Monday, February 28, 2011

Murals Beautify Hayward

Hayward, California has made a commitment to improving itself with some sensational murals in its Mural Art Program.

Besides the gorgeous one shown at left, the largest one in town is Andrew Kong Knight's 3,500-square-foot "Gateway to Hayward" just a block away. It portrays Hayward as it would possibly have looked before all the people and their buildings moved in.

There are many more beautiful works of wall art around town.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Amazing New Concert Hall Opens

In Miami Beach, the incredible New World Center has opened. It houses the New World Symphony, which since 1987 has given young orchestra players a chance to work together and learn from great players and conductors before beginning their professional careers.

The building, designed by great modern architect Frank Gehry, not only provides a fine concert venue, but also has many other work spaces for the musicians, and features projection screens (sails) that allow multimedia presentations.
Michael Tilson Thomas, the founding conductor, has big plans for special events--featuring the work of one composer only, or various festivals and concerts and different times and in new formats. The idea is to not only produce great classical musicians for the future, but to open up the concert hall and expose more people to the joys of classical music.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Huge Job Transporting Windmills

Have you ever driven past one of those windmill farms, where giant fans live on breezy hills and turn frighteningly fast? If so, have you ever wondered how they got the windmills up there in the first place?

Well, an article in the January 2011 issue of Sun & Wind Energy magazine talks about the incredible logistics (and cost) of moving the pieces, which can weigh 120 tons and, in the case of the fan blades, stretch nearly 400 feet long.

Andreas Petzold, a delivery expert at Nordex Energy, says transportation cost can run 6 to 10 percent of the cost of the installation. That would include hiring cranes and special equipment to get the pieces around sharp mountain road corners and precisely through old tunnels.

Whew! Download the whole story here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't Make Assumptions

An odd thing happened to me today. I was meeting some colleagues for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I arrived first, and when I told the employee I was meeting a group there, he showed me to the table and then started gathering up the pre-set chopsticks from each place setting.

I asked him to please leave them as many of my lunchmates were actually Chinese--and, I'd be using the chopsticks myself. He promptly put them back, but left forks in two spots. I found out later that the reservation had been made under a non-Chinese name--I guess the forks were for us two.

I was amused by this, but later wondered if it was a form of profiling. The waiter made an assumption--a racial one--that wasn't based on facts.
The lunch went well (4 of the 10 diners, it turned out, were actually Asian--and the meal was ordered in Chinese). The food was fine. I'll go back again sometime. But it was an eye-opening experience.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I Followed a Nissan Leaf Today

One of the most exciting automotive debuts in many years--for me at least--is the arrival of the all-electric Nissan Leaf. I have seen it at the car shows and one passed me in traffic a few weeks ago. But tonight, on my way home from work, I found myself behind one as I approached the freeway entrance.

It was black, with the Leaf's unique and characteristic high, slim taillamps comprising strips of small, red dots. I followed the car about 10 miles until it pulled off at an exit.

As I followed, I felt a sense of change. Before too long, we'll have lots of electric cars zooming down the highways. I thought of how I could buy one and charge it at work--and at home--and someday, even from my own solar panels. It felt like the future had arrived.

We have many reasons to cut our use of petroleum. The Leaf is a great way to do it.

The Leaf's one weakness is its range--which realistically is well under 100 miles. But that will change. If I knew I could charge it at work, would I order one now? Well, I just might.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Even Smaller MINI -- Rocketman!

I can hear Elton John's iconic song from 1973 in my head as I consider a new, even smaller MINI.

It only makes sense, really, as the new four-door, larger MINI Countryman appears on the scene. MINI is going back to its roots with a car sized more like the original!

When MINI releases a concept, they normally build it later, so this could be the real thing. It will sell against the smart car and tiny offerings from Toyota, among others.

Read all about it, courtesy of Autoweek.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Man's Favorite Car--that You May Not Have Heard Of

Today, my colleague Slava told me about the first car that he had when he came to the U.S. It was a Nissan Axxess. He loved it and put more than 160,000 miles on it. He also developed a fondness for Nissans from that experience.

Do you remember the Axxess? Known as the Prairie in Japan, it was a small minivan with sliding doors on both sides. It was sold here only in 1990-92. Small and economical, but also roomy, it was a niche vehicle and came and went quickly. But--today, you can buy the swoopy 2012 Mazda5 and get nearly the same kind of thing. The new Ford C-Max minivan, coming out soon, will also offer a compact way to transport lots of folks.

