Monday, July 22, 2019

Best Jazz Album of All Time?

I had heard of Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington since high school or earlier. Our band director, Jack Dahlinger, went out of his way to educate through playing the greats and inviting them to perform in our civic auditorium in Alexandria, Va. I heard Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington and various other players in this venue. The Duke also is remembered through the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Duke Ellington Bridge in Washington, DC, locations I was aware of by virtue of travel in this city.

But in my post-high school listening, I had not spent quality time with the Duke's recordings. Obviously, "Take the A Train," and perhaps a few others. That all changed recently, when my preferred digital download service HDTracks featured a 1963 collection called "Take the A Train," with a high quality reproduction that was impressively modern in its sound. Now I was on the hunt for other earphone friendly recordings and the search spread to online reseller Discogs.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra performed at the American Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island in July, 1956. This performance is concurrently famous, infamous and incredibly restored. Famous because of the musicianship and performances; infamous because of the deception foisted on the public for many years that the released recording was of "live" performances; and incredibly restored after a Voice of America recording was used to piece together a complete version of the live event. The Duke had felt that the performance was not up to snuff and brought the group back into the studio to recreate the music. This re-creation was sold on vinyl for many years until the VoA tapes were found and used to digitally stitch together a stereo rendition of the "live" performance: Columbia/Legacy 88697492052 Ellington at Newport 1956 (Complete).

Ellington at Newport marked a significant upturn in the group's popularity. If you listen to the recording it will be immediately apparent why. Observers reported that a near riot occurred during moments of the festival, which may have simply been overjoyed listeners. This career upswing (heh) lasted for several decades. Happy listening!

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Songs Remain the Same Only Better

Over the last couple of years I converted my compact disc collection to digital files. This allows me to enjoy the music in whatever venue I happen to occupy: car, living room, basement lair (aka the "country bunker"), MARC train, interplanetary shuttle or molecular transport. No need to lug the discs and player with me and through the magic of miniaturization I simply plug a AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC (digital-analog converter) into the lightning connector on an iPad. Said iPad reads the files from a terabyte-sized storage device and to the headphones via the DAC which happens to include a headphone amp.

Apple has presented a bit of a hurdle in connecting high capacity storage to their portable devices. You cannot just plug something in. In this case a tiny RAVPower FileHub connected to a 1TB external storage device is wirelessly sending files via a built-in wi-fi. Does one terabyte seem like overkill? Au contraire, so far my music collection consumes over 250GB. To date this does not include video but someday ...

Once down the path of hosting a file-based music collection, purely digital distribution attracted my oft fleeting attention. These days my favorite purveyor is HDTracks who has become one of if not the largest seller of digital music files. My travel system is optimized for 24 bit/96kHz and the remastered version of the Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club" album presents an incredibly clear sound at this bit depth and resolution. At this point let me say that not all recordings will present in an improved fashion in uncompressed format(s). Something that was heavily manipulated, compressed during recording, mixing or mastering, or otherwise adulterated may not offer a perceptible sonic improvement at 24 bit/96kHz (or for that matter anything over the lowly CD's 16 bit/44.1kHz) and occasionally one may even prefer the MP3 rip. YMMV but modern recordings and remasters from quality source material including HDTracks cofounder David Chesky's Binaural+ Series do quite well in the upper stratosphere of lossless file containment.

Of course after I had "ripped" all the discs to digital files using MP3 encoding, the benefits of a lossless format became obvious as my audio playback chain improved. Nothing wrong with MP3 when listening in a noisy environment but with KEF headphones running through the Dragonfly, baby wants, even needs lossless compression. So a second pass was made of digitizing the CDs using the dBPoweramp CD Ripper and saving to the Apple ALAC file format. In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished department, I now wish I had used the open-source FLAC format but hey, who's to say I won't re-re-rip all those disc or simply convert from ALAC to FLAC using the dBPoweramp Music Converter?

[Quality Update: added an Audioquest "Jitterbug" USB data & power noise filter which purports to "reduce the noise and ringing that plague both the data and power lines of USB ports." I like the sound but have not yet done extensive A/B tests. Stay tuned ...].

[Added a 2nd Jitterbug to the portable system so now they are on the file store and DAC. Subtle improvements but definitely there for at least some of the recordings I listen to. Sampled the remastered Parton/Harris/Ronstadt "Trio II" recording and Tom Cunningham Orchestra "Swingin' and Singin'" to positive effect. The bass is more open, highs are clearer and separation between multiple vocalists and instruments is enhanced.]

