» Ed Driscoll

PJ Lifestyle

Ed Driscoll

Blogging since 2002, affiliated with PJM since 2005, where he is currently a columnist, San Jose Editor, and founder of PJM's Lifestyle blog. Over the past 15 years, Ed has contributed articles to National Review Online, the Weekly Standard.com, Right Wing News, the New Individualist, Blogcritics, Modernism, Videomaker, Servo, Audio/Video Interiors, Electronic House, PC World, Computer Music, Vintage Guitar, and Guitar World.
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Interview: Mitch Gallagher, Editorial Director of Internet Music Giant Sweetwater.com

Monday, August 24th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

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Longtime readers of PJ Media.com know that many of the first bloggers, myself included,  had a background in do-it-yourself music, which helped ease the transition to DIY journalism. Glenn Reynolds explored this theme in 2006 book, An Army of Davids, and I’ve been writing about DIY music over the past 15 years for Guitar World, Vintage Guitar, England’s Computer Music magazine, Blogcritics, and from time to time, here at the PJ Lifestyle Website, which I launched in 2011 in part to explore a variety of Army of Davids-inspired music and video DIY-themes.

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For many musicians and audio producers, including myself, Fort Wayne Indiana’s Sweetwater.com is their go-to source for their tools of the trade. (The interview below was edited and mastered on a Sweetwater “Creation Station” PC.) Founded in the late ‘70s, originally as a recording studio by CEO Chuck Surack, Sweetwater has grown from a four-track mobile recorder in the back of Surack’s 1966 Volkswagen bus, to a giant campus facility in Fort Wayne housing several recording studios (designed by master acoustician Russ Berger), a walk-in retail store, a stage for boot camp presentations by some of the recording industry’s biggest stars, and a giant Raiders of the Lost Ark-sized warehouse, fulfilling the company’s orders from its Website and quarterly “dead tree” catalogs. not to mention a cafeteria where a very unusual daily customer can be spotted waiting for his order to be taken:

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In other words, picture the surreal ads promoting ESPN’s freewheeling backstage corporate culture and substitute the recording industry, and you get a sense of what a typical day at Sweetwater is like, right down to the slide from the second floor to the lobby.  (No, really.)

The man in charge of Sweetwater’s countless how-to videos at YouTube and its daily blog is veteran guitarist Mitch Gallagher, who was also the longtime editor of Keyboard magazine. During my visit last week to Sweetwater’s campus, I spoke with Mitch about Sweetwater’s history, how a musician can best make the jump to recording his or her own productions – whether it’s simply to hear themselves playing guitar or keyboard for practice sake, all the way to professional-quality recordings — why some guitarists are reluctant to fully delve into the world of electronic music, the disparity between the awesome tools that the “Army of Davids” have at their disposal and why so much contemporary pop music – despite being recorded on the finest technology – sounds so awful. And much more.

The interview runs about 18 minutes; click here to listen:

If you’d like to download the 16.7 MB interview, right-click here; a lo-fi 4.16MB-sized version is available by right-clicking here.

The interview mentions Mitch’s home studio, which can be seen in a pair of hour-plus YouTube videos, which are an inspiration for anyone who would like to install a similar facility on their spare room or basement: Part One on how Mitch built his studio and Part Two on the gear he equipped it with. He’s also the author of several books on playing and recording music, including Acoustic Design for the Home Studio.

For some of my own DIY music-themed interviews and articles, check out:

Scenes from the 2015 Dallas Guitar Festival

Interview: Jimmy Wallace on the Annual Dallas International Guitar Festival

Pitch Perfect: Is Celemony’s Melodyne the Most Versatile Pitch Correction Software Ever?

Book Review: Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers

Avantone MixCubes: The Little Speakers with the Awful Sound That Are a Must for Your Home Studio

Review: Alan Parsons’ Art & Science of Sound Recording: The Book

Review: Izotope RX4 Audio Restoration Software

Review: TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive 3: A Box Full of Virtual Backup Singers

Interview: The History of Epiphone Guitars

Mastering the Music Domain

The Home Recording Handbook

The Pros and Cons of the Future of the Electric Guitar

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Scenes from a Guitar Festival

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

 There’s an economic concept known as a positional good, in which an object is only valued by the possessor because it’s not possessed by others. The term was coined in 1976 by economist Fred Hirsch to replace the more colloquial, but less precise “neener-neener.”

—Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory, episode Season 3, Episode 15, “The Large Hadron Collision,” 2010.

What is it about the guitar that makes it so desirable among players? Is it the sound, its portability as an instrument, its beautiful feminine shape? Its role in shaping the history of rock and roll? Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above, but touring a guitar convention it’s possible to see both the guitar in all of its forms, and to see some of the world’s most desirable instruments.

On the weekend of May 29th through the 31st, in Dallas’ Fair Park convention hall, the annual Dallas International Guitar Festival held its latest edition. Now in its 38th year, on display were some of the world’s most desirable guitars, including rare 1950s Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters, 1958 through 1960 Gibson Les Pauls, Martin acoustic guitars, funky Danelectro guitars, and countless others. Plus some unique accessories and amplifiers as well. The following is just a tiny taste of what was available there. (The photo selection is rather slanted to the Les Paul, but rest assured, every major guitar was well represented there.)

While I look far too serious in the above photo, for me, one of the greatest joys of the festival was to briefly play an ultra rare 1958 sunburst Les Paul Standard owned by collector Tom Wittrock of Third Eye Music of Springfield, Missouri. Gibson’s Les Paul was a popular solid body electric guitar since its introduction in 1952 as a competitor to Leo Fender’s pioneering Telecaster solid body electric. Gibson’s goal was to match the Telecaster’s lack of feedback at high volumes, but with the more refined qualities of Gibson’s woodworking skills when compared to the “plank” style of the Telecaster body and its lag bolt-attached neck. Throughout the 1950s, as Les Paul and Mary Ford were popular recording and television artists, the Les Paul guitar was a popular model for Gibson, but by 1957, sales begin to decline. There are a variety of reasons held accountable, and the topic is still hotly debated amongst aficionados of the instrument at venues such as the Les Paul Forum. But for whatever, in order to make the instrument “pop” in showroom windows, Gibson replaced the standard model’s somewhat sedate gold finish with a cherry sunburst finish to better show off the instruments’ beautiful hand selected maple tops. But for whatever reason sales lagged, and the original Les Paul shape was discontinued after 1960. A few years later as Beatlemania pumped new life into rock and roll, the instrument was rediscovered by blues and rock players on both sides of the Atlantic such as Michael Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, and later Jimmy Page. Today, ’58 through ’60 Les Paul “’Bursts” fetch prices in the six figure range for anyone lucky enough — and wealthy enough — to find them. (Gibson would reintroduce the Les Paul model in 1968, and they’ve been a staple of their product line ever since.)

Wittrock owns several 1950s Les Pauls and brings them to the Dallas, Arlington, and other guitar shows, to allow those who have never seen or held a ‘Burst to spend a few moments with one of rock’s most legendary instruments, and it was truly an honor to spend a few moments with both Tom’s ’58 and ’59 Les Pauls.

The “Black Beauty” Les Paul Custom was positioned as the more upscale model of the line that Gibson offered in the 1950s, and this rare late 1950s three pickup model was owned by the late Danny Gatton, who customized it with his iconic pinstriped finish and added “Magic Dingus” box, inspired by the early effects wizardry of Les Paul himself. It was displayed by Jim’s Guitars of York, Pennsylvania. It’s pictured next to Gatton’s blonde Fender Telecaster.

Bicoastal Rumbleseat Music of Ithaca, NY and Carmel, CA had one of the most intriguing Les Pauls for sale, a damaged 1960 Sunburst “husk” that will make an incredible fixer-upper guitar. Those willing to invest the time and money to have it restored to its former glory will eventually own a fine instrument, with tremendous resale potential.

Along with the endless arsenal of guitars for sale, the Dallas Guitar Shows, more so than most (including the annual Arlington Texas shows, just as big, though produced by a rival company) feature lots of “lifestyle” oriented booths. These include the beautifully-made custom leather guitar straps by Eldorado Straps (Full disclose: I own a few of them, and they’re incredibly well crafted out of creamy soft thick leather). The woman selling books on how to make it as a woman in the male-dominated heavy metal world. The folks offering massages. The booth promoting dog rescues. A booth sponsored by the Hard Rock Café, offering discounts to anyone who stops by the Dallas Café with a coupon from the show. A booth selling old ‘60s and ‘70s board games, toys, and plastic model kits. Another booth selling bootleg DVDs of live rock concerts. And several booths selling out of print books catering to musicians and fans of classic rock.

