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Posts Tagged 'electronic'

Ban On Flavored Tobacco Products

This is a bit of an odd subject to talk about, but I feel it should be said because even though it is well known and no one is going to say that tobacco is good for you there are some problems with the new law that was passed in San Francisco banning all flavored tobacco products.

Supervisor Malia Cohen pushed through legislation in 60 days with very little fanfare to ban flavored tobacco products. Not tobacco, only flavored tobacco products specifically pointing out menthol cigarettes. While flavored cigarettes other than menthol were banned in 2009, menthol was given a stay of execution for some reason. I suppose because to a lot of people at the time menthol was seen as normal for cigarettes. It could also have been that because 80% of the people who smoke menthol cigarettes are African-American. This was a big part of her target in the passing of this law — to specifically target African-Americans.

For tobacco this means that menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and cigarillos [like the grape and cherry Swishers], shisha hookah tobacco and flavored smokeless tobacco. The problem I see with this is that it was aimed at only African-Americans in it’s passage [she may not be aware of this, but Asians typically in San Francisco tend towards menthol as well]. Shisha is used by mostly a Middle-Eastern minority of people though you might occasionally see a person of non-Middle-Eastern decent partake at a restaurant that has hookah nights [there are a few in the city]. Tobacco causes lung cancer and other health problems for all people so I’m just thinking she should have passed a law banning all tobacco sales in San Francisco. The worst part of this is that it doesn’t ban the ownership or use of said products, only the sale so the law is a bit of feel good sophistry to help politicians look good, but won’t really cure the problem only make people who want the product to work a little bit harder. Now I’m sure there were be cigarette stores popping up in Daly City with signs saying Menthol Cigarettes Sold Here! The idea that if you stop selling menthol cigarettes in San Francisco people will stop smoking them is a fallacious argument [See Sophistry].

While this is bad in that it looks like they’re trying to bring about change, but not there is another product covered under this ruling that has the potential to actually cause more smoking related diseases for people and that is the ban on flavored e-juice used in vaporizers. 

The State of California classified  e-juice as a tobacco product so that they could receive tax money from it since many people were using vaporizers to move away from cigarettes. While long term affects of vaporizers are not fully known yet, doctors agree that vaporizing is much better than smoking cigarettes. No one is saying it’s healthy, but it has much lower risks than smoking cigarettes. The State government was able to classify e-juice as a tobacco product due to the fact that currently nicotine [the addictive component] is chemically extracted from tobacco leaves. There is no tobacco present in the nicotine as it is all lab grade and pure, but it was an easy enough loophole to use to classify the product as tobacco so they could tax it.

The law that Malia Cohen presented and had passed was filled with the standard think of the children angle that is frequently used saying that because the e-juice has candy flavorings that it is being marketed towards children. She missed the paper from Center For Disease Control that stated since 2015 the number of minors smoking or using vaporizers has dropped significantly. There was also mention of a string of harmful chemicals found in e-juice which upon further research showed that they were found in shipments coming in from outside the US and mostly from China. She also missed the abstract from the FDA that showed minimal effect on the body from the use of e-cigarettes, yet that they were a good aid in getting people off the far more dangerous tobacco. Currently, the majority of e-juice that is available in the US is made in the US from vegetable glycerin [a thickener used in foods], propylene glycol [another sweetener used in foods], food grade flavorings and nicotine in that order. Four items three of which are food grade vs. the 4000+ noxious chemicals in a cigarette. UCSF is even running a smoking cessation program using vaporizers because they feel that they are better alternative to smoking cessation.

While not a scientific study I have seen a rise in people using vaporizers around the City when I’m out and about. I haven’t seen anyone I could tell was a minor, but I rarely have seen many people who look that young using vaporizers. Many people who use e-cigarettes and vaporizers to stop smoking want to get away from tobacco to the point that they even want to get away from the taste of tobacco. That is why there are flavored e-liquids out there. The smell from e-liquids doesn’t linger as long as cigarettes and it is far more difficult to offend someone with the smell of blueberry cheesecake than tobacco [my opinion of course].

Again though, like with menthol cigarettes the ownership and use isn’t illegal, only the sale. While there are a handful of vape shops in San Francisco most of them started as head shops that also sell bongs, water pipes and other drug related supplies. It is very easy to purchase e-liquids from online suppliers. Actually after you’ve created an account and proved you’re over 21 it’s actually much easier to purchase online because the selection is usually higher than what your local shop will carry, so again, the law has no teeth.

