Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pic of the Day: For the folks who didn't make it.

Here's the Shuttle Columbia flying into the clouds.

Here's to Apollo 1, the Shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and all the other folks who didn't make it home.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Song of the Day: "Dreamline" (Rush, Auburn Hills MI 3-22-94)

First song off the Counterparts Tour bootleg video.

Tonight (Jan. 22, 1994) is the 20th anniversary of Rush opening that tour here in Pensacola.

I was seated directly opposite the stage, up in the bleachers at the Pensacola Civic Center. Gotta say, Rush or not, I really wish the sound quality of that concert had been as good as this video:

The Civic Center (now renamed as Pensacola Center...hahahaha) is a big concrete boondoggle, a horrible waste of taxpayer money, an acoustic disaster, and it deserves to be knocked over, set on fire, have the ashes sown with salt, and then have the developers and their political toadies forced to clean up the rubble with toothbrushes, plastic spoons, and those cone-shaped drinking cups that won't stand on their own.

In summary, the Civic Center sucks. There's a sound-sucking echo that makes even a hockey game announcer sound like he's using a bullhorn in a tunnel.

I knew the sound would be bad, since two years before I attended the Feb. 25 opening night of the band's "Roll The Bones" tour. That one left me deaf for most of the next day. This time, I brought earplugs. Man-o-man did I ever need them.

The "Counterparts" opening act was Candlebox, supporting their self-titled debut disc. I couldn't hear the guitars or vocals well; anything in the midrange was muddy or inaudible. But the highs and bass were incredibly loud, almost painful even with earplugs. No complaints about the band. I liked what I could hear of them, but I hadn't heard anything they played other than "You," which was getting good airplay on local radio:

I probably fidgeted through the opening act and through the intermission. Finally: the intro!

On earlier tours, they opened with the "Three Stooges" theme. This time, we saw a gigantic bolt spinning slowly in space, finally docking with its counterpart (get it? Counterparts Tour!), accompanied by "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" ("2001: A Space Odyssey"). This led into 'Dreamline,' the first track on the "Counterparts" album.

From that point--shitty sound or not--I was riveted.

The set list (via Wikipedia):
Intro ('Thus Spoke Zarathustra'; first time used as intro)
'The Spirit of Radio'
'The Analog Kid'
'Cold Fire' (from Counterparts)
'Time Stand Still'
'Nobody's Hero' (from Counterparts)
'Roll the Bones'
'Animate' (from Counterparts)
'Stick It Out' (from Counterparts)
'Double Agent' (from Counterparts)
'Mystic Rhythms'
'Closer to the Heart'
'Show Don't Tell'
'Leave That Thing Alone!' (from Counterparts)
'The Rhythm Method' (drum solo)
'The Trees'
'Xanadu' (abbreviated)
'Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres' (Prelude)
'Tom Sawyer'
'Force Ten'
'Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage' (teaser)
There were plenty of Rush Geek moments to be had. Lifeson brought out his classic double-neck Gibson EDS-1275 to play 'Xanadu.'

The twin 20-foot high rabbits introduced for the "Presto" tour made a comeback during 'Show Don't Tell.' The stage-left rabbit now sported a gangster hat and sawed-off shotgun. As the song ended, there was threatening music...a shot rang out! An animated bullet flashed across the screens behind the stage, searching for its target for several seconds. Then, with a flash and the sound of a deflating balloon, the other rabbit fell. Up on the screen, his spirit was comforted by a pair of scantily-clad angel bunnies...and the band played 'Leave That Thing Alone!' Has nothing to do with bunnies, just the band having some fun.

Neil Peart's seven and a half minute drum solo followed. This is the one time in the entire set when the sound didn't suck: I could hear and feel every seismic *THUMP* of the drums in my chest and seat. There were a pair of massive speaker towers hanging almost directly above my seat, so I got it from above as well.

I freaking loved it.

Neil's drum solos are legendary, a staple of every concert. If he hasn't used a part of his kit in the show so far, this is where he makes up for it by beating on everything.

I. Freaking. Loved. It.

Neil's kit spans 360 degrees around him. One 180 degree section is mostly digital; the other is acoustic, but also has some digital triggers. There's also a forest of cymbals.

The solo started on the digital side. As if seeing him playing wasn't cool enough, roughly halfway into the solo he paused after hitting an enormous *THUMP THUMP!*...and his drum kit spun 180 degrees so that the acoustic half was facing the audience. Neil turned the other way on his seat and went right back to the solo.

I spent a lot of time watching Alex Lifeson's playing to see whether I was playing the same way. It might have helped if I'd taken notes (yes, I had a notebook), but I was too busy just soaking in the experience. This was only the second rock concert I'd ever been to--and the second Rush concert. I could hear better, thanks to those earplugs, and by now I knew every song. The only way the evening could have been better (aside from backstage access and that double-neck guitar of Lifeson's) was if the sound hadn't sucked.

Oh, and the ticket price? $21.00. Compare that to $60 or so for a seat in either Tampa or Orlando last year for the "Clockwork Angels" tour.

