Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Getting There Is Half The Fun

Your Papers, Please

For most visitors to Russia you need an entry visa, Americans included. Since Americans are routinely allowed to waltz in and our of most European countries with no notice at all, with no visa fees, and are granted visas that cover a stay of 3 – 6 months, most people I have described this process to have trouble grasping it.

The visa process that is currently in place is about the same as in the Soviet time. To enter Russia you must have a visa, to have a visa you must have an invitation. The Russians grant a visa for the period of the invitation only, and for specific calendar days only. As once described to me by an American Embassy employee, just before I took a $50,000 ruble taxi ride to the airport and bought a ticket for anywhere: “Overstay will result in imprisonment, during which time you are at the mercy of the Russian officials, and eventual deportation, after about a week or so, in the custody of the US Department of State.” They apparently buy the most expensive one-way ticket possible, and you will be billed for it.

So what exactly is an invitation? Can a tourist visit Russia? The invitation is simply someone in Russia, an individual, business, or governmental agency taking responsibility for you during your stay. For an international tourist this includes buying a “package” that includes hotel stay, in advance. So, no “showing up” and checking things out first, you need a plan in place before you are allowed to enter. For the casual tourist, these plans can be rather affordable, considering they usually include a hotel room, a flight, some excursions. I would say as someone who has wondered the Streets of Moscow, in most cases the excursions may be more effectual then trying to stumble onto something. Often times the seasoned traveler resents being told what to do, no problem don’t go on the planned excursions, in general the packages are loose.

In this case, I had managed to be invited by a state run language school. In return for their efforts, I have agreed to give some English lectures. This keeps my travel plans flexible. In my off time I also intend to visit some private language schools, and see if they can offer any work in the future. They are fabled to pay $25 or more an hour for experienced English teachers. In a city where the cost of living still hasn’t caught up with Portsmouth the idea of doubling my pay, and cutting my expenses is worth looking into.

So, I had to fill out a form for the invitation. Then there was a delay, someone said at the college that there was a minor problem, but it would be straightened out. Eventually it was, but the process took too long and threatened to delay my trip. Actually each step of the visa process threatened to delay my trip. I then got the form for the Russian visa. It was part biography, part job interview, and part the usual grilling you get while crossing most boarders. It was two pages in length. It needed to be completed, and mailed with $100, and 2 optical passport sized photos. Digital photos were not allowed. So why am I paying for that Triple A membership? They wouldn’t tow my car unless I was with it, and now they only take digital photos. At work there are some Polaroid cameras kicking around, and I got someone to snap a few pictures of me during a break, cropped them to the right size, and hoped they were acceptable.

The paperwork continues, once you arrive in the city you are supposed to be in, you are limited to being 100km, about 60 miles, of that city. And you must register as having arrived at the appropriate office. Once again, this service is taken care of with a package tour, but this paperwork must be generated. For this process I need two more passport-sized photos. Smile!

Previously when I stayed in Russia for a long term, my registration involved physically appearing in person, and completing an interview with an official looking person. One such interview went like this: What’s your political party? Independent. (this was 1994) A Ross Perot supporter? No, it’s not a party, it means I don’t belong to one. What is your father’s political party? He’s deceased. What was his political party? (Not about to let this technicality get in the way) he was a democrat. And your mother’s political party? She had none. Independent? None, she was not a citizen. (He looked at me strange) She was Canadian. Kanadskaya? He then sighed, and got yet another form to fill out.

So, for me, in both the invitation process and the visa process there was a delay. This threatened my trip all together. The problem is most cheap tickets are unchangeable, un-refundable, and get more expensive as the departure date approaches. I watched my ticket price nearly double from what I had originally budgeted. I needed a cheap ticket, so I turned to the Internet. Most Internet travel sites give you exactly the same price, but they employ what I’ll call, “fuzzy math” to make you think that one is cheaper then the other. From what I can tell the airlines themselves usually offer the same prices to you directly from their own sites, or on the phone. Most importantly when you buy your ticket directly from the airline, they are responsible for the “customer service” portion of you ticket, whereas if you buy it from a web site or consolidator, if there is a problem, this “not the airline’s problem.”

So, I finally found a cheap ticket to Moscow, but it was from New York. Now I had to get to New York on the cheap. There was only one answer:

The Chinese Bus

Perhaps you’ve heard of the legendary Chinese bus. Fabled to travel from Chinatown in Boston to Chinatown in New York City at break neck speeds for almost no money. Loved by students and other willing to sacrifice conveniences and perhaps a feeling of safety for a smoking deal on a trip to New York.

