Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Angry Chef And The Tale Of The Tinfoil Dinner

I'll admit, I'm a bit of an angry, neurotic chef.  I talk to myself when cooking.  I am always on the move in the kitchen.  I like keeping a tight time.  I also don't take kindly to an invasion of my kitchen.  That's right.  I said, "my" kitchen.

I tell a lot of tales from my past on this blog.  After over 550 or so blogs I thought I would have told this tale.  However, today I realized that I had never written this story down.  It is the story of how I threw my own Grandmother out of my kitchen.  But first, let me start with what I was cooking.

When I was in the Boy Scouts of America we had a great recipe for the ultimate complete dinner.  It's called tinfoil dinner.  Basically, here's what you do.

Lay down some aluminum foil.  Place down some leaves of cabbage.  Place thinly cut potato slices down over the cabbage.  Add cut carrots.  Then place down some thawed out hamburger meat.  At this point you can be creative. 

You can add onions, but feel free to add whatever onions you like.  I also like to add bell peppers.  There are many types of mushrooms you can add.  Then you cover those back up with the rest of your raw hamburger.  Sidenote:  It actually works better with higher fat hamburger.  In other words, the cheap stuff.  At this point I like to add Heinz Beef Gravy (Savory Flavor.)  It's wonderful.

Then you go in reverse from there.  Add some cut carrots.  Put more thinly cut potato slices over them.  Then cover it in some more cabbage leaves.  In fact make sure you cover it completely with cabbage. 

When you are adding layers make sure to salt and pepper.  You can also be creative and use garlic salt and Italian seasonings.  If you like it spicy, by all means add your favorite spices. 

Then you wrap it up in aluminum foil, and then wrap it some more.  Why?  Because you are going to put it directly on the hot coals of an outdoor fire.  Leave it there for an hour.  You want it nice and hot.  The hamburger (and if you added gravy) juices will cook everything with a wonderful flavor. 
Since you have it in a nice fire, it will also have that nice campfire smoky flavor. 

When I was a young teen I described this meal to my family.  They asked me to make it for them.  I had to think about it.  How would I make it at home?  So I decided to take a cookie sheet, lay down the foil on it, and do the same thing I would normally do. 

Since I didn't have a fire, I decided to cook it in the oven.  I set the oven to 500 degrees, and cooked it for an hour.  It worked out wonderfully. 

Since I decided to write this blog about the tinfoil dinner, I made sure to take pictures.  Here they are.

As you can see it is covered pretty well in foil.

Here you can see all the cabbage.  You know you did a really good job when the cabbage is just a little bit singed. 

I've pulled the cabbage away, and you can see the nice mixture of meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.

And here it is on my plate.  It tastes wonderful.  It really does. 

So now that I have explained how this dish is made, I will clarify my angry chef situation.  So as you know, I am king of my domain in the kitchen.  My grandmother is queen of her domain in her kitchen.  In fact, she thought she was a great cook.  (She's not.)  Her specialty was baking bread.  (You better have water or you would choke on it.)  She thought she was creative.  (She wasn't.)

So I was asked to make tinfoil dinner for everyone when my grandparents were down to visit.  She comes into my kitchen, and starts trying to tell me what to do.  I wasn't having it. 

She started making suggestions.  Things like adding tomatoes to it.  I halfway screamed, "What?"  Then she said I should add shredded cheese.  I really did yell, "At 500 degrees for an hour????!!!!!  Do you know what that will do????"  She just looked at me like a deer in headlights.

That's when I blew my fuse.  "Out!  Get out of my kitchen!!!"  I was not having that.  There's a reason I spent most of this blog teaching how to make this dish for a reason.  I wanted to show just how hot and how long this dish needs to cook.  Tomatoes and cheese would just be destroyed in that much heat. 

Besides this is not an Italian dish.  Grandma liked to make Italian baked dishes.  Her version of "spaghetti" was made in the oven.  My Uncle Jimmy called it, "awful."  It was something he did not look forward to.   It's true, her bad cooking was the stuff of legend.  That's one reason I really blew my top. 

