Ron Chester

Ron Chester

A personal blog about whatever I am inspired to write, with links to postings in my several other blogs with more narrow focuses.

We Can All Learn From the Customs of Others

When one first interacts with the Thai people, you might notice that they speak in a direct way, not constrained like we might be by what seems inappropriate or rude to say. For example, it is common for a Thai person to ask how old you are when they first meet you. They are not being nosey, they just need the information so they know how to address you with the proper level of respect.
Or don't be too surprised if you find a Thai person telling you, "You are fat." You need not take this as a criticism, it is simply a statement of fact. It is not meant as a bullying tactic or as a way to embarrass you. On the contrary, one article I read said they might just be concerned about your health, as we all know that too much fat can be detrimental to our health. And in some areas in Thailand there was a time when being a bit fatter was a sign of prosperity, as compared to others who might have been going without food, and in this case, declaring you to be fat could be a compliment. So get used to it, they mean you no harm.
After we went snorkeling on Koh Tachai, I thanked my friend Wich for watching out for me and helping me on and off the boat all day long. He smiled and nodded, "You are old man," he said. That's one that's harder for me to get used to. I used to look older than I felt, now the feelings are catching up with the looks.
When we travel, the biggest inconvenience is arranging for a proper toilet at the right time. When I was a kid, we would take three week vacations, driving all over America. It was my mother who taught me the proper code to use if I needed to use the toilet. "#1 or #2?" she would ask. For #1, she always had a Mason jar in the car to use in an emergency. #2 would require my father finding us a proper place to stop.
I Thought the Whole World Knew About #1 and #2
I was wrong. The first time I told Paula that we needed to stop for me to do #1 or #2, she looked blankly at the silly farang, talking in numbers. The Thai people don't use this handy convention. Instead they make a distinction between "soft" and "hard" in their language. But once I explained the code to her, she took to it right away and she has taught it to all our friends! Now when I ask to stop, they all repeat my mother's mantra, "#1 or #2?!" Driving in the countryside in Thailand, like in America, a tree or bush can serve the needs for #1, if necessary. #2 can be much more challenging, as many facilities for that purpose require skills I have not yet mastered, having never played catcher much in baseball games as a kid. And now it is much more difficult to learn. The ideal solution for an old farang man like me is to find the "handicapped toilet" at the gas station or other public facilities, which is a sit-down commode, like what we're used to in America. Whether it has a flush mechanism or not does not matter. It is the sit-down part that is such a welcome sight to my western eyes.
So this exchange of customs goes both ways when traveling. I have learned to accept their direct and open way of talking and I'm sure my Thai friends feel their life has been enriched by the handy short-hand of #1 and #2 that I've taught them.

Hurtling Through Space Toward Asia, We Reconnect With an Old Friend

We had dinner at 7:45 pm SF time as we began to head west after going north, offshore to the west of Portland and then Seattle. The meals are generally pretty good on EVA. I chose the shrimp with curried white rice, which sounded just right for a flight to Asia. Well the shrimp consisted of two shrimp and I couldn't really detect the curry in the rice, but it was still okay. All EVA dinners come with some form of hot roll, and a patty of "buttery taste spread," hmmmm, love that buttery taste! Any imagined culinary sins were totally forgiven with the cheesecake, quite yummy!

Red Wine Works Better
Red wine came with the dinner, selected because my bad back had been seriously aggravated in the days before the flight, rushing to get all the necessary work done before departure, and strong pain radiated down my left hamstring muscle, upper thigh and all the way to the calf muscle. I had a plastic container of Ibuprofen in my right pocket, my plan being to endure the pain until I was aboard the flight, hoping to then obliterate it with the medicine. But once I was seated, the pain could be more easily ignored and then dinner with the red wine arrived. Guess what, red wine works better (and faster) than Ibuprofen, folks!
After eight hours of mostly sleeping, the seat belt light went on and I had to sit up with my belt attached. It seems like we usually get some rough air when we begin to reach landfall, Japan in this case. So I plugged in my Bose headphones for the first time and had a look around at what EVA had to offer. Better than the cheesecake was a recording of a live performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto, played by Yuja Wang, a beautiful piano virtuoso, who I once saw perform (yes, in that stunning red gown) with the San Francisco Symphony. I'm not certain, but she might have been performing the Rach 3 then also, though it was a performance by a Russian that I wrote about before.

Decades ago, the Rach 3 had become my favorite piano concerto, often listening to it over and over on vinyl. I only found out about it because of my friend Bill, a piano major at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, who had become obsessed about learning to play the Rach 3, a famously difficult number to perform. Yuja Wang made it sound easy, as I listened to my old friend, this wonderful concerto. It ends with an explosion of crescendo and virtuosity, followed by an explosion of enthusiasm and appreciation from the audience, shouts of "Bravo" from various directions in the concert hall, triggering a chill shooting down my back. I thought about making a mix tape of the audience reactions to great musical performances!

