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Archive for February, 2007

Don Ellis – Invincible

Posted by bitguru on February 27, 2007

In the mid-80s I made a couple mix tapes of my favorite songs. I still occasionally listen to them today. One of my selections was Invincible, by Don Ellis. The album containing it, “Soaring” from 1973, has never been released on CD. I own a copy on vinyl, but a guy named Lionel Ballet has made it available as part of his Don Ellis site.

The tune is basically a solo vehicle for Vince Denham on alto saxophone, who I otherwise don’t know anything about. The ensemble is a big band augmented with a string quartet, french horn, tuba, and extra rhythm.

[edit: Hmm, the embedded mp3 widget thing doesn’t seem to be working. Listen to the tune by clicking here, if your browser is set up for it. Or save the file and listen to it from outside your browser.]

Here are my thoughts as you listen along via the embedded mp3 widget thing.

Soloist plays the theme at ballad tempo, accompanied by string quartet.
Soloist restates theme, but the string accompaniment is more complex. The tempo is steadier, but still rubato.
String quartet plays the theme pizzicato at a brisk tempo while the soloist noodles subtone sixteenths. It’s almost flight-of-the-bumblebee-esque. It’s not until here that it becomes apparent that the tune is in 7.
Sax section soli. It lasts only 20 seconds, but it’s glorious. The bari is really honking along with the lead alto. This is my favorite part of the piece.
Brass section takes the theme, softly, with some nice organ fills. This is the only time the brass get to do anything besides section hits and whole notes. Sometimes the clam in the trumpet bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t.
This section builds tension by diatonically ascending the F minor scale, one step every two measures. It’s asking a lot of the soloist to keep our attention here while nothing else happens for an entire minute, and he doesn’t completely succeed. I wonder if it might have been better to run through the scale only once instead of twice.
Reaching the top of the scale, the accompaniment now plays the same two-bar figure over and over. To continue building tension through to the cadenza, the soloist delves into the altissimo and expels wild growling lines. I’m not a huge fan of these techniques, but they are effective here.
This is the climax of the piece and the beginning of the unaccompanied cadenza. I like how the soloist uses the entire range of the horn. He does a good job making the transition from wild ferment to calm restraint.
Reprise of the beginning, with only soloist and strings, but with more of an 8+7 feel.
The strings have been laying down a heavy F minor feel, so it’s a delightful surprise when the soloist ends the tune with an embellished F major 7th arpeggio. The final note in the bass is a nice touch.

It’s a nice tune, eh?


Posted in Recordings, Saxophone | 10 Comments »

2008 EPA MPG estimates

Posted by bitguru on February 23, 2007

The method for determining the EPA MPG estimates has changed. The old method wasn’t especially realistic because they modelled driving in fair weather, without air conditioning, at sub-interstate speeds. The new method will be reflected on vehicle stickers starting with the 2008 model year. But if you’re interested in how your current car would be rated under the new methodology, go ahead and take a look.

I remember when the EPA rated the 2004 Prius at 60 MPG for city driving, Toyota petitioned to be allowed to advertise a lower, more realistic number. The petition was denied, and some buyers were unhappy when the vehicle didn’t meet their inflated expectations. With the newer method, it would have been rated at 48 MPG city.

numbers (combined//city/highway) for my last few cars:

  • 2004 Toyota Prius: 55//60/51 old, 46//48/45 new (16%//20%/12% lower)
  • 2001 Toyota Prius: 48//52/45 old, 41//42/41 new (15%//19%/9% lower)
  • 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser: 22//19/25 old, 20//17/23 new (9%//12%/8% lower)
  • 1998 Honda Civic LX: 32//29/36 old, 28//25/33 new (13%//14%/8% lower)

I’m not sure I buy the 41 MPG estimate for the 2001 Prius. I average about 46 MPG on the 2001 Prius (and also on the 2004) unless the weather is frigid. That’s driving normally. If I put in a lot of effort I can push it above 50 MPG, but I never keep it up for long.

Posted in Consumer | 1 Comment »

U.S. $1 Coins

Posted by bitguru on February 22, 2007

I got my hands on a few of the new presidential $1 coins today. I hope they are more successful than its predecessors have been, but I don’t see it happening.

I think it is dumb that one must whip out bills to pay for inexpensive things such as a magazine or the daily Starbucks fix. That makes me one of only a handful of U.S. citizens who think the dollar coin is a good idea, but more on that later. First let’s take a look at the coin.

I like it. I’m not sure we needed George Washington’s head on another coin, but that will change in three months. I don’t think “E Pluribus Unum” and “In God We Trust” really belong on coins, and placing these (along with the year and mint mark) onto the edge of the coin leaves the faces of the coin pleasantly uncrowded. Reducing ONE DOLLAR to $1 and the omitting LIBERTY contribute to this also. Compare with the heads side of the statehood quarters, which was intentionally crowded to allow some freedom in the tails designs.

The lettering on the edge is harder to read than I had expected, and I suspect the way the Statue of Liberty twice overhangs the concentric circle may soon become dated. I’m not wild about the designer’s monogram (“JFM” for Joseph Menna) in Washington’s neck, but perhaps I just haven’t noticed this in other coins. Overall though, the design is a winner.

dollar coin comparison
from left to right: presidential dollar heads, presidential dollar tails, Sacagawea dollar, Anthony dollar, quarter, coin edges (from bottom to top: Sacagawea, presidential, Anthony, another Sacagawea, quarter). Click to enlarge, and click again if using Firefox.

I am not a fan of the Anthony dollar. The inscribed hendecagon is cool but the coin looks too much like a quarter, especially from the edge. Research has shown that any society can learn easily to distinguish any two coins within a generation, and in fact I don’t have too much trouble telling them apart, but alas many cashiers do.

The Sacagawea dollar, with its brass color and smooth edge, is easily distinguishable from a quarter even though it is the same size and weight as the Anthony. I like the coin and try to keep a few in my pocket. The problem is that after the initial introduction they became difficult to obtain. The only way I could get them from my bank was to order a $1000 box of mixed rolls of Sacagawea and Anthony coins.

box of 1000 mixed Sacagawea and Anthony dollar coins

Now how many people (besides me, and I went in 50/50 with my father) are going to be willing to do that? That’s a lot of cash to outlay, and almost a third of the coins will be of the insufferable Anthony variety. It may not have done any better on its own, but by making the Sacagawea dollar only available mixed with the unsuccessful Anthony, the U.S. Mint bound their fates together.

It seems that this will be less of problem for the new dollar coins. The Fed will allow banks to order unmixed coins for a six-week period for each presidential design. Since new designs will arrive every three months, they should be at least 50% available through 2016.

Will they catch on with the general public? The experts say not unless the paper dollar bill is retired, which would be an extremely unpopular move. In some ways, it’s too late for the dollar coin. Vending machines now have bill receivers, toll roads now have E-ZPass, casino slot machines now use dollar slugs, and mass-transit systems now use stored-value cards, as do places like Kinko’s.

Last week the New York Times reported that the U.S. dollar bill has the lowest buying power of any circulating bill in the world. I remember that not too long ago Iraqis were buying groceries with wheelbarrows of bills, so perhaps it’s not true, but the lowest bill in most countries is worth between $4 and $8. That sounds about right to me.

[Now that the NYT has changed its archive policy I can see that the actual article says, “The American dollar is now one of the smallest-value banknotes remaining in circulation in the world.” (emphasis added) I recommend the article.]

Posted in Consumer | 5 Comments »