Zenph

An energy update before Zenph.   As I predicted a few months ago when oil was pushing $150/bbl, we would see prices return to the $90-$110 range by end of summer. U.S. oil traded today at $107. Still wickedly expensive and indicative of limited supply, but better than $150.    Two reasons for this softening – speculation and demand.   The recent oil surge was largely a speculative bubble. Markets can only sustain speculative bubbles for so long. Over time, fundamentals (supply, demand) dictate value.    Historically high oil costs have also reduced OECD demand. It’s looking like this “demand destruction” is the deepest we’ve seen in 25 years, with U.S. oil use down 1.3% over 2007. High energy costs are forcing basic shifts in consumer and industrial behavior. Frankly, I would have expected even greater demand destruction than 1.3%. (non-OECD demand – China – remains stronger, with net demand up over 2007).    Keep in mind – oil supplies can be artificially constrained. OPEC (Venezuala, etc.) has stated off-the-record that they will try to maintain prices above $100/bbl. It’s looking like we’ll be living in a world of $100 oil (on average) until we again start rubbing up against the next wave of supply/demand limits (peak oil theory).   The main point of this: energy dictates economic activity (unemployment reached a 5-year high today), which over time impacts everything else (populations, stability, etc.). The faster we can untie ourselves from fossil energy, the better: for our kids, our planet, and our survival. I don’t want my son, and the sons of millions of fathers, fighting in an oil war.   …………   My friend John Walker has been working on ways to duplicate live musical performance from artists’ recordings. He uses my audio hardware along with his brilliant audio software to achieve results that only a few years ago would have been impossible. His company is called Zenph and you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it.   I was happy to discover this week that TED is now showing a video of John Walker demonstrating his invention. It’s a 13 minute presentation – I encourage you to watch/listen as jazz legend Art Tatum is brought back to the concert hall in  

