Posted by: gregcagle | May 9, 2018

Upgrading the audio system in my 2001 BMW M5

I’m documenting this here because it seems to be a common FAQ in the BMW groups and forums.

When we got the M5 in 2014 I was not particularly happy with the sound of the audio system. It had the M-Audio system, which had component drivers in the front doors, coax drivers in the rear deck, and two 10 inch subwoofers. The amp was in the trunk, along with the radio itself, various phone related hardware, the DVD based navigation system (ick) and the CD changer. The head unit was basically just an interface to the hardware in the trunk and also included the onboard computer functions. It also had a cassette deck.

The first thing I noticed was that the audio sounded kind of muffled to me. I spent a lot of time messing around the digital signal processing settings, but really couldn’t get it to an acceptable state.

And the second thing was that there was no phone interface or USB input or AUX input. I tackled this problem first, and got a GROM unit.

https://gromaudio.com/store/usb_adapters/bmw_mini_98-06_usb_bluetooth_android_ipod_car_kit.html

It was basically plug and play, replacing the CD changer. It supplies a USB interface, a phone interface, and Bluetooth. It worked OK… except the text display was garbled on the nav screen. But it was better than nothing. The mic for bluetooth was not great. And the muffled audio still persisted.

Then I found out that the Audiovox/Dice Mediabridge box provides the same functions as the GROM, interfaces with the BMW DSP amp (like the GROM), and also supports satellite radio. That was compelling to me, and I tried that. It seemed to be a better quality product than the GROM. Keep in mind that controlling either the GROM or the Mediabridge was kind of a challenge; you had to hit certain buttons at certain times on the head unit or the steering wheel to change sources, for example. Head unit buttons were remapped. And both units still had garbled displays on the main screen.

So after some MORE research I determined that the basic radio unit needed to be upgraded to a BM53 in order to get clear text from the Mediabridge. So I tracked down one of those on ebay, installed it, and the garbled text was clear. But the audio was still muffled. I took one of the door panels off, and realized that the previous owner had replaced the OEM drivers with Focal component drivers. After more research (!) I discovered that the Focals do not match impedance with the DSP amp, which wants 6 ohms. I don’t know if that was an issue; I suspect it wasn’t but I had to find out. So I tossed the Focals and bought some Bavsound components for the front doors. They sounded better… but still muffled. Hmph.

At this point I had reached my limit with messing around with the OEM system. I spent some time defining what I wanted from a system:

  • Modern touch screen head unit with Android Auto capability
  • Lots of power
  • Clear high end response
  • Satellite radio
  • Backup camera
  • Steering wheel controls

It became clear that the best way to proceed was to bite the bullet and replace everything, speakers+amp+head unit. The OEM system (head unit, amp, speakers, everything) is all a matched set and replacing any piece of it is problematic. I seriously looked at the Chinese Android head units like Dynavin, but decided I really didn’t want to go that DIY, and wanted a tested well engineered head unit from a mainstream car stereo manufacturer, especially since I didn’t need to worry about interfacing to the factory amp any more. After more research I discovered that a standard double DIN head unit had some trouble fitting into the E39 dash, and that if you wanted it perfectly aligned with the slope of the dash that you would have to perform minor surgery on some plastic duct work behind the dash. A company in Germany makes a kit for this very thing, and provides a metal piece that you can glue into the carved up plastic duct. It creates a dent so that the top edge of a double DIN unit will clear. But it’s not cheap.

So I went to a local shop (Mobile West in Portland, OR) and picked out some stuff. Here’s what I got:

  • Pioneer AVH4100NEX
  • Sirius SXV300
  • PAC SWI-RC steering wheel control box
  • Alpine HCEC104 backup camera
  • Hertz HCP4 amp

The thought was to put the Focals back in for the front two channels, and use the existing M-Audio subwoofers, driven by channels 3 and 4 of the Hertz amp. After some discussion we decided to not use the Focals and put Morel Maximo components in the doors. For the record they are excellent speakers.

As it turned out, the shop had a different installation kit for the head unit, which did not require surgery to the ductwork. The head unit sits a little more vertical than the dash itself, but I’m OK with that.

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So this worked out really well, and life was good… except the M-Audio subwoofers were old and tired and just couldn’t handle the power. So I had them swapped out for some Kicker free air subwoofers.

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As a side benefit to the installation, the shop had wired the speaker out from the Pioneer to the existing OEM rear deck speakers. They really weren’t intended for that purpose and sounded crappy. So I replaced those myself with some Rockford Fosgate P152s for fill.

So now I’ve met all my requirements. Lots of power, strong bass, clear high end, and the Pioneer has a jillion inputs (Android, iphone, USB, SD card slot, disc, bluetooth, HDMI, Aux etc.) Android Auto has now gotten to a place where it’s very reliable and you can use Waze in it for nav, which is super cool.

The downside is that you lose access to many of the onboard computer functions, like setting the time and date. Recently I discovered an app for Android that allows a USB connected interface to the ibus in the car to be controlled. It’s at ibus-app.de, and requires a hardware interface that you can wire up anywhere in the car you can get to the ibus wires. I put mine in back where the CD changer was. People use this app for Android head units, which makes perfect sense. All I wanted to do was set my clock, which worked perfectly.

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Posted by: gregcagle | April 10, 2018

My experiences with the Lenovo X1 Tablet

My employer provides me with a number of productivity tools, meaning computers and phones. I have a Toshiba laptop, an ipad air 2, and an iphone 7+, all of which are capable of getting to my employer’s antiquated email system and intranet tools. I had found that i was using the ipad more than anything else; it had LTE connectivity so I was always online, and it had the right balance of portability and power for almost all of my work and home functions. So of course it started to die in December, showing weird display glitching. And I was told by my employer that I was on my own – the ipad program was being phased out and that actually the LTE connectivity was being turned off for everyone in February. Hmph.

So I started to research alternatives. I reasoned that I was using the ipad for personal stuff over half the time, and I didn’t want to lose that. After doing some pricing and research I decided to buy my own tablet device and use it for work and home. My requirements were:

  • Larger screen, at least ipad (9.7 inches) but preferably a few inches bigger so I could use it for sheet music display.
  • Running Windows. This would give me the best access to corporate stuff, and I wouldn’t drive myself crazy trying to figure out where ios saved stuff.
  • Expansion. MicroSD slot at a minimum, hopefully USB and HDMI ports.
  • LTE connectivity.
  • A good keyboard.

Coincidentally, at about this same time, my friends at Lenovo were starting to close out their first generation X1 tablets on the introduction of the second generation. So I took a look. It met all of my requirements, and the pricing was good. So I got one. The base tablet is an 11 screen with a detachable flip out keyboard – and this is a Thinkpad keyboard, so it’s excellent. The keyboard does not connect via bluetooth but actually has a hard connection to either the tablet or the productivity module. Great engineering by Lenovo.

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Also there is a flip out stand on the back of the tablet (not the keyboard) so the tablet itself can stand by itself. The tablet was advertised as having “WWAN” – turns out what they meant was “WWAN capable”, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The tablet also has a good fingerprint reader, which works with Windows Hello on Windows 10.

Here is the tablet itself.

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One of the things I discovered after purchase was that my employer does not support “bring your own device” Windows 10 machines. So I found the internal Win 10 ISO image and reloaded the tablet from that, essentially masquerading as a corporate device. That worked perfectly; I only had to update a few Lenovo specific drivers and life was good.

