Monday, July 09, 2018

Miami Story

Originally in life, I was going to be a jazz musician.

My sister started piano lessons when I was in 3rd grade. At the same time, my mother bought an encyclopedia from the grocery store, one volume at a time. When I got to the article on music, it laid out the basics of how to read music. That, combined with my sister's piano books, taught me the basics.

Around that time, the Lubbock S&H Green Stamps store shut down. My parents had been collecting them for years, so my dad went to the closing. He came back with a guitar.

All four of us tried it out. My sister's hands were too small, and she was much more interested in singing, anyway. My mother hated having callouses on her fingertips. My dad and I started figuring it out, however.

Dad was a natural. He picked it up, and within weeks, he was playing 50s and 60s rock and roll songs. For years, he and my mother would jam after dinner, having a cigarette, almost every night.

I was still young, so I was slower. I like guitar, but it was pretty hard.

Around that time, my uncle, who was an Eastman degree holder, ex-band director, and a computer programmer, gave me a book on music harmony for Christmas. I kind of looked at it; after all, I was 10.

I started playing saxophone at 12 in 6th grade. In 7th grade, at Lanier Jr. High in Houston, I was put into a jazz band, knowing nothing about jazz. The director taught us well; I got hooked on jazz. One day, he taught us the blues scale. I took home my horn and noodled around, and this great lick came out of my horn. (To this day, I wish I remembered it!). Right then, I decided I wanted to be a jazz musician when I grew up. Discovered bari sax in 8th grade, and have been playing it ever since.

I also got much more serious about that harmony book; I worked all of the way through it. Once I realized that you did not have to hear what you were writing, the exercises were easy. Hearing the music would have to come later.

I attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston for 10th grade. The first day of classes, I went to a class called "Music Theory". That day, they explained what treble and bass clef were, and where all of the notes on the staff were ("Every Good Boy Does Fine"). I was incredulous.

Afterwards, I went to the instructor and asked what was being taught in that course. He explained that we would learn intervals, triads, voice leading, major and minor chords, and dominant sevenths.

This was harmony, except that the modern term apparently was "theory". I told him I already knew this stuff. He then told me to hang on, and we went back to his office. He wrote out an 8-bar figured bass exercise, and told me to go voice lead the exercise, and bring it back a couple of days later.

Which is how I ended up as a sophomore in a class full of juniors for Theory II. My senior year at HSPVA they did not offer Theory III. I really wish that they had.

I got an academic scholarship, and a music scholarship to the University of Miami in Florida. Not quite all of the tuition was covered, but about 2/3's was. The first week, they gave me a music theory placement test. They put me in Theory II, where the first day, we went over voice leading dominant sevenths.

This was a big step backwards for me, so I asked the instructor why I was in that course. He said that I did not do well on the placement test. I asked him to show me, as I found that hard to believe.

He, and the head of the department, looked at my exam. And I saw the problem immediately. In music theory, you label chords with numbers, depending on where in the scale the root is. But you use Roman numerals. And you use CAPITAL letters for major, and small letters for minor. So far so good. So, V is a major chord starting on the 5th scale degree, and v is a minor chord starting on the 5th scale degree.

These people put bars across the top and bottom of their capital Roman numerals. I just used capital letters. They graded my test assuming I did not know the difference between major and minor.

The head of the department, Dr. Kam, told me to wait a few minutes. He came back out and said,

"We are putting you in Theory III".

I said, "Really? What did I not know?"

He said, "You missed Neopolitan Seconds, and Augmented Sixth Chords."

I said, "If you give me 24 hours, could I take the test again? I am sure I could learn them tonight."

He laughed, and said, "No. I want you to really learn them, not just memorize them for a placement test."

He didn't know me very well.

He taught my Theory III class. At least he was interesting; I slept through most of the class, doing the homework in the class room while everybody was gathering before the class started.

I then took his Theory IV class, 20th Century Music. And here is where the fun began. I loved it. I also got to know him pretty well. The class was a blast.

Midway through the semester, he asked the class for help. The Miami Theory Department was putting on a Contemporary Music Festival for an entire weekend. All kinds of strange stuff was being performed.

I only performed on saxophone twice at Miami because I did not make a jazz band. I practiced a bunch! I played bass and contrabass clarinet in Wind Ensemble, and played piccolo and alto flute on several recording sessions, and a couple of master's recitals. The first time I played sax, I read in the pit for Ain't Misbehaving. It was fun; the entire cast was black, of course, but the entire band was white and in the shadows.

The second time was in the Contemporary Music Festival. We had one performance piece in the music quad that consisted of four of us wearing Walkmans and headphones, improvising to chord changes that only we could hear.

The festival opened with atonal trumpet fanfares from the rooftops of the 360 dorm towers (somewhere around 12 stories tall), and went from there.

In the leadup to this festival, Dr. Kam surprised our theory class with a guest, the avant-guard composer John Cage. He was in town as a featured clinician for the festival. He came to the back of the class and sat down with us jazzers.

He was 69 years old. Near the end of the class, he turned around to the four of us hanging out in the back, and said, "You guys play jazz, right? I can tell."

We all nodded. He continued,

"You guys want to go out to the Everglades and get some mushrooms? I know a place that has really good ones. But I need a car."

I was as straight-laced about these things then as I am now, and bowed out, but the other three enthusiastically said yes.

I went through all of this to say that at least two of the guys who took John Cage out and got stoned ended up in the Miami Sound Machine a couple of years later, and at least one of them is in this video:




Sunday, July 08, 2018

Loma Prieta Memories

I know that this is not an anniversary, or anything. But I was asked to post this story on Facebook, so I decided to blog about it, and then post a link.

In the fall of 1989, I had been in California for a little over a year. My buddies from Rice and StyleWare who worked at Claris usually went on a CD run about once a month, and then dinner afterwards. Our favorite place, though certainly not the only one, was Tower Records. Not sure what city it was in, actually. Mountain View, Los Altos, and Palo Alto all had borders around there. It was at the corner of El Camino Real and San Antonio Rd, caddy-corner from Chef Chu's (yum!) and Armadillo Willy's (meh).

One fine afternoon, we decided to go on a run, and try to beat the traffic by leaving Claris right at 5:00. I already decided not to watch the World Series; neither of the teams (Giants and As) were my team, and the Astros had been in a pennant race with the Giants in 1989, and lost out. World Series games are too early on the West Coast.

I drove, and my two buds rode along. I put a cassette into my car stereo, and off we went.

We were driving on Old Mountain View-Alviso Road, which runs parallel to CA-237, at that point, almost a freeway (still had traffic lights but was freeway speed). At the Santa Clara-Sunnyvale border, there is a bridge over a creek. Right before that bridge, the car hit something like a log, followed almost immediately like another impact. But I did not see anything on the road.

I stopped the car, but it was rocking in all directions. It was an earthquake. It went on quite a while. The cars on the highway were not aware of it, but the street lights were all swaying.

The rocking (it was not shaking) stopped after a while. We looked at each other, shrugged, and kept going. "There are lots of earthquakes here, right?" "Right."

Came around the corner to the fire station, and they were lining up the trucks at the end of the driveway by the street. Then we noticed that the traffic lights had no power.

Growing up in Houston, the safest place to drive when there was no power was the freeway, since the intersections did not rely on lights. So we got on 237, exited 101, and then exited San Antonio, going towards El Camino Real.

About halfway to El Camino, at Central, the traffic started. None of the traffic lights had power. By now, it was about 5:20, and people were leaving to go home.

