Delta Rae Revival–Live at The Basement

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A vacation day to burn and a $10 ticket to see one of my favorite bands led me to make the trip from Atlanta to Nashville with, as expected, no regrets.  Delta Rae is performing a 16 week “residency” at The Basement, an internet-described “dive bar,” that is a basement and, if it were absent the the transformation into Delta Rae’s “revival church,” it most certainly would look like a dive basement.

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I was fortunate to come across Grant Emerson, the band’s bassist, for a short conversation.  Nothing revelatory, really, but how often do you get to chat with a member of a favorite band?  The band has essentially relocated to Nashville from Durham, NC, which makes sense for access to all the talent, publishers, studios, etc. that are available.  We also touched on their new classification as a country act, which probably makes marketing and economic sense, and Emerson pointed out that they’re not singing the stereotypical country lyrics.  And, sadly, there was no hint of an album.

Do albums matter anymore?  The band keeps releasing singles and EPs, so I guess they add to the same, but I’m a traditionalist.  In any case, if the remainder of the band shares Grant’s general humility and positivity, they should stay together for quite a while.  How they can afford to do so for $10 a ticket, is another question, especially in a spot where maybe 100 people can uncomfortably stand, and where the band could easily ask double that without a second thought.   That second thought should have led to even a higher price for this type of experience. 

A Delta Rae concert doesn’t normally have a venue factor involved, other than sightlines and sound quality.  The Basement, with a sellout crowd, is poor for seeing the artist, great audibly when the artist is acoustic or low volume, and less impressive when a band pumps the volume, as Delta Rae did… or maybe it’s the additive effect of seven musicians on the stage. 

In any case, the band converted the basement to a chapel of sorts, with faux stained glass windows, a candelabrum, several lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and a vicar warning of certain judgment.  This plays well into a ghost story written by the mother of several of the band members, and their own account that their audience frequently mention that they’ve been “taken to church” following one of their concerts, which is fitting.  They’re really, really good. 

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Here’s just an intro to the ghost story, accentuated by fishing line to tug on the overhead lanterns…


In December 1715, a small congregation was founded in the woods outside of Durham, North Carolina.  They built a white shotgun chapel and practiced their rituals fervently.  A year after its founding, this tiny community was swept with a paranoia over witchcraft.  They accused a young widow living alone in the unincorporated lands outside their village of practicing dark magic and a contingent of men and women from the chapel leadership were charged with bringing her in to face trial and judgment before the church.

The rest can be read on their Twitter dated 11/29/2018, if you’re so willing.  And then we have the recurring recital between the opening acts… it’s kind of campy, but it worked, as well as leading the way to a splashy entrance for the band’s ladies, appearing from the light, so to speak.

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Above and below you can see the windows, which initially show the four singing members of the band.  As the concert progresses, video is included as well – an unexpected visual treat for, well, a basement.

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This was my fourth time seeing the band – the first just after the release of “Carry the Fire,” when they introduced each song in depth and blew away the audience.  The second was when they passed through Atlanta basically on their way from one place to another, and an impressive concert at Atlanta’s also-small Eddie’s Attic.  Their showmanship has advanced year after year, increasingly featuring the band’s two female singers, Brittany Holljes and Liz Hopkins, who complement each other perfectly.

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I can’t find a setlist, but their early songs “Bottom of the River,” “Morning Comes,” “If I Loved You,” and “Dance in the Graveyards” continue to define the best tendencies of the band – crafted lyrics, adventurous musical stylings, and a powerhouse delivery when the singers come together.

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From their second album, “Outlaws,” “I Will Never Die,” and I think “Scared” and “Run” were covered, which pretty well fit the thematic aspect to the ghost story.  The band is no stranger to singing for a cause, and also included “Dirty Work,” a plea for people to get out and vote.  It’s a good song for the purpose, but it’s a unicorn stylistically to their other work and didn’t fit as well unless… you consider the “year of the woman” and the caliber of the evening’s supporting acts. 

Chloe Gilligan opened, endearing in the way she introduced her songs and seemingly lives on the edge of cracking herself up.  “San Francisco” was really good.  Elise Hayes was more polished, “but” her songs were probably better appreciated by those more in touch with their feelings.  And for a couple of songs, Delta Rae was joined by Maddie Rose, who had an excellent voice.  Later listens on the internet have piqued my interest – she’s really good, sort of soulful country.  I’m fairly certain “Pull You Through” was one of the songs she sang from her new album.