Moments of Connection
Every sound during the performance was familiar, while the sounds of the audience reaction were spontaneous and unrehearsed, that satisfying opportunity to switch from passive listening to a chance to vocally express the connection that Yuja Wang had made with her audience. It is these moments of connection that are the gems that great artists are able to create in the concert hall. All those thousands of hours of practicing and rehearsal are made worthwhile when that connection happens. Is there any higher purpose than to create an effect? It is what inspired me to write my Numbers Were Burning blog.

Required Reading: Kurt Vonnegut

Today I read a great interview of one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut. It started out as four separate interviews of Vonnegut by various people, then got combined into one, then sent to Vonnegut for review, who began to edit it himself, so it ended up being Vonnegut interviewing Vonnegut. I've really enjoyed everything I've read by him and have collected first editions of most of his books.
We've Been Put on Earth to Fart Around
I went to see Vonnegut speak at Stanford one time (17 May 1993), which was a blast. He was funny, profound, self-deprecating and original. Afterwards they had a nice reception for him, so I got to go hang out with him for a while that evening, and he signed my first edition copy of Slaughterhouse Five for me. I suppose it's worth a bunch of money now. It's worth a lot to me because I know he held it and wrote in it with his own hand, with his very large , nearly full page, signature (eye included). Even the Stanford Daily review of the talk is fun to read. It's on page 1-2 of their pdf (Download here). It includes some tough words about the use of computers (go read the review!), but as tempting as it is at times to be a Luddite, it wouldn't be possible for you to read the Stanford Daily review of his talk right now, if it weren't for computers and the Internet. Now if Vonnegut had enjoyed the loyal following that Bob Dylan has had for decades, we'd probably be able to give you a link to go listen to a recording of his talk! As I listened to the talk, I was wishing there was a Dylan taper there, doing his job.
The Vonnegut on Vonnegut interview has a lot of details about his experiences at the bombing of Dresden during World War II, a key event in his life and the core of his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five. You will see in the Wikipedia article that it was a British bombing, not American. Vonnegut makes an observation that "only one person on the entire planet benefited from the raid." He disclosed it was Vonnegut himself, in the deluxe Franklin edition of his book. "Me. I got three dollars for each person killed. Imagine that." I have other Franklin editions of his books, but not that one, so I had never read that admission. But he didn't seem to be saying it as an expression of embarrassment or guilt, but rather with a sense of that resignation that pervades so much of his writing, often summed up with his famous ending: "So it goes."
Required Reading
As soon as I read it, I thought about posting a link to the interview on this blog, which I have now done. But then I decided it might be nice to compile links to things I have recommended on a separate page, where I can find them easily later. I'll get to that once I have several to put together in one place. It occurred to me to call the separate page of recommended readings, Required Reading, as though I could make such demands upon my readers. Of course I can't, but I think I'll give it that title anyway. I read somewhere that you get to do anything you want on your own personal blog.
So it goes.

The Inspiring Photography of Vivienne Gucwa

This posting is a detailed book marker for me. Today I discovered the the photography of Vivienne Gucwa, first by seeing an article on her NYC photography blog, NY Through the Lens, that she did about autumn colors in Central Park in NYC. It was full of great images of autumn trees and leaves. Then I clicked on a link she provided to another travel photography blog she has and over there I almost immediately discovered this stunning photo of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. In the same Flickr album was a companion photo taken at night (shown below this one). What images!!!

I've never been to Paris and didn't realize how much the Eiffel Tower dominates the landscape there. I hope to be able to witness it myself one day. I won't try to top either of these two photographs!
An Inspiration
I call this a bookmark, because her two photography websites were inspiring to me. I have thousands of pictures of Thailand and one day I would like to display them on a website. I even have a domain name in mind for them. She obviously knows far more than I do about photography, but I have pictures of things in Thailand that are quite striking and certainly not as widely seen as the Eiffel Tower. So if I could present them on a website in a proper format, they could be of some use to the world at large. See Doc Searls link. Doc Searls link. I will visit her blogs again and see what she might be able to teach me about the presentation of images on the Internet.
Time Out for a Distraction
I discovered that she uses Sony cameras and lenses, which gives me some degree of hope as most of my Thailand pictures have been taken with a Sony NEX-F3 camera, which I first discovered at the Wirecutter website when it ranked the F3 as "our favorite affordable mirrorless camera so far." I saw their review in May 2013 and bought one right away. I was shocked to discover that when I try to link to that original review, their website somehow redirects the original URL [] to their current review of the Sony NEX-5T. This is pretty annoying, as it negates the idea of a permalink, a key basic tool at the heart of the Internet. They apparently want to limit their website to showing only their current recommendations.
Back to Vivienne Gucwa
Anyway, this is someone who has certainly gotten her photos seen widely on the Internet, deservedly so, as can be seen in the stats she provides on her website, such as her images being viewed 1.5 billion times on Google+, her Flickr photo-stream viewed an average 50,000 times per day, and her tweets on Twitter averaging 80,000 to 200,000 impressions each. Wow, very impressive!
Copyright Notice
Of course these images are copyrighted by Vivienne Gucwa, as stated on her Flickr page. She provided links for downloading the images, but I could find no clear instructions about the proper protocol for crediting her work. I hope this notice is sufficient. If not, I hope she will provide me with instructions on how to proceed.

