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Friday, January 30, 2009

Enigma Ciphering Machines From Yesterday

I found myself ciphering, working on a project to restore the audio from a few 1/4 inch tapes from the 1960s and two 78 rpm records from 1949. Unfortunately, there was not a handy, dandy Sony TC 580 (pic, pic 2). Long ago, tape machines offered 3 speeds - 1 7/8, 3 3/4, and 7 1/2 ips, or inches per second, meaning that's how far the tape would move across the head per second. The higher the ips, the better the quality. Top end machines also offered bi-directional recording and playback - which means, when the tape got filled up on the right take-up reel, you could play or record again on the same tape - in reverse direction. Well, while trying to de-cipher these tapes, all i had was a uni-directional Fostex mastering 2 track machine. Totally the wrong gear, especially since a lot of it was recorded at 3 3/4 ips. (The Fostex offered 7 1/2 and 15 ips. and just one direction). Was all lost? If we had to do this for an archive, we would have needed to get the right machine, but this job was just for fun. Quality control was not as much as an issue as being frugal in tough times. So - we used the Fostex. Most everything was played at double speed, and recorded digitally in an a/v workstation. Some of it was also, backwards and at double speed. Knowing that the speed is 2x, we know the amount of pitch shift needed to fix it. The answer is 12 semitones, or an octave. Think of a keyboard, there are twelve notes if you include the black and white keys. Each step is a semitone. It was a snap to pitch shift the material 12 semitones, and reverse it if you recorded it in reverse. Then the hard work of audio restoration began.

The same problem - wrong equipment, was there for the 78 rpm record project. All we had was a turntable with a top speed of 45 rpm. So - we played it at 45 rpm, and recorded the slow sounding blur into the a/v workstation. The question is, how many semitones do we need to increase it to correct for the slow 45 rpm speed??? The answer is pretty easy, but don't look yet if you want to cipher it yourself Jethro.

Think about it this way, and the answer is just too easy. If we had to adjust it to 90 rpm, meaning that is the proper speed of the record, we would just move it 12 semitones. So 90 rpm (2x speed) would equal 12 semitones. And so, 78 rpm / 90 rpm = x / 12 semitones. x = 10.4 semitones. And just to check out math, we know we must increase the playback rate by 1.733333333..etc times. (78 / 45). if 2x speed = 12 semitones, x speed = 6 semitones. And guess what, 1.733333 times 6 = 10.4 semitones. Woo Woo.

Just for kicks, I thought I'd include a sample. Here's a short snippet recorded off the tape, called chipmunks.mp3 - huh? what's that? Well, it is way too fast and backwards too. The original was recorded at a 3 3/4 (or 1 7/8 not sure) ips speed, and played at 7 1/2 ips which was recorded. Reverse the sample, and lower the pitch and you get this.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newspaper Heyday Movies

We live in interesting times, and how we receive our information has changed in some respects, but in a lot of ways, nothing changes. It is different today, because TV, and to lesser extent radio, have without a doubt, supplanted the newspaper as the way We The People, get our information. It was not always so. (yes, we agree the internet killed the newspaper too, but the internet just piled on and hastened the newspaper's decline from glory).

About 50-75 years ago, newspapers were king. Most cities had 2 newspapers - one for one political side, and one for the other. It was a constant battle with high stakes - as more papers being sold, usually meant more votes, and the winner gets power that comes from controlling the use of the taxpayers money. The tide changed over the seasons, but the public was always being played, by one side with an agenda, or the other side with an agenda. News wasn't really news, it was mostly spin, like red meat they fed your own philosophical beliefs, and the sound bytes you liked became your talking points. Whether you watch MSNBC or Fox - the same game is being played today. If you don't believe this, check out this Frank Random re-mix, Depotism or Democracy. It's is edited for irony and universal uneasiness.

So, we thought there were some good lessons out there, in a bunch of very good newspaper heyday movies. Most folks would put Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosiland Russell at the top of the list, but my vote goes to Frank Capra's Meet John Doe. The film offers wide open deceptive journalism, political intrigue, and the little guy, John Doe, getting put through the meat grinder. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the ambitious reporter, who compromises her ethics so she won't lose her job at the paper. Gary Cooper is brilliant as Mr. everybody, John Doe, a former baseball pitcher that injured his throwing arm. Next on the list - Nothing Sacred with Carole Lombard, Frederic March, and Billy Barty. Our final pick for newspaper related media is from a One Step Beyond episode called Where Are They? Here's the idea - what does a newspaper do, when the REAL story is just too bizarre to print for your readers? That's a good question - what would you do as a reporter?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Favorite Junk of 2008

I know I may be a little bit late on the whole end-of-year "Best of" list bandwagon, but I come from the school of Do Something Whenever. So here it is: My Favorite Junk of 2008. Note that I'm not calling it a "Best of" list, because I just didn't get around to experiencing enough movies, videogames, music or comics to really proclaim something the absolute cat's meow. But I do have my favorites. And away we go:

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
It's nice to hear some melody, harmonies, and engaging singing again, isn't it? This album is the definition of timelessness, as it blends folk with Beach Boys harmonies and sounds like a lost gem. This is a startlingly good debut, and lead singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold is definitely a great talent. I don't know how many times I've listed to "White Winter Hymnal."

