Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A New Way to Buy a Mattress

Review: My new leesa mattress

(not my bedroom)
In the past, purchasing a mattress has been akin to buying a car. When you walk in the showroom, the price tags seem ridiculously high and you never quite trust the sales rep. When you decide you surely can find a better deal elsewhere, they always come up with a discount that for some reason hadn’t been offered earlier.

Now, with today’s technology the mattress industry has been transformed. Like nearly every other retail business, “Click and Order” has encroached on “Brick and Mortar”. But that isn’t the only thing that has changed. The materials and construction are different. Mattress springs are replaced by high density pads and memory foam. The entire mattress can be compressed, rolled-up and boxed. What had been an unruly shipping, delivery and set-up, is now delivered in a manageable box by UPS, easily carried to the bedroom, and unwrapped. Magically, within a couple minutes this hard flat pad unfolds and decompresses into a real full bed,

What is really important is the quality of the sleep. I have been sleeping on our new leesa mattress for over a month. I can confidently say that this is the most comfortable mattress I have owned, and I have had waterbeds, air mattresses and conventional mattress/boxspring sets. This is a firm bed. My first impression was maybe too firm. But within minutes the mattress conforms nicely to the contours of your body as you settle into a good nights sleep. The leesa has me sleeping more soundly and awakening ache-free.

This new paradigm of mattress shopping is definitely taking the industry by storm. There are now at least a half dozen Internet offerings to choose from. I can only speak for the leesa. I am very pleased with my choice. Ordering couldn't be more simple, free shipping and you have up to 100 days if you don't like it, they will pick it up and issue a prompt refund (so they say). If you are considering getting a leesa mattress, please use this link.  You will get a hefty discount and I get a referral bonus as well.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Joy of Vinyl

During this year’s holiday season I decided to set up my turntable which had been purchased during my college years back in the 70s. Sometime after the advent of CDs in the 80s my records and turntable had been relegated to storage in my basement. On rare occasions I would peruse through my collection, and at times I would bring a record to the radio station where I host a jazz show and play it over the air.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in vinyl long playing records (LP’s). Ironically, the impetus for this has not been from my generation which grew up with this medium, but with millennials who’s current popular format for music is digital streaming.

Digitization of the music industry has been a double edged sword. While there is more music available with unlimited streaming at the touch of your iPhone, music has also become a cheap commodity. The experience of discovery, acquiring and listening to your music is now so easy and commonplace that its value has been diminished.

The LP “experience” was a significant part of my formative years. Leafing through albums in the record store, marveling at the cover art, shelling out my hard earned cash, unwrapping, carefully handling the disk, setting the needle down on the spinning turntable is an experience that is totally lost in the digital age.

Listening to records was also a social experience. Untold hours were spent with friends taking in the music, passing around the album covers, reading the lyrics and liner notes, sharing our recently purchased LP’s, discovering new music together. Admittedly we were often stoned as we enjoyed the music and each other’s company. We listened to the music intently. It was not background sound or dance music. We listened to the lyric, musicianship, compositions and arrangements.

I am now re-discovering much of this experience. Listening to these old albums is like getting back together with old friends, re-experiencing some important times of our lives. My collection has some iconic rock albums (Meet the Beatles, Sargent Pepper, Electric Ladyland). However, my most cherished albums are those that introduced me to Jazz (Kind of Blue, Miles Smiles, A Love Supreme). I remember buying Miles Davis Bitches Brew at Sam Goody’s because I was enthralled by the artwork. That album along with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin's Inner Mounting Flame introduced me to Jazz/Rock Fusion and eventually to Miles and Coltrane which began my obsession for Jazz. Those albums changed my life. Another life altering experience was listening to Chick Corea’s  Light as a Feather. Playing this LP in my dark smoke filled dorm room one evening with new friends was responsible for hooking up with my wife of over 40 years.
Cover art by Mati Klarwein (click to enlarge)
But, enough of nostalgia. There really is something to recordings on vinyl. There is a warmth to the sound that is unique to this format . Vinyl fans had told me this, but I always discounted it. Digital is cleaner, more accurate, truer to the source, I always thought.  But now I hear a lush warm sound that is comforting like a warm blanket over the music. It is a softening of the edges that is inherent in analog recordings compared to the antiseptic feel from a digital format.