My Strat’s 50th Birthday

For reasons not clear, this journal has taken a decidedly personal, musical turn for the summer. After my last post, I realized that my Stratocaster is celebrating its 50th birthday. My first guitar is now fifty years old. Wow. (Warning! Total guitar geekolgy follows…) Actually, it’s my second guitar. My mom bought me my first instrument in 1964. Of course it was her fault for buying an 8-year-old a copy of Meet the Beatles. After about the first, oh, 100 listens, I knew that I, too, wanted to play the guitar like John and George. My first guitar was something out of Japan, which in those days was not a good thing. It played, but that’s about all. The action was impossibly high, the intonation poor, and the electronics barely usable. The perfect guitar to learn on! I’m “half-handed” (throw left, write right, bowl left, tennis right, etc..) – I played guitar left-handed for the first two years, until my first guitar teacher at Garden Grove Music told me I couldn’t do that. So I switched to right-handed playing. Two more years passed and I was getting tired of playing on a Japanese log. I asked my parents for a real guitar. The year was 1968 and Jimi Hendrix (who, of course, played left-handed) was now the main spin on my turntable. Jimi played a Fender Stratocaster. Dad – I want a Strat. With a custom color and a maple neck. Just like Jimi’s. We were an average lower-middle-class Garden Grove family. Just down the street, we rode our bikes in the orange grove which became the Anaheim Convention Center. When my dad saw the price tag of a new custom-color, maple-neck Strat, he said, “no way.” They were nearly $400. Keep in mind, the average Garden Grove tract house at this time probably sold for about $16,000. Garden Grove Music store was just off West Street. I would ride my bike there and look at all the guitars. All the time. One day, a used 1958 Strat appeared on the rack. It had a custom color, maple neck, and gold plating! It was beautiful. And it was $250 with case. That night, I had a long talk with my dad and he agreed to buy the guitar for me. Since that day in 1968, the Strat has had three fret jobs, three body finishes, and various tweaks to the electronics. Collectors like old Strats to be 100% original and untouched. Players like old Strats that sound great and play great. This relic plays great and sounds great, but it’s not 100% original. This instrument has serial number 024234 stamped on the back plate, and the date “3/58″ penciled on the neck butt. Often, Fender would put a finished neck aside for some months until they could mate it with a suitable body. A pair of numbers are stamped into the neck flat (21452 and 4632). In the mid-80’s, I wrote Fender a letter of inquiry about my guitar in general, and these numbers specifically. Fender replied by letter and told me that a certain neck builder from that era would sometimes stamp numbers on his necks, but that such instruments were not common. Fender even included the name of that builder, but I have lost the letter. I inquired with Fender last year with the same question, but apparently nobody remains with any tribal knowledge of the woodworker who stamped extra numbers into his necks. Pity. (UPDATE 9/2: A Fender rare guitar expert contacted me with better information on the extra neck numbers. From his amazing website, “Another Fender misconception is the “big number stamp” seen on many custom color instruments. These large, 1/2″ letters/numbers are under the pickguard (on a body), and also usually on the heel of a neck (between the 4 bolt holes), stamped deeply in the wood. I’ve seen this on instruments as early as 1959, and as late as 1966. These large, stamped numbers sometimes denote a guitar as having some factory repair work, usually refinishing. The reason Fender used this stamp was very simple. Due to the large number of bodies and necks being painted at any one time, they had no way of keeping track of a particular guitar unless they marked it. If it was back for a refinish (a service Fender offered till the late 1960’s), they would serialize the body and/or neck with this large, deep stamp. This allowed the guitar to be stripped and sanded without losing it’s ownership. Then it could be put into the paint production system to be painted as if it was a new guitar. After the paint process was done, the large deeply stamped numbers would allow Fender to “find” the refinished parts and re-assemble them, and ultimately return them to their owners.”) According to a guitar technician I met in Orange County in the 70’s (he kept a personal notebook of Fender serial numbers and guitar types), my guitar serial number fit into a run of custom-color Strats from 1958. The tech guesses that the original color was cream because all the metal parts were gold-plated. (UPDATE 9/2: Another Strat expert informs me that the truss rod end on original gold-plated, cream finished “Mary Kay” Strats would be gold plated, as well. This neck’s truss rod is not gold plated, so apparently the gold plating was added during the mid-60’s Fender refinish.) Cream, gold-plated Strats were apparently a popular Fender custom-shop order from the later 50’s. When my dad bought the guitar, it had been refinished in a charcoal gray with a subtle metal flake. Not sure if Fender did the re-finish. As I recall, the paint job was OK, but not factory quality. (UPDATE: The numbers stamped on the neck are a pretty good indication that Fender indeed did the mid-60’s refinish job.) The guitar also included something called a “Bodyguard” which I believe was made by 3M – a clear plastic shell that glove-fitted over the back of the Strat to protect the paint. The thing was always annoying to me, so I took it off and lost it a long time ago. (UPDATE 9/5: I’m informed that the “Bodyguard” was made by a company called Parker and that I was a total idiot for discarding it) A few years later in high school (guessing 1971), I stripped the charcoal finish down to bare wood. The bare wood finish would stay with this instrument until 2006. What’s very odd is that, while the guitar is clearly of 1958 vintage, the neck sported a 65-era headstock decal, likely changed when the guitar was refinished. For better or worse (don’t shoot me), an aftermarket 58 decal was added during the guitar’s last fret job, but the original “contour body” decal was untouched. Keep in mind, in the 60’s, older 50’s Strats were not considered collectable and most considered them less desirable than new units. They were not being collected like today. Stripping an old Strat was not considered the heresy as it would be today. With that in mind, I did something that I regret even more than stripping the finish. Around 1972, I removed the middle pickup and replaced it with a Guild humbucker. This pickup modification required that I router the body and cut a hole in the pickguard – a total abortion of a relic Strat by today’s standards. I gave the pickup away to my drummer’s little brother, Craig, who installed it into his Fender Mustang guitar. I contacted Craig a while ago to see if he might still have that pickup. No luck. Long gone. Luckily, the bridge and neck pickups remain stock original, as does the jack plate, bridge and bridge parts, pots, wiring, and most other gold plated hardware. I think one of the knobs may have been replaced, but not certain. The 1/4″ phone jack itself has probably been replaced 3 or 4 times. One foggy night in the 70’s, running late for a gig, I had left my Strat in its case leaning against the back of my Ford Pinto station wagon. As I was backing up, I could see the case go vertical in my side mirror as I felt the rear end of my car lifted up onto the Strat. The original Fender Koylon case had been crushed. When I opened the case, I saw that the tire had run over the body, not the neck! The only damage was to the 3-position CRL pickup selection switch. The switch shaft had been crushed, leaving a welt in the plastic switch cap and the switch permanently locked on the neck pickup. That week, I installed a replacement pickup switch (5 position) and re-attached the original nylon cap. Someday, I would like to replace that switch back to an original 50’s era CRL 3-way. Sometime later, the low-E tuning peg quit working. The knob turned, but the peg didn’t. I replaced it with a silver plate Kluson peg from that era, but it isn’t gold plated. Looks a bit odd, but works. I’ve kept the broken peg safely put away. Maybe someone knows how to repair old Klusons? From the early 80’s onward, I’ve not played professionally. The Strat gets played, but not like it used to. A couple years ago, I decided to restore it to factory-stock condition, or as close as possible. I’ll never be able to reverse the routed cavity for the middle-pickup. And the 3-position switch is long gone. With the help of guru guitar builder Jonathan Wilson/GVCG, the body has been refinished with an authentic Fender translucent cream nitrocellulose laquer. JW made the finish look 50 years old and did a great job, in my opinion. I also play one of JW’s “55 Flatpole” Telecasters – one of the most amazing instruments ever. But that’s for another post. As for that missing middle pickup, I happened to meet pickup expert Jim Rolph through my friend Cliff Cultreri. Jim has been designing and winding guitar pickups since 1959 and plays a 1958 Strat. We hit it off right away. I asked Jim to build me a complete set of 1958 Strat pickups – his specialty! I put the original remaining (2) original pickups in storage, along with their green-graying p/u covers. In their place, I installed Jim’s three “58 relic” pickups, and they sound remarkably close to the originals. I installed after-market pickup covers over the Rolphs and am now looking for an original 1958 middle pickup and cover if anyone just happens to have a few in their kitchen junk drawer. The original pickguard (cut for the dual coil p/u) is long gone, but I found a late 50’s era Strat slab on ebay which now sits majestically on its new home. Amazing what one has to pay for vintage Strat parts these days.. So there it is. The history of a guitar, born in Santa Ana 50 years ago, owned for 41 years by a guy who was born in Santa Ana 52 years  