So who attends these shows? Everyone from professional musicians (some of whom are also hired to give performances and seminars to semi-pros and weekend warriors in bar bands, to guitar collectors of all sorts, to recording enthusiasts in search of a new instrument and new sound to inspire their songwriting and productions. There’s also a minor element of cosplay at the event, with a few middle-aged guys in Stevie Ray Vaughan hats (not surprising, considering we’re in Texas) and Allman Brothers ponytails.

What unites all of the attendees is a love of the guitar in all of its facets — the Strats, Telecasters and Les Pauls that dominate the electric guitar world, and the mellower sounds of the acoustic and nylon-string guitar. Ever since Les Paul mounted six strings to a railroad tie, Leo Fender bolted his first guitar neck and body together, and Chuck Berry turned up his amp and duck-walked across the stage, the guitar has been the instrument of popular music for almost 65 years, and despite its Social Security-ready age, shows no signs of retiring anytime soon. If you’re a fan of the instrument, you owe it to yourself to attend the next Dallas International Guitar Festival, or a similar equivalent near you.

And for more background on the Dallas International Guitar Festival, don’t miss my interview last month with Jimmy Wallace, the festival’s co-founder:

(All photos copyright 2015, Edward B. Driscoll, Jr. All rights reserved.)

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Pitch Perfect: Is Celemony’s Melodyne the Most Versatile Pitch Correction Software Ever?

Sunday, June 14th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

There are lots of computer-based digital audio workstations (DAWs) that transform Apples and PCs into multitrack recording studios, and a seemingly endless amount of applets for those DAWs to process and transform sound. But among them, perhaps the most intriguing is Celemony’s Melodyne program. Melodyne originally debuted in 2001, and quickly set new standards for pitch correction, particularly with its ability to create harmonies from a single vocal or instrumental line, and its ability to edit and manipulate tracks with chords and harmonies. But what really sets it apart for most other pitch correction programs is its range — it can be very transparent sounding, or totally mangle recorded sound in new and unique ways. Melodyne is both an outstanding application in and of itself, and it offers a rare glimpse into the future of recorded music. (And yes, I paid full price for mine last year; I wasn’t supplied a demo copy by the manufacturer.)

Ever since Cher’s infamous “Believe” song first made the public aware of pitch correction back in 1998, pitch correction of recorded vocals has always been a controversial topic. There are many who believe that singers should be au naturel and that fine tuning the pitch of their vocals is someone “deceiving” the public — this despite the incredible advancements that have been in multitrack recording, ever since the Beatles’ first serious attempts at pushing its original limits in the mid-1960s. No one seriously believes that the Beatles, an orchestra, an audience, and background sound effects were simultaneously recorded live in one pass inside Abbey Road Studio to create the opening of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. But somehow, pitch correction of vocalists is seen as anathema by many in the general public.

Using Pitch Correction for Better Demo Vocals

In contrast, as I argued over a decade ago at Tech Central Station, what makes pitch correction so powerful a tool for those of us who are home recording enthusiasts is that it allows those of us who aren’t great singers to record demo recordings featuring lead vocals that aren’t completely out to lunch. In any case, pitch correction is simply a fact of life in the pop recording world today. If you record at home, ignore it at your own risk, as Mike Senior of England’s Sound on Sound magazine wrote in his excellent home recording primer Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio:

Decent tuning (especially on vocal parts) is increasingly being ignored in small-studio productions, and this puts the onus on the mix engineer to fix things by default, because arriving at a competitive mixdown is otherwise pretty much a pipe dream. “If you don’t do it, your records will sound strange,” comments [music producer] Steve Lipson. “People’s ears have become used to hearing voices perfectly in tune.”

While there are numerous pitch correction programs, including Antares Auto-Tune, the granddaddy of them all, Melodyne is one of the most flexible, and when used properly, one of the most transparent — and when used “improperly,” one of the most fun to mangle sounds. This 2009 video, while a bit crude looking due to that era’s blotchy YouTube codec, is nonetheless a succinct introduction to the program:

Melodyne has one of most intuitive GUIs I’ve ever seen. Unlike so many programs and applets that feel like a control panel from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, because of its utter simplicity, it’s possible for a new user to begin to get excellent results from Melodyne very quickly after first loading the program.

However, as with all programs, the best results come from repeated, dedicated use. It helps, as Senior advises, to go slowly, listening to the track as you edit, rather than relying on what the program’s GUI tells you is the correct note.

As Senior writes, “If an ostensibly out-of-tune note encapsulates the emotion of the music, then have the courage to let it lie. If the most emotional vocal take has some distractingly duff pitching, then consider that the general public (and indeed the artist) will probably thank you for tastefully drawing a veil over it.”

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Interview: Jimmy Wallace on the Annual Dallas International Guitar Festival

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

Since its humble origins in 1978, Jimmy Wallace has been one of the chief forces behind the sprawling annual Dallas International Guitar Festival, which is being held this year from May 29th through the 31st at the Dallas Fair Park. If you’re a player or simply a fan of the electric or acoustic guitar, and you’re anywhere near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, you owe it to yourself to drop by. You’ll see thousands of new and rare vintage guitars on display and most for sale. As Jimmy told me during our ten minute plus interview, there have been a few rare guitars that have sold in the six figure range at his shows — and countless more and much lower prices, of course.

Beyond the guitars, there’s also the chance to see and hear plenty of live music; this year’s players include George Lynch, Rick Derringer, Sonny Landreth, Johnny Hiland, Gary Hoey, Johnny A, veteran Ted Nugent sideman Derek St. Holmes, and many more. And if you’re a player looking for unique accessories for his axe — an effects pedal or hand-tooled leather guitar strap, for example — you’ll find them here as well.

Ever since the days of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, all the way to Clapton, Beck, Page, Townshend, Van Halen and beyond, the electric guitar has been the instrument of rock. If you want to immerse yourself in the fun and power of the instrument you know where to be this weekend. (And if you see me there and are reading this, stop by and say hello!)

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Book Review: Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

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“For many artists, nothing inspires more existential terror than actually making art. The fear that we’re not good enough or that we don’t know enough results in untold numbers of creative crises and potential masterpieces that never get realized,” electronic music composer/producer Dennis DeSantis writes at the beginning of his new book, Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers.

In the old days of pop music, bands like the Beatles, the Stones and Led Zeppelin worked hard to avoid making their minimalist bass, drum and guitar instrumentation sound as varied as possible. These days, anyone who owns decent home recording software such as a digital audio workstation (DAW) and software synthesizers like Propellerhead’s Reason effectively has access to the timbres of all of the world’s instruments. And access to some of the world’s best players: it’s possible to purchase drum loops professionally recorded by Mick Fleetwood, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, and Joe Vitale, who played drums behind so many of Joe Walsh’s hits, for example. And then via applications such Celemony Melodyne, completely fine-tune and even entirely reshape our sounds into tight, perfectly-tuned notes and riffs.

That’s some rather amazing power, which the Beatles and George Martin would have killed for when they were recording Sgt. Pepper. So why is it, after we boot up our computers and load our DAW software, staring into a blank recording template before starting a new project often feels even more terrifying than a writer staring at a blank piece of paper or Microsoft Word file? What can be done to reduce this fear?

In Making Music, DeSantis, who holds music composition degrees from multiple universities, looks to break the home recordist’s version of writer’s block. As DeSantis writes:

Think about something you consider a hobby, something (besides music) that you do with your free time. Maybe you run marathons, or brew beer, or take wildlife photographs. Whatever it is, have you ever even considered doing it professionally? Probably not. And most likely this isn’t because you’re not good enough (and whether you are or not is probably irrelevant to your decision), but rather because the very fact that it’s a hobby means that it’s something you do that isn’t work. Instead, it’s a chance to spend time on something fun and fulfilling that doesn’t saddle you with any outside pressure to succeed, earn a living, etc.

Electronic musicians, more so than musicians working in other genres, seem to have a more difficult time simply engaging with music as a hobby. Perhaps this is because tools like DAWs are fundamentally designed around a recording mentality. Think about people you’ve met who own an acoustic guitar. Just pulling it out and playing it for a few minutes while sitting on the couch may be the extent of their musical aspirations. And they don’t see this as failure. They’re not lamenting their inability to get gigs or write more music or get record deals. They’re having exactly the relationship with music that they want. In fact, they’re usually not even recording what they play; once it’s in the air, it’s gone.