There are a handful of vape shops in San Francisco, maybe no more than 1o and I believe this is way. Most are head shops that have added vaping products, but there’s only a couple that sell only vaping products and they have said they will have to close up when the law goes into effect next year. Some of the other stores have said they will have to close as well especially in the Sunset District saying that the menthol cigarettes is what gets people into the store, given the higher Asian population, and that their sales will plummet when the law goes into effect. We’ll see if that’s true. 

To sum it all up, yes, I whole heartedly agree that tobacco is bad for you, but I think this law is rather flawed as it really doesn’t cause much of an effect on the public using tobacco or tobacco related products. It will definitely make menthol smokers work a little harder, but I’m doubting that it will make them quit. Likewise, the ban on vaping e-juice will leave only the disposal e-cigarettes that are produced and marketed by big tobacco companies as the only choice for those wanting to start to quit smoking, and most of those disposable e-cigarettes are made in China, unlike the safer US made e-juice.

BTW: If you want to see a video that people should have been saying, but think of the children! You might want to watch this one.

The Audium

The AudiumThere are truly few weird and wonderful places left in San Francisco today. Yes, I’ve talked about the relics from the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition and 1938/1940 World’s Fairs that are on display at the Musee Mechanique, but a place I had forgotten about was brought to my attention the other day — The Audium.

The original concept started in the 50’s when experimental music was in a bit of an underground heyday. Enhanced by somewhat more affordable recording technology there were lots of people who were creating music from the sounds of the world around us or Musique Concrète. These were some of the early days of electronic music as we know it today. The music as it were could be the sounds of construction, cars driving by, people talking which could put you in a place without having to go there, or it could simply be a bizarre array of sounds that you really wouldn’t know what to make of it.

The Audium would fall into a bit of the later category. The room is circular and looks a bit like a space ship on the inside. From the ceiling are 136 hanging speakers as well as built into the walls at it’s current location at 1616 Bush Street. The Audium is best experienced rather than described. With all of those speakers individual sounds can be moved around the room in a way that 5.1 Dolby Surround or even 7.1 Dolby Surround can’t replicate. After you enter and take a seat the low level lighting is lowered to complete darkness. The room isn’t really warm or cold, but everything is set up so that the main focus of the evening is on your ears and the story that the sound will play for them.

Each work is performed live by Stan Shaff every Friday and Saturday night who mixes the taped audio in a different way each time. You could probably make the analogy that Stan is like a 3D sound DJ. Call it genius or insanity, but after you’ve experienced it once you’ll have a completely different idea of what sound it. Tickets for each performance are $20 [cash only] and a limited number of tickets are available pre-show through the City Box Office. Children under 12 are not allowed as, well, it’ll probably be a bit weird for them and they’ll start asking questions which kind of defeats the purpose.

The Audium is a place that everyone should go to at least once in their life if they intend to spend any time in San Francisco. It’s just a little bit of weirdness that helps create the character of our City.

The Giant Sweep

The Giant SweepIf you’re anything like me and have been living in the same place for awhile you’ve probably collected lots of junk. Wife and I have had our house to ourselves for four years now since my Mother died and we’re still finding things that we have no use for. Well, even after we hired a dumpster to get rid of most of it and had a few garage sales we now have another chance coming up this weekend on May 18th — The Giant Sweep.

While the Giant Sweep affects District 4 on May 18th you’ll probably be receiving in the mail if you haven’t already a postcard telling you when your drop off day is and where. Ours is at Sunset Elementary School and I’ve done this once or twice before and I have to say that it is a pretty well organized event. You drive into the parking lot and if you’ve done things right you only need to pop your trunk and the guys there will pull everything out and sort it. It takes about a minute once it’s your turn and is something that’s really worth while if you’ve got lots of junk to get rid of . We happened to find a couple of wheeled boards that it took me awhile to figure out what they were, but they were carts for holding the old metal garbage cans we used to have about 40 years ago that we have no need for any longer.

The Giant Sweep will accept large, bulky items, materials that can be composted, non-recyclable/non-compostable waste and household hazardous waste. All you have to do is pack up your car and drive it out there between 8am and noon. If you’ve got stuff that you don’t need and don’t want to use one of your free Recology pick ups to have it taken away this is the day to do it. You can also pick up 5-10 gallons of free compost for your yard so you can have something to help your garden grow.

iBooks Outrage!

