Friday, December 14, 2007

Mark Pitta and Friends

Tuesday night at the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley, I had the pleasure of sharing the Green Room with Robin Williams and Dana Carvey and I can tell you that these greats of comedy put their rants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. Carvey brought his 14 year old son with him and confessed to producer Mark Pitta that he was nervous as this was the first time his son had seen him perform. No nervousness detected. To the contrary, everything that came out of Carvey’s mouth had the genius of both improv, studied mimicry, ruthless satire and hilarious caricature of every celeb he skewered . Too precious for words was his send-up of Deepak Chopra. I couldn’t stop laughing. Deepak was nailed. If you closed your eyes you would have sworn that Chopra was up there onstage, albeit under the influence of something, but there nonetheless, dispensing his cryptic wisdom to the delight of us all.

A note about “Mark Pitta and Friends”, Throckmorton Theater, every Tuesday night. It doesn’t get any better than this. No other comedy venue approaches the Laughs/Buck metric. The chance of seeing surprise guests like Williams and Carvey is high, but whoever performs has proven himself to Pitta whose keen eye for talent and intelligent wit assures a great show. Mark, himself, a well known standup, is the master of masters of ceremonies, warming up the audience with engaging jokes and jolly schmoozing with the audience.

Mark features musical acts as well, and precedes the fun with video clips shown while the audience is being seated. Tuesday, he chose a collection of vintage TV commercials for toys. I wanted most of them.

The lobby serves up a variety of wines and non-alcoholic beverages as well as luscious chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies and other pastries.

The audience demographic is mid-life critical to senior with some young curve-breakers as well. A warm sophisticated and most important to our ego-starved personalities, very appreciative, intelligent and ready to laugh.

Oh…. I killed.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comet Holmes

Comet Holmes came into naked eye view a few weeks ago and is still visible. What is remarkable is that, prior to about Oct 20, it was absolutely undetectable by anything but the largest telescope. It suddenly brightened by a million fold and we don’t know why. Image! We don’t know something. Isn’t it wonderful? All you need is a pair of binoculars and you can examine something nobody understands. Of course, there are enough Earthbound things you can observe, even without binoculars that nobody understands, but that’s not as interesting. I’ve been watching Comet Holmes as it marches across the star field behind it and as it changes in both appearance and brightness. It is approaching a rather bright star, Mirfak, and tomorrow night will be as close as it will come to that star. There are so few things in the heavens, other than the major planets, the Sun and the Moon, that change in time spans comprehensible to us short lived humans. This is what, to me, is remarkable and fascinating. And most people don’t know that the position of the brightest objects in the sky, the planets, change night to night, year to year.

I’ve found casual observational astronomy a wonderful way of engaging in the Cosmos and avoiding eye contact. It’s wonderful for both the thinking and the shy, especially because it takes place in the dark, safe from the withering gaze of, well, people. Even if I weren’t shy, I still like astronomy because at night, when you’re explaining that a light-year is not a measure of time, or inviting people to look in your telescope at some distant object that, through a telescope looks REALLY distant, you are spared seeing the eye-rolling that inevitably occurs whenever I wax enthusiastic about something that couldn’t be less relevant to our daily lives. Ahhh—the burden and suffering of the obscurist.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

For The Records

Remember records? Phonograph records? They were a very important part of my life, from the 50 pounds of 12 inch 78’s containing the complete Aida that my parents proudly owned before I was born to my present decimated collection of classical, folk and comedy records. As I was culling the collection, I realized that each record had its own relationship to my life. I remembered where I was and who I was when I bought each of them. If I were to keep some, which would they be? I did find that not all had sentimental value. Many were impulse purchases I made before going on the air at WBFB-FM Rochester for my nightly 6-8 program, Dr. G’s Empirical Compound. I had a little ritual. Before I sat down in the studio each night, I did a fast walk down the eclectic aisles of a nearby record store. Out of each purchase, there were at least one or two cuts interesting enough to make it onto Dr.G’s playlist for the evening. It was an odd program, completely self- absorbed. The selections were purely those that touched some nerve, a good nerve or a bad one. I remember putting together a set for Halloween. The calls I got that night spanned the entire range of human emotion, which pleased me no end. I played everything. Luciano Berio’s orgasmic “Parole” , Saint-Saens skeletons, and Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, reportedly an opium dream of love unrequited. He also contributed Damnation of Faust, giving the evening a decidedly maroon cast. Maroon music? Synesthesia, I think they call it- an association of one sensory input with another. Many composers were ‘afflicted’ with this neural confusion. But I begin to digress.