I was not going to be given bad advice in my kitchen while I was working hard to feed six people.  My B.S. meter just went through the roof.  So, I threw her out of my kitchen.  I don't regret it.  My grandmother would tend to push people until you stood up to her.  You had to let her know where the line was.  And I did just that. 

Now that's not to say I didn't care about my grandmother, but she could be very trying at times.  She had mood swings and a very sharp tongue.  As I became older we had come to an understanding.  And part of that was my kitchen was my territory. 

So, there are many things I want you, the reader, to take away from this.  First off, stay out of your chef's way.  Try a little tinfoil dinner now and then.  Don't add tomatoes and cheese to any dish at 500 degrees for an hour unless you want it to be goop.  And finally, you can learn some really neat things in the Boy Scouts of America. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Glass

One of the first philosophical questions we ask children is, "Is the glass half full or half empty?"  It's one way to simply gauge whether someone is a pessimist or an optimist. 

Another philosopher came along and said, "It's doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty.  Because the glass can always be refilled." 

A person that thinks that way may be the utmost optimist on the planet.  They might also be a bit of a realist.  However, great minds like that are way smarter than myself.  I wouldn't even try to define them.  So I will move on.

Then I (Adrian) came around and destroyed the glass.  I smashed it against the wall.  Now the glass is neither half full nor half empty.  It is destroyed, and therefore can't hold any water.  It is now shards, and can not hold water anymore. 

It once was a useful thing.  It simply was something, and now it's not.  For it has been destroyed, never to be used again.  Now I, (Adrian) have no water.  I do not even have a container for water.  I have nothing.  I will never have that glass again.

The optimist will say, "You can always acquire another glass."  And that is true.  But it will never be that glass.  That glass will never be available to you again.  For it has been destroyed, and doesn't exist anymore.  It will never be within reach again.

By now the reader is pretty sure I am not talking specifically about a glass.  I am referring to people, places, things, and ideas that have been destroyed.  Today I learnt a lesson on just how long destruction lasts.

And I think to myself, "That's pretty hypocritical for a guy who entitled his blog, "Destruction for Fun and Profit."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Thousand Arms

I love music.  I always have.  However, in these last few years of my life music has become stale.  When I was young there was so much more music out there.  There were ever so many record companies.  I was also discovering older music that blew my mind.  This was of course, before classic rock stations outnumbered new music stations by 10-1. 

Despite there being no internet, there were all these avenues for new music to come out.  And there was just so much of it.  It's was okay if you didn't like a lot of the popular bands.  There were another hundred or so coming out with new music all the time. 

As I have gotten older, there are less music companies.  There is less rock n' roll, and fewer new radio music stations.  The funny thing is that are more local bands, and more people interested in actually playing music.  But as I've gotten older I've noticed that I don't have that initial love of a song the first time I hear it.  It used to happen all the time when I was younger.  Now-a-days, I've basically forgot what that feels like.

But something changed recently.  The last few years I've had friends suggest that I listen to our community radio station 88.5 FM WMNF.  They actually have shows like TV stations do.  They will play one kind of music during one show, let's say 60's acoustic.  Then they will have local bands the next hour.  It makes it great listening in that, they don't have a set playlist like pretty much all the other radio stations.  You never really know what they might play.

The one music genre that peaked my interest was Americana.  There has been a new music scene with Alt/Country and Americana which to me sounds like a new way of saying, "Southern Rock."  I've heard some great songs on WMNF that I would not normally hear on any other station. 

A few days ago they played a song I had never heard, but I immediately loved.  However, I had no clue the name of the song or who sang it.  Was it a local band?  Was it an older band?  Was it a new song?  Well, I managed to find it thanks to the magic of the internet.  It turns out it's called "1000 Arms" from a Canadian band called "Blue Rodeo."

So it turns out the perfect Americana song is from a Canadian band that's been around for 30 years and just released their 14th album.  Not to mention they are in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  "1000 Arms" is perfect, but not for the reason I thought it was.  I was pulling the video of it up when I found there was no "official" video.  But there was one where they were in the studio playing it live, and talking about the inspiration behind the song.  This is it:

The story behind the song is about a woman named Janie who had crippling bi-polar episodes.  She moved from town to town until she opened a coffee shop in San Francisco.  When she would go into one of her episodes she had many friends who would help her and the coffee shop out until she recovered. 