Most of the rumors are true. The bus often gets to New York in a record time of under 4 hours. They have gotten some notoriety for being broken down on the side of the road, or in a few instances (3 I have personally heard of) catching afire. But in proof that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the pictures in the newspapers of a buss with smoke coming from behind the wheels, only made people say, “a bus to New York for $15!?! Where can I get my tickets?!? The usual cause of these small fires, and breakdowns is that the buses run Constantly, from Boston to New York leaving hourly, they probably never have even been turned off in years. How do they do it? Volume.

The 4 hour travel time includes a stop half way. The restroom on the bus can only be counted on for emergency use only. Sometimes they are fine, sometimes in some state of disrepair. At the travel stop there is a 10-minute break. This is not a suggestion. Take this warning very seriously. In 10 minutes, the bus will leave with our without you. I have a theory that the bus driver gets to keep your stuff if you don’t make it back in time, that’s why he adheres to the strict leaving time.

Contrary to the fact that all Chinese busses are referred to at the same time, these busses are not run by one company, but at least 4 that I know of. They compete fearsely to fill their buses, this has driven the average fare down to $15 each way, sometimes less, and even less for a round trip. At least two of these bus lines now leave directly from South Station in Boston. This makes them easier to connect to, and makes the whole affair a little less clandestine feeling. Instead of walking around Chinatown, going into a certain bakery and buy a hand written ticket, then stand on a certain street corner and wait for a bus to sweep you and all the passengers up in a matter of moments. Now you can even buy tickets on line, or at the bus terminal. One company has now even made their slogan “Licensed to Operate by the Federal Government.”

So the buses leave hourly, on the hour. The two rival bus companies leaving from South Station even leave at exactly the same time. The only difference in the service that I can tell is which Kung-Fu movie you’ll be watching on the way down. Unfortunately, that information was not available when I decided which bus to ride. Hmm… and which one has broken down lately? And should I take that one, or the other one because it’s already recently broken down so statistically it’s probably less likely. Not important, they’re more or less the same.

I had an hour-long ride on the Portsmouth Bus to South Station for $16. And then boarded a Chinese run bus for the remaining 200 + miles to New York City for $15 The Chinese buses are modern interstate coaches, although I have also in the past ridden a Chinese “short” bus to New York as overflow in peak travel time.

Take the A Train (the other way)

From the Chinese bus stop in New York City, which is on the unassuming corner of Canal and Christie, it’s a short up town walk to the Grand St Station. From here to the Westside uptown, my destination for a night’s stay, as well as Brooklyn and beyond to JFK airport is easily assessable. The New York City subway is one of the most dirty and depressing subways in the world. The homeless and mentally ill wander through out the trains, and the stations, and New York is just used to it. Having spent my first 22 years in Maine, I can never shake my county bumpkin distain for the situation, but most New Yorkers are beyond un-phased. As a matter of fact, the iPod craze has made it that much easier to ignore the subway situation. About ½ of the riders will sit silently, gently bobbing their heads, and passing the time until they get there.

For all of this the New York subway system is still a barging even at $2 a ride, it will take you anywhere, trains come quickly, and you are never far from a stop, most of it runs 24 hours. The transit workers and transit police are usually helpful and their general mood contrasts that of their gloomy surroundings.

I spent the night in Harlem and had a dinner at a corner convenience store on 125th street. Finding bad food in New York City is very difficult, despite the appearance of the store, my sandwich was rather good. I stayed up way too late with my friend Mike, drinking a Jack Daniel’s knock off called George Dickel, and taking about life, ours, yours, whatever amused us.

So, to get to the Airport from the Chinese bus, take the Far Rockaway via JFK downtown A train. Of course the Chinese bus is about as downtown as you can get, but that’s what the sign says. The train is really outbound. So, in the morning, I backtracked downtown. The ride out to JFK is long and uninteresting, until the train goes above ground. The Stop for the airport reveals yet another train, this time going to and through the airport in a loop like fashion.

The airport is an airport. Airports specialize in being stoic and boring. This is only worsened by limited, unimpressive attempts at sprucing them up, usually with bad art. I know, everyone’s a critic, but for me at it’s best it only reminds me of the absence of soul in the rest of the d├ęcor, and at it’s worse makes me yearn for a long off white corridor of nothing.

24 hours after my journey began, I now sit in an airport, waiting to begin my journey.

Jet Airliner

Finnair is the national airline of Finland, a strange airline from a strange nation. The best part about flying to Moscow on Finnair is it’s not Aeroflot. Aeroflot is the national airline of Russia, and is quite frankly, often times a bit scary. Big old Soviet jets shimmy through the sky on a daily basis and surprisingly no accidents happen. They are I suppose the Mexican taxicab of the sky. The funny thing also is along with the big old Soviet jets, they have some new Boeing 767 and 777 planes. They are thoroughly modern and safe. Although the soviet era logo painted on the side does stir up old memories.

