All posts by rbowen

Rush, week 12: Test For Echo

In 1996, 3 years after Counterparts, Test For Echo was released. I was working at DataBeam, which had just been acquired by Lotus, which had just been acquired by IBM. All was well with the world.

I remember that I didn’t like the album at first, but it grew on me pretty quickly. But I can’t really say that anything on this album rises to my “all time favorite Rush” list. The tunes are catchy, the lyrics are clever, but nothing is *amazing*.

I don’t suppose there’s anything I need to say about Virtuality that hasn’t already been said by thousands of Rush fans. Even in 1996 it was super cringey, and it’s just gotten worse since.

Driven is perhaps the best track on the album, and is just a lot of fun. Half the world is perhaps my favorite lyrics on the album.

I was fascinated to learn that Alex considers Resist one of his favorite Rush tracks ever. I do like the lyrics, which appear to take an Oscar Wilde quote and extend the metaphor.

Anyways, it’s a good listen, and I found myself thinking a number of times that the worst Rush album is better than the best of a lot of other bands. But this one just doesn’t really do it for me. It doesn’t hold together as an album, in the way that many other Rush albums do. I don’t feel that, as an album, it’s really *about* anthing, in the sense that, for example, Roll The Bones or Counterparts are.

 

Boojum’s knife

Late last year I mentioned on social media that I was looking for knife projects if anyone wanted me to make something for them.

My friend Boojum, from back in my Perl days, mentioned that she had an unfinished project from her mother, started before her untimely passing, that maybe I could try my hand at finishing.

She sent me the components of a knife that had been started many years ago and never finished.

Now, this project has a number of challenges. The first, and most significant, is that of course this is an object of sentimental value. And it’s something that I could very easily screw up. This is offset by the fact that Boojum is awesome and wanted an object that she could use rather than something that was just collecting dust somewhere. And this is how I view these projects as well. I don’t want to ever make something that just sits on a shelf being admired. I want to make things that get used and scuffed up and broken in daily life.

The other challenge is that the blade itself is aluminum rather than steel and so it was very soft and that increased the chances that I would ruin it while I was working with it. The blade was already cut to shape and had a weird little tang that I didn’t understand why it was done that way.

(The tang of a knife is the part that is concealed within the handle.)

She sent me two blades and one handle. The blades were pretty much finished and the one handle was roughed in but needed some work. So what I needed to do was put one of the blades in the existing handle and then craft a handle for the other one.

I put it off for quite some time because it’s a lot of responsibility working with something with this much sentimental value.

In early January I started working on the first knife. I cut a slot in the handle and drilled two holes in the blade and attached it to the handle with 1/16th” brass pins.

Overall, I was mostly pleased with this final product. The upper pin is obviously too close to the end of the handle, and that worried me, but it seems to have worked out ok. And I used the original handle, made by her mom, almost without changes. It was very rough, and I sanded it, but other than that, didn’t change the original.

I finished the handle with teak oil, and buffed the blade to 3000 grit.

The second one took a lot longer, because I’ve been traveling a lot this year, but yesterday I started working on it.

I sketched a handle to try to complement the shape of the blade, and sacrificed about a centimeter of the blade to get a solid hold inside the handle.

Looks good on paper!

The handle is canary wood. I cut a channel down the center, drilled two holes in the blade, as you can see from the diagram, and put the same 1/16″ brass pins in that I used for the first one. That was definitely the hardest part – trying to align the pins with the teensy holes.

And I used epoxy to fill the cut and set it all up.

Then the usual hours of sanding through the grits, from 40, through 80, 120, 400, 1000, 1500, and finally 3000 to get a glossy finish, and then used several coats of teak oil to finish it up.

You can see more of the full process in my Flickr album, along with the notes I kept as I went along.

Overall, it was a hugely fun project, and I’m very honored that I was trusted to do it.

So, anyone else want me to make something?

Rush week 11: Fly By Night

 

Last week I listened to Fly By Night all week long.

I started the week thinking, this is definitely not a favorite, and I’m not even sure I like it. This is the first album that Neil Peart was on, so it’s definitely a step up from their first album, but they are still figuring out who they are. You can see some of Neil’s writing and drumming peeking out, but they’re not there yet.

And it’s worth remembering, too, that they were just kids at this point. Geddy was only 21.

And I think what I mainly don’t like about this album is that it’s not an album, it’s a pile of unrelated songs with nothing tying them together. According to Wikipedia, this was intentional:

The band wanted each song on Fly by Night to show a different side to their writing and playing, which resulted in an album of varied styles.

Which is ok, I guess, but not what I look for in a Rush album.

But, then, of cours, as I listened, it started to grow on me, as they do.

I had never before actually read the lyrics of “Beneath Between and Behind”. It’s commentary on the United States, and how it was drifting from its ideals. Interesting stuff.

This is juxtaposed with By-Tor and the Snow Dog, an absurd narration of a fight between two dogs, that is *clearly* the result of a little too much chemical inspiration. But, oh my word, the drums on this track. I try to imagine someone discovering this album in 1975 and hearing those Peart drums for the first time. Just … wow.