The song is not just about her, but the community around her.  They had a person and a place that was special to them, and they came together to take care of them both.  It makes me think in times like this where we are so divided that you could have that many people come together to do something good.  That's why "1000 Arms," is such an amazing song.

I think back to when I played football, and injured my knee.  I was sent to our team doctor because of the seriousness of it.  Everyone knew about it, and there was no stigma.  A decade later when I became infected with the real flu, I ended up in the hospital and received IV treatment along with a few shots of medicine.  Again, there was no stigma. 

But if you tell someone you see a mental health specialist, well, there is a stigma.  And that's why I love "1000 Arms."  It takes away the stigma of mental illness.  It addresses that the community knows Janie can sometimes have a bi-polar episode, and still be a good person and a productive business owner. 

I hope that "1000 Arms," can receive more airplay in the U.S.  I don't think any other station in the Bay area would play it, but one can always hope.  So I have to say, Blue Rodeo, you have a new fan.  Thank you for what you wrote. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

If It's Not Baroque, Don't Fix It!

"If it's not Baroque, don't fix it!"  Those words were said by one of my high school orchestra teachers, Mrs. Huthmaker.  It was one of the few things she actually managed to teach me.  That thought came to my mind many years after it was first said to me.

For fun I was looking through the cello section on E-bay when I saw something that I didn't recognize.  That was good since I was searching for cellos that were not a typical Stradivarius or Guarneri.  However, what I was looking at was in the cello section, but it was not called a cello.  It was a Viola Da Gamba, a member of the Viol family.

I honestly had no clue what that was.  I started playing cello when I was 12, and no one ever said anything about it.  Wikipedia here I come.

It turns out all that Baroque era music that Mrs. Huthmaker loved was actually played on the precursor to Stradivarius and Guarneri instruments.

This will help:

Just to put this in perspective, the years from 1600 A.D. to 1750 A.D. are known as the Baroque period.  One of Stradivarius' earliest known violins is from 1666.  Some of his most "valued/sought after" violins are from 1680-1690. 

This is really helpful.

What I am trying to say, Baroque music had been in full swing for almost a century before Stradivarius became known for producing his violins.  So this leads to the question, what "violins" came before them?  It turns out this:

Again, this will help.... a lot.

So all those pictures I saw where the cello looked like it was melting and didn't have an endpin, well that was not so much "artistic license" was it was what a real viola da gamba looked like.  Here's some vintage paintings and sketches.

It actually makes a bit of sense now doesn't it?  The funny thing is that, I can't believe that I had to learn about this from E-bay off all places.  Of course now I want to buy one, but ... what does it sound like.  Let's pull up YouTube!

Okay, that's talent.  I mean.  That is talent.  I don't even play seven stringed guitars, I wonder what I would do with a seven string bowed instrument? 

Of course, the nice thing about the two Chinese instrument shops on E-bay is that they have what I would call a hybrid of a Strad style cello and a Viola Da Gamba.  Here's a picture of the Viola Da Gamba on the left and a Strad style cello on the right.

Now here's what they were selling.

The shape is more consistent with the Viola Da Gamba, but it has a modern tailpiece, fine tuners, and very noticeably an end pin.  Also, the angle of the fingerboard is a more modern shape.

One thing that can be changed for a truer, vintage sound is the strings.  They still make gut strings as well as synthetic strings that sound like gut strings.  Stringing those on this instrument would help towards a more Baroque sound. 

So now, I have a few options.  The two Chinese E-bay stores sell a variety of these Baroque era recreations.  Some are very close to the original makes, others like the one above are hybrids.  They also sell, "violins in the white," which means they are assembled but unfinished. 

I would like to buy an unfinished hybrid.  That way I could add the things I wanted.  I could also stain it, and French polish (shellac) it instead of it coming with a heavy varnish.  That's the one drawback to a lot of new instruments.  They put on a heavier coat of finish than necessary.  It ends up stifling the sound. 

