Generalities & Rants

  • Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

    Since many people are discussing their early memories of “Star Trek” on the 50th anniversary of its premiere, here are some of mine:

    I was twelve. The old saying “The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” does have some truth to it. My parents both loved SF, so we were all gathered in front of the TV to see this new show. I had loved “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits,” but this was different — it wasn’t an anthology, but an ongoing series.

    I remember thinking the design of the Enterprise was weird and didn’t make sense. But other than that, I loved the show. The costumes were not the usual “futuristic” stuff I’d seen elsewhere, but did look futuristic in their own way. Spock was seriously cool, even though I thought humanoid aliens were ridiculously unlikely. (His half-human parentage wasn’t mentioned in the premiere episode, so far as I remember; I would have balked even more at that.) The transporter was nifty. Phasers were beyond nifty. Kirk was charming and smart and generally a solid hero.

    I knew that a lot of the science and technology was nonsense, but I didn’t care — the show’s creators had at least tried, rather than going for pure fantasy like so much alleged SF. I was old enough to understand that they were limited in what they could do. And we had heroes, and action, and monsters, and pretty women in short skirts (I had already hit puberty), and most importantly, it wasn’t condescending. It didn’t go in with the presumption that science fiction adventure was all junk aimed at kids, or that the audience didn’t know any science whatsoever.

    I knew it wasn’t up to the standards of the best written SF, but it was still better than anything else I’d seen on TV or in the movies. (I hadn’t seen “Forbidden Planet” or a few other classics yet.)

    I loved it. My mother did, too, and most of my siblings. Dad appreciated the effort, but thought it fell short in too many ways.

    As the series continued, there were good episodes and bad — I found “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” horrendously preachy, and “The Way to Eden” patronizing and stupid, and the less said about “Spock’s Brain” the better — but watching it was still usually a highlight of my week. I was disappointed when it was cancelled; I had hoped that it might recover from the weak third season and get better. I wasn’t heartbroken, though, because the novelty had worn off and the average quality really had slumped in the third season.

    The real disappointment was the long wait before we got any more SF on TV that was even remotely as good.

  • How and Why I Actually Used 3.5″ Floppy Disks This Week

    I needed some documents I’d created in Publisher 2.0. After much googling, I concluded that the only way to get at them was to reinstall Publisher (which I had last used two computers back). After messing around with downloads and a burned CD, I concluded that the only computer I had (out of five) that would run Publisher properly was Sid, an old Acer notebook that’s still running Windows 7 instead of 10 because it can’t run 10 — every attempt to upgrade has ended in an error message telling me that 10 can’t install because it isn’t compatible with Sid’s display drivers, which Acer won’t update for this model because it’s too obsolete.

    (It really is obsolete, by the way; I got it out of mothballs a couple of months ago to run some other ancient software. Windows 10 is only about ten years backward-compatible, and I still use software dating back to, no shit, 1986. Mind you, Windows 10 is still better at that than whatever it is my iMac is running now.)

    Thing is, Sid doesn’t have an optical drive. But I have a cheap external floppy drive I’d picked up a year or so back with the idea I would someday go through my stacks of old floppies to see if there was anything I wanted to save.

    So I hooked the floppy drive up to Sid, dug the original Microsoft diskettes out of deep storage, and installed Publisher.

    Three of the five floppies had problems, so I’m missing some fonts and graphics. One of them, #4 (of five), had a crucial file that was unreadable, so I downloaded a disk image of that one from an abandonware site and copied it to a blank diskette — finding the blank took awhile, as I’d thrown out all the ones I knew were blank years ago, but one turned up in a pile I hadn’t sorted yet.

    So — it worked, and I can provide my daughter-in-law with some family history she wanted.

  • DC: Deteriorating Continuity

    So today I read a piece about DC Comics revamping their line.

    It’s a mixed bag, but over all I don’t think it looks good. Prez, fergodssake! And it’s pretty much all rehashes and revivals of old superhero stuff; why is there nothing new, nothing where I say, “Hey, that sounds cool!” or “That looks like fun!”?

    (Okay, I don’t know what Dark Universe or Mystic U or Doomed is, but I’ll bet they’re derived from some existing properties, and they all sound pretty grim.)

    Wait, I looked it up — Dark Universe is just a revamp of Justice League Dark. Bleah.