We were almost to El Camino when an aftershock hit. We got to the parking lot, and it was full of people milling around. Some of the windows at Tower were shattered. The light at San Antonio and El Camino was off. This is when we got scared.

I switched to FM radio, and there was only one station on the air, KSJO. The DJ said "Whoa! Another one! We are riding the waves here, the ground waves!"

The other drive-time host said, "Whoa! Look at the TV! The Bay Bridge is broken!"

"Be careful out there! And here is a surfing song for those ground waves!" and proceeded to start playing Surfing Safari.

We turned left onto El Camino and discussed our options. We were now afraid of bridges and overpasses. None of us had any food at home (we were all bachelors). The car had maybe 1/8 tank of gas. I had $4 and credit cards. I was now starting to worry about getting home to Milpitas.

We did notice that about every mile, there was power at that intersection with El Camino Real. When we got to Grant Road, there was a gas station with power. I spent my last $4 and got the tank up to almost half (gas was cheaper then!) It was getting very dark by now.

We then proceeded to go down El Camino Real some more. The plan was to go down to Bowers, and head up to Claris that way. At Remington/Fair Oaks, there was an open restaurant! Spoons! Not the best food, but it was edible, and had power. We stopped and got a table. They took credit cards! Ate a big big meal.

When we left, there was a 3 hour wait. The motorcycle store next door had a big line where they were selling generators.

Finally got back to Claris about 8:00 PM. We went in the front door. The security guard and one of the admins were manning the front desk. They checked out names off of a list, but told us we could not go any further. There was cosmetic damage, and the building was being inspected.

So we tried to go home. I had to go home on 237; it was really the only viable route, and I did not know any others yet anyway.

It was a parking lot. And, it still had traffic lights. At just about every single light, there was a major accident. It was a harrowing hour and a half for a 15 minute drive. Getting past where it intersected with 880 took a LONG time.

I drove up to the house in Milpitas, and my roommate was wondering the dark streets with a guitar, singing. We went into our dark house, and realized something. Both of us had waterbeds. Waterbeds had to be heated, or the sleeper risked hypothermia. We had no power...

I fished out my emergency transistor radio and discovered KCBS AM, where I caught up with everything that was known up to that point (the Bay Bridge break; the Cypress collapse; the Marina District burning; the cancellation of the World Series game; all of the bridges were closed). And that there was looting.

I can't believe we were worried; we were 50 miles from San Fransisco. Nonetheless, we slept on the living room floor with baseball bats next to us.

At 2:00, the lights came on for 5 seconds. At 4:00 AM, they came on for good.

We got up at 7:00, and looked around the house. All of the bookcases up stairs had fallen over, and our study was a mess. Other than that, we had no other damage.

Claris was open that day, but we did not have hot food, since their water supply had not been cleared.

A couple of side stories:

Our house in Milpitas had frequent power outages until they got the power back on that night; the transformers were all old, and evidently one would fail after fixing another until they were all replaced. A few weeks before the quake, I had a date with a woman. We were to go on a Hornblower bay cruise. I was to pick her up at 1:00 PM. That morning I was washing clothes, and the power went out, so I did not have anything nice to wear. I wore a sweatshirt and jeans. She was visibly disappointed...

Anyway, after the quake hit, her phone lines did not work for 2-3 weeks. Once I did get in touch with her, she had started dating somebody else.

Unlikely she would have continued to date me much longer anyway, but I blame Loma Prieta for that failed relationship!

One more:

My father decided that October to take a train vacation. He rode the train from Houston to Chicago, and then went west to Seattle. His plan was to ride down to San Jose, spend a few days, then get back on the train to LA, and then Houston.

He was in Seattle when the quake hit. He got in touch with me a couple of days later. Asked me if I knew if Amtrak was running. I had no idea. He called back a couple of hours later and said that Amtrak said that they were running.

I met him at the San Jose train station on Saturday after the Tuesday quake. He looked white as a sheet. The color started coming back to his face as he looked around, and grinned ear-to-ear when he saw me. Hugged me real hard.

"You looked like you had seen a ghost when you got off the train," I told him.

"Well, the train stopped in Oakland, and the station was in ruins except for our platform, and the collapsed highway was visible from the windows of the train. You don't know how happy I am to see you, here, with everything safe!"


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Today, I figured I would take it easy since I knew I was going to the Blue Note Tokyo to hear some jazz. Besides it was raining, and did not feel like fighting the elements and being a foreigner all at the same time. I ate breakfast at the buffet, spent time reading a book in the lobby, did some writing, and took a nap.

When it was time to go to the club, I decided rather than walk and take a bus (which is what Apple Maps recommended), I would take a taxi. 10 minute drive.

I think that this was a really good choice. I stayed dry. It cost me about $20. Totally worth it.

The Blue Note Tokyo is a real jazz club in a real city. I miss that ever since moving to Austin. The Bay Area has Yoshi's (two clubs), and I really miss it.

There are some really good acts scheduled for the club this summer. I just missed Eliane Elias. Mike Stern is coming next week. Tower of Power will be here later this summer. There are some acts on the bill I have never heard of, but the excerpts of them they played on the video screen sounded great.
Tonight's act was Maceo Parker's Ray Charles Orchestra. I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn't Maceo Parker doing a Ray Charles tribute with local musicians filling out the big band. He even put on dark glasses when he sang! I found that a bit cheesy. The music director evidently used to work with Charles, but I did not catch his name.
The band was great. and filled with local players. If I do come to spend some extended time here in Tokyo, I need to bring my horn. It would be fun to play with these cats. They are good. Some are quite a bit better than I am; most are at my level. The lead trumpet player, who also evidently was the contractor, was absolutely awesome. The bari player was the only Western fellow in the band. He was pretty good, but I did not feel outclassed.
The woman next to me knew most of the band, and had a really good time. She and I were grooving to the music, and I wish we could have danced! We had a really good time.
The food was good. The music was good. The club itself was awesome. I miss having a real club in Austin. Haven't been to Parker's yet; maybe it's this good.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Unfettered weekend in Tokyo

I am in Tokyo as part of a work trip. That is going well, and I am happy to be here.

I am fortunate enough to be able to stay over a weekend, so today I decided to do something I have always wanted to do: go to a Japanese baseball game.

There are at least two teams in Nippon Professional Baseball located in Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Both of them were in town today. The Giants are the equivalent of the New York Yankees in popularity and success. Japan's biggest star, Sadaharu Oh, played for them. Surprise, surprise, they were sold out.

That left the Swallows. Turns out, they were sold out as well. I went online to try to get tickets, and the only website in English that I found had no tickets available.

I then remembered that I am in a great Western hotel (the Westin Tokyo), and they had a concierge! The concierge helped me get a ticket. He used some reseller website in Japanese. The confirmation got sent to my Inbox, but it's all in Japanese. He told me to go to the 7-11 around the corner and they would print the ticket for me. He even called ahead so that they would know what to do in case they spoke little English. The 7-11 is just across this little bridge (called the "American Bridge") which runs over the train lines. I got the ticket, and then braved said trains to get to the ball park.

From here, you walk to the Ebisu Station, and take the Yamamote line to Shibuya, where you have to change trains to the Tokyo Metro. Took me 15 or 20 minutes to figure out how to do that, and then 5 minutes more to put more money on my train card.

Meiji Jingu Stadium


The stadium (Jingu Stadium) is two stops away from Shibuya. And then it is about a 15 minute walk.

It was crowded. My seat was down the left field line, next to the foul pole.

Home plate is over there somewhere

So, the seat wasn't the best. Plus, it had no back:



Not ideal, but hey, I was at a Japanese baseball game. The Swallows were hosting the Orix Buffaloes. I was sitting in the Orix section.

