(Caution: This describes some things you shouldn't do unless you understand what's happening. In this story, I bypass interlocks - not for the insecure - and run some experiments with the machine plugged in but the guts exposed, for which one must be safe and careful)

After our 6-year-old Kenmore Elite QuietPak4 washing machine (also commonly known as HE3T) ceased working for the third time in eighteen months, I began thinking differently.

This is one of the more modern styles, meaning that it has more interlocks and cables than ever before, and more ways to go wrong. The symptom has consistently been that the automatic door lock does not latch; rather than that satisfying "clunk" that happens a couple of seconds after holding down the start button, there's a repeated click from deep within the machine, which occurs about six times, three seconds apart, then an error code flashes on the display and there's a beep.

The first time this happened, I called a repairman who came and replaced the door switch. On the HE3T, the "door switch" is a complex assembly with several connectors, and retails at $66 before installation and markup.

IMG_4743 2

(Door switch assembly with cover removed: Mechanical interlock at the left; lock confirmation switch in the middle - two sets of contacts - dual solenoid to latch door toward right, and the door-is-closed switch at the far right)

The washer worked for a while after that, however, so I did not complain.

The second time, the repairman came out and showed me how you had to wedge the door hinge so it would reliably press the door switch. The washer worked for a while after that.

The third time, I had the repairman on the phone and he said "sheesh, you're an engineer, aren't you? Well what does the diag say?" Now realizing that there was a diag, I discarded his cryptic instructions (given via strong accent, narrowband telephone) and went to Youtube where several demonstrations awaited. The result: the diag routine ran, and stuck at the first step, C:00.

Youtube told me how to loosen the door gasket and remove the door switch, which I did. It seemed OK. I had kept the old one from a year ago, and swapped it in, with no change in result. I took it back out and disassembled it to see how it worked. Knowing this, I bypassed the doorswitch interlocks by putting a couple of improvised jumpers in the doorswitch harness. Still nothing! This told me that the doorswitch was not the problem - may never have been. So what's next? I decided that I would take a peek inside the washer. A Youtube video showed how to remove the top, by pulling three screws from the back top edge, sliding the top panel back, and lifting it off. Now all was revealed:


The washing machine controller is the white box in the center top, with all those wires going into it. I took a look online, and found that a replacement controller was easily purchased, although for prices starting at $266, or over half the cost of the whole washer. Not yet, I resolved.

Theory: Since the washer occasionally works even now, there's something erratic; it feels mechanical, somehow. How do they switch all those valves and locks - is it using relays, by any chance? Experiment: Try starting the washer again, and tap the controller while it struggles. Result: Success! On the third tap, the door latch thunked and the wash cycle started. The mechanical shock of my finger rapping was breaking something free. Wiggling connectors had no effect, so -
Conclusion: Gotta get inside that controller.
Without removing the cables yet, I unplugged the machine and carefully opened the controller case, which is secured with about eight plastic spring tabs. This exposed a single printed circuit board inside. This was a great relief, as it was of conventional construction. Further, it had five common relays among a forest of discrete components and its Motorola microprocessor. Those three black blocks toward the right, and the two white ones under the paper sticker? Relays. Better, made by Omron, a common and pretty good brand.
Plan: Order replacement relays.
I could have done more troubleshooting, perhaps narrowed the issue down to a single relay, but a look at Mouser Electronics website (one of several credible vendors including Newark, Digikey, and others) showed that I could get a whole set for about $15, an incredibly good price. The smaller relays, for example, were about $1.67. So I just ordered them. Parts list:
Qty 3: Omron G2RL-1A-E
this part has a 12VDC coil, contacts capable of 16A/250V

Qty 2: Omron G5LE-1-VD
this part has a 12VDC coil, contacts capable of 10A/250V

When the relays arrived, I removed the controller from the washer after carefully marking the connectors (there are many, don't mix them up), removed the PCB from the controller case, and replaced the relays, one by one (be careful of static electricity, but not paranoid - this board shouldn't be too sensitive). The workbench looked like this, with soldering iron, Soldapullit solder sucker, and solder:


Reversing the process, twenty minutes later and the washer now works. Success! Ten minutes later, it's fully assembled and my lady's coming down with her laundry and a big smile.
So was the problem really one of those relays? All the evidence pointed that way, as do the results. But, curious, I took one step further, and removed the cases from the two white relays. It's a little hard to tell from this photo, but one of them, at the right, has clean, sparkly contacts. On the other, the contacts are blackened, almost roasted. I think that's the culprit, although I haven't checked the other three black relays. Black is not a good color for metallic contacts.
IMG_4775 2

It's suspicious that contacts look this bad after such a relatively short life. That speaks of another failure (perhaps a bad anti-kickback diode on an inductive load such as a solenoid valve), or a weak design (needing such a diode, or a better-specified relay). In general, though, I thought the construction of the washer electronics to be good: robust, secure, and what's better, far more repairable than most recent Apple products. So I'm keeping a couple of spare G5LE-1-VD's on hand. If you follow the path I took, you might order a few extras as well.



The announcement of
a simple technique to quintuple disk density, which will also result in an order of magnitude increase in surveillance video storage (after all, it’s unlikely to be used just for text files), takes us another step down the road away from personal privacy. Images of everyone, everywhere, and at any time exist somewhere, and are increasingly accessible to all. Cameras and storage, aggregated by the cloud, provide the raw data; “big data" provides the means by which we select and understand what has been recorded so we all become, in some sense, all-seeing. Not omniscient, because that implies knowledge; all-seeing just means that we have unlimited access to see and probably misinterpret all kinds of imagery.

Technology, once unleashed, finds its own path. There's no comfort in believing that governments will control or curtail this; their track record is just the opposite, embracing every new development to more completely monitor and track a citizenry. We have the very current spectacle of the CIA impaling itself on its own technology, so let's free ourselves of that comforting illusion. There's also little track record to show that technology and data remain permanently protected. It seems that security is only a measure of the rate at which information will leak, not of its ultimate accessability.

What's interesting to me is that this gradual and astonishing dissolution of privacy was foreseen in 1972, in a short series of stories by Bob Shaw later collected in the book
"Other Days, Other Eyes." Shaw explored the consequences of the invention of "slow glass," a hypothetical glass-like ceramic that delayed the passage of light by whatever duration it was designed for. As the narration proceeds, this latency was at first an unexpected side-effect of a tough new transparent material, inserting millisecond airplane windshield delays that caused inexplicable crashes. As the effect became understood, variants were designed to take advantage of the function: made into windows, for example, that could be loaded with months of picturesque views and crashing waves at cliffside castles, and then mounted in urban apartments to recreate the view. There were twelve-hour panes, mounted like streetlights that delayed noonday illumination to nighttime. Ethical questions were raised: what does it mean in a trial if you possess a piece of slow glass that witnessed a crime and can absolutely prove or disprove the suspect's guilt, but cannot be accessed for fifty years?


But the strongest bell rings, almost casually, at the end of this Bob Shaw vision. In the dark, helicopters hover silently over one city, then over another, and from them a gentle mist falls. The helicopters depart. The mist condenses on sidewalks, lamp posts, homes, grass, roads, everywhere. The mist? It is a fine, imperceptible, universal and omnipresent dusting of...yup, slow-glass particles. Someone, perhaps the government, has cast an all-seeing net over every corner, street and niche.

The mist is a fine, imperceptible, universal and omnipresent dusting of one-dollar CCD video sensors, 2GB storage drives, and an unlimited ability to save, access, and analyze every vision they ever see.

We are left with the question: when everyone can see everyone, what does it mean? What do we do? How do we judge? What is "judgment" itself?

The stories are well worth reading for their moral, humorous, and dramatic content as well as their technical.

Because the technical is already here.


The following memo was found printed on the back side of a folded-paper fan blowing across the deserted parking lot of an Office Depot in Silicon Valley. It is not known what company, if any, this was produced by, and is fictitious in any event. It is reprinted here as a public service.


Once again in the forthcoming quarter, the relationship between our expenses and our revenue is challenging. Let me quantify. Here on the table in front of me is the egg of a speckled robin. This represents our Q4 budget. And this 1964 copy of Webster's Unabridged English Dictionary, which I am holding directly over the egg, represents our planned expenditures for the same period. Now I shall release the Dictionary. Whump. Do you see the egg anymore? You do not. No wait, there's a bit of egg juice at one edge of the Dictionary - I am sure you understand the concept, however.

