excess: own something owned by someone famous, for crazy money

Nile Rodgers is auctioning a bunch of guitars. I don’t think he’s selling his famous white Fender Stratocaster “the Hitmaker,” which I couldn’t afford anyway. It reminded me that I meant to blog about David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd’s) record-breaking guitar auction.

Obviously “The Black Strat” he played on their hit albums and on tour was going to go for $$$$$$$, and it did for $3.975M!!). But even utter non-entities like an Ovation 12-string acoustic bought from the factory along with several other models, that he never composed on, never recorded, never played on tour, estimated to sell for $1,500 tops, sold for $93,750! You can buy the same guitar from a nobody for $750, tell friends it sat in a cupboard in David Gilmour’s home, and donate the $93,000 you saved to your own charity of choice. There are enough wealthy geezer fans who want a conversation piece on the wall for prices to be ridiculous. Meanwhile there are local guitar makers who will make a beautiful handmade thing to your own specifications for 1/10th the cost.

David Gilmour's "The Black Strat"
the iconic instrument of a great musician
a generic Ovation Pacemaker
an instrument a great musician left in a cupboard

“Something owned by a famous person of whom I’m a fan” doesn’t appeal much. I’d be as happy with a signed Scritti Politti record sleeve of the greatest B-side ever.

The rise and fall of Ovation

tough as nails on the back and sides

Back when I fantasized about having musical talent beyond rote skill, I bought an Ovation Folklore. I had damaged my classical guitar, so a guitar with nigh indestructible fiberglass back and sides appealed, and the sound projection of the resulting bowl shape was extraordinary. In the 1960s and 1970s this space-age reinvention (literally, founder Charles Kaman worked in aerospace and developed helicopters) was very popular. Glen Campbell made Ovation guitars famous, then Ovation over-expanded into oddball electric guitars, supplying them to the TV show “The Partridge Family.” The show made teen heartthrob David Cassidy famous, and destroyed any street cred that Ovation had.

cover art of Adrian Legg's "high strung tall tales" album showing his custom Adamas
“High Strung Suite” is great, like the guitar. Photo by Jeff Sacks, © 1994 (probably) Relativity Records

Ovation later rethought the front of the guitar, coming up with the gorgeous Adamas with sound holes in the upper bout, instead of a gaping hole under the strings that requires lots of bracing to avoid the guitar self-destructing. The wonderfully talented Adrian Legg played one. But tastes have shifted back to authenticity and “naturalness,” plus as I understand it guitar makers have figured out how to get as much projection from conventional all-wood guitars, and Ovation is a shadow of its former self. A nice history.

Here’s Adrian playing “Cajun Interlude” off Guitars and Other Cathedrals on his Ovation Adamas.

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eco: YouTuber hypes Plasma Kinetics hydrogen nonsense

Hydrogen, the clean fuel of the future (as long as you ignore the problems of making it cleanly, distributing it, and storing it, and its inevitably worse efficiency than electrifying all the things) keeps getting hyped by people who choose not to know better. The latest credulous nonsense is YouTuber “Undecided with Matt Ferrell” thoughtlessly parroting the claims of Plasma Kinetics in Energy Storage Breakthrough – Solid Hydrogen Explained. This company has a poor computer rendering of a cartridge containing a tape that can absorb lots of hydrogen and then release the hydrogen when it’s unspooled past a laser. It’s like LaserVision meets 8-track cartridges (two failed media formats, kids).

Here’s my comment (this link may work to view it in context on YouTube, where the timestamps should jump to the right part of the video).

What an utter garbage dumpster fire of a video. The nonsense starts in the first seconds with “Being clean and abundant, green hydrogen…” Green hydrogen is almost non-existent! “As of 2020, the most common source for global hydrogen production was methane via steam-reforming [i.e. dirty unnatural gas with massive CO2 emissions], with renewable electrolysis only accounting for 0.3 percent” [source]. That’s why fossil fuel companies and their shills promote new uses for hydrogen, because it means DECADES of increased demand for their dirty product. We definitely need to switch the 70 Mt of dirty hydrogen that industry already uses annually to green hydrogen, but that will take 400 GW of electrolyzers if they run 24 hours a day, requiring 1 Terawatt of dedicated renewables and storage.

You mention the grim reality of today’s high-carbon hydrogen production at 6:55, suggesting that “Plasma Kinetics zero-carbon capture could have a massive environmental benefit.” But there’s no connection. The only way to get a stream of hydrogen for their film cartridges to absorb is… to make hydrogen. 3:54 “The device could extract metric tons per day of 99.99% pure hydrogen directly from smokestacks” is, haha, a nonsensical smokescreen. There’s minimal hydrogen in what comes out of a smokestack, but there’s a crapton of CO2 in it.