The Fireman - Electric Arguments
I'm a little biased here because I love Paul McCartney's entire body of work; I've always felt that his highs and lows are equally fascinating, because his curiosity for music theory and his virtuoso playing are always interesting. Anyway, forget the lows. Ever since 1997's excellent Flaming Pie, McCartney has been on a creative tear, with 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard featuring some of the best songs of his career. And while his new Fireman album (made with producer Youth) isn't quite a masterpiece, it's a return to the McCartney who could make some weird, loud stuff. (Remember, it was Paul who put the otherworldly tape loops on "Tomorrow Never Knows.") Whether on the incredible rocker "Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight" or the folksy, Ram-esque "Two Magpies," this record is more interesting and daring than most of today's bands are capable.

Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It

This was the biggest surprise of the year. Raphael Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, has turned out what I think is a real classic R&B album; not in the garbage 1990s R&B sense, but real R&B, meaning The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and The Drifters. Sure, it's retro in the vein of Amy Winehouse, but lyrically, musically, and production-wise, it's a knockout. Each song on this album would be a Top 10 hit in a fairer world. Listen to it and remember why you love Motown.


From character design to story, this is, somehow, Pixar's best film to date, and gets my vote for best children's film of all-time. Absolutely magical from start to finish, mixing a heartwarming love story with a startlingly strong anti-corporate message, this is a movie that will last forever.

The Dark Knight

So much has been said about The Dark Knight that I almost feel guilty about showering even more praise on it, but that would be a disservice to it. Never mind lumping it in the "comic book movie" category; this is top-rate, artful film-making, dressed up with superheroes. Yeah, the whole bombs-on-the-boats thing at the end is a little weak compared to what came before, and Christopher Nolan's disjointed style can be confusing, but don't let that spoil everything this film accomplished. Heath Ledger turns in a performance that we'll talk about for the rest of our lives; the film asks some tough moral questions and doesn't give us easy answers; and it's tragic, something most blockbusters don't even try.

Tropic Thunder
I've always been a fan of Ben Stiller -- including The Cable Guy, which I'm convinced will someday be hailed as the work of brilliance it is! -- and Tropic Thunder is possibly the best work of his career. It simultaneously lampoons and salutes the more inane aspects of Hollywood and acting, and the whole cast is hilarious throughout. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. deserves an Oscar nod.

Batman: RIP

Grant Morrison's run on Batman was a little hit-or-miss for me, but I thought Batman: RIP redeemed the entire run. Spooky, weird, and endlessly captivating, Morrison reminds us why we love this guy so much, and why we'll miss him.

All-Star Superman
Yep, another Grant Morrison book, but this one was never, ever hit-or-miss. All-Star Superman, now finished after 12 amazing issues, is the best Superman story of all-time, and don't let anyone tell you different. Morrison takes everything about Superman, mixes it up a little, and gives it back to us in new, exciting ways. Everything about it -- especially the climax, featuring a super-powered Lex Luthor and a Superman who never gives up -- will make you feel like a kid again, as you find yourself in awe of the best superhero there is once again.

I don't remember this coming out in single issues, but I spotted the trade in a Borders one day, and it was just calling for me to use my gift card on it. And I'm glad I did. This collection of stories about con-artists, losers, and relationships will break your heart. It actually gets better once Brian Wood drops the superheroics from the mix, but overall, this is some of the best sequential storytelling I've come across in a long time.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

The reason I bought a PS3, and it was worth it. The graphics are stunning and the story is a fitting end to the saga of Solid Snake, who is still badass in his old age. There is some typically weird Japanese stuff, such as Snake gripping the privates of a statue while evading capture, but altogether, this is a great Metal Gear game. It makes some great advances -- a stellar first-person view, the ability fire weapons while lying on your back, etc. -- and is just the right length. Things get bigger and bigger, and the story more and more interesting, until it all ends with an awesome fistfight. Apparently there's a Metal Gear Solid 5 on the way, but how can it ever match this, without Solid Snake and/or creator Hideo Kojima?

Grand Theft Auto 4

I'll come right out and say it: I did not finish this game. But I played enough of it to realize that this was something special. From the fully realized recreation of New York (Brooklyn in the hizzie) to the smart, funny script, this lived up to the hype. Oh, and it's insanely fun.

Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart Wii received some negative reviews, and I really don't get it. Nintendo added motorcycles (!), online (!), Mii support (!) and more classic tracks (!) from past Mario Kart games. Really, what's not to like? It controls perfectly with the Wiimote and nunchuk (forget the pack-in steering wheel), and the courses are just as imaginative as ever. I love this game, and still play it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fine Corinthian Leather Ricardo Montalban

Hollywood icon Ricardo Montalban died January 14th at the age of 88. If you are between the ages of 45 or over, you probably remember Ricardo Montalban as Mister Rourke on Fantasy Island or from the Chrysler commercials. Everyone did their best to say Corinthian Leather as slick as Ricardo did. Come on, admit it... you said it. Fine Corinthian Leather! Anyway, Ricardo Montalban was born in Mexico City on Nov. 25, 1920 and became one of Hollywoods first Latino actors. Also a advocate for future Latino actors and actresses. He played a lot of ethnic roles - Spaniards, Japanese, Blacks, Aliens, and even American Indians on more than one occasion. Check out the classic episode, Day of Reckoning from Bonanza, where Ricardo Montalban plays an Indian brave. For more information about who those other guest stars are on Bonanza, check this old post for the answers.