[Android Phone Update -- added USB Audio Player PRO to the Moto G6. This is now working with the Dragonfly Red and micro-SD storage (200GB) and boosts audio levels by correctly sensing the Dragonfly volume levels. A test sending to the car system via bluetooth was also successful.]

Friday, October 19, 2018

Ann and Linda

Talking about the passing of Tom Feher, a member of the Left Banke, led to my revisiting Linda Ronstadt's cover of "Walk Away Renee," a hit in 1966 for the Left Banke. She performed this as a duet with Ann Savoy (who I was not familiar with) on her final album, "Adieu False Heart" (2006). Turns out that Ann is well known as a cajun music performer, author, photographer, producer, artist, mother of other musicians, etc. who has had several performing groups with family members.

Ann and Linda are articulate on the subject of music and musical families that perform, as this collaboration illustrates. It surprised me to realize how many well-known musicians are related and the impact it can have on their sound. This audio recording was a "pilot" if you will for a series that was not continued.

https://soundcloud.com/ben-manilla-productions/duet-musical-families-segment-one?in=ben-manilla-productions/sets/duet&utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=email


Friday, September 7, 2018

Rockwool Responds to E-Mail Questions

When I attended the open house on August 25, 2018, Rockwool handed out cards with an e-mail address where they would answer questions. I saw a repost on the Blue Ridge Acres Nextdoor social media site of a critique that appeared on the CCARWV page of Facebook. I am not particularly conversant with molecular biology so I forwarded the comments to the Rockwool folks for their analysis. Here is that thread, with the Rockwool answer at the top and the original e-mail sent to Rockwool below:

"Chip,

We would not have selected a site in the vicinity of schools if we thought there would be any deleterious health effects on the children. Our Milton plant has operated for years with 7 schools within a 1-mi radius without any complaints of health effects.

Mr. Mansfield's reasoning below conflicts with the EPA determination that the MACT emissions limits provide "ample margin of safety to protect the public health." Sierra Club was party to this rulemaking in 2015, and accepted the new limits at that time.

Mr. Mansfield's calculations are missing one critically important factor: dispersion. We have modeled air dispersion, and calculated the concentrations in the air of the emitted substances. This is the standard used by bodies such as EPA and WV DEP to determine levels of acceptable risk for humans. 

ROCKWOOL has 45 manufacturing facilities around the world and has been in operation for 80 years, and no one has ever experienced the type of scenario Mr. Mansfield describes.

Best regards,

ROCKWOOL Ranson Team"

and the original e-mail sent to Ransonquestions@rockwool.com:

"Hello -- have you folks done a rebuttal to this kind of assertion (copied below)? I attended the Open House on August 25 and was generally impressed with the Rockwool people and answers provided. There has been a lot of concern generated by the VOC claims (sample listed below). I also wonder why Rockwool selected a site with a school on the perimeter of the property (apparently Rockwool has an internal policy against this)  -- did the county offer a plan for relocating the school?

Anyway, if you have a discussion of the issues listed below, that would be helpful.

Thanks,
Chip Gallo
Harpers, Ferry, WV

[begin quote from Facebook CCAR group]