So I have been reading some of the postings by techies about the fact that if you create a book with iBooks Author that you can only sell it through the iBookstore. Being a musician I figured I’d put my 2¢ worth in since I have an understanding of this.

If you want to distribute music that you’ve written and performed someone will want to take a cut of it unless you want to do it yourself and get a much smaller base. If you’re an author and write books the publisher will always take a cut. That’s just the way the world works. When you have something you want to distribute you can sell it on a street corner and hardly get much back, or you can have someone with the marketing backing behind them to put your work out there for the masses to find out about it and consume.

Why haven’t I heard these complaints previously from iOS app authors? If you want to write an app you first have to buy the tools so that you can get access to the system for writing the apps then when you release the app Apple will take a small percentage of your sales. Currently for iBooks, just as for music you sell through iTunes Apple takes 30% of the sales. Just to put this in perspective, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album gave 90% of the sales to the record company and only 10% to Michael himself.

This is a deal in comparison and I think people who haven’t had much contact with the media business need to understand this. Currently there are three formats you can release an eBook in, Apple’s iBook, PDF and Amazon’s [please correct me if I am wrong]. Now PDF’s are readable on any computer so you need no special device to read them on. You can read a PDF on an iOS device and I assume an Android just fine. You can even export from iBook Author to PDF, but the multimedia elements aren’t included.

Amazon’s format which is also used by the Barnes and Noble Nook is plain html and they take 50% of your selling price. There is no multimedia available in these eBooks as they are only words and pictures [black and white] on an ePage [I made that up, so can I have a trademark for being the first to use it?]. I just don’t think people realize that unless you’re going to cover all the marketing costs yourself and pound the pavement yourself, you’re not going to get the distribution you would through a company that will help you reach more people and will want a cut. Apple’s cut is pretty small compared to many others I’ve seen. I’ve had distribution offers for my music that the distributor has asked for a 40% cut. I go with iTunes because they only ask for 30%. That’s the cheapest distribution deal I’ve seen.

If you build it they will not come unless someone tells them that you’re there. Keep that in mind.

iBooks Author…Apple’s New Killer App?

I know, I’m supposed to be talking about San Francisco during the week, but after yesterday’s announcement by Apple I decided to write about our cousin, Cupertino and Apple.

I was excited today, but also a bit disappointed by the release of Apple’s new iBooks Author app for a number of reasons. I do think it was a good idea, but there are a few flaws that as I usually do, I’ll speak my mind on.

First off, the program has a very similar interface to Pages, Apple’s iWork word processor. It’s a decent word processor, but it’s no where near a page layout program like Adobe InDesign. What you can do from the provided six templates is very simple and nothing like what you see in the video Apple has on its website.

The multimedia effects are very cool that you can add into an iBook, but you need to have an eye for design or you’re just going to be tossing words on a page. This is great if you’re just trying to create something similar to a Kindle eBook, but the outrageous multimedia books in the video weren’t something your average home user could pull off in my opinion, at least not yet. You can do it, but you have to think more like a coder and designer than a writer, so there may be some additional work for me in the near future, since I do both.

Will it kill the textbook industry? I’d like to hope so because you can put more in your iPad at less weight than you can in your backpack which having a daughter now I’ve had a bit of problem reading about kids having to haul around 40+lbs of books for school. Electronic is also cheaper than a hardbound college textbook that you’re at the mercy of having to purchase so they inflate the price charging between $60-$100 for a book that in a few years will be outdated. I have only one book from my college years that is of any use to me today. As I said, I’d like to see it happen, but currently they only have about eight textbooks covering a range of subjects, so the publishers that Apple has partnered with should step it up now.

The other thing for people who want to publish a book is that first you need to own an iPad to preview it before you publish it and you also need to have that iPad tethered to your Mac. Our iPad is tethered to my wife’s Mac, so that means that any books I create as iBooks will now need to be copied over to her laptop to check them out before they’re released.

While some people think this will rock the textbook world, I’m thinking it’s more a gentle rumble. I remember when desktop publishing started and there was really  awful stuff produced for a few years until people figured out how to use it. Luckily that means that my daughter will be in second or third grade before it becomes more standard.

Bringing my Music into the 21st Century

As many of you have been aware, I’m a musician. I started playing piano at seven years old and moved over to guitar at 15 and have played in addition trumpet, flute [which taught me how to fight], harpsichord, organ [no jokes!], clarinet and cello and got into symphonic music so I moved on to synthesizers. In the beginning synthesizers sort of imitated the instruments they were supposed to sound like, but never quite did a perfect job. There were a few people like Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos who could do classical music that was passable. It even got them quite a bit of fame. Tomita was my inspiration behind my version of Mars, Bringer of War by Gustav Holst.