Except that I couldn’t get the LTE to work. No sign of a WWAN card in the device manager. So I took the back off the tablet, and sure enough there was no WWAN card OR antennas. #&@*&!* So I went online and did tons of research, and bought a Lenovo branded Sierra Wireless card, and an antenna kit. That last thing turned out to be quite a challenge to find. Then I had to install the card and the antennas, following the Lenovo hardware maintenance guide (which was easy to find online). After doing all of that, I added the card to our ATT wireless plan (I had to give them the IMEI number of the card and the local store coded up a SIM card for me) and it all magically worked and has been working ever since. It’s a miracle! Now I can seamlessly switch between wireless and WWAN wherever I go, just like the ipad used to. Yay.

Other points of interest were that the tablet only charges over the USB-C “power delivery” system, so you need a super high powered charger with USB-C power delivery to charge the thing if you don’t want to use the factory charger. I found a bigass 60W Anker that has the necessary stuff and four other USB ports, which pretty much covers it for travel usage. But you can’t really use a car charger for the Lenovo, and a portable battery bank with the proper capacity is hard to find and expensive. This is an area where the ipad is better.

The base unit came with the tablet itself, the keyboard, and a stylus (along with a few different ways to store it). And a wall charger. I ended up having to buy the WWAN card and antennas, and then opted to buy the “productivity module”.

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It snaps onto the bottom of the tablet, and adds two USB ports, an HDMI port, a docking station port (Lenovo onelink) and has some battery in it. The base tablet has one USB 3.0 port, the USB-C charging port, and a mini-DisplayPort. With the module in place the battery life is about 8 hours. I have also successfully used the HDMI port to stream video onto hotel TVs with no problem.

I also got the onelink docking station – it’s an external box that is intended to sit on your desk. It has a bunch of USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a couple of display outputs (so you can drive two monitors), and a gigabit LAN port. It also charges the tablet.20180409_185502

Running Windows 10 in tablet mode works pretty well; there are a number of Windows 10 native apps in the Microsoft Store, and the native Mail app isn’t bad for tablet usage. Just don’t try the Words With Friends app – it sucks.

Another weird thing that happened was that after I installed the WWAN card and antennas, the power LED stopped working. No idea what happened there. And after reassembly it has a couple of bright spots in the screen in each lower corner. Not sure what that’s about but I don’t really notice or care.

So all in all this is a very good solution for travel; it’s super light and thin and has all the power I need.

Posted by: gregcagle | June 8, 2017

Cruise 2017

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So I had to attend a conference in Orlando during the week before Memorial Day. IBM Technical University. For my geek friends, it had tracks on IBM Unix (AIX), Linux, storage, and is probably the last remaining place where you can get Z series (mainframe) and IBM i (AS400) technical content. I mentioned this to Lisa a while back, and she thought for a minute, and said “well, if you’re going to be in Orlando anyway, maybe we could find a cruise to take after the conference”. Hmm. So I did a little research, and found a 9 day Caribbean cruise leaving out of Miami on the Friday after the conference, on the Celebrity Equinox. We had been on the Equinox right after its launch, in 2009, so we were familiar with the ship and decided this was a good idea.

We like to cruise. I just like to ride on the boat and read and get fed and have drinks show up. It’s a grand adventure at 24 knots. Lisa likes to swim in the ocean and snorkel and scuba and lie in the sun; I like to sit nearby at the time. So that works out well. Cruising out of Florida gives us the opportunity to visit some places I’d probably not get to otherwise (Belize, Roatan) and Lisa can frolic in the warm Caribbean water. The downside for us anyway is dealing with the people on the boat, which can be frustrating. And some aspects are kind of ridiculous – there’s a casino on the boat (for one example).

So we booked the cruise using Cruises Only through Alaska Airlines (recommended), and got the logistics figured out. Here’s how it worked out:

  • I flew to Orlando on Sunday and went to the conference.
  • Lisa flew out on Wednesday, shuttle to the conference hotel.
  • Shuttle out of hotel on Thursday to Orlando airport.
  • Pick up rental car at Orlando airport, drive to Miami.
  • Drop rental at Miami airport.
  • Shuttle to downtown Miami Hilton.
  • Overnight at the Hilton, then shuttle to cruise terminal.
  • 9 days on ship, return Sunday the 4th.
  • Cab to Miami airport.
  • Rental car back up to Orlando, drop at Orlando airport.
  • Flight back to PDX Sunday afternoon. Uber home.

All the while wheeling around two large suitcases and a third smaller one with snorkel gear. Amazingly it all went well except for an issue with the Super Shuttle at the Miami airport where they decided to give our seats away and cancel our trip just as we walked up to the kiosk. I was NOT AMUSED and used foul language. Not a fan of SuperShuttle.

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I spent the first three days of the week at the conference, which was being held at the Buena Vista Palace hotel near Disney Springs. Disney Springs is what used to be known as “Downtown Disney”; before THAT parts of it were Pleasure Island. I remember going to Pleasure Island in 1994; they checked your ID as you crossed the bridge onto the island, and no kids were allowed. Adults only playground. I remember a 70s dance club, a country western club called The Electric Armadillo (or something like that), a Rock and Roll Beach Club, and something called The Adventurer’s Club where cast members stood around in pith helmets and pretended to be Indiana Jones. All of those clubs are gone now, and the place is full of shops and restaurants, a bowling alley, and a movie theater. One of the current highlights is a margarita bar by the lake – they are $14 each but well worth it. They also have “Joffrey’s Smoothies” which I found amusing, and rides in actual Amphicars on the lake. And a giant balloon. And a volcano. And a House of Blues.

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The problem with the hotel was that it’s pretty old and is an atrium design. And it turns out the atrium also hosts the bar. And so after the big conference offsite event on Wednesday night, all of the assholes and idiots who don’t get out much came back to the hotel bar and partied late and loud. We were trying to sleep around 1 am and Lisa commented that it sounded like a riot down there. Eventually they all either passed out or went home and we finally got some sleep.

The next day was Thursday, and we buzzed on down to Miami after picking up a rental car at the Orlando airport. Lisa took me through 011South Beach, which I had never seen. Really cool stuff there. Then to the Hilton where we could see our ship from the room. Friday we got up, free shuttle to the cruise terminal, checked our luggage, and proceeded to wait in line for a few hours to check in. The process is not very efficient and many people were unprepared. Ship’s capacity is 2850, not sure how many were actually on with us but at least 2000. We eventually got on board, dropped our carry-ons in our room, and set out to re-familiarize ourselves with the ship.

The Equinox is 1041 feet in length, which is somewhat longer than the Titanic at 882 016feet. Top speed is 24 knots. It has ten different restaurants, a multitude of bars, and actual grass on the top deck. It has a pretty large theater in the bow, a casino, a bunch of little shops, two pools (indoor and outdoor), a library, a card room, a spa, fitness center, and a bunch of staterooms of various sizes on decks 3-12. Ours was on deck 9, with a small veranda. It’s pretty cramped, but livable if you don’t plan to be there too much. We spent most of our time hanging by the pool area. There is a convenient bar right there, and every day they grill burgers (and veggie burgers!).

