Things they don’t teach you in school

Background: I am currently a Junior in the Mechanical Engineering program at the U of M – Twin Cities. This past January I accepted an 8 month, full-time internship with St. Jude Medical.  I am part of the R&D (Research and Development) group in the Cardiovascular Division.

For a variety of reasons I spend a large portion of my time at work in the machine shop. It is my understanding that I am not at all required to but it allows me to be involved in every part of the R&D process. The machinist, Ed, enjoys teaching and has sort of taken me under his wing. Ed is almost always swamped with projects meaning that if you need something built it could take days or weeks.

One day, Ed and I were working in the shop when our mutual boss, Ralph, came in with a pretty urgent project which he hoped Ed would expedite. Now some people come into the shop, throw down CAD drawings and quickly leave expecting Ed to drop everything for their project, but Ralph knew better. After casually chatting with Ed for a while, Ralph handed Ed some CAD drawings and said, “Alright Ed, here is an opportunity [he paused for dramatic effect] to excel. This project goes all the way to the top (it didn’t at all). Before today Dan Starks (St. Jude CEO) said ‘Ed who?’ but not after this project. 20 years from now employees will still be talking about you!” Ralph said this with a smile and Ed knew it was BS but he appreciated the effort and quickly finished the parts for Ralph.

Weeks later I was at my desk when Ralph approached me. With a smirk on his face he said, “Alright Anthony, I have an opportunity for you to excel…”

Apparently there was an urgent project that no one wanted to do, so Ralph needed me to do it ASAP. It turned out to be a great project; very interesting and enjoyable but now when I am approached by an unusually friendly superior, I expect to receive an important, urgent, or undesirable assignment.

Libertarian at heart

My son let me know he is preparing a post discussing our trip to the Republican state convention in Rochester Minnesota a few years ago. To avoid any misunderstandings, I would like to state that today I align myself with libertarian thought rather than one of the two major political parties–and in fact my election to state delegate was due to the libertarian views expressed in my speech, as my district had a lot of Ron Paul types in it. I no longer align myself with either major party.

If one seeks to learn more about libertarianism, the website contains a wide collection of scholarly and popular writings, discussing many subjects from a libertarian viewpoint. If one wants to see a very disturbing interpretation of the financial activities of our time, the libertarian/populist web site provides daily commentary–though plenty of what is discussed there is beyond my investment/financial expertise.

I will also note that I enjoyed taking Anthony to attend the convention with me, and I am glad he remembers it fondly. At the convention, I recall Governor Quie telling us of some mischief he got up to when his dad took Al and his brother to a republican convention when he was a child. Let’s guess he was 12 at the time, it then would have been in 1935. I was touched, thinking about the father/son parallel. Also, Anthony was able to sneak in because they were all too preoccupied with making sure Ron Paul didn’t get into the convention. He was confined to the outer hallway where the picture of the two of us was taken. 😉

My coincidental meetings with former Minnesota Governor Al Quie

Almost exactly 4 years ago, I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Rochester for the Minnesota Republican Convention as my father was elected as a state delegate. When we arrived at the convention I received a visitor name tag which I wore proudly, thinking it looked quite official. Although only delegates were officially allowed on the floor during the convention, I found my way in to hang out with my dad. I took a seat in the back row next to an older gentleman. I’ve always enjoyed conversing with old folks and hearing their stories so naturally we started talking. He told me all about his childhood and later his experience in the Navy. After about 15 minutes my dad came to get me so I kindly thanked him for talking with me. As I was leaving I noticed his name tag said “Former Governor.” I was quite excited that I had a chance to meet him and talk uninterrupted. He was extremely kind and humble, never mentioning that he was the Governor (perhaps he gets tired of people only acknowledging him as such).

A few months ago I was attending Minnetonka Lutheran Church with my father. I wore my favorite hoodie, a maroon sweatshirt with “Minnesota” written on it in Hebrew. As we were walking in the parking lot, a man I didn’t recognize yelled, “What does your shirt say?” I yelled back, “Minnesota!” He followed up by asking, “What language?” I answered, “Hebrew!” After our short exchange we got in the car to go home. My dad said something to the effect of, “You know that was Al Quie.” I was shocked and surprised to learn that he went to our church. I eagerly look forward to my next unexpected run-in with Al.