The Rule on Aeroflot is as follows: Go ahead, fly their international service, you only live once, if that. But do no, never, ever, fly their domestic service. On the domestic flights all international regulations are gone. The real horror stories you may have heard are about these flights, like goats and chickens wandering the aisles, landing gear getting stuck, and general disrepair. My personal favorite Aeroflot story is, loading up the plane, taxing out on the runway, then hitting up all the passengers for gas money.

Anyway, Finnair is reminiscent of an American carrier of years gone by. Skirts for the female flight attendants, suit for the men, all in shades of blue, that we have not even seen in North America in 30 years, no to mention the silly looking hats. Whenever possible I flight with European based airlines to Europe. They don’t make you pay for the crappy food, the drinks are not only complementary but generous, and the food, well it’s airline food, what do you expect. Personally I like Lufthansa. Why? Because they have only ever had one very minor accident in all their history. The same German perfectionism that magically pushes my 1972 BMW around to this day makes for a quality airline.

In the flight to Europe the 8-hour time difference is exactly the time you would have slept. Via Helsinki I arrived in Moscow at 9 am. Oh well, sleep if for lazy people. As you step off the plane, it’s a local custom to “light up,” this is Moscow, and smoking is allowed almost everywhere. Even where it’s not allowed it’s often done. After enjoying a Marlboro, once progresses to the passport control lines. Unusually no big deal, because all the difficulty involved in getting a Russian visa, has already straightened out all the confusion. Pick up your bags, be sure not to wake up the napping customs agents as you stroll by, and step out in to Freedom, Russian style that is.

Back In The USSR

In the airport, taxi drivers wander about trying to get the jump on the competition, offering taxi rides. The airport is far from the center, and I think these drivers have to pay for a special airport license, that and some sort of Mafia kick-backs makes the ride expensive. The going rate at least used to be $50, so they’re for emergency use only. Just as easily there are “short bus” expresses busses to the center of town. These cost about a dollar, and leave whenever they have a dozen people in them. They are everywhere in Moscow.

As for me the feeling that I was there, was premature. Like in New York, a bus ride to a subway station, a switch over, and then another bus, and then some walking, and two or three hours later (by this time who’s counting anymore), I was finally at my destination. I left my home at 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon and arrived at my destination at 3 on Friday afternoon, nearly 2 days later, and it was a 9-hour flight.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Cookie's Story

