December 2018

The Revisited Drone

I keep hoping that Breitbart will blunder onto this site and launch a hate campaign against me, thus sending me viral.

What drone? you ask. Well, if your memory is as bad as mine, you do. Less senile readers will remember that November before last in order to take better photos of my beloved bridges, i bought a DJI Mavik Pro drone, figured out the basics of operation, and promptly flew it into the archway over the entrance to my apartment complex, breaking the camera and running up an expensive repair bill. So i knew that my next objective would be to go out in the middle of an open grassy field and practice flying the thing until the joystick controls were intuitive, so i wasn’t left thinking, “OMG, i’m about to fly into that wall. Which stick do i need to press in what direction?

So i practiced a bit until i got more comfortable with the controls and was ready to learn how to take photos. And that’s when i hit the wall, figuratively this time. I simply couldn’t understand the user manual’s instructions on how to take photos. Crushing. But wait, there was hope, and it was in the form of Cooper, the college junior son of my friend David, who is a fine photographer and a drone expert. I could get him to help me.

Easy, all i’ll have to do is grovel in the grass and admit that i’m so senile i can barely dress myself anymore and can’t, after a lot of effort, take a damn picture with the drone. Sigh.

So i kinda stalled around about asking, and months went by, and more months, and finally over a year later when i knew he’d be home during his senior year for the holidays, i worked up my nerve and emailed him. And of course he shot back that he could do it in a few days.

I spent the next several days playing with the drone, desperately trying to advance my abilities so i wouldn’t look like a complete dolt. And you know, somehow it kinda worked. Suddenly i started understanding parts of the manual that had been completely opaque, and by the time the Day of My Great Humiliation arrived, i was left with a fairly short list of questions. Whew.

Cooper has always impressed me as talented and bright, and by the time he was in high school i was impressed with his maturity even though i made it easy on him by comparing him with myself at his age.

Well now i’m impressed with him as a teacher. He has the gift of assessing the capabilities of his audience and tailoring his presentation accordingly. I understood immediately every explanation he uttered. He quickly answered all my questions, and it was greatly reassuring that most of them were about how to set parameters that were already preset just as i wanted them.

It was a wonderfully reassuring visit, and on the way home i started thinking about which bridges i wanted to photograph when. I’m thinking the two San Francisco drawbridges over Mission Creek will be first. I can stand in the greensward to the east of the creek and fly the drone out over the creek for good perpendicular shots. But that’ll have to be next week because i’m caught up in all the holiday bustle now and don’t have time for it.

For now, you’ll have to settle for my very first drone photo even though i obviously pulled the trigger accidentally and now have no idea where i was. Ummm, upon reflection, it is probably David’s kitchen.

First Drone Photo
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The Rest of Laurie

The attention span of the average American has shrunk to 8 seconds, which is one second shorter than that of the goldfish.- Ben Nealy in The Atlantic.

After the Friday fiasco, there was nowhere to go but up, and she did.

The Saturday performance in Miner Hall was quite good even though she was accompanied by a drummer who, IMHO, provided nothing. Harsh, yes, but we critics have an obligation to our readers to speak plainly.

On Sunday at Miner Hall she turned out the performance i’d been expecting, so it was wonderful. There was a minor problem, and i call it minor because it affected only a handful of the audience members who, like me, have unresolved auditory issues. The problem was that fairly often she delivered her punchlines sotto voce, so i couldn’t understand a number of them.

Still, there were wonderful passages like “It is impossible to wake someone up if they are pretending to be asleep” and the idea of asking someone the question, “On a scale of one to ten, how beautiful are you?”

The best was an anecdote about an old couple who’d been fighting for decades while their friends kept marveling that they were still together. Finally, when they were both ninety, they separated. Astounded, the friends asked them why in the world they waited so long? They replied, “We had to wait until the children were dead”.

Meanwhile, a nontraditional paint job on Seventh Street.

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An Anderson Adventure

PG&E’s impending bankruptcy presents a golden opportunity for the state to buy it cheap so that everyone, not just a few lucky cities like Sacramento, will have public electricity.


