Carved in Stone

written in stoneEarly this year I wrote an article comparing how we store music in digital versus analog form along with a followup article exploring the contrast between them. There is another major consideration that predominates when it comes recording information these days. Quite simply: what are we going to record onto?

How many of you remember (or have even seen) eight-inch floppy disks? How about five-and-a-quarter floppies? Show of hands if you’ve ever actually used a three-and-half inch floppy? Some of you might not even know what a “floppy disk” is!

Not very permanent, were they. Now consider the Rosetta Stone.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Or original portfolios of Shakespeare’s plays. Also all paintings and sculptures. And most books (although made with cheap paper don’t last as long as well-made books, some of which are hundreds of years old).

Back in 1977, when I began my relationship with computers, I stored my work on punched paper tape. Or I could print my work on a noisy, slow printer.

Over the years the paper tape evolved through modulated sounds on cassette tapes to various sizes of floppy disks and hard drives, to Zip and CD-ROM drives, to “thumb” drives, and lately to “the network,” and now “the cloud.”

Always there was, and is, the possibility of printing the work on paper. I found myself doing that less and less over the years, in large part due to how quickly the printouts became obsolete. In some cases, I’d spot an error while walking it from the printer back to my desk, and that made the entire handful obsolete while the paper was still warm!

punch paper tape

Punched paper tape

I found, too, that I lost the need for a printout over the years.

For many of the first years, it was possible to spend futile hours chasing a bug on the screen. I could stare at code until my eyes crossed without managing to see the error.

Then — and this happened a lot — I’d print the code, thinking I could look at it over lunch or at home. Almost every time the bug would almost leap off the paper.

Something about the printout — the physical paper in hand — made the bug easy to spot.

Over time I got much better at finding my bugs on the screen, so the need for printouts declined, plus there was that whole immediate obsolescence thing which, despite paper re-cycling, seemed wasteful.

retina display

Retina display quality!

I suspect what happened is that displays finally reached “printout” quality.

Fonts improved tremendously. (What I’m looking at as I type this looks about as good as any printout. The recent “retina displays” are as good as any printed material.)

But here’s the thing: Every printout I ever made (and kept for memory sake) is still perfectly readable and perfectly usable. Given a good document scanner (and they’ve gotten very good these days), I might not even have to do much typing.

But I no longer have any working machine capable of reading floppy disks of any size. Nor do I have a Zip drive. I can still read any CD-ROMs I made (at least for now). On the other hand, we know that digital discs do deteriorate over time; no Rosetta stone they.

zip drive

100 meg Zip drive. I have individual image files that wouldn’t fit on one of these!

It would be hard (outside a museum) to find a reader for those punched paper tapes I still have.

They do have the distinction that you can see the holes, so it would be possible (if incredibly tedious) to recover the information.

There’s another problem when it comes to digital data: It’s just numbers, and numbers can mean anything. The numbers have to be understood the right way to make any sense at all of them.

If you can’t interpret them, they’re just random numbers.

The issue is digital format.

Reading old digital data requires knowing its format (and having a reader capable of reading the physical medium). It generally also requires the software capable of reading that format from that reader and presenting it as data the computer can use.

video formats

A handful of the common video formats. These have sub-formats, and there are others less common.

Now that video has become so popular, the problem expands due to the wide variety of digital formats for video.

It’s possible to preserve the numbers as is — to copy them to new locations — but it’s also possible the formats involved become obsolete, poorly supported or even set aside. Those carefully preserved numbers can become meaningless.

On the other hand, the digital world often seems to filled with daily new content, much of it ephemeral, so perhaps saving it all is pointless.

The effort required to take a photo (remember film and having it developed?) has become utterly trivial.

Video recorders have gone from person-sized studio cameras to bulky on-the-shoulder cameras to tiny HD devices you can put in your pocket. We live in a world filled with video cameras, and we are awash in video.

info surfing

“Surfing” the web!

The end result is a massive glut of content.

Everyone is a content producer now. It requires a few simple gestures (clicks or swipes or key taps) to publish that content for all the world to see (or even just your circle of 50,000 followers).

It brings us to an interesting point in time — something new under the sun.

And it creates a conundrum: With so many people producing so much content on a daily basis, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? How do we find needles in haystacks?

The internet river is wide, deep and fast. What streams past today is far downstream tomorrow. I’ve come to realize that, for example, blog posts from a year ago are lost in the mists of history. Who seeks out old blog posts when a hundred new ones come by every day?

info overload

Too. Much. Data!

I used to save interesting links with the intent of looking at them later.

But new interesting links come along every day, so “later” never comes and the list just grows and grows.

What kind of mindset exists in a world that rushes by so quickly and which is so filled with content?