How the Company got to this point of overcommitment, or as your Executive staff has explained it to the Board, “employee underperformance,” is not relevant at this point. As a positive step, the Executive staff has identified ten measures the Company is taking to optimize fiscal performance during the upcoming fourth quarter.

1. Travel.
Travel is a way of getting from one place to another. You are in one place, in other words, and the place is in another. "Travel" costs money and will not be done in Q4. Alternatives that do not require spending money, such as wishing that you were in that other place, or sending a free email to explain that you are still in your original place, are permitted. The only exception to this rule is traveling to another place in order to pick up money and bring it back; travel is permitted for that sole reason.

2. Coffee.
The company supplies free coffee, but it has come to our attention that coffee is often left unfinished, and is even thrown out. This is wasteful of our planet's rainforests and coffee-growing regions as well as costing money and thereby constituting an unauthorized reallocation of resources from important programs. Consequently, rather than pouring a fresh cup of coffee, employees will be instructed to give first priority to identifying a partially-consumed cup of coffee near their workspace and consuming that instead. If the first assignee of a partially-consumed cup challenges the employee who has picked it up to finish it per this policy, both employees shall take the interchange as an opportunity to strengthen intra-company relationships.

3. Heating.
The process of heating workspaces is very damaging to the environment due to the emission of CO2 and other toxic substances. Further, it is wasteful because heat leaks out of even well-insulated buildings and there is therefore no identifiable long-term advantage. Any correlation between heated facilities and company revenue is poorly documented at best and so, in accordance with the company's "Green" policy, internal environments in facilities located in cold climates will be heated only to the minimum temperature necessary to keep pipes from freezing. In those cold climates, employees may wish to huddle together for warmth or bring a few horse blankets from home.

4. Bathroom Tissue.
Facilities has long received numerous complaints about the quality of bathroom tissue provided as an employee benefit by the Company, tissue that is variously criticized for abrasiveness, harshness, and an undefined term called "punchthrough." Therefore, the company will cease providing this free benefit and employees will be expected to provide their own. Note that triple-ply and perfumed tissues will not be permitted because of potential risk to the building's antiquated sewage system; an auditing system is being developed to ensure conformance to this policy.

5. Mandatory sick leave.
As employees have consumed all their vacation time due to mandated time off in previous quarters, we are allocating a two-week episode of non-fatal influenza to every employee in North America. This practice is not permitted in Europe, but HR is pursuing appropriate channels to identify a disease or disability that will be acceptable under EU law. Note that deadlines are unaffected by this policy.

6. Office supplies. Executive staff is confident that employees have been taking office supplies and using company copying machines and other company resources, without explicit authorization, for years. Employees will be expected to use these accumulated supplies, pay for stamps, shipping and network bandwidth, and supply their own copies throughout Q4.

7. Landscaping. The Company will be optimizing its outdoor resources by sub-leasing the spaces around the building to a local farmer who will be raising what she describes as "herbs." We anticipate significant incremental revenue from this activity, and are requiring that employees refrain from unauthorized ad hoc harvesting.

8. Air conditioning.
Other than minimal heating as described above, facility air conditioning and ventilation will be turned off during Q4. For those facilities in which windows do not open, employees are permitted to fold discarded memos into fans for ventilation or cooling.

9. Program planning.
Experience has proven that nothing optimizes expenses better than replanning. In Q4, the Company will focus on reassigning priorities among numerous complex programs and replanning to accommodate these changes, and will operate on a "drumbeat" of one major replanning cycle each two weeks. Assuming a 10% savings per replan cycle, this should result in a net 47% expense reduction through the six cycles of the quarter.

10. Company logo.
The new Company logo, which shows an outstretched hand with each finger in a different color to signify the "I come in peace" gesture, is very expensive to reproduce on a production scale due to the number of silk screens required. During Q4, four of these five fingers will be eliminated.

Your Executive staff is confident that these policies will preserve our company leadership through Q4, and will position us well to enter the challenges of a yet-to-be-defined first quarter in 2013. I, along with our CEO, CFO, CMO, CTO, Senior VP of Sales, Board of Directors and all our major stockholders and litigants, wish to personally thank you for your cooperation.