For a couple of years we had no cat, and my mother and I would try to convince my father to get another one. Growing up we seemed to always have a cat. Ever since the time I was about 4 I guess, previous to that we had St Barnard, but that’s another story.
In 1990 the cat plot that my mother and I were nursing picked up momentum. We discovered we had mice in the basement. We referred to the “How To Do Just About Anything” guide, a constant reference in our house, and read that the best way to get rid of a mouse is the presence of a cat. Even the presence of cat smell, and hair would make the mouse reconsider. We put this to my father and he just about capitulated. Around that time, my mother had cut out a photo from the newspaper of the “pet of the week” from the local humane society, and hung it on the refrigerator. As best as I can recall, it was Cookie. But we didn’t get a cat right away, I was away at college, my father wasn’t entirely convinced, whatever the reason there was a break in time. Then we resolved to do it, and my mother and I found directions to the humane society, and set out to find it. After some effort we did, it seemed to be at the end of a dirt road or something, not easy to find.
As we walked into the office we saw Cookie. She seemed have the run of the place. She was perched on a high, carpeted cat perch thing, in the corner of the office. I remember saying she was beautiful. Then we went to look at all the other cats. They were in the next room in cages. There was about 4 or 6, I can’t recall, and we almost half-heartily picked what we thought was the best of the bunch. We went back out into the office to fill out the paperwork. As we waited Cookie just about jumped into my mother’s arms and my mother held her while we waited. The attendant came out, and asked if we found a cat, and we said yes, then my mother said, “but we like your cat better.” The woman thought for a moment, and said, well, she’s not really our cat I guess, it’s just that she’s been here so long,” and she thought, and said if we wanted her, we could take her.
She had been there for a while. She was about 2 years old. If the picture we saw was her, then it was months ago. Cats who are brought to the humane society, and are not picked up by people and usually put to sleep. Somehow she had charmed her way out of that and became their “office pet.” We took the cat and drove home. We stopped for some cat food and kitty litter, it was while cookie and I waited for my mother to come out of the store, that I noticed the first of her few eccentricities. She liked to stand on her hind legs.
We got her home, and as I recall she only pooped on the floor once, other then that, it was a go. She liked to scratch doorways as she sharpened her claws, to break her of this habit I made her a scratching post. And another, maybe bought one too, she was just gonna scratch wherever she damn well wanted to. We thought we’d rename her. I was going to give her a Russian name, because I had just started to study Russian. We tried a few names but she wouldn’t answer to them, so we decided to stick with Cookie. We later realized that she didn’t answer to that either, she just didn’t answer to anyone much.
My father eventually got to liking her. Although he sort of enjoyed his intolerance for cats at this point. He insisted he didn’t like her. But having retired it was he and her home all day. She would win him over. Her way of wining someone over was to sit in the room with them. Look at them, eventually wink at them. She was rather coy about it, perhaps shy, but this is the charm that probably saved her life, and eventually my father was even seen to pet the cat.
At my father’s funeral, about a year or two after we got the cat, I placed a single cat hair on he suit jacket. Not entirely realistic, because she shed so much that anyone who spent a moment with the cat would be covered in cat hair. Anyway, it was a jester that helped me say goodbye. Over the years Cookies hairs have been spread around the world.
So I was at college, planning to do a study abroad in Ukraine. But my mother was home alone now, very depressed having married very young and for nearly 30 years, she honestly didn’t know how to go on. Cookie became her company. She loved her, and they grew incredibly close. I was going to stay in the US, and not go to Ukraine, but my mother convinced me I should go. Before I went, I did what would become a ritual. As I left I went to see Cookie. Told her I would miss her, and told her to take care of my mother. I promised her, that if she took care of my mother while I was gone, then she would always be taken care of. I like to think I kept my end of the bargain, she did hers.
I made many trips to Europe in the following years, saying goodbye the same way, never really dreaming I would have to make good on my promise. By the time Christmas 1997 came around my mother became sick. And in January she was hospitalized, and it became apparent that she had rather advanced cancer. While she was in the hospital, I would go to her house and feed Cookie, morning in night, and then one day she said I should take Cookie to my house. It was then that she admitted to herself that she would not be going home. Anyway, we planned that she would move to my house for recovery; use the proceeds from her house sale to pay for it. Everything happened so fast, but when her condition deteriorated to the point when she needed life support, and there was a good chance that she would never come off of it, my mother decided she wanted nothing to do with it, she gave up her fight, took off her oxygen mask, and died later that night.
So Cookie was in my charge. I promised my mother on her deathbed I would take care of her, I promised Cookie, and that was all there was to it. Since then we’d seldom been apart. My mother’s ashes were delivered to my house, and cookie would sit with the box, as if she somehow knew. I took her to Seattle when I wanted to move there, and back when I changed my mind. For a few weeks she stayed with my friend Adam when I was homeless, at least she had a home, I slept on couches. But I was back on my feet rather quickly, and we were living together again. The window “kitty hammock” that my mother bought her was her favorite place to sit. She ate from the same food dish she had all of her life, I suppose after a few years cats forget the people in their life, but I like to think that she remembered my mother, and missed her like I did. She helped console me no doubt. As the years when by I realized that she was the one taking care of me. She was a constant companion; coming home always meant coming home to her.
Aside from a few sicknesses, she made it thought 17 years, that is more then I honestly thought she would. She was about 9 when she came to me, she was always very overweight, and a sit around house cat, I always thought our time together would soon come to an end. She had a few sicknesses, but I tended to her the best I can, ran up some big vet bills, but she always pulled through. And I was always rewarded for all my care by her presence. She was a lap cat, but only for me, a few other people maybe too, she was very picky. After a particular sickness she went deaf. It only seemed to make her more placid. Even though she lived for a long time, and our time together was nothing but positive, I was still shocked when the vet told me that her current illness was terminal. She advised me that it may be a good idea the euthanaise her. There were a few futile things to try, but even then she may only live for a month. When I got the phone call I cried like the idea of her leaving never occurred to me. I can say that I love her. I brought her home today, she still seems comfortable, at least for now, and I could not just give the order to put her down. So she came home with me, for at least tonight. She sits across from me, with a tired but dignified look on her face. She sits and purrs with me. To console me thought just one more passing, her own.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

My take on file sharing on the web

File Sharing

Is It Stealing?

Is downloading music stealing? Yea, probably, but the phenomena of “file sharing,” where music gets packed into mid-fi easily storable digital files and shared easily without regard to the copyright holders, seems to be here to stay. It exists in that gray area with getting undercharged for your meal at a restaurant, or the story about you or your friend who moved into a house and the cable was already on: you’re getting away with something, and it’s not the rightist of things, but it’s sort of fun, and it seems a victimless crime. The truth is there are a lot of gray areas involved.