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Overall, it was an awesome evening, and reinforces what everybody says that I’ve taken to see them live – they deserve a bigger stage.  Maybe they’ll catch that break to get there soon, but until then, the $10 tickets are a steal, and I’d hate to have to watch them from an upper deck in a colosseum anyway.

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Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

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A fairly last minute inquiry from a co-worker happily fit in with a mostly-on-vacation Thanksgiving week for a return to Atlanta’s Tabernacle for an evening of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin style.  There are a number of bands that mimic the 70’s greats, like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Grateful Dead and others.  Some have permission, sets and costumes and the like from the original bands; others make it on their own.  Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience (inelegantly abbreviated as JBLZE for merchandising) is a bit different in that it features the son of Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham, who played twice with the other members of the band for their rare reunions.  That connection probably draws some in to see the band, like us, but at the end of the day, the music has to count.

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The crowd was, expectedly, largely male and generally 50+ in age.  That said, the attendees wore surprisingly few black T-shirts of band names and tours, and in the upper reaches of the venue, most were inclined to keep their seats through most of the show.   The band entered about 8:30 absent an opening act and launched into “Rock and Roll,” a straightforward radio-friendly rocker from their most popular album, Led Zep IV.  In short, it is a good warm up to set the mood and expectations.  One song in, the band established their pieces well: drums, bass, lead guitar and vocals, the last being probably the most critical for the Led Zep sound.

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Bonham found singer James Dylan on YouTube doing Zeppelin covers, and years later, he remains a very credible vocalist hitting the nuances and strength of Robert Plant’s delivery, foregoing the stage poses of the latter.  And, I’m not sure how I feel about that because they are a cover band, and it’s not really a Led Zep “experience” if the band isn’t seriously trying to recreate the nuances of the performance.  That said, that he is able to maintain the vocal strain of singing these songs is remarkable and did a fine job throughout the evening.

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As for the visual mimicry, not to worry.  There’s Jimmy Sakurai, doing the Jimmy Page thing, with the hair, costume, the trademark leaning posture, the fancy footwork and the guitar licks.  And the smile.  And the rarely observed double neck guitar. 

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Highlights for me included the “acoustic” section, including “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Going to California,” and the blues covers including “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and particularly “Since I’ve Been Loving You” which featured some of Sakurai’s best guitar work.  He was solid throughout, doing whatever the music dictated - the chords, the fill-ins, the jazzy section of “The Rain Song” and even the sloppiness of some of Page’s longer solos, particularly his live ones.  Regarding that, it might have been interesting to Sakurai clean a several of these up as he obviously has the talent.

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Bonham took the lead in speaking to the audience between every few songs.  When a “name” is a major player in a buying/listening decision, it’s a smart move to engage the audience.  He clearly loves the music, the memories and the legacy, and he masters his kit.  The thundering drums of “Kashmir” were a joy live, as were the keyboards that atypically dominate a Led Zep song.  To that end, my evening would have been complete had “No Quarter” been a part of it, but there’s so many songs to choose from, and the band mixes up the lineup from night to night.

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The main set concluded with the unavoidable but enjoyable “Stairway to Heaven,” one of many spontaneous or invited sing-alongs during the evening.  Truth be told, I never deciphered the lyrics to many of their songs.  Plant’s voice as an ingredient in the sonic mix suits me well enough when the lyrics don’t exactly add to much.   The band returned after a brief break to finish off a great combo of “Immigrant Song” and, by Led Zep standards, a restrained rendition of Whole Lotta Love.

Scroll to the bottom for the setlist.

As for a few aggravations, there was a time that the Tabernacle was general admission throughout.  It makes sense that economic demand and an optimal business model would end that policy, allowing general admission for the floor area (standing only) and higher prices for the seats in the balconies.  Other than the VIP “best of” seating, all the other seats were the same price, regardless of location.  So, here’s the view from Row G, literally the top row in the theater, as remarkable for it’s viewing “window” as its elevated temperature.

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This not a widescreen photograph.  The lower half shows the highlighted heads of those in lower rows, and the black at the top is an inclined ceiling that cuts off the view of the backdrop.  There are video monitors at either side in the photo, which are unhelpfully sized and feature a fixed view of the stage, I.e., there is no camera operator zooming in for a better view. 

Also, while the light show capability of the Tabernacle is as good as anyone’s, those colorful lights that backlight the stage for those on the floor too frequently come to rest at the upper tier, right where we were.  It is what it is, but the seats shouldn’t cost more than general admission, and they should arguably cost less because the sound is diminished both in volume and range.  No ear plugs required, on this night anyway.