Besides the obvious differences in packaging, handling and playing of records versus digital, there is something wonderful in the format itself. Records have a physical “limitation” of having two sides of about 20 minutes of music, 40 minutes in total. This is a perfect amount of time to stay immersed in the music. It requires you to get up and turn the disk after 20 minutes, keeping you engaged. Artists used this time-frame to sequence their songs into a cohesive story. I find that this format lends itself to listening to an entire album from the first track on Side One till the last one on Side Two. Not so with CD’s, which are nearly 1 1/2 hour in length, or streaming digital where single tracks and shuffle modes are more common.

I've only listened to a dozen or so albums in the last couple of days, but I look forward to getting to know my old records once again. And, due to the resurgence of vinyl, there are record shops here in Connecticut like The Telegraph in New London, or Integrity in Music (Wethersfield) where I can get lost flipping through isles of record bins and filling in the holes in my collection of classic Jazz releases, and maybe some new vinyl too!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Ken's Brain Drain Redux

It's been well over 2 years since I posted on the Brain Drain. I started this blog in 2001, over 17 years ago. I have posted here 537 times.

I've got several ideas of things I wish to write about that just don't fit into a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post. We will start with the Joy of Vinyl Records and a review of my new Leesa Matress for starters.

Let's dust this baby off and start anew.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thoughts on the Benghazi Inquisition

I have to give props to Hillary for Thursday's congressional "hearing". I don't think any of the Presidential hopefuls on either side could have withstood such an abusive marathon interrogation, and turn it into a positive like Hillary. The contrast in style between accusers and the accused was startling. The Republicans were "over the top" mean spirited, abusive, and partisan. Hillary answered every question with a steely rational intelligence. The Republicans did everything possible to prove that this WAS a partisan political hatchet job. I love my Bernie, but I have a renewed respect for Hillary and its becoming apparent that she is best prepared for the office of President of the United States.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Update on the GOP "Debate"

credit CNN
After watching all three hours of this debate, I have to give credit to those candidates that tried to stay above the fray despite CNN's baiting to turn this into a cock-fight. Shamelessly, CNN structured the questions to pit one candidate against the other. There were a few candidates that saw this as their best opportunity to get their message across to potential voters. Fiorina, Christie and Rubio tried really hard to re-direct the "debate" to express their policies and values. I commend them for their efforts.

In those rare moments where policy and values punched through the inevitable mud-wrestling, we heard the typical conservative line;
  • Chest thumping calls for sending our military back into the Middle East (boots on the ground).
  • De-funding Planned Parenthood, an important resource for women's health including contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings and safe pregnancy terminations.
  • Opposing reasonable legislation to reduce gun violence including universal background checks and a ban on the most deadly and violent guns and high capacity magazines.
  • Undermining an agreement, in conjunction with our allies, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
  • Denying millions of Americans health insurance by repealing the Affordable Care Act. 
Every one of those candidates, to some degree hold these positions (except Rand Paul for not advocating boots on the ground)

Congratulations to those candidates that were able to rise above the mud-slinging. I appreciate hearing your point of view. Now I know with even greater clarity that none of you are fit be President of the USA.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fight night at the GOP

(credit: NY Daily News)
C’mon CNN. I’ve never heard so many stupid metaphors, particularly boxing ones, for a Presidential debate. On CNN, Round 2. First is the undercard for those polling at less than 2% (aka the Kiddie Table). For the Main Event, who will throw the first punch at Donald Trump, known as the great counter-puncher? blah, blah, blah.

And the irresponsible media is just baiting these candidates. I am hearing over and over again that it is not so important to talk policy as it is to get in that one-liner. What people will remember is the big “Zinger”. (followed by clips of Reagan, “I’m paying for this microphone”; Bentson/Quayle “You’re no John Kennedy”; Mondale’s "where’s the beef”). 

It’s easy to blame the media, but the truth is Republicans brought this on themselves. The media is just egging them on. It’s good for the ratings. But let’s not ignore the fact that the "Trump Effect" is just a reflection of the bigots and haters that have taken over Conservatism and the Grand Old Party.

Listen, I’m not expecting an intellectual policy discussion from this band of morally deficient carnival hucksters. But, it’s disgusting that this is being marketed more like Wrestlemania than a serious debate intended to help Americans make an informed decision.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The President's Amazing Eulogy

The media seemed to focus solely on the two minutes of the President breaking into song. The real message is in the other 35 minutes of this extraordinary speech. While I may not subscribe to the religious overtones that frame this eulogy, the message of racism, gun violence and how we need to come together in the face of such tragedies is inspiring. Take the time to listen to this eulogy in its entirety. It is time well spent. 