Connection is What Matters

An interesting article in the October 2014 issue of Smithsonian, and also published online, makes a comparison between the early days of radio and the current debate over net neutrality on the Internet.

I found this especially interesting because I've been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1960; first as KN9AGL, then K9AGL in Illinois, and later in Los Angeles and now as W6AZ in Silicon Valley.

The radio waves were completely unregulated in the early days of radio, long before I was born, in the early 1900's. There were no rules about who could transmit radio waves, on what frequencies, and with what content. "It was a free-for-all." In the beginning, "the idea of making money off radio seemed profane." I remember when I first got on the Internet using dial-up via BBS systems to Usenet Groups, such as, the same idea prevailed. That was before the World Wide Web was invented.

By the mid 1920's commercial operations, such as AT&T, had realized that advertising on radio "could be a gold mine." And before long commercial interests lobbied to squeeze out the small radio operators. For example, the ham radio operators were moved to frequencies that were not thought to be of any use to the commercial stations and they were also banned from playing music of any sort and from doing any advertising, in fact from doing anything at all to make a profit. But in spite of these restrictions, the ham radio community has thrived under these rules, becoming perhaps the first national and international social networks through the miracle of radio communications.

Meanwhile advertising in broadcast radio and then in television became giant businesses. Similarly, once the World Wide Web exploded, advertising began to make inroads on the Internet as well. Now many worry that the big commercial interests will squeeze out the little voices on the Internet, through preferential treatment that the FCC might allow. Some are fighting to ensure that net neutrality is allowed to remain a basic tenet of the Internet.

The articles lists two books, which I may seek out and read.
One reviewer of the second book mentions that the chapter on "Why Ham Radio Matters" is simply great. Thanks to Google, here is a preview of that chapter, but with more than four pages omitted. It does seem to be a nice description of the amateur radio hobby, discussing how it has helped make many technological advances, providing vital services in times of natural disasters, while forming a strong community with democratic treatment of all participants.
On page 333, David Sumner (K1ZZ) who is now the Chief Executive Officer and Secretary of the ARRL, the national association for US hams, does a great job of explaining one of the most basic appeals of ham radio.

Communication---or, more accurately, contact---matters to hams on some almost mystical, metaphysical level. Ask any one of them about DXing, and off he goes. David Sumner . . . believes that when it comes to hams McLuhan was right, content is irrelevant, the medium is the message. When you make contact with a fellow ham in Bulgaria, it doesn't matter what you say to each other; what matters is that you connected. "At that precise instant in time, two men are doing exactly the same thing at the same time. In the time and frequency dimension we were brought together for that instant," says Sumner.
It is very common for hams to talk about the "magic" of radio, which they experience in those moments of connection. It is what drew me to radio and kept me interested in its activities for all of my adult life, starting in my childhood. It is connection that matters, in ham radio and on the Internet.

A Story of Faith, Inspiration, Heartbreak, and More Faith

Regina McCrary performed with Bob Dylan for six years and recorded on all three of the Gospel albums that Dylan made in 1979-1981. In this video, she tells the story of how the Gospel Tour concerts came to be opened every night with a monologue given by her. This was an idea first suggested just thirty minutes before the first of fourteen shows at the Fox Warfield Theatre on opening night of 1 November 1979.

Listen to a recording of one performance of this monologue here. It is from the Massey Hall concert in Toronto, Canada on April 20, 1980, presented in part on Grooveshark.
Now watch Regina McCrary perform another one of Dylan's gospel songs, Pressing On, my favorite song on the Saved album. Fair warning! Watch this video all the way through to the end and you will find that my article title is accurate.

