Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Movie Madness

I don't know about you, but I'm not that impressed with Hollywood's current fare. I mean, Little Miss Sunshine was a chuckle, but Academy Award material? You've got to be kidding. And I watched Brad in "Babel" last night, and came away less than enlightened, or satisfied for that matter. Where's Johnny Depp when you need him? I am, on the other hand, watching some fine foreign films - a few of which I've already mentioned in previous posts.

In the last week, I watched a couple of new titles worth mentioning. First: Vengo. A wonderful film that captures family and village life among Spanish Gypsies, Vengo features some great Flamenco music. Very authentic. The film also does a great job capturing the role of family honor, and the age-old practice of blood feuds among ancient cultures that disdain modern law and authority. The music is excuse enough to rent this film, the interesting plot, authentic setting and very credible acting are icing on the cake. Nobody makes movies about Gypsies better than film maker Tony Gatliff. His earlier works, Gadjo Dilo and Latcho Drom, are definitive cinematic reflections on Gypsy life and culture.

The second movie is a Mexican comedy entitled Benjamin's Woman. The unlikely and comedic tale pairs a blossoming seventeen year old girl with a middle-aged village suitor who, with the drunken assistance of the girl's uncle, kidnaps her and locks her away. How, you might ask, is this funny? Turns out the girl is no fool, seizes the opportunity, and in the end, somehow almost everybody wins. Quirky and improbable, the film also turned out to be enjoyably different and fun. Three plus stars. Here's my current list of Foreign Favorites.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Will NPR Save Radio?

The jury is still out on the future of broadcast radio. If it is to survive, it will be NPR that saves it. That's right, after years of neo-conservative efforts to kill public anything, especially public broadcasting; NPR has emerged stronger, re-organized and increasingly relevant to popular culture on all levels. Which, of course, makes it much more threatening to the man.

I live and work in rural America, and I've got three different public radio services - all produced by a single, multi-state NPR affiliate - to chose from. Two FM stations: one a classical station, the other dubbed "Rhythm & News;" and, one AM station dubbed "News & Information." Talk about a broad range of specialized programming. Like many of my peers and colleagues, I wake up to "Morning Edition," and spend at least an hour every afternoon tuned in to "All Things Considered." And yes, I sometimes hang in my car long after I've parked just to hear the end of one of ATC's in-depth stories. Hasn't everyone?

NPR keeps me current in so many ways, like a regular screen refresh. I hear edgy, new music while many listen to oldies-but-moldies. I catch the BBC's World Service News. I laugh with Harry Scherer every week. His "apologies of the week" bit is one of the best regular radio installments in broadcast history. There are live shows like Amy Goodman's "Democracy Today" and "Talk of the Nation;" "Car Talk," and, well you know. Right?

Like the PBS TV broadcast service, NPR has recently updated its on-air personalities. While PBS is struggling with the transition, NPR has sailed through seamlessly. The service's new voices are already welcome additions to the family. And NPR blazes so many new trails, like their creative use of "sound" in all of their broadcasts. Their quirky, thematic and obviously very carefully selected musical interludes between stories have become so popular they have spawned their own series of CDs. Most NPR stories, especially those filed by field reporters, include a lot of the ambient sound that surrounds their many subjects - by design. They just get it. Their audio essays, like "This I believe," are another way that producers make their programming engaging and interactive. The recent NPR "Oral History Project" convoy even made it to southern Oregon and recorded the detailed stories of some of our most storied local veterans and orchardists. This is radio that touches our lives and tells our stories.

NPR member stations also provide valuable local programming. They are a resource to community- and arts-groups who seek to get their messages and events heralded to their local patrons. And they are an invaluable communications link in times of disaster or local emergency. Outstanding national programming, multiple services, comprehensive local coverage...that's what great radio is all about.

As I write, the administration is making yet one more run at the funding for public broadcasting. The federal government already provides the smallest amount of support among civilized, developed nations for this service that helps sustain an informed public and thus promotes democracy. Though minimal, that support is mission-critical. I've already signed a petition and contacted my congressman. I urge readers to tell their legislators to safeguard and preserve our public broadcasting resources. It really is a very small investment for such an enormous return. So NPR may save radio, but only if we save NPR.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Delirium at La Scala

I don't often post about opera, though I enjoy a great tenor as much as the next fan. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that opera fans can bring the house down. And they did just that last Tuesday after a performance by Tenor sensation Juan Diego Florez, heir apparent to the throne of Caruso and Pavorotti, according to reports in The London Times. The delirious La Scala audience forced the conductor to break a long-standing house rule and play the first encore offered a performer on that hallowed stage in 74 years. Not even Pavorotti himself was ever afforded such an opportunity and honor. Florez, a Peruvian, earned the spontaneous demonstration and acclaim following his performance of Ah! Mes Ami, from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment. Italian critics were predictably scandalized by the breach in La Scala etiquette, though all allowed the performance was exceptional and the star's stage presence commanding. Not bad for a guy trained in Philadelphia. Time to update my holiday favorites playlist.

Joe Bonamassa - Teaching the Blues

Joe Bonamassa was born in 1977 on Robert Johnson's 66th birthday. His dad owned a guitar store in New York City, so young Joe picked up his first guitar at 4 years old. After being mentored by the likes of guitar great Danny Gatton, Bonamassa was "discovered" at 12 by B.B. King - and the rest, as they say, is history. Since that time he has toured with King and Johnny Lang, and garnered the attention of Guitar Player Magazine. He even performed a rare duet with Ted Nugent at a recent gig.