What is the end result of all this ephemeral information?

John Naisbitt, in 1982, wrote that: “We are drowning in information, but we are starved for knowledge.”

Thirty-two years later, that has never been more true.

floppy disks

For those who have never seen them, feast your eyes on an 8″ floppy, a 5.25″ floppy, and a 3.5″ floppy. These are all “buggy whips” now: history!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

34 responses to “Carved in Stone

  • Hariod Brawn

    Bring back analogue! It seems extraordinary that as regards audio products, we actually took a retrograde step in terms of quality in the 80’s. We were sold the myth that digital reproduction and recording was of a superior quality. Seduced initially by the absence of extraneous noise, we completely overlooked the lack of dynamics that came with the compressed encoding. We re-purchased much of our music collections in CD and Minidisk formats only in time to recognise their failings in terms of fidelity. Classical music listeners were, I think, far quicker off the mark to recognise these failings.

    A close friend of mine began his career maintaining analogue multitrack recorders for the 3M Company, later progressing over the years to designing digital audio samplers for a Japanese firm. He told me that in theory at least, no digital system could ever match analogue recording, which at the time came as news to me. What surprised me even more was to hear of a study conducted in the U.S. on how subjects responded over time to digital (quantised) music recordings as against their analogue counterparts. The studies were conducted with both children and with elderly residents of a care home. Both produced the same results, which is to say that over time, the children as well as the adults became increasingly agitated when being played the digital recordings.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I never know what to make of the difference between subjective claims about digital audio and what the objective data suggests. I was born with a severe hearing deficit, and that has worsened over time to the point that if there’s such a thing as “legally deaf” I’m likely it. Even gross differences in sound quality are generally lost on me.

      You mention dynamics, and that’s a good example. Dynamic range is measured in decibels, which have a logarithmic scale: a difference of 6 db represents a doubling (or halving) of sound energy. The thing is, digital audio has every other recording format beat big:

      • Human Hearing: 140 db
      • Human Pain Threshold: 120 db
      • Human Speech: 40 db
      • Concert Hall: 80 db
      • Studio Microphones: 125-140 db
      • AM Radio: 30 db
      • FM Radio: 50 db
      • 78 RPM Phonograph: 40 db (30 with wear)
      • Vinyl Phonograph: 55-65 db (70 db max outer tracks when new)
      • Cassette Tape: 50-56 db (w/ Dolby C: 72 db)
      • Magnetic Tape: 60 db (professional: 90+ db)
      • 16-bit CD: 90 db
      • 20-bit Digital Audio: 120 db
      • 24-bit Digital Audio: 144 db

      Frequency response of the various media follows a similar pattern: Radio is awful, vinyl is bad, tape is fairly good, digital is pretty high. High-quality digital is often extraordinary.

      I have a suspicion that, at least for some older listeners used to older formats, the problem is more that they’re hearing truly accurate music for the first time in their lives. I’ve heard that classical fans took to CDs early because their dynamic range (orchestral music having some of the largest dynamic range of any music — think soft string solo versus full on Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture). My dad (who loved classical) owned one of the first CD players I ever saw (I used to get his hand-me-downs when he bought better models).

      One caveat is MP4 and other formats which (like JPEG images) use “lossy” compression to reduce the size of the data (exactly as JPEG images do). Such compression does corrupt the music, and I know people who refuse to buy music from iTunes for exactly that reason. (Music on CDs is usually not compressed that way.)

      All that said, the problem is the subjective nature of it all. And who knows what subtle, perhaps unmeasurable, losses there are. It’s hard to see exactly how that loss occurs (given the objective specs), but maybe something does happen when you digitize reality. Chaos theory does point out the problems that occur when you do that. [shrug]

      You certainly couldn’t prove it either way with my ears. My bottom line tends to be enjoying the crap out of being able to hold 7200+ tunes in the palm of my hand on my iPod when I go for a walk. I tend to put it on shuffle and it’s like a radio station where I picked their entire catalog! 😎

      It would be interesting to know what your friend meant about “in theory” since (like you) I would have thought exactly the opposite is true. Information theory suggests that all information reduces to ones and zeros (just like all matter reduces to particles), and music is just a type of information. Again: [shrug]

      It is possible there could be something related to the use of solid state versus tubes. There are a couple of studios in L.A. that are “all tube” and some artists use them because tubes sound “warmer” than solid state due to their tendency to emphasize even harmonics. Solid state tends to emphasize odd harmonics, which — to the discerning ear — gives the sound a harsher quality.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Well that went a bit long… 😮

      • Hariod Brawn

        A bit long? That was nothing:

        I’m sure things have moved on hugely since my boffin friend told me about this stuff in the 1980’s, and which is the time-stamp for my comment in effect. Whilst I’m happy to accept much of what you say above as currently accurate, I don’t think we can just look at the figures you list and say that one medium is better than another based purely on comparative (potential) dynamic ranges; and I think you’d agree.

