Monday, October 18, 2010

Red Sled Turns Ten

We ordered this car, optioned just the way we wanted, on our 18th wedding anniversary. It was built Halloween day 2000, and we picked it up the day before Thanksgiving.
 On Halloween, it turns 10 years old. It will have just 39K miles at that time, and has never been driven on a rainy day. Yes, it has led a pampered life.
 We ordered the magnetic red exterior with the light gray leather interior, which is a very rare combination (almost all mag reds have tan or black interiors). Three years later when the 50th anniv Corvette came out, it featured the red/gray combination. We like to think an exec was walking through the factory the day ours was built and thought "hmmmmm...."
In any case, we have been delighted with the car and have no plans to part with it ever.
Long may you run.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Starting From Scratch: Home Audio System

It is time for me to build a completely new home audio system. There really is no 'upgrade' about it, as over time my previous audio system, purchased in 1979, has been dismantled. Yes you read right, 1979.

My first year in college, I absolutely had to have a high quality audio system. So I survived on Mac & Cheese for a semester and went out and bought a very nice Yamaha receiver and speakers, as well as a cassette deck and phonograph. This cost me quite a bit of money, but did indeed deliver a high quality sound.

At the time, Yamaha receivers in my area were not sold through electronics stores, they were sold through high end audio stores (remember those?). I felt a little out of my element there, since I was basically buying something at the low end of what the store sold, but I wouldn't have felt quite at home at an electronics store either. I ride the fence, apparently.

The 1979 Yamaha system was supposed to be my introductory system, to be upgraded regularly throughout the years. Well, that never happened.

I got married, had kids. You know, life happened and priorities changed. I had no time to listen to music anyway. So the 79 Yamaha components were moved from the living room to the bedroom (out of the reach of little hands) and the years eventually took their toll on the speakers. By the 1990s, the system was of limited usefulness. So one by one, the components were sold at garage sales with the receiver being sold in the last 3 years. My home audio system now consists of a boom box and a laptop with $100 speakers. Yeesh. That's embarrassing to say.

But it wasn't just my change in priorities that fueled this precipitous drop in equipment. No, the audio industry was changing. I can remember being frustrated with the scratchiness of records and the hissiness of cassettes. As with many fans of high-end audio (HEA), I was thrilled with the advent of CDs, the world's first move into digital music. All the scratches, the hisses, gone!! I began converting my collection to CDs in the 1990s.

And that is where I've been stuck for the last decade or more. CDs, boom box, and laptop.

Part of the reason is that the world then moved from CDs to MP3s, and I was not happy. The sound quality of MP3s is often quite poor, and I had no desire to take a step backwards. Apparently a lot of people felt the same way, as there are many of us that refused to make the jump (though not many of those refusing are from the under 30 crowd) to MP3s.

In my mind, MP3s and portable music players almost killed the high end audio market. HEA stores closed - I don't even know where one exists in San Diego anymore, while there used to be one 5 miles from my house as late as 1995.

But times they are a'changing again. Disk space has become so cheap that I can easily by a 2 TB hard drive for music storage. This would easily allow me to store up to 20,000 songs (about 2000 CDs worth) digitally, in a high-quality lossless format that far, far exceeds MP3 quality. Now we're talking!

Many of us psuedo audio freaks are coming out of hibernation and taking note.

So I'm in the midst of researching what my new system will look like, what the state-of-the-art is right now, and how much this is all going to cost me. I'm liking what I'm seeing.

Here's what I know so far: I want very high quality sound reproduction for my listening room. This will involve playing a lossless format (i.e., no compression) such as WAV or FLAC through a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) able to handle 24 bits per second, 192 kHz and sending the output to high quality speakers.

The music stored on disk should also be capable of going into our cars, so it needs to be downloadable to some sort of portable device. MP3 quality may be okay for the car environment, since road noise, engine noise, city noise, and wind noise are all interfering with the ability to hear pure music anyway.

I also want to really, really avoid as much as possible being forced into Vendor Lock. This is where the music is stored in a proprietary format and basically forces future upgrades to be from the same vendor. Since the HEA industry is just now coming back alive, I think there will be a lot of turbulence in the next decade and companies will come and go. I don't want to be locked into any particular vendor.