    Is there anything here that will draw in new readers? Anything that will appeal to kids? Not that I see.

    At least there’s some humor, in Section Eight — at least, I hope that’s intended to be funny, since the characters originally appeared as comic relief in Hitman many years ago, a series that, despite the title, had many funny moments and was generally enjoyable. I confess I’m looking forward to seeing Dogwelder again. (And yes, his name is an accurate description.)

    But mostly it’s spin-offs, yet more riffs on characters and concepts originating with Batman and Justice League, more grimdark. Why do they think we need more of that stuff?

    I dunno, maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m missing something, but this all just looks like More of the Same. Pfui.

    P.S. I see DC’s announcement says Bizarro, Bat-Mite, and Prez are intended to be humorous. They don’t mention Section Eight on that list. This does not encourage me.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 87

    Right, so, next tape in the stack is labeled “Dean Groves Music.” Dean Groves was a guy I knew back in high school, a couple of years older than me; his sister Buffie, a year younger than me, was a friend I knew from several places, and I knew Dean through Buffie.

    I don’t know where this tape came from, but it’s about an hour and a half of Dean and his guitar. I think the songs are all his own compositions. There are thirty-one of them. I know the actual title of precisely one, though there’s another I can make a good guess at.

    The quality here — well, it’s all a bit muddy, though how bad varies. On the other hand, it’s all definitely music — you can hear the melodies and everything. Lyrics take some effort, which is why I haven’t suited titles to anything yet. I won’t be deleting anything. I might try another pass, see if I can get cleaner sound.

    Dean, it turns out, has a Facebook account — I know it’s the right Dean Groves from his friends list, which is mostly people I knew, or knew of, in high school. I’ve left him a message about the tape. We’ll see what (if anything) he says.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 86

    Okay, I didn’t get anything more off Side 2 of the Talon tape. There’s 48 minutes of music on that side, but it isn’t salvageable from this recording. I’ll need to try it again.

    Meanwhile, I went ahead and did Side 1. Got an hour and eighteen minutes of music off it, but the quality ranges from almost okay to really bad. I may try that side again, too.

    It’s progress, I think.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 85

    I decided on a change of approach. I’ve gone ahead and recorded all the remaining tapes onto my hard drive (well, except one, maybe — there’s one I didn’t do that was in the pile but that I think I recorded previously, then put back in the stack because I wasn’t satisfied with how it came out).

    Now to go through them all and see what needs saving.

    After that, I’ve stacked up all the tapes I think I might be able to coax better sound off, now that I’m a little more experienced at it. There are a total of twenty tapes where I’m not 100% certain I’m done with them.

    (The other thirty-two — yes, I’m done with them. I’ve trashed one, given away a couple, three that were unused/blank are set aside, and the rest are in a box upstairs while I try to figure out what I should do with them. Suggestions are welcome.)

    I’ve gone through fifteen of the twenty; five recordings (well, ten; each tape has two sides) are still pretty much untouched. I’m pretty sure at least one of those ten sides was blank.

    Right now I’m working on Side 2 of Reel No. 4, “Coffeehouse – ‘Talon’ – Dance Aug. 25, 1973.” I’m assuming Talon was the name of the band. The first forty minutes were blank, but then I hit music — though after the first five minutes or so the volume drops off drastically, so the music is almost drowned out by tape hiss.

    I salvaged an eight-minute jam, cut a minute and a half of silence, and then tried to clean up a four-minute piece. It didn’t go very well.

    You know what? I decided it’s not worth it. That four-minute piece isn’t anything I’ll ever want to listen to. So I’ll just skip it. Now let’s see if there’s anything more worthwhile on the rest of the tape. There’s another stretch of silence, and maybe some faint tuning up going on…and then a rather nice song, but so faint it’s not worth exporting to MP3.

    I think I should maybe try this tape again with freshly-cleaned heads.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 84

    The situation with “Conceptionland,” “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, and “Dear Friends” was slightly more complicated than I thought; it was only Side 1 of “Waiting for the Electrician.” The title track, which is all of Side 2, was missing. And on “Dear Friends” Track 6 was complete, but Track 7 was indeed missing.

    As mentioned, I bought a download of “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him,” and am glad to have it. For the other two, though, I converted what I had on tape. Quality is only so-so, even after using Audacity’s filters, but since most of this material is frankly not all that great, and quality is less important with comedy than with music, I’m not about to buy those albums.