What's your favorite oddball car? Mine is the Nash Metropolitan (see post of January 19). I also like the Volvo 1800 ES--a sportwagon from early 1970's. In modern cars, it's the MINI Cooper--especially the extended Clubman version.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Melting in the Dark

MacArthur Park--don't laugh--is one of my favorite songs of all time. I love it's overblown lyrics, it's symphonic backgrounds, it's multiple key changes. I even like the way Richard Harris (known to younger folks as the original Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies) croons, "MacArthur's Park"--adding the possessive.

The song was a number 1 hit in 1968, so I'm not alone in my affection. Give it a listen.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MINI Countryman - Bigger, but not Big

The MINI phenomenon continues.

As most folks know, the British go-kartlike pocket rocket arrived in 2002 as a new generation of the tiny car beloved in Europe since 1959.

I've been very fond of them and driven several. I especially love the Clubman--an extended MINI Cooper with twin rear doors and a little extra room, handy for bass carrying.

ANYWAY--the new MINI Cooper Countryman has arrived in dealerships now. It looks like a MINI, but is taller, has four full-sized doors and a standard hatchback, and is available in four-wheel-drive configuration. I peeked at one at the San Francisco Auto Show in November, but I decided to go drive one on a quiet holiday weekend afternoon.

My friendly salesman, George Martinez, let me take a white one with black alloy wheels out for a spin. Well, bottom line, it feels like a MINI, but higher and a little softer. The interior looks almost exactly like the one in the regular Cooper and Clubman--fortunately--with its big central speedometer and puffy looking (but hard) surfaces.

The same 1.6-liter engines as found in the Cooper/Clubman are there, with 121 horsepower naturally aspirated or 181 horsepower in S models with turbocharging. What's the difference, besides price? With the turbo the 0-60 is 7.0 seconds versus 9.8 for the regular one. Is that important? I dunno, but I tested an S and it moved pretty quickly.

As a MINI, it has many possible configurations, from 11 colors to contrasting roof and mirrors to different wheels, interior surfaces and colors, chrome accents, and on and on.

Prices start at about $23,000 including shipping, but can easily top $30K in a hurry when you get happy with the order book.

I'm liking True Blue with a white roof. Manual six speed. Not much else.

George told me that 85 percent of the cars sell with automatics. How disappointing--this is a car that deserves a manual transmission. See Car and Driver's Save the Manuals Facebook page for more on this subject.

See MINI's website for much more detail and amusement.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is Adam Young (Owl City) the Next Paul McCartney?

I'm not kidding. Listen the gorgeous melodies this guy creates--the rich, thumping bass parts--and compare. I suggest you listen to the effervescent, transcendant Fireflies and then McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed. Or, how about Vanilla Twilight and then the soon to be ex-Beatle's Let It Be? What do you think? Am I crazy?

I now own the latest CD, Ocean Eyes, whereon you'll find the two Owl City songs listed above.

Well, back to listening to Owl City. Where are my headphones?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fiddle Around this Summer

Looking for something interesting and worthwhile to do this summer? How about attending the Violin Craftsmanship Institute at the University of New Hampshire? From June 20 to July 22 you can learn to make, repair or rehair a bow, repair a violin, or even take the violin building workshop and make your own.

It all takes place in Durham, New Hampshire, about an hour and a half out of Boston on 156 wooded acres. You live in a dorm and go to school--sounds wonderful to me.
To find out more, call (603) 862-4234 or visit their website.

Their email address is

If you want to go, apply soon--final payment is due on April 4.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More MINIs -- Hooray!

I love MINI Coopers--old and and new. Recently, I've heard about a new MINI Cooper Coupe and two-seat roadster coming, and now spy pictures are available, thanks to MC2 Magazine.

The MINI motoring experience already is enriched this year with the new, larger, four-door, offroading MINI Countryman. It's enough to drive one to becoming a MINIiac.