I am personally impressed with Joe's bringing the Blues to the schools program that has him appearing, playing and lecturing at high school campuses across the country. In addition to being a musical genius, he's a prince. Gotta love this guy. His 2006 solo album "You & Me" is quite simply a breakthrough disc. Virtuoso, guitar-driven blues. The inevitable comparisons to Stevie Ray have already begun. If you like the Blues, buy it now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Venice and Peter Ilyich's Suite

If you've ever dreamed of vacationing in Venice, now would be the time. Don't hesitate, as Europe's most famous waterfront antiquity is about to change forever. Already battling back the Mediterranean, Venice's many canal-front villas are soon going to be dealing with the rising tides of global warming. And when you're already situated at sea level, that can be a problem. Especially if your city is already sinking. Built on thousands of now petrified wooden pillars, Venice is, in fact, sinking. The Italian government has an ambitious plan to "raise" the entire city, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The city is also slowly morphing from a real, working metropolis to a tourist- and student-driven destination that has been losing population for a couple of decades. Add to that the humongous cruise ships that regularly ply the entrance to the Grand Canal, releasing waves of tourists every hour or so, and you've got Disneyland in the making. So go now. Venice is still grand.

A cruise along the canals reveals an architectural diversity that is stunning and instructive. Gothic palaces next to Baroque. Villas with one floor evidencing medieval construction, and upper floors appearing distinctly Renaissance. Then there's the bridges. The Rialto, Venice's largest bridge, is one of the most photographed locations on the planet. Go and you'll see why.
Home to Antonio Vivaldi, Venice was popular with composers. If you go, consider staying in the very room where Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski penned his Fifth Symphony while on extended holiday. The room, appointed in antiques and red velvet, is at the Londra Palace overlooking the Grand Canal. On the second floor, the suite has shuttered windows that look over the activity below and the canal a few steps away. The Londra Palace is located just around the corner and a few steps down from St. Mark's Square, the center of Venetian life. Visit the cathedral as well as the Basilica across the canal.

If you want to take home a piece of Venetian history, consider a work of glass. Murano glass is famous, but quite ornate. And you should be aware that trips to the glassworks on the Isle of Murano are always accompanied by the best hard sell you've ever experienced. And why not? The vendors there have been at it a while. For that reason, many guides recommend making your glass purchase in Venice proper. We found a wine-red glass plate that now graces our mantle. If you like lace, Venice is also famous for its own handmade styles. Personally, I'm partial to the milifiore glass beads that Venetian traders took to Africa hundreds of years ago. The African recipients of these beads thought so highly of them that they were frequently used as currency for trade. For that reason, Venetian beads became known as African Trader Beads.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Google Offers Web Apps

Today, Google announced the availability of a web-based, premium suite of office applications targeted to businesses. For a flat, $50 fee per user, per year, the zero-footprint software can be rapidly scaled up or down - depending on business needs and personnel configurations. The trend toward rich Internet applications coupled with the emergence of techniques like Ajax, could threaten the market share and strategic directions of Microsoft - which has just shipped Vista with a new suite of office applications at a much higher pricing point. While Intel continues to rely on founder Gordon Moore's model of ever bigger, ever faster microprocessors; companies like IBM are experimenting with a new breed of CPU that is optimized for speed and efficiency, rather than raw computing power. What kind of environment suits such a chip? Web-based computing and communications that wraps across multiple platforms. Investors bold enough to include tech stocks in their portfolios would be well-served to take a look at which companies they hold that are well-positioned to benefit from this new, Internet-driven direction, and which ones still don't "get it."

Related Anecdote: I once worked with the greatest writer of serial communication drivers on the planet. That's all he did, serial communications. He was so good that a major chip maker, that will remain un-named, contracted with his home-based consultancy for a lot of their really difficult driver work. He told me on one occasion that he received a spec. for some really bloated code that provided the necessary functionality in the clunkiest, most inelegant way possible. Thinking the spec. was in error, he called his contact - only to be reminded rather abruptly that his host was in the business of selling ever-more-powerful processors to folks who really thought they needed them. "Write the driver just as it was specified," concluded the conversation. Surprised? I didn't think so.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Celestial Teapot: First Reported Here

I am pleased to be the first to report that erstwhile game-guru, graphic artist and amateur political commentator, Rob Landeros (DonRoberto) has launched a new blog: Celestial Teapot. Check it out. But be forewarned, he's not happy with the Jr. Senator from NY and her re-position on Iraq.

Rob co-founded Trilobyte and was largely responsible for early blockbuster games including The 7th Guest and Eleventh Hour. Prior to that gig, he was art director at Virgin Games. Nuff said. He's da bomb. Like lots of folks, Rob finds himself frustrated by the current state of the earth, country and politics in general - so naturally, he's taken to blogging. That's when he's not designing web pages, creating works of digital art, or playing golf. Did I mention he plays a lot of golf?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Viacom Gives Joost a Boost

After exiting YouTube with noisy complaints, media giant Viacom has joined studio-legend Paramount Pictures at Joost, according to a company press release dated the 20th. Hello, big news for media mavens. Joost has some serious horsepower behind it, including the founders of Skype and Kazaa. And some considerable horsepower requirments at the moment. Those without major bandwidth need not apply. And, of course, Joost is still in beta. That didn't stop Viacom, Paramount and others from signing on. So I'm guessing we'll see an iTV from Apple sometime soon, as the battle for the high ground in the new digital media world intensifies on the content, hardware and distribution fronts. For users, this will take internet protocol TV up a notch. It's a win for Joost, and arguably a loss for YouTube parent GOOGLE.

Monday, February 19, 2007

XM - Sirius to Merge

The two players in the Satellite radio space have announced plans to merge. 14 million users are rejoicing, with few casting wary eyes toward the attendant loss of competition. That could be a sticking point, as current rules expressly forbid one company from acquiring the other. The expectation on the part of many pundits and analysts is to see a waiver of that rule. A newly merged broadcast giant will likely put additional pressure on already struggling local radio broadcasters. The complexion of media creation and distribution is undergoing tectonic realignments, as are the players and the content. Given the likelihood of robust growth in net-based content distribution, including streaming radio broadcast, the only long-term survival model for the satellite delivery systems was to merge.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chrysler's New Owners: Korean or Chinese?