Sorry if this is too technical for some. But, chemists have a tendency to understand chemicals. And some of us try to teach what we know.
The three VOC's coming out of the Rockwool stack are 
Methanol
Phenol
Formaldehyde
Chemists use a grouping variable called a MOLE which means "a huge previously decided upon number". Like eggs - we don't buy or sell eggs by the number of eggs. We buy and sell eggs by the "DOZEN".
Chemists use MOLE as farmers and stores use DOZEN. It's a predefined number of 12 eggs. MOLE is "a huge previously decided upon number".
Same Same MOLE is like DOZEN.
By WEIGHT, Rockwool is allowed about 
Methanol 1/3 + (a little more than 1/3)
Phenol 1/3
Formaldehyde a little less than 1/3
They come out of the stack in relatively equal % by weight. But, each molecule's weight is very different.
Yes, molecules do have a weight. It's a tiny amount, but a tiny amount multiplied by a "huge previously decided upon number", a MOLE is not so tiny. 
Methanol is light
Phenol is heavier (3x heavier actually) 
Formaldehyde is light (about the same as Methanol)
So, since Methanol is light and formaldehyde is light and Phenol is heavy, chemists find it useful to actually count the NUMBER OF MOLECULES of each.
It's not the weight that kills you, it's the molecule. So, presenting the allowable pollution by tons is misleading.
So, remember that the weight breakdown was roughly 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 ? Well, the breakdown is different when you count the actual number of molecules. We call that the MOLAR % composition (relative numbers of molecules not their weight).
The MOLAR % Composition looks like this. 
Methanol 50%
Phenol 16%
Formaldehyde 34%
That means, "When we count all of the molecules coming out of the stack based upon what the WVDEP allowed,
50% of the number of molecules are Methanol
16% of the number of molecules are Phenol
34% of the number of molecules are Formaldehyde.
So, here's what we can say:
-All three of these molecules have weight. As they come out of the stack, and are picked up by the wind, the heavier ones will fall out first because gravity still works on chemicals.
-PHENOL will be deposited closer to the stack than Methanol or formaldehyde because Phenol is the heaviest (three times heavier).
-Next will be Methanol and Formaldehyde, but there will be almost twice as many Methanol molecules as Formaldehyde molecules (50% : 34%). That's almost 2:1 because the Phenol has already dropped out (heavy drops first).
We know that 0.026202 lbs of Methanol will kill one person.
Rockwool is allowed 208,000 lbs/year.
That's enough to kill 7,938,325 people each year.
But, Rockwool says the limits are not what they will be polluting. Rockwool says they will be at about 40% of that.
Ok, so we can say that Rockwool says they'll be putting enough Methanol in the air in Jefferson county every year to kill 3,175,330 people.
But, Rockwool also says, it will break down quickly in the sunlight and the soil. They say that about Phenol and formaldehyde, too.
If the Methanol breaks down to a mere 1.7% of its original concentration, there is still enough to kill every one of the residents of Jefferson County.
But, that's not fair, either. It's true, but not fair. That's because the Methanol will not build up, it will break down. So, in this case, TIME MATTERS.
On any one day, Rockwool plans to pollute 40% of 1/365th (365 days/year) of the allowed amount of Methanol.
That means that realistically, the plant will only emit enough Methanol to kill 15% of our population ... every day.
And some will say that's alarmist and maybe it is.
But, if that stuff doesn't break down more than 99.989%
there will be enough left over to kill one person per day.
But, that's not fair, either. Because it won't all be in one place - it will be distributed down wind.
So, I hope you learned
1) It's not about the pounds. It's about the number of molecules. Because it's the molecules that are toxic, not the WEIGHT of the molecules.
2) A lot of things have to go in our favor EVERY DAY in order for animals and plants to not die from this. EVERY DAY.
3) The chances are good that there is a low PROBABILITY of death from Methanol coming out of the stack.
But, here's the thing ... it was ZERO before Rockwool came."
-Jay L. Mansfield
CCAR"
Photo by Chip Gallo

[end]




Monday, August 27, 2018

Dissecting the Campaign Against Rockwool in WV

So I had my "Toxic Rockwool" t-shirt and was researching the alarming claims against the manufacturing facility planned for the Jefferson Orchards location near North Jefferson Elementary School on old Rt. 9. I had seen the wind dispersion charts predicting dispersion of deadly byproducts and read about the 500,000 gallons per day of water needed for manufacturing. How could the governor of West Virginia, the mayor of Ranson, the County Commission do this terrible thing to the children?

Turns out that Jefferson Orchards owners had some remediation to do on their property before it was suitable for industrial manufacturing. See this West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection web site notice: https://dep.wv.gov/news/Pages/Jefferson-Orchards,-Inc.-Submits-Voluntary-Remediation-Program-Application.aspx. Wondering if the new use of the property will be any better ... and why I hadn't seen any "Toxic Jefferson Orchards" t-shirts. (Note: the remediation plan has now been included in the Rockwool Voluntary Remediation Program site.)

Based on the planning, oversight, reporting and technology applied to the Rockwool plant, it would appear to be a safer and more controlled use of the land. See the WVDEP Rockwool web page, in particular the DEP response to a July 2, 2018 Sierra Club letter on air quality.

This assertion of safer use is informed by Rockwool's water management as well. Plant design uses Jefferson Utility water (up to 125,000 gallons per day), captured rain water, holding ponds, solid materials recycling with less than typical manufacturing consumption of water. Water released back to the Charles Town Wastewater Treatment Plant will be pre-treated and at a rate of less than 20,000 gallons per day. This use will be supported by the Ranson Pipeline extension (see page 34 of the Charles Town Utility Board 2018 Wastewater Strategic Plan).