Karen Carpenter, a generational voice

In high school, I was somewhat in the closet regarding my soft spot for the music of the carpenters. My main musical tastes and those of my friends allowed no respect for the sort of musicians who delivered syrupy schmaltz, didn’t perform with a wall of 100 watt marshall stacks, and never destroyed a hotel room while on tour. But at heart I was a romantic–if a carefully disguised one.

Perhaps initiated by Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ approach to music production of the late 1960s, the soft pop of the 1970s abandoned the production simplicity of the 60s in favor of full and lush arrangements–sometimes to excess, called over-production. These feel-good tracks, full of orchestration and free of controversial lyrics, were considered soulless by self-important ‘edgy’ music critics who gave the genre the accursed appellations “product” or “MOR” (middle of the road).

Fortunately, due to the magic of youtube we get an unusual glimpse behind the production. I believe this recording of Karen Carpenter is the center track of a three channel tape recording, containing the vocals, bass and drums. I suspect the flawless bass delivery was done by the peerless Carole Kaye, but I am not 100% sure.

If you are interested, there are other center-track playbacks of Karen available on youtube.

This center track contains a sound that almost nobody who grew up after the 1970s has ever heard on pop radio, or even knows exists: A woman alone with a Neumann microphone in a sound booth, laying down pure gold, in perfect tune, without special effects, and very little reverb. I refer to Karen Carpenter as a generational singer because a singer of her talent can be said to come along once in a generation–and I present this video as proof. Aside from the technical aspects, listen for what really counts: the emotion she conveys with powerful simplicity. I believe the lush production of the 1970s weakened this performance–but was required, by the mooks* of the time, to get it airplay.

PS. Whom who has seen the movie Tommy Boy can forget the scene where this song comes on car radio and each suggests the other can change the station, reluctantly leave it on, and ending up singing along with tears streaming down their faces.

* Mook is industry slang for a person in the music industry who has lots of power or money, who can make things happen, but who has absolutely no artistic judgement or taste. A typical mook primary criteria for green-lighting a song is that it sounds just like other current hit songs.

The 60s, a time of simple drum kits, and some tasty morsels from Cyrcle

For me, the pop/folk/rock of the 1960s was joyful in a way that has never been replicated. In my mind, conveyance of joy in popular music is a historical concept replaced with today’s obsession with darker emotions and debasement of the flesh.

I haven’t linked to any youtube yet in this blog, but I will give it a try here. Youtube has become not just a treasure chest of 60s music, but rather a city full of treasure the likes of which one can never fully explore. For your enjoyment I present this sugary snack from Cyrcle, Turn Down Day, a sound alike to their greatest achievement, the wonderful Red Rubber Ball.

A couple of notes here. It may be the limitations of my ears or mind, but I really prefer simple music in terms of number of instruments and singers. This simplicity was due to technological limitations of the era, when a premier studio counted itself lucky to have a three track tape recorder.

The item I really enjoyed in this video (the lack of microphones indicating lip-sync to their studio recording), is the small and typical early to mid-60s drum kit. a snare and hi hat, one mounted tom, one floor tom, and a single ride cymbal. And look how the drummer has managed to dramatize his 16ths on the ride by swinging his arm while swatting out quarters on the snare.

Since I mentioned Red Rubber Ball, I found another tasty morsel, a live performance of this song. Again, the drummer is of interest as I have always felt the drum shuffle was a key element of this song’s success. In a live setting, their soaring harmonies are rougher but also less sterile than the studio effort. I will also mention my lust of the gibson 335 one of the guys is playing. This video is said to be a 1966 performance, and the longer hair and less formal clothing indicates this to be about the last moment of mountain stream purity in pop music before the psychedelic influence that transforms pop music in 1967.

PS. Well, holy socks, Batman! The videos show up with an image preview–that’s as good as it gets.