Looks like Dr. Z knows when to hold em, and when to fold em. That's what Daimler Benz is getting ready to do with its Chrysler subsidiary. Germany's automotive powerhouse has confirmed the sale, saying that "...all options are being considered." According to the financial press, it's all over but the bidding. So just who is stepping up? Korea's Hyundai Kia Automotive Group for one. And the People's Republic of China's Chery and SAIC are also in the race, accoring to London's Sunday Times. General Motors would dearly like to acquire its long-time North American rival, it makes sense on a lot of logistic and resource-sharing levels, but the company's own financial realities will likely preclude that outcome. Old paradigms are definitely fracturing. The automotive industry is not alone in that regard. So get ready for your "Chery Charger."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seniors in the Cockpit - Arrogance on the Ground

Look, there are already a bunch of good reasons not to fly commercial airlines unless forced to do so. There is no other industry I can think of that happily takes about ten big ones a year from me every year and then treats me like I am chicken manure on the bottom of a pair of barn boots. I mean, really. Add the inconveniences of the TSA, new passport requirements, barking orders from airport speakers and surly crowds (and why wouldn't they be?); the whole experience has become unpleasant and stressful. Institutional arrogance, I've heard it called. The airlines know we need to fly, so they make no effort to extend themselves at all. Evidence the recent Jet Blue fiasco that stranded passengers for 11 hours on the tarmack, in sight of the terminal. And, of course, that's not the only case of this kind of outrageous customer abuse - its just the latest. I could go on-and-on about this indignity, but then we all have our own horror stories in that regard - and therein lies the rub. We're all getting screwed, blued and tattoed by our "partners in travel." Go figure. Time for a Passengers' Bill of Rights.

Now, the FAA wants to extend the compulsory retirement age of commercial pilots from 60 to 65 years of age. This, after their own spokesperson said as recently as last May that there was no scientific support for doing so. So it is not inconceivable that two, long-time members of AARP could soon be flying your booked flight to wherever - while 14,000 younger pilots languish on furlough from the airlines. Age discrimination is ethically bankrupt. And inflexibility is a bad thing. Don't want to summarily exclude experienced professionals from the cockpit, that wouldn't be right. Unless there was a good reason to do so. And there is. According to background on the wire, no studies have been done to determine whether adding those five years, as in international aviation, has an effect on safety. That's not good enough for me, and it shouldn't be good enough for you either. After all, air traffic controllers are required to retire well before 60, let alone 65. Many age-sensitive jobs that involve public safety have such rules.

The problem of competence and quick, reflexive action in the cockpit is not limited to age. I'm sure that a lot of travelers have noticed lately that their "connector flights," that is those flights to and from their final, non-hub destination, are being provided by Sky West planes that bear the colors and brands of their larger airline partners. In fact, St. George Utah-based Sky West now has the largest fleet of commercial planes in the aviation industry. They operate the "commuter" lines for most of the majors. And they pay their young pilots about the same wage as a first year teacher, or less. Yup, your life in the hands of the very modestly compensated. I think that speaks to competence, and the value airlines place on passenger lives. Like you'd want a discount surgeon to do that bit of work you need. Uh huh. Not buying it. The anti-globalization forces warned us that we'd have to adopt third-world standards to compete in the international economy. U.S. airlines are already there. Big time.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Madrid: Always On

Madrid is my favorite European capital, and I love all of Europe. What makes Madrid special for me is the feeling it evokes when I visit. Madrid is full of passion. Everywhere. The food is prepared with passion. The music, especially the local Flamenco, is raw and passionate. The architecture is grand, the tree-line Avenidas wide, and the many plazas are bustling centers of activity.

The Plaza Mayor, which dates back to 1581, is the grand center of the city. Lined with 237 balconies, shops and outside restaurants, it is a place for the community to meet, to stroll and to relax and socialize.

Madrid parties around-the-clock. In fact, unprepared tourists sometimes complain about the constant activity. What's not to love? Yes, the city requires that adults stay awake until the wee hours of the morn. For example, the great flamenco players in small local bars don't even wander in until midnight. But the Spanish, ever resourceful, accommodate their unusual cycle by maintaining the afternoon siesta as at least a time to rest and relax. Though I've read recently that the pressures of global capitalism are causing more Spaniards to act like the rest of the business world. Shame.

Spanish culture is a crazy mix of European, North African, Gypsy and Arab influences. It all works, in a unique and memorable way. The capital, of course, is very cosmopolitan. Characterized by wide avenidas, like the famous Avendia Reforma, the city boasts some of the best museums and gardens that can be found in major capitals. The Prado Museum is every bit as impressive as the Louvre in Paris. (Read: The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte. A "parlor mystery" with the Prado at its core.)

Of interest to art lovers is the relatively new, state-owned Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Its collections are vast and deep. Think: El Greco, Goya, Velasquez as well as a number of Flemish masters.

The Royal Botanical Gardens, just next to the Prado is one of the finest downtown formal gardens I've seen. The specimen trees are magnificent, as is the large, Victorian-style conservatory. And of course, there are fountains. Lots of spectacular fountains. Not like Rome, mind you. But very beautiful and very Spanish additions to the city's landscape.

If you go, I recommend staying at the small but elegant Hotel Orfila. Just down the street from the British Embassy, the charming small hotel has a five-star kitchen, a stunning courtyard patio, and beautiful rooms. When I was 20, I stayed just next to the Plaza Mayor at a modest but comfortable hotel which is still operating: La Perla Asturiana.

The City is famous for its Tapas, classic small plates with a wildly tasty variety of ingredients; its seafood, often served on enormous platters with a sampling of everything; and for El Botin, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world (ask for a table in the cavernous downstairs room). For authentic Flamenco, avoid the tourist traps with dinner and a show. Look for the small bars with tiled walls like the Monteleon (the old Solea's new iteration), Candela and check-in at Los Gabrieles. If you've got to do dinner and a show, book the Cafe Patas.
Daytrip: to the ancient walled city of Granada, once the capital, home of Spanish steel, Moorish architecture, an ornate Cathedral, and some old-style metalworking foundries.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gore to Hold Concerts

Al Gore, Cameron Diaz, Pharrell and Kevin Wall announced today in Los Angeles a series of star-studded worldwide concerts planned for 07/07/07, to focus attention on the problems of global warming and continue to build momentum around grass-roots pressure for a comprehensive solution. Wall, a well-known concert promoter who was responsible for putting the Live 8 benefit together, will handle the logistics and coordination. Read about it everywhere soon, or go to MTV's story right now to get the details.