Peccadillo #2: 

You’re going to a concert.  You have to accept that people will enjoy their experience the way they want to, like standing to dance for certain songs.  Okay.  But there’s this guy.  It was a cool evening, but that’s not a hat worn for warmth.  It’s an evening concert.  There’s no risk of sunburn.  So, it’s about looking “cool.”  Alright.  Take “cool” to the next level and take your hat off when you find your seat.  No one will be checking you out at that point. 

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Then there’s being so into yourself that you’re being rude, like the guy next to me.  You want to video a song with your phone, that’s fine and very common.  I take pictures and try not to be too intrusive for others’ experience.  That said, don’t playback a full minute of it while the artist is talking to the audience – you’re stealing a moment from those around you, and you’re not getting the most out of your own experience.  And, don’t play what you’ve recorded when the band is playing, either, especially when it’s louder than the band.  Does your buddy really want to hear you brag about your video when the band he’s listening to them play live? 

Probably not.  And maybe that’s why you called some other person several times, telling them about the concert while you’re watching it, with real insights like, “the keyboard player stood up and started playing a second acoustic guitar.  That’s so cool!”  Really?  I’m sure whoever it was enjoyed your sing-along as you held the phone towards the stage as well.

Ah well, rant over.  It’s amazing the things that come to mind when you recall your concert experience. 

Other photos: 

The merchandise basement – nice relaxing area, and you can hear the muted concert if you want to lounge around or your legs are getting tired from standing… or, say, you want to call someone or watch your just-recorded concert video.

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View from the 3rd balcony walkway (seats are higher).  Sections 200 and 300 are fine, folks.  Ignore the 400’s, for future reference, or, at least know what you’re getting.

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Setlist:

  • · Rock and Roll
  • · Celebration Day
  • · Bring it On Home
  • · Black Dog
  • · Over the Hills and Far Away
  • · Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You
  • · Ramble On
  • · In My Time of Dying
  • · The Song Remains the Same
  • · The Rain Song
  • · The Ocean
  • · Thank You
  • · Hey Hey What Can I Do
  • · Going to California
  • · Since I’ve Been Loving You
  • · Good Times Bad Times
  • · Misty Mountain Hop
  • · Kashmir
  • · Stairway to Heaven

Encore:

  • · Immigrant Song
  • · Whole Lotta Love

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Netflix Daredevil, Season 3

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Just finished Season 3 of Daredevil, me being a comic book guy all those years ago and living the dream since CGI could keep pace. This was the best of all of the Nextflix Marvel episodes, I think, in no small part to the portray of the villain, Kingpin. The thing about comics was that they captured the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, and in their way, pointed towards a true north. The good guys may be flawed, but aren't we all?

A quote from a closing scene as Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, takes stock on himself, from the words that a priest had shared with him in his youth.

"I was pretty angry towards God and pretty bitter towards his world. How could a loving God blind me? Why? Anyway, [he said] God's plan is like a beautiful tapestry, and the tragedy of being human is that we only get to see it from the back, with all the ragged threads and the muddy colors. We only get a hint at the true beauty of what would be revealed if we could see the whole pattern on the other side as God does."

Capture

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Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour

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It says something that we arrive just minutes after the office opens and there are already two full groups of about 40 people placed ahead of us.  Not to worry; Maker’s Mark is staffed for this, as evidenced by our tour beginning 15 minutes after they opened, for a tour that lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes not including time in the “gift shop.”

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Like others I’ve visited, Maker’s is  located in a vale of sorts, accessed by an unlikely approach of several very rural roads.  Originally built around 1805 and operated as Burks Distillery, William Samuels Sr. bought the shuttered site in 1953.  His family had made whiskey for six generations, and he wanted to make a finer whiskey than his family’s recipe, which was reportedly burned.   The secret, they say, is Kentucky’s limestone filtered water.  But each distillery has its own tweaks.

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The site itself has a somewhat charming topography, not too unlike Tolkien’s Shire.   The process of making whiskey is essentially the same as others, except that they replace rye grains with red winter wheat.  Roll the grains in a mil to reduce the bitterness, add the limestone water, add in corn and let it cook in one of three low flow cookers, lower the temperature, add the red winter wheat, cook it some more, add malted barley, and cook it some more.  The process takes 3.5 hours.  Then add it to the fermentation vat, add a strain of yeast held by the family for six generations, and wait for the starches to turn to sugars. You don’t get to see any of that, of course, only the spiffy equipment.