By definition, being a professional means having to spend at least some amount of time thinking about the marketplace. Is there an audience for the music you’re making? If not, you’re guaranteed to fail. Amateurs, on the other hand, never have to think about this question at all. This frees them to make music entirely for themselves, on their own terms.

Whatever your interest in home recording, whether it’s as a songwriter, an instrumental-oriented electronic dance music composer, or simply as someone looking to record your own instrument and maybe overdub a solo or two, we all know that feeling of writer’s block or producer’s block.

Or “artist’s block” as Julia Cameron, the former wife of Martin Scorsese dubbed it in her best-selling 1992 book The Artist’s Way.  From a big picture point of view, Cameron’s book can provide some inspiration to break through artist’s block in general. She stresses that if the artist concentrates on quantity, then quality will come in time as well, as his craft improves through work, process and repetition — provided that cold feet don’t arrive along the way. As one of the many lines I highlighted in my Kindle edition of her book notes, “We usually commit creative hara-kiri either on the eve of or in the wake of a first creative victory. The glare of success (a poem, an acting job, a song, a short story, a film, or any success) can send the recovering artist scurrying back into the cave of self-defeat. We’re more comfortable being a victim of artist’s block than risking having to consistently be productive and healthy.”

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Lambert and Stamp: The Men Who Made The Who

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

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In 1979, The Who, at the peak of their career, released the documentary summing up the band’s first 15 years, The Kids Are Alright. As veteran rock critic Dave Marsh wrote in his 1983 biography of the group, Before I Get Old, published to coincide with the band’s “first” farewell tour that year:

Kids is one of the most anarchic documentaries ever assembled, running two hours without a shred of narration and with not so much as a subtitle identifying characters or dates. Kids was the perfect cult item, and Who fans flocked to it. Hardly anyone else did, however, so even though it remained a staple of the midnight movie circuit, part of every kid’s introduction to the verities of the Rock of Ages, the film had little impact outside of the Who’s cult. The Kids Are Alright is, nevertheless, one of the great rock and roll movies, capturing all of the Who’s sass and humor and taking the wind out of the band’s pomposity at each and every opportunity.

Naturally, Keith Moon stole The Kids Are Alright, which became a summation of his career as the Who’s anarchic drummer, who passed away nine months before its release, choking on an overdose of the pills he was prescribed to battle his alcoholism.

This year, filmmaker James D. Cooper released Lambert & Stamp, a documentary about the Who’s first managers, a film that can be thought of as the liner notes to The Kids Are Alright. If you’re a fan of the band, you owe it to yourself to see this film while it’s in the theaters (I saw it last night at a sparsely attended showing at the Camera 3 in San Jose), to get a sense of two men who did so much to shape the group in the 1960s. How much you know about the Who will shape how much you enjoy this new documentary, which is built around a lengthy series of interviews with Chris Stamp (1942-2012), the younger brother of veteran actor Terence Stamp (Superman II, Wall Street, The Limey), who also appears in the film, along with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Daltrey’s wife Heather, and other Who insiders.

Instant Party

The Who were one of the most unlikely of bands; Pete Townshend, art school devotee and later follower of Sufi mystic and guru Meher Baba, was essentially the timekeeper of the group, even though he was the rhythm guitarist. Keith Moon’s anarchic surf-music-inspired drumming provided brilliant percussive colors; but keeping time was not his metier; he was not a man in search of a simple backbeat on the 2 and 4. With his fluid single-note runs, John Entwistle was in many ways the band’s lead guitarist, despite being the bassist. And Daltrey, the founder and nominally the frontman of the group, was forced to fight for attention as singer as his three innovative sidemen roared away alongside him. Somehow it worked — brilliantly — in spite of themselves.

Similarly, Lambert and Stamp were the most unlikely of rock managers. They hadn’t really planned to be managers at all. Kit Lambert (1935-1981) was the son of composer/conductor Constant Lambert, who sought to make a name for himself in the shadow of his famous father, who died, as Wikipedia notes, in 1951 “two days short of his forty-sixth birthday, of pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes complicated by acute alcoholism.”

Britain didn’t legalize homosexuality until 1967; the upper-class Lambert was very much gay during that era. And the handsome, modish Stamp was equally aggressively heterosexual and working class, the son of a tugboat captain. The two originally didn’t want to be managers; after meeting while both were working at Shepperton Studios in the early 1960s, they were looking for the perfect rock group to feature in a documentary on the exploding British rock scene in the wake of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, when they stumbled into the Railway Hotel in Harrow where the Who were playing Motown songs to an overpacked room crammed mostly with hundreds of young Mod men. As the documentary explains, Lambert and Stamp were instantly convinced they had found the perfect group for their film; the band was instantly convinced they were the authorities, about to close down the gig as a fire hazard. While they did shoot some early footage of the group, Lambert and Stamp decided instead they’d rather be Brian Epstein than filmmakers, and quickly began managing the group.

Keith Moon brilliantly summed up the tone of the two men in the early days in his 1972 Rolling Stone interview:

Kit Lambert came to see us playing at the Railway ‘Otel in ‘Arrow. We had a meeting. We didn’t like each other at first, really. Kit and Chris. They went ’round together. And they were . . . are . . . as incongruous a team as we are. You got Chris on one hand [goes into unintelligible East London cockney]: “Oh well, f**k it, jus, jus whack ‘im in-a ‘ead, ‘it ‘im in ee balls an’ all.” And Kit says [slipping into a proper Oxonian]: “Well, I don’t agree, Chris; the thing is . . . the whole thing needs to be thought out in damned fine detail.” These people were perfect for us, because there’s me, bouncing about, full of pills, full of everything I could get me ‘ands on . . . and there’s Pete, very serious, never laughed, always cool, a grass-’ead. I was working at about ten times the speed Pete was. And Kit and Chris were like the epitome of what we were.

Lambert was a brilliant ideas man; he shaped The Who’s image as sharply-dressed mods, encouraged Townshend and Moon’s guitar and drum smashing, and hired a graphic artist to design The Who’s iconic “Maximum R&B” poster (a copy of which is hanging behind me in my home office as I write this). Lambert also moved Townshend into Lambert’s flat in the posh Belgravia section of London, giving the band a veneer of success far beyond what they were earning as working musicians. Meanwhile Stamp was largely funding the band’s early days via his work as a second assistant director on the Kirk Douglas WWII movie, The Heroes of Telemark.

Lambert fueled Townshend’s composing skills, convincing him to link together several short, incomplete songs into one nine minute number in 1966 called “A Quick One,” which the two called “their mini-opera,” and which Townshend credits for inspiring some of the ideas on Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles’ landmark concept album the following year. That album would go on to inspire the Who’s double album “rock opera,” Tommy, released in 1969.

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Avantone MixCubes: The Little Speakers with the Awful Sound That Are a Must for Your Home Studio

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll

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I’ve written extensively about home music recording since 2002, and have witnessed the technology available to those recording at home to rapidly grow to allow for pro-quality sound. Provided your computer has sufficient RAM, programs such as Avid’s Pro Tools and Cakewalk’s Sonar allow for near unlimited audio tracks – imagine going back in a time machine and telling the Beatles that when they were ganging together two and sometimes three four track recorders to produce Sgt. Pepper in 1967.

A decade later after that landmark album, 24 track analog recorders would be the norm in professional studios, but as the Beatles’ producer George Martin wrote 32 years ago, “A note of caution regarding the way we listen to a multitrack recording: the effect of 24 tracks in a good control room can be pretty impressive but one must never forget that, eventually, it has to be boiled down to two simple tracks, and will be heard in a wide variety of listening conditions.”

And at this point that many home recordists fall down on the job. They produce mixes that might sound fine on their computers, but don’t translate to the variety of systems we all listen to music on: headphones, computer speakers, ghetto blasters, car radios, and even clock radios.

In the control rooms of virtually every pro studio in the 1970s, overhead would be a pair of giant monitors designed to blast the sound at thunderous levels to knock out those planning to rent the studio, and to record company executives who wanted to hear how the label’s money was being spent. But when it came time to do some serious mixing, invariably, the mixes were checked – sometimes the entire album was mixed – on a humble pair of single cone speakers from a company called Auratone.