        For example, digital recorders/players necessarily have I/O converters which impact upon dynamic range and it was these components that caused the sonic damage back in the day. Lots of equipment was marketed to consumers as having amazing FR/DNR stats but that only referred to the internal architecture – once the audio came through the DAC’s it often sounded crappy in the 80’s. Consequently, any professional users would be forced to fit after-market converters in order to optimize quality [‘Apogee’ filters were considered amongst the best then, I seem to recall.]

        So, looking at the very best analogue recordings of the era, we find this:

        “The peak of professional analogue magnetic recording tape technology reached 90 dB dynamic range in the mid-band frequencies at 3% distortion, or about 80 dB in practical broadband applications. ‘Dolby SR’ gave a 20 dB further increased range resulting in 110 dB in the mid-band frequencies at 3% distortion.” [John Eargle (yes really!) ‘Handbook of Recording Engineering’]

        At the same time, early 16-bit CD and DAT recorders produced 90db (internal architecture only?). By the time the signal was decoded at the output stages then some degree of deterioration would occur – most significantly in consumer devices. Does this indicate that in the early days of digital audio, and leaving aside all subjective assessments, then the analogue data would appear to have it over the digital? Could ‘Hi-Fi’ analogue record/reproduction equipment such as ‘Revox’ reel-to-reel recorders have in fact produced better FR/DNR results than early DAT machines? Certainly it was the case that recording artists and studio engineers of the time would master multitrack recordings to analogue reel-to-reel, at least until ‘Apogee’ made retrofitted DAT recorders usable as mastering devices, and as a consequence of which Sony, Tascam etc. were forced to up their game. And that held true even when the multitrack format was digital, such as Mitsubishi and Sony devices at the time.

        You wondered what my friend Chris may have meant when he told me that ‘in theory’ analogue recording could surpass any digital, and hence quantized, medium. All I can recall is that he said back then (30-35 years ago) that research was being conducted into using alternative media to magnetic tape, and that his work meant he had to keep abreast of such research. One can only assume that market forces dictated that no putative product could survive ‘the digital revolution’. In marketing terms, one thinks of Betamax failing against the inferior VHS, and how content supply drives hardware sales (why Minidisk failed). In the end, we consumers are at the mercy of the marketeers whose job it is to convince us that what’s available for sale is ‘cutting edge’ technology. In practice, I think, what we’re sold is ‘just enough’ technology. As The Stereophonics said: “Just enough education to perform”.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Wow, you opened a door to some memories! from 1980 to 1984 I was hanging out with a friend I met taking a class about music synthesizers. (Moog synthesizers had exploded into music in the 1970s, so by 1980 UCLA was offering adult night classes. The friend, ‘H’, I met became one of four people I consider my “BFF” and she and I both got to know the professor teaching the class. He let us borrow some of his synthesizers! ‘H’ already had her own home recording studio and dreamed of owning a real one. (She did fulfill that dream and now has a recording studio in Los Angeles.) During those four years, we were pretty much joined at the hip, and I recall those four years as some of the best times of my life! We mostly offered recording services to starting musicians who wanted to cut a demo. ‘H’ played drums and a bit of sax; I played keys, guitar and bass (the latter fairly badly). That let us provide music for singers — we even did arrangements for those who only had words and melody. Great times!)

        Anyway… 😀

        That’s a very good point about the DACs in consumer gear. I don’t know if the CD recording was that bad, but I can totally see consumer gear being pretty sucky. And not just the DACs, but the entire audio chain all the way to the speakers — all those things vary enormously in terms of ability to reproduce accurate sound!

        I saw almost that same text you quoted looking up the dynamic range of various systems. The item from my list, Magnetic Tape: 60 db (professional: 90+ db) refers to that text. But here’s the thing, mid-band performance was better than full-band, and still with 3% distortion. That’s not nothing. And Dolby is a form of sound distortion itself. There’s always a tradeoff.

        The real issue is distribution. Vinyl and (analog AM/FM) radio are very limited, and vinyl gets worse each time it’s played (or even handled). That leaves tape — which is pretty good — but then the tradeoff is size versus content.

        One reason pro-gear is so good is higher tape speed and larger track size (one reason tape cassettes were so bad is slow speed and tiny track size). Those 3M analog multi-track units (the M79s?) your friend worked on used tape that was 2″ wide and ran at 7.5, 15 or 30 IPS.

