Sunday, November 4, 2018

My best stereo ever and time to actually listen to it...

Ever since high school I’ve been a semi-audiophile even though I’ve never had the deep pockets to fully indulge this hobby. That didn’t stop me from spending many hours designing and building speakers, reading High Fidelity magazine and getting the best equipment I could afford. As you might imagine, I always looked for the bargain gear - stuff that was the best value. As with many things, I can afford much more now than I ever could when I was younger.


A photo of my stereo from high school - the mid 1970s:  Crappy all-in-one stereo with bookshelf speakers I built.  Notice the camera box and piles of books/magazines.  I haven’t changed much in over 40 years…

I can say with certainty that I now have the best gear that I have ever had.  The sound I can reproduce with my current setup is way beyond anything coming from any stereo in my past.  In addition, the recordings I have access to are better than the 8-tracks and records of my youth - in many cases much better.  As a baby boomer, much of the music I love has been remixed/remastered and is available as high-quality digital files that I didn’t even dream of 40 years ago.  Albums that I’ve listened to for most of my life have been revealed to have amazing depth and complexity.  One example of this is the Steven Wilson Remixes of Yes and other albums - in this regard, I’m a pretty happy guy right now.

If you’re curious, I have a mid-line Yamaha receiver and very budget, but Andrew Jones designed, Pioneer front and center channel speakers.  Having lots of bass has always been important and my subs are the only speakers in my current system that I built.  Twin, high quality 12” drivers matched with 240 watt amps and my AudioControl “Phase Coupled Activator” - an old sub-harmonic synthesizer - gives a nice bottom end.  The surround speakers are just small bookshelf models – Polk and old Minimus 7s.  The whole system is really not very fancy or expensive but has great bang for the buck, IMHO.  The only odd arrangement is the front Dolby Atmos “height” speakers which are bounced off the ceiling from the back of the room.  This gives an airy feeling and the whole system creates a rich and detailed soundstage with lots of bass when needed.  The Yamaha receiver is really good at surround decoding as well – movies and multi-track recordings sound great.

The music is what’s really important, though, and I’ll often buy a better-quality recording of a favorite piece of music if it’s available but even CDs sound great.  I don’t spend much time tweaking - once I set things up, I rarely change any settings.  Listening is what it’s all about.  I have more time now to just sit and listen to a favorite album.  Being single again wasn’t my choice but I’m at least trying to enjoy the freedom it affords me to listen when and at what volume I want.  It’s not that I couldn’t when I was married but there is more time for serious listening now.  I can fall asleep to music if I want to and I often do. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Divorce #3

My third marriage has finally come to an end - legally that is.  It’s actually been over for a long time and so there really isn’t much to celebrate, or to mourn for that matter.  It started with high hopes that perhaps I’d finally found a real partner; someone who would be on my side, support me, help me reach for my dreams and love me for who I am.  That didn’t happen, not even close - even as I worked to be that kind of partner for her.  I would have been content with just the basics; love, respect, honesty and commitment.  Sadly, I didn’t get those things either.  I poured an awful lot of love, understanding, forgiveness and effort into saving this marriage, but it takes effort from both people to make any relationship work.  In the end there really wasn’t anything there to save - looking back now with the perspective of time and emotional distance, I’m not sure there ever was.....

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Our Trip to Portugal Part II

The first night at the beach called Porto de Mos (Lagos) was chilly and we ate al fresco at a place with few veg options.
But we enjoyed each other's company.

For our first full day on the coast we walked the beach and checked out the options for fun in the surf. We made reservations for a kayak tour the next day through the caves.

We also went on a big shopping trip to a cool Portuguese supermarket called Pingo Doce.
Lots of fresh produce and we were thrilled to find seitan and tofu!

That night we made a huge home cooked meal. Group effort!

On Monday we set off for the caves in double kayaks.  We loved the caves but the trip was messy and wet so we decided to go back with a different kind of tour so we could take photos.

On Tuesday, Randy was not feeling very well, so Debbie walked the beach and took some cool pictures.  Randy rested up and was a real trooper for the rest of the day/week!

In the afternoon we set off for Faro and a boat trip to the most southern point of Portugal and several traditional fishing villages where the kids are sent to school via boat.

After the trip we headed for Albufera to check out Didi Cafe, another veg restaurant.

Got there late, but it is a hopping tourist town.  Had a good dinner and took home a vegan croissant to share with the others.  YUM!

On Wed. we took another trip back to the Grottos, this time with a sail boat and motor boat combo. Gorgeous views:

Went back to Lagos for dinner with Ingrid and Howie.  "More than Fries was the place and wow was that yummy!

On Thursday we walked on the beach and after that we went back to Albufiera with Ingrid and Howie.

On Friday, we took another boat trip, this time to look for dolphins and with the help of a wonderful Portuguese water dog named Zuka: we got to see many beautiful dolphins.

On Friday evening we cooked up the last of the food and had a feast.

Saturday was clear out day and we got an early start heading back to Lisbon.
We were able to spend a few more hours in this beautiful city and found a really nice botanical garden to explore.