In Japan, each team has a serious rooting section. They have drums and trumpets. When their team is at bat, they have custom songs they sing for each player. This goes on the entire game. It reminded me of two things: college football student sections, and the Moneyball Oakland A's drummers and bleacher creatures, who came up with custom songs for each player (The Tejada Mambo was my favorite!)

There were two players I had seen the major leagues, Nori Aoki, and Wladimir Balentien. Aoki had a successful MLB career, but was just terrible for three teams in 2017, and did not get an offer in the US for 2018, so he came home. Balentien is a failed power-hitting prospect. Never put it together in 4 seasons in the US, and has been in Japan for 9 years now.

The Swallows fans had umbrellas that they would put up and shake up and down and twirl. It was great fun.

I tried to score the game. I use the Project Scoresheet/Retrosheet scoring system. It's complex, and I have several additional notations I use. However, it's been a long time, and I was rusty. My pen wasn't behaving. And then, there is the difficulty of being in Japan.

Orix's team was only ever announced on the scoreboard in Japanese. Even the non-Japanese players had their names spelled in katakana, which is not helpful for me. They did display the positions by number (1 = pitcher, 2= catcher, etc), but they did not include uniform numbers.

The home team's starting lineup had little posed video clips of everybody, with their names on the back visible, and then superimposed titles with the names in Japanese and English. If you missed the starting lineup, you were out of luck.

None of the relief pitchers ever had their names displayed on the scoreboard. The pinch-hitter for Yakult did, but not the pinch runner. And they were all way too far away to read their names on the back of their jerseys. I could make out the numbers of the right-handed batters, and the relief pitchers for Orix. Given that I could understand at least some of the names in the songs, and that the Orix fans were all wearing jerseys with their favorite players names and numbers on them, I did managed to get 3 or 4 names. And the numbers of the relief pitchers. For Orix. Oh, boy.

And there is no designated hitter in this league. Pitchers hit.

Scoresheet is a big mess. I'll keep it to laugh over the years.

The game itself was like watching a game in the mid-80s. There were steals, sacrifice bunts, and hit-and-run plays. There was lots of scoring early, so both starting pitchers left early. Both middle relievers got to bat; one of them more than once. The manager of the Swallows screwed up a double switch late, but it did not really hurt him, as the Swallows won 7-3.

The crowd with me in it then made its way back to the train station. All of the little street food vendors that had been out when I was going to the game were gone. So my plan was to go to Shibuya, and find something to eat around that neighborhood.

When I got there and popped up, I walked around, and realized I was overwhelmed. I was hot, and it was amazingly crowded. I really started to not want to eat strange food, and find some place quiet. I bailed on Shibuya, and went back to Ebisu and went to the McDonalds. That was nowhere near as crowded as Shibuya, but it was still pretty crowded and noisy. Finally, I walked back to the hotel.

Sibuya at night. It was way more crowded this afternoon.


On the way, there was a food truck park next to the open air market in Ebisu Garden Place that had a gelato stand. I had a lemon/coconut/lavender gelato. It was pretty strange, but mostly refreshing. I finally got back to the hotel and collapsed, cooling off before taking a bath.

The open-air market at Ebisu Garden Place, just in front of the building where my work is


Traveling is hard, but rewarding. Tomorrow, Blue Note Tokyo.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hard drive woes - happy ending

So, a couple of weeks ago, the 6 TB LaCie drive that I had my Plex library and my digitized cassettes of all of my school recordings died. I contacted LaCie/Seagate, and it turns out that the drive had three weeks left on its warranty. I had them send it to Bowling Green where we are spending the New Year with Jade's mother. I took my giant Time Machine backup drive, a 4x3 TB RAID 1 array from Other World Computing, with us to restore.

Once I got the new drive, it was tricky to figure out how to restore the data. It's not a boot drive, and all of the instructions for Time Machine say that you have to restore the system. Turns out the Time Machine backup is not actually restoreable as a system, for whatever reason. Does not show up in Migration Assistant. :(

I did find out that you can boot off of a Time Machine backup as a recovery partition, which is really quite handy if you have to install to a brand new drive in your machine. But I was still unable to restore a complete system.

I tried installing a new version of MacOS on the new drive, and then using Migration Assistant to restore from; same problem.

Was wondering if I was going to have to order a drive from BackBlaze, my iCloud backup. That would mean several more days lost, and given that we are traveling back to Texas soon, I was getting really frustrated.

I then looked at the file system of the Time Machine backup again. At the top level of the drive is a folder called "Backups.backupdb".






If you open this folder, you will see another folder for each computer that has backed up to this Time Machine backup:





If you open the correct machine folder, you get a list of backups.





The key is that last entry, "Latest". When you open that, you see your complete file system, organized by volume/drive.



Notice that the title of the folder is the date and time of the last backup, and indeed, matches the last entry before "Latest" in the list. "Latest" is what is called a "symbolic link". Basically, on the hard drive, it's a special file that points to another file. It is a symbolic link, because the file system sees it as a file at its lowest level. If you remove the symbolic link, the file/folder it points to sticks around.

The contents of the folder, however, are a combinations of files/folders, and what is called "hard links".

Each version of every file you own and have ever backed up to Time Machine is uniquely stored in your Time Machine backup the first time Time Machine sees it. Every time Time Machine backs up your drive, however, if it sees that your file has not changed, it creates a "hard link" to it. This kind of link creates multiple references to the same file. If you remove the file or a hard link to it, they all go away.

The upshot is that every single folder in that list represents the full contents of your file system as of the time the backup was taken.

OK, so once I remembered that, I did the following:


  • Reformatted the new drive. Don't need a bootable system on it.
  • Opened Terminal.
  • Typed the following UNIX commands:
mkdir -p /Volumes/Bari/Users/
rsync --progress --partial -av /Volumes/Beethoven/Backups.backupdb/Syd\'s\ iMac/Latest/Bari/Users/jazzman /Volumes/Bari/Users/


Let's break that down.

"mkdir" is the Unix command for making folders (which in Unix are called "directories"). Adding "-p" to that command tells Unix to make all of the folders containing the final folder. "/Volumes/Bari" is the path to the drive I just formatted. This command then made "/Volumes/Bari/Users". The "-p" was not strictly necessary here.

"rsync" is the Unix utility which detects when files are newer and older than each other and copies them around. It's a poor man's Time Machine. Here are the options:


  • "--progress" tells rsync to tell me what it's doing. It just sits there otherwise, and with a restore as long as this, it really helps psychologically to see something happening besides the blinky lights on the disks.
  • "--partial" tells rsync that if this is interrupted for some reason (I stop it, power outage, etc.), to pick up where it left off. Since many of these files are large video files, losing all progress on a big file would cost a lot of time.
  • "-av" tells rsync to use "archive mode" and to be "verbose". I would suggest you look up rsync via its man page or via Google to dig into the details of archive mode, but basically, it's copy all newer files, treating folders and links correctly. "verbose" means I want to see output. "--progress" also gives me a count of files left, and shows other stats while the copy is going.
  • "/Volumes/Beethoven/Backups.backupdb/Syd\'s\ iMac/Latest/Bari/Users/jazzman" is the path I want to restore from. I have to quote the apostrophe and spaces in the path with backslashes because Unix command-line utilities treat those characters differently.
  • "/Volumes/Bari/Users/" is the destination path. The "jazzman" folder listed above will be synced inside of this folder.
So, I set this going:

[syd@macsyd ~]$ rsync --progress --partial -av /Volumes/Beethoven/Backups.backupdb/Syd\'s\ iMac/Latest/Bari/Users/jazzman /Volumes/Bari/Users/
building file list ...
595775 files to consider
jazzman/
jazzman/Desktop/
jazzman/ISOs/
 

...

jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/logs/refs/heads/master
         175 100%    0.85kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505969, to-check=15/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/logs/refs/remotes/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/logs/refs/remotes/origin/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/logs/refs/remotes/origin/HEAD
         175 100%    0.85kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505970, to-check=12/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/objects/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/objects/info/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/objects/pack/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/objects/pack/pack-4c25d7ded28170de85a7e5179cf1f2964004290a.idx
        2836 100%   13.71kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505971, to-check=8/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/objects/pack/pack-4c25d7ded28170de85a7e5179cf1f2964004290a.pack
      187147 100%  887.19kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505972, to-check=7/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/heads/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/heads/master
          41 100%    0.19kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505973, to-check=4/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/remotes/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/remotes/origin/
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/remotes/origin/HEAD
          32 100%    0.15kB/s    0:00:00 (xfer#505974, to-check=1/595775)
jazzman/dev/sydvicious/trip/.git/refs/tags/

sent 2601869494866 bytes  received 11436104 bytes  42318360.71 bytes/sec
total size is 3644059082442  speedup is 1.40

 

I actually had to invoke this three times and stop the first two for various reasons. However, it did complete. It took 36 hours to restore 3.6 TB of data, but it's all there. When I get home, I can hook this back up to my iMac, and everything will be normal.

However, that Time Machine backup can't restore my system. That is worrisome, so I am going to have to nuke it and start over, let the backup finish several days later, and then see if I can restore a system with it. Nothing like having to perform a restore to find the problems with your backups.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Time for my annual baseball post-season history blast

I am fascinated by long-term success of baseball franchises. The fact that some teams go for decades without winning the championship is perplexing. Just intuitively, every team should win the World Series every 30 years, since there are 30 franchises. That does not happen.

I decided to create a "Championship Frustration" index to measure every World Series by. This is the total number of seasons that have been played by both teams not counting the season in question. So, the Frustration Index of the Chicago Cubs for 2016 is 2016 (current season) - 1908 (the last time they won) - 1 (not counting the current season) = 107. Still the all-time high... and it's not close. For the Texas Rangers, they started playing in 1961 (in Washington), so the index is 2016 - 1961 (or, really, we assume the year before the franchise started is the last win, 1960 - 1), or 55.

Here are the top-ten World Series sorted by "Championship Frustration":

1. 2005 - Chicago White Sox (won in 1917, FI 87) vs. Houston Astros (came into league in 1962, FI 43) = 130
2. 2004 - Boston Red Sox (won in 1918, FI 85) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (won in 1982, FI 21) = 106
3. 2010 - San Francisco Giants (won in 1954 while in New York, FI 55) vs. Texas Rangers (came into league in 1961 as Washington, FI 49) = 104
4. 1975 - Cincinnati Reds (won in 1940, FI 34) vs. Boston Red Sox (won in 1918, FI 56) = 90
5 (tie). 1980 - Philadelphia Phillies (had not won; series started 1903, FI 77) vs. Kansas City (came into league in 1968, FI 11) = 88
5 (tie). 2002 - Anaheim Angels (came into league in 1961, FI 41) vs. San Francisco Giants (won in 1954 while in New York, FI 47) = 88
7. 1986 - New York Mets (won in 1969, FI 16) vs. Boston Red Sox (win in 1918, FI 67) = 83
8. 1995 - Atlanta Braves (won in 1958 while in Milwaukee, FI 36) vs. Cleveland Indians (won in 1948, FI 46) = 82
9. 1972 - Oakland Athletics (won in 1930 while in Philadelphia, FI 41) vs. Cincinnati Reds (won in 1940, FI 31) = 72
10. 1987 - Minnesota Twins (won in 1924 while in Washington, FI 67) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (won in 1982, FI 4) = 66

So, let's look at the FI for all of the playoff teams:

National League:

Chicago Cubs (won in 1908) - 107
Washington Nationals (came into league in 1969 in Montreal) - 47
New York Mets (won in 1986) - 29
Los Angeles Dodgers (won in 1988) - 27
San Francisco Giants (won in 2014) - 1

American League:

Cleveland Indians (won in 1948) - 67
Texas Rangers (came into league in 1961 in Washingotn) - 55
Baltimore Orioles (won in 1983) - 32
Toronto Blue Jays (won in 1993) - 22
Boston Red Sox (won in 2013) - 2

So, if the Cubs go the World Series, if they play Cleveland, Texas or Baltimore, this will be World Series with the most frustrated fans. Without the Cubs, it won't be the most frustrating, but it has the great potential of making the top ten.

Unless we get the Giants vs. the Red Sox. Yawn.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Apple frustrations

So I have a beef with Apple and the way it works.

I find a problem with an Apple product. I get angry. But these things happen. Software is software, and there will be bugs.

When they are serious or annoying enough, I look for workarounds on the Web, and I usually find them. I find them all over the Apple Developer Forums. I find them in Mac or iPhone blogs. I find them on Twitter. I find many people who have these problems.

When I then mention them, I am told by (very nice and polite and friendly) friends who are Apple employees to file a bug. That Apple only notices when people outside of Apple files bugs.

That process is somewhat painful. It takes at least 15 minutes, and often much longer, to give enough detail to describe the bug effectively.

When the bug is filed, if Apple pays attention, I am asked to spend another amount of time, sometimes several hours, and freeze the state of my machine so that over the next few days or weeks, more probing questions about the state of whatever it is can be asked.

And then the bug is usually marked as a Duplicate. And the only visibility from this point forward is whether or not the bug that it duplicates is still open.

So. Why, as a paying customer, am I being asked to do free QA work for a bug that Apple already knows about?

I have it on good authority that the fact that a bug is filed from an outside person is given more weight that an bug filed inside of Apple. That authority is me; we certainly did that when I was there.

But I some other problems with this:
1. It marginalizes the Apple employees who do file bugs, or at least it marginalizes the QA work they already did. Apple people can find the bug much closer to when it is introduced that the general public. It could be months before any betas even ship out. It also gives a negative incentive for employees to file a bug on their own code; they are penalized for having the bug, and they never get to see it fixed until it becomes a public problem.

2. Why is it that the fact that the tech press, blogosphere, Twitter-sphere and forum audience are basically ignored on this? When I can literally find a dozen descriptions of the bug that are every bit as good as mine out in the wild, why do I have to file a bug for it to be paid attention to?

In its defense, Apple has a LOT of software, and has a relatively small engineering staff generating and maintaining it. That is what helps keep Apple as nimble as it is. But the attitude of "we'll fix it when the public complains enough in ways that we define (and are obtuse)" makes me insane.

My friends who are Apple employees, I am not mad at you. I am an Apple fanboy from wayback. I am a former employee. Thank your for your hard work.

I just wish this aspect of how Apple works would change.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why F# is not the same as Gb

When a guitar string is plucked, a standing wave is set up, with a node of the wave on either end of the guitar. This is the fundamental note for the string of the guitar. The wavelength is twice the length of the guitar. The frequency is determined by the material of the string and the tension in the string. However, provided neither the tension of the string nor the length of the guitar changes, a given string will always sound at the same frequency when played open.