Concerts will feature Snoop, the Chili Peppers, Black Eye Peas, Pharrell, Kravitz, Korn and a list of other, major performers so long it can't be reproduced in this post. Al Gore, of course, will provide the message - supported by background videos and robust documentation. Here's his official website.

It is not yet clear just how many more big names will sign-on, or at what venues they will appear. It should be fun to watch this major effort, promised to be much bigger than Live 8, evolve. And, of course, it is always interesting to speculate about whether these kinds of efforts, coupled with increasing angst about the condition of the climate and the planet, will result in a groundswell draft Gore movement.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

House Wine

Just finished racking our two carboys of 06 Cabernet. Had a wee taste of the grape, and it is coming along very nicely, thank you. 2006 was an outstanding vintage in southern Oregon. We don't grow sissy Pinot's like our northern neighbors. The Rogue Valley is known for its Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and lately, Tempranillo. Big reds.

We picked last Autumn from a near-by vineyard owned by Don and Traute Moore. The Moore's, known for their Griffin Creek label, sell more grapes to major vineyards than any other couple I can think of. They've got hundreds of acres in multiple locations. Our own small vineyard, about 20 certified Cabernet vines, should produce 100 pounds of grapes this year, enough to yield one carboy. That's 25 bottles of fine, red wine.

We picked late last season, and the grapes had a brix of 25 - or 25 percent sugar if you prefer. We acquired a new de-stemmer and press last year, so put them to good use.

During fermentation, the "champagne" yeast we add eats the sugar and converts it to alcohol. The "must," the fermenting combination of grape juice, grape skins and a few stems, produced a fine press - which we've now siphoned, or racked, to eliminate sediment (the "lees") on two occasions. After one more racking, we'll probably add a few oak shavings a let the batch sit for a year to age. Though corked during secondary fermentation and aging, a small amount of oxygen allows the red wine to undergo a slow, classic oxidation-reduction process while it ages. That process takes the acidic edge off the wine, leaving it smooth and deep. Yum. I can almost taste it. As my partner, the master winemaker, is fond of saying: A dinner without wine is like a day without sunshine. A fine accompanyment for almost any kind of music I might add.

Ashland is for Lovers

According to a recent USA Today article, Ashland, Oregon is one of the most romatic destinations in the country. That's what I'm talking about. Southern Oregon really does rule. In so many ways. So if you're a local reader, tune out for this post. Let's talk Ashland.

A mountain-side alpine village just 20 minutes over the border from California, Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival the longest running theater festival in the county; to the Mt. Ashland ski resort; the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and to Lithia Park.

The charming downtown is almost European, dotted with bakeries, exotic gift and clothing stores, and a very wide variety of first-class eateries. There are more bed and breakfast inns than you might guess, and the grand dame of southern Oregon, the Ashland Springs Hotel. The town is also home to Southern Oregon University, Jefferson Public Radio, and the One World Series of world music. Of course there are numerous art galleries, and a weekly art walk. A new Tibetan Buddhist spiritual center is under construction to complement the many other faiths that are represented in town. There's an active farmer's market, a weekly artisan's market in the season, and a food co-op. And Ashland is wired. Massive broadband pipes, through the city's Ashland Fiber Network. Maybe that's why there's always a few software publishers setting up shop in the remodeled railroad district. (Pic below: Lithia Creek in the Park)

Come visit, but don't plan on relocating to this delightful village unless you've got some serious juice. Like Berkeley, Laguna Beach or Mendocino, Ashland also hosts a bunch of very upscale neighborhoods with very custom homes. Not to worry, if you fall in love there are a number of more modestly priced small towns and rural acres close by.

Insect Predators - Gardening Miracles

My partner is an OSU-certified "master gardener." That means on our small acreage we've got an organic veggie garden, a greenhouse, a small plant cloning workshop, and lots of empty white plastic bottles (which we recycle) laying around. It also means we have home made tomato sauce in Winter, jams and jellies to die for, our own red-wine and lots of flowers for cutting. I am continually grateful for our decision to locate on this land in this wonderful place 17 years ago yesterday.

So about this time, we've got a lot of starts in our greenhouse that are getting ready for the garden. And some flowers ripening under lights. We also have the occasional problem with nasty, herbivorous insects. Being organic gardeners, we use a variety of natural remedies - taking into account the life-cycle behaviors of the critters we discover. For example, Thrips spend two different parts of their life-cycle in the soil and can be effectively eliminated with nematode predators. Insects that live and breath in planting mix can also be controlled with a layer of diatomaceous earth, which effectively shreds their bodies as they climb out of the soil. But of course, not all insects can be controlled through the soil. Spider mites can also be a pain. And don't even get me started on white fly. So we use a variety of natural insect predators from Nature's Control. They ship overnight, so check them out if your flowers are blooming - and you want to keep it that way without chemical pesticides.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Conversation with an Audiophile

Everybody hits this wall it seems. Approaching 3,000 songs on my iPod, I'm starting to wish there were better gear around to wrap my audio content across all of my hardware platforms. That's not to say there is a shortage of activity in this market, or a shortage of workable moderate-fidelity solutions. But if a person wants high-fidelity reproduction and efficient wireless broadcast, the picture gets a little muddier.

In these situations, I call my certified audiophile buddy Bruce. Bruce Borgerson is principal of Wavelength Communications, a technical writing and consulting firm serving the professional audio industry. He has three decades of hands-on experience in both live sound mixing and studio recording, and he is a member of the Audio Engineering Society. Phat, right? In 04, he got paid to write an extensive piece comparing the sound systems used at the two national political nominating conventions. As in interesting aside to that story, it turned out both the R's and the D's used basically the same gear. Guess they agree on something, but I digress. Talking to Bruce often sends me to Dilettant's Dictionary (of audio, video and computing), founded by Sandy Lerner of Cisco Systems fame.