Once it was all over, I sat and watched the road crew breaking everything down for awhile before leaving to save myself the crowds in the parking lot.
On the way home, I got to hear the concert all over again as WTKX played the studio versions of every song on the concert playlist.

I got lucky a few years after this show. I found a pair of VHS bootlegs of the March 22 Auburn Hills gig. Bought both for $40 a pop. One went to my nephew, who's also a Rush fan. I copied mine to DVD years ago, just before my VCR started eating tapes instead of playing them.

Friday, January 17, 2014

PSA: Knock the dust off your CPU!

It should be one of those things you do every year, like changing batteries on your smoke detectors.

[note to self...install that smoke detector I bought 10 years ago....]

I'd been having shutdown issues on my 4-year-old PC, but only when I was running MCEBuddy, a program for converting MS Windows Media Center video to other formats. The program had always worked without trouble before, but in November of last year it started crashing the system.

I put it aside for a few months. Started messing with it late last night (well, early this morning). I set Windows 7 to show its "Blue Screen of Death" the next time there was a crash, got MCEBuddy going, and waited.

Fifteen minutes into converting this season's premier of "Justified," the computer simply shut off. No blue screen, no crash codes or anything. Didn't even have time to do a memory dump or write to a log. I tinkered for several hours, doing the usual stuff: upgrade the program, change to a different hard drive, look online for suggestions. Each time I'd get a few minutes into the video conversion and *CLICK* the PC turned off. Never a blue screen, always amnesia ("Why'd you turn me off? I didn't do anything wrong!").

I finally downloaded a little widget called Open Hardware Monitor. It gives you a table and a graph of an array of your system's stats like CPU, motherboard and video card temperatures, clock speeds, fan speeds and CPU loads. I ran the widget and set MCEBuddy to converting again.

The main motherboard and CPU temp graphs had been hovering in the 110F and 90F ranges, respectively, but as the program kicked in both temps started going up and up and up. I don't know how accurate the reporting is (there's a temperature-reading error on earlier AMD Athlon II X2 processors), but the widget pegged my CPU's temp at 212F (the motherboard's was closer to 220F!) before the system shut down as before.


And that was with both sides of the case removed to let more air in. So much for it just being bad fans.

I pulled the heat sink off the CPU and found a layer of dust buildup between it and the fan. It might not have been 212F, but the sink was too hot to handle. A little brushwork and it was clean. Didn't put new conductive grease on (got to wait for payday), but I did a little dusting around the board before firing the thing up again.

Now the temps are running 131F/122F at most for the mobo and CPU, respectively, for 12 hours even with MCEBuddy running and pulling 90% to 100% of CPU load.

Time to pull the system apart and hit the graphics card's fans and sinks. It's running around 135F on the low end and 152F max. It's got to be in the current card slot, but maybe I can move some of the others around to get more air in there.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

X-11--Five Years!

I still haven't done any of the body work, but every day the car's running is a damn sight better than sitting unused in someone else's driveway.

Hard to believe it's been five years since the X-11 was delivered.

I'd post a picture, but Blogger won't let me for whatever stupid reason.

Screw them, Here's Rush playing "Red Barchetta" in 2008:

Awwwwww, yeah.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


National Weather Service says:

  • Humidity 38%
  • Wind Speed N 13 G 18 mph
  • Barometer 30.56 in (1035.3 mb)
  • Dewpoint 0°F (-18°C)
  • Visibility 10.00 mi
  • Wind Chill 10°F (-12°C)
Last Update on 7 Jan 1:53 am CST

I says: too cold.

My brand-new oil-filled radiator heater is huddled on the floor, shivering pitifully and asking for a heater of its own.

Going to bury myself under an electric blanket and hibernate.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Song of the Day: Silvestri's "Back to the Future" theme on acoustic guitar

A water-transfer swirl paintjob:

Very cool.

And now for the song:

"Back to the Future" theme on an Alvarez acoustic. Gorgeous.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Doesn't Seem Possible: I'm a Homeowner.

When my mother died back in November, it became official: I now share custody of a house with my sister.

I've lived here since December 26, 1976. Thirty-seven years, minus a few years in Tallahassee and several months at Fort Jackson and Fort Gordon.

Before this one, we lived in 12 other houses and one apartment between my birth and my 9th birthday. I barely remember any of those; a scene here, a memory there. This is the first one my parents actually owned.

Now it's mine.

What the hell do I do with a house?

I've been pondering that. Part of me wants to gut the joint, put new wiring and plumbing into its 50-year-old walls, expand my microscopic bathroom, and add insulation all around. I'll settle for getting rid of the honking big vanity my mother put in my bathroom a few years ago.

The big thing, though, is the outside.

We have a freaking WHITE house. All the brickwork, all the wood trim, the fake-stucco'd cinder block planter...it's all bleached arctic snow-blind holy-crap white. NASA's contractors didn't use this much white paint on all their Saturn rockets combined.

Black fake shutters.

Not my favorite combination for a house. I've never liked it, but now I have no idea what colors to go with.

The "moon rocket" motif is out.

Don't have much of a lawn for me to tell the kids to keep off of.