        The math on that works out okay. A pop tune is supposed to be about 3-and-a-half minutes long (210 seconds). At the middle tape speed of 15 IPS (1.25 feet/sec), that’s 262 (and a half) feet of tape. IIRC, 2400 foot tape reels were common, so you could fit a 10-tune album on a full reel of tape.

        There was good reason for the audiophiles of the day to use high-end consumer reel-to-reel tape decks — it absolutely offered extremely high audio quality. Certainly better than vinyl!

        But tape decays (fairly quickly if you don’t take care of it — stretching can be an issue, too), plus tapes have to be recorded onto. Unlike CDs, you can’t manufacture tape with the content already on it. And they’re bulky. Music would be very expensive to own if RTR tape was the standard.

        And forget about iPods. Also forget about things like shuffle and playlists. Plus it’s a pain finding a given tune (which always seems to be on the other end of the tape). And you have to rewind tape when you’re done.

        As much as my heart is with you on the beauty of analog(ue) over digital, as much as I’d love it to be an analog world, the tradeoffs digital offers — especially for me — blow analog off the table. (I say especially for me because any superiority analog has is lost on my ears.) My guess is most consumers would agree (perhaps even on both counts).

        There is something of a parallel with the ill-fated, but superior, Betamax. Initially VHS tapes could hold 120 minutes (and soon after 240) while Betamax tapes held only 60. Also, Betamax units were more expensive (because they were better). Both sides did expand recording times with a tradeoff of image quality, but VHS always had a good margin there.

        Consumers — as they so often do — picked cost and convenience over quality. The same thing plays out in the music war.

      • Hariod Brawn

        For a while I had Moog Modular 55 but the oscillators would drift like crazy. Then I had a Roland System 700 and that sounded great but was unreliable. I finally settled on a Roland System 100M which meant I could have tons of envelope generators, oscillators, and filters; and the whole thing would still fit on a desk. It didn’t sound as gutsy as the 55 or 700 but it was just as much fun and it actually worked!

        Anecdote: A friend of mine once had a pro-audio outlet in North London and was a dealer for the Mitsubishi X800 32-channel recorder. One day he got a call from Brian May (Queen) saying he wanted to buy one. It was the day before the tax year ended (April 4th.) and May insisted on dispatching my friend Ian a cheque for £200k via motorcycle courier that same afternoon so as the thing could be invoiced in the current tax year and so offset against May’s profits. A year later Ian took the machine back into stock virtually unused because Roy Thomas Baker (Queen’s producer) didn’t like the sound of it and so it didn’t get used!

        P.S. Yes, Chris used to service M79’s which were in lots of London studios in the seventies.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, you’re a keyboard player, too, Hariod? Yet another thing we have in common! That teacher had a Moog and a Roland, but I don’t recall the model numbers. (One of them had tons of actual patch cords.) The only synth I owned was the Roland Juno-60. I sold it to a guy who was putting together a museum of keyboards.

        I do still have my Rhodes 88 (suitcase model) out in the garage. It kept blowing the -15VDC regulator, and I got tired of tearing it apart and replacing it. The thing I always loved about it was the feel of the action — way more “piano like” than most synths.

        I haven’t played in over a decade, though. Arthritis took away guitar playing quite some time ago. My wife (now ex-) gave me a Yamaha keyboard for Christmas back in 2000, and for a while I used its MIDI interface to score some (pretty bad) tunes. It was kind of fun doing all the parts, although playing “guitar” on a keyboard lacks a certain something. :\

        One of the unanswered questions in my life is whether I should have pursued music more. I’ve played as long as I can remember (mom was a music teacher and she taught me piano as soon as I could comprehend it). But I never really pursued it other than for my own enjoyment and occasional periods of working with others. One problem is that I had real musician friends, and in comparison to them, I just didn’t seem in that class.

        Here’s a story that I bet resonates (pun intended): I was hanging out over at one musician friend’s (‘J’) house while another friend (‘M’) — an extraordinary musician — was also hanging out. ‘J’ had a new guitar synth that ‘M’ was trying out. ‘J’ would periodically switch the patch to some new sound. ‘M’ would diddle around for awhile to get the feel of the sound and then start a jam that was perfect for that sound. It was a jaw-dropping experience to see a real musician at work.

        I’ve never thought I had music in my heart quite like that, although sometimes — on my best days — music does seem to speak to me that way. I can “hear” changes coming and it seems like, maybe, just maybe, if I’d dedicated my life to it, I might have gotten close to that level. Or it might have broken my heart in failing.

        Ah, well, such is life. Cute anecdote — cake and eating, too! (Those M79s had a bit of a rep as being high maintenance. 3M also came out with some of the first digital recorders (based on the same chassis, I believe).)