Inspirational people like this led me to study music composition in college. I ran the electronic music studio as San Francisco State for a couple of years that led to me creating a piece called Armageddon that was featured at a World Electronic Music Convention in Italy in the early 80’s.

That still wasn’t enough. That was electronic and experimental not orchestral. He’ll, I didn’t want to be the orchestra leader, but the entire orchestra myself. So I decided to start out easy in the SFSU Electronic Music Studio by recomposing the Brandenburg Concerto by Bach. I wasn’t really playing anything because back then I didn’t know enough about being an orchestra to play parts of a larger piece that weren’t the melody. So I actually typed in the entire piece on a musical keyboard. Instrument, by instrument. It took me a couple of months and when I was finished I played it and realized, I had lots of typos that while you can excuse them a bit in writing, in music it becomes painful to the ears. So I went back and checked my musical typing into the sequencer, found the mistakes and corrected them. Then I carefully chose the sounds to use to for the strings, flutes, clarinets, trumpets and all the other instruments. Sometimes I had to tweak the patches to make them sound better. In the end, it sounded electronic, but much better that what I had heard before. I felt like I was now in the same category of Tomita and Carlos. Then the day came that I presented it to the class.

The teacher scowled at me, THAT’S NOT ELECTRONIC MUSIC! THAT’S JUST REPURPOSED CLASSICAL! He and everyone else in the class thought it was very good though. He did have a point. Most of the other electronic music was atonal, arhythmic and sort of sounded like banshees and noise on a bad day. But what could I say, I was a pop star of a weird music genre.

OK, I didn’t write it, I didn’t even play it, but it was a start. When I finally got my first pair of real synthesizers and now had an understanding of how to create the sounds I started tinkering with them. It was late one night on a weekend and I had a few shots of scotch in me at the time and a melody came into my head. It had me at first thinking of a battle scene in a movie starting out slowly like when you hear the sound of horses running off in the distance and then they get louder as they get closer and closer and the music get’s louder until you see a large group of warriors on horses coming over the hill screaming and entering battle. All the other parts just fell into place and I think the entire piece was finished in an hour. I called it Victory. It had a feeling of some of the impressionist composers that caused riots when their music was first played along with a nod to Danny Elfman’s orchestral work. It was only about four minutes long. Not exactly enough to be released as a single, so I thought up an idea of turning it into a nine part symphony even though most symphonies had four parts and sometimes three. In the end it was called Symphony of the Nine Angles and I ended up using inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and the derivative writings of Dr. Michael Aquino and Don Webb. It’s a pretty dark sounding piece of music, but since I was into the darker shades of hard rock and metal it sort of fit.

Next came my CD the Vampyric Suite which was four pieces expressing different aspects of vampires [Anne Rice and all her spin off fanatics were popular at the time] plus Munsalvache [a torrential sounding solo organ piece] and my versions of Night on Bald Mountain and Mars, Bringer of War. So there I was surrounding myself with darkness once again. After that I sort of hung up my classical composing for a long time focusing on getting my hard rock album out. Now that I have a daughter she likes to play on my keyboards and make her own music that I have to say at four years old sounds a whole lot better than some of the stuff that was coming out of the SFSU studio in the 80’s.

This got be back to playing with the synths again and there’s always been one piece that I’ve always loved as a child that I’ve tried in the past, but never been able to do well — The Sorceror’s Apprentice by Georg Dukas. I present that to you now. It will need to be reworked though because unfortunately my synths are at least 15 years old some even older. So the sounds, while good aren’t that good. Hell, you don’t even need synths now, just a keyboard to trigger the sounds on a software synth or sampler that’s running on your computer. So I’m saving up my money to get a copy of MOTU’s Symphonic Instrument. These sound great and they will do this piece justice so that I won’t have to deal with the woodwinds sounding like an accordion. I’ve always been a big fan of MOTU’s products and have used them since the beginning. I run Digital Performer and use their MOTU 828 interface to my computer and the sound is excellent. I’m not going to ask you for donations to get it. I’ll find a way to do it. Hopefully this will inspire me to produce another orchestral album in the near future. While retro music is great for some people, I really need to get my sounds into the 21st century. Give a listen to my version of the Sorceror’s Apprentice and tell me what you think. It’ll get better with the new sounds.