When a finger is placed lightly on the string halfway between the end points of the guitar and the string is plucked, a standing wave is set up with nodes at either end plus another in the middle. This wave has a wavelength that is the length of the guitar. When you halve the wavelength, all other factors being the same, the frequency is doubled. That is to say, the wavelength and frequency are inversely proportional. I won't go through the trigonometry of this, but basically, the wave is a sine wave, and the mathematical properties that go with a sine wave apply here also. Oh, and the note sounds an octave higher than the fundamental.

When a finger is placed lighty one third of the way between the ends of the guitar, and standing wave is set up also. It has nodes at the end points, and where the finger is placed. It also has one at the symetrically opposite position. Since the only wave that has a node where the finger is placed has a wavelength one-third of the fundamental wavelength, this is the standing wave that is set up in the string, which means that the other side also has a node. Since this wavelength is one-third of the length of the fundamental wave, the frequency is three times the frequency of the fundamental. The note that is produced is one octave and a perfect fifth higher than the fundamental.

This series keeps going. At one-fourth the distance, the note is two octaves higher. At one-fifth the distance, it is two octaves and a third, etc.

This applies not only to strings, but also woodwinds, brass and percussion. It also applies to resonance in any medium. The overtone series, as it is called, is also present with light waves.

So, if we look at this, we notice that the interval between the first and second harmonic in this series is a perfect fifth. Remember, the first harmonic is an octave higher than the fundamental, and the second harmonic is one octave plus a perfect fifth higher. If x is the frequency of the fundamental, then 2x is the frequency of the first harmonic and 3x is the frequency of the second harmonic. This means that the ratio of the frequencies of the first and second harmonics is 3x/2x, or 3/2, or that a note is a perfect fifth higher than another note if the frequency of the second note is 1.5 times the frequency of the first note.

If we then apply the cycle of fifths over and over again, we get the following sequence. Assume that we have a low C with a frequency of x Hz. Then we have:

Note Frequency
Fund. C x
1st 5th G 1.5 * x
2nd 5th D 1.5 * 1.5 * x
3rd 5th A 1.5 ^ 3 * x
4th 5th E 1.5 ^ 4 * x
5th 5th B 1.5 ^ 5 * x
6th 5th F#/Gb 1.5 ^ 6 * x
7th 5th C#/Db 1.5 ^ 7 * x
8th 5th G#/Ab 1.5 ^ 8 * x
9th 5th D#/Eb 1.5 ^ 9 * x
10th 5th A#/Bb 1.5 ^ 10 * x
11th 5th F 1.5 ^ 11 * x
12th 5th C 1.5 ^ 12 * x

This cycle of fifths covers seven octaves. A note is an octave higher than another note when the frequency is doubled, so given x above:

Fund. C x
1st 8va C 2x
2nd 8va C 4x
3rd 8va C 8x = 2 ^ 3 * x
4th 8va C 2 ^ 4 * x
5th 8va C 2 ^ 5 * x
6th 8va C 2 ^ 6 * x
7th 8va C 2 ^ 7 * x

Now, the highest C we have here we have derived by two different methods. Since is is theoretically the same note, they should be the same frequency. But they are not, since 1.5 ^ 12 <> 2 ^ 7.

This is the simplest case; it gets really messy when you are tuning a piano. Using the overtone series, a perfect fourth has a ratio of 4:3, a major third of 5:4, and minor third of 6:5, and a whole step of 8:7. Half-steps don't really fit. All of these do not propogate well when tuning. Tuning one key is fairly straightforward. Tune the fundamental and all of its octaves. Tune the fifth. Tune the fourth. Tune the major and minor third. Then use the existing notes with fourths, fifths and thirds to tune the rest of the notes. You will then have something which sounds great in the fundamental key, but terrible in non-closely related keys.

To solve this problem, the tempered scale was developed. Instead of the overtone series, the tempered scale is based on dividing the octaves into twelve equal pieces pitchwise. Each piece is then defined to be a half-step, and all of the notes are derived that way. This means that all of the intervals are just a hair flat, but the music can be played in any key and be equally out of tune.

Mathematically, we are mapping a linear set of pitches onto the logarithmic scale of frequency. Let's assume you have a pitch of freq. x. The octave is 2x. You need to find a linear mapping of this to the chromatic scale. So basically, we need to find a value y that when x is multiplied 12 times, the resulting value is 2x.

x*(y ^ 12) = 2*x

Divide by x

y ^ 12 = 2

y = 2 ^ (1/12)

So, to go up a half a step from a note with frequency x:
y = 2 ^ 1/12 * x

There are seven half steps in a fifth (C-C#, C#-D, D-D#, D#-E, E-F, F-F#, F#-G), so to get a note that is a fifth higher, we do the following:

Fund C x
1st C# 2 ^ 1/12 * x
2nd D 2 ^ 1/12 * 2 ^ 1/12 * x = 2 ^ 2/12 * x
3rd D# 2 ^ 3/12 * x
4th E 2 ^ 4/12 * x
5th F 2 ^ 5/12 * x
6th F# 2 ^ 6/12 * x
7th G 2 ^ 7/12 * x

So a note a fifth higher is 2 ^ 7/12 * x.

Applying that to the circle of fifths:

1st C x
2nd G 2 ^ 7/12 * x
3rd D 2 ^ 7/12 * 2 ^ 7/12 * x = 2 * 14/12 * x
etc.
12th C 2 ^ 84/12 * x = 2 ^ 7 * x

and we have matched frequencies.

Fun with spreadsheets. Let's say that our fundamental is a C with a frequency of 100 MHz. The seven octaves mentioned above would be:

0 C 100
1 C 200
2 C 400
3 C 800
4 C 1600
5 C 3200
6 C 6400
7 C 12800

Now, let's show both cycle of fifths:

Note Untempered Tempered
C 100.0 100.0
G 150.0 149.8
D 225.0 224.5
A 337.5 336.4
E 506.3 504.0
B 759.4 755.1
F#/Gb 1139.1 1131.4
C#/Db 1708.6 1695.1
G#/Ab 2562.9 2539.8
D#/Eb 3844.3 3805.5
A#/Bb 5766.5 5701.8
F 8649.8 8543.0
C 12974.6 12800.0

The reason the overtone series is so important is that musical instruments are made to resonate at a fundamental frequecy. They also resonate on frequencies close to them in the overtone series. If you open the pedal on a piano, strike a note and dampen it with your finger, a whole lot of strings will resonate, especially the ones that are octaves lower than the note. The ones that are a fifth away will resonate less loudly, a fourth away, less loudly etc. This phenomena is present will all period resonance. As an experiment one night, go out to your car. Find a low frequency AM radio station and set the preset for it. Then tune to twice the frequency and set it. Switch back and forth. As long as there is not another station interfering, the station should come in loud and clear at twice the frequency; in other words, up an octave. The crystal is vibrating with harmonics.

Feel free to distribute this to whomever you like, but leave my name on it.

Syd Polk

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oldie but goodie - May 27, 1998

Warning - some four letter words. I found this in my mail today and thought I would reshare it 16 years later.... Enjoy!

So, Monday morning, Paul and I set out for what should have been a
routine drive from Dave and Valerie's house to Intergalactic Airport. I
mean, both of us grew up in Houston and have been to the Big Spaceport of
the North. How hard could it be? I guess 11 hours sleep in three days
probably contributed.

So we set out. Good tunes on the radio; good conversation. We got fast
plastic breakfast. We stopped for fuel. Unfortunately, this was closer to
Austin than Houston. I would have to fill up before returning the Mustang
to its rightful owner.

So we get to Houston in record time. Both of us marvel at all of the new
stuff out in the area where Paul used to live. I take the West Belt North
exit from I-10. This is the first time I have ever driven this toll
hyperspace bypass.