    Converting the 49 (!) tracks from “Conceptionland” took quite awhile, and all those short little bits, heavily filtered, apparently destabilized Audacity — it crashed repeatedly during the last part of the job. I mean, repeatedly, sometimes three or four times in a single attempt to export a piece.

    I did get it done, though. Fifty-five tracks are now MP3s on my hard drive. And I’ve shut down Audacity for a nice little rest, in hopes that whatever was causing those crashes will go away.

    Next up, a tape of some of my high school friends doing their own attempts at improv comedy.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 83

    Well… the quality on Reel No. L is not bad, but on the other hand, Tom Lehrer albums are surprisingly cheap, so I’ve downloaded “That Was the Year That Was” and bought a CD of “Songs and More Songs by Tom Lehrer.” That covers the three albums I recorded whenever it was.

    But that leaves “Conceptionland,” by the Conception Corporation, which is not readily available. “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him” is a cheap download, so I downloaded it, but the Firesign Theatre’s “Dear Friends” is another relative rarity, and I have Side 1 of that on the tape. (It’s a compilation of bits from their radio show.) Unfortunately, the quality isn’t all that great on those, but I’ll see what I can do.

    (I don’t really even have all of Side 1 of “Dear Friends”; the tape ran out
    midway through the sixth track, “The Someday Funnies.”)

    The thing is, “Conceptionland” has forty-nine tracks, most of them very short. It’s going to take me awhile to work through all that.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 82

    Huh. Audacity’s “remove bass rumble” filter works surprisingly well. I converted “Roll Over Beethoven” to MP3 using that filter, and it sounds roughly as good as it would over a very cheap AM radio.

    But subsequent Beatles songs, not so much.

    The problem here is that I apparently recorded this tape with very cheap microphones rather than a line in, and in order to get a good signal-to-noise ratio I played the record loud.

    Which meant I overloaded the microphones on every loud bit. It’s not bad on “Roll Over Beethoven,” but it gets much worse on songs with a heavier beat.

    As for Side 2 of “Oldies,” the list is indeed accurate. I converted those fifteen unsourced oldies tracks, even though the quality is kind of marginal, but the two Beatles albums, which were much inferior in sound quality, are on order from Amazon in CD form. (They weren’t available as downloads.)

    The next tape is cued up on the machine — or is that “queued”? Anyway, it’s all set to record.

    The box is labeled, but it’s hard to read. Here’s what I could make out at first:

    “Reel No. L Title: [faded to illegibility]/Conception Corporation/[faded to illegibility]/Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him/Dear Friends”

    When I took a closer look I realized the second illegible part says “Firesign Theatre,” but I still couldn’t (and can’t) make out the first.

    But inside the box was a typed track list that told me what it was, and why the Reel No. was “L”: Tom Lehrer. About two hours of Tom Lehrer. I really hope the quality is good.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 81

    The next tape box says “Oldies.” Nothing else. There’s a typed list inside, though, which turns out to be accurate (at least for Side 1; I haven’t played Side 2 yet).

    There are thirty-two 1950s pop/rock numbers by assorted performers, then the first four cuts from The Beatles’ 2nd Album, and finally “Heartbreak Hotel” on Side 1. Those 32 are all the same as the first thiry-two I recorded off an unlabeled cassette many months ago, and the quality was better on the cassette, so I don’t need them.

    I don’t have The Beatles’ Second Album, though, and at $11.99 it’s not all that cheap, so I’m debating what to do. The quality on this tape… well, it’s not one of the worst, but it’s not very good, either. It’s a bit muddy, with too much bass and truncated treble. Hmm.

    “Heartbreak Hotel” — it’s a single, it’s cheap; I’ll want to play it again to assess the quality more exactly, but I’ll probably buy the download instead.

    Side 2, assuming the list is accurate, has the rest of The Beatles’ Second Album, then “I Will Follow Him” by Little Peggy March, which I got from the single early last year and probably don’t need again (though the single was kind of scratchy), then the remaining four tracks off that oldies cassette — and then fifteen 1950s tracks I don’t seem to have anywhere else, and Meet the Beatles rounds it all out.

    No idea where I got any of this stuff except for “I Will Follow Him.”

    By the way, I degaussed the heads before playing this tape. It didn’t make much difference.

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