Despite all the haters, the deniers, the bigots and obstructionists that make up conservative America; despite all those that wish to destroy this presidency even if it puts our Nation at risk, President Obama will truly go down in history as a great moral leader for our country.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nothing will change

Nothing will change. We all know it. Racism is pervasive, even institutionalized. Conservatives will marginalize or deny the role of racism in our society. Republican presidential candidates will fall over each other to gain these red-necked racists votes. America's sick lust for guns and violence will continue. Politicians will cower to the NRA and it's supporters and shun legislation to control gun sales. Nothing will change. We all know it. I'm ashamed of my own country.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Review: Garmin Vivofit Activity Band

Recently, I purchased this Garmin VivoFit activity monitor, and I am very happy with it. It's basically just a pedometer that measures steps via a motion detector. It will estimate calories and distance based on the numbers of steps you take during the day. I didn't, but you can purchase an optional heart rate monitor as an add-on for more accurate activity stats.

I did a lot of research prior to buying this device, comparing it with the Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and a few others. What swayed me to the Vivofit is the long battery life (no charging needed), and an always-on large display. There is also a simple yet effective motivator, in a little red bar.

No charging needed.
We have cell phones, laptops, e-readers, iPads, and other gadgets that need charging. Another gadget usually means more cables, adapters and power supplies. But the Vivofit is unique, as to never need charging. Most of these activity bands need to be recharged every couple of days or once a week. There are no adapters, ports or cables with the VivoFit. It contains two replaceable disk batteries that are claimed to last a year or more. There is no reason to take this band off your wrist or find yourself in a situation where you are low on juice and can't find a place to recharge. This means you are more likely to wear it at all times.

Always-on display
This activity band has a large reflective display (no backlight). Hit the button on the band and it cycles through your dalily number of steps, steps till goal is reached, distance, calories, time and date. Add the optional heart rate monitor, and that information is displayed. Most other fitness bands have a minimal display and require a continuous connection to your mobile phone to check your stats. The VivoFit's always-on display makes it more of a stand-alone device. It gives you the important information you need throughout the day. When you are ready to sync, you can get more detailed stats.

That damned red bar
An interesting user interface element is this little red bar that appears above the numerical display. You can see it in the picture above. If you have been sedentary for an hour, the red bar pops up telling you it is time to get off your butt and take a walk. If you stay inactive, the red line grows longer each 15 minutes and flashes. Get up and move around for a few minutes, and the line disappears. Its a simple yet effective motivator to get you more active throughout the day.

Sync it up
Syncing can be done on either a smart-phone or your personal computer. Garmin Connect Mobile is software that runs on iOS or Android. It requires a compatible phone with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). On an iPhone that is a 4S or later. Alternatively, you can sync with your computer using the included ANT adapter that plugs into a USB port, and software for Mac or Windows. Press and hold the button for a couple of seconds and the band syncs your data. The data is extensive, and is displayed in cards on your dashboard. Double click on the card and you drill deeper into the data, historical trends and sleep graphs. See below for a screen shot of the Dashboard. The User Interface is similar on your mobile phone.

There is another kind of sync that you can take advantage of. You can merge your step data from Vivofit with calories consumed and fitness activity from the popular MyFitnessPlan. This is a two way synchronization that enhances the reporting for both programs.

Goals and Challenges
I mentioned the little red bar in the Vivofit display, and that is a strong motivator to get you moving. But it doesn't stop there. The Vivofit dynamically sets a goal for the number of steps each day. Your goal is based on past performance (number of steps), and changes every day. If you consistently surpass your goal, the next day's goal will become tougher. Then there are challenges. Each week you are put into a Step Challenge with some other folks. A leaderboard is displayed that shows how you stand in relation to the others in your group. You can also create your own challenge groups with your friends. You also earn "badges" for winning Step Challenges and passing milestones. These features are designed to add some fun and competition to your efforts to get more active.

It's not all rosy
There are some issues. Some of these are related to maximizing battery life. The display has no backlight, so you can't see it in low light situations. Other monitors also have vibrating reminders and notifications; not the VivoFit. Syncing with Garmin Connect and MyFitness plan has sometimes been unreliable, with periods of downtime. Also the sleep reporting is weak. It would be nice to measure periods of deep sleep. You can see it graphically, but the data is not presented as well as I've seen in other programs.