Here's the name of the two E-bay sellers:

lankuishuang  Charming Song Violin Store

yitamusic  Yita Music

Since I would most likely want a four string hybrid, in the white Viol Da Gamba/Cello, I would consider almost making it a steampunk type instrument.  It would have vintage stylings with modern attachments. 

Let's start with the color.  I could stain it wine red like all those Gibson Les Paul Customs.  I would then finish it with shellac.  Okay, I would be a little more artsy than that and French polish it, but either way, it's still putting shellac on a wooden instrument.

Next up, metal gears.  That's right.  They've had them for cellos for about a hundred years.  Why not make use of them? 

When it comes to tailpieces there are so many options.  They make them in many types of wood, as well as a variety of styles.  I even considered a brass tailpiece, but that would affect the tone.  It might add a touch of brightness that I wouldn't want.  Maybe not so much brightness, as a tinny sound.  What I would really consider is a harp style tailpiece.

Another fun thing is that there are so many different pickup systems out there.  I'm not sure where I would start.  The costs are variable, but some of the nicer ones can get really pricey.  I still have a lot of research to do on this.

Something else that would be quite modern is the use of a bone nut instead of an ebony one.  Bone nuts have been used on guitars for a while, but not usually on orchestra instruments.  I built one for my electric cello, and I am completely happy with it. 

One thing they have now that they never had when I was a kid is a wolf whistle eliminator.  Basically, a orchestra instrument will have overtones which are just awful.  I mean the screechy howling sound that people hate when a kid first picks up the violin?  Yeah, that's a wolf whistle.  They now make a device to eliminate that sound.  Where was this when I started out.  It would have saved my parent's ears.

The one way to truly influence sound is find a good set of strings.  For the longest time I didn't have a clue that good strings could change not only my tone, but my volume.  Back when Mars Music was closing down I snagged a good deal on some D'Addario Helicores.  They blew my mind.  Before, all I knew was Red Label.  I didn't know what some decent strings could do.  The Helicores turned my tone up to 11, dang near doubled my volume, and bought out my bass notes.

I found out for electric orchestra instruments the Helicores tend to work the best for pickups and pickup systems.  That's one reason I also put them on my electric cello.  If I get a good deal on something else I may try them out.  Especially if they are darker and/or warmer.  But after having such good luck with the Helicores I will probably stick with them. 

So I have a lot to think about.  First up, finding a way to pay for it all.  Right now it's just a pipe dream.  But that's okay.  I'm a bit of a daydreamer, and this is a good thing to daydream about.  Let me think of what I would like to do, and keep a look out for new items being put up on E-bay.  You never know what might come up.   

And of course, the mandatory picture of me when I just received my cello.  I was 12 in this photo.

Squeezing The Tone

As you know car guys, motorcycle guys, and guitar guys like myself are always trying to "tweek" a little more power out of their equipment. I decided to try an experiment with one of my guitars.

This is not my personal guitar, but looks exactly like my Epiphone Les Paul Honeyburst Plain Top.

There has been a lot of talk on the internet about the different type of capacitors in guitars. Oil in paper caps were in the earliest Gibson guitars, so that's what the gold standard is.

I have read many articles with differing opinions on the subject. Some say if a cap is 0.022 uf., then why change it out for another cap that is the same value, just because it is supposedly a better capacitor? Another article I read ranked the caps from worst to best. The author had a great write-up on how each cap affected the pickups and electronics.

I also read comments where players said it made a difference, and others who said they couldn't hear one lick of difference. Now, I know that not all ears are created equal. I'm not the best player, but thanks to training from my cello teacher Laura, I pride myself on having great ears. 

I was always good at recommending pickups to players due to being able to hear the differences in the EQ, compression, and the presence. So if I could "tweek" out a little more tone out of a pickup by just changing a $1 part, I'll give it a try.

The author of the ranked caps article said that he considered Mallory caps to be just second to a true oil in paper cap. I still had a Mallory cap from an old project. (It was my very last cap in my parts drawer.)  I decided to use my Epiphone Les Paul plain top as a guinea pig.  Here's the Mallory cap.

I sound checked my guitar before changing the cap, and then played it immediately afterward. I only changed the neck tone cap. That way I could focus on one pickup. I also made sure I was taking out a 0.022 cap, and putting in a 0.022 cap.