Before very long at all, we came upon the 45 exit. In my mind,
Intergalactic is thirty miles north of Bumfuck. Since this is Bumfuck, we
must go North! So I exit. We get to FM 1960 and I think, "Hmm. Should
have seen a sign by now." 1960 is not that far north though, and my
faithful sidekick informs me we are not nearly far enough north of
Bumfuck, so we keep going.

When we get to planet Conroe, we know we are hosed. By now, it is 10:45,
and I am supposed to blast off at 12:30. Hmm. We stop at a refueling
depot in Conroe just to get directions. One of the natives informs me
that Bumfuck doesn't exist anymore since the Beltway hyperspace bypass
has been built, and that we need to go back to FM 1960, turn left and the
airport will be on the left. "Y'all cain't miss ut", he drawled.

So we get back on the freeway. And we are flying. And a little concerned.
We are driving in bewilderment. How can it be that we, back in our native
system, got lost so close to the spaceport? We were ruminating about that
very thing, when a semi cut us off. We looked on the back of the truck,
and Lo, we received a vision. That round face, that pointy nose, that
party hat. Paul said, "Hi, Jack!" just before I was going to say, "It's
Jack!". I respond with "You're so fired!" and we break down in
irrational, nonsensical paroxysms of laughter. We know that we will be
allright now, but our journey will still test everything we have.

We get to the 1960 exit, and we turn left. There are 40 foot high trees
lining the highway; we can't see anything much less an airport. We find a
fork in the road. I see a sign which says left is 1960, right is 1960
business. I go left, thinking we are probably almost to 59. My dutiful
sidekick-navigator ("I thought I fired you!") informs me that he saw an
airport sign at the fork. Fortunately, there is a turn. So I turn. And I
turn in the direction I think Business 1960 goes. My bad. I was supposed
to go straight. So once again, I turn around and go left.

We go for a while, and we reach a road called "Will Clayton Parkway".
Aha! I recognize that road. "We are close! Real close!" I intone. The
formerly fired sidekick says, "Um, Syd, turn right". And I looked and
there it was: George W. Bush Intergalactic Spaceport! How could I miss
it? Did I tell you about the trees? Or the lack of sleep?

So I turn right into the airport. I follow the signs that says "Budget
Rental Car Return". By now I realize that I do not have time to fill the
tank with cheap gas, I am going to have to eat $3/gallon for half a tank.
Sigh. And I am now in overmileage territory for the convertable. The
Conroe detour has cost me 50 extra miles.

The signs take me onto JFK Blvd., and now we are leaving the airport. I
never see another Budget sign. I confer with Sidekick, and when we reach
the airport entrance, we decide we missed a sign so we go back in. After
exporing Terminal A's access roads, we once again pick up Budget Rental
Car Return signs. We pay close attention and we end up on JFK Blvd.
again. I guess we did not go down far enough.

This time when we get to the airport entrance, my sharp-eyed bespectecled
sidekick spots the blue sign that says Budget. I make the appropriate
U-turn, but have a brain freeze. I miss the entrance and attempt to go in
the exit. I am hosed; there is no way in, and I will have to go toward
the airport and U-turn twice. Faithful Sidekick says, "I am sorry, Syd",
and then starts shaking the car with his laughter. I realize how
ridiculous this is and join him.

So I exit the rental car driveway, make the two U-turns, and drive into
the correct driveway this time. The car is turned in, the bus takes us to
the terminal, and I reach the jetway just as they are pre-boarding.

I truly believe it is easiest to get lost in the place you grew up in.

So here is my theory. The IAH exit off of 45 was actually the Beltway 8
exit before they built the tollway. So being on the tollway, and exiting
to 45 north, we were already passed the sign that indicated where to go
for IAH. And since it was actually a little bit further on the Tollway
for the airport, there was no sign there. So they changed everything!

I did eventually stop and ask directions! I did! I did!

Sigh.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

What a remarkable decade

So, the Giants have finally won there first San Francisco World Series. Congratulations! I just want to touch on what a remarkable decade of post-season baseball we have seen.

Let's rewind back to 2000. The Yankees had just beat the Mets for their 3rd series in a row, and 4th out of the previous 5 years. While the wild card format had allowed some teams to make the playoffs when they hadn't in a while, the post-season had been dominated by the Yankees, Cleveland, and Atlanta.

In 2001, Arizona went to the playoffs for the first time, won their first penant, and won their first World Series in their 5th season as a franchise.

In 2002, Anaheim won their first pennant and World Series in franchise history.

In 2003, the upstart Florida Marlins won their second World Series by beating the Yankees.

In 2004, Boston won their first World Series since 1918, after coming back from a 3-0 ALCS deficit, and trailing the Yankees in the 9th inning of game four.

In 2005, Houston won its first pennant in franchise history, but lost to the Chicago White Sox, who themselves had won their first penant since 1959 and first World Series since 1917.

In 2006, Detroit won their first pennant since 1984, although they lost to the Cardinals in the Series.

In 2007, the Colorado Rockies won their first pennant in their franchise history. They did lose to Boston in the Series.

In 2008, Milwaukee made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. They were overshadowed by Tampa Bay, who made their first playoffs, and won their first pennant in franchise history, before losing to Philadelphia, who won their first pennant 1993 and their first World Series since 1980.

2009 was relatively dull; all eight playoff teams had been in the playoffs at least once the previous 5 years.

In 2010, the San Francisco Giants won their first series since 1954, when they were in New York. They beat the Texas Rangers, who won their first franchise pennant, and were making their first playoff appearance since 1999.

So, if we can get the Cubs (1908), Indians (1948), Rangers (never/1961), Astros (never, 1962), and Nationals (never, 1969) a Series victory! Heck, let's get the Cubs (1945), Nationals (never, 1969), Mariners (never/1977), Pittsburgh (1979) or Brewers (1982) a pennant. And it's really time to get the Nationals (1981), Royals (1985), Pirates (1992), Blue Jays (1993), and Orioles (1997) back into the playoffs! If anything, this decade tells us that it is possible for any team to have success if they do it right.

I love rounds of playoffs. I wish their were 32 teams with eight divisions so we would no longer have second place teams going to the playoffs, but I will take the tradeoff.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The truth about Rhythm Changes

So, I play bari sax. In jazz bands, bari sax is considered a fundamental section instrument that occasionally an arranger remembers is actually a saxophone, so they will put a solo in every 20 or 30 charts or so, as in writing out the chord changes.

Those pieces are never based on I Got Rhythm, whose chord changes are so distinctive, they are called Rhythm Changes.

I am also a computer programmer, so I never have a chance to actually practice or work something up.

Inevitably at a gig, the leader of the band will call up a piece based on Rhythm Changes, announce that he is "opening it up", and point to me for the first solo.

My dirty little secret:

I don't know Rhythm Changes.

Oh, I know the bridge. It's not too bad (B7 for two bars, E7 for two more, A7 for two more, and D7 to close) (well, that's in Bb concert transposed for bari). But I have no clue about the other 24 bars of the piece. When I took Improv in high school, we went over it and I tried to follow the changes. But I did not memorize them.

And since they never write the changes in the bari part for those charts based on Rhythm Changes, I never, ever see them written out.

This bothered me, but not enough to sit down and practice (hey, I have a day job, two small children and two dogs. Sue me). I do, however, listen to a LOT of music, and I have a LOT of recordings of jazzers playing solos over rhythm changes.

Turns out most of them don't know the changes either, particularly if they don't play tenor sax or guitar.