About the entertainment. Seems like things have changed over time. The last time we were on the ship in 2009, they had a four person a capella singing group that just showed up here and there around the ship. And a string quartet of four tall beautiful Russian women. And a pretty good little band that would often set up in the atrium area in the middle of the ship with a few horns. This time it was not so great. There was a small band that played by the pool now and again, nothing too great. Each evening there was another small band fronted by a female vocalist that played in the atrium area; I found them super annoying. The best music on the ship was in the show room. In the past we have avoided the big shows; they tended to be bad comics and generally lame entertainment. We did go this time on one of the early nights to see “December 63” which was basically Jersey Boys without the plot. So it was four guys (who were pretty good) with the “ship’s orchestra” – rhythm + three horns. That was pretty good although the “Frankie Valli” guy had a pretty odd tonal quality to his voice. We did see them around the ship later in the cruise. Pretty good gig, two shows one night and 9 days free in the Caribbean. We also saw a tribute to Whitney Houston, something called “Divas 3”, and two original shows, one called “Topper” (nothing to do with the Cary Grant movie) and one called “Elysium”. Both were loud, chaotic, colorful, and incomprehensible from a plot standpoint. Lots of smoke and some aerial stuff like Cirque. We theorized that there is a factory somewhere outside of Vegas that composes cruise ship productions out of interchangeable parts (songs + costumes) that can be easily deployed within 45 minutes and yet still LOOK good. To my credit I did not fall asleep during any of the shows but I often wondered what the hell was going on with all the emoting and singing and dancing and stuff. Each night the cruise director would show up and introduce and close each show with bad jokes and loud socks. The people on the cruise forums think he’s just hilarious. He’s, well, OK.

And then there’s the restaurants. The way it works is that you get a baseline food experience with your stateroom. That means access to the buffet 24/7, and meals in the main dining room if you prefer. The main dining room is kind of a mid level restaurant experience, and you are seated with other folks usually, the same folks each time. Note also that this is where “formal night” happens. Beyond that there are specialty restaurants that are incremental cost that you can make reservations for. We went to one of those, called “Silk Harvest” one night. It was pretty good and the service was much better than the main room. We did go to the main dining room two nights early on; we met a couple in their 80s from New Jersey (he was immensely proud that the Four Seasons were from Jersey), and a Swiss couple that we never saw again. The main room has a standard menu (salmon, chicken, or steak) every night, and a rotating short list of other entrees. I had the steak one night, salmon another. Both meh. The good news is that if you don’t like something, just order another. They will bring you anything on the menu. We had some struggle getting vegan entrees out of them; it seemed all they had was portobello mushroom and eggplant. Since Lisa liked the Indian food at the buffet, we just ended up going there for most meals. Less drama anyway and more efficient. Although the main dining room does have a very impressive wine tower. Most days the buffet had a mexican section, tacos or burritos or fajitas, for lunch. Evenings there was a carving station, a grilling section where they would cook up chicken breasts, minute steaks, or pork chops on the fly. Not very good, but it did have that grilled taste. Lots of good salad and bread options, pizza 24/7, and a “kids section” with fried hot dog bits (!) and fish balls! Large dessert section too and a small ice cream place where they usually had sorbet. For breakfast they had the usual things including unlimited bacon!

Traditionally the cruises have had several “formal nights” during the trip. A dress code is enforced in the main dining room anyway (no jeans, must have collar shirt) but on “formal night” it’s been to the max. Tuxedo, dresses and heels, etc. Recently that rule has been somewhat relaxed and you can now get into “formal night” without going all out. Still we saw a number of guys in tuxedos on those nights and some interesting fashion choices. Especially in the martini bar.

The bars. Ah yes. The ship has a lot of bars. From the lowest to the highest deck:

  • Deck 3 has a little place called the Passport Bar. It’s right off the main atrium/foyer area and is usually pretty quiet.
  • Deck 4 has the Martini Bar, right outside the entrance of the main dining room. It’s the “show bar” of the ship; the bartenders do a lot of stunts and whatnot and generally have a crowd. The bar top is frozen which is kind of cool. Pun intended.
  • They replaced our favorite bar (a wine cellar themed place) with a “Gastrobar” with a bunch of handcrafted beers and whatnot. Not our favorite.
  • Also there’s this weird little place called “Quasar” that’s only open really late at night for people who want to disco all night. Egg shaped chairs that hang from the ceiling, etc.
  • Deck 5 has a little place called the “Ensemble Lounge” which is right outside some of the specialty restaurants. They often have little music groups playing. It’s pretty quiet usually.
  • 14 is the pool deck; lots of action here. Pool bar, the “Mast bar” (above the pool), and the Oceanview Bar on the back of the ship outside the buffet area. Also the Sky Observation Lounge, which is a huge area on the front of the ship. We never saw much of anyone in there, but there’s a full stage and lots and seating. Supposedly it can get pretty busy at night but we never saw that. They held a lot of events for repeat customers there.
  • and on 15 there is the Sunset Bar, which used to be our favorite. High on the back of the ship. Unfortunately this time it was pretty much overrun with smokers and cigar aficionados. Sigh.

We had the “classic” drink package. This means you get essentially unlimited soft drinks, beer, wine, and standard mixed drinks. This worked out well for us, and we also had $375 in onboard credit to spend so we felt free to upgrade our drinks now and again. We had a lot of frozen margaritas; they seemed to have trouble building our favorite blue drinks so we kind of gave up on that.

So now finally we can get to the actual cruise. Whew. We left Miami Friday afternoon; weather was kind of hazy and no good sunset. We unpacked, got some drinks, had some food, and basically just hung out. Next day was a sea day, so we basically just hung out by the pool. I had a bunch of books loaded up on my Kindle paperwhite, which works well in the outdoors, so that’s what I did. Worked my way through the first volume of the Edmund Morris trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt. It was exhausting. It makes me tired just read about him as a young man. Then I switched to rereading the first couple of Lucas Davenport books. Later in the trip I buzzed through the fourth Expanse book in about a day during a sea day. LOVE the Expanse. Highly recommended.

022Sunday we were at Grand Cayman. We had not booked a shore excursion for this island, so we got off the boat, wandered around for a while, shopped a bit, then got back on the boat. Not much to do there really. One interesting aspect of it was that we had to take tenders from the ship to the island, which is always fun. The shopping on most of these islands is pretty tourist-focused; jewelry and watches mostly along with shirts and hats and the usual stuff. Good place to look for phony Rolexes.

Monday was a sea day again, so we hung by the pool and had grilled burgers and frozen drinks.

Tuesday we showed up at Aruba; we had an excursion planned which involved taking 039a ferry to a small island with a beach and whatnot. It was pretty nice actually; there was a good area for snorkeling and another beach area for swimming and laying around. And the best mai tais on the trip!

041Twas a good day. You can see I’ve already got a start on my “vacation beard”.

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Happy snorkel girl!091

 

Here are a few pics Lisa took while snorkeling with our underwater camera.124100

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Next day we were at Curacao, which is probably the most interesting island we stopped at. The three islands are called the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and were all Dutch colonies. They have their own language, and also speak Dutch and English usually. Most road signs are in Dutch. The buildings are very colorful. Best shopping of the trip here.

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On Curacao we took a bus to an resort/beach area which had an enclosed lagoon for swimming. I managed to sunburn myself, ow. Still it was a good time and the water was nice.

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Next day we were at Bonaire, where Lisa went scuba diving. Bonaire is a top scuba destination, and she reported that it was awesome! I went onshore, wandered around a bit, then went back to the ship.

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Then we had two days at sea, and were back at Miami. Cleared customs with no forms and no difficulty; we literally WALKED STRAIGHT THROUGH. Never happened to me before.

Picked up a nice Chrysler 300 at the rental center and zoomed back up to Orlando with plenty of time to spare. I got upgraded on the flight back, which was a huge win given the length of the flight. Unfortunately I couldn’t upgrade Lisa too.