Are They “Horrortones” or “the Truth Speakers?” Yes!

Though mix engineers frequently sneer at these speakers as the “Horrortones,” Bruce Swedien, who engineered Michael Jackson’s massive hit Thriller for Quincy Jones, has said, “You know what Quincy calls them? The Truth Speakers! There’s no hype with an Auratone…. Probably 80 percent of the mix is done on Auratones, and then I’ll have a final listen or two on the big speakers.”

That quote is from the excellent book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, written by Mike Senior of England’s Sound On Sound magazine. Senior adds that Saturday Night Fever was also mixed on these speakers. And in the 1980s, another smash hit, Dire Straits’ multi-platinum Brothers In Arms, was mixed on Auratones. And loads of other hit albums and singles were as well over the decades. As Grammy-winning producer Charles Dye once wrote, “One of the ironies of mixing is that the more successful your work, the lousier the speakers on which it will be listened to.” And if you want your mixes to translate into systems beyond your home studio (whether that home studio is in your basement or on your laptop or iPad), it’s necessary to plan for that.

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Several years ago, Auratone stopped producing their namesake speakers. Today, the company is located in Nashville (coincidentally yet another business that has migrated from California) and has reintroduced their classic Auratone 5C. But during the period in which Auratones were only available on eBay and from other sources of used merchandise, several replacement manufacturers stepped up in their place, including those making self-powered Auratone clones for use with PC-based monitoring systems. One such manufacturer was Avantone Pro, and late last year, I purchased a pair of Avantone Active Mix Cubes from the national music retailer Sweetwater Sound. These are also available at Amazon, in both a glossy piano black case, and for those who want a retro 1970s look, a sort of cream-yellow.

I went with the piano black finish. I only wanted the speakers to sound cheesy.

And that’s what they sound like – there’s very little bass, and not a whole lot of treble; it’s all midrange. But in Mixing Secrets, Senior emphasizes that’s where the bulk of what the listener will hear, no matter how expensive his system:

[The Auratone’s] restricted ability to reproduce both high and low frequencies focuses your attention on the midrange of your mix, which is the frequency region our ears are most sensitive to and which tends to carry the most important musical information. “The real perspective lives in that range,” says Jack Joseph Puig. “It doesn’t live in the highs, it doesn’t live in the lows. That’s what really speaks to the heart.” Bob Katz concurs: “The midrange is the key. If you lose the midrange, you lose it all.” The midrange is also crucial because it’s the frequency region of your mix that is most likely to survive the journey to your target listener’s ears.

Switching back and forth between the Avantone MixCubes and my M-Audio BX5-D2 monitor speakers, it was obvious that the BX5s make everything sound great; but as a result, their mixes often don’t translate out in the real world. And the MixCubes almost force the person mixing to choose one lead element and concentrate on that, rather than diving into the thick swirling musical soup of the BX5 sound. There’s a reason why vocals are usually the loudest element in a hit record, and indeed, listening to hit songs on the MixCubes can be a fascinating experience. Certain songs just pop right out of them, and others seem denser and muddier. I remember the first time I played Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” on the Avantones, and it just popped right out the speakers as if to proudly say, “Hi, Mr. Clapton – I’ll be putting lots of money into your wallet for decades to come!”

When your mixes similarly pop like that on the Avantones, you’ll know you’ve got something.

The MixCubes are also useful for checking a mix in mono; my RME Fireface UCX FireWire recording interface has a mono button on its virtual mixing board; flipping it on and off is a very useful test to ensure a mix doesn’t collapse when played in mono, which it could well be on some low-end systems such as clock radios and the like.

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One surprising element of the powered version of the Avantone MixCubes is the comparatively hefty size of their power supplies, as Senior notes in his 2010 review of the speakers at Sound on Sound:

The Active MixCube has all its connections at the rear, next to a big pink heat-sink. Audio arrives via a balanced combi/jack/XLR socket, while mains (30V DC) comes in on a six‑pin locking connector from an almost comically hefty 2kg line‑lump power supply — the speaker itself only weighs 3.5kg! A small switch allows you to separate signal and mains earths if you’re getting earth-loop problems.

Read the rest of his review for some further thoughts on why these are an excellent choice for a home studio. I wouldn’t want to rely solely on the Avantone MixCubes as my only home studio monitors. But for cross-checking a mix, and as part of a system that includes full-range monitor speakers, and the ability to play a CD or WAV file through car and home stereo system and a pair of earbuds or other commercial systems, they could be an invaluable addition to your home recording studio.

Happy mixing!

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Review: Alan Parsons’ Art & Science of Sound Recording: The Book

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 - by Ed Driscoll

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With the exceptions of George Martin, Quincy Jones and Glyn Johns, arguably no other recording producer is as quite a household name as Alan Parsons. (And only Parsons has been namechecked by Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil!) Starting at age 18, Parsons began working in EMI’s legendary Abbey Road Studios in 1967 before going on to engineer the Beatles’ classic album of the same name and numerous other projects. His career as a staff engineer at EMI culminated in his engineering Pink Floyd’s epochal 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon, which remained on the Billboard charts for an astonishing 741 weeks, a phenomenal achievement for what had been prior to its release a band that defined the phrase “cult hit.” In terms of its variety and musical craftsmanship, the album was arguably the high point of Pink Floyd, but its success was in no small part due to the crystalline three dimensional sound that Parsons’ engineering brought to the product.

Only in the 1970s could a recording engineer launch a successful career as a rock frontman, but give Parsons credit for perfect timing – he parleyed his industry connections and his key role in Dark Side of the Moon’s smash success into a lengthy record deal with Arista Records, fronting and producing his own Alan Parsons Project band. The Alan Parsons Project itself enjoyed several best-selling albums and arena tours. But Parsons never stopped producing other artists, working in the years since Dark Side with Al Stewart, The Hollies, and other artists.

In 2010 Parsons released his three-DVD box set titled The Art & Science of Sound Recording and narrated by actor-director-musician Billy Bob Thornton. Recently an accompanying book version of that DVD, co-authored by Parsons and Julian Colbeck (also an old hand in the music industry), was issued by veteran music publishing house Hal Leonard.

The How-To Guide for Recording a Complete Rock Band

For anyone interested in recording a rock or pop group, in conditions ranging from their garage or basement to a professional music studio, this is a must-read book, filled with useful tips on how to record all of the primary components of a popular group including the drum kit, bass, electric guitar, keyboard, and vocalists. In both group form playing all together, and then afterwards in the form of solo overdubs to bring a song closer to perfection.

While Parsons is the primary voice in the book, he’s joined by such veteran studio luminaries as drummer Simon Phillips, bassists Carole Kaye and Nathan East, and former Doobie Brothers vocalist Michael McDonald, and fellow producer Jack Douglas, who bring their own recording tips and anecdotes to the book. The book concludes with an excellent chapter on recovering from studio disasters, ranging from tape machines unspooling to a comparable 21st-century terror, hard drive crashes.

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Review: Izotope RX4 Audio Restoration Software

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Ed Driscoll
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Click to enlarge.

When the Boston-based Izotope audio software company released the first iteration of their RX program in the fall of 2007, it was a revelation in digital audio cleaning applications. It allowed hum, hiss, and background noises to be removed with much fewer artifacts than before, and it allowed the user to drill down to a seemingly granular level to remove tiny imperfections in WAV, QuickTime, MP3 and other commonly used digital audio formats.

I used it extensively when I was producing PJ Media’s Sirius-XM radio show, which coincidentally debuted nearly simultaneously with RX, and ran until the end of 2010. Both on the XM show and podcasts in the years since, I’ve found RX particularly useful for removing hum and hiss from telephone recordings, making it an extremely useful tool on prerecorded radio shows and podcasts.

From the start, what made RX unique was its ability to zoom into a particular region of audio. The ability to splice a small portion of audio has been possible since the earliest days of analog audio tape in the 1940s. And digital audio workstations have allowed for tight digital editing since their initial launch in the 1980s. But however tight the edit, these have almost always involved the entire audio spectrum. (Picture a piece of audio tape being spliced by a razorblade; the process is replicated digitally on a DAW.) But RX allows for focusing on tiny portions of the audio spectrum, in much the same way that Photoshop and numerous other photo editing software allows for the user to zoom tightly into just a few pixels.