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After the first day of fermenting, that’s when you have what is called “distiller’s beer,” which is then pumped into a column copper still.   Steam turns the alcohol portion to vapor, takes it up to a condenser, and viola. Except that Maker’s double distills it, through a pot still in their basement, to put the taste “more forward on the palette,” sweeter and less better.  And thus Maker’s White.

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Below is a reminder that the place that supplies both old and modern tastes may be located in a very old building.

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The tour guide gives frequent nods to Samuel’s wife Margie, who helped design the bottle, came up with the wax seal idea and method, designed the shutters with the bottle cutouts, and even the name, noting that on the bottom of other bottles was the glass maker’s mark.  

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Next stop is the labelling shop, where three 1930s presses are used to the tune of 60,000 labels per day with the desired perforation qualities.   I hope they have backup machinery stored somewhere else…


Next step was Warehouse A, with skinny windows reportedly made to prevent people from sneaking barrels out.  This is the oldest of their warehouses and smallest, holding 4,000 barrels.  Others nearby are up to 7 stories and hold up to 50,000 barrels.  

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About those barrels, to be legally termed a bourbon, distillers can only use barrels once, they have to be charred, and they have to be made of oak.   They obtain the barrels from Independent Stave company, who ages the barrels nine months and one “Kentucky summer” to remove the bitterness from the wood.   They’re then flame roasted on the inside for caramelization.  Once assembled and delivered, they’re filled with alcohol from the still, cut it with water at 110 proof, then deposit the barrels at the top of the warehouse, where they remain for three Kentucky summers, the heat of which causes alcohol to work its way more vigorously into the wood of the barrel.  

At end of third summer, key employees taste the barrels, as they don’t “grade” by barrel age.  When suited, they return the barrels to the bottom of the warehouse to age further, where they gain color, for a total of 5.75 to 7 years until maturity.   At that point, 378 barrels of similar age are merged to form a batch, where the taste is checked again.  As the brewery is part of a conglomerate, the spent barrels are shipped to a sister company in Scotland for aging Scotch whiskey. 

Then we approach “the cellar,” for the story, and sales pitch, for Makers 46 and Maker’s Special Blend.   Samuels, Jr., approaching retirement, wanted his own “brand.”  So he took Maker’s Mark, and working with the stave company and the master distiller, came up with an additional flavoring system.

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You take the top two rings and the barrel head off the barrel, insert 10 French oak staves (aged 18 months and lightly flame seared) into the barrels, rebuild and fill the barrels, and age them for nine weeks in “the cellar,” a new building that is temperature controlled at 50oF.

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The stave manufacturer termed the inserted staves as profile 46, or, as they were solely made for Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46.   And, the third generation also wants his stamp.  So, instead of 10 staves of like kind, they will let “industry partners,” like restaurants, tweak the profile to their own liking.  The current Fall blend includes two Baked American Puro, four Maker’s 46, two seared French Cuvee, one Roasted French Mocha and one Toasted French Spice.

We then toured the bottle filling line, which is unremarkable except for the hot wax melting station, where employees hand dip each bottle, rotate it once or twice horizontally, then turn it vertically to allow the drips.  

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One surprise of the tour was a Dale Chihuly exhibit, built right into the ceiling of a passageway from The Cellar to, I think, the frequently promised tasting.

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And, on to the tasting.

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The Maker’s White just burns, being grain alcohol, and the others are enjoyable to varying degrees of flavor and the extent to which you like your drink neat.  You get a couple sips per, for anyone who wants to count.

As far as swag goes, they have it.  I don’t drink bourbon except very rarely, but… there’s a father-in-law and guests at my Christmas Party.  And, there’s the opportunity to dip your own bottle of bourbon, so… yeah.

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Overall, a great tour!

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Public Image Ltd–Live at Variety Playhouse

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In full disclosure, this isn’t a concert review but more of a collection of observations from a non-fan.  The offer of a free ticket was presented, so it was an opportunity for great Thai and some beers followed by a concert at my favorite Atlanta concert venue, starring none other than John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, who rose to fame as the lead singer of the Sex Pistols.

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I’m old enough to remember that band, at a time where “classic rock” was being challenged by disco and punk for a generation demanding something different.  To Lydon’s credit, his band would become significantly influential for bands that followed, even if less audacious.  After that band ended, he formed Public Image Ltd, or PiL, a chronologically accurate “post-punk” band, whose T-shirts and bumper stickers I’d seen but never given much attention. 

