Feels So Good

Chuck Mangione comes to Wickenburg.

Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure to sit second row center at a Chuck Mangione concert. In Wickenburg.

Say what you will about Wickenburg’s lack of nearly everything — as I [too] often do — but it has two extraordinary things that make life here a bit more interesting. One of them is the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts. And each year, the folks who manage the Webb Center do a damn good job at lining up entertainers to inject a little culture into this otherwise cultural black hole.

The annual lineup is always a mix of entertainers. There’s country music, jazz, dance, spoken word, and more. While most acts will appeal to adults — after all, more than half of Wickenburg’s winter population is over 55 — there are usually a handful appropriate for families. That’s great (if local families take the kids out) because it exposes them to quality entertainment with a higher cultural value than what they’re probably watching on television. What’s great about the Webb Center is that while adult ticket prices are in the $30 to $45 range, kids tickets are usually just $5.

Product ImageMike and I normally attend one or two performances at the Webb Center each season. In November, we saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas with the David Benoit Quartet.” Mr. Benoit and his companions played a combination of their own music, as well as classic Peanuts music by Vince Guaraldi. It was a great show and perfect for the upcoming Christmas season.

Last night’s performance by Chuck Mangione and his five-piece band was, by far, the most enjoyable performance I’ve attended at the Webb Center. The music was full of energy — my foot was tapping from the very first note to the last. Each member of the ensemble took turns entertaining us with solos while they played Mangione favorites like Bellavia, Main Squeeze, and Chase the Clouds Away, Children of Sanchez. They played for 90 minutes without interruption, left the stage, and returned to a standing ovation to play the classic jazz hit, Feels So Good. Mr. Mangione quipped that the song had put both his daughters through college.

Chuck Mangione Autographed CDAfter the show, most people left quickly, as they usually do at the Webb Center. But those of us who remained behind got the opportunity to meet Mr. Mangione in person. There was quite a crowd for him, which was great to see. I was one of the last to step up. I’d bought a CD at the end of the show (as I usually do) and Mr. Mangione autographed it for me while I thanked him for coming to Wickenburg.

Last night’s concert was sold out, which is always great to see. There were people in the audience who had come from as far away as Connecticut and Tennessee just to see the show. It’s somewhat embarrassing when “big name” musicians like David Benoit or R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton (who came last year) come to Wickenburg and play to a half- or three-quarters-full house. After all, the Webb Center only has 600 seats — you’d think we’d be able to get 600 people to come to a live performance that didn’t require a lengthy drive down to Phoenix or Scottsdale. Unfortunately, not everyone in Wickenburg understands or appreciates the value of this great cultural facility. For those of us who do, it’s a special treat.

And in case you’re wondering what the extraordinary thing in Wickenburg is, it’s the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. Don’t let its appearance from the street fool you — it’s bigger and better than it looks. Next time you’re in Wickenburg, see for yourself.

My iTunes Plus Shopping Spree

I pick up a bunch of albums full of classics my parents used to listen to.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s; my parents grew up in the 40s and 50s. When I was a kid — before I learned to tune in a radio by myself, that is — I was kind of stuck listening to the kind of music my parents liked. I’m talking about Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and other “vocalists.”

Although I didn’t really like the music, I didn’t hate it, either. And nowadays, hearing those old songs brings back memories from my childhood. I can still remember trimming the Christmas tree in the living room of our New Jersey home, listening to “It Was a Very Good Year” from an LP on the console stereo by the stairs.

I’ve been collecting some of those old songs for a while, as well as songs from way before that time — big band songs that really made you want to swing. But I never really got into collecting this music as much as I wanted to complete my classic rock collection with my favorite songs from the 70s and 80s.

Sometime within the past year or so, I stopped buying music online. I was simply fed up with the limitations put on the DRM-protected music available on the iTunes music store. I wasn’t interested in breaking the law and downloading music from illegal sites. I wanted to buy it. But I couldn’t see buying an entire CD at a store for $15 or more (plus tax or shipping or both). So I pretty much stopped buying music, except, of course for new releases by my favorite artists: Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, etc.