This makes RX particularly versatile. Because the program can zero in on specific frequency regions, it’s easy to remove plosives such as popped-Ps from recordings and reduce or mute breath sounds, making RX an excellent post-production tool for both spoken and sung vocals. RX’s ability to both copy and paste and sample small portions of surrounding audio makes it very easy replace digital dropouts. I also found it extremely useful to clean up less than pristine music tracks I made in my digital audio workstation, such as background noise in lead vocals, or the grit, dirt and hum that accompany many distorted electric guitar recordings. (Not the grit and dirt from the actual solo, which we like, the stuff lurking in-between the notes when the guitarist isn’t playing.)

In May of this year, when I returned to California after videotaping the Duranty Awards for PJM and the New Criterion, and listened to the audio, I noticed most of the journalists speaking had unconsciously tapped the heavy framed award certificates they were holding against the note-stand of the podium, producing many repeated loud audible thumps on the audio track. Using RX, I was able to go in and either eliminate or minimize many of these these thumps, making it a much smoother experience for the viewers, particularly for those watching the video while wearing headphones.

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TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive 3: A Box Full of Virtual Backup Singers

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Ed Driscoll

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One of the hallmarks of great pop songs, recorded or live, are great harmony vocals. While non-melodic rap and death metal are often largely exempt from this artistry, just about all classic pop music is known for its harmonies, from Motown, country music and folk, to the Beach Boys and the Beatles. Even in hard rock, plenty of numbers by The Who and The Rolling Stones have great backing vocals behind the gruff bluesy belting of Roger Daltrey and Mick Jagger, respectively. Harmony vocals add polish to a recording or performance, and they add a subtle (sometimes not so subtle) ingratiating element to them as well: Hey, multiple people are singing along with the lead singer. Maybe I should join in and sing along as well, while listening at home, in the car, or in the audience!

In the past though, the solo performer who plays out in bars and coffeehouses armed with only his or her guitar, or the songwriter recording demos for his band in a spare room have historically been at a distinct disadvantage to a full ensemble until recent years. In 2007, the Canadian firm of TC-Helicon debuted their VoiceLive unit; currently, it’s on its third iteration. As one of those aforementioned persons recording demos on a digital audio workstation (DAW) in his den, I’ve been frustrated by the limitations of only having my (not so great) voice to work with, and have looked for ways to augment it electronically. So when I saw the demo of the VoiceLive 3 unit at Sweetwater, I knew I had to add it to my sonic arsenal:

Of course, what goes into the VoiceLive 3 will determine what comes out of it; it won’t turn you into Kate Bush or Steve Winwood overnight. But as the many demos of the VoiceLive 3 and previous VoiceLive units uploaded to YouTube by TC-Helicon attest, with a little practice, the units do a very good job of turning decent singers into one person choirs, and decent singers with lush harmonies behind them sound that much better.

Inside the VoiceLive3 is massive amount of sophisticated electronics to generate its harmonies, which it cues off of a guitar plugged into it, a MIDI-equipped keyboard, or a backing track from an iPod or other miniplug-equipped music player. Or the song’s key can be set manually, and the VoiceLive 3 will do its best to guess the harmonies. On the outside of the unit, the VoiceLive3 has a metal case and multiple footswitch buttons to trigger harmonies on and off, along with other functions such as delay, reverb, and doubling, plus a built-in guitar tuner. And there’s a rotating dial to sift through the units many presets. The rear of the unit contains multiple inputs and outputs including a combined XLR and ¼” mono input for the lead vocal, stereo XLR outputs, MIDI in- and outputs, guitar inputs and outputs, and a miniplug input designed to allow backing tracks to be played from an iPod. So it’s possible to use the VoiceLive 3 even if you don’t play an instrument.

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‘I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Feel Sure Again About Anything’

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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One Saturday night in late September, after photoshopping Roger L. Simon into William Shatner’s Star Trek uniform (don’t try this at home kids…), I watched the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of A Night to Remember, the great 1958 British retelling of the Titanic disaster. The one that featured a cast of grownups rather than Leo and Kate romping around amid a backdrop of a zillion extras.

After seeing James Cameron’s teen romance-meets disaster movie take on Titanic on the big screen in 1997, I remember saying to my wife as we left the theater that I wanted to see Lawrence of Arabia again for the next film we watch. Why, she asked? Because it’s all desert, no water.

I had seen plenty of YouTube clips of A Night to Remember, but this was the first time I had watched it all in sequence. While A Night to Remember is over an hour shorter than Cameron’s mammoth production, and watching it on a 55-inch TV instead of a 70-foot multiplex screen, I felt similarly wiped out afterwards. I poked around Amazon Prime on the Roku box for something that was as least like A Night to Remember as possible. I ended up watching a segment of Firing Line from 1981, in which William F. Buckley interviewed Tom Wolfe on his then-new book, From Bauhaus To Our House.

But even there — because I’m me, and this is what I do — my brain was trying to work out the connections. Mr. Guggenheim, whose daughter would found the modernist museum that bears the family name, went down with the ship along with his valet, after uttering the famous quote, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”

The sinking of the Titanic is universally seen as foreshadowing the horrors of World War I. (“WORLD’S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICE-BERG,” recalls the classic Onion headline.) That’s implicit on screen in A Night to Remember as well, of course. As L.A.-based film critic John Patterson wrote in his 2012 retrospective on the 1958 film in the leftwing London Guardian, where he notes that Eric Ambler, the film’s screenwriter was “by then an ex-Marxist,” with what sounds like a trace of tacit disappointment:

His heroes and villains, cowards and charlatans, are spread evenly across the social spectrum [in A Night to Remember], but he emphasises the numbing and mindless social deference of 1912 to a 1958 audience for whom a good many of those assumptions were still firmly in place, although their erosion was already under way. Ambler can sense a foretaste of the Somme in these events, a whole social order upended, quite literally, just as Scott’s failed Antarctic expedition, the other great British debacle of 1912, tolled the death knell for the cult of the English Gentleman Amateur.

And as Wolfe mentioned in From Bauhaus to Our House, and during his interview with Buckley, modern art and modern architecture grew out of the horrors of World War I and its aftermath. The rubble of WWI, the blood-stained trenches, and the rapid ascension of various forms of socialism all made the “Start From Zero” mindset of the Weimar Republic’s Bauhaus possible. History? The past? Tradition? It should all be tossed into the Atlantic, along with all those stuffy old toffs who went down with the ship dressed in their best.

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When the Chewbacca Defense Just Won’t Do, There’s Always… Affluenza

Saturday, December 14th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

“Texas teen Ethan Couch gets 10 years’ probation for driving drunk, killing 4,” CNN reported yesterday:

To the families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.

To the defense, the youth is himself a victim — of “affluenza,” according to one psychologist — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.

To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years’ probation but no jail time, he’s a defendant in need of treatment.

The decision disappointed prosecutors and stunned victims’ family members, who say they feel that Couch got off too easy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars.

Yesterday’s CNN.com article was a good basic, just the facts, ma’am piece of reporting. Perhaps because it’s Friday the 13th, a follow up article CNN ran today gets caught up in a serious case of the stupids, literally asking in the headline, “‘Affluenza’: Is it real?”

Is “affluenza” real? Or is it a way for coddled children and adolescents to evade consequences for their actions?

Not surprisingly, “affluenza” does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the “psychiatric Bible.”

Here’s what I found with about two minutes worth of Googling, but which isn’t referenced in the above CNN article. According to Wikipedia, “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic is a 2001 anti-consumerist book by John de Graaf, environmental scientist David Wann, and economist Thomas H. Naylor:”

Viewing consumerism (with its accompanying overwork and dissatisfaction) as a deliberately spread disease, the book consists of three parts — symptoms, origins, and treatment. Affluenza is described as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more”.

The book was considered one of the eight best non-fiction books of the year by Detroit Free Press, and copies were given to every freshman by two universities. Amazon.com lists 38 books citing it. The book was highly recommended for academic and public libraries by M. Bay from Indiana University in Library Journal. The Idaho State University has focused its Book Reading Project 2007 on the book.

Naturally, the book was quickly adopted into a similarly-titled “documentary,” which aired on PBS that same year, before an even more punitive critic of capitalism really made his mark on American society on 9/11. Here’s a link to the PBS Webpage accompanying the show, which, foreshadowing the expert government coding the Obamacare Website, looks all the world like a 2001-era Geocities page:

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. 4. A television program that could change your life.