Bruce listens to vinyl. He's prickly about his music. And analog is his choice. Good vinyl, he notes, lasts for years. He spins his collection of very well cared for albums on modest gear, a Technics table with the top-of-the-line Audio Technica cartridge. For portable tunes, he lugs an analog cassette tape deck. For real. He's done all the head-to-head comparisons, and has a well-developed ear. I trust his judgement completely when he tells me that you just can't beat the sound of analog audio. And his reasoning makes sense. Digitization, he notes, actually enhances hiss through a process called quantizing. "It's just part of the 16-bit sampling and conversion process."

Bruce does listen to SACD stored audio. That, he says, is the best available sound that can be extracted from the CD format. Should be, each song recorded in this lossless digital format takes as much space as a DVD movie. For that you get zero distortion from 0-to-100Khz. Not a format one can stream, however. There's just not bandwidth anywhere at any cost for wireless or net transmission of files that size.

So we compress. The standard CD format, Bruce points out, is "lossy" by design. "We throw stuff out," he says. "Compressing audio means losing information deemed non-critical. But that changes the experience in small, but important ways. That's why an album or analog cassette is always going to sound better than a CD."

He's quick to point out that the digital music picture is constantly improving, and that the mp3 standard is not static but comes, "in a broad spectrum of quality levels."

I'm told my posts are way too long, so I'm going to break my conversation with Bruce into two installments. The next will feature his take on digital audio hubs, wireless networking and the Squeezebox. I was struck during the interview, however, with the differentiation my friend continually made between "casual listening," which he defined as awareness of background music; and, the active appreciation of music accurately reproduced with zero loss and soundstage intact - delivered in true high-fidelity sound. Not something my iPod can deliver quite yet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hate Radio Hacks

Since the U.S. election, conservative talk-show hosts have found themselves with diminishing audiences. Hey, the country is turning blue and progressive Democrats (the opposite of neo-conservative Republicans) swept both houses of the Congress and many state houses as well.

It seems, as a result, some hosts are seeking to hold their already questionable, fringe audiences by ratcheting-up the rhetoric. At least that's the case in southern Oregon where I live. In a Friday morning talk-show program, local hosts called some of my personal associates "bottom-feeders," and suggested they should be taken out and hung. Uh huh. That's right. As hard to believe as it is.

So while my colleagues were taking care of business, at work, at home, tending to their children in some cases, these hosts were slamming them on the air in really despicable language. Now that's brave, don't you think? Publicly picking on folks from a safe distance, without their knowledge and with little or no chance to respond. That's the American Way, according to this "entertainment" model.

Naturally, I took umbrage at the comments and did an extensive search on "talk radio"+incitement+negligence. I learned a lot. Read about the really egregious case of KSFO in San Francisco (ironically an ABC/Disney station) that resulted in a lot of very bad publicity, some firings and a lawsuit. In one of KSFO's many episodes, a drunk talk-show listener who had been angered by comments he heard called a state senator five times with death threats.

According to the Missouri Bar: "Negligence" is a well-known ground for lawsuits. More and more, courts are subjecting the media to negligence suits, making the media pay when they expose others to risk of bodily harm."

In other words, journalists and talk-show hosts encounter a measure of predictable financial harm to themselves if they fail to observe the doctrine of negligence as it applies to their broadcasts. Short of actual financial or tort liability, radio stations that feature hate-filled talk radio shows risk (1) bad publicity; (2) loss of advertising revenue; (3) reprimand and unwanted attention from parent corporations; (4) FCC Complaints; (5) local efforts to interfere with regular station licensing; and, (6) potential time- and resource-draining lawsuits. I am working on a draft strategic campaign plan that will make these real, meaurable risks.

To make matters even better for those of us with complaints in this area, Radio is suffering from a significant loss of listenership and market. That makes sense with the advent of satellite and IP radio. One can receive streaming broadcasts from sources worldwide. That gives us more leverage, because it amplifies the effects of our efforts. And, we've got allies like Media Matters for America. Here in Jackson County, we're evaluating our alternatives. Local Station management is not unresponsive to the community and we'll see just what happens. More later. Leave me a comment if you've had a similar experience.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Revenge of the Dixie Chicks

Success is the best revenge. And sweet it is. That's all I'll have to say about this year's Grammy Awards. The Dixie Chicks put it best:
I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and I don’t have time to go 'round and 'round and 'round

You go girls...

India Rising

The BBC has a wonderful new section that looks at India Rising. Proper role for the Brits, keenly observing as a former colony becomes a true world power. Bit of irony there, or fate - depending on one's point of view. And Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is at the centre of the Indian financial Universe (pic: Mumbai Stock Exchange). In addition to the requisite stories about India's many industrial successes like IT, Steel and tranportation, India Rising carries a wonderful series of pieces that take a look at life in Dharavi, Mumbai and South Asia's biggest slum. Now that's not something one has an opportunity to read about on a regular basis. And when you check-out this BBC special report, don't miss the photoblog of Rani, a rural schoolgirl. This is my idea of great, online journalism. Not many traditional players get it like the BBC. Check out India Rising.

Magical Musical Pairings

Masters of music push limits, often together. Playing back-up, singing duets, adding a hot lead riff, or just hanging out and jamming, the roles of musical collaborators are many.

From these collaborations, and there are many, a few magical musical pairings occasionally emerge. And when they do, it's worthy of notice. Recently, the work of Emmy Lou Harris paired with Mark Knopfler has been getting a lot of play around our house. As are the tunes that Maria Muldaur recorded last year with blues pianist Charles Brown. We've always thought that Dougie McClain and Kathy Mattea went well together. Likewise Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Shawn Colvin's voice works well with Bruce Hornsby's limited range and Kelly Jo Phelps' deep growl blends perfectly with Tony Furtado.