The popularity of downloading is partially due to a hypocrisy in the corporations that own the very same record companies who are crying fowl. For example, 5 years ago Sony began advertising their “multimedia friendly PC” the VAIO, right around the advent and rise to popularity of the bootleg MP3. Then along came little things to play MP3s on, and advertising campaigns that encouraged people to download music from the Internet. There were at that time almost no, what is now called, “legitimate digital music” sources, that being the industry nice way of saying “for pay” services. But the idea of it sold newer and faster computers, and the blank CDs (that were for a long time $3 each), and CD burners. Did Sony really think everyone was backing up gigabytes of Microsoft Word documents, and emails? No, but the bottom line was there, now their Music division supports the RIAA lawsuits, and clams their financial troubles are in large part due to the downloaders and home burners. Now DVD doing the same thing, they still want to sell you the burners and the blank discs, and then tell you not to use them.

The record industry had come to grips with piracy after the advent of the cassette and allowed it to exist, thusly making us as a society believe it wasn’t that bad. Who didn’t have a copy of a cassette in the 70’s and 80’s? Once again, the electronic manufacturers made machines specifically designed to copy cassettes, even ones that would do it quickly. There was an unspoken law that as long as the user was not selling the product then it was kind of, ok. And copyright laws also have clauses for instances when it was ok to copy a tape or record. Copying music it became a part of everyday American life.

Many artists being music fans as well, have owned bootlegs and tolerated bootlegging as a fact of life. Members of the band Uncle Tupolo once said to fans, not to buy their early CDs, copy them, because their record company had never paid them a penny in royalties. Which brings us to another major justification in the minds of swappers. Many artists see very little of the 16 or so dollars that the average CD costs, so it is plausible to believe that by downloading music you are ripping off those who ripped off some of your favorite artists. Everyday working people around the world can not be bothered with the wealthy getting upset that their money isn’t rolling in fast enough, because that is after all most of who holds these copyrights.

It could be said that the sharing of digital music files goes against the very capitalist structure of America. The big question how you do steal something that doesn’t exist.
With the advent of digital music the “artifact” has been removed, and the information can now exist and travel without a significant physical manifestation. The pre 21st century economy and its concept of supply and demand may in this case become irrelevant. For instance, if I have two apples and I give you one, I have on apple. If I have two MP3s and give you one I still have two MP3s. This takes the scarcity out of the exchange, and along with it, the capitalist transaction. It makes the transaction into a simple statement of generosity rather then a capitalist transaction. Here, have some music. This makes corporations very nervous. Music is in the air and it’s free, we listen on the radio for “free” we listen in bars and restaurants for free, and TV, anywhere someone has a speaker plugged in it appears to be free. There is also a lot of legal downloading on the Internet, taking all this into account it’s no wonder the line is blurred.

If You Must Download, Be Safe.

So, to sum up, is “file sharing” against the law? The answer is still in most cases yes. But like millions of people all around the world you may not let this stop you. So if you must download here are some tips.

Got Kazza? Get rid of it. Kazza is riddled with spyware and adware, and is responsible for computers crashing all over the world. Spyware and adware are the new computer scare jeopardizing your security, and generally annoying the hell out of you with pop up
ads, solicitations, and eventually some sort of computer malfunction. Has your computer gotten viruses lately? Acting funny? Chances are it’s because of something that rode in on Kazza. So for Kazza users, relocate your downloaded files folder in a convenient place that’s not under the Kazza folder. And “uninstall” the software. Then you have to remove any nastiness that may have snuck in. You need to run a spyware remover (try Spybot Search and Destroy a free download at and a registry cleaner to make sure there’s no damage to your operating system. Then and only then, if you must reinstall Kazza, search the Internet for Kazza Lite. It should be a free download. That is a version of Kazza without the spyware and adware, and a bit of a firewall built in. Limewire and Win MX are less popular sharing program, but are much less invasive then Kazza.

Want to download for free, always look for the song in a legitimate free download site. and other music network sites have them, music magazines suck as Rolling Stone and Q also offer free files. Even “for pay” sites like iTunes now offer some songs for free. Also check your favorite artist’s web sites, many will have songs there (sometimes rare non album tracks) for download. By supporting legitimate free downloads you also send a message to the music corporations about your music listening habits.

Ever ask yourself, “Why don’t people want to share music files with me?” Have you tried downloading music files to find that people have not been swept up in the concept that it is better to give then receive? There are two big reasons for that. First outgoing files take up Internet bandwidth and processor time, and some people don’t want to make that sacrifice. This dates back to the freewheeling days of the original Napster, and this is part of a larger social concern, those who don’t play well with others. The other reason, which has popped up more recently, is the distribution of the copyrighted material is the actual offence that people are being sued for. If you don’t offer songs to share, your chances of being caught or sued are diminished.

