krazy kyakers

Ottawa has the good fortune of being near lots of water, mostly in the form of two rivers, the Ottawa and the Rideau.  The Rideau drains into the Ottawa.  Historically, the Rideau Canal was built to accommodate trade between Ottawa and as far as Kingston.

To facilitate boat traffic, a number of locks were installed.  In addition to the locks, dams were built, typically next to the lock, to manage the flow of water.  Near to where I live is a lock/dam called Hogs Back.  The dam side flows over a series of rocks, that are typically quite nice to look at, but with the spring melt, become a raging rapid.

So, this spring (2014), I brought my video camera down to Hogs Back to capture the wild torrents, much more wild than in other years, crazy huge flows.  After a bit of filming, a fellow asks if I am there to video the kayakers.  “Huh?”, I said.  He tells me three kayakers are suiting up getting ready to run the Hogs Back rapids.

So, I stick around and capture the following video.  Amazing stuff.  For 20 seconds in the rapids, it must have been invigorating, not to mention very cold.

For comparison, here are some pix of the flow in June,  Very pretty, but not nearly as dangerous. Note when the initial kayaker goes over the first flow, that is the same point as the first picture below.  Pretty amazing.



Ooo Eee Oo Ah Ah

A recording technique that has long been used for interesting and amusing effect is to change the speed of the playback.  Faster would raise the pitch, slower would lower it.  In some cases, artists slowed the tape speed down during tracking to make instrument parts easier to play or to hit higher notes, and then sped up for the final mix. Other times they would adjust the tape speed during mastering to get a sound they liked more.  The timbre of the notes changes.  Guitars played back at even slightly faster speeds sound chimier.  Vocals at slightly slower speeds have a deeper resonance.

One of my favorite Beatle songs, which coincidentally used this technique, is Rain, where the master was slowed down.  The guitars sound sublime, especially that little guitar break at 2:33.

In thinking about the Beatles use of the varispeed technique, it occurred to me that the backing vocals on Magical Mystery Tour sounded like they were pitched upwards.  And indeed they are.  Here are some parts with the final version followed by the slower playback which would have been used during tracking:


On a tape machine, this was easy to do, as you just needed to flip a switch for preset speeds (typically 30ips, 15ips, 7.5ips and 3.75ips), or change the voltage to the capstan motor (varispeed) for continuous increments.  In the digital world, this is, surprisingly, not  straight forward.  Pitch tuning (Autotune, Melodyne, …) allows you exceptional ability to change notes.  But this does not sound the same to me, and more extreme changes result in artifacts that sound bad.  Changing the playback speed for recording or mastering takes a couple of extra steps.

All that to say, as a little exercise, I took a run at Alvin and the Chipmunks, to see what the real voice behind the little critters actually sounds like.  Here is the amusing result at half-speed, from the original 1958 recording of Witch Doctor that started it all for Alvin:


Finally, the most famous chord of all time …

… the opening chord of A Hard Days Night has been successfully dissected.

In this radio interview with Randy Bachman on CBC’s Guitarology program, RB talks about meeting Giles Martin, son of George Martin, at GM’s private studio at Abbey Road. In the studio, GM has access to digitized copies of all the Beatle’s multitrack source tapes.

After pondering what he would like to hear, RB is provided with solo’d track by track playback of “the chord”.  When it is all put together, HE NAILS IT!  Give it a listen …


Here is the breakdown he describes:

  • Track 1: George on Rickenbacker 12-string  GCFACG
  • Track 2: Paul on Bass playing D
  • Track 3: John on 6-string xxDADG

The notes being picked up are:  A-C-D-F-G

  • From a G perspective: 1-2-4-5-b7
  • From an F perspective: 1-2-3-5-6
  • From a D perspective: 1-b3-4-5-b7
  • From a C perspective: 1-2-4-5-6
  • From an A perspective: 1-b3-4-b6-b7

Closest thing to call it would be a Dm11 or an F6add9.  Whatever you call it, you can’t make the chord sound properly with only one hand (chording) and one guitar.

What a sound. This is TOO COOL!!

The Age of Thirst

note: this post was originally published in May 2013.  It has been updated as new information is available.  I decided to republish it and move it to the top of my blog, as it is such a “hot” topic.  Latest updates are at the bottom of the post.

Amidst all the other crisis afflicting the world today, one that will surely inflict great misery and result in rising global tension is the unquenchable demand for clean drinking water. Already, one in six people in the world lack safe drinking water. In many of the poorest regions of the world, the availability of drinkable water would relieve much suffering and lift many out of extreme poverty.

The future does not look promising.  The climate change tea leaves are signalling a profound shift of precipitation patterns.  Here is a chart of the Americas (from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University) that shows the projected change in precipitation for period 2021-2040 minus the average over 1950-2000 as a percent of the 1950-2000 precipitation.

The short analysis is that the north gets wet and the south gets dry. But the story here is that the dry gets VERY dry, uninhabitable dry.