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Today, Lydon is a static figure on stage, limited to a narrow vocal range but with an abundant vibrato and perhaps some electronics for effect.  Based on the many gathered to hear him, it’s exactly what they expected.  For me, I don’t need to rush out to collect his music, but to give credit where it’s due, music has come a long way since guys had to sound like girls to make it in pop music, and Lydon’s five minutes of fame stretched far longer than most.   How that happened I’ll leave to the high-brow music writers, but I’d credit it to an audience tired of mainstream music or, more simply put, an antidote to, say, the Bee Gees.

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That said, the attitude and posturing that accompanied his music in his heydey is nowhere on show today.  Frequently peering to the stand to find the lyrics, it looks to me like another aging rock star, making a living because he earned his fans and because he still can.   That’s okay – there are numerous elders in rock that I see all the time; it works for artist and audience.  In this case… just not me.  But, the entreaty to join the group at the show was to say “You can check Johnny Rotten off your list…”  (implied: “…of aging rock celebrities before they pass away”).  Check.

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His guitarist was the focal point for me, Lu(natic) Edmonds.  First, just from appearances, should he need a change of career, he has a singular face that, with a few memorable lines, could have been a fan favorite in Game of Thrones.  He kind of catches the eye.  In addition to two guitars, he also played a “saz,” or more specifically, a Turkish baglama, (similar to a lute), only converted from acoustic to electric use (add perhaps fuzz pedals).  The instrument’s three strings were apparetnly tuned to G-D-A to allow a slide hit barre chords. The musician, the instrument’s appearance, and the sounds he made were the star of the show. 

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I enjoyed the music.  The lyrics I understood were simplistic, though often indecipherable, and it didn't’ seem to matter as the audience joined in frequently and gave tribute with the typical fist pumps.  For me, after a long travel day from Dallas and an unsettling landing amid Hurricane Michael on my return to Dallas, I opted out early into the encore to “enjoy” the weather and the drive home.

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Setlist:

  • Deeper Water
  • Memories
  • The Body
  • Disappointed
  • Warrior
  • The One
  • Corporate
  • Death Disco
  • Cruel
  • I’m Not Satisfied
  • Flowers of Romance
  • This is Not a Love Song
  • Rise

Encore:

  • Public Image
  • Open Up – Leftfield
  • Shoom


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Aaron Lee Tasjan–Karma for Cheap

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I’ve been a fan of Aaron Lee Tasjan since I caught him live at a music festival in 2016.  Great songs, great voice, great band.  Afterwards, I went shopping and got his first two solo CDs.  They were mixed bag at first impression, but the songs grew and grew, and finally I came to appreciate a cleverness in the lyrics and widely ranging song structures.  Last year, he released leftover tracks on Born at an Early Age, again full of his wry observation, humor and general positivity about life.  Good stuff.  a4221650117_10-e1536254833189

So I was really  looking forward to Karma for Cheap, the title itself suggesting he would keep pace with his knack of writing keen observations, but I was hoping he would capture them them on disc with his muscular touring band.  Ah, well, about that.  Not so much.

Instead, with a style previously considered “Americana” (perhaps the middle ground between country and rock?) and somehow likely shocking folks who have a stylistic expectation when they watch “Bluegrass Underground,” Tasjan released a pop record in an era where pop is irrelevant outside of a movie title track or commercial jingle.  As it turns out, noting that the Nashville scene was absent a psychedelic influence, he steered his band to the Beatles, as well as their influencers such as Roy Orbison or those influenced by them such as Tom Petty.  No fault there, really, as the Beatles can be heard as a strong influence in his earlier albums, and he puts those skills to good use as every song is an enjoyable change of style and phrasing. The band, and in particular guitarist Brian Wright, adorn his songs perfectly.  So what’s not to like?

Well, “If Not Now When.”  It’s a simple song, and there’s no room in it for his lyrics to flourish.  And despite the variety of influences, too many of the remaining songs are interesting for a couple listens then lose attention because the lyrics just don’t warrant it.  The whole comes across as a bit kitschy as he has proven he doesn’t have to retread others’ musical ideas.   

Of all the songs on the CD, “End of the Day” is probably the best, definitely the one I’d want to hear live without the polished production.  “The Truth is Hard to Believe” is a close second, with “Heart Slows Down” coming in third with its strong Petty-ish chorus. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like.  He’s an emerging artist, despite his journeyman credentials.  But, listen to the selected songs that made the “Bluegrass Underground” cut if you have the time.  There are three not-so-old songs that speak “artist,” but “If Not Now When” sticks out like a sore thumb…  a song anyone could make.  Ah well, the rest is yet to come. 