Frank Sinatra Album CoverEnter iTunes Plus. I wrote about it on Wednesday, explaining how you could use it to update your iTunes Store purchases of EMI-published music to remove the DRM and improve sound quality. One of the things I didn’t mention in that article is that I bought a DRM-free album, Classic Sinatra – His Greatest Performances, 1953-1960. I don’t know about you, but I think 20 songs for $12.99 and immediate gratification without DRM restrictions is a pretty good deal.

So good a deal, in fact, that I stopped by on Thursday and picked up two other albums: Dino – The Essential Dean Martin and The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

I’m buying this music for a few reasons reasons. First of all, I like it and I want to add it to my collection. Second, I think it’s a great deal. And third, I want to do my part to support legal online sales of DRM-free music.

Let’s face it: I’m not a music pirate and most people who rip CDs and buy music for their iPod aren’t either. The music industry is not going to go broke by removing protection from the music. I believe more people will buy it with the restrictions removed. I believe that this could be the answer to turn around the music industry, to get more people buying music again.

But then again, I might be extremely naive about this whole thing and one of the few fools buying iTunes Plus music.

What do you think? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts with other site visitors.

Gila Monster

My first Final Cut Express video project.

After spending three days going through a tutorial to learn Final Cut Express HD, I was ready to create my first video project. I’m sharing it with blog readers so you can see how much effort a person can expend on 25 seconds of video.

About the Project

This particular project features a Gila Monster (pronounced “heela monster”), which is a rather large lizard that can be found in the Arizona desert. If I’m lucky, I see one or two of these in a year, so they’re not exactly common. They are, like so many things in the desert, poisonous, so you don’t want to get too close. But since they’re not exactly fast and they’re definitely not aggressive, you can get photos of them in action if you have equipment with you.

On a backroad trip with Mike and some friends, we happened to come upon one croassing the road. I had my video camera with me and whipped it out to capture some pretty decent footage. This Final Cut Express project cuts out the boring shaky bits, replaces our silly comments with music, and adds opening and closing titles. This is the first in a series of short videos I hope to add to wickenburg-az.com, so make the site more interesting to visitors.

But this is also an experiment to check out video formats and Final Cut Express’s export feature. I had great success when exporting to QuickTime movie format, for iPod, and for Apple TV. But the Windows Media Player export didn’t work right at all and the AVI format was extremely poor quality, despite the file size, so I’m not going to distribute them. I just spent another few minutes using the iPod version of the file to create an e-mail version using QuickTime’s Share command. That worked best of all for the Web view of the file. Only 3.3 MB (which is smaller than the iPod version, and it looks pretty good.

Getting it Online

XHTML purists will tell you that the EMBED tag is a no-no in Web development. I think it has something to do with Internet Explorer which, for some reason, can’t interpret XHTML and CSS like the rest of the Web browsers on this planet.

So this project is also an experiment to see if the QuickTime Embed plugin for WordPress will work. If you’re reading this article shortly after I put it online and there’s no QuickTime movie below (or if the whole site is messed up), it’s because I’m trying this out and debugging. (Check in again in about 30 minutes.)

That said, here’s the movie with a Poster movie. I think I’l leave the iPod file for wickenburg-az.com distribution.

Apple Collectibles

1996 Annual Report, Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, and more.

Today, while filing away some old investment papers, I stumbled upon a copy of Apple’s 1996 Annual Report and accompanying Report to Shareholders. Still in near perfect condition, I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: I put it on eBay:

1996 was not a good year for Apple Computer. Gil Amelio was Chairman of the Board and CEO. The company reported a net loss of $816 million. And the company was trying hard to maintain its ever-dwindling market share.

The 1996 Apple Annual Report offers a “darkest hour” snapshot of the now-thriving company with a solid reputation for creating innovative, easy-to-use products. 36 pages in near perfect condition, with the original 6-color Apple logo on the back cover.

Also in the package is the oversized booklet titled “Looking Forward: A Report to Shareholders.” This promotional document was Apple’s attempt to keep existing shareholders by painting a rosy picture of the company’s future. The booklet’s cover features a child holding an eMate 300, which is also illlustrated in the booklet’s centerfold. Other products featured in the document include the MessagePad 2000, PowerBok 1400, Performa 6400, and original Power Macintosh.