Not to neglect the global impact this change is bound to inflict, but the prognosis for the pacific southwest is dire, and is being touted as “The Greatest Water Crisis in the History of Civilization.”

The pithy summary is that if you live in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America, you or your children and grandchildren will soon be living through one of the deepest droughts ever recorded.

The evidence appears to be conclusive.  It is already in transition with Lake Mead predicted to become Lake Dead by 2026, creating huge problems for the 27+ million people (in Southern California, alone) that depend on it for water.  Climate change skeptics can form their own conclusions, and make some shrewed land investments.

I intend to continue to track and add to this topic.  For starters, Saudi Arabia is already as concerned about Peak Water as it is about Peak Oil.

Water will become more precious than oil because life depends on it. It will be a source of escalating conflict around the world as various groups attempt to gain control of the available fresh water resources.

And if actual precipitation changes turn out as the models predict, with severe drought inflicting areas containing large human populations, we could see massive human migration to northern regions as water sources able to support these populations diminish in the south.  Based on the map above, all of Southern California, Mexico City, Arizona (ouch),  New Mexico, Texas and Central Americal are likely to be scorched.

This drama will be unfolding rapidly, year over year, in the coming decade.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

Addendum and Updates

Dec2011: Natural weather cycles delivered the worst one-year drought in the historic record to Texas in 2011. Scientists examining tree rings had to go back as far as 1789 to find a worse one.

May2013:  The High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches to the Texas Panhandle, is tapped out.  Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry.  Once an aquifer runs dry, it can take hundreds or thousands of years to replenish.  Basically, its over.

May2013: The worsening drought along the Colorado River will leave Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s two giant reservoirs, at 45% capacity by year’s end, their lowest since 1968. The trend is clearly in the wrong direction.

Oct2013: Pine Flat Reservoir in the Fresno County foothills is currently holding only 16% of its capacity.  San Luis Reservoir, which gets water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is only 22% of its historical average for this time of year.  January through May 2013 were California’s driest in 90 years of record keeping.

Jan2014: After 14 years of drought, the declining water levels of the once-mighty Colorado are threatening to take a big bite out of water resources in the Pacific southwest.  Odds are 50-50 that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed downstream.  Because of the water sharing agreements, Arizona will be very hard hit before California feels the pain.  But that will come.  Unless there is a radical reversal of trending weather patterns, this region will face continuous and increasing pain as fresh water resources diminish.  Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Nevada … by 2020, it will not be pretty.

Jan2014: California declares drought state of emergency.


Jan2014: US Drought Monitor shows the deep drought that has the pacific southwest in its grip.  The situation is dire.  Read: “The Worst Drought in the History of California is Happening Right Now.”  Unfortunately for California and the southwest, dry is the historical norm.  The 20th century was the anomaly – the wettest century in the western half of the United States in 1000 years, and that extremely dry conditions are what we can expect for most areas from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River.  This inevitable crisis was on the radar for a number of years, and has now reached a critical point where the impact is being broadly felt.  And there is no way out.  There is not enough water.  This is an epic crisis.

Feb2014: National Geographic article on ancient droughts, and what history may tell us what’s in store.  Research shows a roughly 50- to 90-year cycle of wet and dry periods over the last few thousand years, with some droughts lasting over a decade. But between 900 and 1400 A.D., during the ‘Medieval Warm Period,’ there were a couple of droughts that were over a century long.  The article is truly frightening.  If the pacific southwest is in a megadrought, the next decade must see a depopulation from that region, as there will not be enough water to sustain the populations we have living there.

Feb2014: California is a desert.  The last 100 years was a wet anomaly.  Prepare for a deep, decades-long drought.  Or a couple of centuries.  Things will get far worse before they get better in, what, 3 or 4 generations?

100 per cent of California is now classified as in “severe drought” and rivers are so low 27 million young migrating salmon are having to be taken to the ocean in trucks.

Feb2014: Brazil rations water.  Water will be a precious resource which nations will fight over in the coming years.  Oil (energy) is bad enough, but you need water to live.

May2014: Arizona town near the Grand Canyon running out of water.

May2014: Southern California is roasting.  Wildfires are raging in San Diego County, with arson suspected.  But here is what is really troubling.  This is the latest from the US drought monitor.  I think it is self explanatory:


July2014: Update from the US drought monitor of California.  This is just incredible.


May2014: Collapsing California aquifers sinking land.

June2014: Lake Mead well on its way to becoming Lake Dead.  Las Vegas likely to become victim of parched earth playing out.  It is, after all, a city built in a desert.  Lake Las Vegas is a surreal poster child for the obscene abuse of precious water resources.  Dry up and die.

Lake Mead July 2014
Lake Mead July 2014

June2014: Lake Mead is about to reach its lowest water level ever.  The dropping water levels, at up to two feet per month, are not only impacting recreation and water supply, but also putting hydro power in jeopardy. With less pressure as the water enters turbines that run the electricity generators, the current capacity is about 1,592 MW — down from the 2,074 MW that’s achievable. This could drop to about 1,120 MW by May 2016 if predictions hold.