The result? I couldn't hear one blasted amount of difference. I tried. I really did. I rolled the tone control back and forth. I played through two different amps. I don't think it changed a dang thing.

One thing I will concede is that better made caps are more true to their value.  For instance, better made caps have tight tolerances.  Meaning if a cap is marked 0.022 uf, then a well made one will be within a 5% or less tolerance.  So while one cap may not be better than another type, it could be out of spec.  And that could make a difference

One thing I haven't mentioned is that in electronics there are start caps and run caps.  This is important in high powered machines.  The start cap provides a voltage jump to get the machine started, and the run cap keeps the machine running.  The start cap drops out after a few seconds (45 seconds at the most.)  So there are different types of caps.

So what does this have to do with a guitar cap?  Well, a guitar pickup (for the most part) is passive.  In other words you are not running 220 volts through your pickups, caps and pots.  But here's where it gets interesting.  A run capacitor is usually oil filled, like a oil in paper cap.  In other words those classic caps used in those vintage guitars are run caps.

Even weirder, the poly caps that are used now-a-days are start caps.  So I will say there is a difference in what they were originally created to do.  Here's a great article about run vs. start caps.

Again, I pride myself on having a dang good ear. I also know my equipment. I've had this guitar for 9 years, and the main testing amp for 10 years. I know in my heart and my ears that changing out the original cap to the Mallory cap didn't change the sound at all. 

So, I'm glad I tried. It didn't hurt anything, and I came away with a different point of view.  I admit, I have to rethink what I thought I knew about capacitors.  I am still conflicted on whether I should spend $5 to test out a paper in oil cap.  That's the only thing I can think of that may affect the one that I haven't tried.     

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Adrian's Year In Review: The Best Blogs of 2016

That's right kids.  It's that time of year again.  It's time for my, "Best of Blogs" for the year 2016. 

This year I wrote 54 blogs including this one.  I have once again made my goal of averaging writing a blog once a week. 

For my "Best Of," I make two "Top 5" lists.  One is for the most viewed.  Although I realize this is unfair since the blogs written in January had more time to be viewed than the blogs in December.  That is the nature of the beast though.

My other "Top 5" list is for my personal favorites.  Despite how many views they actually had, I pick the blogs that I think are my best work for the year. 

First up, the Top 5 most viewed blogs.

5.  Bad Luck Windshield, And The Best Way To Ruin A Saturday.  33 views.

I'm not sure why a post complaining about how I destroyed my car's back windshield made the list, but it somehow did.  I think I only posted it once.  Since I tend to write at night I post a blog a few times on Facebook so that people have a chance to see it.  I guess my bad luck resonated with a lot of folks.

4.  The Whitest Girl Coffee You Know.  35 views.

I have to say, sometimes Adrian humor sometimes doesn't quite make the mark.  However, this time it did.  When great writing meets funny pictures, that's when hilarious blogs happen.

3.  What We Pass Down.  41 views.

I really didn't expect this blog post to make the list.  I've only had it posted for four days.  However, a lot of my relatives viewed it due to what I had to say about my Grandmother in it.  I also think it had a lot of views due to the blog that preceded it.  That post happened to be next on this list.

2.  A "Little Talk," For My Grandmother.  48 views.

This blog post was passed around and seen by many of my relatives.  Many of them couldn't make my Grandmother's funeral service so I posted what occurred at the service, as well as the speech I gave.  I thought this would have a lot of views, but 48 is quite a lot for being posted just nine days.

1.  New Pedal Board Day:  Homestyle Edition:  Part 1.  55 views.

I understand why this blog post had so many views.  It's because there are a lot of musicians looking for a do-it-yourself/ make-it-yourself guitar pedal board.  Not only did I tell them where to go, but I also told them the part number.  Then I posted lots of pictures, and gave step by step details on not only how to make it, but how to make it right. 

I'd like to think that lots of musicians were able to take my advice.  I even had a friend who considered doing exactly what I did.  He found a deal on a regular metal pedal board, but he was glad that I posted this. 

Now we go onto my personal favorite blogs of 2016. 