Do you collect Apple memorabilia? If so, don’t miss this chance to own a piece of Apple’s financial past.

After listing this item, I decided to see what else was listed in Vintage Apple/Macintosh > Other Vintage Apple category. A lot of old stuff. Very old stuff. Like Apple IIe disk drives and Prometheus modems and more than a few Apple Newton eMates (featured in my annual report!).

Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshThis got me thinking about my own Apple antique: a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Yes, I bought one of those. No, I didn’t pay $8,000 for it. (That was the original selling price.) I got it for about $2,000 using a hardware discount I used to get as an Apple consultant.

The computer has been sitting on a sofa table in my living room for the past eight years. It’s really an amazing piece of work. It has a LCD monitor — a big deal in those days — CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, FM radio receiver, television tuner (really!), and removable trackpad. Oh, yeah — and a Bose sound system.

It has a PowerPC 603e processor and came with System 7.6 (if you want to get a real idea of dates here) but I think I have Mac OS 8 running on it. (Read more specs.) I used to use it to play music when I was working around the kitchen. I have since taught it how to display photos and play music from my iPod. The screen is small, but the sound system really is good.

For at least the past year, I thought it was broken. It wouldn’t go on when I pushed the power button. I had a sneaking suspicion that someone had spilled water into the subwoofer, which also houses the power supply. I never thought to check all the connections.

Until today. And that’s when I discovered that the surge suppressor it’s attached to is dead. Remove the suppressor, plug the darn thing right into a wall outlet, and it works! Woo-hoo!

No, I’m not going to put it on eBay.

But I do have a bunch of other old Apple stuff that will make its way to eBay soon:

  • There’s a strawberry iMac (a G3) that I need to restore to its original hardware and pack up. I don’t expect to get much for it, despite the fact that it works perfectly fine.
  • There are about 20 never-worn Apple-related T-shirts carefully packed in plastic in my clothes closet. Shirts from Apple’s heydays, when Macworld Expo was one party after another. (I remember seeing Jefferson Starship playing at one party while Chris Issacs was playing at another across San Francisco.)
  • There are Apple Marketing CDs, full of documents to help retailers sell Macs.
  • And then there’s my prized collectible: Two versions of the Mac OS 8 demo CD, released about a year apart. The first version had a lot of weird/cool/funky features that never made it into Mac OS 8. It’s amazing to compare the two.
  • And in my safe: a 50-share stock certificate for Apple Computer, Inc. stock, representing my initial investment in the company. It has the original Apple logo on it, too.

What brings all this up? I’m just so tickled that the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh still works! I couldn’t imagine where I might get the darn thing fixed if it didn’t.

The Ups and Downs of Ups and Downs

There’s always one in the crowd.

My company, Flying M Air, did helicopter rides at an airport event in Buckeye, AZ last weekend. I believe it’s called the Buckeye Airport Open House.

The Event

The folks at Buckeye really know how to put on a safe and fun family event. They had a D.J. playing music, classic and experimental aircraft on display and flying by, flight schools, an Army recruiter, fire trucks, a medevac helicopter, a crop-dusting helicopter, and parachute jumpers. They also had a bunch of food vendors and a train to take little kids on rides around the airport.

It was an annual event and this was our third year participating. Although attendance was down a bit this year from last year, we still managed to give about 50 rides, five of which were freebies awarded as raffle prizes.

The Airport staff had set me up on a ramp that connected the main parking area with the taxiway. This was an excellent location because it gave us plenty of space on pavement to operate and made it very easy for us to secure the landing zone. Best of all, it was within view of all attendees, so everyone got a chance to watch me take off and land. (Funny how normal helicopter operations can make their own “air show” for folks who don’t usually get to see helicopters operate.)

They were supposed to have a B-25 parked behind me, but the plane had some engine problems and couldn’t attend. I had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I was glad that we wouldn’t have to worry about people behind my landing zone. On the other hand, I was disappointed for the attendees, because I knew they’d like to see the plane.