Comments to the FCC on in-plane electronic device reform

As reported by GigaOm, the FCC is examining its current rules regarding the use of electronic devices on airplanes. I have long thought these rules are archaic in this age of apps, ubiquitous wireless, and ambiguous device definitions, and are more indicative of dangerous aircraft design practices that go well beyond susceptibility to kids with mp3 players. Here are the comments I have submitted:

I do not know whether there is a specific format for this, so will try to be clear and brief in the hope that this receives appropriate attention.

As background, I am an occasional-to-frequent airline traveler (Premier Silver on United, for example), am an electronics engineer (MSEE 1974 CSUN) with a background in Defense and commercial video, audio and RF, am an active ham radio operator (AF6YO) and emergency services volunteer (NERT in San Francisco), and was responsible for the Product Compliance operations at Polycom Corporation for 20 years - an activity including worldwide EMC compliance (FCC, CISPR, etc.) for all Polycom products.  

There is no real danger.  Any consumer digital device is already approved to official regulations (Title 47 Part 15 Class B and its international equivalents), regarding unintentional radiators.  This means that the radiated levels are extremely low.  Any airplane susceptible to radiation at these levels will also be susceptible to numerous EM threats, is poorly designed, and is already a dangerous thing to be around.  

Passengers do not comply today.  I have no hard facts to support this, but am confident that at least 80% of the devices on an airplane today are not fully turned off when instructed, with many even remaining in the non-airplane mode in which intentional RF transmission remains enabled (cellphone, WiFi, Bluetooth).  This gives us a very high number of experiments being run daily, in which we constantly prove that active devices to not affect airplane operations or safety.  

It's not effectively enforceable.  To be effective, any rule needs to be enforceable.  This means that noncompliance must be detectable, that noncompliance can be corrected, and that compliance can be confirmed and tracked.  Consider:

>  Many devices do not actively indicate their on/off status

>  The difference between on and off is an archaic distinction today, with most devices having many modes of operation in between, from deep sleep, through sleep, to standby, to screen-saver.  

>  Airplane staff cannot be expected to understand the differences between device and device in this rapidly evolving industry, and passengers cannot be expected to demonstrate the current state of each device they possess (if they even understand the difference, which is often doubtful)

>  Devices are easily hidden.  Slim laptops can go in seat pockets (regardless of instructions), phones and players in pockets.

>  Inspection of all devices on all passengers would need to occur at least twice on each flight.   

4.  Different RF levels.  A smartphone can operate as a cellphone, in which it can transmit at levels approaching a watt (+30dBm), as a Bluetooth or WiFi endpoint, about 1 milliwatt (0 dBm), or as a NFC device, using magnetic induction only at extremely low power levels.  The risk to an airplane is probably vastly different among these, as evidenced by the enthusiastic adoption of in-flight Wi-Fi by many airlines.

5.  Device ambiguity.  Another modern development that makes the current regulation impractical to define and enforce is the use of "apps" on mobile devices.  A smartphone running only a "recorder" application is, arguably, a portable voice recorder.  If it's running a hearing enhancement app, it's a hearing aid (with additional ADA issues accompanying any attempt to shut it off).  In either case, an other impermissible device becomes a permissible one.  

I have long suspected that the "no devices" instruction on takeoff was a sham, perhaps intended to help get passengers to pay attention to the "in case of emergency" lecture delivered at the beginning of each flight.  If that is the goal, that should be the focus, not the control of peripheral issues that might or might no affect passenger attention.  

Recommendation: Release the absolute restriction on PED usage on takeoff and landing.  Given the continued use of some old aircraft sensitive to strong EM fields as described in the RFC, it may make sense to continue to ask passengers to put their devices in "Airplane" mode.  If the latter instance is of critical concern (I've seen no evidence it is, this dates back to well before the smartphone and hasn't been an obvious problem), airplanes should be required to put RF detection systems onboard to assure compliance. 

I appreciate the fact that you are taking up this issue for consideration.


Why I'm getting out of "oil"

About eight years ago, a close friend asked if A and I would be interested in investing in a new company. He is a geologist and engineer, had a long experience in the petroleum extraction industry (oil drilling, in 1950-ese), and had developed an expertise in a form of underground rock fracturing (“fracking”) that used liquid nitrogen - especially effective in some conditions, and using no water.