5.  Hey Mama, Don't Rock Me.  Don't Rock Me One Bit.

Adrian finds out he's not the only one who thinks "Wagon Wheel" is overplayed.  There's a whole Wikipedia page about it. 

4.  Scareboarders:  This Year's Bad April Fools' Day Gag

Every year Adrian pulls a pretty awesome April Fools' Day gag.  If people were fish, Adrian would have hooked a bunch. 

3.  Full Service Luthier

I was thinking of doing another guitar repair blog when I thought, "Eh, that's boring.  Let's do something fun."  So I showed just how much of a full service luthier I am.  This one had lots of funny pictures in it too.

2.  The Whitest Girl Coffee You Know, Part 2

Part 1 was pretty awesome, however, Part 2 "went there."  I finally made Dad laugh after two days of him being depressed. 

1.  A "Little Talk," For My Grandmother

Not only do I think this is the best blog of 2016, it might be the most important blog I have ever written.  Admittedly, I had been thinking about my speech for a long time.  So when I wrote it I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to talk about.  So that made this blog pretty easy. 

I just posted what happened at the funeral service for my Grandmother, and I posted my speech.  However, it was what I said that made this post so important.  That, and the fact it was able to be shared with those who weren't able to hear it in it's original form.  Again, I think it's more important than it is good. 

So that wraps up another year.  It's hard to believe that I started writing in the spring of 2008.  My sister told me I should be blogging way before then.  She said that due to my natural storytelling ability and my love of writing, blogging might be something that I liked. 

Here is it almost eight years since I started, and this will be my 566th post.  I've posted stories, how to guides, instrument reviews, silly pictures, adventures, and so much more.  I hope I am lucky enough to keep writing.  I also hope I continue to become a better writer. 

I look at my early blogs, and see how they were just long posts like I would post on Myspace.  (Remember Myspace?)  That's where my blog got its start.  My posts were just quick thoughts and nothing more.  Once I had moved to Blogger I started to develop my thoughts a bit more. 

My early, erratic posts were funny in their own way, but a lot of the time they weren't that good.  Once I took writing a little more seriously I developed into a much better writer.  I hope to continue that trend. 

So here is a goodbye to 2016.  Overall, it's been an up year for me.  It hasn't been good for all the celebrities that it's killed off, but I have had a personal, profound change this year.  There was good, bad, and straight through indifferent, but overall I had more good than bad.  And despite the bad, I also grew as a person.  I think that may be the biggest, more important lesson that I will take from 2016. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Welcome Bob A. Fish To The Fish Tank

I was aiming to post this a little while back, but as you can see down my blog feed my Grandmother passed away.  So this post had to be put on hold for a while. 

A few weeks ago I dropped by Pet City to see about adding some more fish to my fish tank.  I had five angelfish already so I wasn't looking to add anymore.  I was checking the price on certain tetras or other fish that would get along with angelfish.

But that's when I saw him.  Bob.  Bob Angel Fish.  He was so tiny, but had some amazing markings.  So he had to come home with me.  This is Bob.

You can see just how tiny he is for an angelfish.  I was worried he might be picked at by the larger fish.  However, I have not had any trouble with these angelfish.  Honestly, I've had more trouble with mollies.  That's right.  Those "community fish," that are supposed to get along with each other?  I had one molly flat out kill another many years ago.  I have had no trouble at all with these angels.

I have to say the five angelfish I bought a couple of months back have been some of the smartest fish I've had.  They know who feeds them.  I can sit in my chair, and they will stare at me or at least come over to check on me.  Yes, I've had fish do that before, but none learned to do that within three days. 

Here's a picture of Bob with some of the older angels.

Here's one of the bigger angels in what is one of my better pictures.

It's funny in that, they were so tiny just a couple of months ago.  I remember commenting on how their bodies (not counting the fins) were no bigger than a quarter.  Now, they are much, much bigger.  Bob is no bigger than a black tetra at this moment.  But I think he will get some size on him in no time.  Much like his tank mates.

So maybe I will get a few more fish in the tank.  I do have the room.  I think some black neon tetras would get along well with everyone.  I've had great luck with them before.  But we'll see.  If I do, you can be sure that I will write a blog post about it.