So, what to do?

Here is what I do:

- I play the blues scale. If the key is G (which is the most common case for a bari player), play a G blues scale. Catch the D7 in the next-to-last bar if you want to sound extra-hip.
- Play the changes of the bridge. They are easy to memorize, the chords are around long enough to play something interesting, and you can really burn it up.

Works like a charm. And if you don't believe me, go get a recording of Duke Ellington's Battle Royale. That's what most of the cats actually do.

I fell better now that I have fessed up!

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

KTRU apparently dying

Heard about this at the same time as everybody else in the Rice community apparently heard about it:

http://www.media.rice.edu/media/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=14643

Boy, my day is ruined. I understand the business reasons behind it, but it sucks.

Some general history can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KTRU

My first memories of KTRU were of the Jazz Show (running every Sunday from 1974 to present!). KUHF, the local NPR affilicate (and the buyer of KTRU now) was a jazz station, but they played a fairly narrow, safe range of jazz. I used to listed to KUHF in the hours when they weren't running All Things Considered and the like during the week, but on Sundays, I switched over to KTRU. As a budding jazz artist (never made it out of that stage!), KTRU blew my mind by playing Eric Dolphy, Brecker Brothers, John McGlaughlin, John Coltrane's post-bop music, and the really strange stuff of Carla Bley, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, etc. While I did not like all of it (and still don't), it was great that I could turn on the radio to hear this stuff my teachers were telling me about at HSPVA.

When I went to Rice, my good friend Jeff Erickson was the Saturday 7-10 AM DJ. He talked to me about the radio, and I was irresistibly drawn to it. He took me to a staff meeting, and I was introduced to the jazz director. The show was going through a smooth jazz phase, but I immediately started playing stuff I liked. That spring, I was made Jazz Director. Alas, my first job was to let people go from the show who weren't even playing smooth jazz.

That summer, the person who had been slated to be the classical director decided to quit, so they gave me both shows. Well, summers are tough at college radio, and I had no DJs. I did 6 hours of classical on Saturdays, and 7.5 hours of jazz. Was a long summer!

At the time, Houston had no classical radio station. That changed in the fall, when KUHF switched its music format to classical instead of jazz. We decided to drop KTRU's classical show, but the jazz show became much more interesting. KTSU played some jazz, but once again, it was of the smooth jazz variety.

I convinced Kevin Long to come DJ for me that year. Together, we played a lot of modern jazz, as well as rebroadcasting Rice Jazz Band concerts (of which we were both members!). We started getting interesting records from the record companies again, as well as some ticket giveways.

The next year, I recruited Vince Kargatis as a DJ. We also had some fill-in work from Ann Marley. I am proud of the shows we put together; they were fun.

During all of this, I occasionally subbed for a regular DJ here and there. The playlist was a lot of stuff I had never heard of, and was not generally fond of (thanks, Ray Shea!), but there was some music in there which I really dug, that I would never have been exposed to otherwise.

Once Christmas, I was subbing for Jeff on Saturday, and was running the whole 7.5 hour show on Sunday. I arrived Saturday morning at 6:45, and the Rice Memorial Center was locked. However, there was a sign, and a long trunk of cables coming out of a window feeding to the vestibule of the Rice Chapel, where there was a hastily assembled studio with a portable turntable setup, and about 300-400 records. They were doing asbestos removal in the RMC, and never bothered to tell anybody, so the KTRU staff had about 30 minutes to set all of this up! They did not grab any jazz records, so on Sunday, I cycle through my entire collection of jazz records, which at the time, was about 12 discs. I repeated Giant Steps and Kind of Blue! It was freezing in there as well.

We were down the hall from Willy's Pub at that point in time. One time, I was in the pub, and they had the radio on. Ray Shea was in the pub as well. At that point, we only had 3 Public Service Announcements on the queue, and one of them was about testicular cancer screening and MD Anderson. We were all really tired of that one, as it came up once every 3 hours! So, the poor DJ was reading this, and Ray yelled out as loud as he could something like "F*&( that s*(&!", stormed to the radio, repeated the epithet on the air, and ripped the card off of its holder in mid-sentence. The DJ stammered something about "Well, uh, just call MD Anderson. Let's play some music!"

The radio was a wonderful experience, and I am sad that current and future Rice students won't get to participate in it. It was organic, eclectic, original, and a wealth of culture from slightly off-center. It reflected the student body well. I know it will be available online (at least for a while), but you know, getting that phone call from a lonely teenager asking you questions about the music, or an old teacher, or a musician visiting Houston putting in a request... Those are things that are gone forever.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

How To Play Sax In a Salsa Band

Reposted from my home page.

[Warning: the following will have stereotypes in it. It is also based on a real life experience]

I: Finding a band

Or rather find a band leader. The best way is to start having your car worked on in immigrant neighborhoods. Make sure that you get your tires there, and your oil changed there. Leave your saxophone on the car seat, or wear your gig bag on your shoulder as you pay the clerk.

Eventually, you will have the following conversation:

"You play?"

[You think to yourself: No, I carry around this tenor for fun and exercise]

"Yeah, some"

"What instrument? Saxo?"

"Yes, I play saxophone."

"You play that big one?"

"You mean the baritone? Yes, I play baritone sax."

"Hey, man, I am starting up this salsa band, and I need somebody to play baritone. You want to play?"

"That might be fun. You're just starting out? You don't have any gigs?"

"No, man, just starting. We are getting together on Sunday. It would be bueno if you could make it to the rehearsal so we could hear you play."

"OK"

Little do you know what adventure awaits.

First of all, "I need somebody to play baritone" means "I need somebody to play baritone on one out 20 songs in our book, and the rest of the time I need other stuff." Be sure to pack a soprano sax, an alto, a tenor and a baritone. It is also essential that you pack a flute and a piccolo.

However, keep in mind that real salsa bands have flute players who have those wacky G treble flutes which are halfway between flute and piccolo. You will be blowing your chops out on all of those high C's and D's on a traditional C flute.

That rehearsal Sunday he mentioned? Well, it will be cancelled. He will call you at your house about the time the rehearsal starts. Since he never gave you directions, and you were told that he was not really reachable by phone, you were still at home, so it is no big deal. No, the rehearsal will be Wednesday night. By the way, could you bring a microphone?

The rehearsal on Wednesday is supposed to be at 8. About 6:30, he calls and tells you that rehearsal is in this furniture refinishing store in the Bay View/Hunter's Point district. Lovely.

Tip: Take all of your horns. Take a music stand. Take a mike. Take a mike stand. Take your stands for your horns. Take a pair of claves. Take a folding chair. Take sweaters, the shop will be cold.

Tip: The 8:00 start time is about 15 minutes before the band leader will leave from San Jose. He will get there at 9. His cousin, who owns the shop, will get there at 8:30. You will have to smile at him, as he speaks no English and you speak no Spanish.

Once everybody arrrives at 9:00 or so, then the real fun starts.

The band leader does not actually know that there are different size saxophones in different transpositions, except the baritone is bigger. He will give you random parts for saxophone, trumpet, trombone, flute, vibes, guitar... Some advice:


  • Play trumpet parts on soprano sax.

  • It does not matter which octave you play piano/vibes/guitar parts in; play it on flute.

  • Play trombone parts on tenor sax. Learn the transposition. It is a good one to know. The trombone parts will be high and low, so playing it on bari or alto so that the transposition will be easy will cause you to go crazy with octaves.