      • Hariod Brawn

        Rhodes 88 Suitcase – lovely instrument, though I think a bit more temperamental than the 73? Can’t really say ‘lovely instrument’ as regards the Juno-60 or its predecessor. Didn’t they have an arpeggiator or was that just the Jupiter series? I was never a keyboard player proper, though I used to love messing around with tricky chords – could never do the twiddly bits. I played a bit of guitar too, and I think I told you about a vintage Telecaster I used to own – again, no good on the twiddly bits but loved my chords.

        As to your anecdote then I really do get that; sounds seem to want to go in a certain direction don’t they? I always loved the way Michael Brecker used the EWI, Pat Metheny the guitar synth, and Joe Zawinul the Oberheim/Prophet/ARP2600 – it was as if they were allowing the instruments to play too. Incidentally, they were all musical heroes of mine, though Brecker and Zawinul died in recent years as you may know.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Could be (more temperamental — pun intended?), I don’t have enough experience with other Rhodes pianos to know. I do know the 88 is a beast to move around. One person can move the base or top, but it requires a lot of huffin’ and puffin’. The Rhodes was a bit like my VW bug… first time I drove a friend’s bug, I knew I wanted one — they were just too much fun to drive. First time I played a Rhodes — that round sound and near-real piano keyboard feel — I knew I wanted one.

        Yes, I do recall your Telecaster story! My friend ‘H’ had one (from 1966, but minus any interesting history), a graduation gift from her parents. I don’t think she ever learned to play it, but it’s available to musicians who use her studio. (As is another parental gift: a Steinway Grand! I loved playing that thing!)

        Your musical awareness, especially of musicians, transcends mine quite a bit. I came to rock fairly late in life and to jazz even later. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Metheny I know, of course, but while I’ve heard their work given who they played with, I can’t say I’m familiar with Brecker or Zawinul. But I bet I’d find Brecker’s name in the credits of a lot of things I listen to (in particular: Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Steely Dan and Chick Corea). You may have given me some new areas to explore, so thanks!

        “Twiddly bits!” XD Did you ever play professionally or with a band?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Funny how the mind works. I was doing something unrelated when it interrupted to mention that I’d never answered your question about the Juno-60’s arpeggiator. Which it did have, and therein lies yet another anecdote.

        Before I got married I owned a townhouse — which was one corner of a four-square unit. I had a common bedroom wall with one of my neighbors, and that bedroom was occupied by a friend of the owner. Said friend had a bit of a drinking problem and often would come home at 2 or 3 A.M. and decide to listen to loud music. There was loud music during the day, but you really can’t complain then.

        One day I’d had enough, so I lugged the 500W Sun amp I used for my J-bass into the bedroom, hooked the Juno to it, set up a five-note arpeggiation, cranked the amp to 11 (aka “wall shaking”)… and then went shopping. Returned a couple of hours later and shut it off and — oddly — loud music from my neighbor wasn’t so much of a problem after that.

        I’m not saying I’m proud of this. (I think I’ve have mentioned having a warrior’s heart? It has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years.)

        I didn’t mind selling the Juno. If I had been in a band (a joy I’ve never managed to experience), it would have made a nice addition to some arrangements, but as a solo instrument, I found it limited (no keypress dynamics, for one thing) and very one-dimensional. I donated the J-bass to a charity auction, but I still have that Sun amp.

      • Hariod Brawn

        No pun intended on the Rhodes. I once met a guy called Chuck Monte who used to modify Rhodes and make them really percussive; they were interesting, and I think he called them Dyno-my-Piano. They would sound like the digital simulations that came later with things like the Yamaha DX-7 but were novel at the time and of course, were ‘real’ pianos.

        And no, I never played professionally, though have jammed with a few pros over the years (before they asked me to leave the stage). I used to have a dreadful garage band and write tunes vaguely in the style of The Average White Band and Tower of Power.

        Below is a video of Mike Brecker playing the EWI. People could hardly get a musical note out of the things yet he could make them sing. This particular tune brings tears to my eyes for a couple of reasons, one is that my German Shepherd would always howl along in a quiet and melancholy way whenever I played it. The only other music he would howl to was, believe it or not, Bach. True dat.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, very nice! (The range on that thing is amazing.) I think that’s my favorite of the video links you’ve posted here. Very nice indeed, thank you for the introduction!

        Can I return like for like… Introducing you to new music may be as difficult as finding and introducing my buddy to a beer he’s never tried (he’d never heard of Innis & Gunn, although actually presenting him with one seems impossible in Minnesota…. but I think I’ve got him tonight… Newcastle has a seasonal Scotch Ale done in collaboration with Caldonian and I’ve got it chilling in the fridge).