As we talked with him and his wife, we decided that our investment would be relatively safe, and would be very important in getting his business off the ground. So we agreed.

We’re now at a point where he has developed a small but successful business, but we feel we’ve achieved our main goal (to get him started), and are looking to exit. To this end, he’s made us an offer, which we’ll probably accept after some adjustments. This process has caused me to take a new look at why we got into this, why we are getting out, and how it relates to the state of the world today.

Note bene: Please disregard considerations of “carbon
emissions,” “responsibility to the earth,” and
such like for the next few paragraphs. I assure you
we’ll get to that. For a moment, let’s sink into
a peaceful contemplation of science and economics.

Background: Oil wells are not pools of black liquid lying tranquilly miles below the ground as I always thought. They are regions of dense rock, which is incidentally somewhat saturated (2% to 30%, depending on the rock) with liquid. The liquid can be anywhere from 10% to 70% crude petroleum, with the remainder being hot (and very stinky) water. Yeah, lots of hot, dirty water comes from an oil well; it’s not all Valvoline 10-30.


  • Conventional wells: The rock down there is most often sandstone, and is often very porous (typically up to 30% porosity), which means that 30% of the volume is taken up by that oil/water mixture. Because it’s far down, it is also under considerable pressure, which drives the oil up when it’s given a chance to exit, such as through a drilled hole. Later in the life of a well, and sometimes initially, it’s pushed up by pumping water down. Of course, the farther the bore is from a patch of oil-bearing sandstone, the harder it is for the mixture to get to the sides of the hole and make it to the surface. Fracturing that rock creates many more channels for the mixture to make it to the hole, and increases the amount of surface area through which the mixture can seep.

  • Oil shale: It’s getting a lot of press today, but oil shale actually makes a really crappy oil well. It’s shale, which is only about 3% porous instead of 30%. That’s about as porous as concrete. Big deal. It’s only attractive to developers because there’s so much of it.

  • Depleted wells: Once the easy oil has been extracted, the oil comes out slower and slower, with more effort, and at some point it’s not worth the trouble (more technically, the cost of pulling out the next barrel exceeds the value of that barrel) and the driller can abandon it. But they’ve put some serious money into creating that hole, so if they can invest a little more and get some additional payback, why not? Fracking is a way to do that: shatter the rock all around the hole, and you essentially increase the surface area of the hole, exposing more oil-bearing rock way down deep. By using the same hole to expose more deep rock, you’ve got a nice extension on your investment; it’s just a matter of how much it costs to fracture the rock, and how much more you’ll get for having paid that extra money.

  • Petroleum reserves: How much oil they think is down there. It means oil in this context, not oil/water mixture.

  • Proven reserves: How much oil they think they can actually extract. This term has morphed invisibly over time; it used to mean “if we drill some holes, we’ll get this much oil.” But oil companies began restating their “proven reserves,” often by factors of two or more, to characterize exactly the same oil field. The trick was that they started including incremental technologies like fracking. So the cost of extracting the extra oil would be higher, but that doesn’t appear in the headline. The headline remains “We’ve doubled our proven reserves!” although the subheading reads “but it will cost three times as much to get that extra oil.” The difference doubtless appears in any detailed financial analysis, but what senator is going to try and explain that to the constituents?

Why we got in: Helping a friend get started in his own business. Trusting that friend. Thinking the business was a valid one, and with a sound basis. Maybe making some money, but that wasn’t much of the real reason; we’ve been fortunate in our own endeavors, and wanted to help others if we could do it without getting stung.

Note bene #2: “Fracking” then did not have the bad reputation it has
established today. It was not associated with fouled drinking
water or earthquakes, and was seen as a safe and effective
way of getting more oil out of a well. So we didn’t know about the
pros or cons of it, just what we were able to learn at the time. (Incidentally,
it’s still not clear what the real costs of fracking are; there are some
horror stories around, but they’re largely unproven. There’s
a lot of exciting but bad reportage that’s distorting the
picture - that youtube guy was lighting faucet water
that was flammable long before fracking ever took place in the
region - it’s a characteristic of the native geology).