I remember the first “unbreakable record”. One true thing of my young life was that if you dropped a record, it would break. when I was about 10, my parents gave me a recording of Tubby the Tuba on a Decca Unbreakable record. This was a miracle before my eyes. I remember that for days before I actually played the record I played WITH the record, giddily rolling it across the basement floor and watching it not break. And surprisingly, it still played. This is undoubtedly because the weight of the tone-arms back in those days could both play and cut a record simultaneously. Any scratch in the surface was traversed by the needle as if it weren’t there and undoubtedly the errant topography of the scratch was leveled by the tons (literally- I did the calculation) of stylus pressure.

Not to diminish the recorded program, Tubby The Tuba, narrated by Danny Kaye, was a sweet story of a Tuba trying to fit into a symphony orchestra. It ends well. Just last week, I transcribed it onto my computer hard drive as an MP3, there to remain never further scratched, until, I suppose, the giant magnetic fields of the Sun, as it consumes the earth in it’s bloated, Red Giant phase will undoubtedly wreak havoc with the music if the temperature doesn’t go above the Curie point disorienting the magnetic domains first. The MP3 will outlive the vinyl unbreakable record by probably about a million years, so there’s some advantage to having transcribed it. Unfortunately, those million years come in about 5 Billion years and are therefore somewhat irrelevant. End of digression. Beginning of next delusion.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Great Gas Cap Incident

I filled up, left the cap on top of the trunk and drove home. 1 mile! 2 stop signs, 2 turns and a pothole. And it was still there! I went through all the relevant principles of Newtonian mechanics and came up with the only two possibilities. Either I had low tire pressure or I was driving like an old fart. I checked the tire pressure, and, to my dismay, it was normal.

I do drive more carefully, according to Gloria. Pulling out from an intersection the lane has to be really clear, REALLY clear. If I see a car coming over the horizon, I wait, and at a height of 5 feet, the horizon, according to Bowditch American Practical Navigator, is 2.61 nautical miles away (3.00 statute miles), so at a speed of 30 knots, that car would be on top of me in a pulse quickening 4 minutes and 24.6 seconds. But I point out to her that you can’t trust the car will accelerate when you step on the gas. The carburetor could flood. To which she replied, “Cars haven’t had carburetors in 25 years.” I then queried, “How do you know THAT?” To which she shot back, “My Cousin Vinnie”. To which I quipped, “You’re no Marisa Tomei…(risky delay)…You’re cuter!”. She smiled and I safely, and gracefully I might add, merged.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The MightyTerabyte

Fry's Electronics is selling a 1 Terabyte hard drive. Let's put this in perspective. We'll compare it to the humble, all but forgotten, floppy. A floppy can hold 1.44 Megabytes. That sounds like a lot, a Mega being a million and all, but compared to a Terabyte? OK, by illbegotten calculations, to equal the storage capacity of the mighty Terabyte, you would need 700,000 floppies! Stacked on top of each other, this stack would be 1.4 miles high. Laid out like tiles, it would cover an acre. It would fill, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, a good size cubicle. You can buy 1000 floppies for 21 cents a piece. 700,000 floppies would cost you $147,000,which makes Fry's price for a terabyte drive of about $250 a steal.

A page of text is 2Kbytes or 0.02 Meg, so on a Terabyte hard drive, you could store,
1,000,000,000,000/2000= 500,000,000 pages of text, FIVE HUNDRED MILLION PAGES of text regardless of the text itself- five hundred million pages of Shakespeare or five hundred million pages of self absorbed nonsensical ramblings of a lonely engineer.