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Self-healing Metals

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“Self-healing metal” sounds cooler than it really is.  But, I’ll like it a lot more if it gets my daughter a Ph.D.   So, let’s make some sense of it.  The term itself expresses the goal, which is to find alloys that can heal from the nano-cracks that are caused over time and thereby avoid failures or extend the useful life of the object, with possible additional benefits for safety or resource conservation. 

On to the physics:  When a stress (force) is applied to a material, a strain in some spatial dimension will occur (length, angle, volume), and when the force exceeds the elastic limit of the material, it causes permanent dislocations in the microstructure after.  If additional stress is added, the material will reach its ultimate strength at which it breaks.  That’s easy, like bending and then snapping a branch.

So, let’s apply that to steel.  Austenitic steels, which include high levels of chromium and nickel and low levels of carbon, usually have high corrosion resistance and are highly formable, and thus they are the most widely used grade of stainless steel.  But even these get stressed.

Rather than the permanent dislocation in the microstructure, imagine a “phase change,” in this case a martensitic transformation, where atoms shift very slightly in a simultaneous, cooperative movement or flow.  How much is very slightly?  A distance of less than the atomic diameter. 

That martensitic phase can be tricky.  TRIP steel, (a trade term for TRansformation Induced Plasticity) is a high strength alloy that has only one shot at being formable.  Once that part is manufactured and formed, it is mostly martensitic and can be brittle (but also strong, taking significant force before it breaks suddenly – I.e. no bending). If it’s a part that has to sustain high loads repeatedly, it’s bad news. The martensitic phase will crack, and those cracks propagate and lead to failure.

SEM

Above: A scanning electron microscope (SEM)

As a general note on fatigue: usually, the loads are not particularly high.  It isn’t such a danger to have that brittle phase there temporarily.  Micro-cracks form for a lot of reasons, and it’s the growth of those cracks that matters more.  In a brittle material, it’s harder to form dislocations and easier to grow cracks.

The first goal, then, is to find an alloy that would remain formable but undergo the martensitic transformation under stress but also back-transform when the stress is removed (super elasticity).   So, stress a metastable austenitic material (alloy), and rather than causing permanent dislocation of atoms, the metal changes to the martensitic phase where the atoms flow slightly until the stress is removed, at which point they return to their original positions.  Basically, you don’t worsen cracks wherever they are.  That dislocation of atoms also causes a slight volume change, which helps compress the tips of those microcracks which helps in stopping them from propagating. For an application, imagine a metal part subject to vibration and the cyclical states of stress and no stress.

The second goal is to further find identify an alloy that, aside from it’s elasticity, is also strong, as super elastic materials usually are not that strong and have limited application. 

That’s the science, and then there’s the laborious process of figuring out the properties of various alloys at a scale where even a scanning electron microscope (SEM) can only provide clues regarding topography and diffraction changes.  Thus she’ll also use a transmission electron microscope (TEM) which has atom-by-atom resolution for better visualization…  Harvard may be thought of as more of a liberal arts school, but they she’s trying to borrow theirs as it is newer.  How does that happen?

Also in play are atomic force microscopy (AFM), which allows a clearer view of topography changes, nano-indentation (pictured above)  which requires exacting aim, and other spiffy gizmos which allow the devoted to study a material surface area of 50 nm2 while attempting to identify alloys with optimal behaviors in regard to temperature, stress, strain recovery and residual stress.

With no guarantee.  Such is scientific investigation.  Useful side discoveries welcomed.


Picoindenter

The indenter above is positioned within the SEM to study the material.

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This is a tiny diamond indenter tip that, when viewed at 18 millionths of a meter, looks a bit unwieldy, if not oppressive.  Jackie is aiming for the very small lighter gray dots  (superelastic phase) in the larger darker gray areas.  The manufacturer’s website has more info if interested.

shiny

The above is one the samples she’s processed, helpfully described as “It’s shiny.”  Some alloys are very expensive and purchased from others; some she makes herself I think.

Now that you have the “textbook” case, let’s turn to her advisor’s YouTube video, where my daughter attempts to put on her “No, really, I’m a scientist” face and otherwise demonstrates good humor and an optimal office chair roll.

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DragonCon 2018

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Hello again DragonCon! And as long as it took to get here, p00f!  It’s gone.  Anyway, here’s the tales.