A few random thoughts:

  • The elevators on the ship were insane. It got to be something of a joke; they were just totally unpredictable. And always full of people with too much perfume.
  • We chose this cruise line because they focus on adults. There were just a few kids on the ship, which was totally cool with us. The problem is that sometime you get traffic jams from so many old folks that can’t navigate very well in a small space.
  • The sea was pretty calm the whole time. We’ve been on much rougher cruises.
  • The entertainment in the rooms is pretty limited. I tried to hack the TV but didn’t get very far; they had them locked down with some Apple based app that resisted my HDMI connections. Usually I can drive a hotel TV’s HDMI input with my ipad. Not here. Basically they supply about 20 channels, mostly international and BBC news. There’s a small set of free on demand movies, and a larger set of pay per view. They also have a navigation channel which showed the ship’s position; it’s not very good. It is cool to watch the BBC news; they are a very refreshing change of pace.
  • The internet service is about $40/day. I did use it in the middle of the cruise for a bit; I was hoping to get cell international roaming on the islands but couldn’t get that to work either on ATT or Verizon.
  • Most of the people on the ship were pretty agreeable and friendly. Lots of older folks from the east coast. There seemed to be several groups of 4-6 noisy people from New Yawk in the hot tubs all the time.
  • The crew is from all over, mostly iffy English speakers. Our cabin guy was “Alex” and looked like Yul Brynner’s younger brother. He was clearly from Eastern Europe. The bartenders are pretty much not very talented, except for one guy we found who made good margaritas, and the guys at the martini bar.
  • Underwater camera was a Fuji XP90. It worked fine underwater but I was not so excited about its results in general photo usage. Maybe I need to play with it some more. Next time I’ll bring my Nikon.
  • One day I wore my Oregon Duck aloha shirt, and a random crew member walked up, pointed to the football player on it, and said “Marcus Mariota?” I said I didn’t think it was but it should be Smile.
  • We had a wonderful time.
Posted by: gregcagle | October 19, 2016

Back up and blogging

So… I just figured out that my favorite blogging tool (Windows Live Writer) still works on Windows 10. Whee! It’s not supported as of 2017, but it still works for the time being. So I’ll be getting back into it here when we get back from Maui in November.

Since I got back into music, I have found myself occasionally frustrated by what I would call a "lack of professionalism" among band mates, both in concert and jazz bands. Most likely they were not trained the way I was; my high school jazz band played a lot of dance gigs, and we held ourselves to a very high standard. And I learned a lot in college bands about discipline and teamwork.

So I thought I’d lay out my take on how to be a (semi-) pro in a big jazz band. Some of this may be review. Some of this may seem a bit intense, but in a competitive environment a band will need to show a high level of professionalism to be successful and be invited back.

I’m assuming here that you already know how to play your instrument with an appropriate level of skill. This is not about musicianship, this is about the other stuff.

Music

  • Rule number one. Do not put the band in the position of having to wait for you to futz around with your music.
  • Have the set list up, in order, and ready to go. Be ready to switch to the next chart immediately after the conclusion of the last chart. Always be ready for changes in the set list from the leader.
  • Some people like to put their music in three ring binders. I find that unwieldy and hard to balance on top of a stand. And, you can only have two pages displayed at a time when often you will need three or more. I prefer the traditional method of just taping the sheets together in a continuous stream, because it allows me the easiest and fastest way of moving the music to where I need it.
  • Always bring the full book, and be prepared for tunes to be called that aren’t on the set list.
  • Or, use sheet music software. I would recommend getting some time in on the software before using it to gig with. You do not want to be in a situation at a gig where the software is misbehaving, you have a dead battery, etc.
  • In general, do whatever works for you but always keep in mind rule number one.

Equipment

  • Music stand. If you need one (or more) make sure it’s heavy duty and can support whatever you plan to put on it, even outdoors in a windstorm. I like the Hercules stand with the tripod base, because it can get low and is stable. I also have a Peterson plastic stand – it actually blew over on me one time. Not a good choice. Some bands have fronts or stands for the saxes, or even other sections. If so, be prepared for that and the issues you may have in seeing the music a bit further away than you are used to. One band I am in rehearses with old cardboard band fronts in order to be consistent. The older you get, the more this is an issue, especially when standing for a solo. But then you have all those changes memorized, right? 🙂 Some people get corrective glasses made just for this purpose.
  • Music light. Always bring one (unless you’re using a tablet or laptop). You never know when you’ll need one. I have used them outside under a tent because of shadows. I prefer the Super Giglight or the Mighty Bright Orchestra Light. Both can be battery powered if needed. Do not count on AC power being available.
  • If you’re outside… a sheet of Plexiglas or other way of stabilizing your music outside in the wind, that allows you to quickly turn pages or do whatever else you need. You can get Plexiglas sheets at Home Depot. Clothespins notoriously suck at this. I also have a pair of special "music" clips that look like long clothespins with the front piece being clear. The problem with any pin or magnet type solution is that if you have to turn a page, you are screwed. It’s actually faster and easier to lift the glass, flip the page (or slide the music to the left), and put the glass back, then to fiddle with the damn clothespins. One of my music stands also has some springy wires built in to hold the music down. Worthless, the pressure point is never in the right place and they aren’t strong enough.
  • Instrument stands. Bring whatever you need to hold whatever you’re going to play, and make sure it is set up so it won’t easily be knocked over. Ask me how I know 🙂
  • Tuner as required. It’s a reference point, but don’t be a slave to it as the piano may not be in tune. Be ready to adjust tuning at any time.
  • Always bring backups for things that may fail onstage. Batteries, etc. In general, know that everything you bring to a gig (including your instrument) is reliable.
  • Greg’s gig bag contains:
    • Spare reeds that I know don’t suck. At least one Plasticover or other synthetic read that needs no warm up time. If you’re running late, you may need that extra two minutes.
    • A spare neck strap. I’ve had one fail.
    • Masking tape (for cork repair) and Scotch tape for music repairs. Cloth medical tape can also be used for a lot of interesting things.
    • A seat cushion. Venue chairs almost always suck. I got a nice one at Costco (in the automotive section) with Coolmax and memory foam. It’ll make a lot of difference in a long gig on a tiny folding chair.
    • A clip on battery powered fan. Gigs can get toasty.
    • Water bottle. Be sure and stay hydrated, just don’t knock the damn thing over during a quiet spot. I actually have a water bottle holder that slips onto a music stand (looks like a big spring) to hold it out of the way.
    • I always carry a random bag of stuff like batteries, tape, other little stuff. And some repair tools like tiny screwdrivers, etc. I’ve had to use them more often than I ever thought I would.

Dress code

  • Could be a topic of endless discussion. For most cases, you have three options:
    • Super formal. Tuxes, suits, etc. For weddings and formal dances, etc.
    • Nice but not formal. Usually black button down shirt, black slacks, black nice shoes (not athletic shoes or sandals) for guys. Most indoor gigs are in this category.
    • Casual. Can be polo shirts/khakis, or even more casual. Usually outdoor festival type gigs.
  • That being said, I think the tropical shirt thing has run its course :0.
  • Some bands have official shirts and uniforms. If so, then problem solved.

Behavior

  • BE ON TIME. I’m only gonna say it once. Being late for a gig is grounds for a serious conversation. Be early if you have to. Don’t be late. Bandleaders will forgive a lot of things, but not being present is usually hard to swallow.
  • Help out with set up and teardown where needed (rhythm section particularly, and PA where needed). Do not leave after the gig until tear down is complete and given permission by the bandleader.
  • DO NOT warm up or tune on stage. That’s what the green room is for, assuming there is one. If not, find a place where the audience will not hear you. They are not paying to hear you run scales.
  • DO make sure any microphones you will be using actually work. This is between you and the sound guy if there is one.
  • Always be ready to go to the next song IMMEDIATELY. Do not assume there will be a lot of chatter in between charts. The crowd is not there to listen to us talk.
  • Follow the leader. This shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. You should always always always follow the section leader. Section leaders, you should always always always follow the bandleader. If we’re in the middle of 8 choruses of piano solo and the leader holds up his fist, WE EXIT at the next repeat no matter what else may be going on. Do whatever you have to do to make that happen; hand signals, yelling, whatever. Be alert and always listening and watching to what the rest of the band and specifically the leader is doing. The whole point of a band is to PLAY TOGETHER.
  • The primary reason you are there is to provide a show for the audience, and perform. That can be fun, but that’s a secondary goal. The primary goal is audience enjoyment.
Posted by: gregcagle | May 26, 2013

May Vacation 2013

So we decided to make a little run into California. Both of Lisa’s brothers have had some health issues recently, and so we thought we’d better check in, and we had some other things that we wanted to do for ourselves.