This is what happens if calculators fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Astronomical Week

First, the wonderful lunar eclipse, then the elusive Aurigids. We witnessed both of the early morning events and thoroughly enjoyed them. The lunar eclipse occurred with the Moon quite high in the sky. Most of the eclipses I've seen have occurred with the Moon closer to the horizon, and in clear view of earthly structures, like buildings, utility poles. As everyone has noticed, the Moon appears much larger when it is lower and it is the ability to readily compare the size of the Moon with the size of a house that makes the Moon seem "larger than a house", and that's pretty big. Our mind tricks us into this irrelevant comparison and we fall for it and may even fall in love under it. When the Moon is high, we have nothing to compare it to and it seems much smaller. In truth, the the image of the Moon on our retinas is precisely the same in both cases.

The Aurigids, a rare collision of the Earth's orbit with a particular comet tail, promised a spectacular shower of meteors, or maybe nothing. That's what made it fun. We saw, between the two of us, 10 in about 1/2 hour. Many were persistent, colorful and awesome. Others could have been illusory- maybe a phosphene generated by pressure on the retina. It takes two sensate beings to disentangle illusion from truth. It makes you realize that all we see could be just neurons firing and have no other universal basis. What a silly idea.

So, this week, two wonderful events Both have elements which call into question the absoluteness of what we observe. But I think what I see is 'real' and I love what I see. Don't spoil it for me.


A new opera will be premiered next month in SF. Appomattox, music by minimalist Phillip Glass. Phillip Glass? The singers don’t need a range. They just need a note! I hope they stage it like his Koyaanisqatsi -time lapse. I have to be in bed early. (Just kidding- sounds fascinating)
Would you believe that the spellchecker had no IDEA what to do with Koyaanisqatsi.

Music at Fry's

At my favorite geek mecca, Fry’s Electronics, they have, believe it or not, a concert grand piano playing. Really! Chopin- but there was something wrong. All the notes were there, but it was missing the Chopin. Whoever was playing it was playing Chopin the way Steven Hawking would recite Whitman. The right words, but… Turns out the piano was being played by this electronic device that dutifully presses the key when commanded to do so. The other day, they had a live person playing- he wasn’t much better. Fry’s should stick to electronics. They DO have personal grooming apparati in the impulse purchase section of the store, but no one has ever bought any of it (duh).

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Second Law

Cleaning up the garage: The curse of the dilettante. Good news? When interests are pursued superficially, you can pack a lot of them into a lifetime. Bad news? Organizing my man-space seems to defy the law of thermodynamics which states that entropy (disorder) always increases. One may argue that local entropy can indeed be decreased, but in the case of my man-space, even a modicum of artificial organization evidently has a profound impact on the Universe which, in it's blind wisdom, insists on forcing the garage back into a more submissive state of chaos. I mean, what does one do with a tub which contains waxed twine, a USB cable, tripod adaptor for binoculars, intervalometer for firing cable shutter releases, 1000 foot spool of wire for a 1948 recorder, a model T ignition spark coil, antique razor strop, boomerang, giant 12 inch fresnel lens, a hearing device for confessional booths, an empty bottle of Stolichnaya saved for the label which proclaims that it was imported from the USSR (remember the USSR?), an Eveready D battery with an expiration date of March 1942, 2 bottles of Purell, a K and E slide rule, and oh! look at that- the thumbwheel from my digital voice recorder I've been looking all over for. I'm really afraid of touching this stew for fear of upsetting at least the balance of our own Milky Way. There will definitely be some cosmic push-back and I would fully expect to wake up in the morning to find my organizational efforts reversed by the great 19th century physicist, Clausius. So, to heck with it. I'm going to bed.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Begin the Beblog

Glo and I cleaned house all day. Would you believe I uncovered over 25 unused 'wall warts'? This is a beautiful metric of consumerism, for each wall plug power supply came with SOME piece of consumer equipment, long recycled (yeah, right!) and replaced with the latest up-to-date need-not. Before you feel too superior, take the number of wall warts in YOUR collection and multiply by 1.25, to account for all those that are still behind the bed, couch,desk, with their forlorn little outputs plugs, just lying there. The pitiful black eye of these electric cyclops-like plugs seemingly looking for a mate, to inseminate with their 3.5,4.5,5,6,9,12 VDC electrons.