We walked over to Terra for dinner and enjoyed the city scape along the way.

We spent our last night in Portugal at a very nice hotel near the airport.  The floor to ceiling window in our room afforded us a lovely view of the eastern side of Portugal and we enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise on Sunday morning.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Our trip to Portugal - Part I

Our long awaited trip got off to a rocky start.  Our flight to Philadelphia was cancelled due to t-storms and we had to be redirected.  So we had to fly west to fly east.  Got to Chicago and found out that our flight to London was delayed.  Delayed so much that we would miss the first two flights to Lisbon from London and wouldn’t get into Portugal until late night on Sunday, thus missing a whole day of our trip.

We got to London and tried to make the best of it.  I shopped at Boots and found the cucumber lotion they carry that I like.  Randall found a good bottle of Scotch and we found some veggie food for dinner that didn’t suck.

We also met a nice man from Fatima Portugal who flew with us from Albany to Chicago, London and then Lisbon.  Navigating the transfer was also a challenge - if it wasn't for some nice people at British Airways we would have missed the last flight to Lisbon as well.

When we did finally arrive in Lisbon we quickly learned that our bags had not!   :(  So we made our way to the lovely Lisbon Sheraton International hotel carrying very little with us.  The nice night desk guy gave us tooth brushes and tooth paste and free internet for the week.

The black out shades allowed us to sleep in but we made the most of our first full day in Lisbon.  We found the infamous tram 28, the arch way, and a great vegan place for lunch.

Met up with Ingrid and Howie and Ingrid’s family for dinner where we had vegan burgers in a small place across the street from the hotel.  It was nice to see Anna Laura once again and to meet the Paul family.

We also went up to the skybar at the Lisbon Sheraton for a night cap.  The view of Lisbon at night was very beautiful.  Lisbon has a two really beautiful bridges.  One looks like the golden gate and we could see from this bar and even from our hotel room (where we had a broad view of downtown Lisbon) The second bridge we drove over on our last full day in Lisbon and could see from that night’s hotel room.

Day 2: The 9 of us made our way down to the river where we took a lovely boat ride over to Belem.  In Belem we took a long walk to the Belém Tower or the Tower of St Vincent, a fortified tower located on the river and also past a famous monastery - Jerónimos Monastery.

After the boat ride, Randall and I went to an exhibit called The Lisboa Story Centre.  A very nice tour of how Lisbon developed over time and especially after the devastating earthquake of 1755.  For dinner on Tuesday we ate at the delicious Terra where we enjoyed a wonderful buffet full of vegan fare.

Ingrid, Howie and Debbie walked back to the Sheraton and admired the night life of this vibrant city.
On Wed.  Ingrid, Howie, Anna Laura the two of us took a tour of Sintra which included Pena Palace and the lovely city of Cascais.  We found a vegan restaurant in Cascais that was a real treat.  Randall and I walked around and found a gorgeous park that had ducks and roosters.

On Thursday Randall, Anna Laura and Debbie went to the Tile museum.  A wonderful display of local tile with international influence.  Also this museum was in an old monastery ( =lots of them in Portugal!) and we found ourselves in a stunning gold laden church.  After the museum we made our way to the St. George Fortress and Castle that overlooks the city.  This was a real treat as well.

I have never seen Peacocks in trees, but aside from the gorgeous views, you can also witness these large birds perched in the trees.

After the castle we went to another large cathedral.

Debbie found a Synagogue and met a nice woman named Chana on her way out.  She said there are about 600 Portuguese Jews in the area.  Her family has been in Portugal since before the inquisition. So they hid...

For dinner on Thursday we went to a wonderful vegan restaurant called Ao26: vegan food project.  The dinner started with a vegan cheese board - can’t beat that!  We took another long walk after dinner and again witnessing the vibrant street life of Lisbon at night.

On Friday, our last full day in Lisbon, Randall and walked around the city and found a market with more vegan treats and of course, Sangria.

We took a fun ride up and down a funicular and in the evening we found an amazing hidden gem right in the middle of downtown.  Randall and I both love art deco and there is a gorgeous old hotel/theater called the Eden that is currently undergoing renovation.  However, the hotel is still open and there is an unassuming rooftop bar.  Oh the view.  The entire city lit up as we sipped our drinks by a not that clean, but still attractive pool.  What a weird place!

On Saturday, we picked up our rental car and headed south.  But before we got to the Algarve, we took a detour west to a wonderful little town called Evora that featured impressive roman ruins.  We also found yet another veggie café with a lovely buffet.

Got to the house that evening and were stunned by the beauty and the view of our new home.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Where to from here?

No, the nominating process isn't over but it's looking pretty grim for Bernie.  A friend posted a piece by "kos" AKA Markos Moulitsas, the fellow who runs the Daily Kos.  The gist of it should sound very familiar to progressives who have been through a few election cycles; Bernie should stay in the Democratic nomination process till the end so he can amass delegates and push the party platform to the left.  Indeed progressive independents should join the Democratic party to help put pressure on Clinton to keep her progressive campaign promises.