Will you get sued for sharing? Maybe. The RIAA has been suing music fans regularly lately. Some are egregious copyright violators and people who occasionally download have been for the most part unaffected. But that’s no guarantee and the future is uncertain. Although the dust has not settled, there are many industry forces that want a zero tolerance policy for sharing.

What is the Future?

One thing is for sure, the Internet is here to stay, and all the Sabots and Ludites can’t stop it. And music flows easily over the Internet, a little too well for some people’s tastes. File sharing is here forever. If there were an industry built up around the letter with a bad joke, then they would probably object to everyone emailing bad jokes to everyone they know with one click, but their isn’t, the battle is over music. Those who market and sell music just can’t let go of the good old days when they charged you good money for a plastic disk that you couldn’t live without. Those days are gone.

On a personal note, I wish it didn’t happen. I wish we all still listed to 12-inch records and they cost $6.98. We all had one of a kind copies of a master, not an identical master copy, and despite the fact that by today’s technology stands it was primitive, it worked so well it etched a place in our hearts, and make fortunes for those in the business. My only prediction is those days are gone. Don’t worry for the music, music will survive this struggle, I guarantee it. So, download for free, pay for a download, rip those MP3s, buy an over priced CD, burn your friend a copy (I won’t tell on you). The important that is missing from this debate is: whatever you do, keep music in your life.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