We flew to Sacramento early on Saturday May 11th. After we got the plane loaded and sat for a bit, the pilot announced that we weren’t going anywhere because one of the baggage doors would not shut. Luckily they had a spare plane, so we had to totally unload the plane and get on another plane. At least that gave us time to get Lisa some tea. Our plane’s ultimate destination was Maui, and there was a large family seated around us on their way to a wedding on Maui. Including a baby that SCREAMED for the entire flight. Sigh. My ipod will only go so loud.

So we were glad to reach Sacramento, and a little late. I was hungry at that point, so I forced Lisa to go to a convenient In-N-Out. Wise move, because then we got stuck in nasty stop and go traffic pretty much all the way to the Napa turnoff. Then we had to track down Mark and Jill; after some confusion there we finally met them at a place called the Fremont Diner. Kind of an upscale roadside diner experience. I was wearing my “It’s Willamette, Dammit!” shirt from the Willamette Valley Vineyard, which started a conversation with a guy about Oregon. The problem was that we couldn’t get any food where we were sitting; apparently you had to be sitting in the official green picnic table area to get food, as we were informed by the snotty hostess. So we got Lisa a malt and just sat and chatted with Mark and Jill for a while. They were going to Bottlerock, which is a local rock festival held at the Napa fairgrounds. Unfortunately the diner was in the middle of a recently harvested hay field, or close to it, because I started to show allergy symptoms. We were about out of time anyway so we left and buzzed up 101 just in IMAG0125time to catch the last tasting at the Raymond Burr vineyard by Healdsburg. It’s one of our favorites; we spent some time chatting with the folks there. They have a vintage Thunderbird for sale; no idea if it was Burr’s. After that we went into Healdsburg for some Mexican food, and stopped by a market and picked up some allergy eye drops and Claritin. Then off to the Worldmark at Windsor for the night.

Next day we got a late start to Los Angeles. Stopped in Petaluma for some really good BBQ at Lombardi’s. I expected it to be an Italian deli, but nooo…  Spent the rest of the day driving to Evelyn’s house in Torrance. Pretty hot weather in the central valley.

IMAG0126Monday we went to Wally World, er, Disneyland. Really our goal was California Adventure, which neither of us had been to. Weather was hot but attendance was pretty low, so we were able to walk on Space Mountain and only wait a little bit for the Matterhorn. We also learned a good trick – if you’re not obsessed about riding directly with someone, the “single rider” line can be very advantageous. We used it to get right on Splash Mountain and a few other rides. Part of our agenda was to test Lisa’s back procedure to see if she could take the theme park IMAG0129experience. She did really well in that area, but almost passed out from the heat later on. It was over 100 degrees in the afternoon in the park, and we had to park her in a shop to cool off at one point. We did go on Soaring Over California, which was amazing. Wonderful ride. And we rode the coaster inIMAG0132 California Adventure; it looks like a wooden coaster but isn’t. Surprise was that it looped, which neither of us was ready for. Good coaster though. After Lisa recovered we went over to the Blue Bayou for dinner. Ambience and service were great, food and prices, not so great. Worth doing once though. And we rode the submarine ride!

Next day we were scheduled to tour the Petersen auto museum vault, then drive to Big Bear. We were fifteen minutes late to the museum (traffic) but were able to join the tour in progress, with about 10 other folks. Unfortunately photography was not allowed. Really interesting stuff in the vault that weren’t on display in the main museum, including:

    • Ferrari Daytona
    • Cisitalia (look it up, they have one in the Museum of Modern Art)
    • Toyota 2000 GT
    • Two 300SLs (one gullwing, one convertible)
    • Tucker
    • Cord L-29
    • Round door Rolls
    • A lot of roadsters and customs (Petersen was into hot rods and published Hot Rod magazine)
    • Billy Gibbons’ Cadillac
    • Porsche 901 (original 911) and a couple of 356s.
    • SS 100
    • Steve McQueen’s Hudson that he used to sneak around in when he didn’t want to be recognized.

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And a bunch of others I can’t remember. They also let us peek into the super secret back vault where they had a bunch of things under cover. Couldn’t see too much of interest beyond a Porsche 914-6.

In the main museum they had a display about aerodynamics and fins, which was interesting. Also got a look at Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XKSS.

After we finished at the Petersen we headed on up to Big Bear. The road was twisty and the poor CVT Altima had a hard time keeping up speed on the steep incline. Big Bear is around 7000 feet. Still we 002passed a lot of cars and got lucky with the passing lane timing. Once at Big Bear we checked into the condo, and headed down into the village for dinner at the Peppercorn. Pretty good place for a resort town. We then spent some quality time in the luxurious hot tub (one of three) at the condo.

Next day we rolled over to Starbucks for some rocket fuel, then set out to drive around the lake and hike around a bit. Not much to see, it’s all pretty much high desert with pine trees, a lot like Eastern Oregon. We got a good look at the dam, which is kind of interesting. Both Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead were originally built to supply water for irrigation down in the valley. 107_stitch

Later in the day we took a “sternwheeler” tour of the lake. The paddle at the stern of the boat was actually totally fake and barely even moved. Ah well. Still we got a good tour of the lake from the water, and a good look at some of the celebrity homes:

  • Mel Blanc. The tour people apparently have a deal with his son Noel, who was standing out on his deck with a trumpet for some reason and greeted us.
  • Al from Tool Time (Richard Karn)
  • Mike Judge
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Vera Miles
  • The guy who runs Del Taco 155

And a few others I can’t remember. We also saw the observatory, which looks like some kind of alien structure.

After the lake tour we wound up at The Hacienda, which is a new Mexican/sports bar type place. Food was OK, service was overwhelmed and slow.

Thursday we bugged out for Lake Arrowhead, which is not far away. Lisa in particular wanted to check out the remains of Santa’s Village, which is a cherished childhood memory along the way to Arrowhead. Sadly it has fallen into disrepair and is for sale. 017Lake Arrowhead was somewhat more developed than Big Bear, and their village area had been completely redone since Lisa spent time there as a child. We had pizza at the village pizza place, which has a great view of the lake but a poor wait staff (Lisa had to pick the shrooms from her pizza). We also checked Lisa’s friend Lynn’s family cabin, which was pretty much unchanged from back in the day. Nice setting among the trees.

Then we made our way back to civilization and Evelyn’s house in Torrance. We hung036 out there for a bit, then went down to Redondo Pier and watched the sun set. Very nice. I wanted a little bit to eat so I had some chowder at Tony’s on the pier, which is very retro. It turns out the big deal on the pier nowadays is to serve feasts of giant crustaceans to large groups family style. I tried to work up the ambition to get a funnel cake but eventually decided against it.

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Friday we had an open day, so we decided to go to the movies in Hollywood! But first we had breakfast with Lisa’s childhood friend Lynn at a great place called Good Stuff.

Then we had some extra time so we walked around the Walk of Fame for a bit, then had lunch at the Veggiegrill. Yes, I had a fake chicken sandwich. Then we went to the first showing of Star Trek at the original Cinerama dome theater. Very cool.IMAG0136IMAG0138

After the movie we visited Sam (Lisa’s brother) and Diane at their home in Pacific Palisades, then we all went to dinner in Malibu. Lots of fun and we had some awesome gelato afterward.