The music itself will be basically unreadable. It will have been transcribed off of 70s records by the band leader's brother in Peru, and faxed to the band leader. It will not tell you which saxophone you are supposed to play; you will have to figure it out as the chart starts. You might not have a saxophone part, see above! If there is no chart at all, just watch the mayhem.

The first thing to do is to learn the basic form of a salsa chart:


  • Introduction
  • Verse (which may be repeated)
  • Call and Reponse
  • Mambo I
  • Call and Response II
  • Mambo II
  • Call and Response III
  • Coda


Of course, their are Spanish names for all of these, which you won't know or remember. So, the important thing is that the Call and Reponse sections are ad lib; they will go on a long time. You won't be playing during these, so you should play claves during that time. Be sure and get the basic clave right. Watch the timbales player to see whether he is doing a 2-3 or a 3-2 clave. (1)

Also, the bass player never plays on one. The piano player's mantoono will keep you on track, so pay attention to it.

At some point, the leader will indicate it is time to go on. At that point, you start at Mambo I. One of the best uses of the time during the Call and Response is to find where the mambos are.

This whole process repeats and you play Mambo II, and then again, except you play the song out.

Now, there will be fifteen or twenty minutes between songs. The percussion players will keep playing anyway; they never stop. They don't ever stop playing. They don't read music. They don't speak English. And the bongos, congos and timbales will just keep playing and playing and playing...

There will be kids running around the rehearsal, too. All of the musicians will bring their entire families.

The furniture warehouse will have fumes, and really won't have enough room, and will have no heat. The neighborhood won't be great.

However, once you get playing, it will be fun. Once you figure it out.

After the rehearsal, he will give you ten tapes with the recordings from the LPs. Of course, they are in different keys, and the number of repeats and mambos and stuff will be different. He does this for the percussion players. The tapes are basically useless for you since he keeps your music and there are no artists or titles listed for you to go out and buy more music of.

II. At the gig

Take earplugs. The sound man will be another cousin who drinks too much so your speakers will feedback and the entire band will be too loud.

The gig will start on time. Trust me. Get set up. The bandleader will blow in like a tornado along with the rest of the band, and somehow, they will all be set up in time.

The gig will start at midnight, and will go to four.

And you will get paid $500. The best paying gig you can get. Keep in mind, your band still basically sucks. If only you could make it on the real salsa circuit...

The rest of the horn section (who you will have never seen) will be dancing during the call and response. At this point, you will be the big dumb gringo who can't do a salsa step. Don't worry about that. It's ok, the only other white guy is the bass player, who does not have to dance.

III. After the gig

You will get about 10 gigs, and you will have innumerable five hour rehearsals. After this happens for a while, the band will fall apart. The bandleader is not organized enough to take it to the next level, and since he does not believe in substitutes, he has no backup personel when people move or quit or whatever...

You will get calls about once a year from him from then on, talking about grand schemes for putting together another band. You are polite and tell him that if he can actually get a full band together, you might be willing to try it again.

(c) 1999 Sydney R. Polk. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of Sydney R. Polk or his designated legal agent.

Syd and Paul's Excellent Adventure

I wrote this in May of 1998. Warning: there is some explicit language.

--------------------------------

So, Monday morning, Paul and I set out for what should have been a
routine drive from Dave and Valerie's house to Intergalactic Airport. I
mean, both of us grew up in Houston and have been to the Big Spaceport of
the North. How hard could it be? I guess 11 hours sleep in three days
probably contributed.

So we set out. Good tunes on the radio; good conversation. We got fast
plastic breakfast. We stopped for fuel. Unfortunately, this was closer to
Austin than Houston. I would have to fill up before returning the Mustang
to its rightful owner.

So we get to Houston in record time. Both of us marvel at all of the new
stuff out in the area where Paul used to live. I take the West Belt North
exit from I-10. This is the first time I have ever driven this toll
hyperspace bypass.

Before very long at all, we came upon the 45 exit. In my mind,
Intergalactic is thirty miles north of Bumfuck. Since this is Bumfuck, we
must go North! So I exit. We get to FM 1960 and I think, "Hmm. Should
have seen a sign by now." 1960 is not that far north though, and my
faithful sidekick informs me we are not nearly far enough north of
Bumfuck, so we keep going.

When we get to planet Conroe, we know we are hosed. By now, it is 10:45,
and I am supposed to blast off at 12:30. Hmm. We stop at a refueling
depot in Conroe just to get directions. One of the natives informs me
that Bumfuck doesn't exist anymore since the Beltway hyperspace bypass
has been built, and that we need to go back to FM 1960, turn left and the
airport will be on the left. "Y'all cain't miss ut", he drawled.

So we get back on the freeway. And we are flying. And a little concerned.
We are driving in bewilderment. How can it be that we, back in our native
system, got lost so close to the spaceport? We were ruminating about that
very thing, when a semi cut us off. We looked on the back of the truck,
and Lo, we received a vision. That round face, that pointy nose, that
party hat. Paul said, "Hi, Jack!" just before I was going to say, "It's
Jack!". I respond with "You're so fired!" and we break down in
irrational, nonsensical paroxysms of laughter. We know that we will be
allright now, but our journey will still test everything we have.

We get to the 1960 exit, and we turn left. There are 40 foot high trees
lining the highway; we can't see anything much less an airport. We find a
fork in the road. I see a sign which says left is 1960, right is 1960
business. I go left, thinking we are probably almost to 59. My dutiful
sidekick-navigator ("I thought I fired you!") informs me that he saw an
airport sign at the fork. Fortunately, there is a turn. So I turn. And I
turn in the direction I think Business 1960 goes. My bad. I was supposed
to go straight. So once again, I turn around and go left.

We go for a while, and we reach a road called "Will Clayton Parkway".
Aha! I recognize that road. "We are close! Real close!" I intone. The
formerly fired sidekick says, "Um, Syd, turn right". And I looked and
there it was: George W. Bush Intergalactic Spaceport! How could I miss
it? Did I tell you about the trees? Or the lack of sleep?

So I turn right into the airport. I follow the signs that says "Budget
Rental Car Return". By now I realize that I do not have time to fill the
tank with cheap gas, I am going to have to eat $3/gallon for half a tank.
Sigh. And I am now in overmileage territory for the convertable. The
Conroe detour has cost me 50 extra miles.

The signs take me onto JFK Blvd., and now we are leaving the airport. I
never see another Budget sign. I confer with Sidekick, and when we reach
the airport entrance, we decide we missed a sign so we go back in. After
exporing Terminal A's access roads, we once again pick up Budget Rental
Car Return signs. We pay close attention and we end up on JFK Blvd.
again. I guess we did not go down far enough.

This time when we get to the airport entrance, my sharp-eyed bespectecled
sidekick spots the blue sign that says Budget. I make the appropriate
U-turn, but have a brain freeze. I miss the entrance and attempt to go in
the exit. I am hosed; there is no way in, and I will have to go toward
the airport and U-turn twice. Faithful Sidekick says, "I am sorry, Syd",
and then starts shaking the car with his laughter. I realize how
ridiculous this is and join him.

So I exit the rental car driveway, make the two U-turns, and drive into
the correct driveway this time. The car is turned in, the bus takes us to
the terminal, and I reach the jetway just as they are pre-boarding.

I truly believe it is easiest to get lost in the place you grew up in.

So here is my theory. The IAH exit off of 45 was actually the Beltway 8
exit before they built the tollway. So being on the tollway, and exiting
to 45 north, we were already passed the sign that indicated where to go
for IAH. And since it was actually a little bit further on the Tollway
for the airport, there was no sign there. So they changed everything!

I did eventually stop and ask directions! I did! I did!

Sigh.

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