King Tiki - June 1st 2002

King Tiki - June 1st 2002

This night was a last minute gig addition to play with the band Junior, they asked late and we jumped at the opportunity, they’re friends of ours, and we like their music too. The gig was at King Tiki in Portsmouth NH, it was for one set, and it paid nothing, although I think we got half priced PBRs, so once again, the more you drink, the more you get paid. There was also the addition of “American Werewolf” for an opener. That band features Roger on drums (who some of you will remember from Brian and my “old days” in Jupiter 2) and Jimmy on guitar. Mostly an instrumental duo, no bass, and Jimmy sings some too. Well, they went on what we thought was an hour late at 10, it was a cool set, rusty and out of tune, but great energy. Jimmy puts the savvy in idiot savant, paying simple instrumentals, and screaming out the vocals.
Then we were on. The place was literally the smokiest room I have ever been in. Trapped in the fire hazard of a basement with only one exit, or way to daylight up the stairs. I hear a rumor that they’re not even supposed to have music there because of fire codes. Anyway, our last gig there as something out of Spinal Tap or the Blues Brothers to me. The kind of gig you would be better off staying at home. We were packed in a corner behind a pole. There were some gorilla/jock types who tried to steal the microphone and sing, and most of the people there seemed bothered that there was a band there. I vowed never to play there again. Apparently to get paid we were supposed to have one of “our people” pass the hat, so we made no money, and had a bar tab at the end of the night. I think we walked out on the bar tab and called it even. Anyway, there we were back at King Tiki. The first band was very loud, so we kind of kept up the energy. We played a short set of maybe 8 songs, I don’t even remember, there were gear problems, but the crowd was great. We cut our set early so that Junior could get on at a reasonable hour; it was 11 30 or later by the time we got off. They had been drinking, it was loose, but really great, lots of great song and great feels.
This is where is started to get weird. We re-commenced drinking (because of New Hampshire’s strict drinking laws there was no drinking, no open drinks, or no thinking of drinking on stage). There was some sort of Bacholorette party going on consisting of about a half dozen really drunk women, one of whom came down the stairs, grabbed the microphone and began to sing what I thought to be improvised country lyrics, out of tune and completely out of key with the band. The band took it well enough, but when they because confident that they were not getting their mic back, they ended the song. Then she began to sing a cappella, and the band broke into a minute of a bluesy improve, and stopped again. Pete, the singer was trying to physically pry the mic away from this woman, who was by someone’s standards good looking, and as she sang, performed PG rated stripper moves. Once Pete got the mic she grabbed on to him and gave him an incredible, wet, sloppy, tonsil diving kiss that lasted upwards of a minute. Afterward he explained his dispassionate expression during this by saying “. It was gross, she had the worse breath.” The band began again, and she ran up again, this time going for the backing vocal mic. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that mic was either not on, or not up enough, so she became discouraged and left. It’s hard to express how bizarre it was. Anyway, the band finished up with about an hour’s worth of music, and it was hang around time.
My friend Mike came to visit from NYC, along with Rebecca from Boston. They were as drunk as I’d seen anyone by the time the band was done. We all milled around and enjoyed hanging out, having a few drinks, and having a laugh over all the little mishaps of the night.
We thanked the band and said goodbye to Pete who was returning to NYC the next day, and then we set out for the Friendly Toast for some late night eats. A bit more then halfway there we ran into some trouble. We were in front of a jewelry store (which as some of you may know could be anywhere in Portsmouth), and some drunken jock/gorillas were walking by us. One of them could not see where he was going, and bumped into Mike. Probably due to the fact he was an asshole, and augmented by his drunkenness, he began to push Mike and yell, just for fun apparently. At which time the drunken Mike put a big kiss on his cheek, kinda like bugs bunny would do, why we may never know. He DID NOT like that, and he became hysterical. Now Mike is not a big guy at all, and apparently has move balls then brains, because as the guy said, “you can’t kiss me” he said something to the effect of: “boo hoo hoo.” The guy began to swing and punch and as his friends tried to pull him off I went to pull Mike off, however, Mike didn’t need any pulling off, because he wasn’t really doing much at the time. At this time, Adam popped in and was promptly pushed down, so quickly that I didn’t even notice. So the guy cornered Mike in a stairway, and I went from pulling Mike off of him, to assisting this guy’s friend in pulling him off. At this time Mike was doing some damage to this guy’s fist with his face. The guy not very happy to be pulled off of him, and as we backed up, his friend pulled him away, and I was left standing alone oddly enough, Mike was standing there next to me also unbothered, a feeling that he later described as becoming “invisible,” and now this guy was turning on his friend for interfering with his efforts, he spun around and clocked him. Adam had gotten up, and I said,” lets go, come on.” Mike wanted more, why I don’t know, but I pulled him away, picked up my guitar and we started walking away at a leisurely pace. From what I can tell, the guy and his friends were now fighting without us. I think they did something to set off an alarm at the Jewelry store, probably by slamming each other up against windows, a loud bell started ringing. We were still walking away, Mikes face covered in his own blood, and just then two cop cars that were sitting in an ally heard the alarm and began to respond to the alarm, as they passed us Mike yelled out, “don’t arrest him, I LOVE HIM…”
We entered the Friendly Toast, but I had to go to them ATM machine. On my way back, I saw the “scene” now with 6 cop cars (every car Portsmouth had as far as I know) some sort of riot going on, and that guy and his friends being stuffed into the back of cop cars. I didn’t hang around to watch, incase someone would see me and yell; there’s one of them! Or something like that. I went back to the Toast and started eating. Mike insisted he was “fine” although the cut above his eye was big, and his eye was swelling up. Charlie showed up late, as usual, and when we filled him in on what he missed in the street, he seemed quite upset to miss it. We ate, paid and I headed home.
As I walked down the street I heard someone call my name, I looked up and it was Sid and Pete from Junior on the roof of Bull Moose Music, with about 4 other people. I went up to Sid’s apartment, crawled out the window and across a building and jointed them. I started by telling them this story. We sat around listening to “the Eagle’s Greatest Hits” and then a couple of guitars came out and it turned into an Eagle’s Greatest Hits sing-a-long. The roof was covered in rubber and was quite comfortable, and it was a nice night out. We then sang some other songs, and did “Junior” style versions of songs by Cyndi Lauper, and Tommy Two-tone. Then it began to rain, but not hard, so we kept singing. We were out of beer and it was getting close to 4am, then Pete said, “…Are we sick of getting rained on yet?” Which was the rhetorical question we’d all been waiting for and we headed inside, and then I headed home. I got home at about 4:30.
Would I do it all again? Of course I would. The only thing I’d change would be I’d bring my guitar in a hard case instead of a gig bag, so I could use it to beat up the Drunken Jock-rillas up with. Thanks to Junior for a fun night out.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now??