Guitarists like Bert Jansch and John Renborne worked better together than alone. Eric Clapton laid down his best riffs playing with the late Duane Allman on Layla. Watching Carlos Santana play with Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys is like seeing the torch pass from one generation to the next. And of course, Ry Cooder has paired his guitar-playing with just about every musician of merit on the planet. A lot more on the contributions of Cooder to popular music in a later post.

Gypsy fiddle player, Stephan Grapelli has added his serious Manouche jazz licks to a lot of collaborative works. His violin conversations with L. Subramaniam of India are incredible. Talk about East meets West. Gypsy jazz meets Carnatic, Hindustani violin. This stuff is so fast you can practically see the sparks flying. For a taste of Subramaniam's fiddle, check out the M-Vid Oddities and Virtuosities sidebar element. Another clip links to Grapelli playing with Django. Previous posts contain hot-links to all the musicians mentioned here. So go ahead, read them.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Cape Breton in October

Okay, I'm excited. Our trip to Cape Breton in October for Celtic Colours is booked. I discovered that starting early really did impact airfare, but it will still be an epic journey from Medford to Halifax. Well worth it. We're going to be attending the very best Celtic Music Festival in the Western Hemisphere for ten days, hiking the Cabot Trail, sightseeing at the old fortress in Louisbourg on the Atlantic, and yes, having a wee dram in the only single-malt Scotch distillery in the hemisphere. Wow.

We're staying at our A-list, first-choice inns. Castle Moffett in Baddeck, the Louisbourg Harbour Inn and Duncreigan County Inn in Mabou. Tickets for the festival, which is Island-wide, aren't on sale until Summer, but I know the playbill will include some great names. After all, Natalie McMaster and the Rankin Family live on the Island. Last year, even Galicia's Carlos Nunez made an appearance. I know the music will be outstanding, as will be the fall colors. Can't wait. More later.

Steve Jobs on DM - Let's Talk

Steve Jobs has penned an "Open Letter" on Apple's Web site offering to open-up digital music to the masses by eliminating DRM copy protection. Jupiter Research's Mark Mulligan has already weighed-in , as has the BBC's News Blog.

So does this mean the end of "fair play" on iTunes purchases? Well, maybe. And if it does, we've got the pressure applied by the European Union, widely reported and cited by Mulligan, to thank. So Steve's at the table, for whatever reason. Let's get the negotiations going. Users want to share digital tunes across all platforms and formats. End copy protection now.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tim O'Reilly - Publisher to Prophet

Tim O'Reilly is best known for publishing very thick and very heavy books on X Windows and all flavors of Unix. I used to see him hanging out with his crew at the SCO annual developers' event, at NetWorld and at Interop. Have you ever noticed how many great UNIX programmers are Irish? I remember these three, questionably documented young lads at Quarterdeck in Santa Monica back in the day. They were responsible for putting DESQviewX together, and that was a piece of work. As part of the attendant promotional effort for the product, the Quarterdeck team including moi, handed out hundreds of copies of O'Reilly programming manuals. Damn near broke my back. The inflatable DESQviewX blimps were a lot more fun.

So Tim's morphed into a web 2.0 guru these days, not an unexpected evolutionary advance. His blog: O'Reilly Radar is timely and authoritative. He recently defined the new frontier as: "Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I've elsewhere called 'harnessing collective intelligence.')". That begs the question: what does an application that has gotten "better" through harnessing network effects look like? Wikis come to mind. I wonder, however, if it is really the application that "gets better" through harnessing collective intelligence, or the quality of output? Maybe it's a moot point, and that's the point.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Maximum Blues

David Maxwell released his debut solo album, Maximum Blues, last December 29th, and it's an instant classic. This is a performer who has stroked the ivories in over 50 major studio sessions. He's played with everybody, and some well-known greats won't tour without him on keyboards. He can play it all, Honky-Tonk, Boogie-Woogie, New Orleans' style, but the Blues is his calling.

It's interesting and appealing when a back-up musician steps to the front and is dazzling. Maxwell, believe me, is dazzling. His slow Blues (download "Down at P.J.'s Place") is so good it creeps up your spine and makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up; so good it makes you holler and moan. Oh, god. This is good Blues. Give me more of this medicine, it takes me somewhere else. I turned the surround-sound speakers up and almost slid right out of my chair. Mmmm.

Then I dialed-up "Deep Into It," with Ronnie Earl on electric guitar, and came right back up again; fortified; energized and ready for trouble, or love. "Walk the Walk" finished me off completely and took me right over the top. That's right. It's that good. Buy it now.

Whine of the Week

Under the category of: Did He Really Say That? In one of the most ill-advised and counter-intuitive whines I've heard recently, the Financial Express is reporting that Sony Computer Entertainment America Spokesperson Dave Karraker recently said: "Wii could be considered an impulse buy more that anything else, but we believe the PS3 will be the console to attract hardcore, committed gamers, while Wii will do little beyond satisfying new and casual players."

Damn. Seems to me that satisfying new and casual players is the space to occupy. But no, Sony introduced the Ford Expedition of gaming consoles for the truly hardcore. Uh Huh. And just which market do you think will be the biggest? Not to mention that Wii has re-defined gaming, gotten it off the couch, roped in a bunch of girl-gamers and extended the market far beyond its previous demographic. Could Sony be worried? One of my first posts, just after the holiday gift-buying season, declared Wii the winner. Don't see any reason to change my opinion now. And this really catty reaction from the Sony shill is the recipient of the very first Pop Impulse Whine of the Week award.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

AdWords Adventures

I've posted before about neural marketing and the online buzz machinery. Part of the process of building a "Borat Buzz" around the Bijou property has been a couple of Google AdWords campaigns we're running. For the crew of producers, myself included, this is a new experience.

Of course we'd been reading about the new marketing communications paradigm, and the price of Google's common stock reinforces the expected success of the model. After several months of experience, we heartily concur. AdWords rule. That's all there is to it. End of story.

My friend John Fricker, an IT guy at Musician's Friend and the former technical genius behind Southern Oregon Magazine (online version), originally hooked me up with AdWords. He forwarded me a backgrounder outlining how he had used the service to "purchase" the name of our local congressman during the last election cycle. He then used his key-word purchase to reach about 20 thousand potential voters with his message for under 30 bucks. I was impressed, and wanted to know all the details.