There was this guy – a really nice PacMan costume with a ghost attached to a spring so that he’s “chasing” him.  Complete with sound effects.  This was my first year at DragonCon without a focused effort on taking photos of the many costumes.  I appreciated them as I passed by, but I’m not sure if I missed the full-on effort.

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Friday:

How to Write a Story in an Hour

This session is offered each year, but I usually opt for a celebrity panel at the same time when the crowds are fewer.  My wife attended this last year, and greatly enjoyed it.   It’s hosted by a novelist and editor with a humorous approach to a “no-nonsense” task of moving a crowd to generate ideas and movement while focusing on essential story elements.  Essentially, she gets the audience to define a character, a setting, an antagonist, etc.   But first, it has to start with a captivating sentence to start the story.  Several decent ones were offered, but for the character, we landed on a vegan dragon chef, which was soon modified to a dragon chef who eats vegans.  The silliness of the proposition entertained those trying to one-up others, but the session was dead at the start.  There was learning in the questions she asked the crowd in order to develop and refine ideas, but it wasn’t sustainable after the initial democratic vote.  We left early.  Maybe next year.

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The Coming of the Five Horsemen of the Future Global Apocalypse:

Affiliated with the gaming track, this panel included a professor and several former military personnel to talk about the most troublesome areas of global conflict.  The tie-in was that they’re involved in the National Security Decision Making game, played at academia, gaming conventions, etc.  It was interesting to hear short narratives about the situations in various countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, from people who spend a lot of time understanding stress factors such as religion, food and water scarcity, environmental damage, economics, etc.  And, darned if I can hardly remember anything specifically about it.  Other than, if oil prices drop, Russia and Arab states get in a real hurt very fast.  Below is a slide – maybe one of a couple hundred that the speaker chose to speak to.  The problem was that he spoke to the slide, not the audience.  Public Speaking 101!  Come on!

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And from there, it’s off to lunch.  Where we saw this guy dressed as Newt from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Includes little creatures, short pants… very well done.

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Star Trek:
The series that started my fascination with sci-fi… and I  haven’t really attended that many related panels.  In any case, here we have Ensign Kim (moderating and participating) from Voyager, Chekov from the original series, Q from The Next Generation, and Felix from Deep Space Nine.  It was interesting attending a panel with participants in completely different shows, but it worked well.  We heard about Walter Koenig being a fan-boy when he stood behind Marlon Brando in line at a sandwich counter and other assorted details.  John de Lancie (Q) pointed out he only appeared in nine episodes… talking about making an impact. Good humor abounded, as these panels usually do. 

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In the lobby, we catch up with assorted DC comic characters… why  not snap a picture?

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What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Good question, and it’s off to the Science track we go for answers, with panelists working in space, biology, energy, etc.   So, our current threats include:

1) Satellites being destroyed intentionally or accidentally, as debris travels at roughly 8 km/s, delivering the force of two sticks of dynamite on satellites  enclosed by sheet metal.  It’s called the Kessler Syndrome, linked with a good video.  Think about the loss of GPS, and understand that sailors haven’t been taught to navigate by the stars for 20 years or so.  Supply chain shut down, communications shut down… pretty bad day for humanity.

2) Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing:  You can print guns, but should you?  Countries with little to lose can print rocket boosters for their missiles, etc.  Technology vs. morality.  Oh, and we can conceivably print a virus.

3) CRISPR – gene editing.  Again, technology vs. morality.  Human gene editing, etc.  We could change mosquitos to where they can’t reproduce.  Sounds good.  Oh, but what impact does that have for the food chain?

4) Energy – the advance of alternative fuels is lagging behind our needs for energy.  On the other hand, though offered as a negative, Georgia could be powered by 35 square miles of solar panels.  That’s not so bad.  Interesting point was made that panels are rated at what they can do essentially with the sun directly above them, but based on the time of day, latitude, clouds, and inefficient energy storage and transmission, and the actual energy they generate for the day is much less than the “ratings” provided.

5) Fake news – if you can’t find objective reporting, then how can people fairly judge and participate in society?

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Story Drawing for Comics:

And now to the Comics track, where a Savannah College of Arts and Design professor talks comic books.  This was interesting after the panel was over, basically.  He went through two different comics, essentially narrating how he suggests action, captures key plot elements, alters facial expressions… it was okay.  And then afterwards he talked about students finding roles in industry.  Here’s a tip, students.  Even if you’re good at what you do, you have to follow instructions and do your work on time.  Employers call professors like this to make sure they’re making a good hire.  Hopefully you’re talented and motivated.

