was the Lenovo Thinkvantage program required a 360 MB “Lenovo Foundation modules” software update… to sell bloody batteries.

Just give me an unrestricted up-to-date bootable Windows installer

All this work to extend the Windows partition and to update Windows is all completely stupid! I don’t want or need any of my own information on the disk because I’m giving away the laptop. I should have been able to boot Windows off a USB flash drive, then wipe the laptop’s hard drive and reinstall Windows on it. This is trivial with any Linux distribution; they’re all free, they want you to download and run the latest and greatest (go and grab Fedora right now!). But you can’t do this with Microsoft Windows. Even though I haven’t paid for Windows in a decade and there are several ways to get it for free, Microsoft doesn’t want anyone to be able to download Windows and run it anywhere on any PC, and wants to distinguish Windows 10 Home and “Pro.” If I wipe the hard drive I lose my Windows authorization key and Microsoft can’t be sure what version of Windows I had, so I have to carefully preserve a working Windows partition throughout, otherwise I have to phone Microsoft and prove I have a right to a Windows install. It’s ridiculous. And then to let users with problems get back to a working laptop, Microsoft and OEMs have to dedicate a portion of the hard drive to these out-of-date obsolete stripped-down Window recovery partitions that I can run in an emergency. A 4 GB USB flash drive costs less than $2, just give me one of those with full Windows 10 on it, or let me make my own, and dedicate the entire disk to Windows!

Update: it turns out you can create your own installation media for Windows 10! I don’t know why all the guides to moving around the recovery partition didn’t tell you not to bother. But if you boot from this you get the limited “Windows Recovery Environment”, not a full running copy of Windows, and you still have to somehow prove you’ve got a Windows Product Activation Key.

2016 T460

It’s sleek and light. The main innovation is its SSD (solid state drive) that replaced all the whirring. We’re so used to Windows starting quickly; it used to take a minute or way longer. The docking connector is gone; all peripherals bar an external display can connect over USB 3.0, so there’s little point; if connecting Ethernet and mouse is too much hassle, buy a USB hub and plug them into that. (And with USB C, even displays can share the USB hub, and it can double as your power supply.)

Posted in computers | Leave a comment

cars: Tesla Model S Plaid is a bargain at $131,000

Tesla Model S Plaid tearing down the dragstrip
Renz Dimaandal for Motor Trend

The Tesla Model S Plaid is crazy. Nitpicking fans are arguing over whether 0-60 in 2 seconds (!) is real because 1-foot rollout and special pavement blah blah, but Motor Trend managed to do it and found:

  • Faster projected quarter-mile than the LaFerrari ($1.4M)
  • “Its blistering 0-100-0-mph result was 8.2 seconds, besting the previous record holder, the McLaren Senna [also $1.4M], by 0.3 second.”
  • “Ironically, the breathtaking straight-line achievements distract from another monumental achievement: The Model S Plaid is quite simply the best Tesla yet. It doesn’t matter if you’re cruising down the highway, slogging through city traffic, or slicing down your favorite back road. The Model S Plaid delivers, no matter what you ask it to do. On the highway and around town, the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid is comfortable, quiet, and a delightful place to pass the miles.”

That combination is insane. Thousands of people who can afford a $1,000,000 sports car are going to buy a Plaid. Tens of thousands of people who can afford a $150,000 sports car or performance sedan are going to buy a Plaid. Supercar-collecting YouTuber Manny Khoshbin, who has five white Rolls Royces at home for day-to-day driving in addition to his exotic collection, accidentally ordered a second Plaid and kept the order. Why not, it’s cheaper than the custom luggage for his specially-customized Hermes edition “1 of 1” McLaren Speedtail. This is how the combustion age ends, from the top down (and from electric bicycles up).

Counterfactual world

I also notice from comments how so many people are deep into the illusion that the counterfactual ” ’d “, as in “I’d still get the Taycan/Nevera” or “I would never get one because of the funny steering yoke”, has real-world significance. When I was a kid I would participate: “I’d buy the Countach in gold over the Testarossa.” Now I actually have that kind of money, I spent it on a kitchen remodel 🤷🏻.

Posted in cars, eco | Leave a comment

cars: genuine excellence vs. milking the ultra-rich

zOMG, the 25th McLaren F1 built with only 242 miles on the clock, including the luggage, the watch, the magnesium toolkit, … 😍

Side view of the 25th McLaren F1 built
Photo by Mike Maez, © Gooding & Company


Back in 1995 McLaren built a jaw-dropping advance on any production car and most race cars for “only” $1M, and struggled to sell 106 of them over 9 years. Now McLaren, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bugatti all routinely announce “limited” editions of so-called hypercars you’ve never heard of, with worse performance for MORE MONEY, and all 100+ cars immediately sell out before production starts. The increased wealth of the ultra-rich over 25 years is astounding, and an entire section of the car industry has cynically evolved to extract money from them like milking cows 🐄. Tax wealth!