Saturday we got up early and hit the road for Sacramento; we made good time and hit the airport early, so we managed to get on an early flight home. This flight did not have a screaming baby – instead it had a yippy little dog. Sigh.

Posted by: gregcagle | December 11, 2012

Our 2012 cruise experience

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We had been thinking about taking a third cruise for a while. We like cruising in general, and our last 10 day cruise around the Caribbean was pretty fun. So when our friends Ron and LeeAnn invited us to cruise with them right after Thanksgiving, we jumped at the chance. It was a bit difficult to get flights and whatnot lined up, but eventually we got it all sorted out.
We left Saturday 11/24, on the red eye from Seatac at 10 pm. We decided not to get a limo or shuttle to/from the airport, but rather to park the car at Masterpark with a coupon for $12/day. Turns out it would have been cheaper (and easier) to take a shuttle. Hmph.
Weather was cold and rainy when we left. We checked our two large suitcases along with "the blue thing" (a bag we bought in Hawaii to carry extra stuff) and the dive bag full of snorkel and diving gear. We decided to not bring any laptops, just ipad/touchpad. That worked well for this trip. Packed plenty of chargers and a small power strip thing. No technology failures on this trip. 264
On that topic, cell phone connectivity was spotty. I checked before we sailed and bought an international roaming data package from AT&T, which should have covered on ship usage and in port usage for the ports we were booked into. Still not sure if that worked since I got a nasty text from AT&T mid cruise about exceeding $200 in international data roaming. St. Thomas has AT&T 4G coverage, by the way.
We landed in Ft. Lauderdale around 6 am Eastern time. The flight was fine, although neither one of us slept. We got an exit row, which was good. Lisa was next to a squirmy guy :(. We cabbed from the airport to the Embassy Suites where LeeAnn and Ron were. We dumped the luggage off in their room, borrowed their key and got some fine Embassy Suites breakfast. Then we went back up to their room and slept a little.
232 (2)So we got going about 11 to the cruise embarkation point. The van driver insisted on putting us and all of our stuff in with a bunch of hungover "bros" who had apparently been partying all night. That van was full. Luckily they were going to a different ship. When we unloaded we had to retag our luggage since our stateroom had changed. Good thing we remembered the new room accurately (E620). They had changed staterooms on us without any communication, from the E deck down to one of the lower decks, on the assumption that having an unobstructed view was an upgrade; our previous room was on the lifeboat/tender level. We disagreed and preferred to be higher up in the boat, so we had that fixed, but not in time for the preprinted luggage tag process.
 
So we went through security (which is pretty light) and then ended up in a long line for checkin. They had the entire check in counter shut down for no apparent reason for about an hour. It was particularly painful since we were within 20 folks of the head of the line! Ack. So we had to stand there for an hour. I was worried about Lisa but she did fine. So they finally opened up the checkin at 12:30; we whizzed through that and then walked onto the ship.
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The ship was the Ruby Princess, of the Princess cruise line. Huge boat, full of bars and restaurants and a showroom and pools and a casino and shops and, well, you get the idea. It takes hundreds of people to run the thing, mostly from eastern Europe as far as I could tell.
First order of business was to get some food, so we went up to the buffet and got 245some, then went out to the bar that overlooks the aft terrace and had the first of many drinks :). Nice spot.
We then went to get our soda packages, and get our dining room table situation figured out. Then we went off to take naps, and totally missed the ship sailing. Ah well.
So after naps, we met down at the Botticelli dining room for dinner at 830 pm (late seating). We then met Jay and Oky, our servers for the trip. I thought Jay sounded like Jar Jar Binks :). He is quite flamboyant and kept calling people "darling" :). Very amusing. Our table was 99, at the very back of the ship. Pretty cozy. Next to us a whole big table full of hip hoppers showed up, in white tennis shoes and the usual baggy shorts and whatnot. They never showed up again – we heard they moved to the earlier seating. Next to them there was a young couple; the guy had to leave abruptly in the middle of the dinner. Our speculation was249 that he was seasick. Next to them was another couple; they were both very tan, and the guy kept wearing his sunglasses on the top of his (bald) head. He became the target of much ridicule from our table over the course of the week. This was also the night where I managed to dump (red) wine on my khakis. The onboard laundry did an admirable job of removing the stain, though. Special of the night was prime rib, so some of us had it. It was OK. Can’t remember what we did afterwards.
Next day (Monday) we arrived at "Princess Cay", which is the Princess cruise line’s private island. The lowering of the tenders woke us up at 7 am – they were right 050outside our window. Otherwise we would have slept all day, probably. Essentially the island is just a long beach. You can rent little shells to sit under on the beach, or for a few more bucks you can get a small air conditioned cabana thing with lunch. So we did that, and just dorked around all day. Lunch was huge, way too much food for us. We gave some of it away. Drinks were much harder to get :0. We snorkeled, had lunch, sat around, really did very little. Super relaxing time. Big line to get back onto the ship as we all wanted to get back at the same time. We saw a woman with a Union Jack bikini :). Lisa got some good underwater photos too.019
Dinner again at table 99. Tri-tip this time, not very good. Certainly not as good as the Morton’s we get at Costco. We settled on a strategy of buying a wine we liked in double size bottles (1.5L), since we knew we’d need it :). And we started meeting for "happy hour" at 7:30 in the wine bar (Vines) on the lower level. Cozy place, free tapas and sushi. Good people watching spot, which is after all a large part of cruising.
076A moment to talk about the musicians on the boat. One guy we ran into everywhere played a steel drum with a laptop accompaniment. Interesting for five minutes, then pretty boring. There was a piano guy too but we hardly ever saw him. Most cruise ships have a "Caribbean" band; I think this one did too but we hardly saw them. Most frequently we saw the band "Volume", which consisted of a couple of Australian chicks who couldn’t sing very well (but looked great) backed up by mostly competent musicians. The highlight was the guitar player who ran the gig from his Sony laptop :). We also saw the "Princess 238 (2)Orchestra" a few times; super rhythm section backing a really good (but showy) bone player, so-so trumpet and lame sax chick. She had a thing on her tenor that I’ve never seen before – a piece of flexible clear plastic held out about six inches in front of her bell with a clamp arrangement. I guess the goal is to mute the sound a little (?). I meant to ask her what the hell it was but forgot. Still they were very flexible, playing a whole hour of sight-read Latin tunes one day and mining the real book that evening in the Adagio lounge.
Tuesday was an at-sea day. LeeAnn and Lisa went to some kind of shopping thing in307 the morning. I was moderately hung over :0 but eventually made it to the Wheelhouse Bar where we had the "Pub Lunch". I had fish and chips, Lisa had Shepard’s Pie. Actually not bad. Then we found a quiet spot near the pool but around the corner and lounged about for the afternoon. Like other ships we have been on, the pool area had a pizza/burger/ice cream bar, which was convenient. This ship, like other Princess ships, had a Jumbotron where they showed movies and concert specials. I’m kind of on the fence about that; I’m not sure if I really think it’s worth it to be paying $$$ to be cruising in the Caribbean only to watch Dirty Dancing. We also managed to work out that day; when I was on the elliptical my head was about an inch from the ceiling. Still I did my 40 minutes.
075Then it was formal night, which was pretty entertaining from a people watching standpoint. Lots of extreme footwear and interesting fashion choices. Ron and I went as Jake and Elwood (black suite, skinny black tie). Since he’s 6 foot 9, that made me Jake. I guess I’m OK with that. No handsprings, though. We also watched some really lame karaoke and checked out "Skywalker’s" at the extreme top of the back of the ship, which was deserted. And when people did show up, they were assholes. Hm. We also had some pictures taken as we wandered around the ship in our formal gear. We did agree we would do tuxedos next time though.
 