Affluenza is a one-hour television special that explores the high social and environmental costs of materialism and overconsumption. Here you can learn more about the show, get an Affluenza diagnosis and check out resources for treatment. Don’t miss our Teacher’s Guide, available only on this Web site.

The “diagnosis” from the network is of course the usual attempt by PBS to guilt their viewers over excessive levels of consumption, complete with shots at President Reagan and the economic revival of the 1980s. (Funny how Bill Clinton wasn’t similarly chided for presiding over the go-go ’90s.)

It was likely around that same time that Rush Limbaugh produced a parody ad, proffering his radio show as the cure for Affluenza. I wonder how many people who heard the ad, which often filled station breaks in the online version of his radio show — and may very well be still in service to this day:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(Click here for direct link to audio, if player isn’t visible.)

Jonah Goldberg once wrote that “Liberals are geniuses at unleashing social panics because A) it never occurs to them that their motives are anything but pure and B) because they are almost exclusively focused on short term tactics. And yet they are invariably shocked when these moral frenzies come back to bite them.”

Or as Allahpundit writes:

If there’s any justice in this world — and there isn’t, as you’re about to see — the victims will bankrupt them with wrongful death suits. The ask right now is $20 million. Beyond that, the lesson for parents (wealthy parents, at least — the poor are screwed here, as usual) is to work hard at turning your child into the most privileged, entitled A-hole possible. If you fail and he somehow turns out to be a decent person and then ends up running someone over, well, then he might have to do time.

The far left invented the term “Affluenza” to goof on free markets and free choices of consumer consumption. They shouldn’t be too surprised an enterprising trial lawyer ran with the idea, Chewbacca Defense-style, and used it to successfully, albeit disgustingly, if the facts of the case are as CNN presents them, get his client off the hook, at least temporarily.
*****

Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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Somebody Needs to Save American Education From Itself — and Soon

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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In his upcoming book, The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, Glenn Reynolds looks at one possible solution to the hash that state-run schools have made of the education process and quips, “as a friend pointed out, nobody ever got shot or knocked up at online school.”

It’s true, gun violence isn’t much of a concern at online schools — by real or imagined firearms. In “Quivering in Place,” Mark Steyn spots a “schoolboy suspended for bringing an imaginary weapon to school:”

A fifth grader in Pennsylvania has been suspended for shooting an imaginary arrow at a classmate. The 10-year-old also faces possible expulsion.

The Rutherford Institute, which is defending Johnny Jones, says he was told he violated the school’s zero tolerance policy on weapons.

Little Johnny had, in fact, zero weapons, but that’s no reason for imaginary educator John Horton not to destroy the l’il tyke’s life:

Principal John Horton contacted Ms. Jones soon thereafter in order to inform her that Johnny’s behavior was a serious offense that could result in expulsion under the school’s weapons policy.

It would be interesting to fire an imaginary arrow at Principal Horton’s crotch and see whether he hops around howling in agony. But, for the students terrorized by this insanity, these stories are not funny: A man who’d do such a thing really shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children.

The rise of “political correctness” in the late ’80s was a desperate effort by far left academia to stem the tide of a Reagan dominated decade, which makes the concept of Orwellian thought crime — usually centered around the idea of hurt “feelings” — inevitable. But can’t even brain-dead educators see how awful it looks to dispatch a fifth grader to Room 101?

In the previous post, I quoted Wired magazine founder Louis Rossetto telling Nick Gillespie of Reason, “In its death throes, the megastate is going to make a lot of mess.”

Perhaps the same could said about Big Education, as well.

****

Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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21st Century Gnostics Keeping Us Safe, One Gnome at a Time

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

Yet another attempt by our 1930s-era cargo cult administration to go Barack to the Future, as spotted by Richard Epstein at the Hoover Institute:

This past week in Washington DC, the President made a speech about the state of the economy and about his determination to reform it. But much as things change, so they remain the same. A great deal of what he said there was reminiscent of a major address he gave two years ago on economic policy before a friendly audience in Osawatomie, Kansas. The President there talked with dizzying rapidity about the lost greatness of America’s past, and his plans to restore that greatness in the future. It’s worth revisiting some of the basic themes of his speech since they obviously continue to inform his policy decisions today.

As is common in speeches that romanticize history to advocate change, Obama’s address contained an unforgivable level of jingoistic nationalism: He claimed, “It was here in America that the most productive workers, the most innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth…. Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies.”

No one, not even the United States, can be that good. In fact, our present national status will only become worse if we do not understand that the American position has eroded from its glory days, in part because of the very policies that the President champions as the solution to our issues. But where to begin? The President manages to pack so many economic and historical falsehoods into his speech that it is nearly impossible to take them all on at the same time.

“A rehash of failed progressive policies will not return the United States to greatness,” and while I was tempted to quote that last sentence and snark, “talk about breaking news from 2009,” the reason why the cycle won’t be broken anytime soon is that it’s not policy — it’s religion. Or as Derek Hunter writes at Townhall, “In Government We Trust” is most assuredly “The Progressive Religion:”

What has happened is Democrats’ previously uncheckable lies are now fully checkable. It’s real now. You can’t keep your doctor or insurance, no matter how much you like them. And this hurts in the wallet – a lot. Now that we know this does not qualify as a practical solution, certainly not to health care anyway, Democrats –with all the credibility of a used-Pinto salesman – now embrace “morality” as the reason to embrace Obamacare.

In a column reeking of desperation on par with a kid hoping for a unicorn under his Christmas tree, the Washington Post’s Ryan Cooper complied a list of reasons “Why millennials will come around on Obamacare.” Aside from a desperate lack of understanding of health policy and how people work, the second reason Cooper lists stands out. He writes, “Going without health insurance is morally wrong.”

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

This pathetic attempt to manipulate the unthinking into an overwhelming sense of guilt that forces them to capitulate may work on those with fewer IQ points than fingers, but it won’t work on those with a third-grade education.

Cooper explains, “The only way insurance can work for everyone is if everyone is in the system so risk can be pooled. This one doesn’t carry much weight yet, since the system isn’t even operating. But as time passes, this will become an important norm — and for young people, the norm has outsized importance (older people already have a reason to get coverage; they get sick more easily). Getting insurance will be part of living in a decent society where everyone chips in when they can afford it, and free-riding is frowned upon — and over time, young people will come to see this as part of being a responsible citizen.”

Those 108 words are an incredibly inefficient way of rephrasing “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Cooper’s appeal wouldn’t be noteworthy were it a lone cactus in the desert, but it’s not.

Also this week the buffoonish Ed Schultz, MSNBC’s angry Fred Flintstone clone, mused about how God would feel about Obamacare. “I’ll tell you what I think God thinks of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a big amen!”

Not to be outdone in the office pool of idiocy, Charlie Brown’s illegitimate child, Chris Matthews, had an offering on this theme. Matthews temporarily snapped out of his loving gaze while interviewing the president Thursday and put the cherry on top of one of this planet’s worst displays of sycophantism to utter what was supposed to be a question: “You know, Mr. President, your — your remarks the other day on economic justice to me, as a Roman Catholic, was so resonant with what the Holy Father, Francis, has been saying. Talk about that common Judeo-Christian or, even further, Muslim background to the belief we have a social responsibility, a moral responsibility to look out for people who haven’t made it in this country.”

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Congressman Alan Grayson Loses $18 Mil in Ponzi Scheme

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

“Controversial House Democrat Alan Grayson lost $18 million as part of a criminal scheme run by a Virginia man that bilked more than 100 investors out of more than $35 million, according to federal court documents,” the Politico reports:

William Dean Chapman, 44, of Sterling, Va.,was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison on Friday. Chapman pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in May, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which oversaw the case.

Chapman was the founder and owner of Alexander Capital Markets. Customers would give their stock holdings to Chapman as collateral for loans. Chapman then improperly sold the stocks, despite assuring the customers that they would get back the full value of their holdings.

An unnamed elected official named “A.G.” was identified as having lost more than $18 million in what was essentially a Ponzi scheme run by Chapman.

After Chapman tried to withdraw his guilty plea at the last minute, federal prosecutors submitted a document that included Grayson’s name as part of their legal response to Chapman’s move.

“Don’t worry, Floridians. He’ll be much more careful with your money,” the American Glob quips.

Politico adds that “According to his most recent annual financial disclosure report on file with the House of Representatives, Grayson has a minimum of $22.8 million in assets, as well as at least $5 million in liabilities,” Based on the Politico article, I’m not sure if the net worth they quote is before or after losing $18 mil in a Ponzi scheme. In any case, just a reminder that being a raving and drooling anti-capitalist can be exceedingly beneficial to one’s net worth.