June2014: Austin, Texas is on the precipice, with doubts about its survival.  It’s water supply comes from the Highland Lakes reservoirs, which are fed from the Colorado River.  Today, the lakes are at just 38% of their historic levels. It is estimated that if things get no better, the Highland Lake reservoirs are likely to dry up completely by 2016.  In the face of the catastrophic drought facing Texas and other regions of the US, climate science is considered subversive in Texas because it would force a major rethink of land development and resource use.  Gov. Rick Perry considers global warming a scientific hoax.

July2014: Corporations continue to remove groundwater and privatizing water sources even while those water sources are drying up.

Sept2014: The West Without Water — Dr. B. Lynn Ingram, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, points to research that suggest there is a 50-60% chance that the drought enveloping the Pacific Southwest and California may last at least 35 years.  Medieval droughts in the area occasionally lasted decades more than that.  Ironically, every one-two centuries, California has been hit by mega floods. The last one was in 1861-62, and filled the entire Central Valley (350 miles long and 20 miles wide) with water 20 feet deep. This was caused by 43 days of rain from atmospheric river storms.

Oct2014: Latest National Weather Service projection for California is more of the same through January 2015.  Even El Niño is expected to be milder than usual, so no relief there.  Bummer.


Read more here:

Sound engineer humor

One of my favorite sites is, where people, mostly sound engineer types, talk about … gear.  Most of the time, the conversations are about experiences with specific pieces of recording equipment or techniques.  Some can be offbeat and really amusing, like this one — He Is…the Most Interesting Gear Slut!

Basically, assembling all the collected wisdom, knowledge and opinion about gear, talent and luck, and packaging it as hyperbole.  Here are some samples:

  • He mixed the entire Hotel California record in one day on headphones in a room AT Hotel California and then left without checking out
  • Word clocks sync to him
  • He records a whole band perfectly with one mic, in one take, on one track, on tape — and mixes it to surround sound … telepathically
  • He pronounces Moog correctly
  • He’s so forward thinking that the last time he played guitar was tomorrow
  • He can tune a piano and tuna fish
  • He’s won Grammy’s for songs he almost worked on
  • He once wrote a concerto for dog whistle
  • He thought he’d made a mistake once, but he was mistaken
  • He can hear, pan, eq and add effects to the sound of one hand clapping
  • At a lecture, he once uttered, “just do it” and walked off the stage.  Nike tried to sue him for using the catch phrase, but ended up being sued themselves by him as he had already developed that exact shoe style for a song intro that required someone running into a house.  The album was “Nike Runner” and the title song was “Just Do It”.  He did however let Nike keep making the shoe pump that he had invented for the compression effect on that intro. It eliminated sock issues by compressing foot sweat.

… well, *I* think they are really funny. 😎

Gender exhibitionism strikes again

How does one rise above an ocean of talent?  Well, sex sells, we all know that.  On the international stage, gender exhibitionism and gender confusion clearly help bring attention to yourself.  Of course, gender bending is not new among entertainers — Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Boy George, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Annie Lennox, are all or have been gender opportunists, that exploit gender and gender ambiguity as suits them at the time, invariably to shock.

All that to say, the latest in the parade of gender opportunists is the 2014 winner of the Eurovision music content, Conchita Wurst, an intriguing transgender entertainer from Austria.  Here is his/her performance of Rise Like a Phoenix:

The video is well conceived, and the song is an exceptional platform for Conchita. It could easily be the theme song for a James Bond film.

Conchita’s real name is Tom Neuwirth.  I have to say, for me the beard is disconcerting in this context. As it is meant to be, no doubt. However, that is a minor distraction, as the performance, the presentation and the song are exceptional.

Here is a photo of ungendrified Tom:

Along the same gender ambiguity meme, here is a great video by French artist Stromae, and his/her performance of Tous Les Mêmes (All The Same):

The house always wins, but how much?

“I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol, and wild women.  The other half I wasted.” – WC Fields

Here is a visualization prepared by data scientist Seth Kadish.  The chart presents the house odds in gambling in Las Vegas casinos, the percent of wagered money won by the house against the total revenues for the week.  For example, if $100 is wagered on blackjack, the house will take 11%, or $11.  The data comes from reports published by the Nevada Gaming Control Board .

gamblingYou should already know that the house always wins, or more precisely, the odds favor the house.  If it doesn’t, they unilaterally convict you of card counting and ban you from ever playing in the casino again.

The chart is hard to read here, so if you want to see the detail, go to Seth’s site.  The pithy summary is:

  • sports parlay cards are the worst odds for the player, with the house taking nearly 40% of the amount of money wagered (upper left quadrant)
  • 3-card poker is the worst card game, at about 33%
  • roulette is about 18%
  • craps is about 14%
  • blackjack is about 11%
  • your best odds is the $100 slot, at about 4%

This is not to condemn gambling, but it *is* a money pit.  Thanks for playing.