Wednesday we were at St. Maarten, which is a very nice place. Half Dutch, half 094French. We had booked a catamaran/snorkel/beach activity, which turned out to be pretty fun. First we went to a common snorkeling spot, where Lisa and I deep water snorkeled over to some big rocks and saw some fish. Turns out I’m not so good at deep water snorkeling. But after that they broke out the rum punch, which was suspiciously devoid of actual rum. I drank a lot of it anyway as a testing exercise. Then they took the catamaran around the back of the island to a nice beach where Ron and Lisa swam to the beach and saw some topless women. LeeAnn sat in the water on a floating noodle and drank beer. I stayed on the boat. Then we 106had some fun around raising the mainsail, which evidently takes six strong men, or four women. And we took a127 small detour while a Zodiac circled around us taking pictures for some promotional thing. Whee. My favorite part was standing on the front of the catamaran on the way back riding the waves at speed. I felt like a happy wet not real drunk dog. The crew kind of forced the good time thing on the way back, forming a conga line (sort of) and generally being goofy.
Each night we had dinner at table 99 with our buddies Oky and Jay. We tried to get into the Crown Grill one night, but twas not to be. Sigh. Ah well. Had a pretty good surf and turf one night. By the end of the week Jay was consistently ridiculing me for always getting the same thing (shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, one of the entrees). We were going to all order hamburgers the last night, but lost momentum and only Ron followed through :). They also celebrated Lisa’s birthday on the last night, and we had humongous Baked Alaska that night too (apparently a Princess tradition).
Another thing that happened was that halfway through the week it was somehow determined there was a risk of nolovirus, so after that we had to Purell up for any food and it had to be served by a crew member, which made some things incredibly inefficient. Turned out to be a false alarm (yay).
Thursday we were at St. Thomas, with no activity booked. I think that was the day we attempted to have breakfast in the main dining room, which turned out to be a disaster from a service and timing standpoint. Bad idea. Ended up taking over 90 minutes.
The first thing we noticed about St. Thomas were the iguanas sunning themselves 338along the breakwater right by the ship. UGLY and pretty large. We spent a few hours exploring the downtown area and just dorking around. We went to Gladys’ Cafe which is supposedly famous and had chips and stuff. Good homemade chips there. It’s hard to walk around some of these places; every ten feet someone is accosting you about something (usually a tour guide to the “mountains”).
Whenever we had some free time we usually hung out by one of the three pools and had a pool boy bring us blue drinks or margaritas or whatever. It was a bit difficult to read books on my Touchpad in the bright sunlight; usually I had to angle the thing just right.
Friday we were at Grand Turk, where Lisa went off to go scuba230 diving and LeeAnn and Ron and myself took a tour bus around the island. Not a whole lot to it, and it was raining like everything for a while. Lisa got some world class diving in, though, and we ended up at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville by the cruise dock drinking, 240 (2)well, margaritas. At least I did :0. There were two boats docked that day, ours and a Carnival boat. The combined population of the two boats exceeded the entire population of the island :). There isn’t much industry on the island besides tourism, and it isn’t very big. But the natives seemed happy and we had fun. Lisa managed to kill our Pentax underwater 256 (2)camera – it’s rated for 50 feet, and she took it to 80 which caused it to die a horrible death. But we were able to retrieve the pictures from the SD card (yay).
Saturday we were at sea, heading for the barn. Spent most of the day just lounging around and eating :). Watched Dirty Dancing :). We had to have our luggage out by 8 pm for the following morning’s exit, so we did that, then went and had a nice dinner. We also managed to see a rainbow on the ocean.
259 (2)
This was the night they served the baked alaska, and we celebrated Lisa’s birthday. Also Ron came to dinner wearing jeans and flipflops, so LeeAnn had one of the crew tell him that the captain wanted to see him regarding his crass violation of the dining room dress code. Unfortunately the crew member (a Russian girl, apparently) didn’t sell it too well so he only went with it for a second or two. But it was good while it lasted :).
Sunday morning we arrived back in Fort Lauderdale and started the process of stopping the constant swaying motions in our heads. For some of us this took longer than others Smile. Customs was trivial, and we took a shuttle in to the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. We did this because we couldn’t get a cheap flight back on Sunday, so we paid for one night’s hotel room (on Priceline) rather than double our airfare. Ron and LeeAnn came with us and hung out until they had to run to the airport for their flight back to Denver. We spent some time at a sidewalk Italian coffee shop, then went to a place called American Social which had a very impressive craft beer selection and a pretty good menu as well for lunch. We sat and watched football for a while, then they left for the airport and we checked into our room. Unfortunately, the272 (2) hotel is pretty old (which explains the pricing) and kind of tacky. So we left and had dinner at a good place called Rocco’s Tacos, about 8 blocks away. I will say one thing about the Riverside, the location is excellent. Rocco’s was good but extremely loud. There was a group of 10 young women at a nearby table who were evidently celebrating a birthday or something. Their volume made it essentially impossible to hold a conversation at our table. I actually think my ears were ringing when we left the place. Still the food and service was good. We took a walk around the downtown area after dinner; pretty nice and every now and then an exotic car would go drifting by, mostly Ferraris.
 
Next morning we were up early, to the airport, and back home by midday Monday.
All in all, an excellent time with excellent people. I only got a mild sunburn and gained four pounds. The biggest problem was maintaining the proper buzz Smile.
Posted by: gregcagle | March 13, 2012

In the Pit with the Kamikaze Kids

Yesterday’s obit for Dick Harter got me to thinking about my time at the U of O during the 70s, and those basketball games…

I started at the U of O in the fall of 1974. I began (and ended) as a computer science major, which at that point largely consisted of programming in Basic/Fortran/Pascal/assembly language, and a fair amount of operating system and data structure theory. I spent most of my time on the DEC-10, working with punch cards, teletypes, and a few ADM-3A video terminals. Some students wouldn’t use the video terminals – they thought if the program didn’t print out then it didn’t exist. Still it set me up for the career I have today. If you want to call it that.

Besides graduating near the top of my class in high school, I had also been a pretty serious band geek. I had made a conscious choice going into college to decouple from that, knowing that I needed to focus on academics and that music would be a distraction. So I spent my first year in computer science, five days a week calculus (bleah), American Lit, and other assorted things. Did OK, but not super great. By the end of that first year, I was getting restless. I think I was growing tired of trying to meet other people’s expectations of me and always doing the right thing, and wanted to cut loose a bit.

So I thought I’d join the marching band. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Cut loose by joining the marching band! Woo hoo! But that’s exactly what happened. I borrowed a cheap tenor sax from a friend (I think it was an early Yani; the thing was a monster player) and signed up. It was an experience. The band was at a pretty low place, and so was the football team. Autzen was hardly ever full, and it was quite a bit smaller then. I’ve gone to a few Alumni Band events since then, and most people think the marching band actually didn’t exist during the 70s. But it did, and I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

A clear positive, though, was that the level of musicianship was pretty high, at least when everyone was sober. If I remember correctly, music performance and music education majors were required to be in marching band. If you weren’t a music major, you were required to take concert band as well. I well remember being chewed out by Ira Lee now and again during concert band, usually for playing too loud. At the start of every term he would pick a victim, usually in the first rehearsal, and yell at them like a drill sergeant until everyone was uncomfortable, even if their error was insignificant. This was his way of establishing power in the room for the balance of the term, and it usually worked. People lived in fear of him.