It all started in 2006 when my friend Bob invited me to join him at Zellerbach Hall for a Laurie Anderson concert.  Laurie who? i wondered.  But then Bob is the most knowledgeable person about contemporary music that i know, so of course i said yes.

It was my first visit to Zellerbach Hall, and i was struck by the feeling that i was nestled inside a beautiful and very comfortable egg.  Then, as the concert began, it seemed that the entire performance was just for me and that everything, sight and sound, was focused on my seat by the parabolic curve of the eggshell.  What a wonderful venue.

And Laurie, she had me from the first sentence of her narrative about how when she got the call from NASA asking her to be their artist-in-residence, she assumed it was a crank call and hung up.  But it wasn’t, she explained, accompanying herself on her electric viola with an ambient synthesized background that she manipulated on a laptop.  The concert was The End of the Moon, and click on that link for an eight-minute excerpt that might explain why i was a total fan well before the concert was over.

So ever since, i’ve had warm feelings about her, eager for her to play the Bay Area again and to learn about her concert in time to get tickets before they sold out.

That happened a couple of months ago.  I learned that she’d be in town for a series of three different concerts at the cusp of November-December, went online, and working as rapidly as possible, bagged the two best seats at each.  I paid no attention whatsoever to the brief online descriptions of the concerts because i knew that anything she did would be fabulous.  OK, and if not fabulous, at least excellent like the last of her concerts i’d attended in 2015 at Miner Hall.

Then three weeks ago i started figuring out who my guests would be.  The obvious first choice was my old friend Bob, and because he works Friday and Saturday night, he was the perfect fit for Sunday night.  Saturday night went to another friend who is an Anderson fan, which left Friday night for someone i liked in my new home.  The clear choice for that was Jude, who’d invited me to her splendid salon last month.

So that took care of all the planning.  Nothing else to do but sit anticipating three great concerts.  No need to make any attempt to learn anything at all about the concerts before i invited people to accompany me to them.

As it turned out, Jude and i took a Flywheel to Grace Cathedral.  The evening was off to a fine start because our driver was a delightful man named Buzz Brooks, a jazz organist and witty raconteur.

I’d not been inside Grace Cathedral for decades, and what a magnificent  space it is.  We arrived only a few minutes early, but the concert had already started.  Some preliminary very loud droning was reverberating through the cathedral while a good many people were wandering about with only a few seated.  As we ambled our way toward the altar, the droning volume increased until it was just deafening.

Up near the altar, Laurie was standing on a small raised platform tweaking the droning, not that there was all that much variance or modulation in it.  So Jude and i sat down while i, at least, was thinking that the droning would soon segway into the real program and that Laurie would start narrating and playing her electric viola.

We sat there, and sat there, and sat there, waiting for something to happen.  And sat there and sat there as, unlike the case with other concerts i’d attended, people continued to stroll around looking at Laurie and circulating through the space.  Is she waiting for everyone to sit down before she starts the good stuff?

When we got to the thirty minute mark, i shouted in Jude’s ear my lack of understanding of what was going on and my hope that something interesting would start, but after another fifteen minutes i suggested that we also wander around like so many others were doing.  My hidden agenda was wanting to get a little distance between me and the cacophony…and to get closer to the front door where i might suggest that we make an escape.

Jude went along with it, and we did.  Whew.

When i got home, i did my homework.  Oh my goodness.  If i’d just looked at the bare description of the concert on the tickets website, i’d have learned that the title of the piece was “Lou Reed Drones” and that it ran 4 (four!) hours.  A little more digging revealed that the patrons were free to come and go as the evening ran on, that the droning came from several of Reed’s guitars backed up against amplifiers to get feedback, and that at some point in the show Laurie would perform duets on her viola with a couple of other performers.

Ah yes, a performance i’d have really enjoyed in 1978, ripped out of my skull on ecstasy (which we called MDA)…or at least just stoned crosseyed.  But no, not forty years later when my ecstasy days are a distant memory and my bedtime comes in the middle of the concert.

My great hope is that Jude will forgive me for this fiasco.

Stay tuned for an account of the remaining two concerts, there being no place for them to go but up.

Meanwhile, some handsome front steps on Fair Street.

Fair Street steps

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