Happy 25th!!

Taking this public opportunity to congratulate my bride on surviving 25 wedded years with me. Happy 25th my angel! To celebrate the occasion, a local restaurant sat us right in the middle of their kitchen. No menu tonight. We just ate what the cook brought over: Quail risotto, ricotta gnocchi with truffles, and a lovingly handcrafted dessert. To another beautiful 25 years, my love. Since it’s our 25th anniversary and everything, allow me share a little bit about what happened 25 years ago. Cynthia and I met in 1978 in Lake Tahoe, and were married there five years later. Many of our friends were dancers and musicians, so we invited them to dance and play at our ceremony and reception. I loved watching our guests’ expressions as our friends started dancing around the sanctuary. Good times. Wedding photos on one’s 25th does not count as cat blogging, so  

Fungi Saves The World

Entrepreneurial mycologist Paul Stamets seeks to rescue the study of mushrooms from forest gourmets and psychedelic warlords. The focus of Stamets’ research is the Northwest’s native fungal genome, mycelium. Paul has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas. There are cosmic implications as well. Stamets believes we could terraform other worlds in our galaxy by sowing a mix of fungal spores and other seeds to create an ecological footprint on a new planet. Bet you didn’t know that humans are closer to fungi than any other botanical organism on the planet. This was one of the best talks at TED2008. Enjoy Stamets’ fabulous vision of a microbial universe where fungal-based antibiotics, a mycileum Internet, ultra-efficient insecticides, and mushroom energy harvesting are just the  