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Saturday:

Arrowverse Cast:

Less Arrow, and more Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.  In any case, this was an entertaining panel, another where the personalities of characters pretty closely align with the actors that portray them.  Tom Cavanagh, who plays Harry Wells on Flash, was the most intriguing, I suppose.  One audience person mentioned they missed HR – a Harry Wells from a parallel world, and he was on top of it, pointing out that the character was an idiot.  I’ve said the same thing about Barry Allen many, many times, the titular hero.

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Gina Torres:

This is Zoe Washburne on Firefly, one of my favorite shows, though it only lasted a single season.  She wasn’t my favorite character, but like all the other actors who have appeared at DragonCon, she’s got great style and substance, and it was great to hear more about her life and work.

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And, while standing in line for the next panel… there was this pixelated Predator guy.  Actually, it was a very good costume for another reason.  It’s basically 2D, strapped to a guy on one side, so he wasn’t sweating to death like the many others wearing costumes.

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Stranger Things:

This was the only line that we stood in for quite a while, to see two teenagers on a Netflix show.  Glad we did.  Overcoming adversity, stage experience, multi-talents… This show did a really, really good job of casting.  They may be new to the average viewer, but they don’t lack experience.  And good humor, like Caleb speaking to his least favorite store in the mall… Victoria’s Secret.  Too awkward!

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Meet America’s Psychic-Fraud Crimefighter:

And to the Skeptic track – despisers, really, of anything that smacks of the supernatural, like religion, ghost hunting, magic and… psychics.  The gentleman to the left is a magician (who freely confesses what he does isn’t magic), and the guy on the right is a retired NY police officer who happened into a psychic who swindled someone for a lot of money.

This was really interesting in a number of ways.  1) Psychics earn ~$350k per year, they think.  2) It’s a family of sorts – the tools of the trade are handed down from one generation to another, and there is a cooperative spirit when needed.  3) People seek psychics frequently from personal trials – cancer, death in the family, cheating spouse, etc.  and the psychic is there to help – to tell them good things for $5 or $10, and then nuance out of the person one thing that troubles them.  Get their name, do some research, offer to help dispel spirits (etc.) for increasing sums, and… well, June Deveraux was taken for $17M.  The point was that these are professionals who play on people’s weaknesses to extract money.  It’s worth exposing as a fraud, for sure, and the officer has had some success getting prosecutors to do their jobs, even though the victims handed the psychics money “from their own free will.”  Here’s an article, because I know  you’re curious.

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Sunday:

The Expanse:

Good TV series, great books.  This was the panel that I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint.  It was heavily moderated by intent to emphasize “diversity” in casting and the strength of the women on the show.  I’ll admit I hadn’t thought about it from that context but don’t disagree at all.  However, it would have been nice to have had more Q&A from the audience. 

The series was recently acquired by Amazon for future series, which apparently included obligatory videos of key moments involving each of the actors present.   These were a bit too lengthy, and from what I overheard while the clips were playing, everyone would have loved hearing more of what they were saying about the scenes as they unfolded. 

The highlight was the lady who plays Avasarala launching, when the two “Martian” characters were discussing why their civilization was the best,  on how the Martians accomplished nothing, Earth had explored the solar system, yada yada… all an impromptu rant while in full-on character for her role.   Maybe it’ll make its way to YouTube.  It’s worthy.  Great chemistry among the staff, and much yet to look forward to outside of the confines of broadcast TV.

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We had a little time between panels, so went into the gaming area.  I don’t know what they’re playing, but it was an attraction for some very serious gamers.  How long does it take to get a turn?

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And, on the streets, we have Xerxes, from The 300.

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Killjoys:

Next was Killjoys, a Syfy show with one season remaining, which is two episodes away from concluding filming.   It would have been nice to have seen a larger cast.  While the main actor who plays John Jacobis was very appreciative of the attention, you could tell that he’s had fun… and the gig is up.  He’s moving on.  This was an entertaining show that could have used some better clarity in the plot as it unfolded, but I’m glad to see that they can plan its finale. 

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In sum, I guess a question might be, are all actors (that come to conventions) so likable?  Or are they acting?

And, finally, got this photo of Junkrat from Overwatch at the end.  Well constructed, lit, a mine for a foot, pose… perfect!

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DragonCon 2018 is a wrap! But 2019 is already paid for.

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