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a guru of bits, or just a bit player?

Archive for April, 2007

USPS 1st class rates going up

Posted by bitguru on April 28, 2007

I remember hearing on the radio about a year ago that the U.S. Post Office had made an accounting mistake, that they had way more money then they thought they had, and therefore postal rates weren’t going to go up for a while. That must have been a hallucination because (1) I’m unable to find any corroboration on the net, and (2) rates are going up in two weeks.

The way they are increasing their rates is unusual this time around. They are actually lowering the “each additional ounce” rate from 24¢ to 17¢, but they are steeply raising the first-ounce rate for non-letter first class mail. Letter rates are increasing only 2¢, to 41¢ from 39¢, but they are restricting what counts as a letter. If it exceeds 6⅛ inches in both dimensions, exceeds a quarter inch in thickness, or weights more than 3.5 ounces it is considered a “flat.” The first ounce for flats will be 80¢. Flats that are more than 1¼ inches thick are considered “parcels,” which are increasing to $1.13 for the first ounce.

Evidently, the steeper increase for flats and parcels vs. letters is more in line with USPS’s actual costs for handling them. If so, I guess I have no objections. It makes for some interesting situations, though. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in Consumer | 2 Comments »

So Long, Baby Ruth

Posted by bitguru on April 22, 2007

I was pondering the vending machine yesterday and the Baby Ruth didn’t even tempt me. This is good. It means it’s finally in my head that I don’t care for them anymore. The last few I have bought were edible, but were disappointing.

Tastier, Softer CenterBaby Ruth used to be one of my favorites, but that was before Nestlé reformulated them to have a “tastier, softer center” in 2001. Evidently 75% of consumers preferred the new Baby Ruth in taste tests, but you’ll find me in the minority camp.

The old Baby Ruth had a stiff, white, chewy nougat. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Consumer | 4 Comments »

So it goes

Posted by bitguru on April 12, 2007

Today, for the first time in 84 years, the world is without author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. When I was in high school I read all his novels straight through, which pretty much means I can’t recall which events happened in which book. Still, I’m glad I did it. I should probably put in some effort to find another author whose catalog I would want to consume the same way.

I’m sure the obituaries will be ubiquitous, so I’ll be brief and mention only two things:

1) In his novel Galapagos he uses a clever device. He prepends an asterisk to characters before they are about to die. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Literature | 1 Comment »

Gerry Mulligan

Posted by bitguru on April 10, 2007

The other day I wrote that the baritone saxophone can be a lyrical instrument. No one has proffered more evidence for this than Gerry Mulligan. I mention this because I just fortuitously ran across some interesting program notes from a 1963 Mulligan concert in England.

I’m not sure who besides me would make a good audience for it, but it does a good job setting up the history of jazz baritone sax and explaining Mulligan’s innovations. (Though I’m not sure everyone would agree with his Lester Young hypothesis.) The anonymous author also touches on what made Mulligan’s improvised solos stand out in a post-Charlie Parker world. This is hard to put in words, but I award his attempt a tie for first prize. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Recordings, Saxophone | 1 Comment »

Disney World Sax Quartet

Posted by bitguru on April 1, 2007

When I’m at the Magic Kingdom I usually try to catch the saxophone quartet. It’s not necessarily easy, because their schedule isn’t published. If you ask Guest Relations they will usually tell you some times, but

  1. If you ask when the saxophone quartet plays, they probably won’t be able to tell you. You need the ensemble name, which seems to be Fantasyland Woodwind Society but has also been Toontown Tuners or Cinderella’s Royal Saxophonists. Even so, they probably won’t tell you about the joint performances with the barbershop quartet.
  2. The schedule must be subject to change, as sometimes they don’t show at a quoted time. (Various online schedules are often even less accurate.)
  3. They traipse around the park, so even if you have the correct time they can be hard to find.

bass saxophoneWhat’s unusual about this quartet is that instead of the usual soprano/alto/tenor/baritone they employ soprano/alto/tenor/bass. The bass saxophone can descend a half-octave lower than the baritone, which I suppose is handy for the bass lines of the short arrangements of Disney tunes they tend to play, but it may be that they were going for the eccentric visual appearance.

There’s also a bass saxophone on display in the balcony overlooking the lobby of the Grand Floridian hotel. (See photo, right.) You can almost get close enough to touch it. Note that the band that sets up around it probably won’t play it unless you make a request.

I’m a fan of the bass saxophone, but I’ve always thought it was a shame that the Disney World saxophone quartet didn’t have a baritone as well. The baritone saxophone can be quite a lyrical instrument, but in a typical quartet it’s usually tied to the bass line. A bass sax in the ensemble would free the baritone from the bass line. Plus the bari sax could occasionally take the bass line so the bass sax could be featured.

Well, as it turns out, when I saw them last week the quartet had been augmented to a quintet with baritone. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Saxophone | 5 Comments »