Google makes it easy. After reading John's primer, the tutorials, FAQs and some forum chatter, I designed a campaign around two simple text ads that feature some of the show's strongest image and identity messages, paired with the URL for the project blog. Our initial goal was to just get the project name back out in the market. Our moniker, Matinee at the Bijou, is not unknown - as the show was on PBS for eight years, five consecutively, in the 80s. So we wanted to get that back out in play as aggressively as possible on a tight budget.

That highlights the fact that an AdWords campaign is perhaps as effective a public relations tool as an advertising vehicle. We're certainly using AdWords in that manner, as part of a multi-layered approach. AdWords also play an important, though non-traditional role, in the neural marketing construct that I proposed in an earlier post.

Here's how it works. Once on the net, making connections and actually "using" those connections, then getting them to work independently on their own, is what feeds buzz. AdWords, the impressions they make and the click-throughs they generate, are nodes in the neural system - generating "use" and strengthening connections. That's a very good thing.

The Bijou project is using AdWords campaigns to: (1) build visibility; (2) develop awareness and context; (3) anchor key images and messages; and, (4) call fans to action.

We've learned that Google offers two models for purchasing AdWords: keyword-based campaigns; and, site-based campaigns. Additionally, with key-word campaigns, Google offers both "search engine" placement and "content network" placement. Google's content network consists of all sites that utilize Google companion communication product, AdSense. For example, our Bijou is Back blog site has three "content network" Google ads. Our own ad graces the pages of sites that are thematically related to our message. Works so fine. In fact, if one's own site has the traffic, it is not inconceivable that the AdSense ad revenue generated will partially or completely cover the expenses of an AdWords campaign. Now that would be elegant indeed. Just the possibility seems to be a powerful motivator.

AdWords can also be deployed in a variety of user-defined configurations. One can select specific metropolitan statistical areas, specific pages on which ads are to be displayed, specific sites, the list seems to be quite extensive. What a concept.

The bidding piece seems to be daunting for some. That is, one makes a minimum "bid" to purchase key words. The bid is for a minimum Cost per Click (CPC). Remember, there is PR value for simple viewer "impressions," but only click-throughs cost. For site-specific campaigns, one bids on CPM. The Google system defaults to a suggested minimum bid, and learning the system (and the tricks of the trade) is not complicated. Further, the system alerts customers when key-words become inactive, and offers the opportunity to raise one's bid - or not. Adding or deleting words, activating or pausing the campaigns, checking on status, pricing and monitoring costs is all so easy and intuitive just about anyone can master it. And that's just what the Googlies had in mind. We check our account several times a day and on weekends to fine-tune our campaigns.

Google also understands what constitutes value added services. The Big-G nerd patrol provides a bevy of on-line resources, a useful blog and access to robust analytics. Data. We're talking lots of quality data presented in a number of useful ways. I love the metrics. One can measure everyfreakingthing. My colleagues are very impressed with the numbers, charts, graphs and reporting capabilities of our programs. Makes the program manager look like a star, for sure.

At this writing, we've had 734,000 impressions and 518 click-throughs - gross. With the reporting capabilities of AdWords, the data becomes much more granular. As a result, we're seeing rate and amplitude increases in traffic at our blog, some additional subscribers at our YouTube pages, an increase in comment frequency and we're thinking the buzz is building. I'll have more to report on that later.

Guitar Love

Bill Frisell, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Sean Watkins, Martin Taylor, there's no shortage of great guitarists. Good thing. Can't have enough fine guitar pickin, ever. There's something about six wire strings and fine, old, resonant wood. Or a well-made electric hardbody with Humbuckers.

Maybe it's because the guitar can weep, scream, moan and cajole with such a fluid flexibility that it is an ideal instrument for so many styles. Maybe its because carrying and playing a guitar is relatively easy - at some level; or maybe its because our ancestors started stretching things over wood to make music so long ago that the look, feel and sound is so hard-wired in our subconscious that it evokes a common, shared reaction. Probably all of the above.

My first experience with out-of-the-box guitar playing involved English masters John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. John Fahey and Leo Kotte soon followed, then Doc Watson. About that same time, I was listening to Mayall's Blues Breakers and I discovered Eric Clapton. Later the likes of Toby Page, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Mark Knopfler and Peter Green became my standard guitar fare. Followed by Duane Allman, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana and SRV. Seeing Peter Frampton recently on PBS made me remember some of his early contributions as well. In short order, I had my own "sunburst" Les Paul (1974), and a fine acoustic Guild with a cut-away. Sold the Les a few years back (really shouldn't have done that in retrospect), but I still have and occasionally play the Guild.

I had an opportunity this summer to catch Larry Carlton and Robben Ford playing together at southern Oregon's fine Britt Music Festival. That show was a guitar player's dream. Ford remains my favorite contemporary bluesman, though there are lots of good ones that come in a very close second. I recently discovered the music of Joe Bonamassa, which really rocks. Johnny Lang and Shannon Curfman represent the "youth" movement in traditional hard rock. Both are accomplished guitarists. Curfman totally rocks, and she's just so cute. Punkers don't count in my estimations, as their guitars are utilized primarily as percussion instruments.

Today, Bluegrass guitarists like Sean Watkins and Tony Furtado (when he's not playing his banjo) are adding new directions to the traditional American Folk lexicon. Kelly-Jo Phelps is shaking up the slide guitar world and stylist, Bill Frisell, is fusing all sorts of unusual sounds together in an entirely new guitar tapestry. Knopfler is back, with his wonderfully minimalist style, paired with Country Diva Emmy Lou Harris in a great collaboration. And Los Lonely Boys front man, Henry Garza is a younger version of Carlos. Lots of talent there.

On the Jazz front, the traditions of French Gypsy great Django Reinhardt are being very well maintained by Martin Taylor and Romane. In fact, Django's style and technical ornamentation can be found in a variety of modern, ensemble groups like 8 1/2 Souvenirs and Pink Martini's Dan Faehnle (who joins the band on tour).