Poorest Billion Into New Poverty

Energy drives economy. Energy scarcity translates into higher costs of all goods and industrial overhead. The early-stage realities of Peak Oil are now beginning to manifest in all facets of commerce. For over 50 years (since the beginning of the Green Revolution), agricultural production has relied increasingly on fossil oil to plant, water, fertilize, harvest, process, and transport. In just the last few months, Diesel fuel, the farmer’s lifeline (and thus eveyone’s lifeline), has broken the $4/gal barrier. Last night driving back from a screening of Craig Detweiler’s Purple State of Mind, we saw one station with Diesel at $4.45. In many agricultural sectors, yield growth (which historically follows industrialized population growth) is not keeping up with demand growth. Farming yields are sharply down over the last two years. Those on the global margins, the “bottom of the pyramid,” are the hardest hit. According to an article in the current Economist, World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period… Food riots have erupted in countries all along the equator. In Haiti, protesters chanting “We’re hungry” forced the prime minister to resign; 24 people were killed in riots in Cameroon; Egypt’s president ordered the army to start baking bread; the Philippines made hoarding rice punishable by life imprisonment. “It’s an explosive situation and threatens political stability,” worries Jean-Louis Billon, president of Côte d’Ivoire’s chamber of commerce. On a conservative estimate, food-price rises may reduce the spending power of the urban poor and country people who buy their own food by 20% (in some regions, prices are rising by far more). Just over 1 billion people live on $1 a day, the benchmark of absolute poverty; 1.5 billion live on $1 to $2 a day. Bob Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, reckons that food inflation could push at least 100m people into poverty, wiping out all the gains the poorest billion have made during almost a decade of economic growth. The Economist makes no mention of raw energy in their analysis. Economists still believe that energy is an “external event” of global economics; that somehow, new, cheap, plentiful forms of energy will flood the market simply due to supply and demand. The economists are wrong – fossil energy is limited and becoming harder (more expensive) to find and extract. Moreover, for reasons outlined earlier in this journal, there are no magic energy sources (hydrogen, etc.) waiting to take its place. Due largely to misguided policy human food grains are being increasingly diverted into cattle and energy production, hitting the poorest countries the hardest. Because of this mismanagement (along with other structural reasons), the cost of staple grain is inflating at historically unparalleled rates. Wheat costs alone rose 77% in 2007, and global rice prices have increased nearly 200% in just the last eight months. Since 4Q06, rice has in fact tripled in cost and now sells for more than $1,000/ton, putting it farther out of reach for the global majority existing on $3/day or less. China, India, and other rapidly developing populations are demanding a larger share of the pie, against a backdrop of global energy (food) scarcity and rapidly inflating costs. So far in 2008, inflation is higher than all of 2007. At this rate, food will double in price roughly every two years. U.S. rye flour stocks will be totally depleted in about 60 days. Some analysts are predicting corn shortages by Fall 08. Food Shortages (i.e., energy demand – remember, this is primarily about energy) are starting to appear in otherwise prosperous countries. Even in the USA, bulk retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club are now rationing staples such as rice, wheat, and cooking oil. Japan is experiencing their worst food crisis since WW2. From Business Day: A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year — a 30% increase this month — has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff. According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply. Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its Â¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency Â¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation. “This was the first time the Government has had to take such drastic action since the war,” said Akio Shibata, an expert on food imports, who warned the Agriculture Ministry two years ago that Japan would have to cut back drastically on its sophisticated diet if it did not become more self-sufficient. Observers of energy and population will take note that economies are cyclical, based on an unfathomable master equation filled with endless variables. But at the heart of the equation is found three simple rules: Continued growth of global population Rapid and widespread growth of global industrialization Increasingly higher costs in finding and extracting fossil energy to support this growth There is a point at which energy costs begin to limit industrial growth. We may have passed that point. U.S. economic growth in 2008 has already seen a 20% decrease in growth over 2007. Much of that is attributable to housing and credit, but energy costs are playing a growing role. The good news is that economic incentives work. We are seeing, and will continue to see, higher demand for smaller cars. I anticipate non-hybrid, plug-in vehicles to proliferate by 2015-2020, with efficiencies of 50-100MPG (equiv). But transportation efficiencies are only a fraction of our concerns. End of Suburbia author James Kunstler (recommended reading) outlines a few other must-do’s if we are to pass a rapidly industrializing world safely into the hands of future generations. Briefly, these include: Increase local food production and distribution Resurgence of rail, sea (sail), and public transportations Small replacing large, glocal replacing global (energy, commerce, entertainment…) Dramatic changes in architecture, scale of life, and economic expectations You can state categorically that any enterprise now supersized is likely to fail — everything from the federal government to big corporations to huge institutions. If you can find a way to do something practical and useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are likely to have food in your cupboard and people who esteem you. An entire social infrastructure of voluntary associations, co-opted by the narcotic of television, needs to be reconstructed. Local institutions for care of the helpless will have to be organized. Local politics will be much more meaningful as state governments and federal agencies slide into complete impotence. Lots of jobs here for local heroes. Quit wishing and start doing. The best way to feel hopeful about the future is to get off your ass and demonstrate to yourself that you are a capable, competent individual resolutely able to face new  

Irony

San Diego’s Balboa Park Gets Trashed by Earth Day Celebration (HT) April 20 was Earth Fair Day at San Diego’s Balboa Park. This is the largest free annual environmental fair in the world. Aside from the polluting gas powered generators stinking up the place, aside from the miles of congestion and grid-lock in and around the Balboa Park area during the event, aside from the tons of trash left all over the park and parking lot and surrounding area, aside from the wall to wall bodies everywhere, Balboa Park was the place to go this weekend to use massive amounts of energy and generate tons of trash and pollution to show hundreds of energy-saving, green products. The industrializing world (1850 – ) assumed energy to be (in the language of classical economics) an “external event.” That is, energy was never including in economic calculations, beyond raw cost. Energy was assumed to be cheap, bountiful, and unrelated to global well-being. We are now awakening to the reality that energy IS the economic equation. Energy is THE reason our population rose from 1B to 6B in 100 years. Cheap, abundant energy sustains (disproportionately) this massive influx of people and industrialization, because it is cheap and abundant. Or was. Nature shows that virtually any biological system (bacteria, etc.) given access to unlimited energy and environmental resources will find a way to consume such energy – and continue to multiply. Humanity seems no different. Until energy is no longer cheap & abundant, we will consume it and multiply. The Earth Day trashing of Balboa Park is yet another indicator that no matter how much we talk about “doing good” – we screw things up. A wise man once said: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. As Gandhi exemplified, may we (as individuals) become the change we long for on this planet. Nothing will change “out there.” All change starts right here, right now,  

A Great Battle

  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” Philo of Alexandria, Jewish Philosopher “Lovers” by Marc