The big problem with this idea is that it has no, absolutely zero, chance of success.  Really, none.  I could forgive someone like him posting such a piece in 2008 when Obama was an unknown - perhaps he could be influenced to come up with some real change.  As soon as I saw Obama pick his advisors I knew that was a lost cause.  Instead of change we got more of the same corporate playbook; a Fed-fueled pumping of the financial sector with no gains to most people, more wars and new trade deals to crush the middle class.  I know a lot of people still love Obama, I don't (remember he claims the right to kill anyone, US citizens included, anywhere in the world without due process).  Is he better than McCain/Palin?  Sure - if that's how you want to frame the question, but I believe we deserve better.  We deserve someone like Bernie!  Someone who wants real change, and that isn't going to be Hillary any more than it was Obama.  So if that's your game plan, lotsa luck!  On the bright side, if Obama was "a great President" in your eyes it's pretty much guaranteed you will get more of the same.

Yes, the Democratic nominating process is rigged - it's rigged precisely to prevent someone like Sanders from getting the nomination.  Kos urges Sanders Democrats not to flee the party (a party that abandoned people like them with the last Clinton presidency).  He says "It’s not every day we get to see the creation of a whole new class of people excited about politics."  Yeah, and so quickly given a lesson in how things really work in the media and the Democratic party establishment.  Clinton couldn't care less about this class of people, BTW, they are just in the way of her getting what she wants.  As long as she can convince enough of them to vote for her in the general election, which shouldn't be too hard with Trunp as the likely Republican nominee, she's got it made.

So should people who worked so hard for Sanders, believed his message, and know the truth about Hillary, now work for her in the general election?  Should they vote Green as a protest against the rigged two-party system?  Not vote at all?  There is no good answer.  As soon as Clinton is in the White House again all the progressive talk from her campaign will be conveniently forgotten - you can count on this.  Have no illusions about who you are electing - she is a corporate warmonger for the 0.01%  I believe that Trump may get a certain percentage of the vote just because he is a political unknown - though he certainly has a business history that should make people think twice about him.  Clinton will get a certain percentage of the vote just because she is a woman.  A wash, perhaps.  I bet if there was a "none of the above" on the ballot "they" would be a contender!

As a voter in NY my vote really doesn't mean anything, the Electoral College ensures that.  You can't even argue that the popular vote means anything after the 2000 election.  So if it's Hillary vs. Trump in the general election I'm voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party.  Not just as a protest, but because I think she is awesome and the Green Party would be great for this country.  I'll leave it to others to decide how to deal with their anger and frustration at the rigged system and our pathetic so-called democracy...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Randall & Debbie’s California Vacation, Part V

Randall & Debbie’s California Vacation, Part V

Northern CA and back home

After the Avenue of the Giants, we hit the road again and headed north, through Eureka and into Arcata where we met Rachel and Bruce for a wonderful Japanese dinner.

Rachel and Bruce live in Trinidad, CA and after dinner they took us to their local beach.

Rachel and Bruce live in a small community that shares a lush 80 bed garden and greenhouse.

They also have two adorable cats...  Munchie and Shanti who calls Debbie her godmother (Debbie picked her out in the shelter all those years ago in Denver).

Rachel Randy and Debbie headed even further north the next day and saw Elk, and more big trees.

Did a nice walking tour of some ancients and then heard about a local whale siting.  
We jumped into the car and headed to see the whales.

After the whales we went to Paul Bunyan's place (Trees of Mystery) and rode the gondola up to some amazing views.  This was also as far north as we got.

We ate another delicious dinner out in Arcata, decided to take a group photo at another beach and were treated to a spectacular sunset and 10 cute puppies!

On our last day we said a sad farewell to Rachel and Bruce (and M and S) and headed south looking forward to one last night in the Bay area.

We were treated to a fog free view of the Golden Gate Bridge and then treated ourselves to yet another delicious meal at Gracias Madre.  Debbie tried the El Burro. Yum!!!!

Spent the night in Palo Alto (repacking everything from two weeks on the road), got to see the pristine Stanford University campus the next morning and flew out without incident back to NJ and finally home.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Randall & Debbie’s California Vacation, Part IV

Randall & Debbie’s California Vacation, Part IV

Mendocino and Redwoods

Heading north from the SF Bay area we stayed on 101 until Cloverdale and then took the twisty/windy 128 up to the coast.  Yes, we know we mostly bypassed wine country - we did stop at a winery but it wasn't the focus of our trip.  

We explored the Russian Gulch State Park just north of Mendocino - another beautiful location.  

We stayed at another Airbnb - a small cabin in someone's yard.  It was a nice experience even though there was no room for our suitcases.  For dinner we went to The Ravens which is an upscale vegan restaurant associated with the Stanford Inn - a vegan resort.  The food was wonderful!  We returned the next day for a great breakfast.  Mendocino is a small town right on the ocean with lots of artists.  We walked along the beach, which is right near the main street.  

It was a morning with lots of fog/mist over the shore and this made for some nice photography on our drive.  

Next we turned inland and hit the Avenue of the Giants - Redwood country!  We stopped at various places to walk among and shoot these beautiful trees.