        I can but try. Do you know Eric Vloeimans? A Dutch reader introduced me to him, and I immediately bought several of his albums. Hell of a lot of soul for a white boy from Holland! 😀

      • Wyrd Smythe

        And you might get a real kick out of this:

      • Hariod Brawn

        Your man Vloeimans is very cool W.S.; and no, I had never heard of him, being as I am, very much out of the loop as regards jazz in recent years. [I got into choral and liturgical music at nearby Wells Cathedral where they have a world class choir.] Thanks for the introduction, he definitely seems like a name worth remembering for when he tours over here.

        You have gone up even more in my estimation since you appear genuinely to approve of Mike Brecker. I must say, I think he was a rare musical genius and I was really saddened when he died on my birthday in 2007. He was a very special person to me. I was once watching him in concert when he announced he would like to play a tune based on an Irish Reel (folk dance). He said that he had the idea for it when he was touring Ireland and was staying the night in a little hostelry called Itsbynne. You can guess what he called the tune:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Wow, you can’t sit still for that one! Such a joyous tune it had me laughing out loud (the tune’s title adding to the mirth XD ). Fast jazz sometimes sounds like noise to me — not melodic at all — but that was perfect. It was fun watching the blonde violinist (sitting behind the keyboard) rocking out. 😎

        Bummer he died on your birthday, though. Kind of an anti-birthday present that.

        I’m outta here for the evening. It’s been real, Hariod! 😀

      • Hariod Brawn

        Yes, that blond violinist was in deep with the tune wasn’t she?

        Actually, I rather like the fact that he died on my birthday, although it was shock news on the actual day.

        How was that Scorch Ale?

        Keep it reel W.S. 😉

      • Hariod Brawn

        ‘Scorch Ale’?

        Too much hot music!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh! Normally I’d correct the typo and remove any comment asking me to ‘correct the typo and remove this comment’ but your turnaround is too worth saving. (For that matter the typo itself is worth saving!) Scorchin’!

        (Hey, maybe we can start a trend: start saying “Scorchin’!” in response to things and see if eventually we hear it back from someone. I keep trying to introduce the phrase, “Go Ogle for it” for searching on the internet. I did see someone use that one, but I was never sure if they were just echoing me or if the phrase had gotten passed on. Maybe I could Go Ogle for it!)

        Reel, too Reel!

      • Hariod Brawn

        Let me pour myself a large scorch and contemplate your suggestion W.S.

        I had always assumed that ‘Google’ was in fact derived from ‘go ogle’; and I remain unconvinced that it was ever something to do with numbers – I think they just couldn’t reveal the truth once they became big.

        This has been a reely 😉 long discussion (or should that be ‘re- vox’?) and I’ve enjoyed it by the way – so thanks!

        Actually, that’s just reminded me of my favourite patch on the original and hopelessly unreliable Polymoog: ‘Vox Humana’.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Oh, so you played a Jazz Bass W.S. – fretted or fretless? I was very deeply into Weather Report when they were around; and of course, Jaco, who you mentioned previously, was such a genius with the instrument. That band probably had the greatest impact on me as a listener; and I saw them many times live as well as seeing Zawinul solo after they split. I get the impression that they may not be quite your cup of Scorch Ale though. Speaking of which, you omitted to tell me how that went down by the way.

        I think I probably committed a few noise offences myself in the past; though unlike as with yourself, unwittingly so. I used to spend hours running my Roland Modular through analogue sequencers; and as I was more into playing with sound than composing then, the tedium of it all must have been very apparent beyond, if not to myself within, the walls of my flat (apartment). My flatmate then was a chap called Lol Cottle who himself is a bass player and in fact has transcribed all of Jaco’s compositions so as to play them with his big band. As far as Lol knows, he’s the only person ever to have transcribed all of Pastorius’ compositions since he died – the family say he left nothing by way of manuscripts. Here’s Lol playing Liberty City with his Big Band:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In all honesty, that one’s little on the brassy side for my tastes (I never much cared for the band Chicago), but it’s not bad even so. I saw your flatmate, though. He looks like a real bass player. (Have you ever seen the film, Brassed Off? If not I highly recommend it. It taught me just what a brass band can do, and I was totally blown away.

        I wasn’t a great bass player (and fretless? that’s friggin’ magic that is!). I was just good enough to hold down the bottom. That friend I mentioned with the home recording studio (now a real one): we used to create bass tracks by doubling the playback speed and I’d try to lay down a bass track with her telecaster. Played at normal, that track would drop an octave and form a semi-half-assed bass track. I bought the J-bass so I wouldn’t have to play double speed; I have a hard enough time playing normal speed!