I still favor the Clubman, which is a MINI Cooper with an extra foot of length, a second little "suicide" door on one side and two little doors in back. Perfect for carrying a bass--or whatever else you've got to transport.
Go to MINI's wonderful website to see the whole story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Accidental Hearts II

Here are a couple more accidental hearts. I've collected and sent these to my wife for a while. The one to the left I took this morning--it's a leaf.
So, imagine my surprise and happiness when I received one from her today. It's a scone crumb. (see below)

See--tiny but very heartlike.

On the other side of things, how about a disgruntled box? (scroll down)

The world is full of things "looking at you."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's Your Automotive Quotient (AQ)?

For an amusing and informative 20 minutes or so, go check out Carl, the tattooed animated crash-test dummy. I found him in the pages of Automotive News, but you can go here to play his fun automotive question and answer game.

I know a lot about cars, but I didn't get them all right. For example, do you know when the first paper speeding ticket was issued? Go find out.

The purpose of this bit of motorized frivolity? To call attention to Chrysler's certified used vehicle program.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bassist/Singer Esperanza Spalding Wins Grammy for Best New Artist

I saw Esperanza Spalding a couple of years ago at Yoshi's. She's phenomenal, and as a bassist, I'd read about her in Bass Player magazine. I even got to say hello for a moment as she signed CDs after the show.

Now, the Berklee School graduate--and teacher!-- has beaten out Justin Bieber for best new artist--a sign that they're picking real talent this year.

See the story at PopEater for details, but also be sure to download her latest CD--Chamber Music Society (and any of the others as well).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chamber Music--Good for the Soul

I just spent the weekend at a chamber music workshop put on by the Chamber Musicians of Northern California. I'm a very grateful member of this group of amateur musicians. Quarterly, we get together at a college or university campus to play music together.

I got to work on two exciting pieces this weekend. One was a Czech composer Dvorak's Bass Quintet. As a bass player I often play with groups with more than four other musicians--for example, an octet with 8 of septet with 7 (see the photo, taken last June). These groups include string and wind players.

For the Drovak piece, it was five folks with different-sized members of the violin family--violin, viola, cello and bass. What a nice sound. This is one of the "warhorses" of the bass chamber music repertoire, apparently, but it was only my second time through it and I'd gladly play it again anytime.

Today, I joined a dozen other musicians, all of whom were wind-powered, for a glorious Gran Partita by Mozart. We worked all day perfecting (well, improving) our performance and played some of it for some other musicians in the afternoon.

My hands, arms and lower back are sore now from my efforts, but I'm happy!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Splendid, Ethereal Owl City

The first time I heard Fireflies by Owl City the little hairs on my arms stood up and I felt a chill down my back. This is the sound of hit songs from the pop era of the 1960's blended with the high-tech electronics of today.

Adam Young is Owl City, but you'd think there was a band with him. I visualize one very talented young man with a personal recording studio and an arsenal of instruments.

Watch the video linked above. Besides hearing the transcendent song you'll witness a visual presentation worthy of Peewee's Playhouse. This is one very talented young man--he looks like a high school student--but oh my can he put out sound.

I found a CD, Maybe I'm Dreaming, in Barnes & Noble for $9.99 and since bringing it home, have played it over and over like I did with new Beatles albums. There's something infectious about the crisp, clear, shimmering sound that comes out of this music.

Visit the official website and enjoy some for yourself. Listen to Peppermint Winter. Wait until he hits "warm." Wow...

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Perfect Valentine's Day Gift...

Forget chocolate--it's fattening. Flowers last less than a week. How about a tiny car--with a Valentine's message that lasts?

Smart is "wrapping" their little two-person pod with your message now--just in time for Valentine's Day.

It takes just a few hours to do. He or she will thank you as they pass gas stations and feel good about using so little energy to get back and forth to work.

These cars feel bigger inside than they look on the outside, and pass all safety tests.
Well, it's an idea.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My First Favorite Music TV Show

As I prepare to watch Glee with my wife, I think back to a favorite musical TV show from the distant past. I'm talking about The Monkees!

Starting in the fall of 1966, every Monday night at 7:30 I tuned in to watch Davey, Mickey, Peter and Mike lip sync to their hit songs. They were funny guys--and were apparently hired for that reason--not their musicianship--although they did actually have ability. But the goal was to be an American version of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night movie--young guys running, fooling around, and playing music.