In Summary
I am really enjoying my Vivofit. It has motivated me to be more active in my daily routine, hit the gym more often and be aware of my calorie intake versus calories burned. Compared to other activity bands, I like the fact that I don't have to think about charging, and I don't have to check my phone to see my daily progress. Meeting my daily goal and competing in community challenges is fun and motivating.

If you have a Garmin Vivofit or intend to get one, please contact me. I'd love to add you in a custom Challenge group.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Newport Jazz Festival 2014 Review

This years Newport Jazz Festival was a very wet affair, but that didn't keep Jazz fans from showing their love and devotion to this art form. Thousands endured the rainy weather to hear both classic jazz and modern new music. This year, the 60th anniversary of the Festival added a third day to the weekend schedule. It was a good thing they did, because the added Friday schedule was the driest day of the Festival. Here is my day-by-day review of the acts we caught during the Newport Jazz Festival. There were 43 shows scheduled over 3 days. We saw about 20. Below are the highlights of what we saw.

Jon Batiste Stay Human
Friday was a perfect sunny day for the outdoor concerts at Fort Adams Park. Hightlights for me were two modern big bands. Darcy James Argue Secret Society, and Miguel Zenon & The Identities Big Band. The former featured Darcy's "Steampunk Jazz" sound; industrial complex rhythm changes over lively horn arrangements. Miguel Zenon's large ensemble featured his regular quartet fronting a tightly arranged big band, playing compositions inspired by his Puerto Rican heritage. The day concluded for us with a rousing performance by Jon Batiste and Stay Human, evoking a New Orleans street band performance to the big Fort Stage. They had the crowd on their feet.

Pedro Martinez Group
Day two brought a deluge of rain. Usually one would be sampling the concerts, running between the three stages that are in Fort Adams State Park. But because of the heavy downpours, once you got a seat under a tent of one of the two smaller covered venues, you are best to stay put and enjoy the shows, keeping as dry as possible. We planted ourselves under the Quad Stage and heard great performances by Brian Blade Fellowship featuring his understated hymn inspired sound that had a folk music quality to it. SF Jazz Collective resurrected a "best of" set from its previous 6 albums. An outrageously awesome percussive Cuban band, Pedrito Martinez rocked the audience with its Latin beats. Late in the afternoon, the rain subsided enough to leave that tent and hear a tremendous set by the Kurt Rosenwinkel's New Quartet. The rain held off to venture to the open air large Fort Stage to hear Wynton Marsalis leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. We finished the day back under the Quad Stage Tent to hear Dave Holland and Prism. This band totally rocked out, with guitarist Robin Eubanks channeling Mahavishnu, Hendrix and Jimmy Page all at once.

Anat Cohen
Sunday, day three had more of the same weather issues, and once again we claimed our space under the Quad tent. The Cookers kicked it off with their all-star lineup of Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee and more. Just when I think I am growing tired of straight ahead classic jazz, I am blown away by how this music can swing so hard. Next up was Vijay Iyer's Septet. Vijay brought some modern new compositions and arrangements that ventured into avant garde, yet never lost its foundations. At one point, they broke into a very tight funky refrain that had everyone's head bobbing. That was followed by George Wein's All-Stars featuring Anat Cohen, Randy Brecker, Lew Tabakin and others. Again, the straight ahead jazz classics were kicked up a notch with heavy swing and virtuoso soloing. Gary Burton took the stage with his quartet featuring Julian Lage on guitar. No surprises here, just solid playing with that great bright sound coming from expertly executed vibes and guitar. We concluded our Newport Jazz experience at the Harbor Stage with Danillo Perez Panama 500 band. It was a laid back performance with Latin rhythms over the thoughtful improvisations by the creative Perez on piano and a harmonica soloist as well. Danillo's 3 year old son took the stage and actually played the Congas on the final piece delighting the crowd.

Despite the nasty weather, this Newport Jazz Festival was one of the best I've attended. The quality and variety of the music, the appreciation, devotion and the feeling of community shown by the jazz fans trumped any negativity that the weather brought on. It's great to see Newport Jazz Festival's founder George Wein, more than holding his own on piano at 88 yrs old, still active in organizing this historic festival for most of its 60 year existence.

Check out our complete photo gallery here:

Newport Jazz Fest gallery