And Grayson reportedly being duped by a Ponzi scheme  is very reminiscent of the reports of Bernie Madoff’s victims, many of whom were fellow elitist far left Obama supporters — and the president himself has much in common with Madoff:

Photoshop created using a Shutterstock.com element.

Mr. Madoff, like Mr. Obama, only took money from rich people, fat cats, millionaires, evil private jet owners, those that can afford to get bilked. Both have account minimums, a status symbol used to create the illusion that only the select elite will be allowed to participate. In Obama’s case, it seems to be around $250,000 (for a couple, but only $125,000 for an individual filer) Madoff’s, reportedly, was a cool million.

Obama and Madoff both like to hob-knob with the rich, famous, and influential of society, maintaining social networks that would put Donald Trump to shame. Their legendary early results spread like a virus among the privileged few.

Madoff devastated charities that had trusted him for his legendary investment prowess. President Obama will devastate charities with his proposal to vanish charitable tax deductions for the well-healed.

The major difference? One is behind bars, and one is still actively employed, planning new types of schemes to solve such “perceived” problems as global warming and economic inequality. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Madoff and Obama both held prestigious positions, enhancing their credibility prior to their meteoric rise to power. Madoff was the head of the NASDAQ (now FINRA), Obama was a junior senator from the squeaky-clean State of Illinois. Everyone knows that if you can’t trust a Chicago politician, who can you trust?

That’s the burning question, isn’t it?

 Update: Hmmmmm

It is the second time the congressman has been the victim of a fraudulent investment scheme: He won $34 million after suing Derivium Capital, a company running pretty much the same scheme as Chapman. Grayson told the AP he invested with Chapman before he invested with Derivium, and hence he did not yet have any reason to view the investment as suspect.

How do you stumble into a Ponzi scheme twice?

*****

Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s Blog

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Another Blow for the Chevy Volt

Saturday, December 7th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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“Chevy Volt doesn’t make 2014 list of fuel economy leaders,” the Washington Examiner reports:

The Department of Energy released its 2014 fuel economy guide, complete with a list of fuel economy leaders, and yet again, the Volt didn’t make the list.

In fact, the Volt — a compact car — doesn’t even perform as well by most metrics as some midsize plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, according to the guide.

The Volt gets 37 combined mpg (35 mpg city, 40 mpg highway) using premium gasoline. That’s better than most non plug-in vehicles, for sure. But compare that to the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid, which gets 46 combined miles on gasoline — with no mention of it being premium — and 47 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway. Or the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg combined (51 mpg city, 49 mpg highway).

With a starting price of $34,185 (before the $7,500 tax credit, $26,685 if you get the full credit), the Volt isn’t exactly cheap. Compare that to the Prius, which outperforms the Volt on most measures and has a starting price of $29,990 before the tax credit.

The Volt has a range of 344 miles with premium gasoline. Compared to the Ford Fusion plug-in (602 miles with regular gasoline), the Accord plug-in (561 miles with regular gasoline) and the Prius (530 miles with regular gasoline), and the Volt falls further behind.

Perhaps the Government Motors vehicle simply isn’t as hot as it seemed when it was first envisioned — on the other hand, it can on occasion, get too hot for the wrong reasons. If so, here’s news you can use from car blog, Jalopnik: “What To Do When Your Electric Car Catches On Fire: An Explainer.”

On the other hand, perhaps this California proposal might light up Chevy Volts — or at least their sales:

One longtime critic of federal transportation spending once concluded that it would be less expensive for the government to buy every new transit rider a Jaguar XJ8 than it would be to build certain new rail systems. Unfortunately, California officials may not have realized that the idea of buying people new cars wasn’t a serious proposal as much as a way to illustrate a point about excessive spending.

The California Air Resources Board is now embarking on a program that would help poor people buy energy-efficient vehicles. In one scenario posed by the agency, a “voucher” might even pay the full price for a Nissan Leaf, an electric car with an MSRP above $21,000, or for used cars with lower price tags.

Perhaps the state could even design a low-cost “people’s car” for the masses…

*****

Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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RIP, Burlington NJ’s Cafe Gallery Restaurant

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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While the Onion once goofed on the “Insidious Worm [that] Makes Unauthorized Purchases When Computer User Is Drunk,” (a parody that anticipated the 2011 Anthony Weiner sexting scandal by a year), one late night Internet vice for me is to occasionally hit Google maps and check out the photos of my haunts growing up in South Jersey. Unfortunately, from time to time, the warm glow of nostalgia can transform itself into bad news – the other night, I discovered that Burlington’s Café Gallery restaurant closed late last month after a three decade run.

The restaurant took its name, and its concept, from having fine art from local painters (which could be purchased, of course) alongside its tables. And via its huge expanses of plate glass, offered diners an expansive view of the Delaware River. When my parents owned their retail store from 1977 through the late 1980s, they typically put in 13 hour days from Monday through Saturday, and then went out to dinner on Sunday night, alternating between several upscale local restaurants. Some of the fondest memories I have of dining at Café Gallery on Sunday nights was during the period in the late 1980s, I attended NYU; afterwards, my parents would drive me to the Clinton Ave. railroad station in Trenton, and I’d take Amtrak to Penn Station in New York to begin another week at NYU.

After I moved to California, and flew back to New Jersey several times a year starting in the late 1990s to visit my parents, Café Gallery served two purposes: Since it was only a few minutes from my parents’ home, Nina and I would often drive my parents there for dinner, until my father died in 2006, and I would have a certain amount of fun ordering something like escargot, just to get a rise out of my mom. (Snails? Yuck!) And when we needed to play hooky from visiting my parents, Nina and I would go there solo for a more relaxing meal.

In retrospect, the restaurant’s slightly steep entry steps from the sidewalk to its front door served as a marker for my parents’ aging – each time we went, it was always a little tougher for them to climb. In late 2011, when we last went there with my mother, then age 87, she climbed those steps exceedingly slowly and ponderously; not surprisingly, it was a fall down a short flight of steps from her living room to the garage that led to her being placed into hospice care in February of last year. And during that grim period, Nina and I had a few dinners there to collect our thoughts and take a welcome break for the horrors each day brought.

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Gray Lady Goes Cougar, Flashes Nipple and Tattoo!

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

No links for such attention whoring, but you if you’d like to see what the modicum of fuss is about, click over to the Daily Caller’s Betsy Rothstein as she checks out “The Grey Lady’s Nip Slip,” complete with (slightly NSFW) photo:

You’d think these things would be reserved for HuffPost’s sideboob section or even a Daily Caller slideshow.

But no, this is The New York Times just a few days before Thanksgiving. There are other ways to depict the delicate subject matter of breast-cancer screening than boob shots in the world’s most respected newspaper, right?

And — unexpectedly! — the Times is reduced to pretending that it was all ever-so “unintentional:”

The above-the-fold front-page photo, by Israeli photographer Rina Castelnuovo, accompanies a story about Israeli women grappling with one of the world’s highest rates of breast cancer. It shows a woman’s torso replete with a Star of David tattoo, a lumpectomy scar, and, yes, a bit of areola…

Castelnuovo tells Daily Intelligencer that she didn’t set out to be provocative. “It was an unplanned moment,” she told us in an e-mail. “I was taking the young woman’s portrait and we were chatting about her cancer and the scars.” The inclusion of the areola, she said, was “not intentional.”

In precisely the same way that Martin Bashir’s scatology festival last week was an unplanned moment for NBC’s subsidiary network — which just happened to be pre-scripted and loaded into the teleprompter for their anchor to read. The Times’ front page is one of the most heavily edited and controlled news environments on the planet; nothing gets there by accident. Today’s train wreck was simply the Times‘ effort at recreating the controversy that Time-Warner-CNN-HBO hoped to build last year with Time magazine’s goofy breastfeeding cover — a desperate plea for attention by an ancient publication increasingly approaching irrelevance.

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Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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Great Britain’s Deserts of Masculinity

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

Britain, then: Lawrence of Arabia remakes the desert battlefield.

Britain, now? It’s raining “men deserts.”