Why we want to get out:

Our goal, starting the business, is achieved. He’s off and running, has a going concern and a solid reputation in the field. In the US, some states are starting to impose more restrictions and controls on fracking, but he thinks that he’ll continue OK - there is continued pressure for increased domestic oil production (whether oil is good or bad, a domestic gallon means we’re not exporting our money to the mideast for a gallon of something we burn anyway).

But A and I are still invested in an aspect of petroleum production, which means that we’re fostering the depletion of a non-renewable resource, we’re facilitating a major source of the rise in atmospheric CO2, we’re helping to accelerate the rate of global warming, and we’re reducing the incentive to develop more sustainable sources of energy. If I’m going to invest in energy, I’m ready to look at a broader range of options and find one that is more likely to make my granddaughter proud of me once she’s old enough to understand the whole picture. This has long been a motivation for my involvement in developing more transparent communications and reducing transportation costs, and I want to leverage this goal in every way I can.

Our kids are the ones who will have to live with what we do (and what we don’t do) today.

Megabits at the edge of civilization

The lights just went on for a small midblock sector of the outer Sunset district in San Francisco. If you'll accept "lights" in its alternate meaning, "massive upswing in internet connectivity rates, especially outbound."

AT&T DSL has been my supplier for years, and I've adapted to the fact that, as the house lies between the very fringe of the City and that big salty place where dolphins play, any data flow that dribbles by is cause for block parties and free beer.  Typically, I see about 2Mbps down, 500kbps up.  With patience and planning, that works OK.

When a coworker recently mentioned that during a video conference I looked like Max Headroom from my home office, however, I realized that it was time for a more aggressive stance.  I DESERVE more bits, I told myself, and I am going to GET them!  He pointed me to Comcast cable, and I took the bait.

Now that I look more carefully, it's clear that almost everyone else in the neighborhood already has one of those graceful swoopy lines connecting the cable that runs down the street to their houses.  They've probably been chuckling at me, perhaps even holding a pool to bet when I finally get connected.  Well, it happened last Thursday, and I'm now in the gunner's seat of a 30Mbps download/20Mbps upload datacannon (20/6 guaranteed).  Wow.

I can stream a movie!  I can confidently sit on an HD video conference (with Polycom it only takes 2Mbps for great quality but that's a long stretch from 500k anyway), I can even DOWNLOAD  SOFTWARE without factoring it into the weekend plans!

"Hunt The Wumpus" has never felt so fluid and silky smooth.  Golly, I love science!

Inside the TED2012 House Band

Image 8

When Thomas Dolby, Music Director of TED ("Technology Entertainment Design," the annual gathering of tech and art extraordinaries that I think of as "Davos for geeks") took an unusual step last November and invited the next crop of TED attendees to submit audition tapes for a hypothetical TED House Band, I was almost out the door for another trip so I hastily thumped out a half-song with all the production values of a drunken frat video, stuck it onto YouTube, and promptly forgot about it.
Two days after we returned, Dolby sent an electrifying notice: I'd been selected. This was an invitation to join this newly formed band, help select songs, arrive an extra half-week early to rehearse, and perform for TED. Success was the eventuality for which I had not planned.
There would be no acoustic piano onstage; Dolby volunteered his own Yamaha Motif8 as keyboard, so at home I pulled out my simpler 88-key electronic Yamaha and began practicing on that to press the feel of a typical “weighted” back into the fingers. I don't know about the other guys, but I went back to scales, all-key exercises, and a lot of the jazz and classical basics, just to freshen up the fingers. Eight weeks, an hour a day, every day, brought me back up to just about tolerable.
Rehearsals were held in the Gibson Showroom Theatre in Beverly Hills, about 30 miles north of the TED venue where we would be ultimately performing.
Image 11

One subset of the band, showing the rhythm section of "Reelin' “ to Thomas and his hat

We met from noon through six, Friday through Sunday, first parsing the list of ten candidate songs down to six (some didn't fit when we tried them, while a couple like “Green Onions" sounded ready to go the first time through and were, maybe, just too simple).
Image 1
Petting zoo at the Sunday Farmers' Market, outside the Gibson Center

It was obvious to me early on that the most challenging single part for the keyboard would be a sixteen-bar solo for the Allman Brothers' "Jessica.” I rewrote that a dozen times and practiced it hundreds before there was something that would be both interesting (for you) and playable under stress (for me). Starting in January, I began traveling with a four-octave keyboard, which worked great with my constant companion MacBook Air running "Mainstage," the performance cousin to "Logic." (Yes, my Miami ITEXPO friends, this is why I wasn't hanging out at night; had to get back to the room and practice!)
Image 10
The USB keyboard goes as checked luggage

Once we moved to Long Beach, we were installed in a lower-level dressing room (27 makeup stalls, six showers and six toilet stalls, normally used for dance troupes, operas, and musicals), which became our green room for the duration of TED through the simple device of adding a sofa, a Yamaha U-3 upright piano, and an electronic drum set to mirror the permanent acoustic set up onstage.