Back to Battery

Recently my car has had a persistent problem of sagging battery voltage. On three occasions I drove across town with two or three stops along the way and found the car would not start after a brief time inside a store at the furthest destination. Those times I waited for an hour or less and then was able to get the car started for the trip home. I got in the habit of putting a trickle charger on the battery in the garage at home, but I didn't always remember to do it. Then a few days before my September 15 tax deadlines, I had to drive quite a distance across town to get a new printer cartridge and when I came out with my purchase in hand, the car would not start. I waited an hour or so and it still didn't start. For the first time I had to call AAA. It took another ninety minutes before they arrived, but the driver did a great job, giving me a jump start, as well as running some diagnostic tests on the battery and charging system.

Today I finally managed to take the car to my excellent Porsche mechanic, Tony. I spent most of the day at his shop, and by 3:10 pm, he had accurately diagnosed the problem and had it fixed. I had been suspecting a bad alternator, which he confirmed, but he also recommended that we change the battery cable, which carries the high voltage from the battery to the alternator and the engine. He said they sometimes get flaky and as long as we were in there, it might be wise to replace it. As it turns out that cable was badly frayed at one end, a more complete failure on the verge of happening any time. We had also monitored the voltage under various conditions and confirmed that the alternator was not doing its job of recharging the battery.

The alternator is the first auto part of any great cost ($659) that I've had to replace in the six years and three months that I've owned the car. I've driven it 34,395 miles during those six years. Considering the fact that the car was eight years old when I bought it, I think that's a darn good record. While we were at it, we did all the usual maintenance that was needed as well; oil change, new oil filter, fuel filter, air filter, one light bulb and spark plugs. Everything is up to snuff again and Tony told me to come back in a year for my next routine check-up.

The car felt nearly new again as I drove away, as it always does after Tony does some work on it. And I can't resist saying that everything is now back to battery with the car. Of course that's a pun, as the word 'battery' in that expression has nothing at all to do with a car battery, but instead with the idea of an artillery weapon returning to its normal resting state after having been fired.

Cage's 4′33″ vs Mahler's Ninth Symphony

Here we have the UK's premiere orchestral performance of John Cage's most important work, which was once recorded by the classically trained Frank Zappa. The performing time of the piece as written is 273 seconds, a number which corresponds to the temperature of absolute zero (-273.15 Celsius), though the composer claimed he had not been aware of this when he composed it.

This event is dear to my heart because one of the most electrifying events I ever witnessed was a performance in 1994 of the Mahler Ninth Symphony by the San Francisco Symphony, which concluded with approximately ten seconds of silence conducted brilliantly by Herbert Blomstedt. When I got home, I immediately sat down and wrote the most inspired piece I wrote in 1994, and perhaps in many years.

Cage's point seemed to be that the ambient noise is the music in his work and there is always some of that present. With the Mahler, the silence was more striking, though shorter, as it was performed as the finale to about an hour and a half of gorgeous orchestral music. And when it came, the conductor was no longer conducting just the orchestra, but was conducting everyone in the concert hall that night and we had ALL become performers. It was a fantastic, thrilling performance by us all, as one could have easily heard a pin drop anywhere in the room during that silence. It had as dramatic an impact upon me that night as could have occurred from a Zen master clobbering me over the head with a stout board. It was definitely one of the top ten peak experiences of my lifetime.

I suppose I'm biased, but I feel that we nailed our performance and it far exceeded the one by the London audience. Perhaps one reason for the difference is that Blomstedt held his baton high in the air and perfectly still during the entire performance, only lowering it upon the conclusion of the work. The much younger Lawrence Foster on the other hand, held his baton low and directly in front of his body, where it could be seen by the members of the orchestra, but probably not by many in the audience, who therefore did not perform up to their full capabilities. Foster would probably do well to do some study under the tutelage of Blomstedt.

I invite you to read my review of the Mahler performance. You might enjoy it even more than the YouTube video.

And my tongue is not in my cheek here. (Please, no snickering.)

Well maybe just a little bit, but only in the part about Blomstedt vs Foster. And even with that, if pushed, I would still hold the position that the Foster performance was flawed.

Watch and Listen, With an Open Mind

Every true fan of Bob Dylan knows the man is an incredible singer.

Most journalists and those who are not that familiar with his life work don't know how well he can sing. In fact most young reporters who are sent out to cover a Dylan show arrive with preconceived notions about his singing and usually try to come up with some unusual metaphor to describe his singing, nearly always in an unfavorable light. Real Dylan fans skip over these silly reviews. They go to Dylan shows to see Bob perform and they don't care what anyone writes about the shows they see.

Watch this one.

When He Returns

Massey Hall
Toronto, Canada
April 20, 1980


Bored Much?

Oh, I know! Let's hang by ropes off the side of the eighteen story Oakland City Hall building.


By Rosencruz Sumera on Panoramio.