Iberian guitar styles, including Flamenco and Portuguese, will be showcased in a future post.

Accordion Action

As the old joke goes: Why do politicians make good accordionists? Because they are used to playing both ends off against the middle. To most, that sounds about right.

When I was a kid, my parents decided that I needed a musical education. They asked what instrument I might be interested in learning, and at about seven years of age I didn't know any better, so I said: the accordion. To this day, I'm not sure what drove that fateful decision. In any case, I haven't been able to listen to "Lady of Spain" since that time, and have an inherent distrust of all polka. I was scarred by the experience, so avoided the accordion at all costs for most of the ensuing years.

Then I discovered the Concertina, Zydeco, Acadian Folk music, Celtic accordion and Santiago Jimenez. And so, I rediscovered the accordion and learned that the instrument had a very distinctive role in a variety of appealing folk music traditions.

The French "Musette" style of accordion was perfected, often by Italians, in the sawdust covered salons, cafes and cabarets of 1920s and 30s Paris. Sweet, slow and languorous, it was epitomized by by Emile Vacher. The instruments were often in the hands of the French Manouche clan of Gypsy musicians, like Joe Privat, known for cool jazz and striking improvisations. Django Reinhardt playing guitar and Stephan Grapelli on Fiddle, often accompanied by Privat on accordion.

Gypsy musicians use accordions across Europe, with some of the best-known bands in the Balkans. Eastern European Klezmer musicians also relied on accordions to accompany the clarinet and strings. If you live in the San Francisco Area, you can hire Nada Lewis to perform this kind of energetic, ethnic music at your event. In fact, the folkloric net offers musicians in a variety of traditions. Today, jazz accordian is most associated with the instrumental work of Richard Galliano.

Irish airs work well with accordion accompaniment. Sharon Shannon is a Celtic squeezbox virtuoso, as was Joe Burke. I'm going to devote considerably more than one post to Celtic music, and more on the music of my own ancestors is on-deck.

In the U.S., accordion passions primarily are driven by three styles: Polka, Conjunto & Zydeco. I'm not interested in Polka, unless its Mexican; Zydeco and the Tejano Conjuntos are another story. The music of Cajun- and Afro-Louisiana blend into a single accordion style - to my ears. Players like C.J. Chenier, Wayne Toups, Queen Ida and Stanley Dural, Jr., better-known as Buckwheat Zydeco have been livening up the airwaves for decades. This is good-time, toe-tapping music.

But my personal favorite is the Conjunto music of Texas, made popular by the Jimenez family over three generations. Flaco Jimenez played accordion for year with the Texas Tornados and more recently Los Super Seven. Flaco has made guest artist appearances on albums with Dr. John, Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan. He is a winner of the Billboard Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award. Awesome, no?

Any discussion of Latin accordion would be incomplete with out a nod to Mexican great Chelito Sanchez; and to South American musicians like Maximo Jimenez of Columbia.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Web 2.0 - Brave New World for Marketeers

The blogosphere is buzzing with posts about viral marketing. No surprise there. The whole marketing world is undergoing profound reconfiguration. Every part of the equation is changing, often 180 degrees. The changing complexion of marketing reflects larger changes in culture, connectivity, media and technology. Welcome to Web 2.0.

We've reached that disruptive moment when a new technology actually creates tectonic movement, displacing traditional topographies with entirely new landscapes. Wow. Bloggers are riding the crest of the wave, and I must say it is certainly exhilarating. At the same time, traditional media and information providers are in serious decline. Network television is loosing viewers to YouTube and IPTV; metropolitan daily papers with very famous names are hemorrhaging subscribers; glossy monthly magazines are in decline, and the very future of broadcast radio is in doubt. Now that's a sea change.

Many observers have identified the bottom-up, inside-out dynamic involved in this ongoing process. For marketeers, that is a key concern as well. Marketing has traditionally been a top-down proposition; driven by display advertising, radio and television spots, direct mail and public relations. Now, marketing is all about bulletins and buzz; instant messaging and "friending" practices; and consumer participation. I'm particularly impressed with the musings of social network marketing maven (and web Vamp) Danah Boyd - who pens apophenia - on bulletins and buzz.

These new marketing and consumer context development techniques are often referred to as "Viral Marketing." With respect to my colleague Mack Collier at "The Viral Garden," one of my favorite business blogs, I think we're better served by viewing the new market as "neural." Viruses, from my recollections of pathobiology, have only their DNA in common with their point of origin. Sure, there is a network of infecting vectors, but the connections aren't very permanent and it's difficult to talk infrastructure around the viral construct.

I think the nervous system model works so much better for visualizing the challenges and opportunities ahead. Nerves can create semi-permanent pathways that are strengthened by use and can interact in complex ways with surrounding systems and topographies. And nerves have trigger thresholds that are useful metaphors for creating and measuring the effects of buzz. When a key nerve nexus is engaged and fires, it sends impulses (bulletins) to all of its system connections ("friends"). Nerve pathways loose strength and system-wide relevance with disuse. The human brain is a content aggregator that does a remarkable job of tagging, weighting, organizing and storing data. These assets are made available to the rest of the body's systems not only on-demand, but in anticipation of need. Turns out the body doesn't have a rigid hierarchical structure with a top-down design and central authority - it is, rather, a collaborative cooperative. That's what web 2.0 marketing will look like, IMO.

I've had a few decades - on corporate and agency sides - to develop sensitivities to change in this arena. Since a lot of those years were spent in high-technology settings with latest-and-greatest products, I feel qualified to offer some observations and opinions.

I'm currently using some of the new tools, employing a number of web-based strategies and working in social networking spaces for a major project destined for PBS. As executive producer for operations and promotion, my day-job includes hours of online work, research, contact and tracking. Producer Mark DuMond recently interviewed me for a two-part podcast about emerging new marketing models and techniques. You can listen to part one and then part two for about a half-an-hour overview from my perspective.