Image 7

Fred finesses a mandolin in the green room

Band setup in the concert hall, and the only real sound check we'd get, was a couple of hours Monday night after the last of the Tuesday speakers had finished their runthroughs. Through the course of the conference afterwards, we would dodge onto stage just before the doors opened for each session to turn on amplifiers and check that everything was ready, then grab audience seats next to the stage so we could clamber up into position when signaled by Thomas.
We always met in the green room a half hour before session start to iron out any last-minute wrinkles and double-check times.

Image 3
Practicing styles: Matthew physical, Eric cerebral

TED has one of the strongest, most helpful, and most professional crews that I’ve ever encountered. The view backstage was of people who became faster and more efficient under fire, but never grumpy and always eager to help. LBCC was a similar pleasure to work with.
There were still hiccups, of course. The original bass player became unavailable shortly before rehearsals were to begin, but Matthew Seligman, a TEDster who has been a longtime associate of Dolby’s, volunteered to fly in from Japan ,and performed a magnificent diving catch. And then when Matthew’s schedule unexpectedly came crashing down on the last day, Dolby found David Hornik, a talented bass player out in the TED audience, who supported the band through a solid final performance with a hurriedly borrowed bass and just a few hours’ notice and preparation.
Image 6
How to mic an amplifier

Image 5

Matthew Seligman, Bass (and Human Rights Barrister, SCOMO)
Fred Goldring, Guitar (and Founder, Goldring Strategies)
Warren Packard, Drums (and CEO, Thuuz)
John La Grou, Guitar (and CEO, Millennia Group)
Jerry Fiddler, Guitar (and Principal, Zygote Ventures)
Eric Robison, Horns (and CEO,
Jeffrey Rodman, Keyboard (and co-Founder, Polycom)
David Hornik, Bass (and General Partner, August Capital; not shown)

My thanks to TED, Thomas Dolby, this fantastic band, the staff and management of the Gibson Guitar Showroom and the Long Beach Convention Center, and all the friends and family around me that made space and offered the help and advice that allowed this experience to become real.

The wordcloud as a learning tool

I only recently learned of “Kim Kardashian.”
It’s something that is very prolific on Twitter.
Scanning its tweets for the two months surrounding Christmas 2011 showed some informative patterns, so I boiled down the text (removed retweets and most @names so it’s all KK’s words) and prepared this wordcloud using wordle.
It’s an interesting way to learn something about an entity.
KimK Wordcloud 230 tweets titled

Cuba Jazz Festival 2011

In December 2011, Global Exchange Reality Tours conducted a cultural trip to Cuba for the 2011 Havana Jazz Festival. As part of this, we were given a tour and a concert at the Conservatorio Guillermo Tomas Bouffartigue, a secondary school for kids in Havana. Here are that extraordinary concert, a recital, and a couple of live student lessons.

School Concert

Piano Lesson

Bassoon Lesson

Piano/Guitar Recital

Students cover all subjects but with a strong emphasis on music. Every student learns a foundation of piano, and can take another instrument additionally.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba is but one alumnus of the Conservatorio - as a kid, his focus was not primarily piano though, but percussion!

The second school was the Escuela Asociada a la Pae. Photos are posted below; here the principal introduces us to the school as we prepare to walk past an honor guard of the students:

The Principal Introduces The School

and here are a few videos of this startlingly polished middle-school performance

Three Dancers

The Orchestra

The Orange Dance Troupe

The Dance Finale

More to come.


Cuba Lunch Band Dance
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Havana Music School: Escuela Asociada a la Pae
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Gonzalo Rubalcaba dinner at the Hotel Nacional
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A general look around Havana
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