Just Say No to Long Lines

In the past, we’ve always been the busiest “vendor” at the event. During the past two years, I’d continued flying at least an hour after all the other vendors had closed up and gone home, just to work off the line that had formed. I clearly remember flying in at the end of a ride to see eight or ten people waiting in the shade under the wings of a parked aircraft on the ramp. They were waiting for me.

This year, we decided to keep the price the same but shorten up the rides a bit to prevent hour-long lines from forming. Our prices continue to rise — 100LL fuel is now more than $4/gallon at most airports — but we figured that with shorter rides, we’d still come out okay. I liked keeping the price affordable — $35/person — so people could afford to fly and to take their kids. (I always fly a lot of kids at this event.) So I aimed for the low end of our usual 8 to 10 minute flight range. Although actual ride length varied depending on the wind and maneuvers I needed to perform to avoid skydivers and other aircraft, most rides probably came in right around 8 minutes.

It’s important to note here that we never advertised the ride length. It did not appear on any sign. When asked, my ground crew — Mike, Darlene, and Dave — would tell passengers that the ride went out toward the town of Buckeye and came back on a different route. When pressed, Darlene gave out the usual 8 to 10 minute range. None of them were actually timing me. I’d timed the first few rides to make sure I had a suitable route and then stopped timing. I have better things to do when I fly than to watch the chronometer — like making sure the skydivers weren’t going to miss the mark and land on the taxiway in front of me as I approached. The passengers, on the other hand, could easily see how long the rides were by timing them as they waited.

The Route

The flight was a good mix of farmland, new development, and empty desert. I took off, following the taxiway parallel to Runway 17, then headed east toward downtown Phoenix. Early in the morning, it was hazy and the buildings in the distance were impossible to see, but as the sun moved across the sky and the air cleared a bit, details emerged.

We flew over some freshly sown farmland that was being irrigated. In this area, they use gravity to siphon water from a narrow irrigation canal through short lengths of tube that run from the canal to the beginning of deeply cut irrigation rows between rows of crops. The water flows down the rows and, as you fly over it, the sun reflects off its moving surface.

Beyond that, in another field, farm workers were cutting alfalfa. A cutting machine would drive up and down the field, neatly cutting the crop. Then another machine would gather the cuttings into narrow piles of the stuff. A third machine, paired up with a big open-backed truck, would come down the rows, scoop up the cut alfalfa, and dump it into the back of the truck. I found the process fascinating and watched its progress all day. To the south of that, beyond our flight path but still visible, plows worked on another field, sending up clouds of dust that blew back toward the airport in the strong breeze.

Next came a former farm field that had been prepared for a housing development. You could clearly see where the roads and sidewalks and homes would go. But construction had never begun and weeds were growing tall in many areas. Beyond that was a brand new housing development that hadn’t been there the year before. Probably about 200 homes, a school, and a park.

This is where we made our turn to the left, crossing I-10, rounding the east end of a tall hill, and following what I was told was McDowell Road heading west. Now we were over empty desert. Well, empty if you don’t consider the people illegally shooting at makeshift shooting ranges and the incredible amounts of trash dumped out there. We crossed this area with a tailwind, following a fenceline. Ahead of us, in the distance, we could clearly see the Palo Verde nuclear power plant. Below us were a few homes, then more, then more. About two miles from the airport, I’d make my radio call and start scanning the skies for jumpers. I’d turn final for the taxiway parallel to runway 17 and land at the ramp where I was set up for operations.

A Busy Day…and a Crazy Lady

I flew pretty much nonstop from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Then I took a break to use the bathroom and have the helicopter refueled. Buckeye has a 100LL fuel truck, which really takes all the hassles out of refueling. (The first year we did the event, we had to refuel by carrying 5 gallon fuel cans back and forth to the helicopter. What a drag!) I also had a bite to eat. Mike and my ground crew had already sold my next three flights, so I didn’t get a long rest. After 30 minutes out of the helicopter, I was back in my seat, spinning up, getting ready to go.