I don’t remember too much about that first year in marching band. I met some good folks (hi, Bill Clingman!!) I know we went to Palo Alto on buses for the Stanford game. I remember we came away from the Stanford band room (somehow) with the arrangement for All Right Now, which became a band trademark and is still scan0007played today. I remember that the Stanford band (which had recently become infamous for outlining a middle finger during a halftime show) was entirely student run and had no faculty leadership. There was some conflict between the two bands as well, but I’m hazy on the details. Something about cheerleaders, probably. Here we are in 1976 at Husky Stadium (right).

So football season ended, and with basketball season came the opportunity to play in what was then called “Pep Band”. Like the Stanford marching band, the Pep Band was a student run organization. The first two years of my time in the band (75-76, 76-77) it was directed by John Schuberg. scan0005John was a born leader; he was famous for his seldom removed train engineer hat and his ability to somehow inspire the best from a bunch of basically cynical and hung-over college students. We would have followed John anywhere, and often did. During this period the band manager was a gentleman named Roger Senders, who basically kept the whole thing afloat doing what managers do. Later he was an extra in Animal House (he’s the next guy in line after Flounder during the “naming” sequence, as well as several party scenes). Unfortunately he had to cut his massive hair to take the part. Roger was also famous for proposing that marching band should be a PE credit in 1975. Still makes sense to me.

During those two years the band was known as “Dick Harter’s Green Garter Band”, as we had a lot of yellow and green garters on our horns, along with other decorations. Later (in the 80s) that name was resurrected for a much smaller group that plays smaller events and whatnot around campus:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Garter_Band. That band gets FULL SCHOLARSHIPS. Jeez.

I learned a lot during the four years I played in the pep band. The band was an essential part of the ambience in the Pit during the Kamikaze Kids era, and I feel honored that I was a part of it. We were responsible (either directly or indirectly) for a lot of interesting things that people still remember from that period, and still do. The “O” that people make with their hands all the time now in Eugene? That was Schuberg’s signal to play the fight song. And you had to have that sucker memorized and ready to play on 5 seconds notice, because you never knew WHAT would happen in the Pit. You know when crowds chant BULLSHIT when they don’t like a referee’s call? That was us too (at least that’s how I remember it). The “Lone Ranger” riding around the court on a stick horse before the game? That was us (along with one nutjob from the crowd). We specialized in loudly yelling odd and disturbing things at the other team during quiet moments, and laughing hysterically when someone missed a foul shot. We also had some world class screamers in the woodwind section. And we went out of our way to drive the cheerleaders nuts, often by speeding up or slowing down randomly. Often the instigators were from the trombone section, usually Jim Sandau or Rick English. Rick was particularly good at yelling “Sit On My Face” during quiet moments on court.

From a musical standpoint, the Pep Band was essentially a semi-pro level show band. We played a wide variety of music. Rock, classical, disco, jazz, show tunes, the Muppet show theme, whatever we thought the crowd would enjoy. And the musicianship was exceptional, and I have the MP3s to prove it. Some awesome players in that group. You had to be hyper aware, because John would often shut down the band abruptly or change directions depending on what else was going on. Often it was hand signals, because the SPL would exceed 110db in the Pit when the scoreboard was swinging. I’m sure that’s where a bunch of my hearing loss started. But at the end of the day it was about being professional, and we were tough on slackers.

Instrumentation was variable, but usually consisted of five or more saxes, four or more clarinets, some flutes and piccolos, and a buttload of trumpets and bones and other brass. We had mellophoniums later on too. And a set drummer, an electric bass, a guitar player sometimes, and a bunch of misc. percussion (timbales, cowbell, whatever). I played tenor the first year, bari the next three. The legend is that they had to replace me with two people when I finally quit in 1979. The school had a practically indestructible King bari with a Level-Air mouthpiece that I used most of the time.

We also had in house arrangers; Schuberg did a lot of them, also Don Kelley and some others. Here’s a set list from our first recording, in 1976:

  • Lucretia McEvil – screaming Blood Sweat and Tears chart
  • “Ernst overture” – which was essentially us making fun of band member Bob Ernst by grunting his name just because it sounded funny.
  • House in the Country – even better BST chart
  • You’ve Said It All – which was the Budweiser theme song. Arranged for tuba and piccolo. Coincidentally, after each game where we played this tune, an ice cold keg of Bud would magically appear at a designated location in a tympani full of ice. Which got me started drinking beer drinking, but that’s another story.
  • California Girls
  • “Nelhybel Fanfare” – not sure which piece it was from but it was damn impressive brass fanfare stuff.
  • Hallelujah Chorus – often played after winning games.
  • Mellow Duckie – Kermit’s “Rubber Duckie” with slighly modified wording and band vocal.
  • Duck Soup – a ripoff of the OSU Beaver fight song mixed with some hokey other stuff
  • Rock Entrance #2+TSOP+Chameleon+Go Down Gamblin’ – we were in the habit of jamming three or four songs together with percussion in between to keep the beat going. Who knew it turn into a big deal later at dance clubs?
  • Mexicali “O” – we had three or four different versions of the fight song with preludes of different styles glued onto the front. This one sounded like Malaguena before mutating into Mighty O.
  • Dudley Do-Right
  • Hava Nagileh – guaranteed to work the crowd into a frenzy.
  • For What Ales Ya – more beer music.
  • Still Crazy After All These Years – often played after losses, kind of melancholy.
  • Fancy Colours – Chicago tune.
  • All Right Now – of course.

The following year we added the Looney Tunes theme with extra added band vocal. And other interesting stuff. We were on the court now and again during half time – this picture scan0006was taken during a Beach Boys/In The Mood medley, probably in 1977. That was actually the first time I played In The Mood – but not the last. Note that for this gig I borrowed the Thurston High Selmer MK VI I played in high school from Royce (thanks!). The name tag on the front of my bowler hat declares that “Basketball Jones” is a Pietro’s employee.

I remember the Stanford band was in the house that night, and they played “Cities on Flame” by Blue Oyster Cult. I love BOC but that just did NOT lend itself to that type of band.

The liner notes for the 1977 tape goes like this: “The U of O Green Garter Band was recorded “live” at the University of Oregon Music School on February 25, 1977. This recording serves only as a remembrance the 55 talented and spirited musicians, whose energies provided the spark which would, time and time again, ignite a blazing fire under the 10,000 sick and deranged screaming idiots who assembled for each game to make McArthur Court the finest place to play basketball in the country.”

I can’t describe how exciting it was to be at those basketball games, and we did our best to keep the excitement level high. The team had a lot of talent then, and Coach Harter made the most of it. They were extremely aggressive (thus the “Kamikaze Kids” name) and amazing to watch. Many games were total cliffhangers – this was because college basketball had no shot clock at that point. Coach Harter was a big believer in stalling until the other team made a mistake, so we often had extremely low scoring games with everything riding on one last shot. The year we broke UCLA’s 98 game winning streak at Pauley the score was 65-45.

scan0008We were stars, in a way. People recognized us all over campus and the town. The games were televised over local TV, time delayed (after 11 pm news usually) and people were always mentioning to me “saw you on TV last night!”. And I was usually hung over. Look at me. I think I was afraid to breathe at that point.

This picture was taken during the Far West Classic in Portland, where we served as the house band in 75-77 or so. I distinctly remember we were told not to return to the Lloyd Center Sheraton after too many loud parties in 1975. Note funky sax strap.

scan0009The band lost steam after Schuberg and that crowd graduated. Two years later it mutated into the “hard hat band” (see right) and that was the end of it for me. I quit, focused on graduating, and eventually got my computer science degree in 1980.

But that’s another story.

Posted by: gregcagle | December 15, 2011

Back in the saddle again…

Cranking up the blog again now that I have a more reasonable working environment. Stay tuned for more from my twisted mind.

Posted by: gregcagle | November 29, 2010

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