Hydrogen storage is a challenge and worth addressing for air and land transportation and long-duration energy storage. But Matt Ferrell, you utterly failed to do any kind of critical reporting on this “breakthrough.” At a bare minimum, you should have contacted manufactures of hydrogen storage equipment – tanks, pressure vessels, compressors – and asked for their take, instead of parroting the company’s highly optimistic claims. And they aren’t that impressive. 9:03 “by loading their containers on a single ship, they can safely move 20,000 tons of hydrogen”. Oh wow, cool! But Kawasaki has built the Suiso Frontier H2 transport ship that it claims carries 1,250 m^3 of liquid hydrogen. That’s… 87,000 tonnes, four times more. Anyone who thinks shipping hundreds of thousands of 8-track cartridges will be cheaper than filling a liquid hydrogen tanker is a fool.

The obvious problem with this is power density. Look at the stupidity of the animation at 9:00. There’s one open tray containing 4 cartridges among 120 more trays. Presumably some robotic tape loader crams the 8-track into the 8-track player that shines light on it. (Does this sound cheaper than a large pressurized container? but anyway…) But how much hydrogen per second, and thus power does the player produce? Matt Ferrell, nowhere does your awful video give a figure for this. The idea that unspooling a thin tape can produce gobs of hydrogen strains credulity. I suspect to power a truck you’ll need dozens of the players feeding hydrogen into its fuel cell.

And here’s the next problem, the economics of it. The claimed cost reductions for H2 storage undoubtedly hinge on reusing the tape and cartridge 150 times, amortizing the high cost of the cartridges and the tape player. Well, we’ll see! But even accepting that projection, how much does it cost to send the cartridges back to Plasma Kinetics for a top-up? How much will this elaborate robotic videocassette rewinding factory-cum-green hydrogen facility cost per kg of hydrogen going out the door?

Pretty damn shameful, Mr. Ferrell.

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eco: let me de-junk my order!

When you order stuff, you get unwanted crap. Why send me stuff that costs a non-zero amount that I’m immediately going to throw away or struggle to recycle!?

  • order food for takeout or delivery, you get sauce packets, chopsticks, plastic utensils, napkins. I usually don’t want any of this.
  • order electronics, you get another unwanted USB charger
  • order other goods, you get unwanted stickers, storage bags, assembly tools, etc.
  • donate money, you get unwanted bumper stickers, tote bags, Christmas cards, calendars, etc.

A lot of this is cheap goodwill: the customer might want this stuff, so provide it for free. But the real goodwill ensues from giving customers a choice, and I hate companies that send me stuff I didn’t request. Let me uncheck all these items when I order!

It’s a no-brainer for restaurants that assemble each order, though the staff tend to be on autopilot and often include napkins and utensils even if I specifically and repeatedly tell them to leave them out.

It’s harder for companies that obsess over having a minimal number of SKUs (stock-keeping units) that end up on the shelf of a reseller such as Amazon; they want to default to having a single box that gets shipped out. But we have robots! It must be possible to pre-assemble, and eventually assemble on the fly, the add-ons that most people don’t want.

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music: The Sundays trounce Joni Mitchell

You dance with the lady with the hole in her stocking
Didn’t it feel good?
‒ Joni Mitchell

Oh, you see me in a cardigan
In a dress, dress, dress that I’ve been sick on
Oh, how are you?
Can’t say I really care at the end of it all
‒ The Sundays

Harriet Wheeler by a knockout! 🏆

Harriet Wheeler’s brutal self-awareness, hard-won from recollecting key youthful experiences (“It’s the memories of the shed that make me turn red,” “I won the war in the sitting room… but it cost me,” “Call it young and wild But I ran a mile in a minute and there’s no going back”), is more interesting, though more elusive, than Joni Mitchell mining her emotional states.

Today I learned from Genius that Joni was probably riffing on “Dance with the Dolly with the Hole in her Stocking” by the Andrews Sisters.

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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.

Alan Tarney’s first big hit was 1979’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” that he wrote for Cliff Richard. It’s OK and melodic, but nothing special, maybe because he didn’t produce it. I assume that big hit let him produce his songs. 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.

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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 reallydoesn’tmatter 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 he sings “at length”… at length, 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’s 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. 🎤😙🕺🏻❣️

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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 supercar are going to buy a 5-seat, practical, better tech Plaid instead, or at least in addition. 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 🤷🏻.

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