Cell phones are everywhere, soon to be absolutely everywhere. I don't mind, I sorta like them. I enjoy my cell phone, and feel they are inevitable. However, there is a problem. People seem to get slightly confused when they use them. As if it takes a bit more thought then using a traditional phone. People act downright funny on their cell phones. Well, this creates a problem. It seems that people just don't know how to act when they're talking into a cell phone. Well, here are my thoughts on Cell phone usage and etiquette.
First I'll start with the walkie-talkie phones. For those who are not familiar with it, it's a cell phone that also works as a walkie-talkie for small groups, usually families. If you have one, stop using it. They are the most obnoxious thing ever. Ever been in a store, and suddenly you hear the tell tale beep of the walkie-talkie phone about to kick on. And out the phone comes the voice of the over bearing wife of a man trying to get away from his family on a shopping trip: "where are you? What are you doing." All of this, both sides, or multiple sides of the conversation is amplified for you to hear. It's bad when you have to listen to one side of an uncomfortable conversation, but both? When the walkie-talkie beeps, nothing good can ever come next. If someone needs to be in contact with you so urgently, that they can not even dial your number first, then chances are they are a pain in the ass.
Next, and this is important. All cell phones use something called compression. What this does is takes volume dynamics away, in order to make the signal simpler, and easier to digitize. What does this mean to you and your cell phone? It mean, no matter how loud you talk into you phone, it doesn't change how loud you sound on the other end. So, NO YELLING into your cell phone. It doesn't make you any louder on the other side. If someone is having trouble hearing you, wait a few seconds and hopefully the signal will improve. Screaming what you just said into the phone again, will not work, and if they do happen to hear you or understand you, it is coincidence, and has nothing to do with your yelling into the phone.
As a matter of fact everyone will be a lot better off if we all speak in a calm and civil voice at a reasonable volume when speaking on our cell phones in public. Speak as if the person is there with you, don't speak loudly.
Turn off you phone! The off button is the only thing that may save mankind. Turn it off at least once a day. Turn it off in theaters, church, when dining, and at any kind of performances. Once you get in the habit of turning it off sometimes, and on others, you'll find it even more convenient then ever.
Soon everyone will have cell phones, all over the world. So, get used to it! And the sooner we all figure out how to have one and use one with courtesy, they better off we all will be.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Airlines Don't Lose Your Luggage

Airlines don't loses your luggage anymore. They know exactly where it is. Even if it's not with you, someone put it there, and there was a reason for it. Anyway, I recently flew international for the first time in a while. And while the airline did not lose my luggage, but they did lose me.

Friday, February 11, 2005

i-tunes, i-pod, i-don't know about this

My i-Tunes doesn't work. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. First let me say that I was initially very skeptical about i-tunes. The idea of 1 computer company selling all the music is even scarier then 3 entertainment corporations. But that never really happened, so many copy cat and competing services have popped up, that Apple market dominance again seems fleeting. Hell, wall-mart is selling MP3s.

Ok, speaking of Mp3s, they suck. They sound bad. I've said it all along, they sound better now then they did 5 years ago, but they still sound bad. Who would have thought that a digital format that is worse then CD would come along and replace it. It's a well known and held fact that they are a step back in sound quality, but, people are willing to give that up for convince, so, oh well, I decided to jump on board.

I happen to own a Macintosh G4. Some people who know me will be giggling right now. I have used PCs just about all of my life, I own 3 or 4 of them currently, that are strewn about my house performing their own little duties, but when buying a used digital recording system I acquired a Mac. It's rather an amazing little thing. Though I have not really experienced the worry free use that Mac zealots talk about. I have had several spooky glitches. But I still run Windows ME on one of my boxes, I've had the same install on there for 5 years, so I know how to roll with the punches. Speaking of these glitches, MY I-TUNES DOESN'T WORK!

Here's the irony, this particular Mac runs Protools, the industry standard for digital recording and makes and plays back high quality digital recordings, but i-tunes sounds distorted and flat. I have a $800 audio interphase, which I use to monitor protools sessions, and when I set the i-i-tunes to use that, still sounds like shit. This machine is in my recording studio, it is not the power amp, preamp or JBL studio monitors. It's the software.

I have heard other people's i-tunes, and they sound ok. Normal MP3s. I have listened to the same MP3s on another machine, sounds ok. I have
made new MP3s with the i-tunes, sounds like crap. I have had local Mac recording guru Chris DeCato come over and check it out, fool with the settings, click this, click that. Chris has been doing digital recording since day one on his Amiga, and switched to Macintosh soon there after. He has recorded and/or mastered 500 CDs, he has been know to be in a studio and shame the on-hand digidesigns consultant by figuring out the problem before they can. His conclusion, "I don't know, man, I've never seen anything like that."

So, my i-tunes sounds like crap. And I honestly can't figure out why. But I have been itching to make low quality copies of my CDs and pack them onto my laptop hard drive and have some geeky fun. Take it to work, in the car, make playlists, maybe even buy a portable MP3 player. The i-pod certainly seems like a barrel full of monkeys. It's still a little pricey, and I won't be getting one soon.

In conclusion I am still waiting for the one. I am waiting to recapture the feeling I had when I walked into my friend Matt's home office 6 years ago and heard winamp playlists pouring songs out freely, and thought, wow, I've gotta do that too. Oh well. I think I'll go fire up the Technics SL-1800MK2 through my tube stereo and listen to some Steely Dan records.