A major sticking point for this project is its proximity to schools in the area. If one has faith in the WV Department of Environmental Protection and federal EPA, permitted users will not endanger humans. Rockwool has followed the rules so far and even added environmental monitoring and plant remediations that are not required by law. In a perfect world there would be no schools, nursing homes or daycare centers near industrial users (and this appears to be corporate policy for Rockwool as well). Unfortunately, this is presently not the case and many of the protestors I encountered at the August 25 open house were accompanied by their children. I have to wonder if the circa 1971 North Jefferson Elementary school in particular is slated for modernization at a new location further from the plant. Otherwise Rockwool is in violation of their own policy, which if followed would have minimized the objection.

Not Many Kids At the Open House

Another tact which apparently is already being followed by the protest movement is to take the issue up with WV DEP and work to have the permitting requirements and monitoring strengthened. This kind of negotiated solution would benefit everyone living, studying or working near industrial zones in West Virginia.

Monday, August 20, 2018

New (Used) Camera Time

The first time I purchased a DSLR, it was the Canon 20D (2005). That was intended to shoot ice skating and it served pretty well for that purpose. I wanted to update but not splurge, so I researched cameras which would have presence in the "previously owned" market and offer system options such as battery pack, specialty flashes, etc. My first serious film camera was an Olympus OM-1 which was purchased while I lived on Okinawa (1976-77 USAF tour). Later I found an OM-2 on closeout at a retail store. Olympus impressed with their light-weight bodies, thoughtful user interface and system approach so for this 2018 acquisition I focused on their digital offerings.

B & H Photo in NYC had a used Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk1 (2013 model) that seemed to fit the bill. Their rating system and return policy is decent so I pulled the trigger and stuck one of my Rokinon video camera prime lenses on it this past weekend. These are Micro Four Thirds system lenses and I have 3, but all are fully manual and hefty to lug around. You have to set aperture and pull focus by hand. No biggie but the Olympus body is smart enough to give tons of control over auto focus, exposure, etc.

Check back as I update this Flickr album with (hopefully) more sophisticated shots. Due to the many features of this camera, my plan is to work through a tutorial as time permits.

Olympus OM-D Test Shots

[Update] Album shot with new (used) 12-40mm lens:

Train Gang

Friday, June 8, 2018

Long Day's Journey into 4K UHD Blu-ray

Growing up in the 1950's, we didn't watch films on television very often. In fact, I remember smallish black-and-white TV in the early '60s as a place for wrestling, news and series shows. The practice was for local stations to have a 16 mm film chain (played the movie image into a TV camera) which did not result in great image quality. Then there were 'scope or other wide-screen formats that sorta "squished" the actors into an "Academy ratio" rather than displaying at the correct aspect ratio.

For the true movie experience it was off to a local movie theater or drive-in. Even there we were not necessarily viewing a pristine, properly projected image and the sound was a huge variable as well. So-called "road shows" would come along for special films that were exhibited in an already dwindling number of cinema showcases. "Fantasia," "The Sound of Music," "The Robe." Intermissions, reserved seats, 4-channel sound. These were a hint of what was to come and what was technically possible given enough budget.

Short History of Home Media Distribution Formats (viewing experience dependent on quality of source materials, restoration, mastering and various other factors)

  1. 16 mm film (rich peeps, Hollywood types; adult film buffs)
  2. 8 mm film (film aficionados; cheapo adult film buffs)
  3. B&W TV
  4. Color TV
  5. VHS tape/beta (widescreen prints occasionally available; Dolby sound introduced)
  6. LaserDisc (again aficionados; limited Original Aspect Ration aka OAR; Dolby and Dolby Surround sound)
  7. DVD (mix of OAR, pan-and-scan; audio varied)
  8. Online streaming begins (dependent on broadband internet availability; frequent tampering with aspect ratio to zoom in or otherwise fill the screen)
  9. Blu-ray (mostly OAR, best sound to date based on distributor standards)
  10. 4K UHD (best visual and sound experience to date, several theater quality sound standards)

I skipped 8 mm video as it wasn't taken seriously in the U.S. market as a distribution medium. RCA did have a disc-based system (CED) but it disappeared more quickly than Circuit City DIVX. Everything #5 and later were opportunities for people to purchase their favorite movies over and over in hopes of reaching some nirvana of viewing pleasure. 3-D in several formats crept in and seems to be creeping out again as TV manufacturers like Samsung discontinue it in recent models. Never felt a real affinity for 3-D in the home but some people like it (looking at YOU James Cameron!).

Wrapping this up for now, but one comment on the latest sound innovation(s) for film in the home -- Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X. Depending on how they are used by filmmakers and associated sound designers, these up the game dramatically in your listening space. Dogs will think there really are aliens crawling around outside the house. Get someone to help you hang the height speakers and you are good to go.