Rivendell is the kind of sci fi fan fiction that gave Rush their early reputation as a weirdos, and it definitely grew on me after a few times through. But it strikes me as a minor miracle that they got another album after this bit of weirdness.

All together, it’s still not a favorite, but you can definitely see hints of what they will become, and there’s some great moments in there.

 

Grace Under Pressure: Rush week 10

Last week I listened to Grace Under Pressure a dozen times or so, and it’s been a lot of fun to visit these old friends. There’s some *great* songs on this album. And then there’s some others.

Afterimage was the first song I thought of when Neal died 4 years ago (can you believe it’s been four years?!)

Suddenly you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
I remember …

I remember when my best friend Jerome died in high school, I listend to this on loop for weeks.

I feel the way you would
I feel, I feel the way you would

And of course, now, we remember Craig, who started us on this journey through Rush’s music, and left us before we were done.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Red Lenses. This was one of those “let’s pick random rhyming words” songs that seemed like Neil was phoning it in on this one.

Red Sector A, on the other hand, is a very powerful song, which became even more powerful for me when I learned of Geddy’s personal connection to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen.

And I’ve always loved The Body Electric, which on the surface is a little silly, but also strikes me as a wonderful sci fi story that I’d love to see written. It always reminded me a little bit of the Electric Monk, from Douglas Adam’s book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. And more recently, of Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries. Somehow this song managed to make me feel empathy and anxiety for a lost robot.

Between the Wheels was weird this time around. I loved it when I was younger. I loved the lines “reeling by on celluloid” and “soaking up the cathod rays”. But it seems a bit trite now. Still catchy, though.

Anyways, these songs have been part of my personal sound track for almost 40 years, so they are all old friends, and it was a lot of fun to revisit them.

Join us next week for Fly by Night!

Feedback: Rush week 9

First, a sad note: Craig, who got us on this Rush-of-the-week path a few months ago, passed away last week, taken far too young by cancer. Tell your friends you love them, and don’t postpone joy.

The next album on the list, which we continue in Craig’s honor is Feedback. It’s a weird album for Rush, in that it’s a cover album, where they play the songs that got them started in their early years. Their garage band album, you might say.

As such, some people actively dislike it. I remember when I went to the R30 tour, people complained that they didn’t go to a Rush concert to listen to The Who.

I, however, LOVE this album. They put a new twist on these old songs. It’s almost funny how much more complex they make these simple old tunes. It was a lot of fun listening to the originals, and then the Rush take on the same song, and hearing the similarities, as well as the huge differences. Summertime Blues and Heart Full of Soul are my favorite tracks, closely followed by The Seeker. And then listening to the originals, you can definitely hear the influence that these bands had on Rush – especially early Rush, before they really found their unique sound.

A thorougly delightful album, for fun summer listening. Tons of nostalgia, but also introduced the greats to a new generation.

FOSSAsia 2024 in review

Last week I went to Hanoi for FOSSAsia 2024. This is an event that I’ve been attending for nearly 10 years, but this is the first time it’s been in Hanoi, and my very first trip to Vietnam.

Hanoi was fascinating. It was exciting to see a city, and a country, that I have read about my whole life, but never experienced in person. And of course it’s always an interesting experience to be somewhere where one is illiterate, and relies entirely on the kindness of strangers for basic communication.

It took 35+ hours to get to Hanoi – via Atlanta and Seoul – and with the date/time change between here and there, it was 3 calendar days getting there.

Traffic in Hanoi is an adventure. I posted several videos on YouTube, where you can get at least a glimpse of that.

The conference itself was pretty great.

The different focus at Asia tech events, from those in the US and Europe, is always a bit surprising. Not only the list of companies involved, but also the list of technologies that people are focusing on, always takes a bit to catch up on. This year, a huge focus was blockchain/web3 kind of stuff, with a LOT of content around Etherium and related projects. This is not something that I have paid much attention to, so there was a lot to learn.

The two best talks I attended were:

A short history of AI, by Harish Pillay. Going back to the 1950s, this talk showed how it’s all been steady progress over the years, and that the current buzz around AI/ML builds on the shoulders of earlier work.

Pretend it’s a movie, by Greg Brown. This was a very cool way to look at promoting your project as though it’s a movie, with a villain (the problems you solve) a hero (your project), a tagline, and trailer, and so on. This provides a useful new lens through which to look at how you might promote your project to a new audience.

I also gave my talk about how to give better presentations, which was fun, and seemed well received. I think they’ll be posting videos at some point, and I’ll put it here once they do.

On my last day in Hanoi, I went to Hoa Lo prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”,  where I learned a lot about the First Indochina War, and how the Vietnamese resisted the French occupation in the early 1900s.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting the Train Street, where a train runs directly down the center of a street with businesses close on both sides. You can watch the train coming through in this video.

Home again

Home Again

2024/04/09, Hanoi, remembering Beaver Place Road

“If you lived here
you’d be home now”,
the sign read.

But I did,
and I wasn’t,
for all those years.

Temporary storage for
my things, my dreams.

A place to sleep
(perchance to dream)

More home when
you were there.
Otherwise just a
shelter,

the trains marking the hours
through the dark nights
waiting for it to be
home again.