Classic is another word for old and out-of-date

Most cars depreciate, but there are still dozens of vintage car models worth many times more their original cost. This McLaren F1 with its gold foil in the engine compartment, central driving position, bespoke V12, and 241 mph top speed is almost priceless (this example will probably auction for over $15,000,000). But in general there’s objectively nothing that makes an old sports car with less tech and performance than a $100,000 Tesla Model S worth six figures. For now there are ever-increasing numbers of crazy rich people with money to burn who want to own the sports cars they lusted over in their youth. As multi-millionaires age out and newer ones lose interest in combustion engines, I’m not sure how long the million-dollar vintage car party will continue.

Even the coffee-table F1 book now costs 4 figures. What I really want is a reproduction of the black & white Ralph Lauren Purple Label ad that’s a closeup of his two F1s parked side-by-side.

Posted in cars | Leave a comment

software: I can’t share what I see

I’ve now found two visuals that utterly defeat Google’s Android Camera AI: dim saturated orange sky at midday due to particulates high in the atmosphere from distant fires, and a lunar eclipse. Right now the Super Blood Flower Lunar Eclipse Chevrolet Moon is a beautiful thin crescent of white on the rim of a very dark slightly orange disc, but not according to Google 🙁, it knows the Moon is an off-white orb. I can’t get a picture of what I see!

Posted in software | Leave a comment

books: good non-fiction

Some non-fiction books that I read on paper. I sometimes wish this stuff was more interactive, even beyond a Kindle. I want to read words (15-minute YouTube videos entertain more than instruct!) and have easier access to the particular things referenced. Maybe people will read physical books wearing Google Glass spectacles.

Compelling argument to give Nick Bostrom’s institute money to study the dangers of AGI

book cover of 'Superintelligence'

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
ISBN 978-0-19-967811-2

★★★★☆ Dry yet readable explanation how we can’t understand or control an intelligence greater than ours, so we must figure out how to instill goals in it that are good for humankind (i.e. “donate to my Future of Humanity Institute”). The problem is real if far-off, and it looks like the first Artificial General Intelligence will have the goals of a sociopathic billionaire like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg.

Engaging travelogue and history guide to San Francisco

book cover of 'Cool Gray City of Love'

Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya
ISBN 978-1-60819-960-0

★★★☆☆ A clever way to present interesting details about the history, natural history, and built form of the city. It’s not a guidebook but it makes you want to visit the locations.

Unfocused rumination on alien-ness

book cover of 'Other Minds'

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
ISBN 978-0-374-22776-0

★★★☆☆ Interesting sensitive description of octopi and how different they are, but it doesn’t attempt to answer the hard questions about the nature of mind.

Weak book about an excellent project

book cover of 'The Vinyl Frontier'

The Vinyl Frontier: The story of the Voyager golden record by Jonathan Scott
ISBN 978-1-4729-5613-2

★★☆☆☆ The design, production, and curation of the audiovisual album stuck on the side of the Voyager probes is interesting, but this book quotes so heavily from the existing book written by Carl Sagan and other the participants (“Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record) that I wonder how much it adds. It feels like an extended magazine article, and it turns out the author writes for Record Collector Magazine. Also, it has five typos!

Intriguing mad scientist designs

book cover of 'The Inventions of Daedalus'

The Inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes by David E. H. Jones
ISBN 0-7167-1413-2

★★★☆☆ Collection of the quasi-scientific imaginary inventions presented in New Scientist in the 1970s. Some are dated, but they still make you think.

How did I do this?

This blog post has bits of JSON-LD describing my book review that in theory tell search engines what I’m explaining; a script generates them along with the visible templated HTML that I paste into WordPress. The post “book reviews yet again” has the gory details.

Posted in books | Leave a comment

design: buttons barred, suit yourself

When I had Perry’s of Bangkok tailor a suit for me (in a very different time and place!), I knew I didn’t want that anachronistic row of buttons on the jacket sleeves. They used to work: I had a science teacher who would unbutton all 6 before rolling up his jacket sleeves, and the legendary suit that I found on the street when I was a roadsweeper (which deserves its own blog post) also had working buttons. But on nearly all suits today they don’t do anything beyond cheaply echoing the pips on military jackets that denote rank (read interesting details of “surgeon’s cuffs”).

The name is ‘P’. ‘SP’.

So instead I specified crisp equally non-functional gold bars in place of those buttons, and had Rama Jewelry in Thailand fabricate them with the simplest iteration of the ‘SP’ logo design by my imaginary company Slerge Design Industries (also deserving of a blog post). I also had Rama make some ‘SP’ cufflinks. I liked octagons at the time; Rama designed the cufflinks a little flashier than I envisioned but overall they came out really nice.

For the full brushed metal with gold accents design suite, I had a Seiko analog watch with high-tech display (it’s hard to believe that tiny monochrome strip was the biggest LCD screen anyone could fabricate), and a Montblanc Noblesse fountain pen (so much nicer than the groß Meisterstück fountain pen that later became popular). I also bought a knock-off of the Cartier Santos Decor lighter, then realized a) cigars taste awful, and b) I don’t want to light anyone’s cigarette.

(Thanks to Fred for modeling.)

Posted in design | Leave a comment