Free Catalog Abuse

I just saw this article on how spam lord Alan Ralsky was getting a taste of his own medicine when his place of residence was revealed and then a group of anti-spammers signed him up for tons of junk postal mail. Funny story related to this:

I used to work this temp job in in Boston for the marketing department at Saga International Holidays, which sold vacation packages through some fairly nice and detailed printed catalogs.

My job was database admin. We were converting our old VAX database system to an AS/400. (Literally went from a closet full of tapes and wires to a single box on the floor, just like the commercial!) So before I was going to import everything into the AS/400, I was running queries and sorting and all that to try and clean up as much of the records as possible before the import.

And then I saw a pattern…

I was sorting by zip code at the moment, and running a script to try and clean out duplicates and mismapped records. Well it was no mistaking it – literally hundreds – possibly even over a thousand – subscriptions to *all* of our brochures, all going to the exact same address under different names.

It was amazing. The names were completely hilarious – everything from Abraham Lincoln to Seymour Butts. Some R.R. Address in Kansas or something like that. We had maybe 10-12 catalogs that we published throughout the year. Some were around 70 pages thick. This address was getting *thousands* of our catalogs every year.

We had these little tear-out postcards that we stuck into other magazines as well as our own for fulfillment, where you could sign up to receive our catalogs. Some of these fulfillment cards had multiple address fields, so you could enroll your friends.

So we went down to the fulfillment house, which was a separate company, where all the data entry operators were. They would key in all the data from those cards. We would get like four mailbags full of those cards every week. We went through some of the cards, and lo and behold, there was Mr. Seymour Butts and his whole gang, written in this insane, violently cursive handwriting that looked like whomever wrote it was in their own plane of existence. The handwriting alone was like from a Stephen King novel – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” kind of stuff, over and over again. Very creepy.

So we could only wonder what that person was all about. Were they just using it for fuel? Making it in to some strange adobe compound to build his house with? Or was it some kind of sinister act, to drown someone in unwanted mail?

We never found out what all those catalogs were for, but I ran a block on anything even remotely related to that address that night short of banning the zip code…

Strings and Bowing Practice

Thanks to some valued advice from Don, I ordered a new set of Pirastro Flexocor G, D, and A strings, and a D’Addario Helicore E string. I ordered ’em from Lemur, which by the way is proof that there is a website out there for every little tiny niche market in the world. I’ll try this arrangement of strings first on my bass to see how they make it sound. The Thomastik Spirocore strings on there now are not the best for arco, although if I were a jazz or crossover player I suspect that I’d like their versatility between arco and pizzicato.

I think I have found a good way to practice bowing technique. I have taken some of my bowing exercises which were obnoxious and boring fixed-note patterns across two or three strings (which are really fucking painful for the left hand by the way, if you’re going to do this for any significant length of time) and rewritten them to fit in the context of some open-string scales. My theory is that this will offer the advantage more repetition in the bowing patterns, provide more varied string resistances as the scales ascend. It is hard to get a consistent tone as the notes get father apart. The bonus feature is that my left hand doesn’t cramp up, and I get some intonation work done at the same time.

Well, we shall see. Back to practice….

Why aren’t you practicing?

“Why aren’t you practicing?” was pretty much my motto when I was in college at New England Conservatory. I’d be talking to some people in the hallway shooting the breeze, or sitting out front on the steps, and inevitably the conversation would turn to someone’s upcoming recital/solo/audition. Then of course I’d say “Why aren’t you practicing?”, and it was a good laugh because everyone had heard it out of my mouth so many times it was nauseating. But then in a few minutes the Creeping Guilt™ would set in, and we’d all cancel whatever dinner/nightclub/movie/entertainment plans we may have had and skulk off into our corners and actually go practice a few more hours.

This all started when my bass teacher Don and I were having a beer at Pizzeria Uno across the street from the conservatory one night. I had just finished playing an exhausting program of Mahler or something or other with one of the Conservatory orchestras, and my undergrad recital was a comfortable month away. Somewhere in mid-beer, fairly close to midnight, Don out of the blue turns to me and in all seriousness says to me “Why aren’t you practicing?” It was funny at the moment, but…

Indeed… Why not? Well that was obvious at the moment – I was dead fucking tired after playing that concert and it was late, and never-mind the fact that I was probably three sheets to the wind by then. But the next morning I was in the practice room as soon as I had enough caffeine pumping through my veins to keep me from falling over, because that was the first thing I heard in my pounding head when I awoke from my alcohol-induced coma… “Why aren’t you practicing”. Damn… now I was infected. Later, I printed out those words into little tear-off strips that would fit on one sheet of paper and clandestinely plastered my artwork all over the conservatory. Some thought it was some great secret student art movement, but the real reason was so I could see that poster wherever I was standing. They should have never given me a key to the kiosk cabinets… I mean, I was already practicing religiously, but now I had a motto. I could infect all of my friends with it, and I think I succeeded with a couple of them.

So now I am practicing again. And now the obsession seems to be back. Maybe I’ll just make a desktop background for my computer this time, instead of the little paper strips everywhere…

The Familiar Pain

Ah, there it is again – that sweet dull ache after playing the bass all day after a long hiatus. I’m actually amazed at how much it is all coming back to me – finger positioning, scales, intonation, even bowing. Got the bass back in my possession today and it sounds awesome. Alex Friedman of South San Francisco did the repair work. The guy is a real pro when it comes to bass restoration, and has worked on a lot of the basses in the San Francisco Symphony. He can be reached at (650) 583-8197.

Awesome work… the sound is huge now – the thing is totally playable – and it just looks gorgeous.

Countdown to Bass Positive

I drove up to the bass shop and had a look at the almost completed work being done on my bass. The neck looks rock solid and it is great to have it at the proper width. The new fingerboard is nice and long, and I think I can screech out a high C. Alex (the luthier) fixed my bridge, bringing the spacing of the strings in a bit to the proper width for a good classical setup, and he sanded it and rounded the edges to make it look nice. He repaired the notch that was taken out of my scroll where the C extension used to be, and it just looks so much better than before. There is a new nut in place. The chunks of wood missing from the edges of the purfling have been repaired. Now all that needs doing are a few cosmetic touch-ups on the body, an application of oil and some finishing touches to the fingerboard, and I will pick it up on Thursday.