So here is my current prototype design. The music is stored in a NAS where I have full control of formats, access, etc. I'm okay with transferring it to a more proprietary format on it's way to the speakers, but I want full control of my library.

The research has just started on this topic (none of the components shown are written in stone, all are subject to change), so please drop me a note with any ideas you have for improving the architecture of this music system.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hollywood: London West Hotel

 We realized not long ago that we've lived in Southern California for over 2 decades, and not once have we explored the LA area! That's an amazing thought, given that Hollywood / Beverly Hills is about 100 miles away. So we picked a weekend and spent two nights at the London West Hollywood, a hotel half a block off of Sunset Strip.
 Let me set the picture of our arrival. On a Friday morning, we left our house not long after dawn and made what turned out to be a 3 hour journey (with traffic) to the Bronson Sunset studios. That is where they film People's Court, Judge Judy, and Let's Make a Deal (LMAD). We had tickets to LMAD and spent from 10 AM to 3 PM in the hands of the LMAD staff. We will be on the center aisle on episode 2066 which airs Dec 22. Nikki wore a devils costume, I wore just a weird combination of "stuff". We were exhausted when we left LMAD so we made a beeline to check in. Still in costume. We pull into the valet parking line (that's all LWH has) alongside the Jags, Rolls, and Bentlys in our little rented Chevy. And out walks Nikki, high heels, short devils costume, horns and pitchfork. We shocked the upper class. The lady behind the counter, giggling, asked us where we had been. I told her. A big smile came across her face and she said it sounded fun! So up to the room we go.
 The door in the rear left of this photo is the front door. I had reserved a corner suite. The room was very large, but was not divided up so the living area and bedroom were one large room. Believe it or not, it worked very well.
 Turning 180 degrees, this is the other half of the room. A tic-tac-toe board set up and waiting. On the second day here as we returned to the hotel, I noticed a Hollywood tour bus stopped out front, with the tourists snapping photos of our hotel like crazy. So I started a wild Google search to find out why.
 The sofa that was quite comfy. The results of my search? The hotel used to be called the Bel Age until it was sold and renamed in 2008. The Bel Age was originally decorated in the 1980s and was the home of one Vince Neil (singer from Motley Crue) for awhile as he sorted out his life. His car collection resided downstairs. But I don't think that is why the tour guide stopped here. I also found out that this was the hotel featured on several episodes of Beverly Hills 90210. Specifically, Dylan lived here during the first season. And in the third season, this was the hotel where Brenda catches Dylan in the pool with Kelly. (the rooftop pool is spectacular, btw). Apparently, in another episode this is the hotel where they caught Kelly's mom having an affair. (I have no idea who those characters are, as I've never seen 90210. Just repeating what I read online)
 Luggage was stacked behind the bed, just in front of the door. Note the devil's fork sticking out of the bag.
 Now, let's go into the bathroom (door on the right).
 Huge shower with two shower heads. Very nice.
 I got drenched one morning as I turned on the shower and the cleaning woman had left the wand on, and pointing right out of the shower! It actually soaked the whole bathroom.
 A very deep tub with a wild tile pattern.
 The sink area.
 If one follows the wall with the bathroom door further to the right, there are closet doors and a great view of the Sunset Strip area.
 Another view out the same window - Sunset Strip is where the tall brownish building is.
We were lucky - the day was quite clear.

 Going to the southern end of the room close to the tic-tac-toe board, this is the other view from the room. The row of tall buildings in the distance is Wilshire Blvd, I believe.
 This is Garbanzo, the mascot of the LWH. He greets visitors every Friday from 3 to 6. I bet he smiled at the devil costume, too.
 But these photos were taken at 6 PM when Garbanzo was going home. taxEEE!
And away he goes. His keeper told us he was going to a movie premier. lol. Overall, a nice hotel in a great location. We'll stay there again!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hollywood: Sunset Blvd