The event ended at 2 PM and that’s about the same time the other vendors were packed up and gone. I finished flying at about 2:30. We packed up the helicopter, topped off the tanks — I paid for the fuel by check and got an excellent price — and headed home.

That’s when Mike mentioned the “crazy lady” who kept shouting that the rides were only 7 minutes long. I don’t hear anything in the helicopter unless it comes over the radio or intercom, so I had no idea that anyone was giving my ground crew grief. Evidently, her husband and grandson (or maybe son?) had gone on a ride and she’d timed it. According to her, it was only 7 minutes. She claimed that we’d advertised 10 minute rides.

I told Mike that we hadn’t advertised any length for the ride. I asked if she’d bothered anyone else and he said no, she hadn’t. I asked him if anyone else had complained. He told me that everyone else was very happy. And then we just forgot about her. There’s always one malcontent in the crowd and I wasn’t about to let it ruin our day.

The Crazy Lady Makes Herself a Nuisance

I was in Austin yesterday when I checked my voicemail messages from the day before. A Mrs. Smith (not her real name) had called and wanted a call back. She didn’t say what it was about. I called her back and, within a few minutes, realized that I was speaking to the crazy 7-minute lady.

She immediately accused me of ripping off all of my passengers by 1/3 of what they had paid for. Not the best way to start a conversation with me — especially when she was dead wrong.

I told her that the rides were not advertised as 10 minutes and that no one had said they were 10 minutes long. She insisted that that’s the way they had been advertised in the newspaper. I told her that we hadn’t placed any newspaper ads.

She continued along the same vein, repeatedly accusing me of cheating my passengers by three minutes of flight time. She wasn’t interested in the truth. She had this 10 minutes locked in her brain and I couldn’t shake it loose. And the conversation was going nowhere fast.

At one point, she claimed that she had other people to complain to about this but that she thought she’d give me an opportunity to respond first. That sounded like a threat to me. I don’t like threats.

Finally, I said: “What is it that you want from me?”

“Well, you didn’t give your passengers one third of what they paid for –”

More of the same. I cut her off. “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time and mine with this nonsense,” I said. And I hung up the phone.

I don’t know what she wanted from me. Maybe she expected me to give her a refund to keep her quiet. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I wasn’t about to refund money I’d earned. And if she wanted her money back, why hadn’t she asked for it? Did she expect me to offer it? Why would I do that if I’d earned it?

Keep in mind that I’m originally from the New York metro area, where it’s not unusual for people to complain about something in an effort to get it for free. Her threat was a line a New Yorker would use. I wonder how many other times she’d used it successfully on unsuspecting Arizona merchants and vendors who just gave her the money back to shut her up.

Maybe she didn’t realize that she was playing games with the wrong person.

Interview Does Not Equal Advertisement

I was curious about where she’d gotten the 10 minute time from, so I called my contact at Buckeye airport. I told her about the crazy lady and asked if the airport folks had advertised a ride time in the newspaper.

“I didn’t know how long the rides would be,” my contact told me. “So we didn’t put anything specific in the paper. Just helicopter rides.”

“So where did she get this idea?”

“Let me look in the paper.” I heard pages rustling over the phone. Then she came back on. “There’s an article about the event in this week’s paper.”

And she proceeded to read me a section of the article where a couple who had just come off the helicopter was interviewed by the reporter — possibly the same reporter I’d taken for a flight. They used phrases like “once in a lifetime opportunity” and “ten-minute ride” and “highlight of the event.” They were very happy with the ride. (I’ve never had an unhappy passenger.) And I guess that since they didn’t have stopwatches going during their ride, they thought they were in the air for 10 minutes. (Maybe they were. I didn’t time all the rides.) But a report with an interview after the event is a far cry from advertised information.

“Don’t worry about it,” my contact concluded. “There’s always one nut in the crowd.”

We talked about the event and the turnout and how I’d done. “I’d like to come back next year,” I said meekly.

“We want you back,” my contact assured me. “We want you there every year.”

Now I’m wondering what the crazy lady will do next. Because if there’s one thing I know: people crazy enough to make such a fuss over nothing obviously don’t have anything better to do with their time.