        Not very familiar with Weather Report, although I do have I Sing the Body Electric. I think I mentioned I came to jazz very late and have a lot of catching up to do.

        I saw Jaco when he toured with Joni Mitchell, and I saw him a couple of years later on his own small clubs tour. Both times he did that trick where it’s just him and he uses a digital delay loop to create four or five bass rhythm tracks to then play lead against. I enjoyed his flamboyance, too — like a heavy metal lead he is! 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, forgot again! The scorch ale is yummy. Picked up another twelve-pack today.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Another twelve pack” 😮 I will test it out for myself in that case and “report whether” I similarly approve.

        I loved the work Jaco did with Joni, and their cover of “It’s all over now Baby Blue” is a great favourite of mine. You were fortunate to have seen Jaco in a small club; I imagine that was shortly before he was killed outside one of them. Lol met Jaco several times; they were both jugglers and connected through that and the music.

        Anecdote 1: Jaco once asked Lol to come to his place and listen to the master tapes of his new solo album before it had been released. When it had played through Jaco said “What do you think?” and Lol replied with a sincere compliment. Jaco’s response was to insist they both listened to the whole thing immediately once again and then said “now tell me what you really think”. A pretty intense chap by all accounts!

        Anecdote 2: Another friend of mine, Rob, was showing Weather Report’s drummer Omar Hakim an electronic percussion gadget backstage at a W.R. concert. This old guy shuffled into the room and Rob immediately went over to him, took him by the arm and said firmly “you can’t come in here!”, to which the old boy willingly agreed. Closing the door, Rob turned back to Omar Hakim who said to him “you know that was Joe Zawinul man?”

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I would have seen Pastorius in the very early 1980s. I moved out of L.A. in 1984, so before that, and almost certainly after 1980. The Mitchell concert would have been a couple of years before that — seeing Jaco was due to being so impressed with him in that concert. (BTW: “small club” by Los Angeles standards. Maybe 200 or so?)

        Heh! You’re talking about the Dylan tune, but now I have Baby Blue by the Canadian band, Chilliwack, playing in my head. Fortunately I like the tune. 🙂

        My beer connoisseur buddy helped me attack the first 12-pack, so I thought I’d grab another — the local liquor store only bought a handful. I bought one of the last three. Hope you enjoy it! Newcastle, as you probably know, is fairly mainstream which for beer usually translates to less flavor. Newcastle has a red ale, Werewolf, that’s a bit more flavorful for them (and I love red ales), but their Scorch ale is pretty yummy — certainly more flavorful than their brown ale (which has been a long-time favorite “basic” beer for me).

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I still have my very first computer, and it still boots up, believe it or not. Of course, I didn’t start early the way you did. I got my Dell laptop my second year of college after professors complained about the formatting on my papers. (This is inexcusable for a 32 year old…I’ve always been behind the times.) 🙂 However, I do still have my undergrad thesis on floppy disk. I was able to connect to wifi using one of those wifi cards (remember those?) on my old laptop and transfer those documents. It wouldn’t have been terrible if I couldn’t do it because the college saves that info for us, but still.

    I can’t say I’ve used those big floppy disks. They remind me of 8 tracks! (Which I did have.)

    I feel like nothing is real until I print it out on paper. I have a thick stack of 450 pages sitting on my desk—the first draft of my novel. To me this feels more secure even than the cloud. Of course, I have it there too, and on Time Machine, and emailed to myself, etc. But the paper feels so so so much better.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I actually do have my very first computer: It was a Timex Sinclar ZX81 I bought in 1982. It had a whopping 1K (yes “K”) of memory, although I did buy the 16K expansion module. All it could do is let you write really simple BASIC programs, but it was my first, and you always remember your first. It’s in a box somewhere in my closet.

      Yes, I remember those WiFi cards! I have one sitting on my fireplace mantle (as an über-geek, my tchotchkes are a bit unusual… bits of old phones and such 🙂 ).

      I had an 8-track, too! Someone broken into my car and stole it. That’s when I learned how easy it was to break into a VW. Just stick a knife into the wing window and pop the latch.

      There is something about paper. It’s still the easiest to annotate and highlight, you can take it anywhere, and the batteries never need charging. And it lasts a long, long time. And you never have to worry about some operating system going, “Huh?! What is that?!” Paper is the modern Rosetta Stone!

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Wow. You had a computer in 82. That’s impressive. I was born that year and I didn’t know anyone who had a computer until around middle school. At that point it was a fairly rare thing. I remember taking a keyboarding class in HS and at that point, lots of people had computers (usually shared by the household), but I, alas, was out of the loop. So in this class I sat there with like a slack-jawed Okie staring down at the blank keyboard while the others slammed away. I remember being really pissed that the letters didn’t go in alphabetical order. I am to this day I’m very grateful for that class…that’s probably the only HS class I’m grateful for.