The producers of the Monkees may not have known how important the music would turn out to be--in its day--but some of those old hits remain on the oldies circuit--I'm a Believer (by a young Neil Diamond), Daydream Believer (John Stewart) and my personal favorite, Pleasant Valley Sunday.

The show only lasted a few years and the albums came and went, but the Monkees live on. They even reunited a number of years ago--four grumpy old guys--and Mickey Dolenz recently released an album of Carole King covers.
Now, back to Glee...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Looking for the Centerpoint

I'm looking for the centerpoint.
Somewhere inside myself that isn't cares or passions, fears, anxieties or joys

A place where I am me
And sense I'm living--one moment, then another, then another--

A home.

The world delivers changes, issues, pressures

The times aren't easy--the choice could be to pick which shade of pain to wear today.

Sometimes I get to taste the things I love
But rehearsal ends, the meal is over,
The perfect summer day in February's done

I'm looking for the centerpoint.
A happy place despite the pain and not denying it
A refuge, not an escape
A driver's seat in an SUV through rough terrain

Submission and control

The centerpoint.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Joy of My Heart--The First Hour

It was a cold November evening when I pulled up and parked near the downtown Oakland highrise. I was there to pick up a woman who had invited me out for an evening with friends. I had no big expectations.

I was two years out of my marriage, and had been dating. I had hired a very nice woman to help out at my company and as she was married, I asked if she had any sisters, as kind of a joke. Well, she had a cousin, and that was who I was going to pick up that night.

I got to the door and it was opened by a beautiful woman with large green eyes that I had never met before. I put out my hand to introduce myself and her warm hand felt so good on my cold one that I just stood there holding onto it for a long time.

The mysterious beauty was a co-worker of my "date." We went inside to wait for her. Oddly, I sat down right next to the beautiful woman--squeezed tight next to her on the large sofa. I didn't know what I was doing, but I was already falling, subconsciously, for the love of my life.

24 years later, I am still glad every day that I did.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Auto Dismantler to Artist: James Corbett

Thumbing through Road & Track magazine, I discovered a man who, while finding a new use for old car parts, gave himself a new career. James Corbett, who was once an auto dismantler in Brisbane, Australia, is now an artist. He gave up the grubby element of the wrecking business in 2000 and now devotes his time to producing works of beauty.

See his website for more examples of his ingenious creations, including, naturally, cars, but also a range of other three-dimensional assemblages, from a cowboy reaching for his revolver to dogs, and, of course, a kangaroo and her joey.
Each piece takes a couple of weeks to build. Corbett has mounted exhibitions around the world. Check out the CODA Gallery in Palm Desert, California if you're in the vicinity.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bass Power!

Here's an idea--six brilliant young musicians from Slovakia, Russia, Czech Republic, White Russia, Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine perform together--on basses! Founded in 1996, Bassiona Amorosa plays a wide repertoire, including music from the early renaissance, baroque and classical period to arrangements of light music.

I have heard eight basses perform at one time, and have a CD of The London Double Bass Sound--which includes a dozen musicians playing my favorite instrument together.

There is a wide range of tones on the bass, depending on whether you play the low, middle or high notes, and you pluck (pizzicato) or use a bow (arco) to get sharp or extended tones. Of course every musician is a little different and every piece is unique, so I never get tired of listening to bass music. And, of course, it puts the "bottom" in whenever it's part of the group.

Next Sunday, I will play with the Chamber Musicians of Northern California (CMNC) on the Mozart Gran Partita, which includes 12 various wind instruments and me--the only string player--holding down the foundation with my bass. Sweet.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Made Me Click--Great Hyundai Elantra Online Ads

Like many people today, I spend a significant amount of time online. And, of course, there are lots of ads floating in the righthand panel (and elsewhere). Sometimes they even run rudely across the page! Mainly, though, I see them but don't bother to click the button to open them.

Well, a couple of days ago I saw something so fascinating I actually clicked. It said, in all caps:



As an auto writer for 19 years, I couldn't resist. So I went to

And I ended up at Hyundai's website. The new, 2011 Elantra was there to greet me.

I saw this car at the 2010 San Francisco Auto Show and have also read about it. It is another huge leap forward for Hyundai. The Korean manufacturer is one of the bright spots in the automotive marketplace over the last few years. The brilliant new Sonata midsize sedan is the first Hyundai to make it into the top 10 vehicles sold list. The Tucson is a sweet take on the compact crossover. The Genesis is a fine upscale sedan, and the Genesis Coupe is a real competitor for the legendary Nissan 370Z.