 Each evening, we ventured out from our hotel to Sunset Blvd, which was half a block north - a very easy walk. Here is Nikki on the sidewalk of San Vicente Blvd, within a yard of our hotel property which is just behind us at this point.
 Whisky A-Go-Go is located at the corner of San Vicente and Sunset, and we considered going in both Friday and Saturday nights. As it was, we found something a lot more fun to do each night so we never made it in.
 These banners were all along Sunset Blvd: "Sunset Strip and Jack Daniels - as Rock and Roll as a backbeat". Funny, until that moment I had never even thought of Rock, let alone Jack, in any way related to Sunset Strip. I would bet not many people in the world do relate those items.
 A very appealing billboard along Sunset. It reminded me of The Cars and their album covers.
 This is a curve in Sunset just as dusk was falling. It looked much better in person than is captured in this photo. One thing that stuck out to us along Sunset was that most of the building were wrapped in advertisements, something we don't see often in San Diego. The tallest building in this photo is wrapped.
 This is the Viper Room owned by Johnny Depp until 2003, also on Sunset. The back of the Viper Room is up against our hotel. This is where River Phoenix died of an overdose on Halloween morning 1993. Christina Applegate was there and witnessed his death. We considered going in here too, but when we passed during the evening there was always Punk Rock eminating - something we've never really liked. An all-black bike with a slick in the back was always at the curb outside the door when we went by.
 We tried several of the restaurants along Sunset, but did not really find anything that stood out. The meals were average. Sorry, we have no recommendations for you - we'll try again next time. This restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived, but within 20 minutes every chair was taken.
 Analyzing the menu at the same restaurant.
Sunset after dark. My camera struggled with the lack of light, thus the blurriness. Sorry I didn't take more photos of the area. We plan on going back and I'll try to take more next time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Getty Villa: a glimpse of downstairs

 The Getty Villa is not well known even by LA locals, we found out. We chatted with a few people about our plans for the weekend and mentioned we were going to the Getty Villa - they gave us a puzzled look. "You mean the Getty Museum?". No, we don't.
 The Getty Villa is a recreation of a Roman villa that was covered by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. The original Roman villa, called Villa dei Papiri, is located on the edge of Herculaneum located just south of Naples on the Mediterranean Sea. We didn't get to tour it while we were in Herculaneum as it was closed. Upon entering the Getty Villa, one can see how close it is to the Pacific Ocean (top photo) which makes for a very pleasant drive to get there. The second photo is just outside the museum building which can be seen on the right edge of the photo.
 Entering the building, one encounters a courtyard identical to what was very common in that era.
 It even included the open roof that allowed for the collection of water.
 Now on to some of the exhibits on the first floor...

 In the center of the museum was this courtyard. We recommend seeing the Getty Villa early in the day (you must buy tickets in advance) as it is quiet and not very busy. We arrived at 10 AM and left about 1:30, and it was quite busy by 1.
 Here's Nikki coming up with a game plan for seeing everything. Don't worry, we are not going to show you very much at all of the museum. There are plenty - and I mean plenty - of excellent exhibits that we won't show you.

 A Greek marble statue from 150 BC called "Head of Athena".
 Greek mixing vessels made in Athens about 390 BC.
 A Roman marble statue called "Venus Genetrix" from 200 AD.

 This fellow, called "Youth as a Lamp Bearer", is a Roman statue made of copper, bronze and glass and was found in Pompei. It was probably made around 20 AD. Statues are on the walls to the left and right, and they are excellent. You'll have to discover those on your trip.
 This statue was found in the House of Ephebe, the residence of Publius Cornelius Tegete.
 Here is a closeup of the tag for this statue, including a photo of how it was found during excavation.
 Other objects nearby: a Greek bronze Griffen head from about 650 BC.
 A bronze winged feline made in Tartessos, Spain around 700-550 BC.

 I found the object in the lower right very interesting. It is an Orphic Prayer Sheet made of gold around 350 BC. Click on the photo and look at it up close.
 I've never been that interested in the Trojan War for some reason (or wars in general, for that matter), but with my first grandson being named Troy, my interest in the region around the city of Troy and the events of that era has increased.
 These Greek objects from about 500 BC contain scenes from the Trojan War. For some reason, scenes depicting the Trojan Horse are rare.
 Homer's story "The Odyssey" tells of the Greek hero Odysseus's 10 year trip from Troy back to Ithaca, his island home.
 A map where the path to Troy is well-worn by countless fingers tracing the dotted line.
 And that completes a tour showing just a few of the objects downstairs.
There is so much we didn't show you - intentionally. We want you to discover them on your own. Now let's go upstairs...