        I’m impressed not only that you have a wifi-card tchotchke, but also that you know how to spell “tchotchke”. I had to look at your spelling to get it right.

        I sort of wish I hadn’t sold my 8-track player in a garage sale. It was still working and it looked really cool, kind of like a robot. I’ve never seen one in a car, though. You still have the VW?

        Speaking of old technology, I hadn’t quite realized how hard it is to find a tape player these days. A friend of mine had a tape of us from back in HS playing guitar and cello (original music, so we were determined to have a good laugh). We hunted everywhere. Finally I remembered that my mom had one in her car, so we listened there.

        Oh flashbacks. BTW, it was worth the hunt. That tape was hilarious, although I have to admit that I was a better guitar player back then.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh, by 1982 I’d already been programming computers for four years! (“Training silicon life forms,” as I like to put it.) My parents urged me to take a (home) typing class (“Whaddaya think I am? A secretary?!”) when I was in HS. Like you, I look back on that fondly now.

        As a field service tech, I had a device for programming the PROMs (Programmable Read-Only Memory chips) that went in a fax machine I serviced. You could program them with the client’s business name so it would appear on the upper edge of each fax they sent. The keyboard in that thing was alphabetical! A-M across one row. N-Z across the one below. 0-9 and some symbols along the top. Using that thing was a nightmare because I was so used to the QWERTY keyboard by then. XD

        I sold my 1972 VW Baby Blue Bug (bought new, my first car) in 1984 after throwing a rod through the engine case. Let me tell you, that makes a really loud noise (and makes the car stop working, like, immediately). I loved that car. Those VW Bugs had a top speed of 80 MPH. Having an air-cooled engine, that was also their cruising speed. You could drive pedal to the metal all day long. Just floor that baby and GO!

        Tape… cassette tape, right? Yeah, another dying technology! I still have the “boom box” that plays cassette and CDs (and radio) that we used to take camping. We also used to take a car battery with us to power it for the ten days were were in the deep wood. There’s something kinda weird about loud rock music pounding out in the wilderness. 😀

        (Don’t be too impressed with my spelling… I have a friend in Google! 😎 )

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I’ve used every kind of floppy! (I also used 8-track tapes as a boy.)

    I take some perspective in the fact that most information throughout history has been lost. Most of what we have, we usually have because it was copied ubiquitously. We don’t have the original manuscript for Homer, any of the Biblical books, Plato, or any ancient work. We have them today because people copied them a lot, which increase the probability of them making it through time.

    Interestingly, many pre-classic civilizations (Sumer, Hattusa, etc) recorded things on clay, a very temporary medium. The few samples of everyday correspondence that we have from those times, we have because the clay happened to get caught in a fire, which hardened and preserved the content.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Good points, all. Many Bible books also suffer from not even being recorded until many years after the events, plus various agenda-based translations through the ages. Even well-intentioned translations can suffer from lack of context or inability to accurately translate certain meanings.

      I saw an interesting quote while hunting images for the article. I’m going by memory here, so this is probably wrong, but it said that all of history until 1980 produced about 5 exebytes of information. We currently produce that much every day. This kind of ties back to what I said about self-publishing… there used to be a sort of threshold for what was publishable. Demand alone has lowered that bar, and self-publishing essentially removes it entirely.

      I’m not entirely sure I think that’s a good thing.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        It’s undoubtedly messy and noisy, but I think it’s a good thing. There are authors who used to get published in the 70s who had stopped writing because the very limited number of consolidated publishing houses weren’t interested in their work anymore. But by self publishing their stuff, they get it back in circulation. Even though it doesn’t bring most of them fame and fortune, they still find that it provides a nice secondary income and get just enough fan feedback to it rewarding. And those of us interested in niche authors get to have access to their stuff.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I agree with all of that! I’m just not sure the consequences of the full picture end up being a good thing. This expands to the entire internet, really. It’s a wonderful, awesome, amazingly powerful thing, this internet of tubes. As someone who works worked in a “knowledge industry” the internet was a godsend! But I worry about the downside, the cost to society. We’re often seduced by the upside to the point of ignoring the down.

        (I actually hope I’m wrong and that it’ll settle down into some new world that works (for some definition of “works”). But if I’m right, we’re in a lot of trouble! What scares me is that people who are a lot smarter than I are also very concerned. Cassandras? Maybe so, but every fallen civilization has had its Cassandras who were right! Just as one data point, Mike Judge’s Idiocracy has bits that have already come true.)

  • ~ Sadie ~

    Very interesting post and comments – as a music lover found it fascinating!

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