The Elantra, a huge favorite with Consumer Reports for its quality and reliability, is now great looking too. I'll test one for a week sometime this Spring.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mazda MX-5 Miata Hits 900,000 Milestone Today

The world’s best-selling two-seat roadster, the iconic Mazda MX-5 sports car reached a new milestone of 900,000 units produced today. Nearly 45 percent – more than 388,000 units – of those were sold in the United States since the car launched in 1989.

The MX-5 was initially certified by Guinness World Records as the world's "Best selling two-seat sports car" when production reached 531,890 units in May 2000. Currently, Mazda is reapplying to Guinness World Records to have the record updated to 900,000 units.

The first-generation MX-5 Miata (1990-1997 model years) came with a 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine that produced 116 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque. Currently equipped with an MZR-series 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine, today’s MX-5 produces 167 horsepower (158 for automatic transmission) and delivers 140 lb-ft of torque. Every single one is a joy to drive.

I've driven several of these charming little two-seat roadsters over the last 19 years and they are always a high spot in the road testing schedule. I'm hoping for another in the Spring.

Next stop--one million!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Red Paint Rocks

Since I was 14 I've wanted to play in a band. I have strummed a guitar since then, but haven't ever been in a band--until 2006, when Red Paint formed. I hold down the bass part--which is what I love--and we have two guitars and drums--just like the Beatles (only not). In any case, we've played together for years and have a 25-30 song set list. We played more than a dozen gigs last year alone.

Tonight, with our lead guitarist, Shaun, temporarily missing, we had a fill-in, our mutual friend Thomas. And we had a keyboardist, Neal, sitting in. Red Paint as a five-piece band rocked. Our songs sounded extra full with the keys and Thomas did a great job covering the solos.

Makes a guy feel good. Watch for Red Paint to be in the local clubs again soon. (San Francisco Bay Area).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Expecting Too Much

It may have been expecting far too much
To think that our blind date could last this long
Today, we’re joined by duty not desire
But something’s hanging, sitting disconnected

For after all, we didn’t choose this life
As much as find ourselves in an alliance
If you’d controlled the search you wouldn’t pick me
I was, in truth, a gift, not a recruitment

The icy winds you chill me with these days
Are neither your intention nor dislike
Somewhere, inside, you’ve left me here alone
And keeping warm is hard when you’re rejected

Today I stand as ready as I was
The day we met to make it work together
My hand extended, open mind, I’m here
Let’s start again, for this time we can see.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My First Car - a Reverie

I got my first car kind of inadvertently. I was 21 and had just come back from living in Israel for 10 months. My friend Steve Lange had a little red 1964 Volkswagen Beetle that he wasn't using, because he was stationed elsewhere in the Coast Guard. I drove it around for a while and "inherited" it. When his mother said I should pay the man for it, I ended up giving him a big $50, as I recall. But that was a lot more money in those days, and also, VW Bugs were hardly collector's items.

I lent it to a mutual friend and he rolled it on its side, crimping the roof. I ended up running it into the ground--it threw a rod about a year later and I junked it, but it did put me on wheels.

So, when I saw a cute little blue Beetle in my neighborhood (in great condition, too), I was intrigued. I've yet to talk with the owner, but I've seen him out fixing it in his driveway.

Originally commissioned by Hitler and designed by Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that guy), the Beetle was a huge hit in the U.S. from the late 1950's into the 1970's. At one point, I believe it was 1968, they sold nearly half a million here. But, as we all know, Japanese cars, led by Toyota and Datsun (Nissan) grabbed more and more sales starting about that same time, to where when the Beetle finally left the American car stage in 1979--as a convertible only--it was a small player.

The front-wheel-drive, water-cooled New Beetle sells in the thousands every year, and has been on the road for more than a decade now. A new one is coming right around the corner. But for a first car, the original air-cooled, rear-engine (40 horsepower) Beetle was just the ticket. It's little engine buzzed in back, the four-on-the-floor was fun, if a bit notchy, and the cars were built tough, although very basic by today's standards. And, of course, they were deadly in a collision although they were rumored to float if you dropped one in a body of water accidentally.