“The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) reports that an increasing number of British children are growing up with hardly any male influence,” the Call Me Stormy Weblog notes. “In some areas, the problem has reached such high levels that they have been tabbed ‘men deserts,’ according to the report,” which aired on Britain’s Sky News channel:

Theodore Dalrymple and Peter Hitchens, call your office, as your writings over a decade ago on the collapse of British culture are yet again confirmed. Though am I the only one who cringes whenever the word “desert” is referenced outside of the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia or other uses that involve large quantities of sand?

Related:

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Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s Blog

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RIP, Bluesman Bobby Parker, Age 76

Monday, November 25th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

Bobby Parker was really only known for one song — but what a song. The guitar riff from 1961′s “Watch Your Step” was copied by the Beatles for “I Feel Fine,” and Jimmy Page for the intro and outro of “Moby Dick,” John Bonham’s drum solo on Led Zeppelin II and most of their live shows throughout the 1970s — and by lots of other British groups, including Deep Purple on a song called “Rat Bat Blue.”

Unfortunately, Parker, who died earlier this month at age 76, was virtually unknown to much of the American public:

Blues rock guitarist Bobby Parker, best known for his 1961 track Watch Your Step and credited as “the only musician the Beatles admitted to stealing from” has died at the age of 76, it’s been reported.

Bassist Anthony B Rucker, who often collaborated often with the pioneering artist, confirmed the news, saying: “It is with a heavy heart I thank you, Bobby, for all that you have done for me. I’m so glad I had one last chance to play with you a couple of weeks ago. See ya on the other side.”

Born in Louisiana and raised in Los Angeles, Robert Lee Parker’s first professional gig was with Otis Williams and the Charms in the 1950s, followed by stints with Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Watch Your Step inspired the Beatles’ song I Feel Fine, with John Lennon once saying they’d used the riff “in various forms” throughout their career. Led Zeppelin made use of it in Moby Dick. The track was also covered by the Spencer Davis Group, Dr Feelgood and Carlos Santana, who once said: “Bobby inspired me to play guitar – he’s one of the few remaining guitarists who can pierce your heart and soothe your soul.”

In 2008 Parker reflected: “Watch Your Step was a culmination of blues rock guitar that nobody else had ever thought of. Mine was first. The United States was engulfed by Motown, but the whole world knew when I recorded Watch Your Step that I broke the brick wall of the sameness of Motown.”

In related news from the world of rock, Bo Diddley, who passed away at age 79 in 2008, proffers helpful tips for a long and successful life as a touring musician.

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cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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‘When Man-Children Weep’

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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The New York Times brings you this great moment in responsible journalism. A warehouse owner in Queens repaints his own building to eliminate the layers of graffiti that had accumulated over the years. Naturally, the Times sides with the vandals:

The owner of a building in Queens used a crew of painters to work overnight and paint over graffiti on a warehouse in Long Island City, wiping clean a canvas that was used by thousands of artists over the years to transform an otherwise nondescript, abandoned brick building in a working-class neighbourhood into 5Pointz, a mecca for street artists from around the world. By morning, the work of some 1,500 artists had been wiped clean, the Brobdingnagian bubble letters and the colourful cartoons spray painted on the building’s brick walls all covered in a fresh coat of white paint. “We are supposed to be the vandals, but this is the biggest rag and disrespect in the history of graffiti,” said Marie Cecile Flageul, an unofficial curator for 5Pointz.

It’s not your property, so yes, you are the vandals, and “disrespect” isn’t a verb. And why does the Times tacitly approve of a sexist slur such as “rag?”, by not commenting on it?

Blogger David Thompson, the author of the brilliant headline quoted above and the italicized portion of the Times article in block quote adds, “The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas.” One of his commentators notes another moral aspect to the story:

And it’s worth noting where the New York Times’ sympathy seems to lie. I suspect that anyone who’s had to repair their property after a visit from graffiti “artists” might take a less charitable view. Unless of course we’re supposed to believe that of the 1,500 sprayers and their various sobbing cheerleaders not one has ever sprayed someone else’s property, and that championing graffiti as an edgy art form doesn’t encourage more of it?

At an L.A. museum exhibit promoting the “artistic” “joys” of graffiti in 2011, City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald was ordered not to add a few additions of her own by the museum’s security guards. Similarly, it would be a fascinating thought experiment — and this is NOT an attempt to encourage such an effort — to find out how the Times would respond if someone fired up a can of Krylon on the walls of 620 8th Avenue.

But shed no tears, Gray Lady. With far left incoming mayor Bill de Blasio taking office in January, it’s only a matter of time before downtown Manhattan will once again have more graffiti than it knows what to do with.

(Via SDA.)

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Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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Why I’ll Never Look at Logan’s Run the Same Way Again

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

And neither will you.

The other night I fast-forwarded through Logan’s Run on Amazon Prime. I’ve always enjoyed the film’s futuristic production design, not to mention sexy Jenny Agutter in her skimpy costumes, or the lack thereof. The film now has the added bonus of looking charmingly mid-‘70s retro, or “Zeerust,” at the folks at TV Tropes.org call this phenomenon. (They also have a page specifically devoted to Logan’s Run itself.)

But when watching most recently, I noticed a detail in the scene in which Agutter’s character makes her debut, the ramifications of which I had never paid attention to before:

First the guy whom Logan rejects, and then Agutter’s Jessica 6 character beam into Logan’s apartment. Which means that the domed city has a teleportation system, ala Star Trek’s transporter device. And presumably, it’s built into everyone’s apartment inside the film’s domed city. And given what it’s being used for (so that before calling it a night, Logan can unholster his blaster, IYKWIMAITYD), it’s so safe, readily accessible and easy to use, it’s the equivalent of today’s hot chat party lines, which are advertised on late-night TV reruns.

So if all of that is true, why on earth do they need the little domed two-person cars that shoot between the buildings through Plexiglas tubes, sort of like the monorail going through the Disneyworld hotel crossed with a bank’s pneumatic drive-through cylinder?

They. Have. Perfected. Teleportation.

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MSNBC Anchor Barks Homophobic Slur at Fellow Journalist

Friday, November 15th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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MSNBC anchor Alec Baldwin was videotaped shouting “c**ksucking f*g,” to a photographer by TMZ.com, John Nolte writes at Big Journalism:

MSNBC hired Baldwin knowing he was already guilty of hurling anti-gay hate speech at a reporter. Back in June, Baldwin not only used his Twitter account to hurl anti-gay slurs, he  threatened the reporter and called on his Twitter followers to “straighten out this f**king little bitch.”

Almost all of the mainstream media gave Baldwin a total pass for his reprehensible behavior last June. In fact, afterwards he won a weekly show on MSNBC (which is currently collapsing in the ratings).

Maybe the media was exhausted after destroying cooking guru Paula Deen over something she said thirty years ago.

Nolte refers to Baldwin as an “actor,” but as I mentioned back in August, when the idea for Baldwin’s show was initially floated by NBC, if the former actor is going to host a talk show for NBC, then he’s now in the same profession as the photographers he loves to threaten and hurl abuse at — they’re both working journalists attempting to gather news and information and present them to the public. And why NBC would sanction any of their employees to behave in such a fashion is a curious double-standard — almost as big a double-standard as contractually allowing Al Sharpton to remain an activist while also playing the role of NBC anchorman.

Between’s Al Sharpton’s history of rabble-rousing, fabulism, and anti-Semitism, Baldwin’s hair-trigger homophobia, and the number of microphones Ed Schultz must ruin each week with his spittle-flecked invective, keeping a safe distance from all of NBC’s toxic anchors seems like rather sound advice these days — perhaps for members of both parties.

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The Revolution will not be Televised

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

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Shot:

To my shame, and against my principles, I have occasionally agreed to appear on television, though even less frequently than I have been asked. I have found those who work for TV broadcasting companies to be the most disagreeable people that I have ever encountered. I far preferred the criminals whom I encountered in my work as a prison doctor, who were more honest and upright than TV people.

— Theodore Dalrymple, ‘Television is an Evil,” November 3rd, 2013.

Chaser:

According to Oxford University research psychologist Kevin Dutton, TV/media ranks among the top three professions with the most psychopathic personalities employed.

When you hear the word “psychopath,” you likely think of Norman Bates, Patrick Bateman or horror films, but it has a real definition: “Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.”

With that in mind, TV/media apparently ranks #3 among Dutton’s top 10 professions containing the most psychopathic personalities:

“TV/Media Ranks Among Top 3 Professions with Most Psychopathic Personalities,” headline, Mediaite, November 8th.

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Cross-posted from Ed Driscoll’s blog

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