bitguru blog

a guru of bits, or just a bit player?

Archive for August, 2008

Hydrogen Hubbub

Posted by bitguru on August 24, 2008

A lab at MIT has been getting a lot of press about a “breakthrough” in hydrogen production. I read some of the stories but couldn’t figure out what the actual breakthrough was. This is typical when the popular press covers science, so I decided to check out what the science-oriented press had to say.

Scientific American’s story has more in the way of detail, but I still didn’t get it. Sure a cobalt/phosphorus anode would be cheaper than a platinum one, but power costs should dwarf anode costs in commercial production, right?

Better is this analysis from The Oil Drum. It gives a nice synopsis and debunks much of what was reported in the popular press. The Oil Drum may (or may not—this is the first I’ve heard of them) be biased against hydrogen but it seems to have its facts straight. A recommended read.


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Jethro Tull 40th Anniversary Tour

Posted by bitguru on August 6, 2008

I have intended to attended a Jethro Tull show since the early 80s. I finally got around to it tonight. Tull doesn’t get enough credit, I don’t think, for the influence it has had on rock music.

I used to be a pretty serious Tull fan. I had all of their albums (on vinyl) from This Was (1968) through Broadsword and the Beast (1982) and I could name them chronologically. I collected more obscure Tull releases, such as a 45rpm EP and an Italian “best of” LP with slightly different songs.

They started losing me with Under Wraps (1984) and I became a more casual fan. I wouldn’t run across new Tull albums until months or years after they had been released. When Crest of a Knave (1987) won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance I hadn’t even realized Tull was in the running. (Whether Tull should be categorized as Hard Rock/Metal is debatable. I would generally say no, despite some evidence to the contrary this evening.)

The concert itself was a mixed bag. They stuck with their early works, performing only one tune written after 1976 1978. I think they chose well for the first and last third of the program. The middle third, featuring Farm on the Freeway (1987) and Dharma for One (1968), I was less happy with.

Ian Anderson sounded great on flute and mandolin his tiny acoustic guitar. (He was also good on harmonica for one tune. He didn’t play any violin, saxophone, or synth.) On the other hand, his singing wasn’t so great, though I can hardly fault him for that. That’s what I get for not attending a show twenty years ago.

Martin Barre sounded great on electric guitar. Drums were fine. Keyboards were also fine, if usually buried. An exception was the excellent piano (synth piano, but with pretty decent samples) intro to the Locomotive Breath encore.

That leaves bass, which I had serious problems with. I’m reasonably sure that David Goodier (introduced only as “bassist #7” until the curtain call) was playing it ok, but the lowest notes barely came out. They sounded muddy and lacked attack and definition. This was especially evident in A Song for Jeffrey, A New Day Yesterday, the part of Thick as a Brick that goes into driving 5/4 time, and the slow section in the middle of Aqualung.

I know how the bass lines in those songs are supposed to go, so I could (almost, barely) hear it, but I doubt I could say the same for those in the audience who were less familiar. The bass did sound better when it wasn’t playing on the lowest string. If I had to guess, I’d say that Wolf Trap‘s loudspeakers just couldn’t handle the low frequencies well enough. (The house loudspeakers at least—I wasn’t in a position to hear the lawn loudspeakers. Perhaps they were ok.) It seems odd that this could be the case, but I’m not sure how else to explain it.

Sometimes I would hear a flute even though Anderson was doing something else. Usually it appeared that the synth player was covering it, but occasionally not. Was it on tape or something? A couple of times Goodier covered flute parts on glockenspiel. On Reasons for Waiting, which has multiple simultaneous flutes on the album, most of the flute parts were covered by an on-stage string quartet.

I’m glad I went to the show, but it didn’t quite meet my expectations.

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